Arrested for drinking iced tea?

I have a massive commentary post about the Ferguson situation in the works. I had thought I could write a simple post on the issue and be done with it but it’s incredibly complex and I want to do it justice. In the meantime, there’s this story from about a month ago in Countercurrent News regarding the most unusual of arrests: a man, Christopher Beatty, was arrested outside a state-owned liquor store in North Carolina for drinking an AriZona brand iced tea.

In fairness, the cans do tend to look somewhat beer-like and I once had a bus driver mistake my (empty) AriZona iced tea can for a beer here in Houston. However this does not in the least excuse the incredibly sloppy judgment on the part of ABC Officer Rick Libero, who was the one to arrest Christopher to begin with. Also, Officer Libero simply identifies himself as “the police” which is not technically true, and a probable accountability dodge as well.

It’s unsettling to know that some get a law enforcement license, get hired on by whatever agency, and then think they are God. That part shouldn’t be news to most people, especially the remaining regular readers of this blog. The twist on this story, of course, is that the charges were dismissed two years later.

The mainstream media (namely the Fayetteville Observer) did publicize the case somewhat. In fact, there were at least three articles tracking the developments of the case:

  1. 2014 March 15 – Plea agreement reached: deferred prosecution probation for trespassing and resisting arrest (“resisting a public officer” under North Carolina law). Christopher refuses the deal because he feels he has done nothing wrong, choosing instead to roll the dice at trial.
  2. 2014 November 6 – Trial postponed until February.
  3. 2015 February 5 – Case dismissed by Judge Lou Olivera, based on defense attorney Allen Rogers’ motion to dismiss based on lack of reasonable suspicion for an arrest.

First, I have to commend Christopher’s courage in his willingness to roll the dice at trial and wind up with a potentially much harsher sentence than the plea deal. It’s a move that can backfire and has backfired for a lot of people in the past. I can’t speak in depth about just how corrupt the legal system is in Cumberland County, North Carolina; I’ve never been anywhere in the state much less the greater Fayetteville area. In general, given a completely fair legal system, when one knows one is innocent, it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, rarely is a legal system completely fair. Even the ones that are closest to being fair have the odds stacked ever so slightly in favor of the prosecution. Prosecutors work the same courts day in and day out; defense attorneys rarely if ever see the same judge twice in a row. The grand jury system has been reduced from its original purpose, a check on overzealous prosecution, to a “rubber stamp” procedure where often even the flimsiest of probable causes get an indictment. So the courage required to press forward and see the case through to the end of the trial should not be underestimated.

Second, I have to commend Judge Olivera for having the courage to stand up to the police and prosecuting attorney and throw the case out of his court. Moves like Judge Olivera’s have the potential to cause friction between the police and the courts. The police rely on the courts to carry justice through (well, for somewhat varying values of “justice”, see above). Without judges willing to just roll over and rubber stamp anything, the police could single-handedly lock up anyone they wanted; that is not how things function in a society of decent people.

Finally, I have to wonder if the AriZona Beverage Company should consider a packaging change. The words “iced tea” are clearly legible to anyone who cares to read, but the predominantly white can color and can size does all-too-closely resemble that of, say, Budweiser or certain other beers for those who choose to rely entirely on visual cues without reading the can. Cops can only be so smart so unfortunately relying on cops to be smart enough to read is not a viable strategy.

The Predator pinball disaster

This is the first post related to pinball that I’ve made to this blog. Given what I usually post here, I’m kind of hoping it’s the last.

Pinball News, among others, broke the story of a company called Skit-B Pinball and their flagship title, Predator, based on the movie of the same name. Skit-B has been developing this game since 2011 July. I, personally, didn’t know about it until sometime in 2014, just because I wasn’t following the pinball scene. I didn’t even know there was much of a pinball scene to follow anymore; I knew Stern Pinball was somehow still in business, even after Premier Technologies (the last company to make games under the Gottlieb brand name) bit the dust, and later WMS Industries (owners of the Williams and Bally pinball labels as well as the Midway and Atari Games video game labels) exited the pinball business after releasing a grand total of two titles on the much-heralded Pinball 2000 platform. This was back in the late 1990s, and I had just happened to be on a pinball-related IRC channel when news broke of WMS leaving the industry.

Anyhow, so it was with great interest that I began following the companies trying to keep pinball alive, one of them being Skit-B of course. I had expected, any day now, to read news that this great game was going to ship. And then the above story broke, and it’s obvious now that the game in its present form is unlikely to be made commercially available at all. I’m going to keep the quotes to a working minimum, because the story is very long and convoluted.

The important crux of the story is that Kevin Kulek, one of the founders of Skit-B, did something incredibly foolish: instead of approaching Twentieth Century Fox Licensing (hereinafter Fox for brevity) and getting the proper licensing in place, he decided he would just make the games unlicensed, in a low quantity, before Fox and their lawyers found out. That’s sort of like taking a trip of some distance in a car with no license plates, and hoping nobody notices. Even if a cop doesn’t notice, someone will probably call it in.

It turns out Fox found out about it. At first nothing nasty happens, but sometime in 2013 they got their first cease and desist letter from Fox’s attorneys. As the story says:

it now appears Fox had sent Skit-B a ‘cease & desist’ notification, requiring them to remove all Predator-related materials and stop promoting or producing the game.

This was the defining moment where whatever notion of implied consent Skit-B may have thought they had was shattered. If they ever thought they had an agreement, this cease & desist proved they did not. And without an agreement from the [copyright] holder, the game could never go into production.

This was in mid-2013. As the story rolls on, things start happening, like a group of potential Predator buyers approaching Pinball News. By the time someone representing the buyers write this anonymous letter to Pinball News, Skit-B had already announced a second game, Experts of Dangerous featuring the likenesses of Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (of the TV show Mythbusters). The buyers became suspicious, and many had paid deposits already; they requested refunds as they suspected Mr. Kulek and Skit-B had no license to make the game. This hunch would be confirmed a short time later.

The anonymous contact would make Pinball News privy to a phone call in 2015 January between himself and the senior copyright lawyer at Fox Entertainment Group. That lawyer said not only was no license in place between Fox and Skit-B, but that Mr. Kulek had been told several times to stop work on the game and that Fox was “looking to escalate matters” regarding the game, which could only refer to a lawsuit of some type (certainly injunctive relief, and quite possibly monetary damages as well).

It’s disappointing to read the story of the demise of what could have been a great pinball game, which appeared to be made in the style of the classic Williams/Bally dot matrix games of the 1990s to boot. I would hope Fox comes around, and Skit-B passes the work they have done to a reputable pinball manufacturer who can secure the licensing and finish the project. I’m not holding my breath, though, as it is entirely possible this episode has made the pinball community look like a bunch of lawbreakers, and we may not see a Fox movie licensed as a pinball theme for many years now. It’s quite likely Fox will at least refuse to license Predator for any pinball, whether the one that Skit-B started or a brand new one. I hope they don’t do this. The law-abiding pinball players and hobbyists, such as myself, don’t deserve to suffer for one rogue manufacturer’s First Class Foul-Up.

Moral of the story: when planning a licensed work, get the licenses first. Don’t expect the copyright holders to grant licenses later.