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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - November 27th, ’21
November 27th, 2021
As Calls to Ban Books Intensify, Digital Librarians Offer Perspective
From Texas to Virginia to Pennsylvania, there is a growing movement to challenge books in schools that some suggest are inappropriate for students. Concern goes beyond explicit content; it now includes opposition to LGBTQIA material, the history of racism, and material that may cause discomfort to readers.
While efforts to ban books are not new, the solutions to counter censorship are—thanks to technology that is used to create access for all.
The Internet Archive’s Open Library (https://openlibrary.org) does not face the same local pressures that many school districts or school libraries do. At a time when students and teachers may be encountering limited access to content in their local community, the Internet Archive acquires and digitizes material for its online library, and lends a wide array of books for free to anyone, anytime.
For example, the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in the past decade are available in a curated collection. Among the titles: The Glass Castle by Jennette Walls, banned for offensive language and sexually explicit content; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, cited as being insensitive, anti-family and violent; and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin, challenged for its LGBTQIA content and the perceived effects on young people who would read it.
Books dealing with gay and trans rights have long been targeted in school libraries. There are more than 1,800 titles in Open Library’s LGBTQ Collection—sorted, searchable and available to borrow online for free. Many of the novels, memoirs and works of history are not otherwise accessible to people who live in rural areas or places where those materials are explicitly banned.
New Challenges, New Responses
The new efforts to ban books are taking a much broader view of limiting access. Across the country, some objectors say books like Beloved by Toni Morrison, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, should not be discussed or available in schools. As these lists are made public, Open Library’s volunteer team of Open Librarians take action to ensure that these books remain accessible to all.
Recently, Open Library created a collection of books removed from circulation in the Goddard School District in Kansas. It includes The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Fences by August Wilson, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987. A small collection of banned books from Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley features Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitgerald.
Open Library’s lead community librarian, Lisa Seaberg, is curating a collection of 850 books that have recently been challenged in Texas. Among the books targeted are ones that mention human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, contain material that might make students feel uncomfortable or distressed because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.
What’s become caught up in this “wide net,” said Seaberg, are books about health education, teen pregnancy, civics, philosophy, religion, anthropology, inventions, encyclopedias and, ironically, a novel about book censorship in a high school. Those who favor removing certain books see an opportunity and momentum, she said, but the difference in this moment is that libraries are able to provide access to titles regardless of where the reader is located.
One reason books get banned is because political forces within an area become stronger than the populace, said Mek, who leads the Open Library team for the Internet Archive. “Open Library is trying to bridge these inequity gaps across geographies and social classes. We invite the populace to come together and participate in a digital sanctuary where our rich and diverse cultural heritage isn’t subject to censorship by the few with special interests.”
At the most basic level, banning books is about restricting access to knowledge, said Lisa Petrides, chief executive officer and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME).
“The impact of this on schools means that students are exposed to a limited set of world views, which is extremely detrimental to critical thinking, reflective analysis and discussion,” said Petrides. “Perhaps even more importantly as we are seeing today, this means that educators and librarians are increasingly put in difficult situations, having to face the threat of reprisal from administrators or school boards, who are themselves increasingly less willing to stand up for the First Amendment rights of their teachers and learners.”
The Path Forward
Everyone’s perspectives should matter and be represented in the democratic process. A library must offer diverse materials so people can draw their own conclusions, said Mek. He embraces the oft-cited quote from librarian Jo Godwin: “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”
“It’s important for informed members of society to share their opinions,” he says. “But there’s a difference between sharing an opinion and robbing someone of the opportunity to form their own. To change hearts and minds, write a compelling book—don’t take authors you disagree with off the shelves. The Open Library community is honoring these values by giving contested titles their spots back on the shelf.”
Seaberg says, hopefully, recent book challenges will ultimately fail and access to a range of books will be restored. “If students walk into a library and they have books that only present one side of an issue, or are only relatable to a certain group in a culture, it excludes a lot of people,” she says. “They might not even know this other content exists.”
Germany to Force ISPs to Give Discounts for Slow Internet Speeds
A new regulation coming in the form of an amendment in the Telecommunications Act of Germany could radically change the relationship between consumers and internet service providers.
According to the draft, users will be able to test their internet speeds and, if there’s a too large deviation between their real-world results and what their ISPs promised, they will be eligible for a bill discount.
The discount amount will be comparable to the deviation between the contractually agreed Internet speeds and the actual ones.
To determine their connection speeds, customers will have to use the official internet speed measurement app provided by the German Federal Network Agency.
The measurement process includes 20 tests on two consecutive days, spread as ten tests each day.
This method ensures that any speed deviations are recurring and/or continuous and not the result of a momentary hiccup on the network.
If the Internet download and upload speeds are below 90% of the ISP-promised figures, the customer becomes eligible for a discount.
According to the German consumer protection authorities, deviations from contractual agreements affect over 50% of internet users in the country.
As such, the new law will provide a balancing dynamic and an incentive for ISPs to meet their marketing promises and offer more consistent service quality.
