posted less than an hour ago on techdirt
In Russia, we've talked about how Vladimir Putin employs a massive army of Internet trolls to ridicule and shout down political opponents and critics. In China, the government's tactics are notably different. According to a new study out of Harvard (pdf), the Chinese government posts about 488 million fake social media comments -- or roughly one day of Twitter's total global volume -- each year. In China, these propagandists have historically been dubbed the "50 Cent Party," because it was generally believed they were paid 50 Chinese cents for every social media post. It's the first study of its kind, only made possible after a blogger by the name of "Xiaolan" leaked an archive of all 2013 and 2014 emails to and from the Zhanggong district's Internet Propaganda Office. Journalists had previously written news articles about the leaks, but the researchers in this case crafted custom code to thoroughly dissect and identify the posts across a wide variety of formats and track them to verified government accounts, leading researchers to conclude that an amazing one out of every 178 posts to Chinese social media was government propaganda. But unlike Russia's tendency to pay ordinary citizens to parrot propaganda (which is ultimately what wound up exposing the practice), the study found that many of China's social media propagandists are government workers, for whom propaganda was just part of their overall job duties at existing agencies:"Although those who post comments are often rumored to be ordinary citizens, the researchers were surprised to find that nearly all the posts were written by workers at government agencies including tax and human resource departments, and at courts. The researchers said they found no evidence that people were paid for the posts, adding the work was probably part of the employees’ job responsibilities. Fifty Cent Party is a derogatory term since it implies people are bought off cheaply."And whereas Russia's online propaganda efforts tend to involve personally attacking critics, Chinese propaganda takes a notably different tack -- focusing more on feel-good nationalism and reminders of the Communist Party’s revolutionary past. Like any government, the study highlights that China's biggest fear isn't from abroad -- but the country's own people -- a threat best handled with distraction, not direct confrontation:"The main threat perceived by the Chinese regime in the modern era is not military attacks from foreign enemies but rather uprisings from their own people,” they said. Revealing a paternalistic approach, the guiding policy of China’s Fifty Cent Party appears to be that distraction is better than conflict. “Letting an argument die, or changing the subject, usually works much better than picking an argument and getting someone’s back up (as new parents recognize fast),” they wrote.Granted, distraction certainly isn't a new concept, and it only takes about five minutes watching U.S. cable news to realize we're pretty damn good at it here in the States. In fact, we're so good at distracting ourselves from issues of substance that it seems unlikely that the United States government would even need to spend money on an institutional-grade social media disinformation effort. Then again, maybe I was just paid fifty cents to say that.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Yet another court has found that the warrant used by the FBI in the Playpen child porn investigation is invalid, rendering its NIT-assisted "search" unconstitutional. As USA Today's Brad Heath points out, this is at least the sixth court to find that Rule 41's jurisdictional limitations do not permit warrants issued in Virginia to support searches performed all over the nation. While the court agrees that the warrant is invalid, it places the blame at the feet of the magistrate judge who issued it, rather than the agents who obtained it. That Congress has “not caught up” with technological advances does not change the fact that the target of the NIT in Werdene’s case was located outside of the magistrate judge’s district and beyond her jurisdiction under subsection (b)(1). The property to be seized pursuant to the NIT warrant was not the server located in Newington, Virginia, but the IP address and related material “[f]rom any ‘activating’ computer” that accessed Playpen. (Gov’t’s Opp., Ex. 1 Attach. A.) Since that material was located outside of the Eastern District of Virginia, the magistrate judge did not have authority to issue the warrant under Rule 41(b)(1). So, unlike other cases, this will not result in a suppression of evidence, thanks to the "good faith exception." Werdene claims that the Government acted with intentional and deliberate disregard of Rule 41 because the FBI misled the magistrate judge “with respect to the true location of the activating computers to be searched.” (Def.’s Mem. at 17.) This argument is belied by both the warrant and warrant application. Agent Macfarlane stated in the warrant application that the “NIT may cause an activating computer—wherever located—to send to a computer controlled by or known to the government, network level messages containing information that may assist in identifying the computer, its location, other information about the computer and the user of the computer.” With this information, the magistrate judge believed that she had jurisdiction to issue the NIT warrant. Contrary to Werdene’s assertion, this is not a case where the agents “hid the ball” from the magistrate or misrepresented how the search would be conducted. [...] [T]o the extent a mistake was made in this case, it was not made by the agents in “reckless . . . disregard for Fourth Amendment rights.” Davis, 564 U.S. at 238 (quoting Herring, 555 U.S. at 144). Rather, it was made by the magistrate when she mistakenly issued a warrant outside her jurisdiction. Added to this is another wrinkle that doesn't work in the defendant's favor. The court also follows Third Circuit precedent in finding that there is "no expectation of privacy" in an IP address, even if a person has taken measures to hide that information from others. Werdene had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his IP address. Aside from providing the address to Comcast, his internet service provider, a necessary aspect of Tor is the initial transmission of a user’s IP address to a third-party: “in order for a prospective user to use the Tor network they must disclose information, including their IP addresses, to unknown individuals running Tor nodes, so that their communications can be directed toward their destinations.” United States v. Farrell, No. 15-cr-029, 2016 WL 705197, at *2 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 23, 2016). The court in Farrell held that “[u]nder these circumstances Tor users clearly lack a reasonable expectation of privacy in their IP addresses while using the Tor network.” The FBI is struggling to keep its many Playpen cases from falling apart, thanks to bogus warrants, a tool it refuses to discuss, and unexpected pushback from usually ultra-compliant courts. The proposed changes to Rule 41 will remove jurisdiction limits, but it isn't law yet. (Fortunately, there's an actual effort to prevent this from happening, as it would only take Congressional inactivity to see it become codified.) This outcome doesn't necessarily hurt this particular case, but yet another judge finding the warrants invalid from word one isn't exactly a confidence-builder either. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 4 hours ago on techdirt
The DOJ likes to sling lawsuits and injunctions towards law enforcement agencies with histories of misconduct and deception, but it's apparently less interested in ensuring its own behavior is above reproach. A lawsuit filed by a handful of states in opposition to the administration's new (and controversial) immigration policies have made their way through a number of courts, with one headed to the top court in the land. Meanwhile, down in Texas, a federal judge has uncovered DOJ lawyers have been engaged in a pattern of deception since the inception of the litigation. While the Supreme Court will be tackling the question of whether the administration has to play by its own rules, Judge Andrew Hanen is spending his time reprimanding the government's lawyers for their misdeeds. (via Jonathan Turley) What remains before this Court is the question of whether the Government’s lawyers must play by the rules. In other words, the propriety of the Defendants’ actions now lies with the Supreme Court, but the question of how to deal with the conduct, or misconduct, of their counsel rests with this Court. To that end, this Court neither takes joy nor finds satisfaction in the issuance of this Order. To the contrary, this Court is disappointed that it has to address the subject of lawyer behavior when it has many more pressing matters on its docket. It is, at best, a distraction, and there is nothing “best” about the conduct in this case. The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ” or “Justice Department”) has now admitted making statements that clearly did not match the facts. It has admitted that the lawyers who made these statements had knowledge of the truth when they made these misstatements. The DOJ’s only explanation has been that its lawyers either “lost focus” or that the “fact[s] receded in memory or awareness.” These misrepresentations were made on multiple occasions starting with the very first hearing this Court held. This Court would be remiss if it left such unseemly and unprofessional conduct unaddressed. The lies the DOJ told involve a 2014 DHS directive that changed its handling of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The DOJ told the court and opposing counsel that no action under the new guidelines would commence until February 2015. These statements were made both orally (January 15, 2015) and in a filing (December 19, 2014). But in reality, the guidelines were already being used to process immigrants, resulting in over 100,000 modified DACA applications being granted or renewed by the DHS prior to either of these statements. This was caught by the court in April 2015, but the DOJ insisted its statements weren't lies, but rather the "innocent mistakes" of poorly-informed counsel, shifting the blame towards the DHS. Months later, the real truth has come out. Now, however, having studied the Government’s filings in this case, its admissions make one conclusion indisputably clear: the Justice Department lawyers knew the true facts and misrepresented those facts to the citizens of the 26 Plaintiff States, their lawyers and this Court on multiple occasions. [...] In fact, the Justice Department knew that DHS was implementing the three-year renewal portion of the 2014 DHS Directive weeks before its attorneys told this Court for the very first time that no such action was being taken. Apparently, lawyers, somewhere in the halls of the Justice Department whose identities are unknown to this Court, decided unilaterally that the conduct of the DHS in granting three-year DACA renewals using the 2014 DHS Directive was immaterial and irrelevant to this lawsuit and that the DOJ could therefore just ignore it. [Doc. No. 242 at 17]. Then, for whatever reason, the Justice Department trial lawyers appearing in this Court chose not to tell the truth about this DHS activity. The first decision was certainly unsupportable, but the subsequent decision to hide it from the Court was unethical. This isn't the DOJ lying about a minor procedural detail. This is the DOJ lying about the DACA modification central to the states' lawsuit against the US government. To purposely mislead the court and the defendants about the status of DACA applicants cannot be waved away with claims of foggy memories. It also cannot be waved away with claims that the DOJ had no idea so many applicants were already being processed using guidelines still being contested in federal court. In its own defense, the Government has claimed it did not know before February 27, 2015, that the number of individuals that had been granted three-year deferrals between November 24, 2014, and the date of the injunction exceeded 100,000. It claims that it notified the Court very quickly after it realized that the number exceeded 100,000. This may be true, but knowing the exact number is beside the point. [...] Whether it was one person or one hundred thousand persons, the magnitude does not change a lawyer’s ethical obligations. The duties of a Government lawyer, and in fact of any lawyer, are threefold: (1) tell the truth; (2) do not mislead the Court; and (3) do not allow the Court to be misled. See MODEL RULES OF PROF’L CONDUCT r. 3.3 cmts. 2 & 3 (AM. BAR ASS’N 2013). The