Archive for October, 2018

Google walkout: Staff leave US offices over women’s treatment

Staff at Google offices across the world, including some of its US offices, have walked out in a series of unprecedented protests against the company’s treatment of women.

Pictures have been shared of employees taking part on social media in Dublin, London and Zurich. The first walkout was at Google’s Singapore office.

The staff are demanding a change to how sexual misconduct allegations are handled at the company.

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How US employers silence sex accusers

How US employers silence sex accusers How US employers silence sex accusers e5c4f48fff
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Media captionStaff leave some of Google’s US offices over women’s treatment

Hundreds of staff at Google offices around the world have walked out in protest at sexual harassment and unequal pay for women.

One of their key demands is ensuring women can settle misconduct claims in the courts, but why can’t many do so already?

A female staff member at Google is harassed.

She complains to her boss.

She goes through an internal grievance hearing, then an arbitration process and loses.

But if she wants to go public with her claims before a court of law, she can’t.

Google is one of many companies which gets employees to sign “forced arbitration” agreements, requiring all discrimination cases – not just sexual harassment but also racism and equal pay disputes – to be resolved internally, with no judicial oversight.

It means they can’t sue their bosses if they’re unhappy with that outcome.

One well-publicised example of this was when Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson first made a complaint about sexual harassment at the network. She said the channel’s former boss Roger Ailes asked her for sexual favours. When she rebuffed his advances, she says her pay was cut and she was later fired.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption London employees particpated in the Google walkout

Ms Carlson’s contract with Fox News included a forced arbitration clause, which meant she couldn’t settle the case in court.

But she got around that by suing Ailes directly for violating human rights law.

Ms Carlson won $20m and Ailes, who died earlier this year, issued an apology. Her case encouraged other women at the network to come forward with claims.

It’s unclear how exactly she got around the loophole because a confidentiality agreement limits what Ms Carlson can say about it. But her case highlights the secrecy that allegations of sexual harassment can be shrouded in.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Gretchen Carlson attends the 2018 Vanity Fair party after the Academy Awards

The #MeToo moment might have made it easier for women to share their experiences, but many argue it’s done little to change the law.

More than half (53.9%) of US employers have forced arbitration processes in place, according to the Washington DC-based Economic Policy Institute. For larger companies, with more than 1,000 employees, the figure is even higher at 65.1%.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California

By their calculations this means that more 60.1 million American workers (both men and women) can’t go to the courts to protect their employment rights.

Their research says this is more common in low-wage workplaces, and those that have disproportionate numbers of female or African-American workers. It also states that the practice is most widespread in Texas, North Carolina and California – which is where Google is headquartered.

The protests outside the tech giant’s offices reflect a growing anger over forced arbitration, which has already forced some big US companies to change course.

Earlier this year both Uber and Lyft did away with mandatory arbitration and confidentiality agreements to settle sexual harassment claims. Accusers working for both firms are now free to pursue public lawsuits.

Before that, back in December, Microsoft also got rid of forced arbitration clauses.

Image copyrightGetty Images

“The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Brad Smith, the company’s president and chief legal officer, told the New York Times at the time.

Microsoft is one company that is supporting a change in the law, to allow accusers to take their cases to court.

A cross-party bill, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harrassment Act (EFASHA), was presented to Congress last year.

The bill would, as its title suggests, make it illegal for companies to enforce mandatory arbitration agreements for sexual harassment and discrimination claims, such as equal pay issues.

“If EFASHA is enacted, it will not just be a game-changer – it will be a world-changer for companies using employee arbitration agreements,” lawyer Demetri Economou argues in his blog, Law in the Workplace.

Image copyrightTwitter/Googlewalkout
Image caption This leaflet was left on the desks of Google employees choosing to take part in the coordinated action

Another bill also before Congress would force companies to disclose the number of settlements made with employees over claims of sex discrimination, including verbal and physical sexual harassment.

It’s unclear whether either of these bills would get enough support in Congress, and even if they did, whether the president would sign them.

But some states are now starting to make changes in the wake of #MeToo.

A number have passed laws restricting secrecy around these cases – the so-called non-disclosure agreements – which prevent people from speaking publicly about sexual harassment claims or payouts.

California has passed a range of post-#MeToo laws, including the Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures Act, and Arizona now bans non-disclosure agreements for settlements with public officials accused of sexual assault.

