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Week In Review

By Chris Helsel

Major League Baseball's Cardinals Under FBI Investigation For Hacking Astros' Internal Database

The St. Louis Cardinals, one of Major League Baseball's (MLB) oldest and most storied franchises, acknowledged this week that it is under investigation by federal officials after evidence surfaced that the club's front-office officials hacked into the internal networks of an opposing team.

According to an unnamed law enforcement official, the FBI and Justice Department have uncovered sufficient evidence that Cardinals' employees may have stolen confidential information from the Houston Astros to warrant an investigation. If the allegations are true, this would represent the first known instance of corporate espionage involving American professional sports teams.

The Astros general manager, Jeff Luhnow, worked as an executive in the Cardinals front office until he was hired for his current role in December 2011. Mr. Luhnow is considered an expert in the modern advanced statistical approach to baseball analysis (see Michael Lewis' bestselling book and subsequent Brad Pitt film, "Moneyball"). In fact, upon joining the Astros, Mr. Luhnow hired Sig Mejdal, a former NASA engineer, to apply the work he had done on astronauts' decision making to improving the team's draft selections. Mr. Mejdal's title is "Director for Decision Sciences."

The New York Times reported this week that during his tenure with the Cardinals, Mr. Luhnow created a computer network called Redbird that housed much of the club's baseball operations information, including scouting reports and prospect evaluations. After joining the Astros, Mr. Luhnow created a similar system called Ground Control, which was apparently hacked by low-level Cardinals employees recently. Specifically, the FBI discovered that the Astros Ground Control network had been accessed from a computer in the residence of one or more Cardinals' officials.

The FBI's Houston office declined to comment on the matter, but has been confirmed to have issued subpoenas to the Cardinals and MLB officials for electric correspondence. The Cardinals, who currently have the best record in baseball with 44 wins and just 23 losses, declined to comment as well.

For his part, Mr. Luhnow believes that even if his system were hacked, it would hardly provide rival teams any competitive advantage, due to the rapidly evolving landscape of baseball analysis and ever-changing player evaluations. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Mr. Luhnow said, "If you were to take a snapshot of the database of one team, within a month it would not be useful anymore, because things change so quickly. Not to mention that the types of analysis you would do back in 2011, versus 2012 or '13, is evolving so quickly ... I wouldn't trust another team's analysis even if I had it."

MLB said in a statement that it "has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros' baseball operations database. Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly." Possible sanctions from MLB against the Cardinals include heavy fines and the loss of draft picks.


"Straight Outta Compton" Film Release Intersects With Suge Knight Murder Trial

As reported in a previous Week in Review from January 29th, rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight killed one man, his former associate Terry Carter, and injured another when he gunned his pickup truck at a Compton, California burger stand. At the time, the burger stand was serving as a set location for the video shoot of a trailer for the biopic "Straight Outta Compton," which chronicles the exploits of late '80s-early '90s outlaw rap group N.W.A. Mr. Knight is a co-producer for the film.

Mr. Knight stands charged with murder and has pleaded not guilty. He is also the subject of a wrongful-death civil suit brought by the wife of Mr. Carter.

Mr. Knight's attorney has insisted that his client was acting in self-defense, as he was being ambushed by film employees and associates charged with keeping Mr. Knight away from the set. Allegedly, Mr. Knight and the other filmmakers had been engaged in a months-long rivalry and financial dispute. The man injured during the incident, Che Sloan, who is a security consultant for the film, revealed during an interview with sheriff's investigators that he taunted and punched Mr. Knight as the incident unfolded.

Mr. Knight and Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre and also a co-producer for the film, were business associates during the N.W.A. era. The two co-founded the group's record label, Death Row Records, in 1991. They have since had a major falling out, largely due to Mr. Knight's insistence that he is owed a 10% share - $300 million - of the proceeds from Mr. Young's sale of the Beats Electronics music brand to Apple last year.

The film is sure to strike a chord with many viewers in the wake of the recent instances of apparent police over-aggression. According to the trailers, the filmmakers have intentionally drawn a parallel between the urban unrest of the late '80s and early '90s with the well-documented current discord between American minorities and law enforcement.

