posted about 15 hours ago on techdirt
This week, we were horrified by the story of Ashely Cervantes, an 18-year-old who customs agents subjected to vaginal and rectal probes by a local doctor in a search of nonexistent drugs. TexasAndroid won most insightful comment of the week by pointing out the staggering addition of insult to injury in the case: On top of everything else, the hospital had the gall to bill her for their "services". Calling them slime buckets is an insult to slime. Speaking of bogus searches by law enforcement, we actually saw something positive on that front too this week, when a court refused to uphold evidence seized during a bogus traffic stop. Daydream took second place for insightful by lamenting the fact that this was news at all: Everyone, take a moment to consider why something that should be normal, a court rejecting illegally acquired evidence, is notable enough to feature on Techdirt's front page. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with the unfolding saga of CBS/Paramount and the Star Trek fan film Axanar. After one commenter suggested that calling it a "fan film" is "offensive to the people who own the rights", and Mason Wheeler responded with an indignant rebuttal highlighting the critical difference between compensation and permission: Then screw them. The idea that you can "own the rights" to culture itself is offensive on a far more fundamental level. If Paramount said "we own Star Trek and so if you want to make a fan film, you have to pay us 5% and display a prominent notice that this is a fan work and not actually affiliated with Paramount," that would be one thing. But saying "no, you can't build on this, so shut the whole thing down" is crossing a line that no one should ever have the right to cross. Meanwhile, after a surprising win for Led Zeppelin in the jury trial over alleged copying in the iconic Stairway to Heaven, one commenter (quite fairly) pointed out that the band does have a history of failing to credit their sources of inspiration (and more than inspiration), and that in this particular case they seem to have "tweaked the notes enough to get away with it". While there's a solid argument that Led Zeppelin hasn't always been the most upstanding moral citizen as far as giving credit where it's due, jupiterkansas rightly rejected that particular condemnation: "tweaking the notes enough to get away with it" is basically how all music is made. Over on the funny side, our first place winner is Oblate with a fitting reaction to the fight over Axanar: Didn't Paramount watch their own film? To paraphrase: The fair use rights of the many fans outweigh the needs of the few qur petaQ at Paramount. For second place, we head to yet another grapple over rights, this time between Dweezil Zappa and the other heirs to the Zappa estate over his right to name his tour "Zappa Plays Zappa". The tour has now been renamed "50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants — The Cease and Desist Tour" which is just great, leading Mike to request a tour t-shirt from anyone who might be able to pick one up. Crade wondered if this was just a clever reason-to-buy ploy by Dweezil: stupid? or genius! The whole thing was a setup to sell Mike a shirt. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start by taking a break from copyright and trademark fights to look at our old friend: ridiculous design patents. This time it was General Mills staking a claim to tortilla bowls, of all things, which led Mark Wing to rejoice about this great age we live in: It's an exciting time to be a lover of Mexican food with all this innovation in the tortilla sector. Finally, we head to the disturbing reasoning from a judge who said the FBI can freely hack people's computers since people get hacked by regular ol' hackers all the time. This seemed odd to say the least, but David explained it using a perennial piece of reasoning: You don't want the criminals to have the drop on the FBI, do you? If crimes are outlawed, only criminals will be able to commit crimes. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago This week in 2011, amid lots of IP chaos, we offered up a two-part history of the many "killers" of the music industry, first in the analog era and now in the digital one. Undeterred, Universal Music was in the midst of going to war with popular hip-hop blogs and websites for posting tracks (most if not all of which the artists wanted posted). If you doubt that last bit, consider that one of the targets was 50 Cent's own official website. There was also a lot of buzz about the awesome new social music service turntable.fm, and we wondered how long it would take for the RIAA to kill it (it's gone now, by the way). While a new filing in the Rojadirecta case elaborated on how ICE's domain seizures violate the first amendment even as Senatory Patrick Leahy was celebrating them, rightsholders in the UK were seeking their own web censorship powers. Hollywood was busy too, with the MPAA lobbying to get law enforcement to behave as its own private police force and trying to convince ISPs to become copyright cops, too. Ten Years Ago Five years earlier in 2006, there was a very similar history lesson for the people thinking about entertainment industry legislation: Gary Shapiro of the CEA took out a full page advertisement in the Capitol Hill newspaper highlighting, once again, all the past freakouts about new technology destroying music and movies. This was important considering big legal questions like deep linking of MP3s, and mean lawsuits like Paramount suing an amateur filmmaker for making his own 12 minute version of an Oliver Stone movie. Not to mention the creepy prevalence of the MPAA hiring people to stalk and/or hack potential legal targets, and the agency's generally high levels of bullshit. Fifteen Years Ago It was a different time in 2001, when we could be surprised by the fact that teenagers were adopting the internet en masse or that Amazon wasn't dead yet. Doctors were still fairly resistant to using technology like email and the first IBM PC was a mere 20 years old. The hot new TLDs on the block were .biz and .info, and buyers were competing over popular picks like show.biz and sex.info, while Network Solutions was busy trying to sabotage the whole .biz enterprise. "Cyber Rage" was a new notion that would evolve into today's doxxing, swatting and other nastiness, and one group was so miffed by digital smut that it sought to send Yahoo execs to jail as pornographers. Eight-Two Years Ago The FCC is a big and complex regulatory body that has a massive impact on all modern communication innovation in America — and it was on June 19th, 1934 that it came into existence after the passage of the Communications Act of 1934. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, for the cyclists out there, we've got a pair of new crowdfunded devices that aim to enhance your experience on your bike — then after that, we've got a shameless plug for the new Techdirt t-shirt. Blubel Blubel is a navigation system that has been simplified and redesigned specifically for cyclists, wrapped up inside a bicycle bell that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Instead of a full map-based system, Blubel boils navigation down to a straightforward directional indicator: as you ride, the ring of LEDs on the bell shift to alert you to turns and point you in the right direction. But it's also an actual bell, and what's more, every time you ring it the whole system gets smarter. Since most navigation systems are tailored for drivers first and foremost, bell rings from all Blubel users are recorded as waypoints in a shared map algorithm and used to calculate smarter cycling routes throughout the area, resulting in a community-driven navigation database. The associated app lets you plan routes and set destinations, and it also records data and gives you access to lots of metrics about your ride, much like a fitness app. CLASSON While Blubel wraps navigation tools in a bell, CLASSON wraps indication and safety tools (and some navigation assistance) in a helmet. The CLASSON helmet contains cameras which can record your ride like a dashcam or a GoPro, but that's not their primary function: they are hooked into a smart system that offers a variety of features. First, it monitors your blindspots, and activates subtle visual indicators on the helmet's visor to let you know when a car is approaching to your side — a huge boon for cyclists in busy urban environments. Next, they monitor your arm movements to translate physical turn signals into blinking turn indicator lights on the helmet, and it can detect deceleration to activate a brake light — a huge boon for night-time cyclists. Plus, similar to the Blubel, it can guide you to destinations chosen on the associated app using a simple directional indicator system also built into the visor. P.S. Check out the latest t-shirt from Techdirt! Yesterday, we launched a new t-shirt on Teespring, available only for a limited time! This spin on the infamous 80s anti-piracy campaign is only available until July 4th, so get yours today (it's also available as a women's tee and a hoodie). Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When law enforcement agencies want to know what people are up to, they no longer have to send officers out to walk a beat. It can all be done in-house, using as many data points as can be collected without a warrant. Multiple companies offer "pre-crime" databases for determining criminal activity "hot spots," which allow officers to make foregone conclusions based on what someone might do, rather than what they've actually done. Not that's it doing much good. For all the time, money, and effort being put into it, the databases seem to be of little utility. Many law enforcement agencies use software to predict potential crime hot spots, and the police in Kansas City, Mo., and other places have used data to identify potential criminals and to try to intervene. [...] In Chicago, where there has been a sharp rise in violent crime this year, the police have used an algorithm to compile a list of people most likely to shoot or be shot. Over Memorial Day weekend, when 64 people were shot in Chicago, the police said 50 of the victims were on that list. So much for "intervention." Having a list of people who have a higher risk of being shot doesn't mean much when all it's used for is confirming the database's hunches. However, these same databases are being put to use in a much more functional way: determining sentence lengths for the criminals who have been arrested. When Eric L. Loomis was sentenced for eluding the police in La Crosse, Wis., the judge told him he presented a “high risk” to the community and handed down a six-year prison term. The judge said he had arrived at his sentencing decision in part because of Mr. Loomis’s rating on the Compas assessment, a secret algorithm used in the Wisconsin justice system to calculate the likelihood that someone will commit another crime. We're locking up more people for more years based on criminal activity they'll no longer have the option of possibly performing. This is nothing new. Sentencing enhancement is based on a lot of factors, not all of them confined to proprietary databases. But what is new are the algorithms used to determine these sentence enhancements, most of which belong to private companies who are completely uninterested in sharing this crucial part of the equation with the public. In Mr. Loomis' case, the software determined he would be likely to engage in further criminal activity in the future. A so-called "Compas score" -- provided by Northpointe Inc. -- resulted in a six-year sentence for eluding an officer and operating a vehicle without the owner's consent. His lawyer is challenging this sentence enhancement and going after Northpointe, which refuses to release any information about how the Compas score is compiled. What Northpointe has released are statements that confirm the code is proprietary and that the Compas score is "backed by research" -- although it is similarly unwilling to release this research. The problem here isn't so much the use of algorithms to determine sentence lengths. After all, state and federal guidelines for sentence lengths are used all of the time during sentencing, which includes factors such as the likelihood of future criminal activity. But these guidelines can be viewed by the public and are much more easily challenged in court. The use of private contractors to provide input on sentencing renders the process opaque. Defendants can't adequately challenge sentence enhancements without knowing the details of the "score" being presented by prosecutors to judges. The algorithms' inner workings should either be made available to defendants upon request, or the "score" should be determined solely by government agencies, where the data and determining factors can be inspected by the public. We're now in the unfortunate situation where companies are telling judges how long someone should be locked up -- using data which itself might be highly questionable. The feeling seems to be that if enough data is gathered, good things will happen. But as we can see from Chicago's implementation of this technology, the only thing it's done so far is add confirmation bias toetags to the ever-increasing number of bodies in the city's morgues. The use of locked-down, proprietary code in sentencing is more of the same. It undermines the government's assertion that prison sentences are a form of rehabilitation and replaces it with the promise that criminal defendants will "do the time" so they can't "do the crime" -- all the while preventing those affected from challenging this determination. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Weeks back, Karl Bode wrote about the curious position Oculus Rift had taken in updating its software to include system-checking DRM. VR headset technology and game development, experiencing the first serious attempt at maturity in years, needs an open ecosystem in which to develop. What this DRM essentially did was remove the ability for games designed to run on the Rift from running on any other VR headset, with a specific targeting of community-built workarounds like Revive, which allowed HTC Vive owners to get Rift games running on that headset. Oculus, it should be noted, didn't announce the DRM aspect of the update; it just spit out the update and the public suddenly learned that programs like Revive no longer worked. The backlash, to put it mildly, was swift and severe. Oculus having been acquired by Facebook likely didn't help what were already negative perceptions, supercharging the outcry with allegations of the kind of protectionism and the lack of care for the public that Facebook has enjoyed for roughly ever. Still, many saw the whole thing as peons screaming at a feudal lord: Oculus would simply ignore the whole thing. Just weeks ago, in fact, Oculus was working journalists at E3 in defense of the DRM. The problem, [Oculus Head of Content Jason] Rubin said, comes with the wholesale distribution of a hack like Revive to the whole community, rather than to a few individuals. "[A personal hack] is a far cry difference from an institutional tool made and distributed to a mass number of people to [support other headsets], strip out DRM, strip out platform features and the like. For an individual to do that for themselves, that would be all right. Mass distribution is an entirely different situation." No explanation on why the level of access to the workaround makes all the difference appears to have been offered, but it seems likely that the company didn't want to appear to be going after gamers and tinkerers, only larger development outfits. If so, the attempt didn't work, because software like Revive was in high demand. This is to be expected, as VR is just now starting to sprout from the seeds laid long ago, with impressive but limited options for both hardware and games to run on that hardware. Those limitations mean that any attempt at exclusivity being tied to hardware that is relatively expensive walls off each of the gardens and limits access and interest. For a technology still in its early stages, this would only stifle growth. Hence, the anger from the public. Anger which appears to have worked, contrary to what some had thought. As silently as Oculus rolled out the DRM, it has now spit out an update which rolls it back. The world found out about it not from Oculus itself, which curiously didn't want to capitalize on some good press for once, but from Revive's development team. The Oculus team has reversed course on one of its most unpopular decisions since launching the Rift VR headset in April: headset-specific DRM. After weeks of playing cat-and-mouse to block the "Revive" workaround, which translated the VR calls of Oculus games to work smoothly and seamlessly inside of the rival HTC Vive, Oculus quietly updated its hardware-specific runtime on Friday and removed all traces of that controversial DRM. What's more, Oculus didn't mention the change in its runtime update notes, which are curiously future-dated one day forward on Saturday, June 25. The news instead broke when Revive's head developer posted a note on the project's Github download page. "I've only just tested this and I'm still in disbelief," the unnamed LibreVR developer wrote. Accordingly, the Revive team has since removed the patch's DRM-disabling feature, which had later been implemented as an extreme measure to make Oculus games play on the HTC Vive. It appears that even when Oculus chooses to listen to its fans and potential customers, it can't be bothered to do so publicly. This strips its ability to claim credit for the move, credit which it desperately needs after several negative news cycles. Still, the company's PR ineptitude aside, it's a nice lesson in what public backlash and shaming can do to pressure a company to be a little more open. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Robots are getting better at performing complex tasks all the time. It won't be too long before they can drive cars and deliver packages (and replace about a quarter of a million human workers who drive for UPS/FedEx/USPS/etc). The technology isn't quite there yet, but it doesn't seem to be too far off in the future. However, we're nowhere near seeing a Rosie the Robot servant, predicted in the 1960s, but we're getting closer. Check out these marginally helpful robots for the home that could beat flying cars and pneumatic tube transportation to becoming a reality. Laundroid is a machine about the size of a refrigerator that can fold your laundry... very slowly. It's currently just a prototype, but maybe in a couple of decades it'll just be part of your washer/dryer setup. Boston Dynamics has another cool video of an even smaller version of its "robot dogs" -- and its SpotMini has a creepy appendage with a hand/head at the end. This little guy can apparently put away dishes in a dishwasher and looks like it can pretend to be a puppy (a uncanny valley metal puppy). A laundry folding robot from a few years ago can only fold rectangular towels. If you enjoy watching paint dry, though, this is a cool robot to watch as it uses two humanoid arms and stereo camera vision... to complete the one task it knows how to do. 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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Want some unsurprising news? Apparently a three year gag order has just lapsed, allowing Ladar Levison, the founder and former operator of Lavabit, the secure email service Ed Snowden famously used, to finally say that yes, the feds asked him to turn over his encryption key in order to access Ed Snowden's emails. Lavabit founder Ladar Levison can finally confirm that Edward Snowden was the target of the 2013 investigation, which led to the shutdown of the Lavabit email service. The original case concerned law enforcement’s authority to compel the disclosure of an SSL/TLS private key, which belonged to Lavabit, and was used to protect the communications of all 410,000 customers, when only one of those customers was the subject of a criminal investigation. After three years, and five separate attempts, the federal judge overseeing the case has granted Mr. Levison permission to speak freely about investigation. The recently delivered court decision unseals the vast majority of the court filings, and releases Mr. Levison from the gag order, which has limited his ability to discuss the proceedings until now. Mr. Levison has consistently relied on the First Amendment in his court filings, which sought to remove the gag orders entered against him. He argued that such orders are an unconstitutional restraint against speech, and an afront to the democratic process. He plans to use his newfound freedom to discuss the case during a planned presentation on Compelled Decryption at DEF CON 24 in Las Vegas, NV. Of course, the fact that the feds were after Snowden isn't exactly news. First off, it's what everyone assumed the second the site shut itself down. But, more importantly, earlier this year, a redaction failure revealed it directly: Still, it's good that the gag order has finally been lifted, and it's great that Levison is now going to talk about these issues more widely. He also notes plans to create a legal defense foundation to help with similar cases: In order to continue the fight, Mr. Levison is forming the Lavabit Legal Defense Foundation (or “LavaLegal”), a non-profit organization founded to, among other things, protect service providers from becoming complicit in unconstitutional activities, and fight secret attempts aimed circumventing digital privacy or impinging upon the right of those involved to speak of the experience. The foundation will be funded by donations from people and organizations all over the world that want to help protect digital privacy and bolster our collective defense against government overreach. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Remember this image? That's the meme that was (and still is) passed around on social media (rather gently) mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for looking kinda like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Or, not even Gollum, but his nicer alter ego, Smeagol. Last we wrote about this, a Turkish court was assembling an expert panel to determine if that image is insulting to Erdogan. Since then, of course, we've learned just how insanely thin-skinned Erdogan is, having filed an average of over 100 actions against people for insulting him per month (how does he get any actual work done?). The Gollum case, however, is partially done, with one person accused of passing around the meme, Rifat Cetin, given a 1 year jail sentence, but having it suspended for five years -- meaning if he breaks no other laws in the next five years, he won't have to go to jail. He does, however, lose custody of his kids, which seems pretty damn harsh for sending around a simple (and not very insulting) internet meme. And this is actually a different case than the one we discussed earlier -- it's just that there were multiple lawsuits over the same image. Cetin is going to appeal, not on the basis of "WTF, I don't even..." which should be the standard here, but on the technicality that Erdogan was actually Prime Minister at the time the image was posted, rather than President -- and the law is only against insulting the President. Either way, all this has done, of course, is get more people to post and share that image over and over and over again. You'd think that "growing a thicker skin" might be a better overall strategy. But, then again, I'm not the President of Turkey, so what do I know?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
See the update at the end Almost two years ago, we excitedly wrote about the announcement behind Let's Encrypt, a free certificate authority that was focused on dramatically lowering the hurdles towards protecting much more of the internet with HTTPS encrypted connections. It took a while to launch, but it finally did and people have been gobbling up those certificates at a rapid rate and getting more and more of the web encrypted. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, it appears the old guard of certificate authorities doesn't like this very much. Comodo, which has provided certificates for quite some time (and, in fact, is where Techdirt's certificate comes from) has apparently, somewhat ridiculously, been trying to trademark versions of "Let's Encrypt." The most troubling one is the one on purely "Let's Encrypt," but the other two (Comodo Let's Encrypt and Let's Encrypt with Comodo) are equally problematic -- especially since (as Comodo admits directly) it's never used that phrase in offering its existing certificates. This seems like a clear situation where Comodo is seeking to confuse the market -- and thus the clear case where trademark law actually makes some sense. As we've said basically forever, trademark is quite different than copyrights and patents, in that it was really designed as a consumer protection law, to keep consumers from being tricked into buying something that they believe is from a different entity. Trademarks are widely and frequently abused, but there are times where the original intent of consumer protection makes sense, and this seems like one of them. What's incredible is that when Let's Encrypt reached out to Comodo about this, the company refused to abandon the attempt to trademark these names. Since March of 2016 we have repeatedly asked Comodo to abandon their “Let’s Encrypt” applications, directly and through our attorneys, but they have refused to do so. We are clearly the first and senior user of “Let’s Encrypt” in relation to Internet security, including SSL/TLS certificates – both in terms of length of use and in terms of the widespread public association of that brand with our organization. If necessary, we will vigorously defend the Let’s Encrypt brand we’ve worked so hard to build. That said, our organization has limited resources and a protracted dispute with Comodo regarding its improper registration of our trademarks would significantly and unnecessarily distract both organizations from the core mission they should share: creating a more secure and privacy-respecting Web. We urge Comodo to do the right thing and abandon its “Let’s Encrypt” trademark applications so we can focus all of our energy on improving the Web. At the very least, this kind of stupid stunt has me reconsidering if we should ever use Comodo's certificates on our site going forward. We've been a happy Comodo customer for many years, but I hate supporting bullies. Update: And... of course, after this goes public, Comodo suddenly backs down. Of course that doesn't explain why it refused to do so when asked months ago.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
