The worst fight between justices in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court grew out of a dispute about whether coal miners should be paid for the time it took them to travel thousands of feet up and down a mine shaft to do their jobs. The bitter interpersonal war it generated between Justice Hugo Black and Justice Robert Jackson started in 1945 and reached its climax in 1946, when their dispute hit newspapers’ front pages and cost Jackson the chief justiceship. So you’d think the question of what activities count as part of the workday would’ve been solved by now, 70 years later.
You’d be wrong. In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a dispute between an Amazon.com contractor and its employees about whether workers should be paid for time spent going through security checks to make sure they haven’t stolen from the warehouse on the way home. Structurally, the issue is the same for Amazon’s warehouse workers as it was for the coal miners. Amazon’s warehouse empire is even a plausible analogue for the coal mines of a bygone age. The persistence of the problem raises a deep question: Why, exactly, can’t we agree on what counts as part of the job?
Because I am naive, I honestly don’t understand why this is an issue. On Tuesdays, our sitter brings the fosterishes to family visits. She has to be at their school in time to wait around while they find their sweatshirts and pack their homework up. She doesn’t actually start sitting on them until they’re out of the school, but I still pay her based on when she arrives.
If I can’t start working when I arrive at work, that’s on you. I’m here. I’ve heard the counter logic and it doesn’t add up. Not for me, anyhow.
Not for nothing, but the Justices get a salary. So there’s no one to say whether their day starts when they walk in the door or when they sit down at the bench. But I’m pretty sure their regular schedule leaves time to put their robes on before court starts. I’m pretty sure that robing doesn’t turn your day into a nine hour day. I’m pretty sure they break for lunch with enough time to go take their robes off and then eat. And then put them back on. And they get paid for that time. Because it is part of their job.
Research suggests that the threat of frivolous litigation does more to discourage innovation than the prospect of gaining patents does to encourage it. So a decline in business method patents could make the US legal system more, not less, hospitable to innovation.
There’s little recourse for those whose photos are stolen. When Jenny contacted Instagram for help, the company seemed not to understand the problem. “I explained that this private user had stolen photos of my infant daughter,” she says. “Their response was that this was impersonation of a minor and I should be reporting that a minor is using Instagram. I wrote back and said this is not a minor using Instagram. She claims she’s 14 and she’s using a picture of my baby and other babies. They never responded.” (Instagram didn’t reply to a request for comment from Fast Company.)
Wow. This is still a thing?
So this is where I get confused. The DMCA is supposed to work for people like Jenny. We can have a long, drawn out discussion about ownership of ideas, but there’s no question that Jenny *ought* to be able to file a take-down notice with Instagram, just as easily as Disney can. She ought to be able to call Instagram up and say “someone is stealing my photos” and be immediately routed to the DMCA compliance desk, where someone can walk her through the relevant law (not “theft” but copyright infringement) and her recourse.
I don’t understand how Fast Company can run a whole story without ever saying that, but I love the comments (“When you email, message, upload, etc. a digital image you just placed it in the public domain. It no longer belongs solely to you.”)