May 31 – Copyright!

Posted on May 31, 2019

Andy Warhol
May 31 is the anniversary of the first copyright law in the United States.

Signed into law on this date in 1790, the copyright law was mostly copied from Britain's copyright law, the Statute of Anne

Copyright is a way of protecting "products of the mind" - aka "intellectual property": poems, stories, articles, books, paintings, photographs, drawings, movies, songs, symphonies, choreography, and more. Actually, the Copyright Law of 1790 didn't cover all of these items explicitly, and later copyright laws had to be written to expand protections of all the different sorts of intellectual property.

Copyright is important and good - people who write, make art, compose, and choreograph SHOULD be able to profit from their work and creativity, and should be able to sue if someone blatantly copies their work and sells it as their own. 

However, copyright is also a bit confusing...especially as technology has made copying easier and easier. Is it wrong to use someone else's photo in your school report or blog? Are you in legal danger if you xerox a short story and pass out copies to your bookclub? Is it against the copyright law to sample five songs and create a new song from the samples? Is it okay to quote the entirety of a poem as you write a report about it? Is it fine to sing popular songs and then sell your own versions on CDs? Does it harm a photographer if you download one of her photos and then make lots of changes to it before printing T-shirts with the new digital print?

It matters whether or not the copy is being used for commercial purposes. For example, using someone else's poem on a poster you then produce and sell is very different than quoting the poem in a paper for school. Showing some friends a movie at your house is very different than making bootleg copies of the movie that you then sell. Sketching your favorite Disney characters in the privacy of your own home is very different than teaching kids to draw Disney characters within a paid, private art class.

It also matters whether or not the use of the intellectual property is likely to cheat the creator out of possible earnings, or if it is likely to drive more people to know about, care about, and want to buy stuff from the creator. For example, if you decorate mugs with the chorus of a popular song, even if you don't sell the mugs, but instead give them to ten of your friends, you are still denying the songwriter the opportunity to sell his words on a mug to those ten people. And if you claim that you wrote a little known song as you perform it at paid gigs, you are definitely doing wrong to the actual songwriter. On the other hand, if you quote a verse of the little known song on your blog as you rave about how much you like that song, and you include the song title, the name of the singer/songwriter, and a link to purchase the song - well, that's likely to help the songwriter rather than hurt her. 

Artist Shepard Fairey made a lot of money for his
HOPE poster - and the graphic from that poster being
printed on T-shirts and buttons and a lot of other things -
BUT he was sued for copyright infringement by the
Associated Press, because he based the picture of
Obama on a photo taken by an AP photographer.

Fairey argued that he had changed the image enough
to qualify his graphic as "fair use," but he and the AP ended
up settling the matter out of court, so nobody is sure what
the court would have ruled about the fair use question.

Here is a fascinating fact about copyright: the song considered to be the most widely known in the English-speaking world (and perhaps in the world, period) is "Happy Birthday to You." And even though this super simple song was "written" by unknown folks, possibly children, at least a century ago, it's probably still protected by copyright law!!! Check out the full story here!

May 30 – Anguilla Day

Posted on May 30, 2019

Parades and races are popular patriotic activities, it seems - and today it's the British overseas territory of Anguilla that's parade-marching and music-making and speed-sailing.

Anguilla is an island in the Caribbean, and one of the popular Anguilla Day activities is a Round-the-Island Boat Race. 

The island of Anguilla, which is about 16 miles (26 km) long and 3 miles (almost 5 km) wide (at its widest point), is the major part of the Anguilla overseas territory, but there are also smaller islands and teeny cays included in the territory. None of these small isles are inhabited.

The name Anguilla means "eel" and was probably given to the island by Christopher Columbus. The other names for the island include Snake Island. The island is supposed to be shaped a bit like a snake - but I'm not sure I see the resemblance. 

Speaking of snakes, I read about another reptile that is important in Anguilla: iguanas. 

The species of iguana that is native to Anguilla is the Lesser Antilles iguana. It is found on six Caribbean islands and nowhere else in the world - and it is critically endangered.

One reason that the Lesser Antilles iguana is endangered is that a closely related species, the green iguana, arrived on the island in the late 1990s atop some logs that had been uprooted and flung into the ocean by a hurricane. 

I assumed that the green iguana was out-competing the Lesser Antilles iguana, and I was right - but apparently the bigger threat is that the two species are mating and interbreeding. So...they are making a new species? Or sub-species?

The guideline that we often think of as a definition of a species is that members of one species almost never mate with members of another species...and if they do, the resulting baby creature is sterile and can't grow up and have babies of its own. 

But there are lots of examples of creatures of different (but closely related) species mating and having viable offspring. In simpler terms, sometimes a creature of Species X really does mate with a creature of Species Y, and the baby (which we will call Z) really can grow up and mate with Xs, Ys, or other Zs, and have babies...

And so evolution - the slow and gradual change in populations of living things, and the development of new species of living things - marches on...

By the way, Anguilla is of course known for its glorious beaches...

...but also has some cool caves called Iguana Caves!

May 29 - Public Holiday in Nigeria

Posted on May 29, 2019

The reason for today being a holiday in the African nation of Nigeria is a bit unclear. 

May 29 used to be Democracy Day, because it is the anniversary of the day when a military government gave up its power to a democratically elected government on May 29, 1999. 

But last year, the government announced that Democracy Day will now be held on June 12 every year. That, too, is a historical anniversary - the anniversary of the 1993 election that has been called Nigeria's freest, most fair election.

So - all the lists of Public Holidays in Nigeria list the June 12 date as Democracy Day, but this will be the first year in a long time that May 29 wasn't a holiday, and there may have been some questions and grumbling and...

And so - a couple of days ago, at a press conference, the Minister of Information and Culture announced that both May 29 and June 12 would be public holidays! Not to mention the fact that just a few days ago, May 27, was ALSO a Nigerian holiday! It was Children's Day!!!

Well, hey, more days to celebrate!!

Not sure exactly what we're celebrating today...but...

Celebrate the people! According to an informal poll, Nigerians are hard working, happy, and friendly, and there is a lot of diversity of culture. (There are 250 different ethnic groups in the nation!) 

Celebrate the weather! Most of Nigeria has a pleasant climate, called tropical savannah; it's warm and moderate as to rainfall. There are of course variations - Nigeria is about twice the size of California, so it's not super small! - including areas that have monsoons, areas that have lots of rainfall all year, and areas that are desert.

Celebrate opportunity! As I mentioned a few days ago, Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa. Some people in that informal poll linked above mentioned that they feel that there are many ways to "make it" in their country - ways to be creative, ways to contribute, ways to succeed.

Celebrate natural beauty! Nigeria has plenty of it!