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A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World

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A group of eagle-eyed puzzlers, using digital tools, has uncovered a pattern of copying in the professional crossword-puzzle world that has led to accusations of plagiarism and false identity.

Since 1999, Timothy Parker, editor of one of the nation’s most widely syndicated crosswords, has edited more than 60 individual puzzles that copy elements from New York Times puzzles, often with pseudonyms for bylines, a new database has helped reveal. The puzzles in question repeated themes, answers, grids and clues from Times puzzles published years earlier. Hundreds more of the puzzles edited by Parker are nearly verbatim copies of previous puzzles that Parker also edited. Most of those have been republished under fake author names.

Nearly all this replication was found in two crosswords series edited by Parker: the USA Today Crossword and the syndicated Universal Crossword. (The copyright to both puzzles is held by Universal Uclick, which grew out of the former Universal Press Syndicate and calls itself “the leading distributor of daily puzzle and word games.”) USA Today is one of the country’s highest-circulation newspapers, and the Universal Crossword is syndicated to hundreds of newspapers and websites.

On Friday, a publicity coordinator for Universal Uclick, Julie Halper, said the company declined to comment on the allegations. FiveThirtyEight reached out to USA Today for comment several times but received no response.

When I spoke with Parker on Thursday, he didn’t deny that many of his puzzles exactly replicated themes and theme answers from Times puzzles. “To me, it’s just mere coincidence,” he said. He did deny that themes were purposefully replicated with his knowledge and claimed that he hadn’t looked at a New York Times crossword in years. “We don’t look at anybody else’s puzzles or really care about anyone else’s puzzles,” Parker said.

Despite Parker’s denial, many in the crossword world see willful plagiarism in Parker’s puzzles, and they see the database that revealed the repetition as a tool of justice. “It’s like a murder mystery solved 50 years later with DNA evidence,” Matt Gaffney, a professional crossword constructor, told me.

1,090 Universal puzzles and 447 USA Today puzzles were at least a 75 percent match to an earlier puzzle

Will Shortz, the puzzle editor for The New York Times, was taken aback by Parker’s replications. “I have never heard of something like this happening before,” he told me. “This would never have come to light except in the electronic age, where you can track these things.” He added: “To me, it’s an obvious case of plagiarism. It’s unethical, and I would never publish a person who plagiarizes another person’s work.”

Parker has been the editor of the Universal Crossword for over 15 years and began editing the USA Today Crossword in 2003. In 2000, Parker earned a Guinness record for “most syndicated puzzle compiler.” There’s no public list of Universal’s clients, but its newspaper clients include the New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Denver Post and Hartford Courant. Its other clients include CBS News, Merriam-Webster, Smithsonian Magazine and Yahoo. Parker’s crossword ventures, according to a 2003 article in People, made him a “multimillionaire.”

How crosswords work

To understand why Parker’s repetitions cut against crossword norms, it helps to understand what a crossword puzzle is made of. The vast majority have a few main parts:

  • The theme: A crossword puzzle’s identity — it’s why a puzzle is memorable, or clever, or creative, or funny, and it’s the toughest part to execute when constructing a puzzle. The theme answers are usually the longest answers in the grid and are tied together by some clever conceit.
  • The fill: The rest of the answers in the puzzle. Computers nowadays can aid in finding suitable fill.
  • The grid: The series of white and black squares — the scaffolding onto which the puzzle is built.
  • The clues: The things the solver reads, and ponders, before scribbling answers into the grid.

Crosswords are ripe with repetitions in the fill — “ERA,” for example, has been used 480 times in the last 23 years of New York Times crossword puzzles. But those smaller words are just mortar — they aren’t the bricks that puzzle designers spend all their time baking. Original themes, unique grids, fresh fill and clever clues are the currency of construction.

There’s no rule book or official code of ethics in the urbane world of crossword puzzle construction, but it’s generally understood that copying a puzzle’s theme — using the exact clues and exact answers as another puzzle — infringes upon the original work of a puzzle constructor.

