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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Justice Souter's iPod Playlist

So I'm sitting in the library today, catching up on my Copyright Law reading, and I'm reading the Supreme Court's opinion in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., written by Justice Souter. The case, decided in June, was one of those cases where the courts put the kibosh on peer-to-peer file sharing.

Basically, the Court said that Grokster and StreamCast (which distributed Morpheus) was liable for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement because it induced its users to make infringing copies, yada yada yada, legal analysis, whatever.

The part of Souter's opinion which jumped out at me was when the 65-year-old judge name-dropped a certain modern rock band. "Users seeking Top 40 songs, for example, or the latest release by Modest Mouse, are certain to be far more numerous than those seeking a free Decameron, and Grokster and StreamCast translated that demand into dollars." Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 125 S.Ct. 2764, 2774 (2005).

Huh? Justice Souter knows who Modest Mouse is?

A Westlaw search reveals that this is the only published court opinion ever to mention Modest Mouse. Go figure.

But Souter still cannot stake a claim as the hippest judge sitting on the federal judiciary. That honor goes to Circuit Judge Terence T. Evans, of the 7th Circuit. In May, Judge Evans corrected a court reporter's transcript in a footnote in U.S. v. Murphy:

The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch "hoe." A "hoe," of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing "hoe" to "ho," a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps "You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies." U.S. v. Murphy, 406 F.3d 857, 859 n.1 (7th Cir. 2005)
Yep, that's right. He quoted "Ho." However, he did not cite the song in his footnote. How someone so careless in his bluebooking became a circuit judge, I have no idea. (I also don't know how you would cite song lyrics, nor do I care to look it up at this moment.)

See, this is the kind of stuff that needs to be on my finals. Forget about third party liability for copyright infringement; I want to study random pop music references in court opinions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Rock Out With "Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Ass'n" Out

Back when I was a freshman in college and I wanted a quick break from studying, I used to turn on Guns N' Roses' classic "Paradise City" and channel Slash while I played air guitar on my bed. It was always a great respite from putting my mind to whatever it was I was reading.

I hadn't done that in a while, but earlier tonight, while I was working on my comment, "Johnny B. Goode" came on my computer. I paused for a moment, then got up from my chair, grabbed my hockey stick, and did my best Marty McFly impression for 2:42.

No doubt I looked like an idiot, but nobody's watching anyway. I returned to my work feeling better about it than I had in a while. I guess I shouldn't overuse that kind of study break for fear of its effectiveness diminishing, but it really worked wonders. I suppose the right song is important, too. Any other suggestions?


Three weeks ago, the Eagles were 4-2 and about to play the Broncos. My mom called the game a "must win." I scolded her and told her that such a term is not to be thrown around lightly, since it essentially indicates that your season is done for if you do not win that game. And really, no 4-3 team is out of playoff contention by any means.

Well, the Eagles lost to the Broncos. And the Redskins. And, for God's sake, the Cowboys, in gut-twisting fashion, on Monday Night Football. And now they're 4-5.

Okay, now every game looks like a must-win. That division could very well require 11 wins to make the playoffs, especially with the Eagles' awful in-conference record.

I'm going to three of the Eagles' remaining seven games - not bad, considering I live on the wrong coast - but I was hoping those games would matter. Since two of those games are in weeks 16 and 17, it's looking more and more like the Eagles will end up playing for my amusement and not for a playoff spot. Maybe they can play spoiler to the 'Skins in their final game. But I'm hoping that won't be the case.

By the way, anyone catch who the Eagles signed today? A couple of guys named Jack Brewer and Jeff Smoker. Shouldn't they be on the Vikings?

(OK, that joke sucked. I thought for a while and couldn't come up with anything better. Sorry. Please submit your better ideas.)


As for the whole direct democracy argument, well, I guess I painted myself into a corner. The public is stupid...but they still should get to vote! I suppose the best argument I can make now is that the people who do vote in a special election in an off year like this one are typically going to be at least somewhat better informed than most of the populace, so they should have that right.

By the way, I don't know who you are, but I'd say it's a safe bet you go to school with me. Only a law student would correctly substitute "[you]" for "me" when quoting what I wrote.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Returning Sniper Fire

I'm going to keep this short but sweet.

Comments like this one that I got yesterday crack me up. I don't mind at all that someone disagrees with what I wrote about the ballot initiatives in this week's California election. But I have two problems with this comment.

First, what's the point of merely writing that I'm wrong? I took some time to write out what I thought about each measure; and all I get as far as discourse on the issue is that I'm wrong? How about offering some kind of counterargument? Or at least a link to Schwarzenegger's website so you can try to back up your point with something?

Second, you say that what I wrote illustrates the failings of direct democracy. I think what I wrote proves exactly the opposite. I had opinions about the ballot initiatives; I got to vote exactly how I felt. You got to do the same. Yes, I know your argument is that because I'm wrong, and everyone else who agrees with me is wrong, that the government is going to hell in a handbasket, and the way to fix it is not to allow all of us malfeasors to cast our votes directly. Well, California passes laws through the legislature, too (and plenty of them). It's obviously not a straight direct democracy, so go tell your elected officials how wrong the majority is and correct the injustice.