Government’s lawyers failed on all three fronts. [...] The failure of counsel to do that constituted more than mere inadvertent omissions—it was intentionally deceptive. There is no de minimis rule that applies to a lawyer’s ethical obligation to tell the truth. The DOJ's lies made the court's temporary restraining order a joke. The Court issued the temporary injunction on February 16, 2015. The timing of this ruling was clearly made based upon the representations that no action would be taken by Defendants until February 18, 2015. If Plaintiffs’ counsel had known that the Government was surreptitiously acting, the Plaintiff States could have, and would have according to their representations, sought a temporary restraining order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(b) much earlier in the process. [...] Due to the Government’s wrongful misstatements, the Plaintiff States never got that opportunity. The misrepresentations of the Government’s attorneys were material and directly caused the Plaintiff States to forgo a valuable legal right to seek more immediate relief. Unfortunately, the court is limited to what it can do in response to the DOJ's misconduct. Holding the DOJ responsible for the involved states' legal fees would result in the participating states effectively paying their own legal fees. It would be nothing more than moving around money collected from taxpayers and, thanks to federal taxes, robbing plaintiffs to pay plaintiffs. Instead, Judge Hanen has ordered that any DOJ lawyer who has -- or will -- appear in the courts of the 26 states involved in the lawsuit attend legal ethics courses. The courses will be provided by a legal agency unaffiliated with the DOJ, and the DOJ itself will be required to provide annual reports to the court confirming these courses are being attended. This may seem like a laughable conclusion to such widespread, persistent dishonesty, but with the case currently in front of the Supreme Court, Judge Hanen only has a few options at his disposal. Awarding fees would be even more of a joke and he's in no position to find in favor of the State of Texas, much less the other 25 plaintiffs. So, this will have to do. More importantly, this opinion is on the record, in writing, and will serve as documentation of the DOJ's willingness to bend/break rules to serve its own purposes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've noted how the FCC's latest net neutrality rules do a lot of things right, but they failed to seriously address zero rating or broadband usage caps, opening the door to ISPs violently abusing net neutrality -- just as long as they're relatively clever about it. And plenty of companies have been walking right through that open door. Both Verizon and Comcast for example now exempt their own streaming services from these caps, giving them an unfair leg up in the marketplace. AT&T meanwhile is now using usage caps to force customers to subscribe to TV services if they want to enjoy unlimited data. In each instance you've got companies using usage caps for clear anti-competitive advantage, while industry-associated think tanks push misleading studies and news outlet editorials claiming that zero rating's a great boon to consumers and innovation alike. The FCC's net neutrality rules don't ban usage caps or zero rating, unlike rules in Chile, Slovenia, Japan, India, Norway and The Netherlands. The FCC did however state that the agency would examine such practices on a "case by case" basis under the "general conduct" portion of the rules. But so far, that has consisted of closed door meetings and a casual, informal letter sent to a handful of carriers as part of what the FCC says is an "information exercise," not a formal inquiry. But in a letter sent to FCC Commissioners (pdf) this week, a coalition of companies including Yelp, Vimeo, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Medium, Mozilla and Reddit have urged the agency to launch a more formal -- but also transparent -- probe of ISP behavior on this front: "Zero­ rating profoundly affects Internet users' choices. Giving ISPs the power to favor some sites or services over others would let ISPs pick winners and losers online—precisely what the Open Internet rules exist to prevent...Given how many stakeholders participated in the process to make these rules, including nearly 4 million members of the public, it would be unacceptable not to seek and incorporate broad input and expertise at this critical stage." Given the FCC's decision to ban usage caps at Charter as a merger condition, the agency is clearly aware of the threat zero rating and caps pose to a healthy Internet. It's possible the FCC is waiting for the courts to settle the broadband industry's lawsuit against the FCC, which could gut some or all of the net neutrality rules. But it's also entirely possible that the FCC does nothing. Usage caps are a glorified price hike, and even in its latest more consumer friendly iteration, the FCC has historically been afraid to so much as even acknowledge high prices are a problem in the sector. Things have been muddied further by T-Mobile's Binge On program, which gives users the illusion of "free data" by setting arbitrary usage caps, then exempting the biggest video services from usage caps. And while many consumers applaud the idea, even T-Mobile's implementation sets a potentially dangerous precedent in that it fails to whitelist smaller video providers and non-profits -- most of which have no idea they're even being discriminated against. There's a contingent at the FCC and elsewhere that believes efforts like this are a positive example of "creative pricing experimentation." Either way it's increasingly clear that the FCC needs to take some public position on the subject as ISPs continue to test the agency's murky boundaries to the detriment of users and small companies alike. Should the FCC win its court case, pressure will grow exponentially for the FCC to actually put its money where its mouth is -- and put the rules so many people fought for to actual use.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we've been covering here at Techdirt, French regulators have been pushing Google to censor the global internet whenever it receives "right to be forgotten" requests. If you don't recall, two years ago, there was a dangerous ruling in the EU that effectively said that people could demand Google remove certain links from showing up when people searched on their names. This "right to be forgotten" is now being abused by a ton of people trying to hide true information they just don't like being known. Google grudgingly has agreed to this, having little choice to do otherwise. But it initially did so only on Google's EU domain searches. Last year, a French regulator said that it needed to apply globally. Google said no, explaining why this was a "troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web." French regulators responded with "don't care, do it!" Google tried to appease the French regulators earlier this year with a small change where even if you went to Google.com, say, from France (rather than the default of Google.fr), Google would still censor the links based on your IP address. And, again, the French regulators said not good enough, and told Google it needed to censor globally. It also issued a fine. As we noted at the time, Google immediately said it planned to appeal and that's now officially in motion, as was explained in a writeup on Google's own blog (and was also published in France's Le Monde newspaper). As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand. We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries - perhaps less open and democratic - start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach? This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country. For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France. This is not just a hypothetical concern. We have received demands from governments to remove content globally on various grounds -- and we have resisted, even if that has sometimes led to the blocking of our services. This is a big, big deal for how the global internet will function. Giving the most censorious and autocratic countries veto powers over the global internet should obviously raise serious concerns among everyone -- even those among you who hate or fear Google.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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HDR (high-dynamic-range) imaging is an innovative technique for perfecting photos. It displays a greater range of luminance levels that better represents what the human eye actually sees. HDR Projects 4 Professional will let you capture that soft, indoor shadow, or bring out every color in a sunset. Use it as a standalone platform, or as a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom (plug-ins included free). HDR Projects 4 Professional is available for $29 (85% off of the listed price) for Mac or PC in the Techdirt Deals Store. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 7 hours ago on techdirt
Mitch Stoltz, over at EFF, has been writing about a ridiculous situation in which Sony Music has been using ContentID to take down fair use videos -- and then to ask for money to put them back up. As Stoltz notes, the videos in question are clearly fair use. They're videos of lectures put on by the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association, teaching people about bluegrass music. They're hourlong lectures in a classroom setting, that do include snippets of music here and there as part of a lecture, with the music usually less than 30 seconds long. HVBA’s use of clips from old bluegrass recordings is a clear fair use under copyright law. The clips are short, the purpose of the videos is educational, and the group does not earn money from its videos. Plus, no one is likely to forego buying the complete recordings simply because they heard a clip in the middle of an hour-long lecture. Nonetheless, like so many others, HVBA had its videos disappear thanks to a ContentID match on some Sony music. Here's where the story gets much worse than the standard version of this story. HVBA reached out to Sony Music, asking it to release the claim, but Sony Music demanded money, saying it was an "administrative" fee. When HVBA’s webmaster emailed Sony Music to explain that the use of music clips in the lecture videos was fair use, Sony’s representative responded that the label had “a new company policy that uses such as yours be subject to a minimum $500 license fee,” and that “if you are going to upload more videos we are going to have to follow our protocol.” Sony’s representative didn’t say that she believed the video was not a fair use. Instead, she implied that even a fair use would require payment, and that Sony would keep using YouTube’s Content ID system against HVBA until they paid up. As the EFF post notes, this highlights (yet again) what a dangerous disaster "notice and staydown" would be. It would open up the ability for shakedowns and censorship like what happened above. Of course, once EFF publicized the story, Sony Music quickly backed down, but not everyone will be able to have their story told by EFF. Even worse, even in backing down, Sony Music refused to concede the point, and indicated it still believed that fair use needed to be paid use. A Sony executive emailed HVBA to say that the company “has decided to withdraw its objection to the use of its two sound recordings” and “will waive Sony Music’s administrat[ive] fee.” That sounds like Sony was simply acting out of courtesy, when in fact the company had no right to demand a fee, by any name, for an obvious fair use. Other YouTube users with less knowledge of the law may have been convinced to pay Sony $500 or more, and provide detailed information, for uses of the music that the law makes free to all. It does make you wonder if Sony Music has been successful in charging this $500 fair use "administrative fee" to others, in a move that would be pure copyfraud. Either way, imagine how copyright trolls would react to this kind of situation if it were more global on the internet with a mandated notice and staydown provision. We've already written about cases where people falsely claim copyright on works to get stuff taken down on other sites, but if there's a way to not just censor with that, but also make money, you know it's going to get widely abused. Hell, we've even had a similar situation here, where a small publication in another country (which does not have a fair use regime) sent us a letter objecting to our linking and quoting them without reaching "an agreement." Giving more power to folks like that is a recipe for widespread censorship and shakedowns.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 8 hours ago on techdirt
