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bad things - ads, movies, and the dmca
Posted: 2003-05-14 14:31
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Stuff

As the movie studios begin unleashing a record number of sequels this year, advertisers take advantage of the popularity of these movies and unleash what seems to be a record number of movie tie-ins. Heineken has a commercial featuring someone looking like Trinity (from The Matrix) serving drinks, and employing the 'stop time' technique to jump over a crowd of people. Powerade has a commercial featuring someone playing Agent Smith talking about how we should drink more Powerade to provide more power to the matrix (see Penny Arcade's mocking of said ad). Baskin Robbins is featuring a new sundae named 'Wolverine's Revenge', with a commercial showing a hand with claws 'creating' a sundae. And these are just a few examples.

And looking past the movie tie-in advertising, it appears that the quality of advertising on television is sharply declining. Arby's new commercials feature a very poorly digitized talking oven mitt in a number of situations, like having a personal trainer helping it get in shape because there's a new sandwich coming. Then there's the mitt talking to one of the employees: "Remember that day we took 50 roasts out of the oven?", and is then high-fived by everyone on the Arby's team because of the introduction of their new sandwich.

Reebok (or Rbk, as you see in the commercial) has a commercial showing a guy owning a closet full of the same kind of show. When he's eating a jelly donut, some of the jelly falls out and land on his shoe, prompting a cry of "Nooo!" and a trip to the store to buy another pair. What's the message that Reebok is trying to send? That their shoes can't tolerate a single drop of jelly, and that if you ever get them dirty you need to replace them? Or that their shoes are for spoiled rich people who can afford to buy a new pair of (overpriced) sneakers every time they get the slightest bit dirty?

And who could forget the commercials for Extra gum? They had a commercial for their commercial, featuring a gumball flying around a gumball machine, with the text, "Why is this gumball so angry? Find out Wednesday." (this aid first aired on a Monday). That was the entire commercial, with no idea what product or service was being advertised, just telling people to tune in for a commercial. When the real commercial finally aired, we were treated to a gumball flying around the screen, singing about how Extra gum is ruining it, complete with lyrics showing at the bottom of the ad. It's not even like the song was any good, there was no rhyme, no rhythm, just a bunch of words put into something other than plain English.

Moving away from ads for a bit, I mentioned that the movie studios are releasing a record number of sequels this year. 25 in total this year, with 16 of these coming during the summer movie season, according to this report. The movies run the gamut of genres, with nearly every successful movie over the past few years coming out with a sequel. Some were expected, like Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King, but some just make no sense to have a sequel, like the upcoming Legally Blond 2: Red, White, and Blond, Dumb and Dumberer, 2 Fast 2 Furious, or Charlie's Angels 2.

It makes me wonder who thought that all these sequels would be a good idea, especially when some of them lack the stars that made the movies what they were (for example, Dumb And Dumberer won't have either Jim Carrey or Jeff Daniels, and 2 Fast 2 Furious won't have Vin Diesel). I also wonder what happened to the concept of coming up with new ideas, instead of just rehashing old ones. Apparently, this a lost art to the folks out in Hollywood, who are reluctant to try something new with this economy, but think that making a sequel to a successful movie will somehow bring in more money for less risk. Though this isn't true, and historically, sequels have performed poorly compared to the original movie, in some cases (Analyze That is one example cited) don't even make enough in box-office sales to cover the cost of marketing the film, let alone it's production.

This demonstrates one of the other things I feel Hollywood is doing wrong nowadays. Instead of focusing on making a decent plot, with good characters, and an intelligent, coherent story, the studios are throwing more and more money into special effects, hoping to make up for all the movie's shortcomings with eye candy. The newest Star Wars movies are a prime example. The movies in and of themselves lack meaning, or coherence, or thus far, any real connections to the original three movies. But these movies feature more CG than nearly any other (live-action) movie in history.

But enough about movies and advertising. There are far more important things going on in the world worthy of mention here. Like the RIAA's abuse of section 512 of the DMCA, the takedown provisions. This section lays out the procedure that a copyright holder should take when a server is found to be illegally hosting copyrighted work, and what the service provider should do to avoid liability. This section provides penalties for wrongful notices only if the accuser 'knowingly materially misrepresents under this section', which exempts automated programs like those used by the RIAA from this part. And we saw examples of just how this exemption makes the whole part worthless, when at least a dozen takedown notices were sent by the RIAA to service providers of people not hosting any infringing material, like Prof. Usher of Penn State's Astronomy and Astrophysics department. The reason for the notice? Prof. Usher's last name, in combination with an MP3 of an a capella song about the Swift gamma ray satellite, which generated a notice to the university's IT department alleging that music from the artist Usher was being illegally shared on one of their servers.

Another case is that of the host of, a Commodore Amiga site. They received a letter saying that the site "offers approximately 0 sound files for download. Many of these files contain recordings owned by our member companies, including songs by such artists as Creed." This was enough to get the ISP concerned, with a representative saying "If the current complaint does not have any scan results, this would mean that at one point it did--otherwise, they would not have sent out an e-mail in the first place--and they are making a formal notification about it," with no consideration given to the possibility that they were just plain wrong.

The lack of any sort of liability on the part of the RIAA is deeply disturbing. It's a definite possibility that an erroneous takedown notice could be sent, and a site taken down based on it, when the site was completely free of any illegal material. So long as the notice was automated, however, the sender would not be "knowingly materially misrepresenting" and thus would not be exposed to legal action, based on section 512.

More to follow on these subjects when I have more time and desire to write about them.


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