Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Rudy Giuliani wants Noriega to get his bloody hands off Activision’s Call of Duty profits

Why Rudy Giuliani wants Noriega to get his bloody hands off Activision’s Call of Duty profits

Above: Rudy Giuliani

Image Credit: Rudy Giuliani

Activision knows something about firepower. After former Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega sued Activision Blizzard for using his image without paying him royalties in 2012’s first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Activision rolled out former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as its lawyer to defend the lawsuit. Giuliani, a former U.S. Attorney and former First Amendment litigator, moved to dismiss Noriega’s lawsuit yesterday — which also indicated that Noriega was portrayed in a negative light — as absurd.

Activision Blizzard makes more than a billion dollars a year in revenues from Call of Duty games, which are played by about 40 million people. But the company is also fighting for the legal right, which it says is guaranteed by the First Amendment, to create fictionalized stories around real-life characters.

Giuliani explained his stance and why he got involved in the case during a press conference on Monday. Activision said in its documents that the stories in the Call of Duty franchise, like many movies and television shows, are ripped from headlines. From the Cold War to World War II and the advanced soldiers featured in the upcoming Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the series is fictional but grounded in reality. Call of Duty regularly features characters that are ruthless dictators and iconic villains, such as Fidel Castro and Manuel Noriega, as well as vaunted heroes such as President John F. Kennedy.

Here’s an edited transcript of that press conference.

Rudy Giuliani: Thank you for joining the teleconference. This is Rudy Giuliani. I, along with several other lawyers, represent Activision in this case. My law firm is Bracewell & Giuliani.

For me, this case is a very important one because it’s extremely damaging from the point of view of an attack on free speech. Video games are entitled to exactly the same protection as movies and books under the First Amendment, according to the United States Supreme Court decision in 2011. To attack, in this way, by Noriega, in order to obtain millions of dollars on a theory of publicity, would open the floodgates to numerous historical figures, infamous and otherwise, to bring lawsuits against video games, movies, and books in which they are mentioned.

This would allow Osama bin Laden’s heirs to sue Zero Dark Thirty for the portrayal of Osama Bin Laden in that movie. I could go on and on and give one example after another of the numerous movies and books in which historical figures are used, sometimes in a fictional way and sometimes not. In this particular case, Noriega is used in a fictional way.

The second reason that I’m very upset about this lawsuit and involved in it is because I’m outraged that Manuel Noriega, a notorious dictator who’s in prison for drug dealing, for murder, for torture, is upset about being portrayed as a criminal and an enemy of the state in a game called Call of Duty. Quite simply, it’s just absurd. I’m not interested in seeing our courts give handouts to criminals like this. Noriega has already extracted hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars out of the United States in drug money. I can tell you that from my experience as Associate Attorney General and United States Attorney in the 1980s. To allow him to seek millions of dollars in damages that he can take down to his Panamanian prison is an outrage.

Grind - Half Pipe Drop - Black Ops II

That’s why we’re defending this case with great vigor. It could create a terrible precedent that could go well beyond just video games and extend into movies or books. It could also put in jeopardy the whole genre of historical fiction, which is one that is growing, that’s a very important art form. It happens to be one I enjoy immensely. I read many books in which I see presidents, CIA directors, FBI agents, and sometimes even me portrayed. Sometimes accurately, sometimes inaccurately. But we’re public officials, public figures. In the case of Noriega, he made himself a public figure. This is not a person who was the victim of a crime who was thrust into the public spotlight. This is a man who, through his activities, some of the most heinous activities in history, made himself one of the most infamous people in the world. He should have to expect that he will be included in novels, in movies, and in video games.

The last point is, when you hear about this lawsuit and you think about it, the impression is, “Oh my goodness, Noriega must be a very big part of this.” The fact is that Noriega is not a very big part of this Call of Duty video game. He is a bit player. He is only one of 45 or more characters. He is in only two of 11 segments. He’s in about 1 percent of the overall game. And most important, he’s not even advertised as a featured player in the game. In other words, he hasn’t been used to market the game in any way, which is very different than some of the other cases that have occurred in the past.

For all those reasons, we believe this is a very important case, and we believe this is a classic case of evil versus good. This is an evil man — I don’t think that’s at all exaggeration — suing a company that is a good company, a company that employs 7,500 people, that’s given millions of dollars to veterans’ causes, that’s helped to find jobs for more than 5,000 veterans. Forty million people play this game. This is an extremely popular game.

As I said before, this is no different from Osama bin Laden going after the movie Zero Dark Thirty. There’s no difference in going after a video game, a movie, or a book. It’s offensive. It’s absurd. We very much hope that the judge dismisses the case based on the anti-SLAPP motion which we filed today in court in California.

Manuel Noriega's character in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Above: Manuel Noriega’s character in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: Why has Activision taken such a high-profile response to this? If the case is so absurd, it seems like it might be easily dismissed. Is there some reason you’re bringing out more firepower to oppose Noriega on this?