Last week, Twitter engaged in some dubious behavior on behalf of a few super-secret someones who'd rather the press didn't discuss their sexual activity. Twitter was apparently firing off "letters of warning" to users who had dared break an injunction issued by the UK Supreme Court forbidding anyone in the media from discussing a threesome involving a prominent British celebrity. There was very little legal force behind the "warning letters" (despite threats from local authorities) and Twitter users were under no obligation to comply with the company's request. The fact that Twitter even bothered to issue these highlights the utter futility of injunctions/super-injunctions of this variety, which are really just a way for British citizens of a certain level of importance to control local media. It doesn't really matter if the UK's highest court upholds a super-injunction if it has no way of enforcing it beyond its super-limited purview. That doesn't mean the lawyers who have obtained these injunctions on behalf of their clients aren't trying. While doing a bit of research for an unrelated story, I stumbled across Web Sheriff's utter failure to talk Google into delisting URLs by waving this injunction around in a threatening manner. The copyright owner is (apparently): APPELLANT (COMPLAINANT’S IDENTITY PROTECTED BY COURT OF APPEAL RULING / ORDER) Whatever these clients are paying Web Sheriff, it's far too much. Web Sheriff has issued 12 requests targeting 447 URLs. And so far, all 447 URLs are still live. Contained in these takedown notices is an awe-inspiring wall of text -- something that might impress the average DMCA notice recipient. But Google? Not so much. Here's just a very small portion of it: Then, of course, there are the URLs targeted for delisting, which -- thanks to Web Sheriff's failed injunction-quoting requests -- are all basically injunction spoilers. Included in the failed notices are some seriously dubious requests, like Web Sheriff demanding an entire post at the Onion's AV Club be taken down because of a single comment and what appears to be Web Sheriff's own attempted Zendesk request for removal of content from Reddit. Thanks to Web Sheriff's efforts to force the rest of the world to comply with UK law and its ridiculously unenforceable injunctions, more people are now aware of who's being "protected" by the ruling and where to find more details. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 10 hours ago on techdirt
Here we go again: intellectual property laws being abused to silence critics. In this case -- which resembles the tactics exposed by Pissed Consumer recently -- bogus copyright claims contained in bogus DMCA notices are being used to remove negative reviews from websites. In this case, it's a British firm -- one that first tried to abuse that country's oft-abused defamation laws. [Annabelle] Narey, who is the head of programme at an international children’s charity, had turned to London-based BuildTeam for a side return extension, but almost six months later, the relationship had turned acrimonious. The build, which was only supposed to take 10–14 weeks, was still unfinished, she wrote. “On Christmas day a ceiling fell down in an upstairs bedroom,” she says, apparently due to an issue with the plumbing. “Mercifully no one was hurt. [That] there seem to be so many glowing reports out there it is frankly curious. Proceed at your own risk,” the review concluded. BuildTeam disputes her account. In a letter sent to Mumsnet, which the site passed on to Narey, the builders complained that the comments were defamatory. They say it is “untrue” that the ceiling fell down due to an issue with plumbing, and cited a total of 11 statements they claimed were defamatory. Mumsnet refused to remove the post, so BuildTeam decided to start harassing Narey at her home, showing up with printouts of the negative review and asking for it to be taken down. BuildTeam's reps refused to discuss Narey's accusations or verify for themselves the damage allegedly caused by their work. They were only interested in the removal of the review. More unsatisfied customers joined Narey's thread at Mumsnet. So, BuildTeam decided to nuke the entire thread from orbit by abusing the DMCA process and IP laws meant to protect artistic endeavors, not shoddy construction work. As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure. But there was no copyright infringement. The DMCA notice links back to a bogus site created solely for the purpose of posting the review BuildTeam wanted removed, backdating it so it appeared to predate Narey's complaint, and use that post as the basis of a bogus takedown request. The website crafted for the purpose of crafting bogus takedown requests follows the same M.O. we've seen elsewhere: random bits of content are scraped to create the appearance of a legitimate website. After that, the reviews companies/individuals want to see vanished are mixed in and DMCA notices issued. Someone calling themselves "Douglas Bush" now claims Narey's negative review of BuildTeam was written by him, according to his overwrought DMCA takedown request. I'm upset at finding out my article was copied without my permission starting at "Do not be taken in by the slick facade this company presents to the public", word for word, till the very end. My name was also removed from the post, and now it looks like it's not mine. I flagged the post and mentioned that it was stolen, but they did not remove it (about a month passed). At least I want it to be removed from Google. Thank you As the Guardian's Alex Hern points out, there is no "Douglas Bush." The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan. BuildTeam denies having anything to do with Ashraf, Bush, the bogus website, or its bogus DMCA takedown notice -- a statement that deserves no more credibility than "Douglas Bush" himself. This sort of thing does not happen in a vacuum. It may be that BuildTeam has created plausible deniability by placing a series of intermediaries between it and this bogus DMCA takedown, but it's no coincidence that a review it wanted removed badly enough it sent reps to Narey's house has now been destroyed by a scraper site doing double duty as a half-assed reputation management service. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 13 hours ago on techdirt
Facebook's Oculus Rift was originally expected to lead the virtual reality charge and become a shining example of "VR done right," but a bungled launch and a series of sloppy public relations missteps have ensured that won't be happening any time soon. The company generated a tidal wave of ill will after production issues delayed Oculus pre-order ship dates by two months or more. That was compounded by some overly broad terms of service language, and an Oculus decision to sell some headsets at Best Buy before pre-order customers had received their own headsets. Combined with a lack of "room scale" support (the ability to move freely in space using handheld controllers) out of the gate and a general nervousness about Facebook's snooping tendencies, Oculus has effectively given the HTC Vive a huge PR advantage as VR begins to slowly claw its way towards mainstream adoption. Oculus isn't helping matters much this week with moves that indicate Facebook and Oculus are very much keen on embracing walled gardens, DRM, and closed ecosystems at a time when VR very much needs the exact opposite to thrive. As it stands, Oculus Rift owners can play non-roomscale games designed for the Rift via the SteamVR store. In contrast, HTC Vive customers can't play games designed for the Oculus Rift, since Oculus and Facebook have decided to lean heavily on exclusives out of the gate. To play Oculus games, many Vive customers had taken to using third-party software known as Revive. But in a recent post to Reddit, Revive developers say Oculus and Facebook have deployed an update that stops the workaround in its tracks:"From my preliminary research it seems that Oculus has also added a check whether the Oculus Rift headset is connected to their Oculus Platform DRM. And while Revive fools the application in thinking the Rift is connected, it does nothing to make the actual Oculus Platform think the headset is connected. Because only the Oculus Platform DRM has been changed this means that none of the Steam or standalone games were affected. Only games published on the Oculus Store that use the Oculus Platform SDK are affected"Oculus is denying that the software update was specifically targeting Revive, only telling a number of different news outlets that the update was necessary to help curb piracy. Most of the comments to the media imply that shucks -- hacks like Revive just occasionally break during the course of software updates:"We take the security, functionality and integrity of our system software very seriously and people should expect that hacked games won’t work indefinitely as regular updates to content, apps and our platform may break the hacks."However, Revive developers say the update isn't checking to see whether or not software was legitimately purchased, but whether or not the Oculus headset itself is connected and being used to experience that content. To get around Oculus' update, the Revive developers have been forced to issue their own update that bypasses all DRM and ownership checks in order to work, something the developers say isn't the path they wanted to take and makes piracy easier than before:"LibreVR has some concerns about hacking into purchase-protecting DRM in order to get around the Rift's hardware exclusivity. "I am worried about whether I'm helping piracy by implementing this workaround," he said. "When possible I'd like my workaround to help developers generate more revenue, not hurt that revenue." On the other hand, LibreVR also added that "pirates will always find a way to work around DRM, [so] I don't think my effort significantly contributed to that."So at the end of the day, Oculus' latest decision to lock down its ecosystem not only pissed off the userbase, it contributed to a cat and mouse arms race that may actually ramp up the potential for piracy. Where's the benefit again? Oculus' fall from grace among the VR faithful has been accelerated at times by company founder Palmer Luckey, who has been mercilessly hammered over at Reddit for repeatedly flip-flopping on claims regarding the headset. For example, this is what Luckey said about the ability to use different titles on different headsets last December:"If customers buy a game from us, I don't care if they mod it to run on whatever they want. Our goal is not to profit by locking people to only our hardware—if it was, why in the world would we be supporting GearVR and talking with other headset makers? The software we create through Oculus Studios (using a mix of internal and external developers) are exclusive to the Oculus platform, not the Rift itself."Except the company's behavior has focused on the exact opposite: Oculus and Facebook (or predominantly Facebook) pretty clearly believe that a closed door, walled garden approach to VR development is the path forward. The problem is that with a high cost of entry, the VR development community is already struggling for mainstream adoption; VR is very much in the 1.0 era and very much in a period of experimentation, and many (including Valve) believe that more open, cross platform development will help ensure a broader, happier overall userbase. From the overall negative timbre of the VR community right now, Oculus appears intent on learning this the hard way.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 17 hours ago on techdirt
