Posts filed under ‘Law’

Movies are Corporations (Hollywood Accounting)

By Chad Upton | Editor

One of the most interesting classes I took in College was taught by a film producer. He only taught that one class, for two hours, once a week. He shared learnings from the entire film making process, from writing a script and getting funding to shooting and distribution.

From this class, I learned is that each film is incorporated as its own corporation and there are a number of reasons why they do this.

For one, it offers limited liability. If someone sues the production, the people who financed and produced the film have some legal separation between the film and their personal assets and other businesses.

It also offers financial abstraction from the people and companies who financed the film. Here’s a little math test to help explain this concept: if it costs $300 million to make a product and then you sold $1 billion worth of it, how much was your profit? $700 million right? Yes. Unless, your product was a film or TV show.

This is almost exactly what happened with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). The studio invested just over $300 million to make the film and it grossed almost $1 billion from the box office and other distribution deals. But, instead of making $700 million, it actually lost $167 million (on paper). So, what happened to all of that money? (more…)

May 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm 4 comments

China Has Travelling Execution Units

By Chad Upton | Editor

Although it looks like a rockstar tour bus, this is one of at least 40 mobile execution vehicles that China uses for capital punishment. Just like a blood bank bus or MRI trailer brings a scarce resource to a remote community, death vans tour the Chinese countryside executing criminals.

Whether you agree with capital punishment or not, China is good at it. They should be, they do it more than all other countries combined. The question is: do they do it ethically?

China doesn’t disclose how many executions it performs each year, but Amnesty International estimates at least 1718 were conducted in 2008. Another group believes the number could be as high as 4,000 per year now and 8,000 when it was at its peak. (more…)

December 14, 2011 at 2:00 am 4 comments

The Dropped Call Rules

By Chad Upton | Editor

No matter which mobile phone carrier you use, you’ll eventually drop a call with somebody. Even if you don’t have a cellphone, you still have to deal with dropped calls when you’re talking with people who do.

Sometimes you both try to call each other at the same time and get each other’s voicemail. Other times, you try to call the other person and they’re still talking away, oblivious to the fact that the call was dropped.

Rule #1: Whoever initiated the call, initiates the call back after a dropped call.

To some, this rule is obvious. But, it needs to be stated to remove any confusion and prevent the double voicemail dilemma.

Rule #2: Whoever was listening when the call was dropped, remembers the last sentence the other person said.

This is less obvious, but since the listener is the only one who knows exactly when the call was dropped; they need to remember the last sentence or at least the topic — this may be the same person who needs to call the other person back.

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Photo: addicted eyes (cc)

December 8, 2011 at 2:00 am 3 comments

How Hollywood Became the Center of the Film Industry

By Chad Upton | Editor

The thirty mile zone (aka “TMZ” or “studio zone”) is the approximately thirty mile area in Southern California where America’s movie industry is based. However, New Jersey was the center of film in America before Hollywood.

Thomas Edison owned a majority of the patents on motion picture cameras and through these patents, he tightly controlled who could make films. In 1908, he formed the Motion Picture Patents Company, a licensing trust that included other important motion picture patent holders, including Eastman Kodak, who sold the only film stock that film makers could legally purchase.

The patents allowed the group to use law enforcement to prevent unauthorized use of their cameras, film, projectors or any variation of this equipment that included features that infringed on their patents. In some cases they hired thugs to do the enforcement.

Understandably, these tight restrictions stifled inovation and crippled the film industry.

Independent filmmakers fled to Hollywood. The physical distance from the Edison Trust made it easy to work on their films without the tight control and patent enforcement.

The reliable sunshine and temperature also made Hollywood a more suitable place to make films year-round.

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Sources: filmbug, wikipedia (motion picture patents company)

Photo: Heather Culligan (cc)

November 24, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

How to Watch Blocked Internet Videos

By Chad Upton | Editor

The internet is a great place to catch TV shows and clips that you or your PVR missed.

Unfortunately, a lot of websites only allow their video content to be viewed in their service area. It’s not because they’re mean, they may have contracts that prevent them from distributing outside their area, not to mention cost savings reasons.

That’s right, it’s expensive to stream video over the internet to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in a reliable way. You need a lot of servers and bandwidth, both of which are expensive, especially in large quantities. If a broadcaster only services one country, they’re not likely going to spend money to reach customers outside of their service area, although they may allow it if there are no restrictions of that nature in their distribution contracts.

Secondly, they may not be allowed to broadcast outside of their broadcast area. Broadcasters buy distribution rights for the shows and other content that they air. These distribution rights are usually sold by country. That means a broadcaster who buys the rights to air a show in the US is not allowed to distribute that show over the internet to another country since they have not bought the distribution rights required to broadcast in that country. In fact, another broadcaster in that country likely has paid for the rights to broadcast that same show there.

There are also legal agreements with members of various guilds and unions that may prevent content from being distributed in certain areas or for a finite time after the original air date.

Broadcasters can identify which country you’re in when you access their website. They use various methods to determine your location, but the most popular is something called Geo-IP look up. Basically, when you navigate to their website, the network address of your computer is sent to the web server. They can look up that address in a database to see the country that address is registered to. This method is accurate most of the time and in some cases they can actually narrow down the part the city that you live in.

Although there may be legal and ethical issues with it, there are ways to circumvent some of the methods that are used, potentially allowing you to view content from outside their intended region of distribution. These methods may be illegal in your country, so verify the legality of it before doing so.

