Tag Archives: Legislation

Making “Crime Comics” Legal in Canada Again

Did you know comic books depicting crime are illegal in Canada? Section 163, 1b of the Criminal Code of Canada currently makes it a crime to “possess, print, publish, or sell a crime comic.”

But, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould has proposed in legislative Bill C-51 numerous criminal justice reforms, one of which is to no longer make crime comics illegal. Also repealed is a ban on challenging someone to a duel and fraudulently pretending to practice witchcraft. It’s fitting that this criminal code will be repealed under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who himself is a comic fan and has appeared in comics and whose father has also appeared, most notably in John Byrne’s Alpha Flight run.

What defines a “crime comic?” That’d be any magazine or periodical that depicts the commission of a crime or the events connected with the commission of a crime, before or after. So, pretty much all comics.

The law originated in the 1940s spinning out of the moral panic of the time that comics were corrupting the youth. In the United States we got the Comics Code Authority instead with no real legal implications.

At the time, comics were very popular with kids and in 1948 two boys playing as highway bandits shot and killed a man in British Columbia. It was found out that the two loved comics and from there the movement to legislate the comic book industry took off in Canada. The effort was championed by Davie Fulton, the Member of Parliament for Kamloops, B.C. The eventual legislation banning the sale of crime comics was eventually named “Fulton’s Bill.”

There have been charges levied under the law too. The last time was in 1987 against a Calgary-based comic retailer. Those charges were eventually changed to the “distribution of sexually explicit material.”

Almost 70 years later, the law is finally coming off the books and comic shops and readers can breathe a little easier knowing they aren’t breaking the law.

Baltimore Comic Con Announces a New Weapons Policy for 2017

Baltimore Comic-Con will be held on September 22-24, 2017 at the Inner Harbor’s Baltimore Convention Center and the convention has announced a new weapons policy for this year.

Due to recent tragedies as well as new legislation passed by the City of Baltimore, there has been some changes and it is now prohibited to bring weapons of any kind into the convention.

The new legislation passed in the city of Baltimore makes possession of replica guns illegal. Replica guns are subject to seizure and forfeiture, and certain penalties are imposed for possession.

The following list is not meant to be all-inclusive and the Baltimore Comic-Con reserves the right to prohibit additional items not listed in this policy. Prohibited items include, but are not limited to:

  1. Firearms of any kind (including air soft guns, BB guns, cap guns, paintball guns, and pellet guns)
  2. Replica firearms (including reproductions, or toy guns that can be confused for actual firearms)
  3. Any projectile weapons (including blow guns, crossbows, long bows, silly string, slingshots, water balloons, and water guns)
  4. Bladed weapons (including axes, daggers, hatchets, knives and swords, sword canes, and switch blades)
  5. Explosives of any type (including black powder, firecrackers, and fireworks)
  6. Chemical weapons (including mace and pepper spray)
  7. Blunt weapons (including bats, mallets, brass knuckles, clubs, and any type of martial arts weapon)
  8. Prop weapons made of anything besides soft plastic or foam. The Baltimore Comic-Con reserves the right to deny admission to individuals attempting to bring any prop into the show deemed unacceptable by staff.

Any replica or prop weapon purchased from a Vendor at the convention must remain in the packaging or be taken out of the convention center.

The above list is meant to “ensure compliance with new legislation in Baltimore,” and the convention strongly encourages everyone to continue wearing the costumes on which they have spent so much time and effort. They realize that this change puts a hamper on some cosplay.

It’s unknown how likely the Baltimore police would enforce such legislation at a convention, but for all the work individuals do and money spent, it may not be the best idea to test it.

California Has Made Getting and Selling Autographs and Limited Edition Items More Confusing and Labor Intensive

2000px-flag_of_california-svgIn early September Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 1570, a consumer protection law aimed at fake signatures on sports memorabilia. The legislation has been the subject of a lot of chatter lately sparked by an impassioned blog post by Eureka Book Sellers. As usual, the discussion is full of hyperbole as to what the law does and does not do, and let me begin by flat-out saying it’s bad legislation that accomplishes little to solve the issue of fraud autographs.

