posted about 10 hours ago on techdirt
A court has found that Amazon engaged in deceptive practices by not obtaining "informed consent" about in-app charges, especially with apps targeted at children. The finding is perhaps unsurprising, as the world of microtransactions relies greatly on a minimum number of steps between app makers (and app purveyors like Amazon) and users' wallets. What's more surprising is the opinion itself, which arrived in redacted form. Both the FTC and Amazon obviously wanted to keep parts of the opinion from being made public. The problem is that whoever handled the redaction process blew it. Coughenor released two rulings -- a complete decision, which was marked as "sealed" and a decision for the public, which was marked as "redacted." That redacted version has large swaths of text covered with black bars, but the opinion can be read in its entirety by cutting and pasting it into another file. The unintended consequence of this screw-up is that the public can now see what the government and Amazon wanted to prevent the public from knowing -- which is exactly the sort of stuff the public should know, as Public Citizen's Scott Michelman explains. The redactions included a good deal of information that was central to court's decision, including the evidence showing what Amazon officials knew and when, the FTC's estimate of damages, the length of the injunction the FTC was seeking, and more. All of these are of great public importance to understanding what Amazon was doing, what the FTC argued to the court, and why the court ruled as it did. It's not as though any sort of trade secrets or confidential government techniques are hiding behind the retractions. Much of what is redacted appears to have been for the benefit of Amazon, which does not come out of this surprise un-redaction looking good. [I]n developing its Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon identified "soccer parents" as a key target customer base, referring to them as "low-hanging fruit." (Dkt. No. 121 at 8; see also Dkt. No. 122 at 3.) [...] [T]he evidence demonstrates that Amazon was aware that many customers did not understand in-app purchases when they were first implemented. In a confidential document regarding Amazon's marketing plan for launching in-app purchases, the company acknowledged that "'IAP' isn't a concept widely known by customers." (Dkt. No. 120 at 5.) And, despite its assertion that "[c]ustomers are not looking for apps based on how much they cost," the company was aware that customers' top searches in selecting apps indicate that customers were seeking free apps to use. (Id. at n. 2; five of the top searches included the word "free.") Amazon was aware that in many instances, the person initiating the in-app purchase was a child: in a document discussing company strategy to promote increases in in-app purchasing, Amazon acknowledged "the disconnect between the account owner (e.g., parent) and the app user (e.g., child)." [...] Moreover, regardless of its reputation for customer service, it is Amazon's stated policy that in-app purchases are final and nonrefundable, likely discouraging much of its customer base from attempting to seek refunds in the first place. (See Dkt. No. 127 at 275.) ("Yeah, that's the – that's our official policy, is digital content's not refundable.") [...] Amazon has received many complaints from adults who were surprised to find themselves charged for in-app purchases made by children. By December 2011, Aaron Rubenson referred to the amount of customer complaints as "near house on fire." (Dkt. No. 115 at 19.) Rubenson also referred to "accidental purchasing by kids" as one of two issues the company needed to solve. (Id.) Rubenson additionally stated that "we're clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers." Also "withheld" is the FTC's justification of its damages estimate. Julie Miller, a lead FTC data analyst, calculated the total in-app purchase revenue and refund amounts for seven different categories: (1) orders of $20 or more in High-Risk Non-Casino apps from the earliest date available to March 25, 2012,1 (2) orders of $19.99 and below in High-Risk Non-Casino apps from the earliest date available to February 5, 2013, (3) orders of $19.99 and below in High-Risk NonCasino apps from February 6–April 30, 2013 excluding those on the “Otter” device, (4) orders of $19.99 and below in High-Risk Non-Casino apps from May 1–July 30, 2013 excluding those on the Otter device, (5) orders of $19.98 and below in High-Risk Non-Casino apps from July 31, 2013–June 3, 2014 excluding those on the Otter device, (6) orders of $19.99 and below in High-Risk Non-Casino apps from February 6–October 9, 2013 on the Otter device, and (7) orders of $0.99 and below in High-Risk Non-Casino apps from October 10, 2013 to the latest date available on the Otter device. (Id.) These categories were selected in order to omit authorized charges. This calculation gave Ms. Miller a total of charges made without authorization by password. Ms. Miller calculated $86,575,321.38 in revenue and also found that $10,060,646.48 was provided in refunds. (Dkt. No. 110 at 3.) Ms. Miller then calculated an “unauthorized charge rate,” the rate at which users failed to properly enter a password in initiating an in-app purchase as a percentage of the overall total. Amazon's