John Fetterman might be the first to try to bare his legs in the Senate, but shorts have been ticking people off for almost a century

When Sen. Chuck Schumer quietly relaxed the U.S. Senate’s dress code, supposedly to accommodate Sen. John Fetterman’s desire to wear hooded sweatshirts and gym shorts, the backlash was swift.

Apparently, it was enough to compel senators to unanimously pass a resolution on Sept. 28, 2023, mandating a coat, tie and slacks for men on the Senate floor.

As a fashion historian, I’ve heard this tune before. It’s the same one sung by college administrators in the late 1950s when women wanted to wear pants to the campus cafeteria. And I could hear the chorus of befuddled office managers who wanted to ban polo shirts in the early 1990s, just as Casual Fridays revolutionized what people wear to work.

The people living through these changes often consider them devolution rather than evolution. An old guard steps forward to protect the sartorial standards of a previous time by using terms such as “respect” and “tradition.” They might be able to staunch the shift, as the Senate seems to have done. But time and again, their efforts to regulate attire ultimately end up failing.

‘Brainless’ students bare their legs

Shorts, in particular, have a history of eliciting ire.

The Shorts Protest of 1930 brought more than 600 students to the hallowed steps of Robinson Hall at then-all-male Dartmouth College to defy the much-hated dress codes outlawing exercise clothing in campus buildings.

The editors of the student newspaper had challenged readers to “bring forth your treasured possession – be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged” so that the men could “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.” The students came in old basketball uniforms, tweed walking shorts and newly minted cutoffs.

It was bigger than campus rules. It was about freedom and self-expression. The Associated Press picked up the story and took it national. Student papers at Princeton and Harvard covered it, too, and Fox Movietone News showed up to record the day’s events.

The blowback from the old guard was instant and vitriolic. A “Prominent Boston Clothier” sat down and wrote a letter to the university to declare the “average American student” to be “the most brainless of any student in the world” and “Having no brains to make them famous, they must use their legs.”

Regulating women’s bodies

Women also decided to get into the shorts game. Beginning in the late 1920s, shorts worn by women in public spaces were the subject of intense debate for more than 30 years.

In the early 20th century, women wearing shorts was a cause for consternation.
Courtesy of Penn State University Archives, Penn State University Libraries.

Social critics, boyfriends and fashion writers tried to put parameters on “when” and “where” the garment could be worn. Shorts were banned from church services but not from informal social activities. You couldn’t wear them to dinner at the cafeteria, but they were OK for lunch. And some country clubs in the 1930s made women wear trenchcoats to the tennis court in order to cover their shorts.

Time moved on, and men and women continued to simply … wear shorts. In 1955, Esquire confirmed for readers, “You can now wear shorts for sports and informal business anywhere the weather’s hot, and no one is going to bat an eye.”

Pants pushback

For decades, written or unwritten dress rules also forbade women from wearing pants to formal settings.

University deans, schoolmarms and human resources managers penned dress codes outright forbidding the garment or relegating it to certain areas. Etiquette writers explained that slacks “insulted the aesthetic sense of men” and were appropriate in only one setting: when “you’re roughing it.”

Nonetheless, women continued to wear pants in many varieties.

In November 1970, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle researched an article on maitre d’s at fancy restaurants refusing to seat women in pantsuits. At one establishment, the host explained to her, “If we admit one woman in pants, we have to admit them all.” Others cited “propriety” and “decorum” as reasons to deny entrance.

The criticisms surrounding Schumer’s decision sound a lot like the complaints against female politicians wearing pants. In 1993, Sens. Carol Moseley-Braun and Barbara Mikulski wore their pantsuits to the Senate floor.

Rather than remove the women, Martha Pope, the first female sergeant-at-arms, amended the written dress rules to specify pantsuits as appropriate business attire.

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, far left, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, second from right, wear pantsuits as they appear with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1993.
Renaud Giroux/AFP via Getty Images

Independence and individuality

As sartorial standards change, what people wear in public becomes ground zero for hashing out new ideas of race, class and gender. Most often, wealthy white men are the arbiters of “appropriate” and “inappropriate.”

For more than a century, fashion has dramatically moved away from being a top-down regulatory process to being a means of individual expression. At a celebratory fashion show for the country’s bicentennial in 1976, former Miss America Bess Myerson told the audience, “Our clothing and our lifestyle have reflected each other, reinforcing our independence and individuality.”

She proclaimed that in 20th-century America, fashions were not “uniforms of rank or class, as they were in many old lands from which our people fled.”

Whether written down or just implicit, dress codes have meaning only when they are enforced. To me, the idea of policing the dress of adult professionals is simply outdated.

When John Fetterman wears gym shorts in public, I see him tapping into his personal identity and his political brand. Despite the buttoned-up outrage and jokes from Susan Collins about wearing a bikini, fashion is born of culture, and culture is dynamic.

And cultural forces are almost impossible to beat back.

Sen. John Fetterman arrives at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 21, 2023.
Pedro Ugarte/AFP via Getty Images. Läs mer…

AI disinformation is a threat to elections − learning to spot Russian, Chinese and Iranian meddling in other countries can help the US prepare for 2024

Elections around the world are facing an evolving threat from foreign actors, one that involves artificial intelligence.

Countries trying to influence each other’s elections entered a new era in 2016, when the Russians launched a series of social media disinformation campaigns targeting the U.S. presidential election. Over the next seven years, a number of countries – most prominently China and Iran – used social media to influence foreign elections, both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. There’s no reason to expect 2023 and 2024 to be any different.

But there is a new element: generative AI and large language models. These have the ability to quickly and easily produce endless reams of text on any topic in any tone from any perspective. As a security expert, I believe it’s a tool uniquely suited to internet-era propaganda.

This is all very new. ChatGPT was introduced in November 2022. The more powerful GPT-4 was released in March 2023. Other language and image production AIs are around the same age. It’s not clear how these technologies will change disinformation, how effective they will be or what effects they will have. But we are about to find out.

A conjunction of elections

Election season will soon be in full swing in much of the democratic world. Seventy-one percent of people living in democracies will vote in a national election between now and the end of next year. Among them: Argentina and Poland in October, Taiwan in January, Indonesia in February, India in April, the European Union and Mexico in June and the U.S. in November. Nine African democracies, including South Africa, will have elections in 2024. Australia and the U.K. don’t have fixed dates, but elections are likely to occur in 2024.