The states of Vermont, Washington, Tennessee, New York and Maryland also have similar laws demanding transparency around harassment cases.

Of course anyone with a serious criminal complaint of sexual assault can always to go the police, but getting redress for sexual harassment remains a challenge.

The workers who have picketed at Google hope they can shine a light on the issue and push for greater transparency.

Months on from the start of the #MeToo moment there are more voices with the confidence to share their stories.

But for many of them it’s not just about being heard, it’s about being able to be heard fairly.

Follow Rajini Vaidyanathan on Twitter – @BBCRajiniv

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Apple to stop reporting sales numbers

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple laughs while Lana Del Rey (with iPad) takes a photo during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Apple debuted a new MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and iPad Pro. Apple to stop reporting sales numbers Apple to stop reporting sales numbers 9908685936Image copyrightGetty Images

Apple briefly lost its $1tn valuation on Thursday when its shares fell 7% in after-hours trading despite posting record results.

The tech giant’s strategy of charging more for its phones has paid off, with revenues jumping in the last three months despite relatively flat sales.

Revenues rose 20% to $62.9bn year-on-year, and profits rose 31% to $14.1bn.

But a warning of possible weaker sales in coming months sparked a share price slide after official trading ended.

The sell-off accelerated after Apple said it would stop disclosing the number of units sold.

Apple executives defended their decision, arguing that the figures are no longer good indicators of the firm’s financial health.

Analysts, however, warned that outsiders may view it as a move that masks less sunny performance.

The total number of smartphones sold by all makers globally declined for the first time in 2017.

Image copyrightGetty Images

But Apple’s strategy of charging higher prices for its phones has helped it to shrug off flagging demand.

The firm sold 46.9 million iPhones in the quarter to end-September, a modest rise on the 46.7 million sold for the same period last year.

The California-based company is also making more money from “services” such as the App store, Apple Music and Apple Pay. Services revenue hit a record $10bn in the quarter.

For the firm’s full 2018 financial year, profits increased 23% to $59.5bn, as revenue rose 16% to $265.5bn.

“I can reassure that it is our objective to grow unit sales for every product category that we have,” Apple’s chief financial officer Luca Maestri told financial analysts.

“A unit of sale is less relevant today than it was in the past.”

‘Weakness’

Despite the record figures, shares in the firm sunk in after-hours trading, falling by 4% and then by more than 7%, before starting to rebound.

The decline was blamed in part on a disappointing forecast for the important Christmas season.

Apple said it expects sales of $89bn to $93bn for the quarter that ends 31 December, against Wall Street’s $93bn forecast.

It posted sales of $88.3bn in the quarter last year.

Chief executive Tim Cook said that Apple is “seeing some macroeconomic weakness in some of the emerging markets” such as Turkey, India, Brazil and Russia.

He said some of that is due to currency fluctuation.

Chief financial officer Luca Maestri said Apple also faces some supply uncertainty related to the roll-out of its latest products.

The firm, which relies on China for manufacturing, is at risk as trade tensions between US and China rise, though its products have so far been spared from tariffs.

Mr Cook said he remains optimistic that the two countries will resolve their issues.

So far, Apple’s business has not been affected he added, pointing to a 16% revenue rise in the most recent quarter.

Apple’s App store has felt the impact of a “moratorium” on Chinese approvals for new games, but that is a domestic issue, he added.

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Apple falls below $1tn despite revenue and profit rise

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple laughs while Lana Del Rey (with iPad) takes a photo during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Apple debuted a new MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and iPad Pro. Apple falls below $1tn despite revenue and profit rise Apple falls below $1tn despite revenue and profit rise 9908685936Image copyrightGetty Images

Apple briefly lost its $1tn valuation on Thursday when its shares fell 7% in after-hours trading despite posting record results.

The tech giant’s strategy of charging more for its phones has paid off, with revenues jumping in the last three months despite relatively flat sales.

Revenues rose 20% to $62.9bn year-on-year, and profits rose 31% to $14.1bn.

But a warning of possible weaker sales in coming months sparked a share price slide after official trading ended.

The sell-off accelerated after Apple said it would stop disclosing the number of units sold.

Apple executives defended their decision, arguing that the figures are no longer good indicators of the firm’s financial health.

Analysts, however, warned that outsiders may view it as a move that masks less sunny performance.

The total number of smartphones sold by all makers globally declined for the first time in 2017.

