Monday, August 18, 2014

Character Insight No. 109: General Chang

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile General Chang from Star Trek VI, who comes in at number 3 on our best Trek movie villains countdown. 
  
 Chang (General).jpg
("One distinctive bald Klingon, right there") 

General Chang was chief of staff to Chancellor Gorkon, who led the Klingon High Council. Chang earned the sobriquet "the Merciless" after commanding many punitive attacks on Klingon rebels and others who dared oppose the Klingon empire. It was rumored that Chang lost his left eye in one of these battles, leading to his distinctive eye patch. 


But what makes Chang even more memorable is his strong fondness for Shakespeare, quoting the bard at every possible opportunity. 

Quote: "You do prefer it this way, don't you, as it was meant to be? No peace in our time. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

Chang leads the plot to try and sabotage the peace talks between the Federation and the Klingons, joined of course by Admiral Cartwright and Lietenant Valeris, among others. He uses an experimental Klingon ship that can fire while cloaked to cast suspicion on Captain Kirk for the assassination of Gorkon, which he had Valeris perform. He then becomes a prosecutor against Kirk and Dr. McCoy in front of the Klingon courts, turning in a great legal entrapment of Kirk. 


Quote "Admiral Kirk was broken for taking matters into his own hands in defiance of regulations of the law. Do you deny being demoted for these charges? DON'T WAIT FOR THE TRANSLATION. Answer me now."

When Kirk and Bones are sentenced to life in prison on Rura Penthe, Chang again employs more bad guys led by Martia to try and get the Federation crewmates killed in an escape attempt. However, the escape works and Chang has to hunt down the Enterprise and do combat with it and Captain Sulu's Excelsior. 


Quote:
General Chang: [over the public address speakers] "I am constant as the northern star."
Commander Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, M.D.: I'd give real money if he'd shut up.

Unfortunately for Chang, the Enterprise crew is smarter than the average bear, as Uhura and Spock develop a way to cause a photon torpedo to track the plasma trail of his cloaked ship. And thus, Chang and his devious plot exit stage left, allowing the historic peace to happen. 

Quote: ""Tickle us, do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

Actor Christopher Plummer requested that he receive less prominent head ridges and makeup because he thought the look was not perfected well in previous iterations. Between his small ridges, bald head, and eye patch, General Chang looks more like a human than a Klingon. That actually syncs up well with his love of Shakespeare, although it does not jive well with other Klingons at the time. 

Chang's role is a lot like the historical German figure Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who conspired to kill Adolf Hitler to stop a World War (but was unsuccessful). The depth and uniqueness of this character, plus an outstanding acting performance by Plummer, pushes this baddie into the top echelon of this countdown. This is easily the best of the Klingon villains, and it would be wrong to have an iconic race much farther away from the top of this list. 

As previously mentioned, Christopher Plummer played Chang. His best role likely came in the animated movie Up, although he also has memorable performances in A Beautiful Mind and The Sound of Music. Plummer continues to act today, some 60 years after his debut in 1953.


Until next time, live long and prosper...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Legal Geek No. 21: The Legal Effects of Suicide

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we honor the recently-passed Robin Williams and take a look at whether there are any legal effects caused by the commission of suicide. 




(courtesy fanpop.com 

On Monday, news broke that famous comedian and actor Robin Williams had died at the age of 63. He certainly made the world a better and happier place with his art, and he will be sorely missed. Sadly, it appears that his death was a suicide likely fueled by the depression he has battled with for many years. Even though the subject is hopelessly morbid, this begs the question: what, if anything, are the legal ramifications of suicide?

Certainly if you've ever looked over a life insurance policy, you are likely aware that most policies deny payout in the event of suicide, but only if that happens within a set time period in the contract such as the first two years the policy is in effect. While insurance payouts are hopefully not an issue for the family of Robin Williams, it is something to be aware of. This is just based on contract though, not the law itself. 

Almost all current laws dealing with suicide are criminal laws regarding assisting someone else commit suicide. Many states had laws on record making suicide itself a felony up through about the 1960's, but no state still has any such law on the books (and they were rarely, if ever, enforced back when these laws existed, because the person is already dead). Regardless, some states still hold that suicide is a common law crime, under judge made law, and this can bar damages recovery for the deceased's family in an ongoing lawsuit, in some circumstances. Essentially, this long shot is the only significant effect of suicide that may be legally binding on the survivors. 