Back when I first wrote about the copyright lawsuit between a tattoo artist and Take-Two Software, makers of the highly successful NBA2K basketball series, over the faithful depiction of LeBron James' image including his ink, I had been hopeful that perhaps this case could be a step towards resolving whether fair use applies when presenting images of people with tattoos in creative works. And that might still happen, but the defense Take-Two has decided to start things off with won't do the trick. Rather than asserting the work's status as fair use, the video game maker has led with a challenge to whether the tattoo artist can claim statutory damages based on when he had registered the copyright for the tattoos in question. It's a play on a technicality, one which seems to strangely play on what counts as an independent work. Solid Oak Sketches had sued for damages nearing $1.2 million, claiming eight works had been infringed upon in the game NBA 2K16, including tattoo designs for LeBron James and two other players. According to Take-Two's most recent filing with the court, Solid Oak Sketches registered the copyright for those tattoos in 2015. The game company's argument is that it has been depicting those players and their tattoos since 2013, therefore there is precedent that statutory damages are not in play. These claims for damages, however, are precluded by 17 U.S.C. §412. As is clear form the face of the Amended Complaint and its attachments, Take-Two has depicted Mr. James, Mr. Martin, and Mr. Bledsoe -- and their tattoos -- in its NBA videogames since at least 2013. This is years prior to the registration of the tattoos with the U.S. Copyright Office in June and July 2015... Here, where the same work has allegedly been infringed by the same defendant in the same manner since 2013 -- long before registration -- binding Second Circuit precedent dictates that statutory damages and attorneys' fees are unavailable. In other words, because the complaint is over infringement that is essentially the same as has been occurring two years prior to the registration, precedent indicates that statutory damages and attorneys' fees should not apply. It's an interesting argument, though I wonder if it isn't without its pitfalls. Does Take-Two mean to suggest that in some way each years' NBA 2K game is not a separate work and publication. I am sure that is not what they are trying to argue, but arguing that the depiction of individual players within the game are essentially the same depiction for the purposes of combating this action leads us down that path. Regardless, it does certainly seem to demonstrate that whatever harm Solid Oak Sketches wants to claim in their suit seems silly. Were it so injurious, it brings the question as to why it didn't act to protect itself in all the years previous in which similar alleged infringement is supposed to have occurred. Did it suddenly only become a problem in 2016? The filing also makes it clear that Take-Two plans to also attack the underlying nature of the infringement claim in the future, which likely means it will assert a fair use argument. I hope it does. That would be the more important precedent to set here. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There are plenty of smart animals in the world. Dogs, cats and pet birds are the ones we're usually familiar with, but there are also dolphins, elephants... and octopuses. Generally, animals with 8 legs are fascinating because that's just a lot of legs. If you haven't been to an aquarium recently, check out some of these links on our friend the octopus. Inky the octopus escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand less than a year ago -- and no one knows exactly how he did it. Just more evidence that Inky is (was?) one smart octopus -- given the examples of other octopuses being able to open jars and perform other complex cognitive tasks. [url] Another cool octopus trick is to see our 8-legged friend catch a shrimp by startling it to jump straight into an octopus's mouth. This kind of intelligence might deter some people from eating octopus, but we're all animals, right? [url] An octopus can actually sense the brightness of light with its skin. This ability helps with camouflage (since the octopus can change the color, pattern and even texture of its skin), but it's not the only marine mollusk that has light-sensing skin. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For many, many years, we've complained about the fact that research reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) are kept secret. CRS is basically a really good, non-partisan research organization that tends to do very useful and credible research, when tasked to do so by members of Congress. The results, as works created by the federal government, are in the public domain. But the public never gets access to most of them. The reports are available to members of Congress, of course, but then it's up to the members who have access to them to actually release them to the public... or not. And most don't. Back in 2009, Wikileaks made news by releasing almost 7,000 CRS reports that had previously been secret. Since at least 2011, we've been writing about attempts to release these reports publicly, and nothing has happened. In fact, Congress seems quite fearful of the public getting its hands on timely, credible, non-partisan and useful research paid for by taxpayers. Because it undermines the partisan fighting and tribalism around certain policy platforms that are built on myths, rather than evidence. For years, Congress has refused to adequately fund the CRS, and has tried to turn the useful researchers within CRS into free lackeys, rather than having them work on useful research. In 2012, an effort was made to make CRS research available to the public and it went nowhere. And it looks like the same thing has just happened again. The House Appropriations Committee has voted down the bill by a large margin: At a time when highly informed voters might seem like a good thing, the Appropriations Committee voted down, 18-32, an amendment from Reps. Mike Quigely (D-Ill.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that would have made it easier for the public to access Congressional Research Service reports. For what it's worth, CRS itself has historically opposed this, out of fear that it will put more pressure on its research team, and perhaps even lead them to being more fearful of writing something that is totally accurate, but politically unwelcome. And, some in Congress argue that such fears might bubble up to Congress as well: But the chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), argued that members needed to be "really, really careful with this." He noted that CRS was an arm of Congress, and he didn't want members to be afraid to ask CRS to prepare reports on controversial issues for fear that their requests would become public. But, that's meaningless in the context of this bill, which wouldn't apply to the smaller reports done in direct response to questions from Congressional members. It would only apply to the larger reports that CRS creates for every member of Congress. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz similarly made completely bogus claims about this bill, saying that it would slow down the research that CRS does: "I have serious concerns about changing the role that the Congressional Research Service plays," Wasserman Schulz said, arguing that it would not help members to have CRS go through a "long and arduous approval process." This is bullshit for a bunch of reasons starting with the fact that the work is paid for by taxpayers and is in the public domain. Wasserman Schulz is showing pretty blatant contempt for the public with this claim. But, also, her claims are not true. Since any CRS document already has the chance of being released to the public, CRS already goes through a careful review process. Dan Schuman from Demand Progress has the details: In fact, CRS already puts reports through an arduous, multi-stage review process because they know the reports will become publicly available. Thus, equal public access would not change the process at all. She also argued that releasing the reports would change the role of CRS in providing advice to members of Congress at the discretion of the Member. In fact, the general distribution reports that are the focus of the bill have nothing to do with confidential advice to Members. So, again, it makes you wonder, why is Congress so intent on hiding this taxpayer funded research -- which has a history of being credible, factual and useful -- from the public? Could it be that an informed public is considered a bad thing to many members of Congress?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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At the recent Copyright Office roundtable on the DMCA, a representative from Fox was adamant about pushing for stronger punishment for sites that hosted infringing content. But she also made sure to respond to a point raised earlier about abusive takedowns. Someone had pointed out that in 2013, Fox had issued a bogus DMCA notice that took down a copy of Cory Doctorow's excellent book Homeland, because its robotic censors couldn't distinguish Cory's novel from its TV show of the same name. Before launching into her speech pushing for expanding copyright laws to provide more power for censorship, she wanted to "explain" what happened with Cory's book, and said that it happened because Doctorow's book "was on torrent sites" -- as if this made it okay. That leaves out the kind of important fact that Doctorow released the book under a Creative Commons license that allowed it to be shared anywhere, including torrent sites. So given that bit of background, I do wonder what the excuse from Fox will be for this latest fuckup, in which Fox used someone else's YouTube video of a bug in the old Nintendo basketball game Double Dribble for a large clip in the show Family Guy... and then after the episode was added to ContentID wiped out the original: Yes, of course, after TorrentFreak posted about this late last week and the news started to spread, the takedown was lifted -- either by Fox or by YouTube itself -- but it again highlights the problems with these demands for automated filtering or notice-and-staydown systems. They don't work very well in many, many situations. And they create complications like this one -- and not everyone will get a site with a large following to write a story about it, getting enough attention to get the situation fixed. So many people on the copyright legacy side of things keep insisting that it's "easy" to just take down actually infringing stuff. Yet, time and time again, that's been shown to be wrong. There are lots of mistakes, and when you're talking about expression, we shouldn't tolerate systems that allow someone to automatically censor speech.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Another defamation lawsuit against a parody account has failed, brought on by a lawyer who should have known better but didn't. Todd Levitt -- self-proclaimed "Badass Lawyer" -- has a verifiable history of bad decisions that perhaps made this sort of bogus litigation a foregone conclusion, however. Levitt tried to fire up his own reality show, which would have presumably covered such lawyeriffic behavior as singing karaoke with college students, inviting comparisons to TV's sleaziest lawyer (Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad), creating a Top College Lawyers website solely for the purpose of awarding himself the title of "Top College Lawyer," and somehow mistaking alleged defamation for a criminal offense. Levitt sued the person behind the Todd Levitt 2.0 Twitter account, which parodied the original Levitt's more "badass" qualities, like partaking in excessive amounts of drinking/drug use, as well as the lawyer's Skill Crane-esque grasp on the nuances of the law. According to Levitt, the parody account, which clearly stated on more than one occasion that it was a parody account, was resulting in lost clients. A Michigan court dismissed his lawsuit last February. Levitt appealed the decision only to find the Michigan Appeals Court no more sympathetic to his weak claims. (via The Volokh Conspiracy) The court spends some time discussing Levitt's own behavior, as it's definitely relevant to the supposed "harassment" he "endured" at the hands of the short-lived, barely-followed parody account. Todd Levitt is an attorney and a former adjunct professor at Central Michigan University (CMU). Allegedly, university students are a primary clientele of plaintiff law firm. Levitt was actively involved in marketing his law firm on various social media platforms, including Twitter. His since-deleted Twitter account represented that he was a “badass lawyer.” In addition to promoting his law practice on Twitter, Levitt admittedly made several posts which referenced marijuana and alcohol use. For instance, he posted a tweet about serving alcohol in a class he taught at CMU, and in another, stated that “Mr. Jimmy Beam just confirmed a guest appearance in class next week.” In other tweets, he reminisced about his days as a student at CMU, stating that he “tore it up” in the 1980s, and warning students not to “jump [while] drunk” in the elevators at a certain dormitory. He tweeted about being a guest bartender at a local bar and about throwing an end-of-semester party. He also referenced marijuana in several tweets; in one tweet he posted an ode to “mommy marijuana,” who “always put me at ease.” In addition, he tweeted that if marijuana were legal in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, the CMU “dorms would look like they were on fire.” With this much ammo being provided by the plaintiff, it's hardly surprising that a less-than-impressed CMU IT employee (Zachary Felton) would issue tweets like these from the Todd Levitt 2.0 account. 