Image copyrightGetty Images

But Apple’s strategy of charging higher prices for its phones has helped it to shrug off flagging demand.

The firm sold 46.9 million iPhones in the quarter to end-September, a modest rise on the 46.7 million sold for the same period last year.

The California-based company is also making more money from “services” such as the App store, Apple Music and Apple Pay. Services revenue hit a record $10bn in the quarter.

For the firm’s full 2018 financial year, profits increased 23% to $59.5bn, as revenue rose 16% to $265.5bn.

“I can reassure that it is our objective to grow unit sales for every product category that we have,” Apple’s chief financial officer Luca Maestri told financial analysts.

“A unit of sale is less relevant today than it was in the past.”

‘Weakness’

Despite the record figures, shares in the firm sunk in after-hours trading, falling by 4% and then by more than 7%, before starting to rebound.

The decline was blamed in part on a disappointing forecast for the important Christmas season.

Apple said it expects sales of $89bn to $93bn for the quarter that ends 31 December, against Wall Street’s $93bn forecast.

It posted sales of $88.3bn in the quarter last year.

Chief executive Tim Cook said that Apple is “seeing some macroeconomic weakness in some of the emerging markets” such as Turkey, India, Brazil and Russia.

He said some of that is due to currency fluctuation.

Chief financial officer Luca Maestri said Apple also faces some supply uncertainty related to the roll-out of its latest products.

The firm, which relies on China for manufacturing, is at risk as trade tensions between US and China rise, though its products have so far been spared from tariffs.

Mr Cook said he remains optimistic that the two countries will resolve their issues.

So far, Apple’s business has not been affected he added, pointing to a 16% revenue rise in the most recent quarter.

Apple’s App store has felt the impact of a “moratorium” on Chinese approvals for new games, but that is a domestic issue, he added.

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‘Hologram’ lecturers to teach students at Imperial College London

Hologram illusion 'Hologram' lecturers to teach students at Imperial College London 'Hologram' lecturers to teach students at Imperial College London 93ef24d951Image copyrightImperial College London

University classes are set to be given a futuristic spin by letting lecturers appear as hologram-like apparitions beamed in from afar.

Imperial College London will show off the technology at a special event later on Thursday before deploying it more widely.

It believes it will be the first academic body to do so regularly.

A similar effect has been used to animate images of Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and other celebrities.

Imperial will initially limit its use to its Business School’s activities but expects the technology could eventually become common.

“The alternative is to use video-conferencing software but we believe these holograms have a much greater sense of presence,” Dr David Lefevre, director of Imperial’s Edtech Lab, told the BBC.

Image copyrightImperial College
Image caption The technology will be used to beam in speakers from New York and Los Angeles

“The lecturers have a high-definition monitor in front of them which is calibrated so they can point at people and look them in the eye. They can really interact.”

More than one person can also appear at a time.

Indeed, at the Women in Tech event on Thursday, a panel will feature two guests whose images will be transmitted from the US alongside a further two actually on stage. All four are expected to be able to intercommunicate.

On budget

Strictly speaking, the illusions are not holograms but neither are they the Pepper’s Ghost effect used by politicians including French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well the entertainment industry.

'Hologram' lecturers to teach students at Imperial College London 'Hologram' lecturers to teach students at Imperial College London 1148c476fd
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Media captionWATCH: Jean-Luc Melenchon used the Pepper’s Ghost illusion to appear at seven places at once in 2017

Instead, they use a technique developed by a Canadian company, Arht Media.

“The problem with Pepper’s Ghost is that it can be intricate to set up and can cost about £150,000 to run an event,” said Dr Lefevre.

“This is simpler – you project upon a glass screen, and a backdrop behind it uses software to give it an illusion of depth.

“It runs at the low thousands each time, so for the first time universities can afford it.”

To send their image, lecturers need to use a “capture studio”, which involves filming them against a black backdrop while being lit from both sides.

Imperial plans to make use of two external studios – one in Los Angeles, the other Toronto – as well a portable kit to invite overseas-based guest speakers to give talks to its students.

Image copyrightArht Media
Image caption Imperial can deploy a portable studio to invite speakers from across the world

In addition, it intends to use the equipment to let one of its lecturers give a presentation to a Spanish business school in February.

Beyond providing a less disruptive means of attracting foreign talent than flying them in, Imperial says there are other advantages.

A popular invitee can be beamed to several lecture halls simultaneously.

Talks can also be recorded and played back for later use, although this would rule out interactions with the audience.