Giuliani: The reason for that is, whether it’s our opinion that it’s absurd or not, all cases that are brought in court have to be taken very seriously. On the free speech aspect of this, there is a great deal at stake — not only for the video game business but also for the movie business and the publishing business because of the broad nature of the principle involved. That’s the reason why such seriousness is being given to this.

I’ve found, as a lawyer for many years — I was a lawyer for many more years than I was a mayor — that these cases should never be taken lightly. This attack on Call of Duty could have a chilling effect on all works of art — movies, TV, books. For the time that it exists, it will have a chilling effect. The attempt here is to try to get this dismissed as fast as we can. But given the court system, you can’t guarantee that anything is going to be dismissed quickly. Any lawyer that guarantees a result is a lawyer you shouldn’t have.

This has implications for Saturday Night Live, with their portrayal of public figures all the time, or for the movie Forrest Gump, or for the movie The Butler, in which President Nixon was depicted, in which President Reagan was depicted, in which Mrs. Reagan was depicted. There’s a lot riding on this. We think this is absurd because of the nature of the person who’s bringing it, but there are still very important legal principles involved. We take it very seriously.

Question: You’ve been criticized, when you were mayor, over free speech issues, notably the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit, the Sensation exhibit. Has taking up the mantle of free speech here caused you to reconsider your opinions in that case?

Giuliani: These are two different things. First of all, I should tell you my background, long before I was mayor. I used to be a First Amendment lawyer. I was part of the law firm of Patterson, Belknap Webb & Tyler. I represented the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, and Barron’s in a number of cases. One of the most famous was Nemeroff against Abelson, which set a precedent you don’t want to be bored with now. This kind of case brings me back to what I used to do in the 1970s when I was a partner at Patterson Belknap.

My position on the Brooklyn Museum had nothing to do with the First Amendment. I was more than willing to protect their right to exhibit of — I think the work of art was cow dung that was spread on a picture of the Blessed Mother. Although I disagreed with it and found it offensive, I was more than willing to allow them to do that and have the police protect them if that was necessary, which I did many times with things I disagreed with. What I didn’t want to do is give them city money in order to do that. I didn’t think the city should have to pay for that. That was a question of the use of city money, not the First Amendment.

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Activision (Activision Blizzard) is an American video game developer and publisher headquartered in Santa Monica, CA, but now operating worldwide. It was the first independent developer and distributor of video games for gaming consol... read more »

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Invoice2go, founded in 2002, scores first financing — $35M

Invoice2go, founded in 2002, scores first financing — $35M

Above: From the Invoice2go website

Image Credit: Invoice2go

For small businesses, easy and effective invoicing is essential to cash flow. And for many small businesses, Invoice2go is essential to invoicing, a central reason why the 12-year-old company has nabbed $35 million in financing.

This is the first round of financing since the company’s founding in 2002, new CEO Greg Waldorf told VentureBeat. Previously, Waldorf had been CEO at eHarmony, Lead Director at real estate site Trulia, and CEO-in-Residence at venture capital firm Accel Partners.

Until this point, he said, the company “totally bootstrapped” itself. Founder Chris Strode “felt he [now] needed the outside capital to invest in the business because the opportunity was so significant,” Waldorf said.

The new money — from Accel Partners, Ribbit Capital, and Waldorf — is being used in part to move the company’s headquarters from Sydney, Australia to Palo Alto, Calif. Although founded in Australia, it is now a U.S. company with an Australian subsidiary. Product development and engineering will remain in Sydney under Strode’s direction, while Palo Alto will handle marketing and growth.

The financing will also help to “expand the invoicing product into a more global business,” Waldorf told us, beyond the footprint it currently has in English-speaking countries. This involves not just translation and marketing, he pointed out, but localization to specific national conditions.

“In Brazil,” he noted, “companies have to be licensed [by the government] for the invoicing process.”

Invoice2go, which claims more than 100,000 business users worldwide, will also attempt to boost its sales to freelancers in the U.S.

With other cloud-based invoicing services out there, such as FreshBooks or Intuit, where does Invoice2go see its competitive advantage?

“Our biggest competitor,” Waldorf said, “is the person who uses an invoicing pad or a Microsoft Office template.”

Compared to either those old-fashioned techniques or more contemporary cloud-based versions, Waldorf said, the company’s “number one thing is that we’re very easy to use,” in addition to its emphasis on a mobile version. The company notes that it was one of the first to offer a mobile invoicing app, which it says is now the top grossing business app in over 50 countries.

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Ad delivery and software distribution startup IronSource nabs $85M

Ad delivery and software distribution startup IronSource nabs $85M
Image Credit: DenisNata via Shutterstock

IronSource today announced an $85 million funding round led by “strategic and institutional investors” based in the U.S., China, and Europe.