Almost two years ago, we excitedly wrote about the announcement behind Let's Encrypt, a free certificate authority that was focused on dramatically lowering the hurdles towards protecting much more of the internet with HTTPS encrypted connections. It took a while to launch, but it finally did and people have been gobbling up those certificates at a rapid rate and getting more and more of the web encrypted. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, it appears the old guard of certificate authorities doesn't like this very much. Comodo, which has provided certificates for quite some time (and, in fact, is where Techdirt's certificate comes from) has apparently, somewhat ridiculously, been trying to trademark versions of "Let's Encrypt." The most troubling one is the one on purely "Let's Encrypt," but the other two (Comodo Let's Encrypt and Let's Encrypt with Comodo) are equally problematic -- especially since (as Comodo admits directly) it's never used that phrase in offering its existing certificates. This seems like a clear situation where Comodo is seeking to confuse the market -- and thus the clear case where trademark law actually makes some sense. As we've said basically forever, trademark is quite different than copyrights and patents, in that it was really designed as a consumer protection law, to keep consumers from being tricked into buying something that they believe is from a different entity. Trademarks are widely and frequently abused, but there are times where the original intent of consumer protection makes sense, and this seems like one of them. What's incredible is that when Let's Encrypt reached out to Comodo about this, the company refused to abandon the attempt to trademark these names. Since March of 2016 we have repeatedly asked Comodo to abandon their “Let’s Encrypt” applications, directly and through our attorneys, but they have refused to do so. We are clearly the first and senior user of “Let’s Encrypt” in relation to Internet security, including SSL/TLS certificates – both in terms of length of use and in terms of the widespread public association of that brand with our organization. If necessary, we will vigorously defend the Let’s Encrypt brand we’ve worked so hard to build. That said, our organization has limited resources and a protracted dispute with Comodo regarding its improper registration of our trademarks would significantly and unnecessarily distract both organizations from the core mission they should share: creating a more secure and privacy-respecting Web. We urge Comodo to do the right thing and abandon its “Let’s Encrypt” trademark applications so we can focus all of our energy on improving the Web. At the very least, this kind of stupid stunt has me reconsidering if we should ever use Comodo's certificates on our site going forward. We've been a happy Comodo customer for many years, but I hate supporting bullies.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Limited time offer: Support Techdirt and get a Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants t-shirt or hoodie! In the 80s, the BPI launched its now-iconic campaign to combat an early form of copyright infringement: Home Taping Is Killing Music. Of course, as it turned out, that wasn't true — music is alive and well — and the notion that taping songs from the radio for personal use should qualify as copyright infringement is questionable to begin with (even if it's not at all surprising that record labels saw it that way). Naturally, the campaign was and is ripe for parody (Techdirt friend Dan Bull even made a whole song about it) and our favorite is a simple alternative version... And so we introduce a new t-shirt (or hoodie!) from Techdirt: Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants: Just like our last t-shirt, we're offering this one via Teespring as a limited-time campaign. From now until July 4th, you can get the Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants design on a men's or women's t-shirt or a high-quality hoodie in a variety of colors — so order yours today! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Oh boy. A few weeks back, we wrote about the absolutely ridiculous story in which the four children of Frank Zappa appear to be fighting over the Zappa name. The story is somewhat complex and involved and is actually somewhat more nuanced than the unfortunately-all-too-typical "heirs of famous artist fight over splitting up the proceeds of that artist's legacy." In that original article, we noted that the dispute seemed to focus on two specific claims: first that the Zappa Family Trust (run by Ahmet and Diva, but to which all four children are beneficiaries) had a trademark on the tour name "Zappa Plays Zappa," under which Dweezil Zappa had toured for years. After some fairly public back and forth online, it became clear that there was an underlying dispute that had simmered for years here: Frank's wife Gail, who had controlled the ZFT, had trademarked Zappa Plays Zappa and charged Dweezil to use it, but had (according to Dweezil) then reneged on an agreement to share the proceeds from merchandise sales. Ahmet insisted that he'd allow Dweezil to continue to use the name for just $1, but it didn't seem that there was any interest in clearing up the older dispute about merch sales, or to allow Dweezil to get some of the proceeds from ongoing merch sales. The trademark claim seemed... at least possible, though there were arguments for either side, including a fairly strong one that Dweezil had every right to use that name without needing to license it. But the really ridiculous claim was that the family trust could stop Dweezil from playing Frank Zappa's songs. The ZFT had a convoluted -- and simply wrong -- interpretation of copyright law, to argue that Section 115 of the Copyright Act doesn't apply to Frank Zappa's music, because it's part of a "dramatic work." This is basically a nonstarter and would almost certainly be laughed out of court if it ever got there. Such a theory would basically upend decades upon decades of rather settled law concerning the ability to perform cover songs. But, now it appears that the Zappa Family Trust also has some ridiculously nutty trademark theories as well. That's because to avoid the trademark issue, Dweezil originally changed the tour name to "Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa." Not nearly as catchy, as everyone agrees, but functional. Apparently, Ahmet and the ZFT lawyers sent a laughably wrong cease and desist letter to Dweezil claiming that merely using the name Zappa was trademark infringement: This week, a lawyer for the trust informed Dweezil’s lawyer that the name Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa infringed on the trust’s trademarks of the terms “Zappa” and “Frank Zappa.” This is just wrong. In the response from Dweezil's lawyers, they pointed out that this was nominative fair use: "the use of 'Frank Zappa' merely serves to accurately describe the nature of the show and is in no way misleading or defamatory." Since no one's published the full letters -- just snippets -- I don't know why they mention defamation in there, but that's a whole different legal minefield. Either way, to avoid having to deal with that threat, Dweezil has changed the name of the tour yet again so that it's now: 50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants – The Cease and Desist Tour. Really. Dweezil also notes that "Yes there will be CEASE AND DESIST 2016 tour shirts" on the tour (along with additional merchandise unrelated to the Zappa Family Trust). I will say that as a legal nerd, I really, really want a Dweezil Zappa t-shirt that says "cease and desist" if anyone happens to be going to one of the shows (unfortunately, the tour isn't coming anywhere near me, though it is playing the town I grew up in -- but I doubt I can convince my parents to go). If anyone is going to one of the shows and feels like hooking me up with a t-shirt, contact me please. In the end, this whole thing, like so many intellectual property debates, seems almost entirely pointless. Intellectual property just becomes something that people fight over because they can, and it makes it difficult for people to step back and take a look at the bigger picture to recognize just how stupid the whole thing looks. It's hard to think of any sane or logical reason why Dweezil shouldn't be able to go out on tour as Zappa Plays Zappa. The idea that trademark should get involved in any of this would only make sense in the most ridiculous of trademark scenarios -- one where greed seems to be leading over basic common sense.