Many of those elections matter a lot to the countries that have run social media influence operations in the past. China cares a great deal about Taiwan, Indonesia, India and many African countries. Russia cares about the U.K., Poland, Germany and the EU in general. Everyone cares about the United States.

AI image, text and video generators are already beginning to inject disinformation into elections.

And that’s only considering the largest players. Every U.S. national election from 2016 has brought with it an additional country attempting to influence the outcome. First it was just Russia, then Russia and China, and most recently those two plus Iran. As the financial cost of foreign influence decreases, more countries can get in on the action. Tools like ChatGPT significantly reduce the price of producing and distributing propaganda, bringing that capability within the budget of many more countries.

Election interference

A couple of months ago, I attended a conference with representatives from all of the cybersecurity agencies in the U.S. They talked about their expectations regarding election interference in 2024. They expected the usual players – Russia, China and Iran – and a significant new one: “domestic actors.” That is a direct result of this reduced cost.

Of course, there’s a lot more to running a disinformation campaign than generating content. The hard part is distribution. A propagandist needs a series of fake accounts on which to post, and others to boost it into the mainstream where it can go viral. Companies like Meta have gotten much better at identifying these accounts and taking them down. Just last month, Meta announced that it had removed 7,704 Facebook accounts, 954 Facebook pages, 15 Facebook groups and 15 Instagram accounts associated with a Chinese influence campaign, and identified hundreds more accounts on TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), LiveJournal and Blogspot. But that was a campaign that began four years ago, producing pre-AI disinformation.

Russia has a long history of engaging in foreign disinformation campaigns.

Disinformation is an arms race. Both the attackers and defenders have improved, but also the world of social media is different. Four years ago, Twitter was a direct line to the media, and propaganda on that platform was a way to tilt the political narrative. A Columbia Journalism Review study found that most major news outlets used Russian tweets as sources for partisan opinion. That Twitter, with virtually every news editor reading it and everyone who was anyone posting there, is no more.

Many propaganda outlets moved from Facebook to messaging platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp, which makes them harder to identify and remove. TikTok is a newer platform that is controlled by China and more suitable for short, provocative videos – ones that AI makes much easier to produce. And the current crop of generative AIs are being connected to tools that will make content distribution easier as well.

Generative AI tools also allow for new techniques of production and distribution, such as low-level propaganda at scale. Imagine a new AI-powered personal account on social media. For the most part, it behaves normally. It posts about its fake everyday life, joins interest groups and comments on others’ posts, and generally behaves like a normal user. And once in a while, not very often, it says – or amplifies – something political. These persona bots, as computer scientist Latanya Sweeney calls them, have negligible influence on their own. But replicated by the thousands or millions, they would have a lot more.

Disinformation on AI steroids

That’s just one scenario. The military officers in Russia, China and elsewhere in charge of election interference are likely to have their best people thinking of others. And their tactics are likely to be much more sophisticated than they were in 2016.

Countries like Russia and China have a history of testing both cyberattacks and information operations on smaller countries before rolling them out at scale. When that happens, it’s important to be able to fingerprint these tactics. Countering new disinformation campaigns requires being able to recognize them, and recognizing them requires looking for and cataloging them now.

Even before the rise of generative AI, Russian disinformation campaigns have made sophisticated use of social media.

In the computer security world, researchers recognize that sharing methods of attack and their effectiveness is the only way to build strong defensive systems. The same kind of thinking also applies to these information campaigns: The more that researchers study what techniques are being employed in distant countries, the better they can defend their own countries.

Disinformation campaigns in the AI era are likely to be much more sophisticated than they were in 2016. I believe the U.S. needs to have efforts in place to fingerprint and identify AI-produced propaganda in Taiwan, where a presidential candidate claims a deepfake audio recording has defamed him, and other places. Otherwise, we’re not going to see them when they arrive here. Unfortunately, researchers are instead being targeted and harassed.

Maybe this will all turn out OK. There have been some important democratic elections in the generative AI era with no significant disinformation issues: primaries in Argentina, first-round elections in Ecuador and national elections in Thailand, Turkey, Spain and Greece. But the sooner we know what to expect, the better we can deal with what comes. Läs mer…

US Supreme Court refuses to hear Alabama’s request to keep separate and unequal political districts

For the second time in three months, the U.S. Supreme Court has rebuffed Alabama’s attempts to advance its legislature’s congressional maps that federal courts have ruled harm Black voters.

The court had first rejected the maps in its stunning June 8, 2023, decision that upheld the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But in an act of defiance, Alabama lawmakers resubmitted maps that didn’t include what the court had urged them to do – create a second political district in which Black voters could reasonably be expected to choose a candidate of their choice.

On Sept. 26, the court put those Alabama plans on hold and refused to stop a three-judge federal court panel’s plan to choose the maps Alabama will use in its 2024 elections from among a set of three maps drawn by a court-appointed special master.

One of those maps includes the creation of a second congressional district that has a majority of Black voters, and the other two would increase the percentage of Black voters in an existing district to give them a reasonable chance of electing candidates of their own choosing.

Currently, only one of Alabama’s seven congressional districts is majority Black, although Black residents make up 27% of the state’s population and voting rights advocates argued that their numbers suggest they should control at least two of the state’s congressional districts.

On Sept. 5, the panel of three federal judges rebuked the Alabama Legislature when it ruled that the state’s proposed voting districts failed to create the second Black district.

The federal judges wrote they were “deeply troubled” that Alabama lawmakers submitted a new plan that did not adhere to previous court rulings, including one issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 8.

“The law requires the creation of an additional district that affords Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” the three judges wrote, adding that the state’s new plan “plainly fails to do so.”

A surprising decision to protect Black voters

For the 2024 elections, the federal panel of judges assigned a special master to draw three potential maps that each include two districts where Black voters have a realistic opportunity of electing their preferred candidate. Those redistricting proposals were submitted on Sept. 25, 2023.

Alabama officials have denied any wrongdoing and said their proposed voting districts, including one where the percentage of Black voters jumped from about 30% to 40%, were in compliance with recent federal court rulings.

After losing its latest appeal on Sept. 26, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, still argued that the maps the state has drawn should have been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“It is now clear that none of the maps proposed by Republican super-majorities had any chance of success,” Marshall said in a statement. “Treating voters as individuals would not do. Instead, our elected representatives and our voters must apparently be reduced to skin color alone.”