IronSource, based in Tel Aviv, offers ad-tech and software distribution services which are largely focused on mobile. In a vague statement, IronSource says its new round will be used to “further expand its international presence and offering, and drive adoption of its solution.”

Earlier this month, IronSource acquired mobile gaming company Upopa. IronSource is said to be planning an initial public offering, slated for 2015.

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Teladoc raises $50 million for telemedicine platform

Teladoc raises $50 million for telemedicine platform
Image Credit: Teladoc

In one of the largest raises of the year in the digital health space, the telehealth company Teladoc says today it has raised $50 million from Jafco Ventures and others.

The funding was made public in a regulatory filing on September 18, in which Teladoc also reported that its revenues are between $25 million and $100 million a year.

The large investment underscores the the eagerness of startups and investors to grab mindshare as virtual doctor visits move mainstream for both consumers and healthcare providers.

In fact, telemedicine may be one of the healthcare system’s most powerful tools for cutting costs and promoting wellness as more payors begin using value-based reimbursement models.

Teladoc contracts with insurers and large employers to provide video doctor visits for members and employees, who get 24/7 access to a network of doctors for non-emergency medical issues. The doctor visits can take happen via phone, online video, mobile app, or through TelaHealth’s HealthSpot kiosks.

TelaHealth has just signed up Blue Cross Blue Shield of California and Rent-a-Center as customers, for example.

The company, which was founded back in 2002, believes it’s the nation’s largest telehealth provider, with 8 million members and more than 250,000 consults annually.

Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic says his company aims to use the new money to further accelerate revenue growth in coming years. Teladoc says it has doubled its revenue in each of the past two years.

“This sizeable investment will allow us to quickly develop new products and services that deliver additional value for our customers while simultaneously expanding into new markets and distribution channels,” Gorevic says in a statement. “Our goal is to extend our significant lead in the industry such that Teladoc is the de facto brand in Telehealth.”

Teledoc has plenty of competition. Doctor on Demand raised $21 million in August. Another telehealth startup, HealthTap added video doctor visits to its mobile health platform at the end of July.

Other investors in Teladoc’s new funding round include FLAG Capital Management, Greenspring Associates, Mellon and QuestMark Partners, as well as its current investors Cardinal Partners, HLM Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, New Capital Partners, and Trident Capital.

Teladoc has now raised a total of $96.6 million in venture funding.

Founded in 2002, Teladoc is the nation’s first and largest provider of telehealth services. With more than 5 million members nationwide and an average response time of 22 minutes, Teladoc enhances access to affordable, high-quality ... read more »

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Karma Go launches so you can stop hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots

Karma Go launches so you can stop hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots

Karma is trying to end the hunt for WiFi with its latest portable wireless Internet hub.

The new device, called Karma Go, gives users nationwide coverage via Sprint’s 4G LTE and 3G network. Previously the company serviced only select regions and cities in the U.S.

Among the many companies that want to bring you wireless Internet anywhere you are, Karma does a couple of things differently. For one, there’s no monthly plan. Karma users buy the device and then buy data for $14 a gigabyte. That’s pretty reasonable when you consider how much the big telecoms charge for data on mobile phones. Plus with Karma the data never expires.

“So this is what I’m doing, I have an iPod touch or what I call an iPhone 6 mini” says co-founder Steven Van Wel. “But there’s no data on this. I use Google Voice, so it rings, and I’m always connected to Karma,” he says.

The device stays live for 20 hours on standby and users can continuously browse for about 5 hours. Bottom line is that he can connect to the Internet from any device (laptop, tablet, phone) anywhere covered by Sprint’s 3G and 4G LTE network.

Being that Van Wel is a co-founder, he’s happy to rely on his own network. General users may not want to rely on Google Voice, with its at times spotty connection, to make phone calls — if you still even make phone calls. But Van Wel does paint a pretty picture of life without a 2-year mobile contract.

Karma also differentiates itself from competitors by keeping the Karma network open. Up to eight people can connect to your Karma device and buy data from Karma. Van Wel says users are invisible to one another, making it difficult for hackers to get into your computer or leach data from your account. Even if Karma Go is secure, having eight people on one device will slow down the speed of your service. Karma boasts that it Internet speed of 25 mbps, which is fine, but lower speeds could make for frustrating Internet experience.

But if you don’t want to share, Van Wel says you should probably go with another wireless provider. The two main competitors in the space are Clear and Freedompop. The latter is already on Sprint’s nationwide 4G LTE network, but requires a monthly fee. Freedompop has expanded to offering devices and cell phone coverage, as well as supplying Internet to home networks — something that Karma has expressed interest in pursuing in the future. Karma originally launched on Clear’s wireless infrastructure, before the company was acquired by Sprint.

The Karma Go device is priced at $150, though existing Karma users will get a 50% discount on the device. Early adopters can snag the device for $99.

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