Right now, in most parts of the world, consumers are paying a fixed price in tiered contracts and get whatever speed is technically possible for their location.
This approach frequently leaves consumers wronged compared to others who pay the same amount for the same service package but happen to enjoy better speeds.
Of course, everyone can take the litigation path and claim their rights in court, but most people would skip this costly and tedious process.
From that perspective, the German law that introduces the right to bill discounts is a significant win for consumers. We can only hope to see similar legislation in other countries soon.
The new law will come into force in December 2021, and, considering that regulators submitted the draft in September, they were quick to embrace it and move things forward.
'No Time to Die' is now Hollywood's Biggest Release of the Year, but 2 Chinese Movies have Made More Money
• "No Time to Die" surpassed "F9" as the highest-grossing Hollywood release this year.
• But the Chinese film "The Battle at Lake Changjin" is the biggest movie at the worldwide box office.
• China's theatrical industry has recovered quickly from the pandemic thanks largely to local films.
The James Bond movie "No Time to Die," Daniel Craig's fifth and final outing as the character, surpassed "Fast and Furious 9" over the weekend as the highest-grossing Hollywood release this year. It's now earned $734 million at the global box office compared to "F9's" $721 million.
But it's still not the world's biggest movie of 2021.
That title belongs to the Chinese war film "The Battle at Lake Changjin," which has grossed $888 million just from China. It premiered in the US, the UK, and Ireland over the weekend and is set to debut next month in Australia.
China dethroned the US last year as the world's biggest theatrical market, thanks largely to the success of local productions like "The Battle at Lake Changjin" and "Hi, Mom," a dramedy that is the No. 2 biggest movie in the world this year with $822 million.
The Chinese government intends to keep its box office at No. 1. The China Film Administration recently laid out its five-year film plan, which includes ensuring that local movies account for at least 55% of the China box office and increasing the number of screens in the region to 100,000 by 2025.
Meanwhile, most Hollywood films have struggled to even hit $200 million in North America as the theatrical industry slowly recovers from the pandemic.
"No Time to Die" has earned $154 million domestically, less than the previous two Bond movies, "Skyfall" and "Spectre." But it's had strong legs in recent weekends with small drops at the box office, likely powered by positive word of mouth and older audiences who waited to see the movie.
Variety reported on Monday, based on anonymous sources close to the production, that the movie could still lose $100 million given its hefty $250 million production budget before marketing expenses.
MGM, the movie's distributor, pushed back in a statement to Variety, saying in part: "With the PVOD release of the film already doing stellar home viewing business, all while continuing to hold well theatrically, 'No Time To Die' will earn a profit for MGM, both as an individual film title and as part of MGM's incredible library."
Covid-Era Conundrum: ‘No Time to Die’ May Be the Year’s Highest-Grossing Hollywood Movie, But It Could Still Lose Millions
Rebecca Rubin, Brent Lang
Over the weekend, “No Time to Die” eclipsed $730 million in global ticket sales, making the James Bond sequel both the year’s highest-grossing Hollywood film and the top performing film at the box office since COVID-19 appeared on the scene and nearly shut down the movie business.
The action-packed spy spectacle, which endured several coronavirus-related delays, has become the rare pandemic-era box office hit, which is even more impressive considering adult audiences — the core demographic for “No Time to Die” — have been reluctant to return to theaters. However, the movie cost more than $250 million to produce, at least $100 million to promote and tens of millions more to postpone over 16 months. Insiders say “No Time to Die” needs to make closer to $900 million to break even, a feat that would have been realistic had a global health crisis not entirely upended the theater industry. As a result, the film now stands to lose $100 million in its theatrical run, according to sources close to production. Other industry sources suggest the losses wouldn’t quite reach the nine-figure mark though they would still be substantial.
MGM, the studio behind Bond’s latest adventure, disputes this math. In a statement to Variety, the company insisted “No Time to Die” didn’t just break even but was a money maker.
“Unnamed and uninformed sources suggesting the film will lose money are categorically unfounded and put more simply, not true,” MGM spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has far exceeded our theatrical estimates in this timeframe, becoming the highest grossing Hollywood film in the international marketplace and passing ‘F9’ to become the highest grossing Hollywood film since the pandemic. With the PVOD release of the film already doing stellar home viewing business, all while continuing to hold well theatrically, ‘No Time To Die’ will earn a profit for MGM, both as an individual film title and as part of MGM’s incredible library.”
MGM clearly isn’t conceding that “No Time to Die” is a financial disappointment, but their contention is disputed by others with knowledge of Bond’s budget and with a deep understanding of what a film of that scope and scale needs to earn to get into the black.