At issue in the Alabama case is whether the power of Black voters was diluted by dividing them into districts where white voters dominate.

After the 2020 census, the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature redrew the state’s seven congressional districts to include only one in which Black voters would likely be able to elect a candidate of their choosing.

In its surprising ruling on June 8, the Supreme Court jettisoned Republican-drawn congressional districts in Alabama that a federal district court in Alabama had ruled in 2022 discriminated against Black voters and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The court relied on a nearly 40-year-old, seminal case, Thornburg v. Gingles, that determined a state should typically draw a majority-minority district if three conditions are met:

First, if the racial minority can be a majority in a reasonably drawn district.

Second, if the racial minority is politically cohesive, meaning that its members tend to vote together for the same candidates.

And third, if the racial minority faces bloc voting by a racial majority that tends to defeat the racial minority’s candidate of choice.

The Supreme Court, from left in front row: Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan; and from left in back row: Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

All three conditions were true in Alabama, and the totality of the circumstances suggested minority voters did not participate equally in the political process in the area.

In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts explained how racially motivated voter suppression in the century after the Civil War led to the initial passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While the Supreme Court did not explicitly order the state to create a second majority-Black congressional district, Roberts made it clear how he viewed the long history of racist voter suppression in Alabama – and what factors should weigh prominently in the state’s new political map.

“A district is not equally open,” Roberts wrote, “when minority voters face – unlike their majority peers – bloc voting along racial lines, arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the State, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a nonminority voter.”

Given the Supreme Court’s recent history of restricting rights protected under the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and Roberts’ past opposition – Roberts’ opinion surprised many civil and voting rights advocates.

“States shouldn’t let race be the primary factor in deciding how to draw boundaries, but it should be a consideration,” Roberts wrote. “The line we have drawn is between consciousness and predominance.”

What Alabama did

In its case before the federal panel, the state argued that its proposed map complied with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Supreme Court decision.

A poster encouraging African Americans to vote in Selma, Ala., during the 2020 presidential election.
Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images

State lawyers further argued that the Legislature was not required to create a second majority-Black district if doing so would require ignoring traditional redistricting principles, such as keeping communities of interest together.

In its decisions on Alabama’s redistricting, the Supreme Court upheld laws that were designed to protect minority voting power for the last nearly four decades.

The same is true with the three-judge court’s ruling on Sept. 5.

It reaffirmed the legal doctrine that requires jurisdictions to draw majority-minority districts in a narrow set of circumstances in which failing to do would leave minority voters unable to protect their interests through their voting power.

Given Alabama’s long-standing history of suppressing the votes of its Black citizens, the Supreme Court still may not have written its last word on race and redistricting. The court is scheduled in October 2023 to hear a similar case involving South Carolina’s voting districts.

This story has been updated from the original version published on Sept. 6, 2023. Läs mer…

Lessons for today from the overlooked stories of Black teachers during the segregated civil rights era

My grandmother’s name was Mrs. Zola Jackson.

As one of the handful of Black teachers in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era of racially segregated public schools, she faced a daunting challenge in providing a first-class education to students considered second-class citizens.

Educated at Rust College, a historically Black school, in the 1940s, she taught in the small city of Hattiesburg for over 30 years from 1943-1975, the majority of which was spent in elementary classrooms at DePriest, the school for Black children.

Before the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board decision that deemed segregated schools “separate and unequal,” the efforts of Black teachers went unheralded, underappreciated and virtually unknown.

I, too, was disconnected from their stories until I became a public school teacher teacher myself and began my research on the oral histories of Black female teachers in Mississippi during the civil rights era.

My research revealed at least one important lesson: What Black teachers face today is not that different from what we faced in the past.

In spite of it all

One of the initial questions that I wanted to answer was, how did educators in the past meet the academic and emotional needs of their students with little to no resources and the constant threat of racial violence?

What I found was that for Black people, education was in and of itself an act of active resistance against racial disenfranchisement.

As education scholar Christopher Span explained in his 2012 seminal book “From Cottonfield to Schoolhouse”:

“To be educated was to be respected; to be educated was to be a citizen. Accordingly, countless black Mississippians willingly sought out schooling, viewing it as the foundation for self-improvement and one means for attaining social and economic parity in slavery’s aftermath.”

At the center of that rich and complex history were Black teachers who believed that a good education was synonymous with freedom and the desire to move beyond the confines of second-class citizenship.

As a result, Black teachers used classrooms to not only impart the lessons of history, but also to encourage students to be actively involved in the fight for racial equity.

In “Their Highest Potential,” education scholar Vanessa Siddle Walker wrote in 1996 that Black teachers were “consistently remembered by their former students and colleagues ”for their high expectations for student success, for their dedication, and for their demanding teaching style.”

Education was paramount

Black teachers used many approaches to ensure student success. Here are a few that serve as lessons for today:

Arguably the most important, the first is developing relationships and mentorships.

Because teachers were part of the community during the civil rights era, it was common for them to be an extension of their students’ families. If needed, teachers made home visits, were in regular communication with families about students’ well-being and held students to high academic and behavioral expectations. Further solidifying those relationships was the fact that many of the teachers had taught several generations of families.

These relationships enabled teachers to use what is now known as the whole child approach that focuses on a student’s academic potential as well as their social and emotional needs.

It was understood by Black teachers that educating the whole child helped to establish foundations needed for academic and emotional growth in young students. Because of their teachers, Black students valued education and modeled their own behavior to achieve their own potential.

A second lesson from the past that is useful today was the emphasis on civic engagement. Back then, classrooms were places to imagine radical change. Inaction in the face of injustice was not a viable option, and there was an expectation that young people work to become leaders.

Black teenagers in Mississippi carry American flags on Jun. 13, 1963, to protest the murder of a civil rights leader.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Going to jail, protesting, risking one’s life and making sacrifices to help the Civil Rights Movement were all realities young people faced and were willing to endure if it meant securing equal rights.

A third lesson is the importance of building coalitions across racial lines.

Groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equity worked with religious organizations and white students from colleges during the 1960s lunch counter sit-ins and the freedom rides, as well as the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

But not all coalitions were effective. During a 1967 meeting of the National Council of Negro Women, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer criticized the educated middle-class Black alliances in Mississippi with Black ministers and white power brokers. But even still, she explained, “the only thing we can do is to work together.”

Of the many lessons from the past, one handed down from my grandmother still rings true today.