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been covering the still going lawsuit by CBS and Paramount against Axanar Productions for making a crowdfunded fan film that they claim is infringing because it's looking pretty good. Things got a little weird last month when the producer of the latest Star Trek film, JJ Abrams, and its director, Justin Lin, basically leaked a bit of news saying that after they had gone to Paramount, the studio was going to end the lawsuit. At the time, Paramount said that it was in "settlement discussions" and that it was "also working on a set of fan film guidelines." We pointed out that we were concerned about what those guidelines might entail, and worried that they would undermine fair use. In the meantime, as settlement talks continued, the case moved forward. I'm still a little surprised that the two sides didn't ask the court for more time to continue settlement talks, as that's not that uncommon, and it's something that a judge often is willing to grant if it looks like the two sides in a dispute can come to an agreement. But, without that, the case has continued to move forward with ongoing filings from each side. In the meantime, however, the StarTrek.com website, run by CBS and Paramount, has now posted those "fan film guidelines" and they are absolutely ridiculous. The Axanar team sums it up nicely by saying that: The CBS "Guidelines" for Fan Films basically make it impossible for fan films to continue as they have. The first item, for example, completely rules out Axanar's plan for a feature length fan film: The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes. And there's another one that's clearly targeted at Axanar: The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees. I don't quite see how or where that fits into fair use's rules... Another one clearly targeted at Axanar -- which raised over a million dollars in Kickstarter and IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaigns: CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease. That seems rather limiting. Some of the other terms are more reasonable, but it seems clear that these guidelines are pretty specifically designed to cut off an Axanar style fan film, and seem to be trying to cut off a lot more than fair use almost certainly allows. While for the sake of the folks working on Axanar, I still hope that this settles amicably, it might be a lot nicer to have Axanar be able to win a fair use claim in court over this.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A portable speaker with powerful sound, the G-BOOM Wireless Bluetooth Boombox lets you take your music anywhere and play it for 6 hours straight. You can connect via bluetooth or via a standard headphone jack. It features a 2.1 speaker configuration (two full-range drivers & one tweeter), dual rear-firing bass ports, and MAXX AUDIO digital sound processing for optimum bass. It's on sale now in the Techdirt Deals Store for $80. 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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No matter how you may feel about the Second Amendment or firearms themselves, there's no way you can feel comfortable with access to Constitutional rights being predicated on something as worthless as the government's ever-expanding "you might be a terrorist" lists. But that's what's being sought by legislators. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, politicians are searching for answers to unpredictable violent acts, and have seized on the FBI's multiple investigations of the shooter as a potential terrorist for deciding who can or can't obtain a gun. A "dramatic" sit-in by Congressional reps hoped to force the issue, even though it ended up pushing nothing forward at all. Some legislators want gun ownership tied to terrorist watchlists -- the same watchlists that have turned 4-year-olds into suspected terrorists and designated entire families as suspicious simply because a single member somewhere in the branches of the family tree is under investigation. This kneejerk reaction not only would eliminate rights but also any form of due process. As it stands now, there's very little chance anyone wrongly designated as a suspected terrorist by the US government will be able to remove themselves from these lists. A recent court decision about the TSA's "no fly" list has at least raised the redress procedure to "extremely difficult" from its previous status as "nonexistent." But that's only one of the government's terrorist watchlists. Another watchlist contains thousands of Americans with no known ties to any terrorist group. The fact that these known unknowns comprise 40% of the watchlist is only part of the problem. As we've seen from the FBI's neverending series of terrorist investigations, the government is more than happy to create all the "terrorists" it needs to ensure a steady flow of income to certain agencies and a steady decline in civil liberties for the rest of us. Even if the list used to deny gun purchases is limited to those deemed too dangerous to board an aircraft (but not dangerous enough to arrest), rights will be denied to thousands who've never done anything wrong. The no fly list is a debacle as anyone but the TSA (and those pushing this legislation) will admit. The no fly list has, in the past, contained both people no one would normally consider unfit for gun ownership (Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis), as well as an 18-month-old toddler. Accurate, it is not, and yet, legislators are more than willing to strip a right away from citizens based on an incredibly flawed database. Logic has no place in gun control arguments, though, as Rep. John Lewis is one of the legislators leading the charge, even though he should know personally how worthless and inaccurate the no fly list is. What's even more disconcerting is the number of politicians who believe multiple rights should be stripped from those on watchlists. Senator Joe Manchin actually let these words tumble out of his mouth during an interview with MSNBC. Really, the firewall we have right now is due process. It’s all due process. So we can all say we want the same thing, but how do we get there? If a person is on a terrorist watch list, like the gentleman, the shooter in Orlando? He was twice by the FBI — we were briefed yesterday about what happened — but that young man was brought in twice. They did everything they could. The FBI did everything they were supposed to do. But there was no way to keep him on the nix list or keep him off the gun-buy list, there was no way to do that. So can’t we say that if a person’s under suspicion there should be a five-year period of time that we have to see if good behavior, if this person continues the same traits? Maybe we can come to that type of an agreement, but due process is what’s killing us right now. Due process is "killing" Americans. And he's not the only one who feels this way. Senator Dianne Feinstein believes Americans are born with only one inalienable right: the right to earn their other rights by "proving their innocence." Dems now expect Americans to "prove your innocence" before taking advantage of Constitutional rights. https://t.co/LZAH8RTbEU — Robby Soave (@robbysoave) June 23, 2016 Dems now expect Americans to "prove your innocence" before taking advantage of Constitutional rights. All the while, legislators are tossing out catchy slogans like, "No Fly, No Buy" with zero awareness of the implications of that action. Others claim such a law would have prevented the Orlando shooting, similarly unaware of the fact that the shooter wasn't on a terrorist watchlist when he purchased his guns. If lawmakers want to prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing guns, they need to base this on something far better maintained and narrowly defined than our current terrorist watchlists. The ones we have operate as dragnets -- bulk surveillance but for human beings. These lists already eliminate due process. They shouldn't be used to further diminish citizens' rights just because the perpetrator in the latest mass shooting was the subject of a terrorism investigation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The FBI's use of a Network Investigative Technique (NIT) to obtain info from the computers of visitors to a seized child porn site has run into all sorts of problems. The biggest problem in most of the cases is that the use of a single warrant issued in Virginia to perform searches of computers all over the nation violated the jurisdictional limits set down by Rule 41(b). Not coincidentally, the FBI is hoping the changes to Rule 41 the DOJ submitted last year will be codified by the end of 2016, in large part because it removes the stipulation that limits searches to the area overseen by the magistrate judge signing the warrant. For defendant Edward Matish, the limits of Rule 41 don't apply. He resides in the jurisdiction where the warrant was signed. He had challenged the veracity of the data obtained by the NIT, pushing the theory that the FBI's unexamined NIT was insecure (data obtained from targets was sent back to the FBI in unencrypted form) and info could have been altered in transit. It's not much of a legal theory as any person performing these alterations would have had to know someone was performing long-distance acquisitions of identifying computer information and the IP addresses normally hidden by the use of Tor. But that questionable legal theory is nothing compared to