GAG’s Friends: Not So Earth Friendly

I haven’t bothered writing much about the Graphic Artists Guild this past year, mostly to preserve my peace of mind and save energy for more productive matters, but every now and then something comes to my attention that tempts me to write more about them. A recent news item posted by the Guild about Milt Glaser’s climate change message, “It’s not Warming, It’s Dying” finally caused a big enough spike on my irony-o-meter for me to go to the trouble, not to mention that with Earth Day being here the timing’s exactly right.

Milt’s work is great and I love it, but it kills me that the Guild can talk about climate while at the same time their Copyright Alliance friends are up to no good when it comes to the environment. In case you haven’t visited my previous posts or learned this elsewhere, the Copyright Alliance is a front group created largely by associates of former Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) and his lobbying firm, the Nickles Group LLC, that caters to the interests of a few corporate interests and not so much those of the individual creators as they frequently claim. Despite knowing this the Guild continues to support them and has sent them a fair amount of money. (Directly to the D.C. office of the Nickles Group, as a matter of fact.) Sen. Don Nickles is a staunch conservative and longtime opponent of organized labor, workplace safety regulation, affordable healthcare, equal rights, and he has supported ALEC and other conservative causes during and after his time in the U.S. Senate, making it not the least bit surprising that both he and the people around him have quite a track record on the environment.


 

The Copyright Alliance and the Nickles Group on the Environment

The Copyright Alliance has been advocating for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which has been widely denounced as a serious threat to laws protecting the environment both within the U.S. and around the world. This effort by the Alliance is part of a larger campaign by the MPAA and the other corporations it serves to get the TPP passed.

The Nickles Group Lobbies for Koch Industries. Other high profile fossil fuel clients of the Nickles Group: Anadarko Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and National Oilwell Varco.

Don Nickles has been a vocal opponent of renewable energy, recently pushing for the elimination of tax credits for renewable energy producers.

Don Nickles was a board member of fracking giant Chesapeake Energy, which has not only polluted aquifers, but also screwed landowners with abusive pipeline contracts while doing it. Nickles resigned from the Chesapeake board in 2012, however, after being involved in CEO Aubrey McClendon’s troubles. It appears he’s still on Valero’s board of Directors.

Mitch McConnell’s new policy director is Hazen Marshall, a top aide to Don Nickles, and until taking the new position had been a lobbyist at the Nickles Group serving their oil and gas clients. If you heard about Sen. McConnell’s call for states to block President Obama’s initiatives on climate change, well then, you now know of one of the players behind the scenes who might have had a hand in formulating that bit of politicking.

The Nickles Group’s top client is the notorious patent troll Intellectual Ventures LLC, reported to be attacking the renewable energy industry. Intellectual Ventures has been harshly criticized for its modus operandi of threatening businesses with expensive lawsuits unless licenses to the patents owned by IV are purchased. Tech industry startups have been particularly hard hit by trolls; a past epidemic of poorly defined and very broadly written patents on items such as software code and other new technologies not sufficiently understood at the patent office has handed Intellectual Ventures and other trolls the opportunity to demand victims purchase licenses to dubious patents, or risk wasting millions on a legal fight even if they stand to win in court. This bloodsucking is now being done to companies in the renewable energy business with the help of the Nickles Group. Here’s the punch line- Cindi Tripodi, a key architect of the Copyright Alliance, is a founding partner of the Nickles Group and one of the lobbyists helping Intellectual Ventures do its damage to renewable energy.


So maybe now you’ll understand why I don’t take the people at the Graphic Artists Guild to be all that environmentally conscious. At some point I’ll probably also get worked up enough to write more about how they’re also not entirely credible when it comes to copyright and the economic interests of individual creators.

(P.S.- I must have done something right in a past life, because HBO just aired “Last Week Tonight” in which John Oliver did a marvelous job explaining patent trolls.   Must see!)

 

 

Big Cleanup Job, Tip #1

 

Tip: When facing a large mess, forget about developing a plan of attack. You’ll only waste time standing around rather than actually making progress. Just reach in, grab the nearest thing, haul it out into the light, and deal with it. Step and repeat.  Mind the spiders.