She knew then that education was intended to be the great equalizer in America and the key to upward mobility – and she worked her entire career making sure that became a reality in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

At the school where my grandmother taught, for instance, she used creativity to solve a critical problem: DePriest did not have a library.

Instead, my grandmother started her own by bringing in books from her personal collection and letting students borrow them one at a time. Läs mer…

The ’Barbie’ and ’Star Wars’ universes are entertaining, but they also unexpectedly can help people understand why revolutions happen

Barbie dolls and “Star Wars” movies and toys have entertained generations of American children – in many cases, well into adulthood. But these brands’ influence stretches beyond a penchant for hot pink and lightsaber battles.

In particular, both the “Barbie” movie, released in July 2023, and a “Star Wars” franchise television series called “Andor” offer important lessons about revolutions.

Hollywood has long been obsessed with revolutions. There are uprisings in other popular movie franchises like “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” and “Avatar.”

In each fictional universe, an oppressed group stages a revolution that fights for political and economic freedom.

As experts in violence and democratization, we have written about how popular culture allows people to better understand real-life political movements and crises.

We also use films and shows in our classes to help students learn about why revolutions happen.

Both “Barbie” and “Andor” are useful for those who want to understand why revolutions happen and what it takes for them to happen.

Their fundamental point: Before the start of any revolution, the oppressed have to first recognize their oppression.

In a world of Barbies, the men – all called Ken – don’t have very much power.
David Benito/Getty Images

Repression leads to radicalization

“Barbie” begins in the fictional, very pink and California-perfect Barbieland. Almost everyone is either a version of a Barbie doll or a Ken doll. And the women – all called Barbie – are in charge of Barbieland. Yet the men – all collectively called Ken – are blissfully unaware that they experience political, economic and social repression.

These men are not part of the Barbieland government. They do not work. The primary Ken, played by actor Ryan Gosling, describes his job as “beach.” It was unclear where the Kens even live, since only the women live in the plastic, perfect homes.

It is only when the main Ken leaves the universe of Barbieland and accidentally enters the real world that he realizes men are oppressed back home.

Ken sees that men have power in corporate offices and other places in the real world. He returns to Barbieland with a desire to improve life for other Kens. The Kens then claim all of the Barbies’ houses as their own, and grab all of the important jobs in Barbieland. Then they try to change the constitution – but the Barbies ultimately stop them.

The lead character Cassian Andor from the “Star Wars” universe, meanwhile, had a similar experience. Andor lives under the autocratic Galatic Empire. Unlike the Kens, Andor is somewhat aware that the Empire is oppressive. At a young age, Andor witnesses the Empire’s army, called the Imperials, kill his friend. When he fights back, he is sent to a “youth center,” akin to a juvenile prison, for three years.

But instead of becoming a rebel when he is older, Andor quietly takes advantage of the system and makes money stealing from the Empire. It is not until he experiences severe repression in prison that he tries to actually overthrow the Empire.

Bottom-up revolutions are challenging

These fictional universes also show how difficult it is for revolutionary leaders to recruit and organize others to help fight for their cause. Sometimes, the cost to fight might be too high, as the government in power could imprison or execute anyone who tries to change the system. This discourages participation in the revolution. If the cost is lower, it might be easier to recruit revolutionaries.

In “Barbie,” when the Kens try to change the constitution to give men all of the power, the Barbies do not fight back with violence. Instead, they trick the Kens into being jealous of one another so they become divided and cannot work together to change the constitution. This lack of violent response by the Barbies lowers the potential risk of revolution for the Kens. As such, it is easier for the main Ken to recruit other Kens to change the system.

This is not the case in “Andor.” The cost of seeking change is death, and few people join in the revolution.

It is not until Andor goes to prison that he decides that the cost of doing nothing is higher than the cost of joining the revolution. When he is in prison, he realizes that no matter what he does, the Empire is going to kill him by working him to death. He then decides to revolt with other prisoners.

In real life, recruiting others to join a revolution can becomes easier over time if more and more people participate. The more people there are, the harder it becomes for the government to punish all the people who are rebelling. This, in turn, makes it safer to join the cause, implying that more people may join in.

The prison uprising in “Andor” illustrates this point.

Andor convinces other prisoners to rebel by truthfully telling them that 5,000 other people will fight with them. He explains that the number of prisoners would significantly outnumber the prison guards. All of the other prisoners then decide to fight back and escape, as their chance of successfully escaping is higher and their chance of being punished is lower.

A billboard in Hollywood, Calif., promotes the ‘Star Wars’ show ‘Andor’ in September 2022.
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Maintaining peace in real life

Both “Barbie” and “Andor” also teach us what it takes to maintain peace after a revolution: It is essential to include the opposition in government.

After the Ken revolt, the Barbies bring the Kens more into the government of Barbieland. The narrator hints that the Kens will eventually gain as much power and influence as “women have in the real world.”

After the “Andor” rebellion, a government called the New Republic forms after the uprising and recognizes that in order to maintain peace, it must give political amnesty to former members of the failed Galactic Empire.

Most civil wars end with one side winning, and few end in a negotiated peace deal.

However, even with one side winning the war, research shows that the winning side still needs to include the losing side to prevent further violence.

After a revolution or civil war, government policies that aim at creating equality and equity, share power with marginalized groups and give amnesty to the opposition can go a long way toward preventing future violence.

However, it is still challenging to maintain peace after a revolution takes place. The civil uprisings in Afghanistan from 1992 through 1996, the Central African Republic from 2012 through the present, and Syria from 2011 until today all demonstrate that it is hard to maintain peace after a civil conflict. All three of these places have had violent uprisings to challenge the government in control. Violence and political instability are also common in these three countries, which are all internally divided and controlled by different governments and militia groups.

One of the best predictors of civil wars is whether a country has had a civil war within the last five years. The risk for a civil war decreases over time the further a country gets from its last internal conflict.

In Barbieland, the Kens need to feel like they have a voice and some control over their lives once the Barbies reassume power – or else they may see another Ken uprising. This is concerning because the president denies the Kens’ request for a Supreme Court seat and instead says that maybe a lower court judgeship could happen. Could this be a sign that there is more trouble ahead in Barbieland?

The revolution also does not resolve in “Andor,” and we have to wait until “Return of the Jedi” for that rebellion resolve. However, the New Republic that eventually emerges is unable to stave off conflict, as the First Order rises and destroys the New Republic Senate in the seventh “Star Wars” movie.