rebuttal of the FTC's math is redacted... Amazon argues that Ms. Miller’s estimate is so “fundamentally flawed” as to not be able to support a finding of substantial injury. (Dkt. No. 179 at 18.) In so arguing, Amazon primarily takes issue with Ms. Miller’s calculation of an “Unauthorized charge rate.” (Id.) In dividing the number of password entry “failures” and dividing that by the total number of password prompts presented, the FTC argues that it identified a “reasonable proxy for the rate at which children would incur an in-app charge without consent . . when password entry was not required.” (Dkt. No. 184 at 18.) Amazon asserts that this rate calculation “assumes that every single password failure was an attempt by a child that would otherwise have been a completed in-app purchase.” (Dkt. No. 179 at 18.) This point is well taken: many password “failures” could have occurred because the user got distracted, changed his or her mind, or simply could not remember their password. However, it is reasonable to assume that of the group of users faced with a password prompt who ultimately failed to provide a password, many were children who, absent a password prompt, would have gone on to complete an in-app purchase. ...as is the court's partial agreement with Amazon's assessment of the assessment. [redacted portion in bold] While, as discussed above, the general methods used by the FTC to reasonably approximate the damages to consumers by unauthorized in-app charges serve as a fair starting place, the Court finds that the unauthorized charge rate of 42% is too high. The Court has received Amazon’s “Adjustments to the FTC’s Estimates of Injury and Monetary Relief” (Dkt. No. 221 at 2) and invites further briefing on the issue of the scope of appropriate monetary relief. Also redacted is the FTC's declaration of how long it felt Amazon should remain under the government's supervision. The injunction sought would subject Amazon to government oversight for twenty years. While FTC intervention has resulted in better refund policies and better notification about in-app purchases, the fact is that app makers are just as culpable as Amazon -- even if it's Amazon that will be paying the fines. There was no line of app developers at Amazon's door demanding better protections for app users. And Amazon is hardly alone in its targeting of low-hanging soccer parent fruit. When it comes to monetization of microtransactions, the lack of purchase controls is a feature, not a bug. Then there's the question of whether we really want the government to be in the business of designing app store front-ends. While the concerns central to this case are valid, the best solution isn't necessarily the FTC setting itself up as an additional middleman for in-app purchases -- especially not for the next 20 years. And, as for this opinion, it just goes to show courts are still far too willing to grant ridiculous redaction requests from plaintiffs and defendants -- a practice that further separates the public from the government that's supposed to be serving it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 12 hours ago on techdirt
Everything everyone saw in cop shows as evidence linking people to crimes -- the hair left on someone's clothing, the tire tracks leading out to the road, the shell casings at the scene, etc. -- is all proving to be about as factual as the shows themselves. While much of it is not exactly junk science, much of it has limited worth. What appears to indicate guilt contains enough of a margin of error that it could very easily prove otherwise. Science Magazine is taking a look at the standbys of forensic science and what's being done to ensure better presentations of evidence in the future. On a September afternoon in 2000, a man named Richard Green was shot and wounded in his neighborhood south of Boston. About a year later, police found a loaded pistol in the yard of a nearby house. A detective with the Boston Police Department fired the gun multiple times in a lab and compared the minute grooves and scratches that the firing pin and the interior of the gun left on its cartridge casings with those discovered on casings found at the crime scene. They matched, he would later say at a pretrial hearing, “to the exclusion of every other firearm in the world.” [...] So how could the detective be sure that the shots hadn’t been fired from another gun? The short answer, if you ask any statistician, is that he couldn’t. There was some unknown chance that a different gun struck a similar pattern. But for decades, forensic examiners have sometimes claimed in court that close but not identical ballistic markings could conclusively link evidence to a suspect—and judges and juries have trusted their expertise. Examiners have made similar statements for other forms of so-called pattern evidence, such as fingerprints, shoeprints, tire tracks, and bite marks. Six years ago, the National Academy of Sciences found that these forensic standbys had a much larger margin of error than was portrayed in court by detectives and expert witnesses. It recommended the margin of error be delivered along with the testimony to head off future verdicts based on faulty evidence. To date, not much has changed. While actual junk science like bite marks has largely been discarded by prosecutors, the others remain, even as their