Cleanup02_700x

Lots of stuff has piled up in the last few months; so following my own advice, I’m just going to grab one or two items from the pile and drag them out in no particular order. Additional posts will follow as I work my way through the accumulated junk.

Proposed COMCAST / Time Warner Merger

While this has been pushed back in the news by impending climate catastrophe, revival of the cold war, and planes falling from the sky, this is still something you should be paying attention to. After all, it would really suck to not have anything decent to watch on TV as the world crumbles. The New York Times continues its “who the hell knows, make up your own damned mind about things” approach to covering the COMCAST deal, with a positive article in today’s business section by James B. Stewart- A Vision Beyond Cable for Comcast After Merger . This merger-friendly article contrasts with a piece by David Carr on Feb. 16- Stealthily, Comcast Fortifies its Arsenal, as well as a doubtful editorial on Feb. 13-  If a Cable Giant Becomes Bigger.  I find it hysterical that Stewart, supporter of  COMCAST taking over Time Warner, mentions he’s a Time Warner customer and hates them.  Carr, in opposition to the deal, states he’s a customer of COMCAST, and loathes them.

Susan Crawford, author of “Captive Audience- The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” has also spoken out in opposition to the merger.  In a presentation at Harvard on March 04 and also in an interview with the Harvard Law Record, she gives numerous reasons for concluding the merger will not be good for consumers.  Here’s an excerpt from her interview:

For most Americans, the only choice for high capacity Internet connection is their local cable monopoly, . . . A Comcast-Time Warner merger would make an already terrible situation incrementally worse in that Comcast would have additional scale. And scale is the secret to this business.    -Susan Crawford

The NY Times had another interesting piece by Eric Lipton, on Feb. 20- COMCAST’s Web of Lobbying and Philanthropy that focused on COMCAST’s lobbying machine, and mentioned that  former Sen. Don Nickles, the Copyright Alliance’s facilitator, is now on COMCAST’s newly formed merger strategy team.  The article digs into the web of charities and special interest groups that receive support from COMCAST and which might now be expected to lend a hand in getting the merger with Time Warner approved.

But don’t worry, Graphic Artists Guild members and defenders of the Copyright Alliance!! I’m sure this has nothing to do with you. Oh, wait, that’s right, the Copyright Alliance lobbyists work for Sen. Nickles at the Nickles Group LLC, and Executive Director Sandra Aistars was a Time Warner VP before coming to the Alliance. Move along!  Nothing to see here, folks.

 

Net Neutrality and Creators

My sense is that when artists think about or discuss their economic and political interests, copyright law is often the dancing elephant in the center ring that unfortunately draws too much attention from other issues that creators should also be worried about.  One very important issue is net neutrality, which has been in the news recently.

On September 9 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit heard arguments from Verizon, which is challenging FCC rules designed to keep the internet open and neutral.  If net neutrality hasn’t been on your radar, and you don’t know anything about common carrier rules, or how they affect the internet, I would recommend you catch up by reading this article by Timothy Lee in the Washington Post (Sept. 10, 2013).  Net Neutrality is on Trial in Washington.  Here’s What You Need to Know.  (See also the other resources listed below).

Net neutrality matters to all creators, if you consider what the marketplace for artistic services might look like if Verizon, AT&T, Time-Warner, and COMCAST win their fight to lock up internet access and content.  Increased costs just for access, plus arbitrary data caps with associated high fees and penalties, will mean fewer consumers buying less content; suppression of competitors will reduce the need for providing quality service and programming; fewer buyers of creative works will mean that the big players will have increased leverage over what they pay you for your work.  And that’s just looking at a loss of net neutrality from a purely business and financial bottom-line viewpoint; from an ordinary citizen’s vantage, allowing a handful of corporations to monopolize the internet and choose what content is favored, or even available, would be an unthinkable assault on the basic rights of all Americans.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Graphic Artists Guild, as an associate member of the Copyright Alliance, is actually in league against the interests of creators.  While the Alliance regularly sends out its clowns to keep everyone’s attention focused on the copyright elephant, its lobbyists are busy at their real day jobs representing Nickles Group LLC clients COMCAST and AT&T, not to mention a slew of other corporate interests that are very unfriendly to the creative community.