While revolution is hard, governance is harder. Läs mer…

The fight for 2% − how residuals became a sticking point for striking actors

Streaming disrupted the entire entertainment industry, upending the DVD-purchasing, film-renting, moviegoing model of decades past.

That shift has also changed how actors get paid. And some of the gains actors made through prior labor struggles – particularly through residuals, which are a small percentage of shared earnings from film or television – have vanished.

Though the Writers Guild of America ended its strike on Sept. 27, 2023, actors represented by SAG-AFTRA remain on strike. Residuals are one of their main sticking points: They want to receive 2% of revenue generated by shows they appear in on streaming platforms.

Studios counter that the number is unrealistic – that it amounts to actors not assuming any financial risk when shows and movies flop, while reaping rewards when they succeed.

But in reality, actors simply want to adapt existing payout models to changing technology and consumption habits.

The pandemic revealed a glimpse of the future

The extent to which streaming changed the entertainment landscape came into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With many movie theaters shuttered because of government restrictions and most people reluctant to sit in a theater, some movie studios decided to release their movies through streaming services using what they called premium video on demand.

For the made-to-be-blockbuster “Black Widow,” Disney decided to release the film simultaneously in theaters and on its propriety streaming service, Disney+, for US$30.

The film’s star, Scarlett Johansson, sued Disney for breach of contract. Johansson claimed to have lost $50 million from the simultaneous release, because her contract did not have the same revenue-sharing deal in place for streaming as it did for a theater release.

At $30, the price to stream “Black Widow” on television was equivalent to roughly three theater tickets. At the same time, premium video on demand cuts most costs associated with exhibiting a film in the theater: The studios generally keep 80% of the revenue as opposed to the standard 50% split with theaters.

Actors decided to strike because they see the pitfalls for their own livelihoods tied to the structure of the contracts they are currently fighting to negotiate.

A struggle for dignity

The tensions today echo Hollywood’s 20th-century labor battles.

The Hollywood studio system of the 1930s and 1940s was an era of vertical integration in the film industry. The “Big Five” major studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century Fox and RKO – employed directors, writers, actors and camera operators. Filming, editing, distribution and showings were all handled in-house.

A c. 1930 aerial shot of MGM Studios in Culver City, Calif.
Getty Images

This created an efficient system that allowed for assembly-linelike production of films, not unlike Ford automotive factories. Actors – just like everyone else employed by the studios – received a salary for the length of their contracts. They didn’t make any extra money if a film became a blockbuster hit.

This period was rife with exploitation, with low wages, sexual violence and little bargaining power for actors.

Actors fought hard against this system; they wanted to be able to negotiate payouts tied to their work on specific films. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the studio system violated antitrust laws, ending these unfair contracts. Actors’ newfound free agency allowed them to sign contracts with studios for individual films. This resulted in large earnings for some stars, but they were still largely cut out of any studio revenue.

Some actors began receiving residuals in the 1950s as part of their individual contracts. The system was modeled on royalties earned in music based on the sale of copyrighted music. But where composers and recording artists share in the copyright, actors do not have a claim to copyrights.

In the 1960s, SAG-AFTRA went on strike to insist on residuals as part of the basic contract to provide revenue sharing with all actors. Ultimately, they received them.

Getting a slice of streaming revenue

It’s key to remember that today’s actors already receive 2% residuals on revenue from traditional television in secondary markets. A secondary market is a market outside of the film or television show’s original domestic release. Examples include foreign box office revenue, DVD sales, syndicated television shows and theater releases that appear on television.

So shows originally produced for broadcast television aren’t an issue. When “Friends,” which was originally an NBC sitcom, generates $1 billion dollars on streaming platforms, the five leads each earn 2%, or $20 million apiece. But a show like “Stranger Things” – produced and owned by Netflix – never goes to a secondary market as long as it is aired only on Netflix, so the stars earn only their original pay.

The problem, then, comes from the fact that the existing residual model, per the expiring SAG-AFTRA contract, doesn’t take streaming into account.

In the streaming era, all new shows produced by streaming platforms are concurrently reruns and original runs. Actors want 2% of streaming revenue generated by the show or film to replace this line of income.

One issue is that revenue from streaming remains an opaque process. Data on earnings tied to streams aren’t as clear as ticket sales or advertising revenue, and streaming platforms tend to keep this information in-house. But streaming services have their own metrics to determine the value of a show or film to the company, such as the number of streams, the first show a subscriber watches upon paying for a subscription and how long a customer remains a subscriber.

This 2% of streaming demand isn’t all that different from what writers received to negotiate the end of their strike on Sept. 27, 2023. As part of that deal, the Writers Guild of America negotiated residuals based on viewership on streaming platforms, and producers agreed to share data with the WGA, such as total streaming hours, to help determine payouts.

While 2% of revenue generated from shows and films equates to a larger demand for residuals than the WGA, actors have always had higher residuals than writers.

Closing the loophole

The original shows and movies created for streaming services like Netflix, Max or Disney+ reflect a vertically integrated system in which the platform owns the studio and the rights to those productions. In this sense, it harks back to the old studio system of the 1930s and 1940s.

For this reason, there is no benefit for studios and platforms to offer actors revenue for every stream, because technically there is no secondary market. Studios and platforms see larger profit margins, while actors see a loss of income. This is the loophole striking actors are looking to close.

When reporters characterize SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher as taking a “hard line” for 2% of revenue, they fail to see that is what actors already have. Actors simply want it to apply to shows and films that originate on streaming platforms.

They fought this battle to end the studio system. The fight for 2% is about demonstrating that the work actors do for streaming television is just as valuable as it’s always been. Läs mer…

Sci-fi books are rare in school even though they help kids better understand science

Science fiction can lead people to be more cautious about the potential consequences of innovations. It can help people think critically about the ethics of science. Researchers have also found that sci-fi serves as a positive influence on how people view science. Science fiction scholar Istvan Csicsery-Ronay calls this “science-fictional habits of mind.”

Scientists and engineers have reported that their childhood encounters with science fiction framed their thinking about the sciences. Thinking critically about science and technology is an important part of education in STEM – or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Complicated content?

Despite the potential benefits of an early introduction to science fiction, my own research on science fiction for readers under age 12 has revealed that librarians and teachers in elementary schools treat science fiction as a genre that works best for certain cases, like reluctant readers or kids who like what they called “weird,” “freaky” or “funky” books.

