Reality check: France set to rein in retouching mag pics

Mashable recently posted on France’s pending legislation intended to curb the manipulation of photographs in magazines toward unrealistic body images. As French MP Valerie Boyer is quoted in the article:

Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age. In some cases this leads to anorexia or bulimia and very serious health problems.

I say, it’s about damn time someone does something about the patently absurd body images in print media, for exactly the reasons cited by Ms. Boyer. The author of the post laments in the first paragraph “(this) ‘would never happen in the US'” and I have to voice the unvoiced question: why? I know this problem doesn’t exist only on the other side of the Atlantic.

I do think the responsible thing would be for the authors of photographic editing software–and this includes Gimp as well as proprietary software like Photoshop–to include a section on ethical use of the software in the documentation. I do intend to imply here that editing of photographs to show unrealistic body imagery is unethical, absent clear disclaimers as to what the end result actually is.

I’m not anti-manipulation in and of itself–Gimp has saved my backside more than enough times to count during my aborted 365 Days project–but the moral and ethical lines need to be drawn somewhere. If those in charge of making the laws refuse to do something, the responsibility falls on us as a society to shame those who insist upon being part of the problem into acting in a more ethical and moral fashion.

The insidious part of all this, of course, is that edited pictures are hard to spot, even for trained eyes. That doesn’t mean we should give up, however.

Nixed nudity

The Daily Beast reports on a change in policy in France, where the topless beaches made legendary there are about to be the sign of a bygone era, due to a shift in women’s swimsuit fashions back to covering up the upper body.

The most telling quote in the entire article is:

“Nothing is more ringard (tacky, or out of date) in 2009 than strolling around on the beach without a bathing-suit top.”

My reaction to this is somewhat mixed. I am of the impression that France is somewhat the exception to the rule, that there are few, if any, other places in the world that allow(ed) topless women on the beach.

Nevertheless, it’s kind of hard for me to not see the sexism in a policy requiring full-body swimwear for women and only for women, while at the same time making it appear rather, shall we say, hors de l’ordinare (unusual, or out of the ordinary) for men to show up in swimwear covering anything above the waist.

As a more voluminous male, I personally would feel more comfortable in something that would, in the US, be considered on the verge of gender inappropriate. Of course, maybe it shouldn’t be. I’ll probably draw my share of criticism for asserting that; rarely is a truly enlightening opinion met with open arms.

France tries another “three strikes” copyright law

Ars Technica reports on France’s reworking of the “three strikes” copyright law. The difference between this version of the law and the previous one (which did not pass constitutional muster) is that the decisions on sanctions after the third offense is now the responsibility of the courts instead of HADOPI (the copyright authority) itself.

Of particular note is this parenthetical quote from the article:

A group of French hackers has already begun to work on software that cracks the passwords on locked WiFi networks so that there’s an element of plausible deniability when law enforcement tries to go after home network owners.

Also of note is a recent post from La Quadrature du Net on the subject. The post is in French, but from what I can gather reading an automatic translation, appears to harshly criticize the law for “reducing the courts to simply rubber stamp.” (Original text: “rèduisant les tribunaux á de simples chambres d’enregistrement.”)

A translation of the title of the law to English is also a bit disturbing: “Bill on the criminal protection of literary and artistic property on the internet.” This is phrasing to be avoided for similar reasons to those that the FSF cites in recommending against the use of “intellectual property.”

I sympathize with those in France who are quite possibly stuck with this fascist system. I know in the US, this kind of thing simply wouldn’t fly.

The plight of Numerama and the future of copyright

Torrentfreak reports on a story involving the French P2P news site Numerama and the French courts. The courts have ordered Numerama to publish extracts of convictions of 27 copyright violators.

Although the court is compensating Numerama to the tune of €10,000 (about US$14,000), it is not surprising that Numerana is a bit worried about taking money from the pro-copyright lobby, even if it is indirectly. Some creative uses for the money have been proposed, and they run the gamut from buying servers for a file-sharing network to a donation to the (unfortunately named) Swedish Pirate Party.

This order comes even though Numerama is not involved in any of the cases. Such appears to be the quirkiness of French law. I question the wisdom of the move, and would still question it even if I believed the draconian copyright enforcement we face today is justified (which I don’t). For one, Numerama’s readers will probably see these people as martyrs or even heroes. With this in mind it is not clear at all just what the copyright holders, through their trade organizations, intend to accomplish.

We live in an age where the previous scarcity of recorded media no longer exists because of the advance of technology. Records, tapes, even CDs in the early years cost what they did because it was expensive and difficult to make copies. Now, all one has to do to make a copy is frequently no more than dragging icons from one window to another, or even typing in a command like cp -a music /media/travel5. That’s still a lot easier and faster than hooking up a tape deck to a record player ever was.

What has been the response of trade organizations like the MPAA and RIAA? Higher prices, and vicious attempts to restrict the freedom of the users. Everything is bits, and bits can be copied over and over again with no loss of quality; rather than embrace this, the companies which make up the MPAA and RIAA have tried to layer scarcity on top of it via Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). This is doomed to failure (already, the RIAA has admitted this by allowing Apple and Amazon to sell MP3 files without DRM).

Let’s define what copying, recording, and playback are, fundamentally (this is really as simple as it gets):

  • Copying is reading bits from a storage device (CD, DVD, hard drive, SD card) and writing the same bits again to another storage device.
  • Recording is reading bits from an input device (camera or microphone) and writing those bits to a storage device.
  • Playback is reading bits from a storage device and writing those same bits to an output device (video monitor or speakers).

All three are fundamentally the same operation. The only differences are where the bits come from and where they go.

The RIAA (and similar music/audio recording trade organizations) may finally be realizing this; when will the MPAA and television producers follow suit?