Phantom The Pirate Purring Moggy

I’ve had a small, self-imposed hiatus from blogging recently. Nothing untoward. Just pursuing other equally important stuff. But there is nothing like coming across a piece of total absurdity to shake off lethargy and get you hitting the keyboard again.

There is a small moggy called Phantom to thank for getting me out of the blocks. And I thank his owner. I will try my best to keep any puns to a minimum. Now, I know online piracy of copyrighted material is a big issue, and big companies don’t like it. There’s been a significant court case in Australia recently on internet piracy that initially delivered a judgment going one way and then, on appeal, another judgment that went the other way. But that is another story. What I am talking about here, in the case of Phantom, should be called online piracy of the ridiculous.

This story began about a year ago when Phantom’s owner, a YouTube user called Digihaven tried to do us all a favour. He wanted to acknowledge the calming, soothing, not to mention meditative qualities of cat purring. So Digihaven uploaded an hour long looped video of Phantom, his cat, doing just that. Purring. Softly. The video was called “Cat Purr 1 Hour Relax, Study,Sleep.”

So I guess you are wondering how in the name of Christ could this find its way to being a case of copyright infringement? Me too. But wait. There’s more.

Digihaven’s video did modest business compared to some cat videos. It amassed around 25 hundred hits but it was monetized so potentially it could earn revenue for Digihaven under YouTube’s Content ID system.

For those who might not be aware of the YouTube Content ID system, this is how it works. Anyone who uploads a video can potentially leverage it to make money by ticking the monetizing tab. But you have to own the copyright on all of the material in the video, including any music or sound used. It’s designed to keep everyone honest. YouTube’s system is built to look for evidence of copyright infringement, and stop people making money from uploading other people’s songs and films. The automated program scans videos and matches their soundtracks to existing songs — if they’re too similar to something on its database, it stops uploaders from making money from the posts.

Week in, week out, automated bots detect and report millions of alleged copyright infringements, which are then processed by the receiving site without a human ever looking at them.

Unfortunately this process is far from flawless, resulting in many false and inaccurate copyright infringement claims. Just to give you more of an idea, the system is similar to what YouTube installed to detect pornographic videos which went horribly wrong when it was revealed that uploaders were by passing the system by using Gaelic Irish language titles for porn films. Is it just me who finds this particularly hilarious? Talk about an Irish joke.

So, getting back to the story of Phantom, the purring moggy. Almost a year after Phantom’s video was posted by Digihaven, the cat’s owner was informed by YouTube that Phantom is a “pirate” purring moggy. No I am not joking. Apparently, it was claimed that part of the video belongs to EMI Music Publishing and PRS, who happen to be two of the world’s biggest music publishing companies.

In its copyright notice sent to Digihaven, YouTube says the cat purring was flagged by its Content ID system as infringing a copy of a musical composition called “Focus.”

The video was not removed by the false claim, but according to Digihaven, monetization was disabled. I am happy to report he won’t be forced into bankruptcy due to the loss of income.

“I’m sure EMI/PRS made Phantom a sad kitty,” Dighaven was heard to say.

But the story doesn’t end here. Not on your life. Or in this case all nine of them. Digihaven was just sharpening Phantom’s claws for a catfight with YouTube and the two music publishing giants who seemingly have nothing better to do.

Hoping to clear his cat’s name, Digihaven filed a dispute. I am also happy to say sanity prevailed with EMI agreeing to lift its claim of copyright infringement.

And while we all might contemplate how it even got this far, Phantom, meanwhile, is reportedly considering a career in the music business and looking for compensation.

“Phantom is currently independent, but looking to sign on with an indie label,” his owner Digihaven says. “ Phantom’s lawyer is looking for 4 kilos of catnip in damages.”

And so he should.

Karma Chameleon With A Happy Ending

I firmly believe there is such a thing as Karma. Maybe it doesn’t happen as often as it should or, as often as I would like, but it happens often enough. And when it does the results can be exquisite.

Social media had a big role to play in the Karma that I am talking about. I personally feel the jury is decidedly out on whether social media is a good thing, and a step in the right direction, from the point of view of the world we live in.. But in fairness, it can be a powerful force for doing good, when, and if, it makes that choice.

In the case I am going to tell you about, it chose to do good and for that social media deserves a five star rating.

By any kind of measurement In the cumuppence stakes, this will take some beating.