Of the 59 elementary teachers and librarians whom I surveyed, almost a quarter of them identified themselves as science fiction fans, and nearly all of them expressed that science fiction is just as valuable as any other genre. Nevertheless, most of them indicated that while they recommend science fiction books to individual readers, they do not choose science fiction for activities or group readings.

The teachers and librarians explained that they saw two related problems with science fiction for their youngest readers: low availability and complicated content.

Realistic fiction books outnumber sci-fi books.
Lorado/E+ via Getty Images

Why sci-fi books are scarce in schools

Several respondents said that there simply are not as many science fiction books available for elementary school students. To investigate further, I counted the number of science fiction books available in 10 randomly selected elementary school libraries from across the United States. Only 3% of the books in each library were science fiction. The rest of the books were: 49% nonfiction, 25% fantasy, 19% realistic fiction and 5% historical fiction. While historical fiction also seems to be in low supply, science fiction stands out as the smallest group.

When I spoke to a small publisher and several authors, they confirmed that science fiction for young readers is not considered a profitable genre, and so those books are rarely acquired. Due to the perception that many young readers do not like science fiction, it is not written, published and distributed as often.

With fewer books to choose from, the teachers and librarians said that they have difficulty finding options that are not too long and complicated for group readings. One explained: “I have to appeal to broad ability levels in chapter book read-aloud selections. These books typically have to be shorter, with more simple plots.” Another respondent explained that they believe “the kind of suppositions sci-fi is based on to be difficult for younger children to grasp. We do read some sci-fi in our middle grade book club.”

A question of maturity

Waiting for students to get older before introducing them to science fiction is a fairly common approach. Susan Fichtelberg – a longtime librarian – wrote a guide to teen fantasy and science fiction. In it, she recommends age 12 as the prime time to start. Other children’s literature experts have speculated whether children under 12 have sufficient knowledge to comprehend science fiction.

Reading researchers agree that comprehending complex texts is easier when the reader has more background knowledge. Yet, when I read some science fiction picture books with elementary school students, none of the children struggled to understand the stories. The most active child in my study often used his knowledge of “Star Wars” to interpret the books. While background knowledge can mean children’s knowledge of science, it also includes exposure to a genre. The more a reader is exposed to science fiction stories, the better they understand how to read them.

A matter of choice

Science fiction does not need to include detailed science or outlandish premises to offer valuable ideas. Simple picture books like “Farm Fresh Cats” by Scott Santoro rely on familiar ideas like farms and cats to help readers reconsider what is familiar and what is alien. “The Barnabus Project” by the Fan Brothers is both a simple escape adventure story and a story about the ethics of genetic experimentation on animals.

Some educators are hesitant to introduce sci-fi books to young children.
Dave & Les Jacobs/DigitalVision via Getty Images

The good news is that elementary school students are choosing science fiction regardless of what adults might think they can or cannot understand. I found that the science fiction books in those 10 elementary school libraries were checked out at a higher rate per book than all of the other genres. Science fiction had 1-2 more checkouts per book, on average, than the other genres.

Using the lending data from these libraries, I built a statistical model that predicted that it is 58% more likely for one of the science fiction books to be checked out in these libraries than one of the fantasy books. The model predicted that a science fiction book is over twice as likely to be checked out than books in any of the other genres. In other words, since the children did not have nearly as many science fiction books to choose from, their readership was heavily concentrated on a few titles.

Children may discover science fiction on their own, but adults can do more to normalize the genre and provide opportunities for whole classes to become familiar with it. Encouraging children to explore science fiction may not guarantee science careers, but children deserve to learn from science fiction to help them navigate their increasingly high-tech world. Läs mer…

From pests to pollutants, keeping schools healthy and clean is no simple task

Parents send their children to school to learn, and they don’t want to worry about whether the air is clean, whether there are insect problems or whether the school’s cleaning supplies could cause an asthma attack.

But a research collaborative, of which I’m a member, has found that schools might not be ready to protect students from environmental contaminants.

I’m an extension specialist focused on pest management. I’m working with a cross-disciplinary team to improve compliance with environmental health standards, and we’ve found that schools across the nation need updates in order to meet minimum code requirements.

Everything from a school’s air and water quality to the safety of the pesticides and cleaning chemicals used there determine the safety of the learning environment. Environmental health standards can help a school community ensure each potential hazard is accounted for.

Air, water and food quality

So, what aspects of the school environment and student health need attention? For one, the air students and teachers breathe every day.

Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can improve the indoor air quality and reduce the risk of health concerns. Even small things like dust and dander, dead insects and artificial scents used to cover up smells like mold and mildew can trigger asthma and allergies.

Improving ventilation, as well as a school’s air flow and filtration, can help protect building occupants from respiratory infections and maintain a healthy indoor environment. Ventilation systems bring fresh, outdoor air into rooms, filter or disinfect the air in the room and improve how often air flows in and out of a room.

Upgrading ventilation in school buildings can improve air quality and reduce potential contaminants, including viral particles, in indoor spaces.

Proper ventilation in schools can reduce pathogen spread and common allergy triggers.
Penpak Ngamsathain/Moment

It may seem like maintaining proper food safety and drinking-water quality would be common practices. But many schools do have some level of lead contamination in their food and water.

In 1991, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a regulation, known as the lead and copper rule, to minimize lead and copper in drinking water. The EPA’s 2021 revised lead and copper rule aims to reduce the risks of childhood lead exposure by focusing on schools and child care facilities and conducting outreach.

But in December 2022, a team of scientists published a report on lead and copper levels in drinking water, and they found evidence that lead is still showing up in drinking water in Massachusetts schools. No amount of lead is safe to have in the water.

To combat contamination and ensure safe food and water, the Food and Drug Administration overhauled the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2016. This act has transformed the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them. It gives local health officials more authority to oversee and enforce supply chain safety.

Per these new regulations, every school cafeteria must be inspected by the local registered sanitarian at least twice a year to meet the minimum standards for their state and federal guidelines.

These inspections now include looking for entry points that might allow mice or rats to come in, finding areas with moisture buildup where flies, roaches or other insects can breed, and determining whether storage rooms are properly sanitized.

Integrated pest management

Even if a school has clean air, water and food, it still may not meet all the required health standards. Many schools have insect infestations, and many combat these pest problems with harsh chemicals when there’s a simpler solution.

