It’s not often I side with a politician

Last week I wrote about the global moneymaking sensation that the computer game Fortnite has become.

One part I didn’t cover is that users can pay money to give their characters dance moves.

If you wonder where this year’s craze of doing “the floss” came from, the answer is Fortnite.

These dances have become an integral part of the game and bridge the gap between the online and the real.

Go to any tourist destination over the school holidays and you’re sure to see hordes of kids copying the dance moves from Fortnite.

The Telegraph reports that Fortnite dance classes are even available at David Lloyd fitness centres.

Now, in a really strange turn of events, the people who came up with these dance moves in the first place want in on that Fortnite fortune.

From Eurogamer:

Rapper 2 Milly is considering legal action against Epic Games for using his signature dance move, The Milly Rock, in Fortnite, although you might know it better as Season 5 premium emote, “Swipe It”.

“Everybody was just like, ‘Yo, your dance is in the game,'” 2 Milly told CBS News (via ResetEra). “They actually sell that particular move. It’s for purchase. That’s when I really was like … oh nah, this can’t go on too long.”

For several months now, the artists behind some of the moves have been calling on Fortnite developer Epic to compensate them.

I guess the question is, can you really copyright a body movement?

Imagine if the queen copyrighted waving. Imagine if Colgate copyrighted the smile. Imagine if Henry Winkler copyrighted the thumbs-up.

It’s just a crazy, crazy notion.

But it is easy to see why the people who came up with these moves get annoyed. Here is a game charging £5 a pop from kids so their characters can copy something they created. And with no recognition given.

I guess you could say this is just another extension of the “free” online culture we now live in.

In the case of the free web, we give Facebook, Apple, Google, YouTube, Instagram et al our personal data and our creative outputs in return for using their platforms.

Epic Games has gone one better in its creation of free-to-play Fortnite. Instead of stealing users’ data, it is stealing famous people’s dance moves and then charging users for them.

You could argue that having their moves seen by millions of players around the world will bring these artists more recognition and more fans.

But that is the same empty argument that many brands, big and small, use when they don’t want to pay a creative for their work – “It will bring you exposure.”

To which the usual response is:

“Can’t eat exposure.”

“You can’t eat money either.”

“You know what I meant.”

Or I guess you could argue that when something becomes big and famous enough, everyone wants a piece of its prosperity.

It’s hard to say who is in the right here. But one thing is for certain, you should not be able to copyright dance moves. And the law tends to agree, for now at least.

Again from Eurogamer:

However, as business and entertainment lawyer Merlyne Jean-Louis notes in the CBS story, there’s no case law setting a precedent for copyrighting choreographic works and the US Copyright Office currently cannot accept copyright patents for individual dance moves due to creative choreographic expression.

Facebook vs the world

Finally something interesting has happened in the “Facebook vs the world” saga.

Facebook has had a terrible 2018 in terms of its social and business standings. Its stock is down more than $1oo billion since March.

But up until now, no one could really point out precisely what it has done that’s so abhorrent.

Sure, people now hate Facebook because it is a data vampire that makes money flogging our personal interactions to advertisers. But we’ve know that for years and years.

And many studies have emerged about Facebook being bad for our mental health. But again, that news has come as no surprise to anyone.

The real backlash started with the whole “Cambridge Analytica” scandal.

But to this day not one person, email, article or video has been able to lay out exactly what this was or why it was so bad.

All we get is vague accounts of data mining and manipulation. But try dig into what that is why it is so bad and you come up with nothing.

This is essentially what all those months of outrage boil down to. From the Guardian:

A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Basically Cambridge Analytica harvested user data to build better ad profiles. That’s it.

And that’s the exact same thing that every “free to use” internet company and app does, and has done since the birth of Web 2.0.

However, what is far more interesting are the decisions that led up to this “scandal”.

We know that those at the top in Facebook have blood on their hands. We know they have zero regard for their users, but we’ve yet to see anyone prove it.

We’ve yet to see any internal emails or transcripts of just how much disdain this company holds for its customers.

Until now.

What went down in London this week is pretty compelling stuff. And for once, I am on the side of the MPs.

From the Guardian:

Parliament has used its legal powers to seize internal Facebook documents in an extraordinary attempt to hold the US social media giant to account after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to answer MPs’ questions.

The cache of documents is alleged to contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is claimed they include confidential emails between senior executives, and correspondence with Zuckerberg.

Damian Collins, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London.

In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.

What do you think is contained in those documents?

Whatever it is, Facebook really, really doesn’t want them getting out:

“The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of the San Mateo Superior Court restricting their disclosure. We have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook. We have no further comment.”

However, it seems Facebook is powerless to stop their publication.

The files are subject to an order of a Californian superior court, so cannot be shared or made public, at risk of being found in contempt of court. Because the MPs’ summons was issued in London where parliament has jurisdiction, it is understood the company founder, although a US citizen, had no choice but to comply. It is understood that Six4Three have informed both the court in California and Facebook’s lawyers.

It is unclear what, if any, legal moves Facebook can make to prevent publication. UK, Canada, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil, Singapore and Latvia will all have representatives joining what looks set to be a high-stakes encounter between Facebook and politicians.

It is thought that these documents lay out exactly how much Facebook’s senior executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, knew about its data harvesting and underhand techniques – something they have publicly denied.

As I said, it’s not usual for me to side with politician, but in this case I hope the MPs beat Facebook and publish all these materials to the public.

There would be a delightful irony in Facebook’s senior execs having their own private conversations pored over by the public.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

PS On Wednesday 5 December, Eoin Treacy is revealing, for the first time ever, how he shorts stocks. In this one-off webcast he will show how you could use his technique to make as much as £15,000 in a matter of weeks. Get your name down here if you’ve like a free priority viewing pass.

Category: Technology

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