Championed by celebrities like Mark Hamill (who we’ll point out make a decent chunk of change by selling autographs) the law does the following:

  • Expands the definition of “collectible” to mean an autographed item for sale in or from California by a “dealer” to a consumer for five dollars or more
  • “Dealer” is defined as a person who is mainly in the business of “selling or offering for sale collectibles in or from this state, exclusively or nonexclusively, or a person who by his or her occupation holds himself or herself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to collectibles, or to whom that knowledge or skill may be attributed by his or her employment of an agent or other intermediary that by his or her occupation holds himself or herself out as having that knowledge or skill. “Dealer” includes an auctioneer who sells collectibles at a public auction, and also includes persons who are consignors or representatives or agents of auctioneers. “Dealer” includes a person engaged in a mail order, telephone order, online, or cable television business for the sale of collectibles.”
  • Whenever a dealer sells, or offers to sell, an autographed collectible in or from California, the dealer has to provide a certificate of authenticity at the time of sale. That certificate has some specifics that need to be met:
    • Shall be in writing (does a computer print out count?)
    • Signed by the dealer or authorized agent
    • Feature the date of sale
    • Must be in at least 10-point boldface type
    • Contain the dealer’s legal name and street address
    • The dealer must retain on file a copy of the certificate for no less than seven years
    • It shall describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it
    • Specify the date of sale or be accompanied by a separate invoice with that information
    • Contain a warranty
    • Specify if the collectible is offered as a part of a limited edition and if so it has to say how it’s numbered and the size of any prior or anticipated edition. And if that’s not known, it should state that it’s unknown.
    • Indicate if the dealer is bonded or otherwise insured to protect consumers against errors and omissions and if so, provide proof
    • Indicate the last four digits of the dealer’s resale certificate number from the State Board of Equalization
    • Indicate if the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer and if so the specific date, location, and name of the witness
    • Indicate if the item was obtained or purchased from a third-party and if it was the name and address of the third-party
    • Include a serial number that corresponds any identifying number printed on the collectible item, if any. That should also be on the sales receipt and if that receipt is printed then write the number on the receipt
    • A dealer shall not present an item as a collectible if it was not autographed by the personality in his or her own hand
    • You need to post a sign close to where your collectibles are that let consumers know you need to provide them with a certificate of authenticity
    • Mail order dealers have some other things they need to do, especially if they advertise
    • If you plan on selling autographs at conventions you need to displace a “specimen example of a certificate of authenticity”
    • Consumers who don’t receive a certificate of authenticity with the above, or if it’s got false information, shall be able to receive damages equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, interest, and expert witness fees. Plus the court can award additional damages
    • Dealers in the state must have a valid resale certificate number from the State Board of Equalization
    • A dealer may be surety bonded or otherwise insured for purposes of indemnification against errors and omissions

And there’s some things promoters need to do as well, such as warning any dealer about the above with specific language provided:

As a vendor at this collectibles trade show, you are a professional representative of this hobby. As a result, you will be required to follow the laws of this state, including laws regarding the sale and display of collectibles, as defined in Section 1739.7 of the Civil Code, forged and counterfeit collectibles and autographs, and mint and limited edition collectibles. If you do not obey the laws, you may be evicted from this trade show, be reported to law enforcement, and be held liable for a civil penalty of 10 times the amount of damages.

There are exemptions to the law as far as what a “dealer” is….

  • “Dealers” don’t include licensed pawnbrokers
  • An online marketplace that is not primarily in the business of selling, or offering for sale, collectibles, in or from California
  • The personality who signs the memorabilia

Get all of that?