Integrated pest management is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management. Known as IPM, it combines commonsense practices like keeping doors and windows closed and making sure no food is left in classrooms overnight with other ways to help prevent pests from coming in.

IPM programs consider the pests’ life cycles and their larger environment, as well as all the available pest control methods, to manage pest infestations economically and scientifically.

Common pests in schools include ants, cockroaches and bedbugs. Ants enter looking for food, and cockroaches can travel in with backpacks or enter through small openings under doors or cracks in the seals around a window. Mice, cockroaches and ants can come into a kitchen or bathroom from plumbing pipes that aren’t properly sealed.

Cockroaches can lurk in custodial closets and near drains at schools.
Narakhon Somsavangwong/iStock

In the fall, cockroaches reside in custodial closets, kitchens and other areas where floor drains might be. These bugs use the sewer drains to move about, so an IPM approach might include making sure the drains have plenty of water flooding through them and clearing out organic matter that the cockroaches might feed on.

Green cleaning

School administrators also determine what products to use for pest control and cleaning. With the intent to prioritize the safety of both the people inside the building and the environment, some schools have adopted a “green cleaning” approach.

Green cleaning uses safer – or less harsh – chemical and pesticide products, since studies have found that the repeated use of harsh chemicals indoors can lead to chronic health effects later in life for anyone directly exposed.

Products that contain ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, citric acid and isopropyl alcohol are generally safer than products that contain chlorine or ammonia.

But the school’s job isn’t done, even after the infestation has been dealt with. Schools need a plan to manage their pollutants long term – these pollutants might be cleaning chemicals and pesticides or chemicals used in science classes. Preserving the school’s air quality requires a plan for storage and disposal of these materials. But finding the funds to correctly dispose of legacy chemicals can challenge already thin budgets.

Over the past decade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has worked with a variety of groups to develop the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child initiative. This approach pulls together professionals, community leaders, parents and others to support evidence-based policies and practices.

The initiative has also led some states to develop school health advisory councils that work with state departments of education and health to assist their local school districts with managing the indoor environment and student health.

When the school building is safe, students and educators are more able to get down to the business of learning, undistracted. Läs mer…

French schools’ ban on abayas and headscarves is supposedly about secularism − but it sends a powerful message about who ’belongs’ in French culture

France’s decision to ban public school students from wearing the abaya – a long dress or robe popular among women in certain Muslim cultures – and the male equivalent, the qamis, has faced criticism since Aug. 27, 2023, when the country’s education minister announced the new rule.

Yet polls suggest that more than 80% of the French population supports the ban, as does the country’s highest court: The Conseil d’État has upheld the challenged ban twice – most recently on Sept. 25, 2023.

Education Minister Gabriel Attal cited “laïcité,” or French secularism, as the reason for the ban. Legislation passed in 2004 prohibits “ostentatious religious symbols” from public schools, including large crosses and Jewish head coverings, though its main target has been Muslim headscarves.

Debate over the abaya, however, gets to the heart of debates over laïcité. Many critics argue that the abaya is a cultural garment, not a religious one, and should be allowed under laïcité. In practice, though, anything associated with Muslim cultures tends to be considered “religious.” Catholic traditions, meanwhile, are often considered “cultural” – and therefore compatible with laïcité.

My ethnographic research in French schools, where secularism debates are particularly heated, suggests that the abaya ban and the earlier “headscarf law” aren’t really about defending laïcité. Rather, they protect a particular version of French identity – an identity infused with Catholic culture.

Staff from a school on the outskirts of Paris protest against the government’s abaya ban on Sept. 6, 2023.
Mohamad Salaheldin Abdelg Alsayed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


Despite its reputation as a staunchly secular country, France has a deep and tangled relationship with Catholicism.

Recent studies show that only about 1 in 3 French people ages 18-59 consider themselves Catholic – whether in a religious or cultural sense – and weekly Mass attendance is uncommon.

Yet the faith still has a powerful influence upon French culture. Attending church for holidays, funerals, weddings and baptisms remains commonplace. Crosses, church bells and public church processions are considered ordinary aspects of French culture, despite the official emphasis on laïcité as a unifying pillar of national identity.

“I am convinced that the Catholic sap (of France) must still, and forever, contribute to the life of our nation,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a 2018 speech to bishops.

By contrast, headscarves, abayas, minarets, the call to prayer, halal food and Islamic prayer in public spaces are often perceived as threats to French identity. Moreover, these get flagged as religious symbols, putting them in conflict with laïcité in ways that Catholic symbols avoid.

Catholicism’s intimate relationship with secularism in France is sometimes referred to as “catho-laïcité,” referring to how Catholicism, laïcité and Frenchness become almost interchangeable. Rather than neutral secularism, “laïcité” can represent a particular, Catholic-infused French identity that views religious or cultural “others” with suspicion.

Santa Claus in class

These contradictions are especially evident around Catholic holidays. In the lead-up to Christmas, schools often celebrate with decorations, concerts and even visits from Santa Claus – activities defended as cultural rather than religious. My 3-year-old son’s holiday concert in a public preschool just outside Paris included “O Christmas Tree,” “Little Father Christmas” and “Silent Night,” but no songs from other religious traditions despite many of his classmates’ Muslim heritage.

People dressed as Santa Claus attend a paddleboarding parade on the Ill river in Strasbourg, France, on Dec. 3, 2022.
Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

Controversies stemming from holiday activities point back to this idea of “catho-laïcité”: Traditions rooted in Christian culture are more likely to be considered cultural and thus compatible with both secularism and “Frenchness.”

In 2018, an elementary school director in southern France canceled all Christmas-related activities to adhere to the “rules of laïcité” after a parent expressed disapproval. Community backlash was so fervent that the national ministry of education stepped in to intervene and reinstated the ostensibly cultural activities.

More recently, a mayor in northern France issued an official authorization for Santa Claus to park on rooftops, publicly declaring that Santa would be “within the law” during his visit that season. Local public elementary school students were later surprised with a video of Santa Claus and his elves depositing gifts at their school.

Fish, fowl and halal

Discrepancies between how laïcité applies to different religious traditions do not emerge just at holidays. French school cafeterias often serve fish on Fridays, a Catholic tradition, but debates have raged over offering halal food or other substitutes.

In 2015, a town in central France decided to stop providing substitutes for pork, which is forbidden in Muslim and Jewish tradition, in its school cafeterias. Officials argued that providing exceptions had impinged upon secular neutrality. In 2020, the case went to the top court, where judges declared that schools were not obligated under laïcité to provide alternative menu options for religious diets – though they added that doing so would not contradict laïcité.