reliability has been constantly questioned. The FBI loved hair analysis, right up to the point that it determined its witnesses had overstated test results 90% of the time in the two decades prior to 2000. Even fingerprints, which have long been considered unassailable because of their supposed uniqueness, aren't much better. Some of it has to do with the presumption that every fingerprint is so unique even a partial print can eliminate suspects. The rest of its issues lie with those matching the prints. One study of 169 fingerprint examiners found 7.5% false negatives—in which examiners concluded that two prints from the same person came from different people—and 0.1% false positives, where two prints were incorrectly said to be from the same source. When some of the examiners were retested on some of the same prints after 7 months, they repeated only about 90% of their exclusions and 89% of their individualizations. The NIST has given $20 million to the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE) to come up with a better way to present this sort of evidence -- one that clearly accounts for any uncertainties in the results or processes. CSAFE is still trying to figure out how to present this as a number/rating. But that might not be the only problem. The other issue is that juries and judges may not find specifics about forensic reliability to play much of a part in deciding guilt or innocence. In a 2013 study, for instance, online participants had to rate the likelihood of a defendant’s guilt in a hypothetical robbery based on different kinds of testimony from a fingerprint examiner. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were simply told that a print at the scene “matched” or was “individualized” to the defendant, or whether the examiner offered further justification—the chance of an error is “so remote that it is considered to be a practical impossibility,” for example. In all those cases, jurors rated the likelihood of guilt at about 4.5 on a 7-point scale. “As a lawyer, I would have thought the specific wording would have mattered more than it did,” Garrett says. But if subjects were told that the print could have come from someone else, they seemed to discount the fingerprint evidence altogether. The other part of the problem is the people who perform the tests. Multiple incidents where evidence was falsified or not properly tested have been uncovered. The evidence is only as good as the processes, and if steps are skipped because of sloppiness or laziness, the evidence's credibility becomes highly questionable -- not just for the specific instance where results were faked, but for every test this person has touched. There's no possible way to eliminate honest errors, much less prevent anyone from falsifying results. In both cases, the problems are caught after the damage has been done. Humans are the most unpredictable part of the chain of evidence but also an irreplaceable part. CSAFE will be working with forensics labs to create best practices, but it can do nothing to prevent the lazy and/or incompetent from completely ignoring the proper steps. Problems are also present higher up the chain. When bad science or bad practices result in questionable evidence, it's often extremely difficult to have convictions resulting from them overturned. What’s troubling, [federal judge Nancy] Gertner says, is that when judges accept junk science, an appeals court rarely overrules them. Attaching a numerical probability to evidence, as CSAFE hopes to do, “would certainly be interesting,” she says. But even a standard practice of critically evaluating evidence would be a step forward. “The pattern now is that the judges who care about these issues are enforcing them, and the judges who don’t care about these issues are not.” In this way, the courts are no better than labs where shoddy work is done. Variations in personality undermine the dispassionate nature of science, making it susceptible to human prejudices rather than the strength of the evidence itself. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 13 hours ago on techdirt
Though replete with accurate models, well-tested theories and millions of specimens, we're still a long, long way from having a complete picture of the history of life on earth. New discoveries can still upend everything or point to entire unexplored aspects of our prehistory — and yet, slowly but surely, scientists are building a catalog of all that can be known about living things. Here are some of the latest projects helping to fill in branches on the evolutionary tree: After over 60 years known only as the "Tully Monster", Illinois' 300-million year old state fossil has finally been identified. Turns out it's a relative of modern lampreys, and what researchers thought was its gut was actually a proto-backbone. [url] Scientists in Chile have genetically altered chickens to grow "dinosaur legs" like their prehistoric ancestors. They aren't trying to build Jurassic Park, just to better understand how avian dinosaurs evolved into modern birds. [url] The world's oldest land fossil is a fungus that was feeding on something even older. Scientists have long puzzled over its exact role in evolutionary history, but it may have given rise to the first complex-plant-bearing soil. [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

Read More...
