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September 2021
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China's Game Controllers Ignore Emergent Order

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Last week, China restricted children under 18 to three weekend hours of video games per week. If you’re a parent of a Minecraft- or Fortnite-obsessed child, you may be wondering why the U.S. doesn’t do something similar. But China’s move against juvenile gaming is just the Chinese government's latest salvo in their barrage of attempts to control internet technology. Their centralized approach is one that we in the U.S. have historically rejected and should continue to reject.China’s Great Firewall has long cut off the Chinese people’s access to much of the global internet. But recent actions in China focus on its own tech companies. These moves include passing a stringent new privacy law (which offers no protection from government spying) and tough new antitrust restrictions. China also blocked internet finance company Ant’s I.P.O., fined e-commerce company Alibaba 18.2 billion yuan and has heavily regulated online lenders, rapidly reducing their numbers from 5,000 to six as of September 2020. One prominent financial tycoon was abducted in Hong Kong, taken to China, and is apparently under house arrest while Chinese regulators seize and dismantle his companies. The crackdown expands beyond tech companies to users – Chinese police have arrested social media stars for on-camera eating as part of a campaign against food waste. It is, according to commentary circulated by Chinese state media, a “profound revolution” against “the chaos of big capital” and “a return to the Communist Party of China’s initial aspirations, a return to people as the center, and a return to the essence of socialism.”In short, China’s leaders are grasping to centralize control. And their method is to label individualism as a vice rather than a virtue.China’s leaders fear that they are losing control of markets and society, especially in the digital age.They are right. But as I argue in my forthcoming book, Getting Out of Control: Emergent Leadership in a Complex World, control is overrated – and often it is counterproductive. Complex systems like markets are characterized by emergent order, with robust and productive patterns forming from the interactions of many individual participants following relatively simple rules. These patterns cannot be anticipated or centrally designed, because the knowledge they embody is produced by the individuals grappling with the situations in front of them.Attempts to centrally control such systems eliminate much of the nuance and knowledge contained within them. The result is a simplistic, centralized system that leaves most participants worse off than they were under the emergent order produced by the complex, decentralized system. Unsurprisingly, those who are better off under centralized systems tend to be those at the center – those in control. Their control comes at the expense of everyone else’s welfare.I don’t expect this argument to persuade China’s leaders to change their path, although for their citizens’ sake I wish they would. But it might help guide our path here in the U.S. The U.S. character – and our Constitution - would never permit the kind of full-bore government centralization that China has undertaken. Yet the technocratic desire to be in control, especially in times of rapid change, is alive and well here. Indeed, many of the ideas China has adopted are floating around U.S. academia and even Capitol Hill. Breaking up big tech, regulating new technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies, regulating what kind of speech cannot or must be allowed on social media sites, limiting the use of encryption – these are increasingly common sentiments across the U.S. political spectrum. Sen. Josh Hawley’s proposed bill to ban “infinite scroll” on phone apps would fit in seamlessly with the Chinese government's diktats.It's as if China is taking the most precautionary policies from US academics, advocates, and lawmakers and implementing them via boot, truncheon, and machine gun. In fact, China’s commercial privacy law – created by a government that surveilles its citizens relentlessly – has drawn praise from some U.S. tech policy leaders who seem to wish we in the U.S. could ram through such onerous laws without the inconveniences of the democratic process.But America’s strengths include our embrace of individualism, couched appropriately within functioning institutions (themselves artifacts of emergent order), and our willingness to participate in complex systems where no one seems to be in control. These strengths have made the U.S. an economic powerhouse, home to many great innovators in technology and businesses, and the source of creative expression that entertains and educates the world.As tech analyst Ben Thompson has argued, let’s not do a pale imitation of China's attempt to stamp out individualism and centralize control. Instead, let's double down on freeing the individual to create solutions to the problems they and others face.Even if that means you, not the government, has to tell your kid to put down the game controller.Neil Chilson is a senior technology and innovation research fellow at Stand Together and former Chief Technologist at the Federal Trade Commission. His new book, "Getting Out of Control: Emergent Leadership in a Complex World," will be released on September 23.

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posted at: 12:00am on 17-Sep-2021
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CD Projekt Red Issues Trademark Strike For Board Game With A Cyberpunk Theme On Itch.io

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Way back in 2017, years before CD Projekt Red released Cyberpunk 2077 in a poor enough state so as to kickoff lawsuits from investors and a shitstorm of criticism by the public, we discussed how CDPR had acquired the US trademark for "Cyberpunk" in its licensing arrangements and then applied for a mark on the same term in the EU. The problem, of course, is that "cyberpunk" isn't just the name of a series of tabletop and video games, but also the name of a broad genre of fiction. These are trademarks that should never have been granted, as they are akin to getting a trademark on something like "True Crime". Plenty of folks in American and the EU cried foul over this, leading to CDPR putting out a statement that, among other things, noted that the company is not a trademark bully and would not be aggressive in enforcing the mark for unrelated projects in the cyberpunk genre. Pay special attention to the tweet from CDPR below in the section headed "What does it mean that CD Projekt owns the trademark for "Cyberpunk"?

That's a pretty clear commitment that CDPR wouldn't prevent others from creating games or content in the cyberpunk genre, right? Well, intentionally or not, it appears that CDPR did not keep to this commitment, as at least one indie tabletop game developer on Itch.io has now had a trademark claim issued against his game, which has nothing to do with Cyberpunk 2077 and is instead just a game in the cyberpunk genre.
In a post published on Twitter recently, user and game developer Ethan H. Reynolds has struck out against CD Projekt Red, the studio behind Cyberpunk 2077, after their own game, Neon Nights, was issued with a trademark strike. The strike claims that Reynolds' game, specifically the artwork, is alleged to be "violating rights" despite the fact that their game is not related in any way to Cyberpunk. Reynolds says in their tweet that this could be down to a corporate bot that simply scans for the word "cyberpunk" despite the fact that, according to the tweet, the word can relate to a genre as well as a specific game name.
That's simply not an excuse that works. Not in general and most certainly not in this case, with CDPR having publicly stated that its mark wouldn't be used in this way. If it really was some bot that saw the description of the game and struck out due to it being in the cyberpunk genre, that really isn't any better. The end result is still the same: CDPR is enforcing its trademark in a way that is impeding the ability of others to create content in the cyberpunk genre.If I had to guess, I would agree with Reynolds that an automated system is likely the culprit here. But that too is on CDPR for using that system. And Reynolds is rightly pissed.
The indie developer goes on to say that they have tried to support CD Projekt Red in the past, particularly when it comes to their games, but now says "no more" to defending the company. It does seem as though this could be a case of mistaken identity. According to the game's page on Itch.io, Neon Nights is a tabletop role-playing game that just happens to have a "cyberpunk/dystopian" theme, and is not related to CDPR's title.
And who can blame him for being angry? Why should fellow creatives have to navigate trademark claims against their projects just because CDPR insisted on getting a trademark for a generic name of an entire genre of fiction? Why should anyone look kindly on the company that promised this wouldn't happen only to let it happen anyway?And, since it failed to keep that promise, why shouldn't we start asking once again why this trademark was applied for and approved in the first place?

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posted at: 12:00am on 17-Sep-2021
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