those handed down in Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr.'s denial [pdf] of several motions by Matish. As the judge sees it, the FBI really didn't even need a warrant. Morgan Jr. says there's no expectation of privacy in an IP address, even if Tor is used to obscure it, which follows other judges' conclusions on the same matter. However, Morgan Jr. goes much further. Morgan Jr. hints at the Third Party Doctrine but refuses to consider the fact that this information was not obtained from third parties, but rather directly from the user's computer via the FBI's hacking tool. The Court recognizes that the NIT used in this case poses questions unique from the conduct at issue in Farrell. In Farrell, the Government never accessed the suspect's computer in order to discover his IP address, whereas here, the Government deployed a set of computer code to Defendant's computer, which in turn instructed Defendant's computer to reveal certain identifying information. The Court, however, disagrees with the magistrate judge in Arterburv. who focused on this distinction, see No. 15-cr-182, ECF No. 42. As the Court understands it, Defendant's IP address was not located on his computer; indeed, it appears that computers can have various IP addresses depending on the networks to which they connect. Rather, Defendant's IP address was revealed in transit when the NIT instructed his computer to send other information to the FBI. The fact that the Government needed to deploy the NIT to a computer does not change the fact that Defendant has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his IP address. This reading of the Third Party Doctrine closely aligns with how the DOJ prefers it to be read. If someone knowingly or unknowingly turns over identifying info to a third party, it now belongs to the government -- even if the government obtains it directly through a search/seizure, rather than approaching third parties. But more disturbing than this is Judge Morgan Jr.'s declaration that no expectation of security is the same thing as no expectation of privacy -- first highlighted by Joseph Cox of Motherboard. “It seems unreasonable to think that a computer connected to the Web is immune from invasion,” Morgan, Jr. adds. “Indeed, the opposite holds true: in today's digital world, it appears to be a virtual certainty that computers accessing the Internet can—and eventually will—be hacked,” he writes, and then points to a series of media reports on high profile hacks. He posits that users of Tor cannot expect to be safe from hackers. If hackers can break into computers and extract information, then law enforcement can do the same thing without fear of reprisal or suppression of evidence. Morgan Jr. equates it to "broken blinds" on a house window, where previous rulings have said it's perfectly fine for passing police officers to peer into windows that don't completely obscure the house's interior. [I]n Minnesota v. Carter, the Supreme Court considered whether a police officer who peered through a gap in a home's closed blinds conducted a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. 525 U.S. 83, 85 (1998). Although the Court did not reach this question, id at 91, Justice Breyer in concurrence determined that the officer's observation did not violate the respondents' Fourth Amendment rights. Id at 103 (Breyer, J., concurring). Justice Breyer noted that the "precautions that the apartment's dwellers took to maintain their privacy would have failed in respect to an ordinary passerby standing" where the police officer stood. But that flies directly in the face of his previous determination that there's no expectation of privacy in IP addresses, even if a person takes steps to obscure that identifying info. Tor may be imperfect and can be compromised, but applying Morgan Jr.'s analogy to this situation means it's OK for the FBI to not only peer into the interior of a house, but to break the blinds in order to look inside. The world Judge Morgan Jr. prefers is clear: that law enforcement should not be bound by the constraints of legal activity and, in fact, should be allowed to deploy hacking tools simply because computers get hacked every day. It's a judicial shrug that says the good guys should be able to do everything criminals do because the ends justify the means. Morgan Jr. explicitly states that "the balance weighs heavily in favor of surveillance" in cases like these (child pornography prosecutions) because of the criminal activity involved. The ends will justify the means in cases like these, if Morgan Jr. is overseeing them. Even if you are sympathetic to the judge's belief that certain crimes call for more drastic law enforcement responses, the fact is that if given this judicial pass, law enforcement will not confine its use of jurisdiction-less warrants and invasive tech tools to only the worst of the worst. We need look no further than the deployment of a Stingray device to track down someone who stole $57 worth of fast food to see how this will play out in real life. The decision -- if it stands -- opens citizens up to a host of invasive, warrantless searches, just because security breaches are common and the pursuit of criminal suspects is more important than protecting citizens from government overreach. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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More bad news for Hillary Clinton and her ill-advised personal email server. Another set of emails released by the State Department shows the government agency had to disable several security processes just to get its server to accept email from Clinton's private email address. The emails, reviewed by The Associated Press, show that State Department technical staff disabled software on their systems intended to block phishing emails that could deliver dangerous viruses. They were trying urgently to resolve delivery problems with emails sent from Clinton's private server. "This should trump all other activities," a senior technical official, Ken LaVolpe, told IT employees in a Dec. 17, 2010, email. Another senior State Department official, Thomas W. Lawrence, wrote days later in an email that deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin personally was asking for an update about the repairs. Abedin and Clinton, who both used Clinton's private server, had complained that emails each sent to State Department employees were not being reliably received. After technical staffers turned off some security features, Lawrence cautioned in an email, "We view this as a Band-Aid and fear it's not 100 percent fully effective." While trial-and-error is generally useful when solving connection problems, the implication is undeniable: to make Clinton's private, insecure email server connect with the State Department's, it had to -- at least temporarily -- lower itself to Clinton's security level. The other workaround -- USE A DAMN STATE DEPARTMENT EMAIL ADDRESS -- was seriously discussed. This latest stack of emails also exposed other interesting things... like the fact that Clinton's private email server was attacked multiple times in one day, resulting in staffers taking it offline in an attempt to prevent a breach. (h/t Pwn All The Things) In addition to the security issues, there's also some discussion about why Clinton was choosing to use her own server. In one email, the State Department's IT person explains the agency already has an email address set up for Clinton, but offers to delete anything contained in it -- and points out that using the State Dept. address would make future emails subject to FOIA requests. [W]e actually have an account previously set up: [email protected] There are some old emails but none since Jan '11 -- we could get rid of them. You should be aware that any email would go through the Department's infrastructure and subject to FOIA searches. So, there's one reason Clinton would have opted to use a personal email address and server. More confirmation of the rationale behind this decision appears in an earlier email (2010) from Clinton to her aide, Huma Abedin. Abedin: We should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email to the department so you are not going to spam. Clinton: Let's get separate address or device but I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible. There appears to be some intent to dodge FOIA requests -- either by ensuring "no documents found" when Clinton's State Department email address was searched, or by being able to control any release by being the chokepoint for responsive documents. To accomplish this, Clinton's team set up a private email server that was insecure and did not follow State Department guidelines. In fact, her team brushed off the agency more than once before finally informing it that they simply would not comply with State Department regulations. In a blistering audit released last month, the State Department's inspector general concluded that Clinton and her team ignored clear internal guidance that her email setup broke federal standards and could leave sensitive material vulnerable to hackers. Her aides twice brushed aside concerns, in one case telling technical staff "the matter was not to be discussed further," the report said. The FBI investigation that Clinton refuses to call an investigation continues. There may be no criminal charges forthcoming, but there's already plenty of evidence that Clinton's use of a private email server was not only dangerously insecure, but put into place in hopes of limiting her accountability. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While we've talked in the past about how absurd design patents can get, it's worth pointing out that, hey, shit's not getting any less absurd, people. Design patents, as opposed to utility patents, function more like trademarks. The idea is that the "invention" in the case of design patents are supposed to be unique outputs of what might otherwise not be unique inventions that are then said to act as some sort of single-source invented thing. Honestly, the whole concept smells of a workaround on the actual purpose of patent law and it tends to function that way as well. How else do you explain the design patent granted on a toothpick with some lines carved into it, for instance? Or Apple's design patent on the animation of turning a page within an ebook? Rewarding exclusivity to these types of "inventions" that barely work up the sweat of an "inventor" should seem absurd to you, as should the frequency with which the public is left wondering where exactly the "invention" is in any of this. Which brings us to General Mills and its recently granted design patent on tortilla bowls. General Mills Inc. has received a patent for a bowl-shaped tortilla. It's just a single patent and probably not a big item for General Mills (NYSE: GIS), but the concept of a tortilla bowl seems so simple that it's interesting the Golden Valley-based food giant sought and received the patent. No, not interesting, annoying. Annoying and frustratingly believable, as the USPTO appears to mostly be in the business of seeing just how far it can stretch the concept of invention by granting these sorts of design patents. And there doesn't appear to be much unique about this tortilla bowl. Here are some of the images from the patent: Such a unique design. Or not. Tortilla bowls have been around for roughly ever, as best as I can tell, appearing in stores and restaurants all over the place. I even vaguely remember a walking-talking basketball getting some attention a while back for tweeting out an image of him enjoying a tortilla bowl on Cinco de Mayo. And, yet, the USPTO saw fit to grant General Mills this design patent for the glorious invention of a thing that's been around forever. That the company named its "invention" an "ornamental design for a shaped tortilla" only drives home the absurdity that has become the realm of design patents, where invention can mean anything and the USPTO applies zero critical thinking to the application process. Asked to comment on this patent, a company spokesman offered up this content-less reply. "We file patents all the time," General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas said. And why not, given that the approval process for those patents appears to be some kind of assembly line culminating with a mechanical tipping bird that has an "APPROVED!" stamp super-glued to its beak? Still, I somehow doubt that the founders had any intention of rewarding patents for such non-inventions as a tortilla bowl. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Nearly half a decade ago, we wondered publicly what a company like Twitter, a self-proclaimed advocate of free and open speech, would do if confronted by a government that is anything but. In that post, Mike discussed how Twitter had been used to rant against the government in Saudi Arabia, and wondered what would happen if Saudi Arabia decided to make such speech illegal. But what if it's not direct government action but that of other users that threatens such speech? While we have seen some governments routinely punish internet speech they don't like, we're now seeing signs of non-government individuals getting into the racket as well, as a way to silence the kind of barely-progressive speech a company like Twitter would likely say it wants to protect. Late Sunday night, Twitter user @old_gaes tweeted a screenshot of one of @Pharaohoe’s tweets from February, which had replaced the word “domain” in a verse from the Quran with a slang word for vagina. “This is the end of another atheist and we should continue exposing every Arab atheist child to their parents who do not know of their atheism,” @old_gaes wrote in Arabic above the tweet. Several friends of @Pharaohoe on Twitter told The Daily Beast that she is 16 years old and lives in Kuwait. @old_gaes has apparently been making a habit of this sort of thing, seeking out citizens of countries that would severely punish speech deemed to be blasphemous or in support of the LGBT community and reporting any speech like that, or encouraging followers to report it, to the authorities. That appears to be the only kind of tweeting the account does, in fact. Where this kind of harassment has very real consequences in nations like the United States, those consequences are not nearly as severe as might occur in other countries. And, lest you think that this kind of doxing nonsense would go unseen by the Islamic governments in question: Dubai’s verified police account tweeted back to @old_gaes on Monday morning, asking him to “kindly send the details” about potential blasphemy along to a specific email address. On Monday, @Pharaohoe tweeted “they fucking found me,” “im gonna puke,” then “i’m deactivating guys.” She then deleted her account. In addition, there are many followers of this Twitter account and others like it, creating a network of like-minded individuals who could potentially out those using Twitter as a platform for speech. The targets mostly appear to be women in Islamic nations who make statements of atheism or of a faith other than strict Islam, or who make any noises in support of LGBT rights. And, according to those witnessing this doxing, Twitter isn't doing much about it. “Twitter is absolutely useless. They don’t take this sort of thing seriously,” said the woman who asked to remain anonymous. “I don’t know what the solution is.” “He’s so dangerous,” said Afra. “I don’t know how his account is still up.” And, yet, what is Twitter to do? Certainly continued harassment can and should be addressed, but the fact is that Twitter operates internationally, including in countries where the law is not as friendly to secular values as it is in America. If the law in Dubai, for instance, is that blasphemous speech on Twitter should be reported and punished, then Twitter would be walking an interesting line in banning or blocking accounts for doing so. It could try to pull access from those countries, of course, but that would be technically challenging, wouldn't be in its business interests, and would only result in denying those people any voice at all. That doesn't seem like a likely solution. Attempts to get clarity from Twitter itself on how it would want to handle situations like this haven't resulted in much information. When The Daily Beast reached out to Twitter to ask how accounts like @Old_gaes were allowed to remain active despite consistent reports of harassment, a spokesperson said that “we do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons.” When asked to “better outline how Twitter assesses threats to personal safety” after a violation of the rules that could leave its users in danger, the company did not respond to repeated requests at press time. And so we have a speech tool co-opted by those wishing to oppress speech, with the company behind the tool seemingly paralyzed as to what to do about it. The good news is that, whatever steps backwards like these may occur, the flourishing of options for free and open speech typically also results in often unexpected change, however slow that change might occur. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Space Shuttle was a cool idea, but it never accomplished the goal of providing a relatively low-cost route to space. The concept of reusable space ships is still attractive, but it really depends on how much it takes to refurbish them before they attempt another launch. A few different organizations are already testing some reusable space vehicles (and Boeing has its X-37B that's orbiting somewhere above us right now). Here are just a few more spaceplanes that might join the new reusable space race. The EU has its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) robotic space plane that was tested last year. The IXV is scheduled to fly another test in 2019, and it might be operating by the time Elon Musk is on Mars. DARPA's XS-1 spaceplane project has a goal of flying 10 times in 10 days and putting a few tons of satellite payload into space -- for less than $5 million per flight. That's a pretty ambitious plan, especially if it's supposed to start testing by 2019 (and they're still narrowing down the technology). The Skylon concept spaceplane is a single-stage-to-orbit dream. It might not be hard to explain how it could work, but it'll sure be difficult to actually build a working prototype. 