The downside is there is less likelihood guests will stay around for a chat once their scheduled appearance ends. Plus there is always the risk of a technical hitch.

But Imperial believes the benefits should outweigh the drawbacks.

“It’s going to be one of those technologies that gets used,” Dr Lefevre said.

“So long as the technology works the way we believe it will, I can see this becoming fairly mainstream.”

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Samsung agrees to payouts after worker deaths

Hwang Yumi photo held by her father Samsung agrees to payouts after worker deaths Samsung agrees to payouts after worker deaths 3039045c1fImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The death of Hwang Yumi prompted her father to lead a compensation campaign

The death of a 23-year-old former Samsung worker has led to the company agreeing a major compensation deal.

Hwang Yumi died en route to hospital in 2007 after developing leukaemia.

Her father led a campaign to shame the company into making payouts for other cases of the disease, miscarriages and other ailments linked to chemicals used at its South Korean factories.

Those affected – and workers’ children with related ailments – will receive up to 150m won (£102,907) per illness.

‘Truly deplorable’

Hwang Sang-ki – a taxi driver – set up the Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry (Sharps) with the help of local labour activists in November 2007.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Families of Samsung workers who died after working at its plants had held protests to pressure it into a deal

It organised sit-in protests at various Samsung sites to pressure the company into the deal.

It alleged there was a link between the working conditions Samsung maintained and diseases, which also included brain tumours and multiple sclerosis.

“It is truly deplorable that the issues of workers having fallen ill and died from on-the-job chemical exposure remained unsolved for more than 10 long years,” said Hawang Sang-ki in July, when the technology company first said it would abide by terms that were subsequently drawn up by a third-party mediator.

As of June 2018, Sharps said, it had identified 319 other victims, 117 of whom had died.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Campaign group Sharps began documenting cases of suspected work-related illnesses in 2007

The settlement takes into account that it is not always clear how each person came to become ill, according to a report from the Yonhap news agency.

“We would like to thank the mediation committee for the efforts that went into this mediation proposal,” the tech firm told the BBC.

“Samsung Electronics stands by the promise to unconditionally accept the suggested solutions and will work quickly on detailed plans for execution.”

The deal extends to both workers directly employed by Samsung as well as those who were hired via sub-contractors.

Sums will be determined by the illnesses involved and length of time the person worked at the company’s plants.

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Brexit: UK government’s battle with Apple over EU citizens app

Apple iphone Brexit: UK government's battle with Apple over EU citizens app Brexit: UK government's battle with Apple over EU citizens app e2c7d18102Image copyrightGetty Images

The UK government is preparing to launch a smartphone app to make it as easy as possible for EU citizens to apply to remain in the UK after Brexit – the only problem is it doesn’t fully work on Apple devices.

And hopes that the problem would have been fixed by now have just been dashed.

The app is a key part of the government’s drive to get the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK to apply for “settled status”.

App users answer three “simple” questions, take a “selfie” to be checked against Home Office records and then – if they have an Android phone – scan the chip on their passport to verify their identity. The Home Office says a decision will be made on whether they can stay in the UK within two weeks.

As things stand, people with Apple devices will not be able to scan their passports and will either have to borrow an Android phone to complete their application or post their passport to the UK Visa and Immigration Service instead, meaning the process is likely to take longer.

For those who are not sure, Android is the system that is used by Samsung, Huawei, Sony, Google and Nokia among others. They make up about 50% of the market in the UK, with Apple’s Iphone making up the other half.

The Microsoft and Blackberry operating systems for smartphones, which make up nearly 1% of the UK market between them, will also not be able to scan passport chips.

Home Office officials knew there would be a problem with Apple devices when the app was announced early this year.

But they were hoping Apple would release an update to its operating system to allow users of the firm’s devices to scan their passports in the same way that people with Android phones can.

The US tech giant has so far declined to do so, despite representations from UK government ministers, including a trip to the firm’s Silicon Valley HQ by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

It is not a technical problem. Apple devices have been fitted with Near Field Communication chips, as they are known, since 2014.

But the company has mostly limited use of the chip to Apple Pay transactions, for security and commercial reasons.

There was speculation on tech blogs that Apple would unlock the chip reader to third party apps when it rolled out its latest operating system, 12.1, a process currently under way.

