Reader: Nintendo’s copyright claim over Full Screen Mario is like threatening cosplay


On June 18, Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, testified before the House Select Intelligence Committee on the agency's PRISM program, which tracks Web traffic and U.S. citizens' phone records. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

When Gen. Keith Alexander leaves Fort Meade next year as reports indicate, he'll actually be leaving behind two agencies: the National Security Agency, which has been grabbing headlines all year, and U.S. Cyber Command, which has kept a relatively low profile.

On Wednesday, I explained that even if President Obama decides to place those units under separate leaders in response to the public backlash against government surveillance, it might not result in much additional transparency. In response, spotter_tx offered this analysis on Alexander's political savvy:

I had the impression Gen. Alexander got both commands out of sheer bureaucratic savvy and politicking that belies his otherwise supposedly "low-key" nature.

I'm entirely outside that realm, so this is just the conjecture of an ordinary citizen. I suspect things will be left as they are. In reading Wired's June 2013 profile of Alexander, I realized that this man does nothing by accident - he likely plans out things in minute detail that are tied to a larger, strategic vision.

The man's been in and around centers of power in both the US military and the federal government for many years. I suspect he knows full well how power aggregates and accrues across people and across organizations, especially in regards to specialties that are beyond the easy grasp of the layperson.

Pushing packets and frames across the globe, capturing them, sniffing them, rooting out flaws in layers of baffling-looking coding and programming languages, innately understanding routing protocols, the list goes on ... the average person, much less the people in Congress who actually vote on and fund these programs, leave these esoteric aspects to the subject matter experts who make the case for their need.

Gen. Alexander has brilliantly exploited Congress' (and by extension the public's) discombobulation with these "highly technical" matters to consolidate organizational power under the joint mantle of NSA and CyberCommand. He's probably crafted things such that the day-to-day management of both organizations is inextricably bound up in a manner not easily torn asunder. Tearing those two commands apart won't happen without some overbearing paramount impulse that originates out of some perceived threat to other center(s) of power in the federal government.

It won't happen out of any public outrage over the NSA's recently-disclosed activities. The general public simply is too fractured to leverage that kind of power. But if DoD or the Executive Branch felt under siege, it would change.

When my colleague Andrea Peterson wrote about the way that technology distinguishes us from mere beasts, Curmudgeon2013 challenged our definitions of what it means to be human — arguing that, among other things, animals have learned to use tools, too.

Another approach would be to say that what makes us human is how we relate to each other, on all sorts of technology-free levels. Love, hate, war, compassion, socializing ourselves into family units, whatever. None rely on technology, per se.

One of our most popular posts this week concerned a full-on recreation of Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. in the browser. Unfortunately for the Internet, Nintendo is now accusing the developer of copyright infringement — to which Nicole Bedner wrote, "I don't understand, the dude just made something for fun. He's not making profit off of it, it's a fan creation! That's like saying we should take down all fan art and not wear any cosplay, because it's copyright infringement."

TalGreywolf replied, "Don't laugh, there are likely companies who would love to see that happen. But it won't because those companies know how popular their products are, and alienating the very folks who are doing the fan art/cosplay means their alienating their audience and any potential future audience. "

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.

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Andrea Peterson · October 19, 2013

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