1. “What’s the difference between the internet and my tweeted legal advice? A: none. They’re both 100% accurate!” 2. “Buying me a drink at Cabin Karaoke will get you extra [credit], but it’s not like that matters because you are guaranteed an A in syllabus.” 3. “Partying = Defense Clients[.] Defense Clients = Income[.] If I endorse partying, will my income grow? It’s like a Ponzi scheme for lawyers!” 4. [email protected] should either meet me at 4/20 in my satellite office or take a hiatus from the medical card” and “#inToddWeToke” and “4/20 = Pot smoking holiday[.] Possession of marijuana = Client[.] Client = Income[.] In the words of Snoop Dogg: smoke weed every day. #inToddWeToke[.]” Why these tweets would "attack Levitt's credibility" more than anything Levitt himself had posted is something only Levitt comprehends. The Appeals Court, however, finds in favor the First Amendment and parody accounts -- especially those clearly defined as parody accounts. When read in context, defendant’s tweets are a parody and cannot reasonably be interpreted as coming from Levitt, an attorney and college professor. The cited tweets ridicule and demean the legal profession, as well as Levitt’s status as an attorney and a college professor. In particular, some of the tweets encourage followers to commit alcohol and drug-related offenses in order to further Levitt’s business. As aptly stated by the trial court, “[i]t would be quite foolish for an attorney to outright state by way of self-promotion that he wants college students to drink and use illegal drugs so that he can increase his income by defending them in court.” Other tweets suggest that Levitt’s students can earn extra credit in his class by buying him a drink. Surely this statement cannot be interpreted as coming from a college professor. As noted by the trial court, when the challenged tweets are read in the context of Levitt’s own tweets, a reasonable person would see defendant’s tweets as attempting to ridicule and satirize Levitt’s tweets about alcohol and marijuana use. Moreover, the idea that the tweets were a parody is soundly reinforced by several disclaimers posted to the imposter account stating that the account was indeed a parody. At the outset, the account itself was styled as “Todd Levitt 2.0,” which has come to be commonly accepted jargon for describing an upgrade of an original concept. Thus, “Todd Levitt 2.0” signals that the account was identifying itself as a superior or upgraded version of Levitt, which hints at the notion that it is a spoof. Further, defendant’s tweets expressly stated, on multiple occasions, that the account was intended as a parody. For instance, one tweet read that the account was “[a] badass parody of our favorite lawyer . . . .” Another gave a “gentle reminder to potential seekers of Todd Levitt: This is not him. This is a parody account. You can find the real Todd(ler) @levittlaw.” (Emphasis added). In light of these statements, a reasonable reader could not have interpreted the account as stating actual facts about Levitt. Levitt's worst enemy isn't a parody Twitter account. It's himself. And it's been that way since long before a CMU student started mocking his outlandish behavior on social media. Levitt is still pursuing a defamation lawsuit against Digital First Media for its coverage of his Twitter lawsuit and, at one point, had Felton's lawyer listed as a defendant. That lawsuit is currently awaiting a decision from the Court of Appeals. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It wasn't supposed to go this way. The same tactics that are causing the FBI problems now -- running a child porn website, using local warrants to deploy its spyware to thousands of computers around the US (and the world!) -- slipped by almost unnoticed in 2012. In a post-Snowden 2016, the FBI can hardly catch a break. Just recently, a judge presiding over one of its child porn cases agreed the FBI should not be forced to hand over details on its Network Investigative Technique to the defendant. Simultaneously, the judge noted the defendant had several good reasons to have access to this information. While this conundrum spares the FBI the indignity of the indefinite confinement it's perfectly willing to see applied to others, it doesn't exactly salvage this case, which could be on the verge of dismissal. In related cases, judges have declared the warrant used to deploy the NIT is invalid, thanks to Rule 41's jurisdictional limits. If a warrant is issued in Virginia (as this one was), the search is supposed to be performed in Virginia, not in Kansas or Oklahoma or Massachusetts. While the larger issue of whether the evidence can be used against Jay Michaud continues to be discussed, the FBI is spending its time officially expressing its displeasure with its NIT being referred to disparagingly as "malware." In a testimony earlier this week in the case of US vs. Jay Michaud, FBI special agent Daniel Alfin argued that the hacking tool used to identify Michaud and thousands of other Playpen users—which the FBI euphemistically calls a “Network Investigative Technique” or “NIT”—isn't malware because it was authorized by a court and didn't damage the security of Michaud's computer. According to the FBI agent, this software isn't malware because it doesn't do any permanent damage. I have personally executed the NIT on a computer under my control and observed that it did not make any changes to the security settings on my computer or otherwise render it more vulnerable to intrusion than it already was. Additionally, it did not “infect” my computer or leave any residual malware on my computer. In a very limited sense, Agent Alfin is correct. The tool left no residual damage, nor did it alter settings on the end users' computers. However, it did do something most computer users would consider malicious: it stripped them of their anonymity. The people visiting this site used Tor to obscure their identifying info. They did this on purpose, most likely because they were seeking illegal content. But the fact that the tool removes protections users consciously deployed makes it malicious. Child porn enthusiasts and other criminals aren't the only people who take active steps to obscure their connection points. Journalists do it. Activists do it. Citizens of oppressive government do it. The FBI doesn't restrict itself to only deploying its surveillance tools against the worst of the worst. It has a long, troubling history of deploying its surveillance tools against people engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment. Anything that undoes something the recipient has proactively done is by definition unwanted, if not simply malicious. As regular Techdirt commenter That Anonymous Coward pointed out on Twitter, the FBI sure as hell would find this tool "malicious" if it were directed at its computers and devices by someone outside of the agency. This would definitely fit under the CFAA's broad definition of "unauthorized access." Deploying this NIT via a compromised FBI server would make it a lot easier to locate agents working in the field. I don't think the FBI would be OK with this despite there being no "residual malware" left behind after field devices had been identified and located. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's been almost three years since Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail for leaking a bunch of State Department cables to Wikileaks in what she claims was an act of whistleblowing (though, obviously, some disagree). As we noted in the past, even if you disagree with the whistleblowing claim, the leak did lead to some important discussions about what the US government was doing in certain areas and (contrary to some hyperbolic claims) did not lead to a single death. In addition, we've pointed out that people who were flat out selling secrets to the Russians, or simply full-on terrorists, have received lighter sentences. Something does not seem at all right with that. And now, Manning has officially appealed the conviction and sentence. The full filing is a massive 209 pages and seems to challenge just about everything about the case against Manning, and makes Constitutional arguments around the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and Eighth Amendment. The basic argument, however, still relies on the "whisteblower, not a spy" defense: For what PFC Manning did, the punishment is grossly unfair and unprecedented. No whistleblower in American history has been sentenced this harshly. Throughout trial the prosecution portrayed PFC Manning as a traitor and accused her of placing American lives in danger, but nothing could be further from the truth. PFC Manning disclosed the materials because under the circumstances she thought it was the right thing to do. She believed the public had a right to know about the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of life, and the extent to which the government sought to hide embarrassing information of its wrongdoing. At sentencing PFC Manning took responsibility for the disclosures and admitted she should have considered other lawful ways of expressing these concerns. But she was not disloyal and did not harm anyone, nor did she intend to. There are a lot of details in the filings, obviously, but the appeal is focused on six "errors" it claims were made in the original case: First, as set forth in Assignment of Error I, the government violated Article 13, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), by subjecting PFC Manning to unlawful pretrial confinement for nearly a year. The military judge correctly found Article 13 error, but did not fully credit PFC Manning for the deplorable and inhumane conditions, which were tantamount to solitary confinement. For this alone the charges and specifications should be reversed or her punishment substantially reduced. Second, as set forth in Assignments of Error II, III, and IV, the government overcharged the case to expose PFC Manning to excessive punishment. This appeal challenges the convictions related to 18 U.S.C. §§ 641, 1030(a)(1) and 793(e). Rather than charging PFC Manning for mishandling classified information, a charge she admitted to, the government charged her with stealing databases (Section 641), using unauthorized software on a classified computer system (Section 1030(a)(1)), and disclosing classified information with knowledge it might harm the national defense (Section 793(e)). As addressed below, the military judge misapprehended and misapplied the law with respect to these statutes, which unfairly inflated the penalty landscape. Third, in Assignment of Error V, the defense challenges the military judge’s consideration of aggravation evidence that was not directly related to or resulting from the offenses. And finally, in Assignment of Error VI, the defense urges this Court to exercise its broad powers to reconsider the appropriateness of PFC Manning’s sentence to confinement. These last two Assignments of Error are at the core of PFC Manning’s appeal. While the filing claims the last two errors are at the core, I'm probably most interested in errors II, III and IV, which are basically arguing that the government was abusing the CFAA to claim that what Manning did was much worse than what she actually did. Abusing the CFAA to lock people up for simple actions? Where have we heard that one before.... Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed an amicus brief as well, hitting hard on the ridiculousness of the Espionage Act and its use in this case: It is a pervasive feature of our democracy that government and military officials at all levels regularly disclose what may broadly be considered “information relating to the national defense.” They do so in pursuit of various agendas. Some disclose information to further the government’s preferred messages, some to pursue private agendas, and some to inform the public of information critical to democratic accountability. Until Private First Class (“PFC”) Manning was convicted before a general court-martial of six counts of violating the Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 793(e), however, no person in the history of this nation had been sentenced to decades in prison for the crime of disclosing truthful information to the public and press. The conviction and sentence of PFC Manning under the Espionage Act must be overturned for two reasons. First, the Espionage Act is unconstitutionally vague, because it provides the government a tool that the First Amendment forbids: a criminal statute that allows the government to subject speakers and messages it dislikes to discriminatory prosecution. Second, even if the Act were not unconstitutional in all its applications, the military judge’s application of the Act to PFC Manning violated the First Amendment because the military judge did not permit PFC Manning to assert any defense that would allow the court to evaluate the value to public discourse of any of the information she disclosed. The military judge therefore failed to weigh the public interest in the disclosures against the government interest in preventing them, as required by the First Amendment. For these reasons, PFC Manning’s conviction for violating the Espionage Act should be vacated. I have no idea what, if any, chances there are that this appeal is successful. Without knowing that much about how military court works, I'm still guessing the chances of success are... slim.