Here are a number of other articles and resources for catching up on the issue of net neutrality, and what the telecoms are up to:

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Eli Clifton. The Telecom Astroturf Lobby. The American Independent. Sept. 11, 2013.


Michael J. Copps. The New Telecom Oligarchs. The Nation, April 3, 2013.


Michael Weinberg. If You Are Streaming Video, You Can’t Cap Your Rivals (Time Warner Cable Edition). PublicKnowledge.org, August 28, 2013


Timothy Karr.  Verizon’s Plan to Break the Internet.  Common Dreams, Sept. 21, 2013.


Moyers & Company.  Susan Crawford on Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair.  Video interview, Feb. 8, 2013.

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The New and Improved IAG Blog

This site is no longer my blog for the IAG, the “Illustrators at the Guild,” my interest group for members of the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, inc.  Unfortunately, I’ve reached the conclusion that the numerous problems within the Guild are insurmountable, and have decided that remaining as either an officer or member of the Graphic Artists Guild would not be a productive use of my time.

All my posts will be preserved for the benefit of Guild members who might still want to know some of the specifics about their organization, and exercise their rights to participate in its governance.  While I’ll still have a few things to say about the Guild, I will be speaking to the broader interests of artists, designers, and the arts community.  To any and all remaining Guild members, I hope you will pay attention to how your organization is being managed, and whether or not it is serving as an effective voice for your interests.

Sincerely,

Christopher Johnson

TPP and Telecom News

(NOTE: Originally published June 20, 2013, this post was re-edited for public display, Sept. 20, 2013.  The IAG is no longer my interest group at the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, and I am no longer an officer, volunteer, or member of the Graphic Artists Guild.)

If you’re interested in the big picture of copyright and IP policy, and wish to know a little bit about the political sausage-grinding that will likely have an impact on the graphic arts industry, not to mention the U.S. economy and citizen’s rights, here are a few items you might want to dig into:

Why Should I Care About the TPP? (Video by PublicKnowledge.org)

There’s additional background information on Public Knowledge’s TPP page.  If you watched the video or are already aware of MPAA’s and RIAA’s support for SOPA/PIPA and now TPP, then you’re probably not very comfortable with the Graphic Artists Guild’s support for them through their front group, the Copyright Alliance.  While the Guild is very quiet about its membership in the Alliance, please note how the Guild’s logo is prominently displayed on the Copyright Alliance Members’ page.

In addition to the TPP continuing to roll along, there have been two noteworthy events in the past several days;

Michael Froman is Confirmed by Senate as the New USTR (U.S. Trade Representative)

(Huffington Post, June 20, 2013.)  Michael Froman, President Obama’s pick for USTR, will be overseeing negotiations on TPP and upcoming trade deals between the U.S. and Europe.  He was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate, with all Republican senators voting yes, and only 4 Democrats voting no.  However, the dissenters Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI) Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have some serious concerns about the current lack of transparency in trade negotiations and Froman’s lack of support for more public disclosure.

Confirmation Hearings for Thomas Wheeler, Nominee for FCC Chairman

I spent a couple hours watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the Senate confirmation hearing for nominee Thomas Wheeler on Tuesday. (C-SPAN Videos- Part IPart II)  While he appeared thoughtful and sympathetic to concerns across a wide spectrum of political viewpoints, (something all nominees have a tendency to do) I have more homework to do on him, since there will be some very large questions concerning copyright, net neutrality, corporate mergers, and god-knows what else coming before him as chair of the FCC.  His background as a lobbyist, investor, and corporate telecom executive has raised some eyebrows; see the New York Times editorial of May 08, 2013-  An Industry Man for the FCC.