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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Back in April, we noted that California Assemblymember Mark Stone was pushing some legislation to basically push California governments to copyright and trademark everything they could. This was a bad kneejerk response to the admittedly ridiculous situation in Yosemite, where the concessions vendor had trademarked various park names and then tried to hold them ransom. Of course, the proper response is to make sure that kind of thing can't be covered by trademark or copyright law, not push state government entities to lock up things under intellectual property laws. Despite widespread criticism, the plan moved forward with only modest tweaks earlier this month. Thankfully, with the help of EFF pushing lots of people to speak out against the bill, it appears that the California legislature has basically dropped the proposal entirely. The amended bill looks very, very different. See all that red text? That's what's been removed: That's basically all the bad stuff. What remains is basically a requirement that state agencies "consider" the intellectual property rights at issue when they're writing contracts -- which as EFF notes -- should more effectively deal with Yosemite-like situations, without the massive overkill of giving California government agencies copyrights and trademarks in everything.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You may recall that a year ago, a massive DDoS attack was launched against GitHub from China. The attack itself was somewhat clever, in that it effectively turned the Great Firewall around, using Chinese search engine Baidu's ad platform and analytics platform to basically load code that contributed to the attack. The target of the attack were two tools that helped people in China access material that was blocked in China by the Great Firewall. Of course, this attack was actually the second attempt by China to stop people from accessing such information on GitHub. The first attack involved just using the Great Firewall to block GitHub entirely (it needed to block the entire GitHub, rather than just specific pages, because GitHub is all HTTPS) -- but that caused Chinese programmers who rely on GitHub to freak out and point out that they rely on GitHub to do their jobs. Well, this third time, China is trying a different approach: it's sent a takedown request to GitHub, asking if a certain page can be removed for "malicious slander." Since GitHub posts all its government takedown notices, you can see the full request, which is rather short and sweet: Cyber Security Association of China To whom this might be concerned at GitHub: The post at https://github.com/programthink/zhao/issues/38 vilifies our President Xi as a murder suspect, which is a groundless and malicious slander. We hereby express our strong concern and request you to take it off your website at the earliest time possible. Cyber Security Association of China June 8, 2016 Address: No.190 Chaoyangmennei Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing. Zip Code: 100010 The blog post link above where we found this story also notes that the entire repo that includes this content is currently not accessible in China, though it's accessible outside of China. At the very least, that suggests that GitHub disabled access to it within the country. It's, of course, unknown if China believes that disabling access just from within China is enough based on its takedown, but it is the equivalent of just blocking it via the Great Firewall -- so perhaps.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We're back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt. While it was originally published almost exactly a decade ago, I still find myself regularly referring to Yochai Benkler's excellent The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. This book was, and remains, the sort of bible for understanding not just the power of the internet to create all sorts of wonderful new connections, freedoms and innovations -- but also the many threats to the internet as well. It's optimistic about the potential, but recognizes that such potential is not necessarily inevitable (perhaps in contrast to our reading list book from two weeks ago, Kevin Kelly's new book, The Inevitable). It is a fairly dense book, packed with a ridiculous amount of thought provoking ideas, concepts and revelations that have shaped the way I think about the internet. In revisiting the book, I frequently come across passages that I forget about, but which I recognize deeply impacted the way I view certain aspects of the internet. The fact that it's still so relevant today, despite being about the constantly changing internet, suggests just how perceptive and forward reaching the book was when it first came out. If you somehow have missed it over the past decade, now would be a good time to fix that.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in April, we talked about the fact that the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page for copyright infringement over "Stairway to Heaven" was moving forward to a jury trail, and how ridiculous it was. As we noted, the song was written in 1970, and it's a bit crazy to argue after all these decades that there's infringement. But, more importantly, the similarities between Stairway and the Spirit song "Taurus" were just a few common notes that were predated by many artists, including Bach's Bouree in E Minor. Still, as we'd seen with the Blurred Lines case, when copyright cases go to juries over song similarities, they often turn out wacky. The intricacies of copyright law are tossed out the window and often "hey, these sound similar" seems to win out. So it's fairly surprising, honestly, that the jury unanimously sided with Led Zeppelin in this case, saying that while the copyright on Taurus was valid and they believed that Plant and Page had likely heard the song (the two bands toured together, even though Jimmy Page testified that he didn't believe he'd ever heard "Taurus"), there was not substantial similarity between the two songs. Again, this is pretty surprising, because if you take an unsophisticated audience and just play the clips of the two tracks next to each other, it's not hard to hear them and say "sure, those are kinda similar." About the best explanation I've seen for why the jury decided this way in this case, was that the jury just liked Page and Plant more than the plaintiff -- Michael Skidmore -- who was the "trustee" of the estate of Randy Wolfe, the deceased musician who wrote Taurus. But, when copyright decisions are being made based on who's more likable, that doesn't sound like a particularly functional copyright system.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A court in Berlin has made a very bad ruling, saying that digitizing images in the public domain creates a new copyright. We wrote about this case last year, involving the Reiss Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim suing Wikipedia because users had uploaded 17 images of the museum's public domain artwork. Ridiculously, the German court sided with the museum: The court ruled against the Wikimedia Foundation and in favour of the Reiss Engelhorn Museum. The German court dismissed the case against Wikimedia Deutschland on the grounds that it was not legally responsible for the files in question, which were held by Wikimedia Commons in the US, which in turn are managed by the Wikimedia Foundation. This is not a particularly new issue -- it's come up many times in the past. In the US, thankfully, we have a nice precedent in Bridgeman v. Corel that states clearly that exact photographic copies of public domain works are not protected by copyright, because they lack the originality necessary for a copyright. Of course, that hasn't stopped some US Museums from looking to route around that ruling. Over in Europe, where there is no Bridgeman-like ruling, we tend to see a lot more of these kinds of attempts to relock down the public domain by museums. There have been similar attempts in the UK and in France, though as far as I can tell, neither case went to court. Wikimedia says that it will appeal the ruling, which is the right move, but really an even larger question is why museums, which should want to more widely share such artwork with the world, are being so overprotective of these works. It's not as if someone seeing a digitized image of the Mona Lisa makes anyone less interested in seeing it in a museum.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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