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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CompTIA aims to adapt its A+ Certification to reflect the most current knowledge and skills needed by today's IT professionals -- and this year's 2016 exam is harder than ever. The $49 CompTIA A+ IT Support Technician 2016 Certification Training course aims to help you prepare for the difficult exam. This comprehensive training covers topics ranging from PC hardware and peripherals to installing and configuring operating systems. You get 12 months to complete the training so you can go at your own pace. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The NY Times has an op-ed piece by Jonathan Taplin, claiming that Silicon Valley hates music, that is so chock full of out and out factual errors that it's an embarrassment for the NY Times to have allowed it to be published. Is fact checking dead at the Gray Lady? It's perhaps not as embarrassing for Taplin, who's been spewing ridiculous falsehoods for years about how technology is out to destroy all creative culture. In the past we've had to correct his blatantly false statements, but it seems odd to us that the NY Times would let him publish a piece so devoid of facts. Let's dig in and do some editing and fact checking that the NY Times apparently failed to do. That’s a fight artists are losing. It’s been 17 years since Napster, the online file-sharing software, began flooding the Internet with free, illegally uploaded music, devastating musicians and the industry. While Napster is long gone, the looting continues, only now it is technology giants like Google and SiriusXM, along with streaming services like Pandora, that are responsible. This is an interesting, and bizarre, claim, given that unlike Napster, the three companies named all pay a ton of money in license fees for the works in question. In fact, both SiriusXM and Pandora have struggled to reach profitability in large part because of the massive percentage of revenue that goes directly to record labels (note: not directly to the musicians themselves, which may give you a hint as to the real problem). Last fall, Pandora noted that it had paid $1.5 billion in licensing, with over $500 million of that coming in 2015 alone (and this was before the year ended). The company has shown that approximately 60% of revenue goes to licenses, and this is a capital intensive business, given that it has to stream a ton of content and bandwidth for that level of streaming is not cheap. Spotify, similarly, has claimed to pay out approximately 70% of revenue. A year ago, Spotify claimed to have paid out $3 billion, noting a run rate of over $1 billion paid to artists per year. YouTube has similarly paid out over $3 billion. It takes quite a lot of gall to argue that these services, which didn't exist at all just a few years ago, but which have consistently moved people away from piracy by creating services that people like -- and which often pay more than 50% of their revenue in royalties, are somehow "looting" the industry. Does he not realize that without these services, it's likely that there would actually be more piracy, from which the artists would receive no direct remuneration? Would he prefer that? Or would he prefer that these companies be forced to pay even more so that they couldn't even exist any more at all, which would, once again, drive people right back to piracy? It makes no sense at all. To call this "looting" is nonsensical and not fact-based. YouTube, which is owned by Google, is now the world’s dominant audio streaming platform, dwarfing Spotify and virtually every other service. Yet it pays artists and record companies less than a dollar a year for every user of recorded music, thanks to rampant piracy on its site (by contrast, Spotify licenses its music and pays $20 per user each year). This is comparing apples to oranges. Spotify is just a music service. YouTube is mostly other stuff, with some music. Notice that he doesn't compare Spotify to YouTube Red or to Google Music, which are more on par. The problem has gotten so bad that, in 2015, vinyl record sales generated more income for music creators than the billions of music streams on YouTube and its competitors. This point was a talking point that the RIAA trotted out earlier this year and has already been debunked. Vinyl HAS NOT generated more income for music creators than music streams. That's just blatantly false. What the RIAA showed was that gross retail value of vinyl sales (i.e., ignoring actual sales price, as well as the cut that goes to retailers and other middlemen) was higher than the net amount that was paid in royalties on just ad-based music streaming (i.e., ignoring all of the subscription and paid revenue). This is worse than an apples to oranges comparison. And, even then, with those caveats, Taplin's claims go way beyond what the RIAA actually showed. The royalties from vinyl that actually went back to artists were a lot less than what went to artists from ad-supported music streaming, not to mention all music streaming. Either Taplin is lying or he's totally misinformed. Google has also leveraged its dominance in Internet search into a cash cow built on advertising. But Google doesn’t care if your search for the movie “Mean Streets” or the music from “The Last Waltz” (both of which I produced) brings up licensed versions or pirated copies: The company sells ads and cashes in either way. Creators, however, get nothing from those stolen copies — except the anguish of watching others grab the value of their life’s work. Okay, let's try it. I searched for "Mean Streets" on YouTube and on Google's video search. I don't see a pirated copy anywhere. YouTube does show me a licensed version and a variety of obviously fair use clips (all less than 5 minutes). Google Video search seems to just show me the theatrical trailer and some fair use clips. In neither search do I see an unlicensed version. A regular (not Google Video search) Google search again points to clips, but also has multiple options on where you can pay to see a licensed version. I don't see a pirated version anywhere. Google has basic “digital fingerprinting” technology that could scrub both YouTube and its search results of illegal versions. But instead of safeguarding the work of artists, Google wields this tool as a bludgeon. Creators can either enter into a licensing agreement with YouTube at very low royalty rates, or get left at the mercy of pirates. What looks like protection for copyright holders is more of a protection racket benefiting Google. This is blatantly false. Not only is it blatantly false, but just last week at the Copyright Office hearings in San Francisco that Jonathan Taplin attended, when someone claimed this, Fred von Lohmann from Google pointed out that it is absolutely false -- something he has now reiterated on Twitter: @amlanweb @binarybits @mmasnick @nytimes That claim is wrong and I said so at the Copyright Office roundtables last week in front of Taplin. — Fred von Lohmann (@flohmann) May 20, 2016 What Taplin is (apparently willfully?) confusing, is that in order to use ContentID, you do need to grant Google a license, but that license is to make it legal for them to then hold the copy of the work on file for the purpose of fingerprinting. And, then, you can use ContentID to do "notice and staydown" of any matching copies. To blatantly misrepresent how Google works just days after being told this is wrong just seems... like someone with an axe to grind with no concern for the facts at all. And all of that raises the question of why the NY Times allowed it to be published without doing even the slightest fact checking? Unfortunately, there is a sad history of undervaluing musicians in the United States. Terrestrial radio, a $17 billion industry, pays publishing rights (payments to songwriters) but has never paid artists or record companies for music. Yes, some could make an argument that this setup is unfair, but the market suggests otherwise. The reason that the law said that performers didn't need to be paid was because it recognized that radio was promotional. And it is. That's why every few years the recording industry gets caught up in a new scandal about payola. That is, the copyright holders of the sound recordings have long recognized that radio play is so valuable that they will pay extra money under the table to make it happen, even if that's illegal. Obviously, if the radio play wasn't so valuable, this wouldn't be happening. And yet now they want to get paid extra for that value? That seems to be the exact opposite of what the market suggests is the power dynamic here. In addition, the satellite radio company, SiriusXM, pays below-market royalties, thanks to a giveaway it first wrested from Congress 20 years ago. "Below market"? Based on... what? Again, SiriusXM has struggled to barely reach profitability. After years of losses, it has been profitable recently, but just barely. Conglomerates like iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications) and other online services like Pandora, which are required to pay artists for digital streams, have exploited federal copyright law to deny payments for work recorded before 1972 (songwriters are paid; performers are not). This means artists like Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry and John Coltrane never received a dime from AM/FM radio and or from many digital services for some of their greatest music. The pre-1972 stuff is a long and complicated story that we've covered in detail, and has a lot more to do with the fact that pre-1972 sound recordings are not covered by federal copyright law than any willful plan to "exploit" anyone. And there's a simple solution to this: put those works under federal copyright law. But you know who's fought hard against that? Taplin's friends in the RIAA. Maybe he should take it up with them. He also ignores, of course, that Pandora recently agreed to pay $90 million for those recordings, despite it not being clear if it needs to, legally. Is Taplin asking how much of that money will actually go to artists? Hmm... The last meaningful legislation in this area was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, which was based on the idea that creators should monitor the Internet for illegal copies of their works and give “notice” to websites and services to take pirated material down. Under the act’s “safe harbor” provisions, any service or site that makes a minimal effort to address these notices is immune from liability for piracy or theft. "Minimal effort"? He seems to be ignoring the vast number of lawsuits, including the one against Veoh, in which Veoh won, but had to shut down over legal fees. It also ignores the fact that basically every other platform spends a ton of money handling takedown notices. And it ignores the fact that most services have implemented filters and tools that go way above and beyond what the law requires. Why would Taplin ignore all of this? Why would the NY Times let him do so? That system may have made sense when it took minutes to download an illegal song. But today no individual can effectively police the millions of pirated files that mushroom online and reappear the instant after they are taken down. Google alone received almost 560 million takedown notices in 2015. And, again, Google spent $60 million building ContentID and related tools that go way beyond what the law requires and gives copyright holders the ability to either monetize their works in new ways or to issue a "notice and staydown". There are two concrete steps Congress can take that would allow musicians to be treated fairly. First, Congress should update the safe harbor rules of the copyright act to achieve the balance that was intended: protecting creators with effective tools in exchange for not burdening Internet companies with liability. That means strong, well-defined consequences for repeat offenders, easing the process for filing notices and ensuring that services are using the best