There is no automatic loss of copyrights or other IP rights as a result of suicide. Indeed, the estate of someone artistic like Williams may very well hold some valuable copyrights for the next 70 years past his death, and this may be a continued revenue stream for his heirs for many years to come. So beware bloggers, you may want to be careful with using the copyrighted clips and pictures of Williams that will inevitably be shared like wildfire over the next few days and weeks. 

Bottom Line: Suicide and depression simply stink, and we lost a great one this week. Although his family will have plenty to grieve about in the coming months, at least this act carries essentially no adverse legal consequences for them. Let's hope we as a society find better ways to help those who need it in the future, as none of us should have to experience the devastation that is suicide. 

And Robin, we will miss you. "You ain't never had a friend like me." Indeed, we haven't.

Embedded image permalink
(copyright Carter Johnson, check out her stuff @carterejohnson)

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Character Insight No. 108: John Harrison - Khan

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile John Harrison, AKA Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness, who comes in at number 4 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.
 
 
("John Harrison doesn't look so tough, but then...")

Although the merits of hiding Khan's identity before the movie released can be debated, it should come as no surprise that Khan came back as a villain in the Abrams reboot movies. After all, this won't be the last time this character shows up on this top villains countdown, and he is the quintessential antagonist for Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew. 


Quote: "Captain, are you going to punch me again, over and over, until your arm weakens? Clearly you want to."

Khan is the most prominent of a group of genetically engineered human augments who were developed to improve the leadership of the human race. When these augments became world leaders and began warring with one another, the eugenics wars were started to depose them from power. A group of these augments led by Khan escaped this war by going on a sleeper ship and taking a 200 year journey away from Earth, leading to the initial encounter in TOS in the episode Space Seed. 


This version of Khan was awoken from cryogenic suspension to help Admiral Marcus build warships and weapons to prepare for war against the Klingons. Marcus blackmails Khan by threatening to kill the other cryogenically suspended crew members. But Khan eventually turns on Marcus and tries to kill him and most of the other Captains and First Officers of Starfleet ships stationed around Earth. 


Quote: "Intellect alone is useless in a fight, Mr. Spock. You, you can't even break a rule; how can you be expected to break bone?"

That leads Kirk to go track down Khan on Kronos and try to kill him, but he captures him instead, which leads to the revelation of Marcus's plans. Kirk and Khan then team up to take down Admiral Marcus and the warship Vengeance before Khan turns on Kirk and the Enterprise crew. Much like the first Khan movie, one crew member (this time Kirk) has to sacrifice himself to save the ship and another (this time Spock) has to go take down the bad guy. Khan's super duper blood saves the day for Captain Kirk though, in an ironic twist of fate different than the original timeline.

Although there's plenty to nitpick about retelling a Khan story, it was refreshing to see another great actor Benedict Cumberbatch play this role. Cumberbatch really sells the motivations of being protective of his family, his crew over all else. His character is nuanced and complex, making you feel OK to cheer him on alongside Kirk during the battle against the Vengeance, full well knowing he would eventually turn on the Enterprise crew too. Just listening to quotes from this movie make you realize what a brilliant casting decision this was, even if it was made simply because Robert Orci couldn't handle having someone of color or middle eastern descent be demonized in a movie. 

Quote: "My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?"


Let's hope that if this series of movies or a television series continues, Khan somehow gets to play a role once again some day with more creative writing than what was shown in Into Darkness. This is like Thanos or Darth Vader, we just can't get enough of this superhuman antagonist. 

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Khan, and he is best known for playing Sherlock Holmes on the Sherlock series. He also shows up in the Hobbit trilogy and in last year's best picture 12 Years a Slave. 


Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Legal Geek No. 20: Copyright Monkeys

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at this week's hot copyright controversy, that being whether a photographer has rights to shots taken by a monkey with his camera. 




selfie_1
(c/o Wikimedia Commons, this is the picture in question)  

Back in 2011, British photographer David Slater spent a great deal of time and money taking a wildlife photography trip to Indonesia. During this trip, a pack of monkeys, specifically crested black macaques, grabbed one of Slater's camera and ended up taking hundreds of pictures. A couple of these pictures ended up being good looking selfies, which made for a great story and a good selling photo for Slater. 