I think there is at least one ethical use for circumventing regional lockouts. For example, I was in Canada a couple weeks ago and I wanted to catch up on one of my favorite shows. I normally watch the show on network TV and all of the advertising is relevant to me. I wasn’t able to watch videos on the broadcaster’s website from Canada, so I could have used the following method to make it work:

  1. Install this Firefox plugin: http://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/967 (requires Firefox browser)
  2. In Firefox, Go to “tools” > “Add-ons” and click on the “Preferences” button for the Modify Headers add-on.
  3. Click on the “Headers” tab at the top.
  4. Then enter: “X-Forwarded-For” in the “Header name” input box (without the quotation marks).
  5. Enter one of the following IP addresses in the “Header Value” input box (without the quotation marks, and choose the country where the content is accessible from)
    USA – 12.13.14.15
    Canada – 207.245.252.27
    UK – 193.35.131.194
  6. Select “Add” from the “Selection action” drop down.
  7. Enter the country name in the “Descriptive comment” input box.
  8. Click “Add”.
  9. Now select the one you just added in the list and then click the “Enable/Disable” button. You should see a green circle next to it, indicating it is enabled.
  10. Close the Modify Headers box, restart the Firefox browser and visit the intended website.

I should note some websites that the above method does not work for:

  • cbs.com
  • cwtv.com (the CW)
  • hulu.com
  • sho.com (showtime)
  • tnt.tv

There are at least four times that many sites that DO work, although I’d rather not single them out for legal reasons. There are also a few other methods, but this is by far the easiest to setup and use. If you have IP addresses for other countries, let me know and I’ll add them.

Also, it takes a lot of people and money to make these great shows; be sure to support them by purchasing them when they come out on disc or renting them from iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, etc.

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Sources: Hulu, Spike

September 27, 2010 at 5:00 am 63 comments

Drinking and Driving is Legal in Mississippi

By Chad Upton

Ever since I can remember, “Don’t Drink and Drive” has been drilled into my head.

But, the range of acceptable blood alcohol content varies from 0.01% in Albania, Guyana and a few other countries, to 0.08% in Canada, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom, United States and many others.

It’s obviously dangerous to be drunk while driving. But, it’s arguable when alcohol consumption becomes dangerous.

Some countries have lower limits for drivers who are new or have other special circumstances and more strict penalties for blood alcohol readings at other levels above the legal limit. In some cases: state and provincial laws are more strict than federal laws or county and city laws are more strict than state and provincial laws.

Countries, such as Brazil and the Czech Republic, have a zero tolerance policy for blood alcohol content. In those countries, and a few others, you cannot have alcohol in your bloodstream when you drive.  Other countries, permit up to 0.08% blood alcohol content.

I couldn’t find a country with more internal disagreement than the United States. In most states, it is illegal to have a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08%. The rules are even more strict for drivers under the age of 21. In most states, you can’t have open containers in the passenger compartment of a vehicle — that is a container where the seal has been broken.

Conversely, there are a number of states where passengers are allowed to consume alcohol while the vehicle is moving. These states are Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia. Actually, Mississippi allows drivers to consume alcohol as long as they do not exceed the blood alcohol limit of 0.08%.

States that do not conform to federal open container laws are financially penalized. But, that doesn’t stop them, in fact, drive thru restaurants in some states serve alcoholic beverages too.

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Sources: Wikipedia (US Open Container Laws, Drunk Driving by Country), Open Container Laws, The Monitor, State Line

Relevant:

An alcohol abuse program makes use of various methods, all designed to help an alcohol abuser get the all that drinking off his system.

July 28, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

ID is Not Required to Buy Cooking Wine

By Chad Upton

The laws and store policies around the products that require ID and the ones that don’t, are sometimes confusing.

I was in Target a while back and bought a can of compressed air to clean my dusty laptop. I was surprised when they asked for ID at the checkout.

Apparently some people like to get high from the propellant in canned air. It’s unfortunate, these are not recreational drugs, these are asphyxiates that displace the oxygen in the air, reducing the oxygen that reaches your brain and eventually causes death. The solution is to require ID for purchase, although even a 42 year old man died from “huffing” canned air.

Even when you’re using these products as intended, you should avoid inhaling the fumes and ensure adequate ventilation.

I was at Target a few weeks later, looking for ramekins to make Crème brûlée. I also needed a butane blowtorch to caramelize the top of the custard. It turns out that you can buy butane torches and fuel without ID. Thinking back to my teenage years, a blowtorch would have been much more fun than a can of air.

But, cooking wine has the most interesting story.

It ranges from 10%-13% alcohol and anybody can buy cooking wine at the grocery store. They even sell it in grocery stores in “dry” areas, where no alcoholic drinks are sold. In fact, Safeway requires ID to buy cough syrup, but not for cooking wine. Some cough syrup, such as NyQuil, contains alcohol. Other cough and cold medications contain a drug known as Dextromethorphan, which is a dissociative psychedelic drug.

My friend Molly told me about this cooking wine loophole and gave me a sample of the product. If you’ve ever tasted cooking wine on it’s own, you’ll understand why anyone is allowed to buy it. Nobody would ever consume it on its own, it’s simply awful.

Wine that is sold as “cooking wine” is usually grape or rice wine. It is then adulterated with salt, which makes it less suitable for cooking and even more undrinkable. If you’re making a recipe that calls for wine, use wine that you’d actually drink and use a wine that pairs well with the food you’re cooking.

Cooking wine has a lot of salt for coloring and as a preservative. Because cooking wine is consumed very slowly, the salt prevents acedic acid from forming and turning it into wine vinegar.

Oh, and if you’re going to make Crème brûlée, my friend Mike showed me that you should skip the butane and go with propane — it has a wider flame that heats more evenly, which gives much better results and in less time.

Broken Secrets

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Sources: Wikipedia (Cooking Wine, Difluoroethane, Dextromethorphan), MSDS, Cooking Wine Without ID (1, 2), Dry Counties, NyQuil

Photo: anitasarkeesian (cc)

July 20, 2010 at 5:00 am 10 comments

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