But Apple has confirmed to the BBC that those rumours were not true and it has not been unlocked.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Sajid Javid has met Apple bosses in California to make the UK’s case

Sources say the firm is continuing to work with the Home Office but would not be drawn on whether a solution is likely to be found before the UK leaves the EU in March.

Home Offices sources told the BBC “we are continuing to engage with Apple at the highest level”.

But immigration minister Caroline Nokes, in a tetchy appearance before the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, gave a hint of the frustrations at the top of government, after it was pointed out to her that only half of the intended audience for the new app would be able to use it.

She told MPs the Home Office could not be blamed because Apple “won’t release the upgrade we need in order for it to function”.

The Home Office has just finished private testing of the app, among 650 NHS and university workers in the North-West of England, and is now expanding the trials with a view to launching it to the wider public in the New Year.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Apple Pay has been around since 2014

The Dutch government is also calling on Apple to unlock its chip reader to allow citizens to access its digital services.

The Home Office also stresses that people will be able to use desktop computers to apply for settled status, although like Apple users, applicants will have to post their passports off rather than being able to scan the passport’s chips.

A Home Office spokesman said: “EU citizens will be able to apply for that status using any smartphone, tablet or computer.

“The app to check identity is only part of the process for those who choose to use it and there will be an alternative non-digital route available to all applicants to prove their identity.”

The Home Office has also signed a £91m contract with French company Sopra Steria to set up computer terminals at 56 local libraries around the UK to help those without smartphones, or without the necessary digital skills, to apply to stay in the UK.

But given how much emphasis ministers placed on the convenience and ease with which EU citizens would be able to apply by smartphone – and the sheer volume of people they need to process – the continuing issues with Apple have to be seen as a setback.

They are also an illustration of the problems governments can encounter when their digital ambitions run up against the commercial priorities of the companies they need to deliver them.

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Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game?

Group picture of Fortnite characters Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? 249fde944bImage copyrightEpic Games
Image caption Should Fortnite credit dance moves?

Fortnite attracts millions of fans worldwide, including from the likes of Drake, Travis Scott and Joe Jonas.

However, some other artists – including rapper 2 Milly – artists have accused Fortnite of stealing their dance moves.

Audiences have noticed some of the dances within the game appear to reference dance moves performed by famous hip-hop artists.

The developers of Fortnite, Epic Games, told the BBC they had no comment to make on the issue.

Dance steps such as Swipe It, originally known as the Milly Rock, and Hype, formerly known as Shoot, have been rebranded by Fortnite.

Drakes Look Alive video – which features the Shoot dance – has accumulated 228 million views.

Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, and Alfonso Ribeiro (who played Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) have all been associated with dance moves within the game.

But none of these moves have been attributed. Should they be credited to the artists that made them famous?

Image copyrightNICK PICKLES
Image caption Fortnite characters share similar dance moves with Snoop Dogg

Rapper 2 Milly, the creator of the Milly Rock, believes so, telling the Insider: “Instead of stealing these guys’ moves that they create and naming it something else, add their song… if you’re going to take someone’s craft and add billions of dollars to it, why not give them a great percentage?”

Since 2017, Fortnite’s revenue growth has earned its owner, Epic Games, over $1bn (£770m) in sale, according to Forbes.

Fortnite is said to have taken more money than some of last year’s biggest blockbuster movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Although he is not directly affected, hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper has also commented on the issue – suggesting originators should get a share in the game’s profits.

Image Copyright @chancetherapper@chancetherapper
Twitter post by @chancetherapper: Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes. Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them. Imagine the money people are spending on these Emotes being shared with the artists that made them Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? 3bb191ed01Image Copyright @chancetherapper@chancetherapper

The popular dances that characters perform are replicated online and accumulate millions of views on social media.

Josh Castle, from Streamers Connected, one of the world’s largest twitch (video game live streaming) communities, launched a viral video of a Fortnite-inspired dance competition.

Participants were able to win a virtual currency of more than 7,500 V-bucks.

Image Copyright @STRECONN@STRECONN
Twitter post by @STRECONN: FORTNITE DANCE COMPETITION!  Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? ae6691f0b9Image Copyright @STRECONN@STRECONN

Image Copyright @JordanHeckFF@JordanHeckFF
Twitter post by @JordanHeckFF: Colts pulled off a Fornite celebration.First the revive on @Ebron85 and then the Hype Dance.  Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? Should Fortnite credit dances used in the game? ad06b5bed2Image Copyright @JordanHeckFF@JordanHeckFF

Castle tells BBC News: “Footballers and NFL players are doing the dances on TV. Fornite is so mainstream, even if you don’t know it, you’re being exposed to it.”