However, the Wikimedia Foundation has this week refused to delete the photos from wikipedia, arguing that there is no valid copyright in the images. Essentially, Wikimedia argues that the only authorship of those photographs was by the monkey itself, and copyright law does not protect or grant rights to non-human authors. Thus, the photo is allegedly in the public domain. But is this true?

I agree with most copyright experts that U.S. and European copyright laws provide rights to creators of works of authorship only when the author is human. The problem for Slater here is that he did not add anything to the monkey selfies, he did not frame or arrange the shots and did not alter them or improve them upon bringing the photos back home. The author of a photograph is the one who snaps the shutter, absent some of these other possible additions to the creative expression or work. Slater did not add anything here, and so if there could be a copyright, it would be owned by the monkey, which is impossible under current laws. 

Granted, this is a bad situation for creative types like Slater who spend thousands of dollars trying to get one lucrative photo like this monkey selfie. But copyright case law is clear, co-ownership or transferred ownership only comes by written contract in work made for hire, or when actual authorial participation was added to the work. Merely transporting the camera to Indonesia and owning it is not enough to pass the sniff test. Wikimedia is correct, in this case.

Like other IP law doctrines, copyright law does change and reform with the times. Perhaps the era of everyone having a smartphone in the pocket will force another major revision to copyright law to account for complex situations such as this. Just like when the law had to begin adjusting to the Internet age in 1998 with the DMCA.

Bottom Line: Today's copyright law does not allow for a copyright when a monkey steals a camera and takes a selfie. Perhaps when the Planet of the Apes timeline begins, we will adjust our laws and give unto Caesar what is his. 

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Character Insight No. 107: M'Ress

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile M'Ress, a recurring character on The Animated Series. Not to be confused with our friend M'Ress/Renee, who sometimes suggests good characters for this segment.

MRess.jpg 
("A character far better left to animation back then, but now...me-ow")

M'Ress has the honor of being the first Animated Series regular character to be profiled on this segment, and she stands out as one of the more memorable additions to the crew. Although a feline life-form would not have been easy to pull off in the original Star Trek, in animation this is precisely the type of different species that adds more diversity to the crew.


M'Ress was the relief communications officer, although she also served as a backup science officer when Spock was off the ship. She is basically a younger version of the talented main shift communications officer Uhura, having risen to the Lieutenant rank just two years after leaving the Academy.


Most of the appearances for M'Ress are typical communications officer material, although she serves as a key contributor on a couple of missions where regular duty officers were stranded or taken hostage off the Enterprise. Her laid back demeanor and distinctive purr in her voice makes her an interesting analogue for Uhura. 


M'Ress was known as a practical joker, which sometimes led to her getting into trouble with the crew. She also had a brief romantic fling with Montgomery Scott thanks to Mudd's love potion, but it didn't work out after the effects of the potion wore off. 

Quote of the Week: Scott : (that was a) "hangover to shame all previous hangovers,"
M'Ress: "Not so loud, you fool."
Scott: "Yeah, well, all of a sudden, I don't like you much, either."

According to her character biography, M'Ress is passionate about studying history and anthropology, and she also writes poetry and acts in plays performed onboard. A well rounded cat, to be sure. 

It would be interesting to see M'Ress perhaps become a real character in the Abrams reboot movies because filmmakers today have CGI abilities that can make such a character realistic and believable...just ask Guardians of the Galaxy. Although most of the Animated Series can be left in the dustbin of time, this character is long overdue for a reboot. If you can do it for Khan, you can do it for M'Ress!

M'Ress was voiced by Majel Barrett, who of course voiced the ship computer in most iterations of Star Trek as well as played as Christine Chapel and Lwaxana Troi. She became an actress thanks to a failing grade in contracts in her first year of law school, and we can all thank the hell that is law school for giving us such a great talent. 

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Character Insight No. 106: Shinzon

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile Shinzon from Star Trek Nemesis, who comes in at number 5 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.
 

("Hard to Believe This Little Guy Grows Up to be Bane")

Shinzon was created to try and give Captain Picard an ultimate personal villain in the vein of Khan for Captain Kirk. However, much of his story and motivations had to be cut from this movie and that made the actual character fall flat from where he could've been, which would have ranked near the top of this list. 