I hate politics. By the way, UCLA hockey beat Stanford 8-0 last night.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mad Props

Tomorrow's Election Day, and here in California, that means we get to vote on things like Proposition 01: "Shall Los Angeles County be declared the sun and leisure capital of the world?"

Just kidding! That's the sample question on my official sample ballot. (I'd vote no, by the way. There's nothing leisurely about moving 10 miles an hour down a smog-filled highway.)

What I do get to vote on are eight state measures (Propositions 73-80) and one Los Angeles School District measure. So here's how I break down the issues. Hold any angry comments, please. Go vote instead. (Although if you have some insightful comments, I'd be happy to hear them.)

Prop 73 wants to require physicians to notify parents if a pregnant minor is going to get an abortion, and mandates that minors must wait 48 hours after notification before getting an abortion. At the risk of sounding like a sheltered kid from a good family and neighborhood, it seems to me that if your daughter is pregnant and wants an abortion, and you find out about it from the doctor, then you haven't been doing an outstanding job as a parent anyway, and your effectiveness in counseling her will be minimal at best. Then again, I don't have any daughters ... that I know of.

Prop 74 basically wants to make it more difficult for public school teachers to become tenured by extending the probationary period from two to five years. Also, once teachers become tenured, they could be fired after two unsatisfactory performance evaluations without the hearing that they currently get. When I was in grade school, I remember complaining about how some teachers who had tenure and had been there forever sucked. So maybe it would be easier to axe a bad teacher under a law like this. Despite that, I don't see how "YES on 74 rewards good teachers," as the argument in favor of it claims. All it does is make tenure less meaningful and tougher to achieve.

Prop 75 is really sneaky. At first glance, it looks like it provides for more individual political expression, and hey, isn't that a great thing in this glorious country of ours? But think about it - what it's saying is that public employee unions can't use their member dues for political contributions without the individual employee's consent. The whole point of unions is to represent their constituents' interests, and to require individual consent for union action is to take some power from the unions.

Prop 76 basically puts a statutory cap on the state's budget and would also cut school funding. As a student at a state-funded school, I say hell freakin' no on this one. UCLA grad students already got screwed by the Regents as a result of Kashmiri (for more on that, check this out). If the Governator wants to fix the budget issues facing California, he can stop hitting up the schools.

Prop 77 would create a three-person panel of retired judges selected by the legislation to redistrict California. The boundaries of the districts created by the judges would have to be approved by voters. Well, this seems sort of okay, since the voters get to vote on the district boundaries, except for one thing: The public is stupid. Currently, the legislature draws the districts and then the governor approves them. Seems fine that way. I'd rather have the larger, voter-created legislature drawing districts than a small, three-member panel of appointed retired judges.

Props 78 and 79 are related and kind of confusing to me, since they both seem to offer very similar things. It seems to me that the difference between them is that 78 basically lets the state negotiate and contract with pharmaceutical companies for discounts for poor residents, while 79 requires the companies to give a lower price. While I'm all about freedom of contract, it's hard to be sympathetic to the pharmaceutical companies. Also, when the "No on Prop 79" commercials air, they talk about how the evil lawyers will be filing lawsuits left and right to get rich. What does that tell me? They're afraid of class action lawsuits that will hold the pharmaceutical companies liable for jacking up prices for poor Californians. So that kind of pissed me off. I'll vote yes on 79, and no on 78, and God bless the lawyer who kicks the drug companies' ass as a result.

Prop 80 seems to let the California Public Utilities Commission regulate all sorts of things about electric service providers. The arguments for both sides run exactly counter to each other: "Proposition 80 guarantees a stable and reliable electric system with ample supplies of clean, affordable power and increased use of renewable resources" vs. "This confusing measure won't lower electric bills, won't prevent blackouts, and eliminates consumer choice." So if what I want is a cheaper electric bill and a power source that's more environmentally friendly, then I suppose I want more regulation.

Measure Y would allow the L.A. School District to issue bonds to raise money to increase school capacity and upgrade school facilities. Seems like a good thing to me. The argument against it is that this will raise taxes, and, yeah, that sucks, but education is important. Besides, the argument against it uses the phrase, "for taxpayers, Measure Y stands for Yikes!" I think that alone should highlight the need for improved education. (Admittedly, the argument for the measure says, "Y stands for Yes." See my discussion of Prop 77 where I pointed out that the public is stupid.)

Anyway, so that's my amateur, subjective analysis of the ballot initiatives. I have to say, even I was confused by some of this stuff, and I go to law school and consider myself somewhat intelligent. It's no wonder to me that people don't vote, especially in elections like this where the only items on the ballot are faceless initiatives.

Having said that, go exercise your rights and vote tomorrow. And do yourself, your government, and your fellow citizens a favor and try to get to know what it is you're voting on and for.