“The animating impulse of crosswords is, ‘How can I do something new in this medium?’” said Ben Tausig, editor of the American Values Club crossword. crossword.

But Parker said he doesn’t quite see it that way: “For themes to be the same is not an unusual thing in crosswords.”

“It’s hard to construct a good crossword. It’s art.”

Generally, crosswords are submitted by freelance constructors to an editor responsible for putting out a publication’s puzzle every day. Parker has used freelancers but told me that he has an in-house team of 60 at Universal that helps him create the puzzles. He declined to put me in touch with any of them, saying that I could speak to him “as the editor” and citing “trade secrets.” When I wondered aloud whether these contributors existed at all, Parker said that “even if they didn’t, that has nothing to do with the crosswords.”

“I take great pains to go over, as a human, every single solitary clue,” Parker said. “We don’t have any computers doing anything. I put humor into these puzzles. I put my own stamp on every puzzle, as an editor.”

Crossword themes can be replicated, or close to it, by chance. In 2009, Gaffney wrote about one such instance in which he nearly identically replicated a theme of another creator, without having any prior knowledge that the other puzzle existed. But even in that case, one theme answer was different, as was the grid. Something different seems to be going on with Parker’s puzzles.

A web of repetition

The database that helped uncover the repetition holds tens of thousands of puzzles published by 11 outlets over various time periods — for example, it holds puzzles from The New York Times starting in 1942 and from the Los Angeles Times starting in 1996. The engineer who created the database also wrote a computer program that identifies similar puzzles and assigns each pair of similar puzzles a similarity score, essentially the percentage of letters and black squares that are shared by two puzzles’ grids.

To confirm the database was accurate, I went to the library and pulled spool after spool of microfilm. Sure enough, there were the replications in black and white.

When I asked Parker whether the replications qualified as plagiarism, he said: “No way. I’ll tell you why. The New York Times themes are difficult themes — they’re not the kind of themes I usually use.” But by my count, at least 16 USA Today puzzles since 2003 and at least 49 Universal puzzles since 1998 have exactly replicated the theme answers of a previously published New York Times puzzle. (In some of these cases, the clues are also replicated or similar, but in some, the clues are different.)

“I guess that’s the nature of any data set. You might find things you’d rather not see.”

More broadly, 1,090 Universal puzzles and 447 USA Today puzzles were at least a 75 percent match to an earlier puzzle in the database. (Sometimes the match is with a puzzle from the same publication.) That’s 16 percent of all the Universal puzzles in the database (about one out of every six) and 8 percent of all the USA Today puzzles (one out of every 12).

There are two types of Parker’s puzzle duplications that the database has laid bare: what I’m calling the “shady” and the “shoddy.” The shady are puzzles that appeared in Universal or USA Today with themes and theme answers identical to puzzles published earlier and in separate, unrelated publications, most often The New York Times and occasionally the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. In every such case I saw — roughly 100 cases — the theme answers were in identical locations within the grid, and in many cases, the later puzzle also replicated the earlier puzzle’s grid and some of its clues.

Replicating another crossword’s theme is like puzzle identity theft. Take this example: On Jan. 8, 2001, The New York Times published a puzzle with three long theme answers (“DRIVEUPTHEWALL,” “GETONONESNERVES” and “RUBTHEWRONGWAY”) that all had clues containing the word world “exasperate.” On June 4, 2010, USA Today published a puzzle with the same theme and the same theme answers in the same order, with the same placement and clues that all included the word “exasperate.”


It’s not alone. “Breakfast combo,” “lunch combo” and “dinner combo” were all clues to theme answers in both a 2001 Los Angeles Times puzzle and a 2006 Universal puzzle. The answers — “COFFEEANDDANISH,” “SOUPANDSANDWICH” and “MEATANDPOTATOES” — were the same in both, again with the same placement.

When I asked Parker about the 65 puzzles he edited that replicated themes from earlier New York Times puzzles, he chalked it up to the statistical inevitability of having edited so many puzzles over the years. “Out of 15,000, I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “I would expect it to be a couple of hundred.”

