Sep 282013

There is a wonderful story on NPR this morning, “Record Company Picks Fight – With the Wrong Guy,” about Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, who was threatened by an Australian record label called Liberation Music with a copyright-infringement lawsuit after he posted a “remix” of one of that label’s songs on YouTube. Lessig happens to teach copyright law, alas, and has fought back against the perhaps inappropriately named music company using an ingenious argument.

Lessig knew he had a legal right to publish these remixes online as part of the “fair use” laws that govern copyright permissions in much of the world. “If I’m using [the remix] for purposes of critique, then I can use if even if I don’t have permission of the original copyright owner,” he says.

From the NPR story: “Lessig decided to invoke another part of the copyright law, ‘which basically polices bad-faith lawsuits’ — threats made fraudulently or without proper basis. Lessig is suing Liberation Music because he wants labels to stop relying on automated systems to send out takedown notices.

“What we’ve got is this computerized system threatening people about content that’s on the Web, much of it legally on the Web,” Lessig says. The problem, he says, is the impact: “what we think of as a very significant chilling of completely legitimate and protected speech.” Lessig hopes his suit will set a precedent that will persuade copyright holders to put human beings who know the law back into the equation.

Sep 212013

We chose to name this initiative No Contest Communications to highlight our vision of the collaborative workplace, where feedback is gratefully welcomed and usefully shared. Communication and imagination shouldn’t be contests. Conflict is inevitable, though, of course. When people within an organization cannot resolve a conflict on their own, a good mediator can work magic.

The website is a wonderful resource of news, opinion, video, and professional-development opportunities for mediators and arbitrators. But anybody who wants to understand conflict resolution better will find lots of valuable material here, too. In this new video, Mediation and Mindfully Getting in the Middle, Brad Heckman, the Chief Executive Officer of the New York Peace Institute, points out that “We don’t know what we think we know about parties in conflict.” We must “dare to be dumb” and ask open-ended questions without making assumptions, and then the people before us can really appear. Brad Heckman

This is a form of active humility that I try to teach my students and to practice myself. Often it’s hard. I like how blogger Tammy Lenski puts it: “It is a life of supreme joy and of profound despair, of laughter and of tears, of self-satisfaction and self-flagellation. It throws you curves when you’re too sure of yourself and hope when you begin to doubt.”

Sep 082013

Language Log is an always stimulating group blog on language and linguistics, with posts that range from earworms and usage advice to research tools and sociolinguistics. The comments sections are as illuminating as the posts themselves.

A recent post called “Proportion of Adverbs and Adjectives: Some Facts” dismantles the still-too-common notion that good writing needs to avoid adjectives and adverbs. The post is detailed but fun to read, and is tagged under the computational linguistics category, though it could be tagged under prescriptivist poppycock as well.


Commentator Garrett Wollman notes: “[Language Log] itself could be taken as one extended meta-analysis into the question ‘Is there any single piece of writing advice that stands up to objective scrutiny?'”

It’s a great question. My guess is that the answer is Yes … but not many.