A group of car dealership workers at F & R auto sales, in the American State of Massachusetts, decided to order pizza. The delivery guy brought them their pizza. Let’s just pause the narrative for a bit of clarification. Most people, in the United States, understand the concept of paying a gratuity for good service. It is also a fact of life that people in service industries, like waiting tables and delivering pizza ,don’t get paid a lot for the job they do. So a few bucks, here and there by way of a tip, is going to help a lot in making ends meet. But someone forget to relay that important information to the employees at F & R auto sales in Westport.

Ok. The trouble began when F&R paid for a $42 pizza order with two $20 bills and two $5 bills. The denomination of the bills is important, and you’ll understand why very shortly. The delivery guy thought the payment was out of character enough to go to the trouble of actually asking if the change was intended to be change and not a tip. I mean why else would you pay $50, if no tip was intended? All they needed to do was give the delivery guy $45 and the intention would be crystal clear. I should point out, that his aspect of the story about the intended tip, is not confirmed by F&R, but the driver said it and F&R did not contradict him, so I think it’s safe to assume the Pizza delivery guy is telling the truth. In any case, after the delivery guy made his delivery, and after he was well on his way back to the pizza shop, F&R called his manager to complain that he’d “stolen” their change. Nice people. The pizza shop of course then told the delivery guy to turn around, drive back, and return their change, which is what he did and that is when the ‘fun’ started.

F & R decided to video the conversation when the Pizza delivery guy returned. They were going to have some fun at his expense and post the video results on social media. I am sure, in their delusional and misguided state of mind, they thought everyone else would see the ‘joke.’ This, was a big, big mistake. In fact, describing it as a big mistake really doesn’t do it justice. In the true spirit of Karma it came back to bite them on the bum, a mouthful the size of a small country.

Just to make it perfectly clear, the contents of the video conversation, posted online,  was confirmed as being accurate by all parties. No one is disputing that this is what happened. But before we go into the detail of what was said and done, there are two possibilities here: Firstly, F&R Auto Sales has a serious vendetta against the Pizza shop, or secondly, they constitute a very large collection of pointy headed individuals, or a combination of both.

It’s important to note that, as the driver says on the video, there was no logical reason to give him that extra $5 bill unless it was intended to be a tip; they owed him $42, gave him $45 in bills to reach that amount, then left an extra $5. But if you are dealing with people whose sole motivation is to bully and humiliate, it makes perfect sense. The extra $5 was a type of honey trap which they could then use as a justification for saying it was never intended to be a gratuity and quite frankly how could  the pizza delivery guy have the temerity to think otherwise?

On the video we see the delivery driver make this point to which one of the F & R employees replies in a typically passive aggressive threat so common among bullies :”So listen: The manager apologised once for you. Do you want him to apologize again for you?”

There’s a little bit more argument, none of it particularly heated, before the Pizza delivery guy finally says, “It’s OK, you got your $7, so the world is right now,” and heads out the door. But of course, in the world of vindictive, small mindedness, it is never right. You can never have enough ritual humiliation.

The F & R employees were not done. One of them, a female says : “Out the door before I put my foot in your ass.” Charming and so respectful. Then, another F&R employee proclaims, “Get the f….ing owner and the manager on the phone, I want that motherf…er’s job. I want him fired.”

To make matters worse, the F&R employee then proceeds to make good on his suggestion, calling the Pizza shop and complaining about the delivery driver. Fortunately, this is where the story starts to take a U turn in a positive way. The Pizza shop manager asked the delivery guy what had happened and ultimately took his side. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time the Pizza shop had issues with F&R auto sales. Why am I not surprised?

Then, F & R did something very, very stupid they have lived to regret. They posted the video online for the world to see. It would be fair to say they did not get the reaction they were expecting. The posts started coming: “The employees at F&R Auto Sales in Westport all deserve to get fired. Such scum I can’t even believe it.”

“How could you treat a Pizza guy like that? Congrats on ruining your business.”

And this: “ You think you have PR problems? Check out F and R Auto in Westport MA.”

The review pages for F & R auto sales on Yelp and Google were flooded with negative ratings. In fact such was the tirade of abuse, that F&R ultimately stopped answering their phones or responding to any contact requests on social media. Revenge truly is a dish best eaten cold. The owner of F&R (it’s unclear whether he was in the video, although I’m going to guess not) went to the Pizza shop and personally apologised. Like he had a choice. It was either that or kiss goodbye to his business.