Lets begin with the failure of the law…

johnhancockThe exemptions are the first problem with the legislation. The fraud that exists with online sellers through eBay is rampant and though there’s no numbers as to how bad it is, the legislation begs individuals to move their business online solving nothing at all in reality. But, eBay’s lobbyists are strong and their money flows regularly to California politicians. Check out 2015 through 2016’s donations and I’m sure the company’s donation of $15,000 to Jerry Brown’s run for Governor had no impact at all (and $5,000 to his Attorney General race). In general, the company’s donations to California’s politicians has greatly increased in recent cycles. When it comes to rampant forgery online, California elected officials apparently don’t care.

The exemption of the personality who signs the memorabilia is also hypocritical. I’m not sure if I’d really call this a failure, but there’s irony in the fact the celebrities who have demanded certifications themselves don’t have to provide one. What’s good for the rest isn’t good for them. And, I guess they don’t stand by their autograph, and as a consumer I wouldn’t trust any I didn’t see them sign in person. Autopens do wonders.

Finally, there’s already protections for consumers about fake autographs, this legislation really creates a consumer right to a certificate of authenticity. There’s already laws to protect against forged signatures. In other words, it’s not needed. Those who break the law by selling fake autographs will now likely continue, just with a piece of paper. There’s no difference in practicality of what was and what is when it comes to fighting this issue. Consumers had a right to sue then. Consumers can now sue now for the same thing. What is needed is for celebrities to file lawsuits, not consumers, put the onus on them, but then again, they can’t be bothered by providing a piece of paper themselves for authenticity.

There’s also the weird…

The legislation goes into defining “limited edition.” A consumer can request proof that the films, electronic coding, molds, or plates used to create the collectible was destroyed after the edition is up. It also decides to delve into the debate on “mint condition” to mean an item that must never have been circulated, used, or worn, with no signs of aging, and otherwise free of creases, blemishes, or marks. There’s no use of “mint condition” in the legislation other than to define what it is.

What’s the actual impact to comic dealers and comic creators?

For creators, there’s little impact by the legislation. They fall under that personality exemption so they can continue to go about selling autographs directly.

For dealers, the impact is much greater. There’s the signage that will now had to be had if they’re selling autographed materials in their store or their booth at conventions. In reality, the legislation is worded so poorly it indicates everyone that sells collectibles needs the sign, but I don’t think that’s the actual intent or how it’ll be enforced. If you’re selling autographed items for $5 or more you’ll need to provide a certificate and keep it on file for seven years. Yay more paperwork! I’d also expect more lawsuits by individuals looking to make a good buck. The fact is anyone can sue anyone and there’ll be a nice business coming out of this legislation potentially. Dealers should also be aware of any autographed items they’re purchasing, such as from Diamond, in that they’ll now need to provide a proper certificate of authenticity. I know autographed items I’ve purchased through Diamond in the past have had one, but they didn’t comply with the above.

For consumers, this is a good thing in that, in theory, it should scare off some sellers of forged autographs. It also means you get to keep a certificate of authenticity somewhere, so more items for you too.

The up in the air…

Since this includes all autographed items this now includes greeting cards as mentioned in Eureka Book’s post, something that wasn’t intended, unless that item is less than $5. Then “agent or intermediary” that is defined under dealer isn’t defined as well.

The bigger impact is signings in stores. If a comic creator comes to a comic shop and then signs items before leaving, that may fall under the celebrity exception, but maybe not? If the shop is selling the item at a celebrity signing, like what happens in shops, is one needed?

In reality…

The legislation is a failure of those who drafted and lobbied for it, but also a failure of those in the memorabilia industry for letting it get passed. This has been something that’s been lobbied for quite some time and went through the legislation process. Where was the comic industry speaking up about this when it was going through that? Where was our lobbying effort? We have a CBLDF, is it time for someone to look out for creators, stores, and consumers when it comes to matters beyond free speech?

The biggest reality is the legislation is passed and signed by the Governor.

What can you do?

You can still make your voice heard. Contact Governor Jerry Brown or contact elected officials in the State Senate and the State Assembly. Most importantly, pay attention at your state level to make sure you speak up before legislation like this is even passed.

The law takes effect in January.