While N.W.A. member O'Shea Jackson (aka Ice Cube) insists that the group represented nonviolent protest in the era of Rodney King, many believe that the ensemble's explicitly anti-establishment lyrics and weapons-laden tour bus suggest otherwise. In one memorable 1989 incident, for instance, the group was prohibited from performing a certain protest song at a Detroit concert for fear that it would incite violence against local police officers. In protest, the group performed the song - "F*** Tha Police" - anyway, prompting police officers to storm the stage, set off M-80s and send the crowd into a panic.

For context, one memorable verse of the aforementioned song includes the following lyrics:

"Punk police are afraid of me, huh
A young n**** on the warpath
And when I'm finished, it's gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dying in L.A."

Mr. Knight's trial was slated to begin on July 7th, but has been postponed. The film is due for release in August.


5Pointz Graffiti Artists File Federal Lawsuit

Nine spray-paint artists whose work at the "Graffiti Mecca" of 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens, was whitewashed in preparation for a residential development have filed a federal lawsuit seeking punitive damages.

The mural space known as 5Pointz has been a renowned locale for some of the world's top graffiti artists for decades. In fact, in 1993 a group of artists formalized the arrangement by striking a deal with the property's owner, Gerald Wolkoff, which granted them free reign to decorate the buildings to their liking so long as there were no political, religious or sexual messages or images. The arrangement called for the artists to work for free, but they were entitled to retain the copyrights to their works. In 2002, Mr. Wolkoff appointed one of the artists, Jonathan Cohen, curator of 5Pointz, and gave him an office from which to conduct his business.

However, the artists faced a serious problem 11 years later when Mr. Wolkoff sold the buildings to a developer with intentions to erect a new housing development. Mr. Cohen found himself faced with an eviction proceeding and, along with other artists, filed a federal suit seeking an injunction to stop the buildings' demolition in October of 2013. Mr. Cohen alleges that he reached a settlement with the realtor requiring him to vacate on November 30th of that year. Despite that agreement, he says, the developer "under the cover of night" sloppily whitewashed the existing art on site on November 19th - the night before the court ruled on the injunction.

The next day, Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of NY denied the injunction, but noted that the plaintiffs could be owed damages if their graffiti works qualified for "recognized stature." Such works are covered by the U.S. Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which protects the moral rights of artists.

Earlier this month, the artists filed another suit in the same court, this time seeking punitive damages. Mr. Cohen alleges that the premature whitewashing, which included a crude "smiley face" in white paint and left portions of the artwork still visible, "was clearly calculated to cause maximum indignity and shame" to the artists and, importantly, caused financial harm by depriving the artists of the opportunity to retrieve their work.

"Our clients seek justice for the unlawful destruction of their artwork. This case will demonstrate that these cherished works of art must be protected to the fullest extent of the law," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Eric Baum of Eisenberg & Baum. "This case is not only brought on behalf of plaintiffs, but it sends a message to everyone that the unlawful destruction of artwork will not be tolerated. If anyone violates federal law under the Visual [Artists] Rights Act, they must be held accountable."

According to the complaint, at the time of the whitewashing, the iconic buildings were home to more than 350 distinct works of graffiti art. The buildings were demolished last summer.


Warner Music To Pay $4.2+ Million To Settle Unpaid Intern Class Action Suit

Papers filed in Manhattan federal court earlier this month reveal that Warner Music Group Corp. has agreed to pay hundreds of former unpaid or underpaid interns more than $4.2 million to resolve a class action lawsuit that sought compensation for their labor.

The settlement covers interns who were paid below minimum wage - or nothing at all - during periods dating back to June 2007. Warner Music reserved the right to terminate the settlement if the number of claimants exceeds 1,135.

In a statement following the settlement, Warner Music said, "We continue to stand by our internship program as an invaluable educational experience for students looking to obtain hands-on, real-world training."

The suit is one of many in the wake of the June 2013 Black Swan decision, in which a Manhattan federal judge held that 21st Century Fox should have compensated two interns for their work on the film. Since then, NBCUniversal, Condé Nast, and Viacom have all settled similar multi-million dollar claims.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 23, 2015 10:38 AM.

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