Parker said the Times crossword puzzle, widely considered to be the nation’s premier puzzle, is not for him. “I’ll be quite honest with you,” Parker said. “I’m not a fan of The New York Times crossword. I never have been a fan of The New York Times crossword. I don’t even know how I would access old New York Times crosswords, unless they’re in some older books. I wouldn’t even have access to older New York Times crosswords.”

The last 23 years of New York Times crosswords are available online for an annual fee of $39.95.

The other category of suspicious duplication — the “shoddy” — are puzzles that were published in USA Today or Universal and reappeared later — often with identical theme, grids and fill, or with extremely minor changes — in either USA Today or Universal. (The USA Today puzzle is copyrighted to Universal Uclick, but the two puzzles are meant to be distinct.) In the vast majority of these cases, the two puzzles are published with different authors attached to them. Most of the clues for these puzzles are often identical as well.


The website for the Universal Crossword says: “The original hit puzzle from Tim Parker sets the standard for all daily crosswords. Clues and themes are served up fresh daily in this classic puzzle.” But the themes are, in many cases, not fresh at all.

Parker wasn’t troubled by this replication of themes. “I would liken it to a sitcom when you hear a joke that might be similar to another sitcom,” he said. “Hey, if it’s a good joke, we did it a little bit differently. I don’t care if the theme has been run somewhere else, if it’s a good theme for my audience. I know my audience, and I know what we’re running. So I’m not really concerned if it’s run somewhere else.”

UniversalUSA Today537
USA TodayUniversal162
New York TimesUniversal64
New York TimesUSA Today28
Chicago TribuneUniversal15
Los Angeles TimesUSA Today14
Los Angeles TimesUniversal12
Chicago TribuneUSA Today7
New York TimesLos Angeles Times5
At the CrossroadsUniversal5
USA TodayChicago Tribune4
USA TodayNew York Times4
USA TodayWall Street Journal2
New York TimesChicago Tribune2
USA TodayLos Angeles Times2
UniversalLos Angeles Times2
Chicago TribuneLos Angeles Times2
New York SunUniversal2
Los Angeles TimesNew York Times2
At the CrossroadsUSA Today2
Los Angeles TimesWall Street Journal1
USA TodayNew York Sun1
New York TimesNew York Sun1
UniversalNew York Sun1
Los Angeles TimesNew York Sun1
Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune1
New York SunLos Angeles Times1
At the CrossroadsLos Angeles Times1
Chronicle of Higher EducationNew York Times1
New York SunUSA Today1
Puzzles with at least 25% similarity to a previously published puzzle, since May 19, 2003

Chronicle of Higher Education data begins in 2004; Newsday’s ‘repeater’ puzzles are not shown because its earliest puzzle in the database is from 2010. Since then, Newsday has published 20 puzzles at least 25 percent similar to previously published

Source: Saul Pwanson

How Parker’s repeats were discovered

Tausig, who has constructed puzzles for several major publications, drew the crossword world’s attention to the repetitions in a tweet on Feb. 25. Tausig told me — and I confirmed with the database – that a puzzle he had authored for Universal in 2004 had been very slightly tweaked and rerun by Universal in 2008 — under the byline “Bruce Manders” — and then rerun again last year with Tausig’s byline back on it.

Tausig discovered this with the help of the newly assembled database of crossword puzzles created by Saul Pwanson, 2 1 a software engineer. Pwanson wrote the code that identified the similar puzzles and published a list of them on his website, along with code for the project on GitHub. The puzzle database is the result of Pwanson’s own Web-scraping of about 30,000 puzzles and the addition of a separate digital collection of puzzles that has been maintained by solver Barry Haldiman since 1999. Pwanson’s database now holds nearly 52,000 crossword puzzles, and Pwanson’s website lists all the puzzle pairs that have a similarity score of at least 25 percent.

Even to avid solvers and constructors, Parker’s puzzle replication had remained largely hidden in plain sight until last month. Even though themes can often get replicated here and there, purposeful “plagiarism is virtually unheard of in the crossword community,” Gaffney said in his 2009 Slate article. But this age of innocence may be quickly coming to an end, as the news of the puzzle replications quickly spread through the crossword community on Twitter, Facebook and email threads.