technology to take pirated material off their sites and keep it off. So, basically, after flat out lying throughout the piece, and pretending that Google doesn't already have these tools, he wants a law to require such tools. Note: Google already has everything Taplin is asking for. But it spent $60 million putting that together. If Taplin got what he wanted, he'd lock in Google/YouTube as basically the only players able to handle this market. Does he want new providers and services or is he trying to kill the market entirely? Second, Congress can address the original sin of AM and FM radio and close the loophole that allows radio companies to use music without paying artists. The Fair Play Fair Pay bill, which has Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York as a sponsor, would ensure that all music creators received fair-market-value pay for their work no matter what technology or service was used to play it. It has the support of hundreds of artists like Rosanne Cash, Duke Fakir of the Four Tops, Elvis Costello, Martha Reeves, Elton John and Common. Again, given payola, it's hilarious for him to argue that this is necessary, but he's entitled to his opinion -- just not his own facts. In 2015, after years of battling pirates, Prince said in an interview that the Internet “was over for anyone who wants to get paid.” With Congress’s help, it needn’t be. Prince was wrong then and he's wrong now. There are more musicians making money from the internet today than ever made money prior to the internet. There are content creators using YouTube, Spotify, Songkick, Soundcloud, Amazon, Apple, Kickstarter, IndieGogo, Patreon and many, many more services to not just make money but to build strong and lasting relationships with their fans. Again, it's no surprise that Taplin would lie. It's kind of his thing when it comes to his misguided and misinformed anger at the very innovation that's saving the entertainment business. The question is why the NY Times, a paper that prides itself on accuracy, would allow a piece so blatantly false to be published. But, really, the most disturbing thing about this is that it perpetuates the myth that it's "content creators" v. "the tech industry." This is nonsense. Technology has been a major force in enabling more content creators -- including myself -- to create content, to promote it, to distribute it, and to monetize it. More people than ever before are making and distributing music, videos, books, software and more... because of these tech platforms. This isn't a zero sum game. There are opportunities for everyone to benefit, and setting up this false dichotomy that when one wins the other loses, Taplin and the NY Times are actually setting everyone up to lose by not just misrepresenting reality, but totally misunderstanding the very nature of both creativity and innovation.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There are no safe routes for intelligence community whistleblowers. The proper channels are pretty much guaranteed to end your career. The same goes for the unofficial channels, which route through countries uninterested in complying with extradition requests. The administration has prosecuted more than its share of whistleblowers over the last eight years. (In fact, its share of prosecutions outnumbers all those in previous presidential administrations combined.) Another whistleblower has come forward to provide details on… the government's treatment of whistleblowers. John Crane, a former senior Defense Department official, details his firsthand experience with the government's zealous pursuit of previous NSA whistleblowers like Thomas Drake and William Binney. He was part of the "official channels" and actively fought to protect these individuals from government retaliation. As Mark Hertsgaard of The Guardian notes, Crane carried with him at all times two essential documents: a copy of the Constitution and a copy of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. These were often pulled out to settle disputes over treatment of whistleblowers. According to Crane, these whistleblowers followed all of the correct protocols when expressing their concerns about warrantless domestic surveillance and the NSA's failure to move forward on communications it had collected from the terrorists who would go on to perform the 9/11 attacks. While this did budge the Congressional needle on a couple of NSA programs, it did nothing to protect the whistleblowers from FBI raids, criminal charges, and the end of their careers with the US government. The person most instrumental in the prosecution of these whistleblowers was the DoD's general counsel, Henry Shelley. It was Shelley who stripped away the protections granted to whistleblowers in order to serve them up to a highly-irritated Bush White House. According to Crane, his superiors inside the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office were eager to help. Henry Shelley, the general counsel – the office’s top lawyer – urged that the IG office should tell the FBI agents investigating the Times leak about Drake and the other NSA whistleblowers. Crane fought back, pointing out that whistleblowers are supposed to be protected (using the copy of the Whistleblower Act he always carried with him). Shelley was unimpressed by Crane's citation of applicable statutes and told him he was in charge and would do things his way. There were no further discussions between Crane and Shelley. The next move was made by the DOJ, which sent the FBI after four NSA whistleblowers. Crane suspected Shelley had used information obtained from the Inspector General's office to identify the whistleblowers. Shelley refused to discuss the raids with Crane. Four months later, the FBI raided Thomas Drake's house based on an indictment that seemed all too familiar to Crane. The complaint from Drake’s lawyers seemed to confirm his suspicion that someone in the IG’s office had illegally fingered Drake to the FBI. Worse, the indictment filed against Drake had unmistakable similarities to the confidential testimony Drake had given to Crane’s staff – suggesting that someone in the IG’s office had not simply given Drake’s name to the FBI, but shared his entire testimony, an utter violation of law. Crane also claims the Inspector General's office told him to stonewall a FOIA request crucial to Drake's defense against the government's charges until after his trial. The IG's office also "accidentally" destroyed records related to Drake's retaliation complaint against the government. Crane was told by Shelley that this "wasn't a problem" and could continue not being a problem if Crane was a "good team player." Crane -- like other whistleblowers and those who fight for them -- was forced out of his job. The Inspector General's second-in-command ordered him to resign in 2013. He's been fighting back ever since. Crane filed a complaint against Shelley and Halbrooks, detailing many more alleged misdeeds than reported in this article. The Office of Special Counsel, the US agency charged with investigating such matters, concluded in March of 2016 that there was a “substantial likelihood” that Crane’s accusations were well-founded. The OSC’s choice of the term “substantial likelihood” was telling. It could have ruled there was merely a “reasonable belief” Crane’s charges were true, in which case no further action would have been required. By finding instead that there was a “substantial likelihood”, the OSC triggered a process that legally required secretary of defense Ashton Carter to organise a fresh investigation of Crane’s allegations. Unfortunately, the investigation is back in the DOJ's hands because the Department of Defense -- like other government agencies -- isn't allowed to investigate itself. The DOJ is being entrusted with investigating yet another whistleblower's claims, but its history of zealous prosecutions suggests it's far more comfortable investigating the whistleblowers themselves. John Crane was part of the "proper channels" for whistleblowers and, despite his best efforts, several whistleblowers were raided, indicted, and prosecuted. Crane himself was ousted from his position. The logical conclusion whistleblowers like Ed Snowden will reach is that the official channels are no less dangerous than the "unofficial" options. The latter option may be more unpredictable, but it gives whistleblowers a much better chance of being heard. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Since December, we've been following the ridiculous Paramount/CBS lawsuit over a big crowdfunded Star Trek fan film called Axanar. While it is true that by raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter, and getting a professional team and actors behind it that Axanar started to blur the lines between a traditional fan film and a full on professional production, it still seemed like a ridiculous and anti-fan move to sue. To some extent, it highlighted yet another problem with today's copyright laws, which are woefully unprepared for the fact that the equipment is cheap enough and available enough for "amateur" work to be really, really good. We'd been covering the case, including the ridiculous overclaiming of copyrights by Paramount/CBS (including claiming a copyright over the Klingon language and "uniforms with gold stars.") Things had just been starting to heat up and the judge was gearing up for a trial... when famed producer/director JJ Abrams announced at a fan event for the next film that the lawsuit was going away. The folks at Treknews have a video of JJ's statement: In case you can't watch or listen to that, JJ Abrams is on stage with Justin Lin (director of the new Star Trek Beyond) and professional Mythbuster Adam Savage and explains that he and Lin were really bothered by the lawsuit and what it meant for fandom, and urged Paramount to settle: “A few months back there was a fan movie, Axanar, that was getting made and there was this lawsuit that happened between the studio and these fans and Justin, I’ll tell the story because he probably wouldn’t, was sort of outraged by this as a long time fan. We started talking about it and realized this was not an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing, like you're saying now. We all... Fans of Star Trek are part of this world. So you [Justin] went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away, and fans would be able to continue working on their project” For what it's worth, the deal is not yet final. Alec Peters, the producer of the Axanar film has said that he wasn't expecting this and wasn't entirely sure what it meant -- but was "frantically texting" with his lawyers. He also says he's promised to name his first kid after Justin Lin, which, of course, now that it's on Twitter must be the same as a binding contract, right? In my excitement, I may have told Justin Lin that I will name my first kid after him. In fact, I am pretty sure I did.....Alec — Axanar Productions (@StarTrekAxanar) May 21, 2016 On the Paramount side, the studio told Buzzfeed's Adam Vary that it's true they're "in settlement discussions" but also that they're "working on a set of fan film guidelines." Statement from CBS & Paramount regarding JJ Abrams' announcement about the #Axanar lawsuit. pic.twitter.com/ZpMdaBAPQC — Adam B. Vary (@adambvary) May 21, 2016 This seems like a very good result for all involved, assuming the details get worked out. It also shows that there are solutions that don't need to involve lawsuits (and perhaps Paramount would have been smarter to have gone down this road first rather than this far into the lawsuit). Similarly, it's a good thing that Paramount will be releasing fan film guidelines (and it would be great to see others do the same) but the details here will matter. If it's making it easier for people to make fan films, even to the point of granting licenses to allow people to do things without fear of a lawsuit, that would be really great. But what restrictions there are on all of this should be worth watching closely -- especially if the guidelines suggest that fair use is not allowed or still include overclaiming of copyright. I'm actually reminded of the story from a few months ago about the Fine Bros. trying to freely license some of their stuff, which was doomed by the horrible way it was rolled out, along with the Fine Bros. history of aggressive complaints against anyone doing marginally similar stuff. But at that time, I noted that if, say, Lucasfilm, had opened up its assets to fan film makers to create fan films with a free license, and just a promise to share back a small percentage of revenue, that would be quite cool. So, now Star Trek will be getting some sort of official rules for fan films -- and I'm guessing that they'll restrict any and all commercial releases (which, frankly, is silly). And those details will matter quite a lot. But ending this lawsuit and letting the film continue is absolutely the right move -- so kudos to Justin Lin and JJ Abrams for telling the studio that... and to Paramount for actually listening.