Don’t Believe the Hyperbole, There’s No Orphan Works Law Before Congress (Updated)

United_States_Capitol_-_west_frontI’ve been seeing scare tactics going around various comic artists over the past couple of days concerning an “update” to US Copyright law as a new act, and the reintroduction of legislation known as the Orphan Works Act. According to the misinformed postings (the original posting has been taken down, I am looking for another example) and on a YouTube video, the legislation would:

  • The Next Great Copyright Act” would replace all existing copyright law.
  • It would void our Constitutional right to the exclusive control of our work.
  • It would “privilege” the public’s right to use our work.
  • It would “pressure” you to register your work with commercial registries.
  • It would “orphan” unregistered work.
  • It would make orphaned work available for commercial infringement by “good faith” infringers.
  • It would allow others to alter your work and copyright these “derivative works” in their own names.
  • It would affect all visual art: drawings, paintings, sketches, photos, etc.; past, present and future; published and unpublished; domestic and foreign.

Well, I’m here to dump so cold hard truth in front of you. The above? That’s all bullshit, not true at all. Not even close.

The first sign to me that the above was crap was the fact the post references that this is a law before Congress, but has you contact the US Copyright Office, instead of Congress. The video referenced admits there’s actually no legislation before Congress, there’s no text to actually see. The Copyright Office is doing their job, writing a report, and they are asking for input from individuals. There is no legislation, this is akin to a brainstorming project. This happens every day in government, there’s nothing unusual here and also nothing to get whipped up about. Reports go nowhere every day.

Here are the facts.

On June 4, 2015 the United States Copyright Office released a report on orphan works and mass digitization. The report:

…documents the legal and business challenges faced by good faith users who seek to use orphan works and/or engage in mass digitization projects.   It provides a series of legislative recommendations that offer users a way forward out of gridlock, but also take into account the legitimate concerns and exclusive rights of authors and other copyright owners.

The report also:

With respect to orphan works, the Report provides draft legislation that draws upon the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act passed by the Senate seven years ago, albeit with some updates and changes that reflect intervening developments and public discussions.

You can read the full report here. Before getting riled up, actually read the report and see for yourself what it does. The report looks at the 2006 and 2008 Orphan Works proposed legislation (I’ll get to that in a bit). It also discusses Fair Use, Google Books litigation, and various experiences with the issues of copyright around the world. The executive summary sums it all up nicely:

As the Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2012, facilitating the dissemination of creative expression is an important means of fulfilling the constitutional mandate to “promote the Progress of Science” through the copyright system. This Report addresses two circumstances in which the accomplishment of that goal may be hindered under the current law due to practical obstacles preventing good faith actors from securing permission to make productive uses of copyrighted works. First, with respect to orphan works, referred to as “perhaps the single greatest impediment to creating new works,” a user’s ability to seek permission or to negotiate licensing terms is compromised by the fact that, despite his or her diligent efforts, the user cannot identify or locate the copyright owner. Second, in the case of mass digitization – which involves making reproductions of many works, as well as possible efforts to make the works publicly accessible – obtaining permission is essentially impossible, not necessarily because of a lack of identifying information or the inability to contact the copyright owner, but because of the sheer number of individual permissions required.

The short version? Some times it’s hard to get a hold of the copyright holder, and some times there’s a hell of a lot of people that need to be contacted.

The report has SUGGESTIONS for legislation. On page 8 those are:

  • Permit the Register of Copyrights to authorize CMOs meeting specified criteria to issue licenses on behalf of both members and non-members of the organization to allow the use of copyrighted works implicated by the creation or operation of a digital collection;
  • Apply only to the three categories of works noted above, with possible additional limitations based on works’ commercial availability or date of publication;
  • Give copyright owners the right to limit the grant of licenses with respect to their works or to opt out of the system entirely;
  • Permit the licensed works to be used only for nonprofit educational or research purposes and without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage;
  • Establish eligibility requirements for a CMO seeking ECL authorization, including evidence demonstrating its level of representation among authors in the relevant field, the consent of its membership to the ECL proposal, and its adherence to standards of transparency, accountability, and good governance;
  • Provide for the negotiation of license rates and terms between the CMO and a prospective user, subject to a dispute resolution process;
  • Require the parties to negotiate terms obligating the user, as a condition of its license, to implement and maintain reasonable digital security measures controlling access to the relevant works;
  • Require the CMO to collect and distribute royalties to rightsholders within a specified period and to conduct diligent searches for non-members for whom it has collected payments;
  • Provide for the disposition of royalties remaining unclaimed after a specified period;
  • Include a provision expressly preserving the ability of users to assert fair use in connection with mass digitization projects; and
  • Sunset five years after the legislation’s effective date