Parker’s duplication of 65 New York Times themes during his tenure “is a gross violation,” Tausig said. And one that is unlikely to be explained by chance. Not only did the discovery reveal many examples of themes and theme answers being lifted wholesale, but the flow of these themes is nearly always from the Times to Universal or USA Today — almost never in the other direction. (I found only one example in the database of a USA Today puzzle’s theme being replicated later in the Times.) Even if 65 puzzles were expected to be replicated by chance, the odds that they’d all go from The New York Times to Universal and almost never the other way around are minuscule. “You’re getting into one-in-a-billion territory,” Tausig said.


In my 82-minute conversation with Parker, he acknowledged that he often used pseudonymous bylines in both USA Today and Universal crosswords — “Henry Quarters,” for example, “is one of the aliases,” he said. Asked which author names were pseudonyms and which were real, Parker said: “I don’t know. I don’t have a percentage on that.”


Pwanson wasn’t searching for anything in particular when he began assembling his database, he said. He’s an aspiring constructor and wanted to explore how grids and words and phrases tended to come together to form a puzzle using the languages in which he’s fluent — programming and data. But “when you get the data into a nice, clean, dense form, stuff just falls out of it,” he said. And what fell out was surprising, and upsetting. Haldiman, who contributed his puzzle collection to the project, struck a similar chord. “I guess that’s the nature of any data set,” he said. “You might find things you’d rather not see.”

Despite the generally aggrieved consensus in the crossword community, the legal issues surrounding crossword repetition are murky, according to two copyright lawyers I spoke with. The “shoddy” category of puzzles, those shared and re-published between Universal and USA Today and back again, are almost certainly legal, as Universal Uclick owns the copyrights to both.

But those in the “shady” category may fall into a legal gray area. Kevan Choset, a lawyer and crossword constructor, told me, that there are “extremely strong arguments” that crosswords are protected by copyright law. But are individual components of crosswords protected? “If they are taking entire themes along with the shape of the grid along with a substantial number of clues and answers, then that would be actionable copyright infringement,” Stephen McArthur, a copyright and games lawyer in Los Angeles, told me by email. It’s unclear whether what Parker has done is “substantial.”

“It’s the industrialization of crosswords,” Pwanson said. Making good puzzles is more difficult than making a lot of puzzles. “It’s hard to construct a good crossword,” Pwanson said. “It’s art.”

Parker remained steadfast under the weight of the data. “We don’t go hunting through [other] puzzles trying to see what their theme is,” Parker said. “The thing I’m trying to do is be different from everyone else.”

Read more: A dispatch from last year’s the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

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2151 days ago
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What Was Gary Becker’s Biggest Mistake?

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The econometrician Henri Theil once said “models are to be used but not to be believed.” I use the rational actor model for thinking about marginal changes but Gary Becker really believed the model. Once, at a dinner with Becker, I remarked that extreme punishment could lead to so much poverty and hatred that it could create blowback. Becker was having none of it. For every example that I raised of blowback, he responded with a demand for yet more punishment. We got into a heated argument. Jim Buchanan and Bryan Caplan approached from the other end of the table and joined in. BeckerIt was a memorable evening.

Becker isn’t here to defend himself on the particulars of that evening but you can see the idea in his great paper, Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach. In a famous section he argues that an optimal punishment system would combine a low probability of being punished with a high level of punishment if caught:

If the supply of offenses depended only on pf—offenders were risk neutral — a reduction in p “compensated” by an equal percentage increase in f would leave unchanged pf… increased probability of conviction obviously absorbs public and private resources in the form of more policemen, judges, juries, and so forth. Consequently, a “compensated” reduction in this probability obviously reduces expenditures on combating crime, and, since the expected punishment is unchanged, there is no “obvious” offsetting increase in either the amount of damages or the cost of punishments. The result can easily be continuous political pressure to keep police and other expenditures relatively low and to compensate by meting out strong punishments to those convicted.