Dominic Esprit, lead animator at Shoguns Animation, who specialise in character creations, says: “The dances are a key factor, as they have lead to audience based challenges, in which people copy the dances and upload them on to YouTube,” causing Fortnite to trend.

“No other game has had that kind of buzz.”

Image copyrightSlaven Vlasic
Image caption Rapper 2 Milly is known for the Milly Rock

Omar Awua – hip-hop choreographer for the IMD Legion dance group – which has participated in shows such as Britain Got Talent and Got to Dance, says some artists do deserve royalties for their dance moves.

“It’s cheeky, they haven’t done it out of spitefulness, they’ve done it to push the game,” he says. “It’s a bit of a catch 22. Other dance games have been doing the exact same thing.

“Game companies have to be more respectful to people in the dance scene, they need to do more research as it could be seen as a form of stealing.”

He adds that “people are more upset because Fortnite have turned over a lot of money”.

“People now will think to copyright dance moves, because that move can go viral and by right if someone’s used it they deserve to get paid some sort of royalties.”

So are Fortnite helping music artists gain exposure to wider audiences by using their dances?

Ollie Ring, head of media and editor at Esports Insider, tells the BBC that, in the absence of a reference, you just wouldn’t know where a dance move came from unless you recognise it.

However, Ring adds, it could have some effect as once someone at school notices it they share it with all their friends and that does cause it to spread.

Image copyrightGreg Doherty
Image caption Soulja Boy demonstrates the Shoot dance

So – can you copyright dance moves?

Intellectual property lawyer and expert Shanti Sadtler Conway, who is based in the USA, tells the BBC: “Copyright laws do not protect any and all aspects of dance.”

However, artists regularly create songs where the lyrics explain how to perform specific dance steps, for example Silentó – Watch Me.

Which poses the question – if the song is copyrighted, are the dance moves, too?

Shanti explains that there may be separate copyrights related to a song as the law protects “musical works, including any accompanying words”.

Nevertheless, even if the lyrics relating to the dance moves are protected, that would not extend protection to the dance steps themselves.

The Copyright Office has been clear that “social dance steps and simple routines” are not protected by copyright law.


Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

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Why robots will build the cities of the future

Shimizu demonstrating its construction robot, Robo-Buddy Why robots will build the cities of the future Why robots will build the cities of the future a63d01394dImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Robots on building sites could become common as firms look to replace their ageing workforces

Shinichi Sakamoto is 57, and works for Shimizu, one of Japan’s biggest construction companies. He is part of a greying, and dwindling, workforce.

“The thing is, statistics show a third of [Japanese construction] labourers are over 54 years old, and they are considering retiring so soon,” says Mr Sakamoto, who is deputy head of Shimizu’s production technology division.

And they’re not being replaced by younger builders. “The number of labourers under 30 is just above 10%,” he says.

In September, Mr Sakamoto’s firm gained a promising new co-worker – a robot.

Robo-Carrier is currently working on a high-rise development in Osaka, transports heavy gypsum board pallets nightly from the ground floor to where they’re needed.

Image copyrightShimizu
Image caption Japan faces a national shortage of building workers, says Shimizu’s Shinichi Sakamoto

“Can you imagine that materials are in the right position in the morning when labourers come to the site?” says Mr Sakamoto. “He even works at night time.”

Robotics is one area poised to benefit from coming superfast 5G mobile networks. Better connectivity will make it easier for multiple robots to co-operate.

Many small robots could “swarm”, working together on different parts of a task. An example is the collaborating 3D printing robots being developed at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University – each of which can print concrete following a computer map.

All robots in a “swarm” could learn from what one robot is learning.

Image copyrightNanyang Technological University
Image caption Collaborating robots can be more efficient than just one – they can tackle different parts of a job simultaneously

Shimizu is introducing other robotic workers too.

Robo-Welder welds steel columns, while Robo-Buddy, inserts hanger bolts and installs ceiling boards.

The robots operate autonomously, performing tasks a supervisor assigns them on a tablet.

Robo-Carrier can recognise and avoid obstacles, while Robo-Welder uses laser shape measurement to determine the contours of the object it is welding.

“There must be more and more robots on site,” says Mr Sakamoto. “Labour shortage is our nationwide problem.”