Shinzon is a clone of Captain Picard who was created by the Romulan Empire as part of ap lan to replace the powerful Starfleet officer with a spy. But the Shinzon plan was abandoned by the Romulan government while he was a boy, and he was discarded to work as a slave in the mines on Remus. The human was abused there and that made him jaded against both his heritage as a human and the Romulan government.

Shinzon got his chance to become powerful during the Dominion War, as the Reman slaves were used during this engagement. He then uses the power gained during his successes in this conflict to kill the Romulan Senate with thalaron radiation and come to power as Praetor of the Empire. 


His plan was to use the thalaron weapon to wipe out Earth to exact revenge on humanity as well as become more famous than Picard in the history books thanks to taking down the mighty Federation. Unfortunately the scenes establishing this latter motive are cut from the movie, which means the viewers only get to see a hollow revenge plot as this villain's motivation.

Quote of the Week: "We will no longer bow before anyone as slaves. Not the Romulans and not your mighty Federation. We are a race bred for war... and conquest."
Shinzon lures Picard and the Enterprise by planting parts of a Data clone B4 on a planet and then offering peace talks on behalf of the Romulan Empire. As a result of his failing health, Shinzon is encouraged by his Reman colleagues to continue the plan by trying to abduct Picard and destroy the Enterprise. His ship the Scimitar has a huge advantage in being able to fire while cloaked, much like the Klingons in Star Trek VI. But Shinzon's perverse fascination with Deanna Troi does him in, as she is able to telepathically link with him to locate where his cloaked ship is, leading to the Enterprise staging a comeback highlighted by Picard ramming the Enterprise into the Scimitar.
Shinzon then decides to try and commit suicide to at least take down the Enterprise, but Data sacrifices himself to save his Captain and end the movies for this cast. Again, making another parallel with the Khan storyline and Spock's sacrifice.
Shinzon as a villain is a great idea, but the execution was not great because it is difficult to establish a compelling back story and his character motivations in a movie less than 2 hours long. Additionally, the parallels to the Star Trek II plot were too much at times, crossing the line from honoring the past to lazy copycatting.

Tom Hardy played Shinzon, and he has continued to act in movies over the past decade, really breaking through in Inception and then highlighted by his appearance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (Your Punishment Will Be More..Severe).

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Legal Geek No. 19: Was Veronica's Comcast Call Illegal?

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at wiretapping laws to determine whether Frogpants friends Veronica and Ryan did anything illegal in recording and posting the phone call of them trying to disconnect Comcast service last week.


Anybody who has dealt with canceling cable services knows what a pain companies like Comcast and Time Warner can be on the back end. However, you hopefully haven't experienced the 10+ minutes of agony that Veronica and Ryan did, and it's worth a listen.

(Insert clip of Comcast call)


Available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYUvpYE99vg 

One of the more typical responses to this viral call has been to ask whether the customer violates any wiretapping laws and the rights of the Comcast call center employee by recording and distributing such a call. It even came up on Current Geek briefly last week.

Wiretapping laws have protected telephone, personal, and electronic communications since the late 1960's, and these laws have become more vital over time as privacy rights erode away for the general public in many areas. Federal and state laws prohibit any unauthorized interception, recording, distribution, or use of a private conversation, although there are numerous limits and exceptions to this law. 

One limit is consent of one or both of the parties to the recording. 38 states and Federal law allow wiretapping of any conversation when one of the parties consents, which would automatically protect Veronica and Ryan as participants on this call. However, California is one of the few states that requires consent of all parties to make wiretapping legal. 

However, there may be implied consent of the Comcast employee here because his company informs customers that each call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes, which is done precisely to avoid federal wiretapping laws and FCC regulation violations.

However, the California law has another important limit in that it applies only to confidential communications, in other words, those conversations where an expectation of privacy is present. It would likely be impossible for Comcast or its employee to prove that they have any expectation of privacy on a business call from a consumer such as this. Their own recording of these same calls tend to prove otherwise. 

Bottom Line: Veronica and Ryan are safe from federal and California wiretapping laws thanks to consent and/or the call not having an expectation of confidentiality or privacy. That's good news for our friends and hopefully also for Comcast, which will hopefully change company practices and policies after the fallout from one employee following questionable company orders. 

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.