Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Future of Elections

Earlier this week, we voted in the primary election in this state. Thinking about voting reminded me of a story I read many years ago (and don't remember its title or author). This speculative piece on how elections might work in the distant future proposed a unique procedure that could function only with a near-omniscient AI accumulating immense amounts of data.

After analyzing the demographics of the country in depth, the central computer picks a designated voter. This person, chosen as most effectively combining the typical characteristics of all citizens, votes in the national election on behalf of the entire population. The really unsettling twist in the tale is that the "voter" doesn't even literally vote. He (in the story, the chosen representative is a man) answers a battery of questions, if I recall the method correctly. The computer, having collated his responses, determines which candidates and positions he would support.

This method of settling political issues would certainly make things simpler. No more waiting days or potentially weeks for all the ballots to be counted. No contesting of results, since the single aggregate "vote" would settle everything on the spot with no appeal to the AI's decision.

The story's premise seems to have an insurmountable problem, however, regardless of the superhuman intelligence, vast factual knowledge, and fine discrimination of the computer. Given the manifold racial, political, economic, ethnic, and religious diversity of the American people, how could one "typical" citizen stand in for all? An attempt to combine everybody's traits would inevitably involve many direct, irreconcilable contradictions. The AI might be able to come up with one person who satisfactorily represents the majority. When that person's "vote" became official, though, the political rights of minorities (religious, racial, gender, or whatever) would be erased.

A benevolent dictatorship by an all-knowing, perfectly unbiased computer (if we could get around the GIGO principle of its reflecting the biases of its programmers) does sound temptingly efficient at first glance. But I've never read or viewed a story, beyond a speculative snippet such as the one described above, about such a society that ultimately turned out well. Whenever the Enterprise came across a computer-ruled world in the original STAR TREK, Kirk and Spock hastened to overthrow the AI "god" in the name of human free will.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Memeries Are Made Of This

This blog is about memes. Memeries is not a spelling mistake. 

It may not be a word, but perhaps it should be. There is no approved term for a person who creates memes, either. I have seen "memer", "memester", and "memesmith" used by the legal bloggers, to whom I will give credit when I turn to the copyright-relate/Intellectual property aspects of memes.

Apparently, "meme" is a relatively recent name for a behavior and art form that has been enjoyed (or not) for decades, if not millennia. Before the internet and social media, there were probably no copyright concerns with an idea (one cannot copyright an idea) and a design that had to be copied by hand, and often from memory, every time it was expressed.

Take "Kilroy Was Here", which some World War II wags adapted to "Kilroy Was Stuck Here". One does not claim that there is a tally mark in the caves of the Hellfire Club saying "Kilroy Was Laid Here", because that preceded the original Kilroy. The club members used pseudonyms, so one could imagine that there might have been a "Fitzroy".... Fitzroy means bastard son of the king.
"Kilroy Was Here" was a message of encouragement to the metaphorical cavalry, a message of one-upmanship from the special forces who dropped in behind enemy lines in advance of the invasion force, a taunt to the enemy, and much much more.
There are some (a few) amusing Viking memes, which are modern. If the historical Vikings left memes, they were probably runes. Hobo signs would be another form of messaging, but might not qualify as a meme, because they are coded tips and hints. 
Roman soldiers, navigators, and road builders might well have left their own popular graffiti. Perhaps aliens visited us in ancient times, or more recently, and left memes or markers... or inspired them. What if crop circles are a seeries of alien memes?

It would probably be in very poor taste to suggest that Captain James Tiberus Kirk left his own "Kilroy Was Here" marker at all stops on his stellar trek in the form of his DNA, so I won't.
The blog for the law firm Dennemeyer and Associates SA, gives a concise and fascinating history of memes, and discusses whether or not memes can be intellectual property, both for the creator of an original meme who wishes to protect his/her/their rights, and as a warning for the exploiter of someone else's intellectual property without permission in the creation or dissemination of a meme.

"Memes are often transformative works that copy portions of other media. But the mere fact that parts of a meme are reproductions of earlier work does not necessarily prevent aspects of it from being separately protected. Copyright can subsist in facets of a meme that are "original" by dint of being novel or by having transformed an earlier work. Commonly, these constituents are:

  • Photographs
  • Sound effects
  • Text
  • Drawings
  • Video
  • Music

Copyright would vest separately in each of the works listed above — depending on the specific regulations of the relevant jurisdiction(s). So far, so good. The real sticking point is that not all the copyrighted aspects of a meme necessarily belong to the same person."

The copyright infringement possibilities in memes interests me. Presumably, a meme creator (or sharer) might face multiple layers of potential trouble if they were to take AOC's infamous "Tax the Rich" dress, and swap out her face for that of, say, Mitt Romney. Of course, such an image would have to tickle the fancy of thousands of social media users, and it would have to deeply offend one of three parties.

There was a similar case in India. Legal bloggers for RK Dewan and Co discussed an instance where a memer took a cut out of a photograph of one person, and superimposed it on a photograph of another person wearing a notorious dress. Indian courts found that this was a violation of the fundamental rights of one of the persons, therefore, any "fair use" defense was disallowed.

The compilation probably suggested something hypocritical or derogatory, and obviously false about the apparent dress-wearer.

Under American libel laws, a public figure who is offended enough to sue, has to prove actual malice. I am not a lawyer, I do not give legal advice.

Blogging for another Indian law firm, SS Rana and Co, legal bloggers Ananyaa Banerjee and Soumya Sehgal discuss different types of memes, potential liability and copyright protection.
Legal blogger Nicole Bergstrom for the ip and media law blog of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz  discussed a meme and an apparently transformative fake meme, that may or may not have parodied the original, and the lawsuit that resulted.
"What you may not have known is that the parents of the toddlers sued Cook, Donald Trump and the Trump campaign in New York State court.  The suit alleged that the use of the video violated the boys' New York privacy and publicity rights law (N.Y. Civil Rights Law §§50 and 51) and was was either an intentional ("IIED") or negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED").  The crux of the case was an allegation that Trump used the video for “advertising purposes and/or for the solicitation of patronage for Trump in the State of New York," and that Cook, who makes money off of his memes, also profited.  Cook, Trump and the campaign all moved to dismiss."

I infer that, if you give permission for your minor children to star in one meme, you have no right to claim that their privacy is violated if the original meme is recycled.  It is probably a bad idea to exploit under age children in any context, no matter how well intentioned and heartwarming the meme.

Now for something completely different...apart from the Gutfeldesque possibility that "meme" rhymes with "theme".

Here’s another reason to join SFWA, because they have a really cool, “themes” vehicle to give Instagram users insights into the lives and creative processes of SFWA member authors.

They’ve set up templates to develop graphics featuring their members' writing-related photos, short videos, and covers or title screenshots of their members' creative works.

         Monday Furry Funday: Highlighting photos of member pets, and their "contributions" to your work.

·         Tuesday Writing Tips: Sharing short videos (10 seconds to 2 minutes) featuring the member sharing insights into their own processes or general writing tips.

·         Writing Desk Wednesday: Highlighting photos of members’ writing desks and setups or of their views while writing. 

·         Three-Phrase Thursday: Sharing cover photos, title pages, or screenshots of a creative work, combined with a three-phrase description of the work.

·         First Line Friday: Sharing the first 1–3 sentences of a member's work."

Find out about joining SFWA at

All the best,
Rowena Cherry