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we covered recently, the judge presiding over Jay Michaud's case in Washington -- part of the FBI's Playpen child porn sting operation -- recently declared the FBI did not have to turn over information on its hacking tool to the defense. How Judge Robert Bryan arrived at this conclusion wasn't fully explained during his oral order, but it had something to do with the government's secret, judge's-eyes-only presentation that preceded the order. It also may have had something to do with the government's declaration that it wouldn't be turning over this information to Michaud under any circumstances. Either way, Bryan arrived at the contradictory conclusion that the FBI did not need to turn over this information despite conceding the defense had a right to see this information. A written ruling has been issued which offers a bit more in the way of explanation while simultaneously failing to deliver Judge Bryan from the conundrum he has created. (via Ars Technica) The government’s oral arguments on February 17 and May 12, 2016 and its related briefing addressing materiality essentially amount to an ipse dixit argument, without convincing expert support, that 1) giving the defendant full access to the N.I.T. code will not turn up anything helpful to the defense, and 2) a showing of materiality demands facts, not hypotheses, and the defendant has done nothing more than fabricate guesses about what the N.I.T. code could show. Bryan believes the government is entitled to withhold this information. He also believes the information should be handed over to the defense for a number of reasons. These arguments bear little fruit. The defendant is not required to accept the government’s assurances that reviewing the N.I.T. code will yield no helpful information. The government asserts that the N.I.T. code will not be helpful to the defense, but that information may well, in the hands of a defense lawyer with a fertile mind, be a treasure trove of exculpatory evidence. Judge Bryan points out the information still has worth to the defendant even if it doesn't show anything that could result in suppressed evidence. It could also be the details do nothing more than further cement the government's case against Michaud. If so, all the more reason for the defense to have access to it. Furthermore, even if the defendant’s review of the N.I.T. code ultimately only yields inculpatory evidence,“[e]ven inculpatory evidence may be relevant [because a] defendant who knows that the government has evidence that renders his planned defense useless can alter his trial strategy. Acknowledging the conundrum is the first step. The resolution of Defendant’s Third Motion to Compel Discovery places this matter in an unusual position: the defendant has the right to review the full N.I.T. code, but the government does not have to produce it. Thus, we reach the question of sanctions: What should be done about it when, under these facts, the defense has a justifiable need for information in the hands of the government, but the government has a justifiable right not to turn the information over to the defense? According to motions filed by Michaud, one way out of the mess is the dismissal of the case. Bryan doesn't exactly seem amenable to that outcome -- especially given his belief that the FBI's secrecy is justified -- but with this much paint surrounding his corner, he may be forced to resolve this in favor of the defendant, rather than continue to lock him out of information that could drastically alter its outcome. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, there was lots of discussion about the Oracle/Google fight over the Java API, and from there we get our first place winner for insightful. Phaedrus (whose underlying username, I notice, is an excellent Discworld reference) wondered about the details of the fallout from all this API copyright nonsense: If Oracle wins case, can IBM sue Oracle for using SQL ? Implications seem endless ... IANAL or a Computer Scientist. But I think Oracle is poisoning a lot of wells here, and it would be nice if one of them was their own. Next, we head to the disturbing story of a police officer being jailed indefinitely for refusing to decrypt his devices when asked, where DigDug got understandably angry about this apparent violation of a very basic right: 5th Ammendment violation, plain and simple. I don't give a flying fuck what that Judge thinks, the 5th ammendment covers this 100%. Any judge that disagrees with that should be pulled from the bench by their short-hairs and hung from their ankles until they see reason. Their punishment will be purely of their own making, all they have to do to be done with it is to enforce the Constitution they swore to uphold. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got two comments that came in response to our roundup of all the bad ideas raised at the Copyright Office's DMCA roundtable. After one commenter noted that the entertainment industries seem hellbent on destroying the internet, John Fenderson noted that their goal is more nuanced, but no better, than that: Their goal from day 1 has been very clear, and has never wavered. They correctly view the internet as a threat to their collective control over media distribution. They don't want to destroy the internet as infrastructure. They want to control the use of the internet as a means of media distribution. They don't really care about how they make that happen or what the fallout would be, so long as it happens. Meanwhile, an anonymous commenter noted that it is indeed true, in a way, that most movies "don't make much money": Any movie that makes a profit clearly hired the wrong accountant. Just look how much gross revenue the original Star Wars trilogy has brought in and it still is not profitable. Over on the funny side, we start out on what is undoubtedly the funniest story of the week: the congressional candidate who shared a screenshot that included some overlooked porn tabs open in his browser. David won first place for funny by identifying the real sin: Porn's okay, I don't mind. But Yahoo? That's where I draw the line. In second place, we've got a comment from NoahVail, which probes the limits of a particular UK superinjunction: i thought it was odd that thE streisand effect wasn't in pLay here, especially since The gag can ONly be applied to JOurnalists in tHe uk Newspapers. then i read who the celebs where and i understood why everyone outside the uk is freaked out about mentioning names. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with an anonymous response to Louisiana's attempt to require age verification for "adult" content online, pointing out just how pointless this would be anyway: The only thing age verification filters accomplish is teaching children how to subtract 18 or 21 from the current year. Finally, we've got a comment from our post announcing our new "Nerd Harder." t-shirt (which you should consider picking up if you haven't already). After one commenter requested a version without the trailing period, Pixelation had an amusingly apt response: You can figure out how to remove it. NERD HARDER! That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago This week in 2011, we saw lots of critical digital issues being debated around the world. France was playing statistical games to claim that its HADOPI three strikes law was effective (it wasn't), even as it was having to temporarily suspend some operations following a data breach; Turkey was facing protests in response to a new plan for internet censorship; Pakistan was considering banning Facebook in the country; libraries in New Zealand were considering avoiding their own three strikes law by shutting off internet access; and in the UK, the courts were expanding superinjunction laws to cover social media and considering the Hargreaves report on the state of copyright. In the US, we were digging into the PROTECT IP act, which was really all about old media going to war with the internet. As Google pointed out, it would set a disastrous precedent for free speech (which, of course, the big media companies tried to claim meant Google thought it was above the law). The International Trade Commission was using some silly methodology to amp up the damages of "piracy" in China, the RIAA was pushing for warrantless searches of CD and DVD manufacturing plants and trying to dig through the cloud for infringement. Ten Years Ago Five years earlier in 2006, we were happy to see the New York Times recognizing the amazing power of a digital library of scanned books, and also pointing out how great it can be for bringing attention to commercially neglected works. The RIAA was freaking out about the ability to record songs from satellite radio in a re-hash of the old "home taping is killing music" debacle, despite having sworn it would never be opposed to private, non-commercial recording. At least Australia was smart enough to realize that people should be allowed to rip their own CDs to their own iPods. Meanwhile, some were realizing that TV downloads could be a huge commercial opportunity for Hollywood, though they'd been trying to offer movies for years and the offerings still sucked. After all, how else could they keep making $200-million movies, right? Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2001, the biggest source of prediction and speculation was the future of wireless. One report noted that the real key to unlocking the wireless revolution was a killer app that everyone wanted, while MIT was focusing on the need for devices to improve, especially in terms of their displays (though small screens were probably going to do just fine for porn) and really trying to figure out exactly where the wireless web was at, and where it was going. We also saw an extremely smart, subtle prediction that has proven largely true: that consumer choices for wireless devices would start significantly influencing their choices for more traditional PC hardware and software (hello, Apple!) Thirty-Six Years Ago Since the latest Star Wars movie is still fresh in many people's minds, and since we even talked about its remix qualities earlier today in our Awesome Stuff post, it seems worth noting that it was on this day in 1980 that The Empire Strikes Back was released in cinemas. It's now widely considered to be the best of the original trilogy, and one of the best films in movie history. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, we're taking a break from gadgets and tech products to look at something right inside Techdirt's main wheelhouse: a pair of crowdfunded projects related to copyright, art and remix culture. Right To Copy Magazine There are a lot of different aspects to the discussion around copyright, but the most important and fundamental is the fact that it's completely incompatible with the reality of how art and culture functions. Right to Copy is a magazine dedicated to exploring exactly that, and it looks like it's going to be packed with interesting content. The first issue includes stuff from frequent Techdirt staple Cory Doctorow, and a new interview with author Jonathan Lethem (whose excellent essay, The Ecstasy of Influence, you may recall), as well as a bunch of other content that will be of interest to Techdirt readers. All in all, it looks like a magazine very much worth reading, and certainly worth supporting — it's currently a one-man project, and it'd be great to see it grow into something bigger. Everything Is A Remix: Star Wars Edition Surely all our readers are familiar with the Everything Is A Remix documentary videos by Kirby Ferguson. Recently, he released a new edition of the series focused on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, along with a new Kickstarter campaign to support the ongoing project. There's some fun merchandise available: new Star Wars-inspired EIAR t-shirts and stickers, plus a new book (in either PDF or printed form) about Kirby's own remixing process. There's also a very cool reward for serious fans: an hour-long exclusive video chat with Kirby himself, where he'll be discussing his process and philosophy and taking questions. EIAR has been fighting the good fight for quite some time, and has been critical in spreading a deeper understanding of how culture functions and how copyright gets in its way — and I encourage anyone who cares about those topics to show their support. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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