We have now tried that experiment and it didn’t work. Beginning in the 1980s we dramatically increased the punishment for crime in the United States but we did so more by increasing sentence length than by increasing the probability of being punished. In theory, this should have reduced crime, reduced the costs of crime control and led to fewer people in prison. In practice, crime rose and then fell mostly for reasonsother thanimprisonment. Most spectacularly, the experiment with greater punishment led to more spending on crime control and many more people in prison.

Why did the experiment fail? Longer sentences didn’t reduce crime as much as expected because criminals aren’t good at thinking about the future; criminal types have problems forecasting and they have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their impulses. In the heat of the moment, the threat of future punishment vanishes from the calculus of decision. Thus, rather than deterring (much) crime, longer sentences simply filled the prisons. As if that weren’t bad enough, by exposing more people to criminal peers and by making it increasingly difficult for felons to reintegrate into civil society, longer sentences increased recidivism.

Instead of thinking about criminals as rational actors, we should think about criminals as children. In this light, consider the “Becker approach” to parenting. Punishing children is costly so to reduce that cost, ignore a child’s bad behavior most of the time but when it’s most convenient give the kid a really good spanking or put them in time out for a very long time. Of course, this approach leads to disaster–indeed, it’s precisely this approach that leads to criminality in later life.

So what is the recommended parenting approach? I don’t want to get into a debate over spanking, timeouts, and reasoning but one thing all recommendations have in common is that the consequences for inappropriate behavior should be be quick, clear, and consistent. Quick responses help not just because children have “high discount rates” (better thought of as difficulty integrating their future selves into a consistent whole but “high discount rates” will do as short hand) but even more importantly because a quick response helps the children to understand the relationship between behavior and consequence. Prior to Becker there was Becaaria and in Beccarian theory, people must learn to associate crime with punishment. When responses aren’t quick, children, just like scientists, have difficulty learning cause and effect. Quick is thus one way of lowering cognitive demands and making consequences clear.

Animals can learn via conditioning but people can do much better. If you punish the child who steals cookies you get less cookie stealing but what about donuts or cake? The child who understands the why of punishment can forecast consequences in novel circumstances. Thus, consequences can also be made clear with explanation and reasoning. Finally, consistent punishment, like quick punishment, improves learning and understanding by reducing cognitive load.

Quick, clear and consistent also works in controlling crime. It’s not a coincidence that the same approach works for parenting and crime control because the problems are largely the same. Moreover, in both domains quick, clear and consistent punishment need not be severe.

In the economic theory, crime is in a criminal’s interest. Both conservatives and liberals accepted this premise. Conservatives argued that we needed more punishment to raise the cost so high that crime was no longer in a criminal’s interest. Liberals argued that we needed more jobs to raise the opportunity cost so high that crime was no longer in a criminal’s interest. But is crime always done out of interest? The rational actor model fits burglary, pick-pocketing and insider trading but lots of crime–including vandalism, arson, bar fights and many assaults–aren’t motivated by economic gain and perhaps not by any rational interest.

Here’s a simple test for whether crime is in a person’s rational interest. In the economic theory if you give people more time to think carefully about their actions you will on average get no change in crime (sometimes careful thinking will cause people to do less crime but sometimes it will cause them to do more crime). In the criminal thecriminal as poorly-socialized child theory, in contrast, crime is often not in a person’s interest but instead is a spur of the moment mistake. Thus, even a small opportunity to reflect and consider will result in less crime. As one counselor at a juvenile detention center put it:

20 percent of our residents are criminals, they just need to be locked up. But the other 80 percent, I always tell them – if I could give them back just ten minutes of their lives, most of them wouldn’t be here.

ThinkingProblemsCognitive behavioral therapy addresses thinking problems. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people how to act in those 10 minutes–CBT is not quite as simple as teaching people to count to ten before lashing out but it’s similar in spirit, basically teaching people to think before acting and to revise some of their assumptions to be more appropriate to the situation. Randomized controlled trialsand meta-studiesdemonstrate that CBT can dramatically reduce crime.