A placard at a 2019 protest in Toulouse reads, ‘France: it’s you and me.’
Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The following year, a middle school in Bordeaux began providing occasional halal meals, as well as nonhalal alternatives. Nonetheless, the move sparked significant protest from local parent groups that lamented the “flouting of the principle of laïcité.”

Other options

Families seeking alternative education options often turn to France’s state-funded private schools, which are allowed to offer optional religious education but must otherwise follow the national curriculum and accept students of any faith. Yet here, too, the playing field is uneven.

There are more than 7,000 Catholic schools to choose from, and at some of them, upward of 70% of the student body is Muslim. Options for state-funded private Muslim schools, on the other hand – a focus of my research – are sparse. This is due, in part, to challenges that Muslim schools face when applying for permits and funding.

Families can also choose from the approximately 100 independent Muslim schools, run without government funding. However, these face constant scrutiny compared with the roughly 200 independent Catholic schools – some of which do not support laïcité.

People in front of a school in Trappes, France, protest the abaya ban on Sept. 8, 2023.
Mohamad Salaheldin Abdelg Alsayed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Future consequences

It is not clear how the abaya ban will affect students. On Sept. 4, 2023, only about 300 students out of France’s 12 million came to school wearing an abaya, and only 67 refused to remove it, according to the education ministry.

The 2004 headscarf law, however, seems to have harmed Muslim girls’ educational success. According to one key study, the gap in secondary school completion rates between Muslim and non-Muslim women doubled among those who were teenagers when the ban was passed because of higher dropout rates. Moreover, the study’s authors argue that this disparity increased the employment gap between Muslim and non-Muslim women.

Taking a closer look at France’s education system, I argue, shows that the abaya ban isn’t really about laïcité. If it were, Santa and Christmas songs would be relegated to the private sphere, and cafeteria menus would equally accommodate common religious diets. Instead, Catholic symbols are often embraced as integral to French culture, while Muslim symbols are scrutinized or barred – sending students a powerful message about what it means to be “French.” Läs mer…

Books 3 has revealed thousands of pirated Australian books. In the age of AI, is copyright law still fit for purpose?

Thousands of Australian books have been found on a pirated dataset of ebooks, known as Books3, used to train generative AI. Richard Flanagan, Helen Garner, Tim Winton and Tim Flannery are among the leading local authors affected – along, of course, with writers from around the world.

A search tool published by the Atlantic makes it possible for authors to find out whether their books are among the nearly 200,000 in the Books3 dataset.

Many of these writers have reacted angrily about their works being included in these datasets without their knowledge or consent. Flanagan told the Guardian, “I felt as if my soul had been strip mined and I was powerless to stop it”.

“Turning a blind eye to the legitimate rights of copyright owners threatens to diminish already-precarious creative careers,” said Olivia Lanchester, chief executive of the Australian Society of Authors, in an official response this week.

AI moving at speed

Authors have turned to copyright law because it is the body of law that has traditionally protected authors and other creators from the appropriation of their works.

However, laws designed for the pre-AI era have little meaning in the post-OpenAI world.

Just last year, the issue of AI was only faintly on the cultural radar. But while AI technology is moving at high speed, the law moves slowly.

It took a very significant amount of time for copyright law to first appear. The first copyright law, the Statute of Anne, emerged in 1710 after protracted lobbying by stationers (publishers).

In a more modern context, it took 20 years from the time Australian courts first recognised a system of Aboriginal law existed, with the Milirrpum decision in 1971 – meaning terra nullius was implausible – to the High Court handing down the landmark Mabo decision that erased terra nullius, in June 1992. In the interim, injustice reigned.

The question that now confronts us is whether we can wait for the law to catch up with the rapid advances of technology – or whether we must jumpstart the process.

Read more:
Authors are resisting AI with petitions and lawsuits. But they have an advantage: we read to form relationships with writers

A spate of copyright disputes

There has been a spate of copyright disputes around AI datasets and copyright-protected works.

Earlier this month, the US Authors Guild filed a class action, with 17 authors including Jonathan Franzen and Jodi Picoult, against OpenAI for copyright infringement.

This followed the first copyright lawsuit against OpenAI in July. It was filed by authors Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay, for using their books to train its AI, ChatGPT, without their consent.

And in August, Benji Smith was forced to take down his website Prosecraft, which used an algorithm to trawl through more than 25,000 books (again, without authors’ consent) to produce analysis designed to give writing advice.

Read more:
Two authors are suing OpenAI for training ChatGPT with their books. Could they win?

Copyright is not the answer

While it’s true that the uploading of works into a dataset is an act of copyright infringement, that only pertains to a one-off act of infringement.

No doubt, the liability would be large if thousands of works were involved and thousands of authors were to sue (as with the US Authors Guild class action), but the damages obtained by an individual author would be relatively small, making it not worth suing. The large commercial interests driving the development of the datasets and related AI tools are likely to withstand these lawsuits even if they are found liable.

Likewise, copyright law’s rules on fair dealing in Australia and fair use in the United States would likely protect some uses.

Further, the outputs from AI that have been trained on these datasets are not likely to result in works that satisfy the substantial similarity threshold (which means that when the two works are compared side by side, they must be similar) for copyright infringement in most jurisdictions, including Australia.

Read more:
Prosecraft has infuriated authors by using their books without consent – but what does copyright law say?

‘A type of market failure’

Copyright law has previously had to balance the interests of creators with those of technology developers.

This happened when the photocopier was invented, when video cassette recorders were developed, when blank tapes became widely available and when peer-to-peer copyright infringement took off during the digital era.

The difference then was that these technologies did not fundamentally threaten artistic and creative labour in the way AI does.

To appropriate a part of someone’s market is a radically different thing to producing a product that could entirely displace them in that market.

Yet this is the direction we’re heading in. And it requires a very significant rethink about the regulation of technology.

A type of market failure is occurring here, because authors are not being compensated even though their works, collectively, are the basis for new and commercially viable AI products.

When the sale of blank tapes began, the government responded with a levy on every blank tape sale, which sent money back to copyright owners.

Something like the blank tape levy might need to be considered for AI. This would mean every time somebody uses an OpenAI-type tool for which they pay a fee, some small portion of the fee would revert to copyright owners. Läs mer…