Numlock News: January 6, 2020 • Scams, Dating Sites, Pregnant Camels

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Record

Frozen 2 has become the highest-grossing animated film of all time, pulling in $1.325 billion worldwide and crushing the record set by the previous holder of the title, Frozen, which made a paltry, pathetic $1.281 billion way back in 2013. The film now in third place, The Incredibles 2, made $1.243 billion in 2018. Frozen 2 is still making an avalanche of money at the box office, making $53.7 million globally last weekend despite debuting Thanksgiving. It’s made $875 million at the international box office and is projected to land somewhere north of $950 million.

Nancy Tartaglione, Deadline

Scams

When a landowner permanently protects pristine land from development, they’re eligible for a charitable deduction for the “conservation easement.” That’s a nice policy that incentivizes people to conserve, but it’s also led to a new syndicated form, where a promoter will buy up land, find an appraiser who’s willing to say it’s got enormous value if developed, and then sell stakes to wealthy investors. When that “incredibly valuable” land is then protected, all the rich investors get a juicy tax write-off on the hypothetical value of the land they were never going to develop. The IRS announced they’re escalating enforcement of this practice and launching criminal investigations, with over 80 tax court cases pending. One deal described by the Department of Justice involved an Atlanta firm, EcoVest, buying 28 acres in North Myrtle Beach for $1.1 million. The complaint — which EcoVest called baseless — says they raised $9 million from investors, then hired an appraiser to say how much it’d be worth if made into a family resort: $39.7 million. They made the donation on that claimed value and the investors got a $4.12 tax write-off for every $1 they invested.

Peter Elkind, ProPublica

Coverage

Insurers have been trying to cut down how much exposure they have in California to risks of wildfires by trying to hike the premiums in areas that have an elevated risk of fire. Insurers underestimated the risks and have paid highly for that: over the past two years insurance companies have paid over $24 billion for wildfire losses. Now, they’re declining to renew policies that have — in the sooty aftermath — been revealed to be drastically underpriced, and homeowners and buyers are feeling the hit. In December, the state banned insurers from refusing to renew home insurance policies for one year after a wildfire, and that applied to over a million households. But if you’re buying a house and thus getting new coverage, you’re possibly facing a fortune in insurance, and that has had the effect of hitting housing prices in the affected areas.

Nicole Friedman, The Wall Street Journal

Australia

The set of bushfires in Australia has seen almost 15 million acres of land burned, which just for perspective California’s 2018 fire season saw 2 million. One major factor working against responders has been the weather, which has been hot, dry and windy. Last year was the hottest on record for Australia, as well as the driest, and on December 18, the country saw its hottest day on record, beating the record set on December 17. The bigger picture is that water in the Indian Ocean has been warmer than usual while the water east of Australia has been cooler, which has pushed the rain away from Australia.

Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica

Dates

This past Sunday — the first one of the year — has historically been one of the biggest days for online dating sites annually. Bumble expected a 30 percent increase in new users on Sunday alone and a 15 percent increase in user activity. Match saw a 69 percent jump in new users last year on the first Sunday of 2019 and expected an 80 percent increase this past Sunday. In general, Sundays are the busiest days for online dating activity, and early January — fresh off the busy and family-oriented holidays, with single people recently prodded by family regarding their romantic state, and right after new year’s resolutions kick off robustly — is a busy time for renewed interest in dating, one reason seen for the pop in traffic.

Leah Asmelash, CNN

Domains

January 1 saw all works from 1924 enter into the public domain in the US, finally free to use without permission or royalties. This means that you can now use Rhapsody in Blue without paying a red cent to the Gershwin Family Trust, which had been one of the lobbies arguing for an extension of copyright past the current 95-year level. While that composition was presumably still earning out for whatever heir lucked into having a musically gifted ancestor, the vast majority of 1924’s books, music and movies were “orphaned,” meaning they were not usable in any way because the actual copyright owner was undetermined. Basically, doomed to the dustbin for no discernible reason whatsoever. The Congressional Research Service estimates that only 2 percent of copyrights aged 55 years to 75 years retain any commercial value. This is an issue, as many silent films were intentionally destroyed because they no longer had any value at the time before archivists could legally preserve them.

Jennifer Jenkins, Duke Law School's Center for the Study of the Public Domain

The Camel Incident

A New Jersey woman is suing TripAdvisor pertaining to injuries sustained on a sunset camel ride in Morocco that went awry. The woman claims she was placed on a pregnant runaway camel that broke free from the tour and hurled her to the ground, resulting in a broken arm and a surgery that would avoid permanent nerve damage, which resulted in an estimated $120,000 in medical costs from the camel incident after all was said and done. TripAdvisor — a Massachusetts-based company which operates a ticket-booking website, not an erstwhile camel-based tourism corporation in the Morocco area — is being sued because they should have known that the camels in question were known “to be untrained and in unsafe physical condition.” TripAdvisor recently settled a case about a traveler who broke their wrist on an ATV in Cozumel.

Shelly Murphy, The Boston Globe

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