Cognitive behavioral therapy runs the risk of being labeled a soft, liberal approach but it can also be thought of as remedial parenting which should improve understanding and appreciation among conservatives. More generally, it’s important that crime policy not be forced into a single dimension running from liberal to conservative, soft to tough. Policing and prisons, for example, are often lumped together and placed on this single, soft to tough dimension when in fact the two policies are different. I favor more police on the streetto make punishment more quick, clear, and consistent. I would be much happier with more police on the street, however, if that policy was combined with an end to the “war on drugs”, shorter sentences, and an end to brutal post-prison policies that exclude millions of citizens from voting, housing, housing and jobs.

Let’s give Becker and the rational choice theory its due. When Becker first wrote many criminologists were flat out denying that punishment deterred. As late as 1994, for example, the noted criminologist David Bayley could write:

The police do not prevent crime. This is one of the best kept secrets of modern life. Experts know it, the police know it, but the public does not know it. Yet the police pretend that they are society’s best defense against crime. This is a myth

Inspired by Becker, a large, credible, empirical literature–including my own work on police(and prisons)–has demonstrated that this is no myth, the police deter. Score one for rational choice theory. It’s a far cry, however, from police deter to twenty years in prison deters twice as much as ten years in prison. The rational choice theory was pushed beyond its limits and in so doing not only was punishment pushed too far we also lost sight of alternative policies that could reduce crime without the social disruption and injustice caused by mass incarceration.

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2322 days ago
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Amazon Can't Win When It Comes to Antitrust

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Some people wonder why libertarians are skeptical of antitrust. For a hint, you have to look no further than the recent battle between book-selling giant Amazon and the publisher Hachette.

Amazon and Hachette are engaged in a pricing dispute. Although the details are unclear, it's been reported that Amazon wants better terms on ebooks as it renegotiates its contract with Hachette. Hachette is holding the line, and Amazon has exercised its "nuclear option" by pulling Hachette's print books off its virtual shelves.

Customers who go to Amazon looking for Hachette-published bestsellers from the likes of J.D. Salinger, or new releases from J.K. Rowling or Stephen Colbert, will find that they are not available. The situation is not very different from a blackout when a cable company like Time Warner can't come to terms with a network like CBS.

"I'm mad at Amazon and apparently I'm not the only one. Everyone seems to be a little upset," said Leo Laporte last week on his popular This Week in Tech program, reflecting a common sentiment. "We all thought that Amazon was going to change shopping, going to change the experience of book buying. Yeah, they were great until they got a monopoly and now they are just screwing with everybody."

And there it is. The "M" word.

This is no ordinary pricing dispute, the story goes, because Amazon has significant market power. It accounts for 41 percent of all new books sold, and 67 percent of all ebook sales. But what makes it a monopoly? Can't you just go to any of a hundred other bookstores online and off to get your Hachette books?

The answer is that no, Amazon is not a monopoly, but some argue that customers of its Kindle ebook platform are locked in.

"While we don't have numbers, it would appear that Kindle sales likely reflect a dominant chunk of ebook sales and, moreover, most of those customers don't really want to buy books on other eReading platforms—either they don't have the device or they don't want to switch apps on the iPad," writes Joshua Gans, a noted management professor at the University of Toronto.

For many people, once they get a Kindle e-reader and buy into the ecosystem, Gans says, if Amazon doesn't make a book available for Kindle, it might as well not exist. And Amazon established its dominant position in ebooks by selling them at a loss. Now that it has developed retail power, the theory goes, it's bullying its suppliers.

The Author's Guild, never shy to use every legal weapon to protect authors, is ready to pull out the antitrust guns to deal with the situation. Jan Constantine, the Guild's general counsel, told the New York Times last week, "Amazon clearly has substantial market power and is abusing that market power to maintain and increase its dominance, which likely violates Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act."

So it is interesting to note that the dispute is happening now because Hachette agreed to renegotiate its contract with Amazon as part of an antitrust settlement with the Department of Justice. That's right. Hachette and four other big publishers were sued along with Apple in 2012 for antitrust violations.