1024px-Copyright.svgThe three categories of work mention are: 1) literary works; 2) pictorial or graphic works published as illustrations, diagrams, or similar adjuncts to literary works; and 3) photographs. A CMO is a “collective management organization” which would represent copyright holders in those three categories. Copyright holders would be able to opt-out of it as noted in bullet point three.

The short version. There’d be one group you could go to so that one can figure out who owns what copyright, get permission, and pay whatever fees. Anyone can opt-out of it. It would also be a pilot program, not some permanent thing.

Unlike what the video says, and has been claimed, there is no forcing anyone to participate in some program, and there’s no loss of your copyright unless you register everything and anything. Things remain the same, you can control your own copyright, or you can opt-in to the CMO, under the suggestions made in this report. Keep in mind. THERE IS NO LEGISLATION CURRENTLY BEFORE CONGRESS.

I work in advocacy, and it makes an organization/individuals look foolish when they rail against something, when that something hasn’t been laid out. There is a “notice of inquiry” where the Copyright Office wants to hear from you about their report and suggestions, not some legislation that does not exist, and especially not about a misunderstanding of what those suggestions are.

What is the 2008 Shawn Bently Act S.2913, aka the Orphan Works Act? The legislation was last introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (a staunch supporter of the MPAA and Hollywood) and died when it moved to the House. This is the summary:

Limits the remedies in a civil action brought for infringement of copyright in an orphan work, notwithstanding specified provisions and subject to exceptions, if the infringer meets certain requirements, including proving that: (1) the infringer performed and documented a reasonably diligent search in good faith to locate and identify the copyright owner before using the work, but was unable to locate and identify the owner; and (2) the infringing use of the work provided attribution to the owner of the copyright, if known. Requires a search to include methods that are reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances, including in some circumstances: (1) Copyright Office records that are not available through the Internet; and (2) resources for which a charge or subscription is imposed.

Limits monetary compensation to reasonable compensation for the use of the infringed work. Prohibits such compensation if the infringer is a nonprofit educational institution, museum, library, or archive, or a public broadcasting entity and if the infringer proves that: (1) the infringement is performed without any purpose of commercial advantage and is primarily educational, religious, or charitable in nature;and (2) the infringer ceases the infringement expeditiously after receiving notice of the claim for infringement. Allows injunctive relief to prevent or restrain infringement, subject to exception and limitation.

Directs the Register of Copyrights to: (1) undertake a process to certify that databases are available that facilitate searching for pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works protected by copyright; (2) report to the House and Senate judiciary committees on the implementation and effects of certain amendments made by this Act, including any recommendations for legislative changes; and (3) report to those committees on remedies for copyright infringement claims by an individual copyright owner or a related group of copyright owners seeking small amounts of monetary relief.

The legislation was opposed by groups on both sides of copyright. Some felt it made infringing easier, others felt that “reasonably diligent search” wasn’t defined well enough. What it didn’t do was rewrite copyright law as we know it. While flawed, the legislation was an attempt to make it easier to contact copyright holders to get permission or pay for permission. You can read the full legislation yourself.

Really in the end. The initial video and posts that started this response are hyperbolic and dangerous in the lack of facts and misrepresentation of the truth. The fact they have been shared thousands of times and the video watched almost 40,000 times is sad in that it uses scare tactics devoid of reality, and misrepresents how government works. The lack of the basic understanding about the legislative process by many is apparent, and appalling.