In any case, the potential losses illuminate the harsh reality currently facing big-budget films: becoming profitable (at least in the theatrical run) is uncommon in the best of times and basically unfeasible during a pandemic. “No Time to Die” is far from the only tentpole to lose money while the movie theater industry struggles to recover. Marvel’s superhero epics “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Eternals,” as well as “The Suicide Squad” and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender “Tenet” all stand to finish in the red with losses in the tens of millions. Nor are these the biggest box office debacles of the COVID era. That honor would likely go to Twentieth Century Studios’ “The Last Duel,” a historical epic that stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck, which cost more than $100 million to make and promote and will lose more than that after it eked out a paltry $27.4 million globally. It’s a total wash for the studio, and a sign of how D.O.A. most films that don’t feature super spies or superheroes are at the multiplexes these days. Oscar contenders such as “Spencer,” “Belfast” and “King Richard” are all struggling to attract crowds despite enjoying glowing reviews.
To be sure, things are getting better. October revenues were at record levels thanks to tentpole films like “Dune” and “No Time to Die.” But there’s an unfortunate reality behind these numbers. Almost no movies are making money right now. Yes, a few horror films like Universal’s “Halloween Kills,” which are made cheaply, are still enjoying healthy profit margins, but the business that is reemerging from its COVID torpor still has a lot of ground to make up.
Further complicating things is the fact that the pandemic hit right as media companies like Comcast, Disney, Viacom CBS and WarnerMedia were launching streaming services of their own. In order to compete with Netflix, these companies unwound licensing deals with cable companies and streamers, which deprived them of millions of dollars in wildly profitable licensing fees. In some instances, it has been worth it. Disney’s stock surged during the pandemic as Disney Plus kept adding subscribers, which helped the conglomerate cushion the blow of having its theme parks closed and its cruise ships in dry dock. But it has resulted in a depletion of short term revenues in favor of long term growth.
But what can movie companies do?
For movies that cost between $100 million and $200 million, it’s become a Catch-22. Studios can release a film knowing that turning a profit has become somewhat unrealistic, or they can continue to delay, delay delay and risk a total industry collapse. Had MGM and United Artists Releasing, the company’s behind Bond’s latest, and its rivals decided to not release “No Time to Die” and other key tentpoles such as Disney’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” theatrically in 2021, Hollywood may have found itself without a film exhibition industry on the other end of COVID. Put simply, movie theaters wouldn’t be able to survive if Hollywood chose the latter, more fiscally conservative approach. It’s not entirely altruistic for the companies that make and distribute movies. Many of these titles were postponed from their initial 2020 release dates, and continuously pushing them back creates added expenses for studios — not to mention the reality that some of the films would feel stale after years on the shelf. In some ways, it’s like an investment in movie theaters, which overtime will generate billions more for Hollywood studios. But keeping highly anticipated tentpoles, the kind that demand to be seen on the big screen and require outsized box office receipts to turn a profit, comes with obvious risks; studios aren’t going to be able to reach the ticket sales needed to achieve profitability while the market remains impaired.
Compared to star Daniel Craig’s previous 00 outings, “No Time to Die” has already made more money globally than 2006’s “Casino Royale” ($616 million globally) and 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” ($589 million). It does fall short of its two predecessors, “Skyfall” with its $1.1 billion haul and “Spectre” with its $880 million tally. At the domestic box office, its total ranks as the lowest Bond with Craig at the center, but the global popularity of the franchise softened that blow.
In an attempt to mitigate theatrical losses, “No Time to Die” moved to premium video-on-demand platforms after 31 days in theaters, where industry insiders believe it is thriving. Unlike box office grosses, where studios evenly split revenues with theater owners, companies like MGM get to keep closer to 80% of the money from digital transactions. Though its theatrical window has been a shorter frame than previous Bond films, it’s a notably longer period of big-screen exclusivity than Disney’s “Black Widow” and “Cruella” and Warner Bros.’ “Dune,” all of which landed on streaming platforms on the same day as their theatrical releases. Despite alarm bells that studios will completely abandon the theatrical widow — the period of time that movies play exclusively in theaters — it’s vital to downstream revenue. After Warner Bros. put its entire 2021 slate on HBO Max on the same day as their theatrical debuts, the studio learned the hard way that companies benefit from exclusive theatrical windows because you make more on premium VOD and other ancillary markets.
When “No Time to Die” was greenlit, many of these new streaming services were still in their nascent stages, the global box office was thriving, and major movies had exclusive cinema runs of nearly three months. Bond’s long-time studio home MGM/UA was an independent operator — now it’s about to be absorbed by Amazon. Clearly, a lot has changed, including the economics behind successful moviemaking. But one thing has remained eerily prescient about the Bond sequel. In “No Time to Die,” 007’s shadowy adversary, Lyutsifer Safin, doesn’t wield a massive bomb or kidnap a world leader in order to bring the global superpowers to their knees. His weapon of choice is a bioweapon with the ability to infect its victims in a virus-like fashion. That kind of contagion, it turns out, may be the deadliest and most disruptive force of all.
Until next week,
Current Week In Review
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November 20th, November 13th, November 6th, October 30th
Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles, press releases, comments, questions etc. in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Please include contact info. The right to publish all remarks is reserved.
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