Seeing Amazon's growing dominance of the ebook market, the big five publishers had teamed up to help Apple launch its competing iBooks platform in 2009. Apple let them set their own prices for their ebooks and just took a 30 percent cut, but Apple insisted on a "most-favored nation" clause, which meant books couldn't be cheaper anywhere else than the iBooks Store–including Amazon.

That was collusion to fix prices, the DOJ argued, and it sued. The publishers settled and Apple lost in court. iBooks has since foundered, the publishers have been scared to back any new market entrant, and Amazon's position has solidified.

So, having vanquished Apple and the publishers for trying to charge too much for books, the antitrust laws may yet be turned on Amazon for charging too little. It's eerily reminiscent of an old economists' joke related in a journal article about the Microsoft antitrust case:

Three prisoners were sitting in a U.S. jail, found guilty of "economic crimes" and were comparing stories. The first one said, "I charged higher prices than my competitors, and I was found guilty of profiteering, monopolizing and exploiting consumers." The second one said, "I charged lower prices than my competitors, and I was found guilty of predatory pricing, cutthroat competing and under-charging." The third prisoner said, "I charged the same prices as my competitors, and I was found guilty of collusion, price leadership and cartelization."

It's sad because it's true.

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Three prisoners were sitting in a U.S. jail, found guilty of "economic crimes" and were comparing stories. The first one said, "I charged higher prices than my competitors, and I was found guilty of profiteering, monopolizing and exploiting consumers." The second one said, "I charged lower prices than my competitors, and I was found guilty of predatory pricing, cutthroat competing and under-charging." The third prisoner said, "I charged the same prices as my competitors, and I was found guilty of collusion, price leadership and cartelization."
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The Two-Million-Dollar Teacher: An Online Marketplace Empowers Educators and Lets Them Earn Big $$$

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In 2006, a New York City public school teacher named Paul Edelman launched Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marektplace that lets educators sell digital copies of their classroom materials for small amounts of money.

"It's booming," says Amy Berner, who's the head of community and editorial for Teachers Pay Teachers. Gross sales grew from $900,000 in 2010 to $44 million in 2013. With over a million items to choose from on the site, so far teachers have earned nearly $48 million on Teachers Pay Teachers.

For public school teachers, whose pay generally reflects not their talent and drive but the number of years they’ve served in the classroom, the site is bringing a refreshing dose of market incentives. More than 1,300 teachers have earned in excess of $5,000 selling their materials on Teachers Pay Teachers, and 164 have earned more than $50,000. The top seller and the site’s breakout star is Deanna Jump, a kindergarten teacher from Macon, Georgia. By selling activities and lesson plans, like Guided Reading and Writing Through The Year, along with 145 other products, so far Jump has earned more than $2 million dollars on Teachers Pay Teachers. Her newfound wealth hasn’t caused her to quit or job or alter her lifestyle much; when she started raking in big profits, the first thing Jump did was purchase a handicap accessible van for her quadriplegic brother.A Teachers Pay Teachers Gathering in Las Vegas. Deanna Jump is in the middle row on the far right. ||| Photo Credit: Natalie Crockett

The site is so popular because its addressing a major problem in public education. Schools often fail to provide teachers with basic lesson plans, leaving them to create crate their own materials from scratch, even when there are tens of thousands of other educators around the country teaching the exact same subject matter.

Through the power of a peer-to-peer community, Teachers Pay Teachers gives educators something that’s been largely stripped away by union contracts and browbeating bureaucrats: the dignity of being treated like a professional.

“It’s like, 'I’m actually being respected for the expert that I am,'” says Berner. “Calling it a revolution in education I don’t think is overstating it."

Click here to watch Reason TV's entire series on the sharing economy.

Written, shot, and produced by Jim Epstein.

About 2:45 minutes.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to get automatic updates when new material goes live.

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2813 days ago
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Things I WOULD Wish Upon My Enemies


Things I WOULD Wish Upon My Enemies

If you reeaaally cross us, we’ll wish tissues left in pockets in the washing machine on you. If you have any good ones, list’emhere.

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2894 days ago
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