It’s not immediately clear what happened to the F & R employees who orchestrated the incident. But if the owners of the used car yard were smart they would have fired the lot of them. It would be a step in the right direction. They might also want to consider making a huge donation to a worthy charity like pet rescue. ( My idea as an animal lover)

See? Thanks to the power of the internet and social media, sometimes these stories do have happy endings. More importantly, it confirms there is a thing called Karma. It may not always happen, but when it does, and you are on the receiving end, it ain’t pretty.

You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Vale James Foley

I read an opinion piece today that made me stop and think. Like all good pieces of journalism should.

It was about the American reporter James Foley who was barbarically murdered by Islamic terrorists who then shamelessly broadcast the deed on YouTube. The intention was very clear. To goad the United States into a ground offensive in Iraq so that they can recruit more young Muslims to the cause.

But Foley’s tragic and senseless death isn’t why I was drawn to the story or even what the story was about. The writer was talking about the incredibly dangerous game that freelance print and photojournalists play in trying to report the news in places that have become too dangerous in the 21st Century.

I say 21st Century because news has never been reported this way in the past. By that I mean freelance journalists are the new frontline troops in the media war to cut costs. They go to these places with little or no budget, backing and sometimes without even basic training. Many times they go without having the endorsement of an established media outlet so they are truly on their own.

It wasn’t always like this. Wars used to be covered by seasoned reporters who worked for long established media organizations that had the budget to maintain correspondents and a bureau in trouble spots around the globe. But those days have long gone especially for the print media and increasingly for television. Replaced by fresh-faced eager reporters who work freelance, so they are paid per story and prepared to take crazy risks to get it. This trend’s been happening overtime for some time But the Libyan conflict in 2011 was in some ways the catalyst. It acted like an irresistible magnet for freelance journalists who offer a much cheaper option for mainstream media wanting to cover that story. Apparently there were so many freelancers working in Libya at the time of the Gaddafi overthrow they outnumbered the rebels on the frontline.

According to those who were there, the freelancers and the rebels along with an ever-dwindling number of staff reporters would advance forward or backward to safety when the Gaddafi forces advanced. One of those freelancers was James Foley.

According to those who knew him, James Foley was courageous and a very nice man to know. He’d been a former reporter for a US military newspaper, before arriving in Libya full of hope, purpose, opportunity and the belief that he might have been immune to the dangers he faced. In fact there was no shortage of like-minded individuals keen to begin earning their stripes war reporting. And there was no shortage of media outlets willing to buy their images and stories. In fact it was a buyer’s market. Many freelancers prepared to work without insurance, expenses or even the airfares to get them home.

And as Libya deteriorated, it became less clear as to who were the good guys and who were not, and freelancers like James Foley had to make judgment calls on who to trust and when to leave. Safety in numbers ended up being the strategy they followed and it resulted in journalists like Foley forming strong bonds with colleagues he worked alongside and who would share a prison cell with him. In 2011, Foley was captured in Libya along with two other freelancers. A South African photographer travelling with them was killed in the incident. This time Foley was lucky. He was freed after 44 days in captivity. But instead of doing some soul searching and taking stock, James Foley plunged on in again to begin reporting from dangerous places. When Libya became yesterday’s news it was replaced by a more dangerous conflict, the civil war in Syria. It was more bloody and unpredictable. Media organizations were again looking for daring tales and images from the frontline and freelancers like James Foley wanted to take up the challenge even if it meant surviving on nothing more than your wits. In late 2012 and mid 2013 the risks began to outweigh the rewards. Working in northern Syria became next to impossible because of the ever-present threat of kidnap.

James Foley’s luck ran out for a second time in late 2012. He and a photographer were captured ironically on the last day of a two-week trip in an area of the country they had visited many times before. Foley’s captor was a local warlord who would later join the Islamic State. Now, I don’t mind admitting I have a major problem with all of this. What I find hard to reconcile is that 11 additional journalists were kidnapped in Syria in the following year yet the demands for freelance work continued unabated. This kind of journalism has no doubt created opportunities but at the same time it has allowed established media organizations to outsource their coverage for a bargain basement price to reporters prepared to take the risk. It’s called all care but no responsibility.

It has meant that freelancers like James Foley end up paying a terrible price. The Middle East may well be the most important story this century. I just don’t happen to think the price being paid for the privilege of reporting the story is worth it.