Below is a refresher of the basics, but the lesson here is, before you get worked up about legislation, do some research and come up with your own conclusion. Don’t take others at their word. Knowledge is power.

Update: For those interested in the issue and want to learn more about the actual problems with the Copyright Office’s proposal, TechDirt has a nice breakdown that shows the general issues. It also reiterates what I wrote above that this does not actually change copyright law as stated by others, and it is not legislation before Congress, etc.

Update 2: Surviving Creativity has a great podcast on the subject that includes folks who work in the comic industry and one is a lawyer.

State of the Union a Mixed Bag for Gamers

President Obama and Spider-ManThe President’s State of the Union address was a dangerously mixed-bag for gamers Tuesday night. The plethora of recent high-profile data breaches and hacks, such as the Sony hack, has given the President the political cover to push a stringent agenda that offers more potential negatives for gamers than positives. Interestingly, even though the President talked about Internet issues extensively in three speeches leading up to the State of the Union, he spent relatively little time on the subject Tuesday night. Indeed, the word “Internet” only appears three times in his hour-long speech and is only used in broad ideas, not connected to specific policies. However, by looking at those earlier speeches and their associated legislative proposals, gamers can understand the President’s Internet priorities.

On the bright side of things, President Obama’s call to increase broadband Internet service through municipal networks could be good news for thousands of underserved gamers. Currently, nineteen states have laws in place that make it illegal for counties or cities to build and offer their own Internet service to residents. The President and the FCC argue the FCC has the authority to change that through rule-making. The FCC chairperson has been warning of this action since the summer and last week, the President gave a preview of the issue. Many Republicans believe that the FCC does not have the regulatory authority and that this issue is a legislative one.

Municipal broadband, when it works, generally offers great rates for very fast Internet connections. Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, has a system that offers 100 Mbps connections for $58 and 1 Gbps for $70 per month. However, in order for municipal broadband to be effective, you generally need relatively high density and/or centralized population to make the investment make sense. It is a plan that does not generally work in rural communities, meaning that the least served in America will remain so.

Also good news for gamers, one of the three mentions of the Internet in the State of the Union was his pledge “to protect a free and open Internet”. This is a clear signal that the President intends to continue his push for Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is the idea that all traffic and devices on the Internet should be treated the same by carriers- ISPs cannot discriminate based on where this data originates or is headed. For gamers, Net Neutrality would ensure we do not have to pay more for our connections to Steam, Xbox Live, PSN, or any other gaming service nor would it cost us more to keep our speeds high.

More troubling for gamers is the President’s “tough” stance on cybersecurity issues. His proposals could lead to a murkier legal landscape when it comes to many of the activities in which gamers like to partake. There is a new data and intelligence sharing bill very similar to previous bills that the Internet rose up against with such responses as the Internet blackout of 2012. The new incarnation is CISPA and it has many of the same concerns as the earlier versions, but this time, apparently, it also has the President’s support.

For gamers, the language is especially troubling because it gives companies immunity for data breaches. PSN had a data breach in 2011 that led to the compromise of millions of users’ information. Sony settled a resultant class-action suit for $15 million dollars. That would not be an issue for them under the new law. Additionally, the law asks that information about “cyber-threats” be shared with the US government without adequately defining what that means. Theoretically, the government could know what you are doing on-line without a warrant because private companies are freely telling them in the name of information sharing.

The other very troubling change for gamers is a tightening of language and increase in punishments under the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act. The changes would further criminalize violations of terms of service. Do you let a friend share your gaming service log-in? Currently, that is a violation of the Terms of Service and can get your account suspended. If these proposed changes go into law, that act could be a felony. One would hope that federal prosecutors would have something better to do with their time, but as the Aaron Swartz case suggests this is sadly not always true.

So what can you, as a gamer, do to ensure your rights online stay strong? Contact your representatives and let them know your opinion. Let them know this is a priority issue for you, and let your voice be heard.