Japan’s construction labour pool will fall to 2.2 million by 2025, down from 3.4 million in 2014, Shimizu says.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The market for construction robots is set to double to $420m by 2025

And this is not just an issue for Japan. Worldwide, too, the construction business is looking increasingly to robots as it confronts a shrinking and ageing workforce.

Globally, the construction robot market will more than double in size to $420m by 2025, up from $200m in 2017, say consultants QY Research.

In the US, construction workers are also getting older. The average age is currently 43, says Jeremy Searock, co-founder of Pittsburgh firm, Advanced Construction Robotics.

A decade ago, the average age was mid-thirties.

And 80% of US general contractors say they are having trouble filling vacancies for skilled workers, according to a survey in August.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The average age of US construction workers is now 43, almost 10 years higher than it was a decade ago

There’s a “clear trend”, says Mr Searock, “the younger generations are not going into the construction fields.”

This is why Shimizu has invested 20 billion yen (£140m; $179m) since 2015 developing construction robots, says spokesman Hideo Imamura. Its robots reduce manpower needs for a given task by 70% to 80%, he says.

In the US, nearly half of construction jobs could be replaced by robots by 2057, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Midwest Economic Policy Institute.

As well as been tireless, robots can do the toughest, most dangerous jobs on a building site, says Mr Sakamoto, potentially preventing injury and loss of life.

“Work which suits robots is for robots, and work which suits humans is for humans,” he explains.

Image copyrightJeremy Searock
Image caption TyBot has been developed speed up the tying together of rebars, or reinforcing steel bars, in concrete structures

In future, faster data speeds thanks to 5G, combined with lower latency – the time gap between a request and a response – means robots will be able to put more processing tasks into the cloud.

The end result is a cheaper, cleverer robot.

Shimizu currently controls its robots using 4G mobile and wi-fi, which means that when they work on buildings over 200m high, they have to extend the wi-fi network area using relays.

5G would free them from this dependence, says the firm.

Robots could then carry out hazardous or repetitive tasks on remote sites without the need for installing a wi-fi base station – providing, of course, that the 5G network stretches that far.

Image copyrightAdvanced Construction Robotics
Image caption One advantage of construction robots is that they can work through the night

One of hardest bits of building bridges is tying together rebars – the reinforcing steel bars that add tensile strength to the concrete.

“Bent over, in hot sun on a bridge, with your hands manually tying this stuff” is tough work, says Mr Searock.

There could be hundreds of thousands or even millions of intersections to tie.

And in north-eastern United States, he says there is a “pronounced labour shortage” for this work, accentuated by its seasonal nature.

So last year, Advanced Construction Robotics developed a robot – TyBot – to do this job, working on the Freedom Road bridge in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

It tied 24,000 rebar intersections at a rate of 5.5 seconds for each one. The fifth TyBot is coming off the assembly line now, Mr Searock says.

Image copyrightConstruction Robotics
Image caption This robot can lay 380 bricks an hour, which is six times faster than a human bricklayer

Meanwhile, Tokyo’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has built a prototype robot, called HRP-5P, which can install plasterboard partitions.

And New York company, Construction Robotics, recently built a semi-automated bricklayer or mason – SAM for short – which laid 250,000 bricks for the Poff Federal Building in Roanoke, Virginia.

Laying 380 bricks an hour, it is six times faster than a human bricklayer, its makers say.

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Image copyrightConstruction Robotics
Image caption Building workers in the US with robots designed to lift and place heavy materials on construction sites

The global construction industry has lagged behind other sectors when it comes to technology investment, largely because it is “notoriously fragmented”, says Will Hughes, a construction management and economics professor at the Reading University.

This splintered nature means many small businesses are “dependent on the status quo”, so “working practices date back to Victorian times”, he says.

But crippling labour shortages mean that the first construction companies to put robots to work effectively will have a significant advantage, he argues.

So don’t fret if in a few years you open your door and see a Dalek.

It may be there to convert your loft.

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Robot backpack: How this Fusion bot aids collaboration

A robot attached to your body, designed to help with communication and teach new skills, has been created by Keio University and the University of Tokyo.

The operator of the Fusion bot, who can be located in a different country, uses a virtual reality headset and controllers to move the bot.

By sharing the wearer’s point of view the operator can assess the other person’s motion and guide it – holding up their arms and moving them around when necessary.

BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly finds out more.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.

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