posted about 14 hours ago on techdirt
Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post has the disturbing story of former Boeing employee Keith Gartenlaub, whose home was searched for evidence of his alleged spying for the Chinese. Specifically, the FBI was looking for documents about the military's C-17 transport plane. Instead, FBI agents came across something else. [S]ince the search in January 2014, no spy or hacking charges have been brought against him. Instead, seven months later, he was charged with the possession and receipt of child pornography. He has denied the charges, but a jury convicted him in December. Questions have been raised about the evidence obtained during the search. In Gartenlaub’s case, the defense unsuccessfully argued that he could not be linked to identical copies of child pornography videos found on four hard drives in his house. Two of the hard drives had been in a computer that was kept at a beach house where numerous people had access to it, Gartenlaub said. [...] Jeff Fischbach, a forensic technologist for the defense, said there is no evidence that the child pornography was ever seen by anyone who used the computer, much less Gartenlaub. The government’s own forensic expert, Bruce W. Pixley, said he could not find any evidence of the material being downloaded onto any of the computers, the defense noted. That means it had to have been copied onto the computer — but by whom is unknown. The defense had more difficulty than usual in challenging the evidence. The search wasn't performed with a standard FBI warrant, but instead -- due to its supposed national security implications -- with a warrant issued by the FISA court. That the FBI found child pornography instead is unfortunate, but that fact shouldn't nullify the original warrant or result in the suppression of the evidence, at least according to the DOJ. While the DOJ is correct in the fact that the FBI wasn't going to call off the search after it uncovered evidence of other wrongdoing, its defense of the way the evidence was obtained is disingenuous. Unlike a regular warrant, a FISA warrant is almost completely unchallengeable. The entire process is ex parte, including the submission of evidence obtained -- even if the evidence has nothing to do with national security. In Gartenlaub's case, every submission by the government was done under seal. His legal representation had no access to the government's presentation of evidence. The possession of child porn is certainly nothing the government takes lightly, but once the focus of the investigation shifted away from alleged espionage, the process likewise should have changed. At the very least, the FBI should have had a new warrant issued, signed by a regular magistrate judge -- one that would have allowed the defense to examine the affidavit and the results of the search. JoAnne Musick of Fault Lines points out just how much the FISA Court's involvement screwed Gartenlaub. Once the warrany [was] issued, there was virtually no means by which Gartenlaub could challenge the basis for the warrant. Of course, the court found the pornography material “obtained pursuant to FISA was lawfully acquired” and did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Additionally, after ex parte pre-trial briefings between the court and government, the judge found: "[T]here is no indication of any false statements having been included in the FISA materials." Surely the government would not have proven any false statements in their private discussions with the court. Perhaps had the defense had an opportunity to review or challenge the basis for the warrant, the court might have found false statements. Yet, we will never know as the defense was unable to review the evidence or otherwise challenge it. It’s disturbing that the accused was unable to obtain even basic information on how the information was obtained and why the warrant was issued. The ability to challenge presented evidence is a key part of the justice system. Wrongs committed by the government during the search for evidence can only be righted through this process. But the use of a FISA warrant deprives the accused of that potential remedy. When it became apparent the investigation was no longer focused on matters of national security, the FBI should have unsealed documents and turned over evidence to Gartenlaub's legal reps. Instead, it chose to keep operating under the pretense it was investigating espionage and availed itself of all the advantages that come with national security-related investigations. Then there's this: even though the FBI had enough evidence of child porn possession to prosecute (successfully) Gartenlaub and nothing in the way of evidence he was involved in spying for the Chinese, it still attempted to leverage what it had obtained to turn Gartenlaub into a government informant. During his initial appearance in a federal courthouse in Santa Ana, Calif., the prosecutors indicated a willingness to reduce or drop the child pornography charges if he would tell them about the C-17, said Sara Naheedy, Gartenlaub’s attorney at the time. So, not only did the government use its additional national security benefits to keep Gartenlaub from mounting a serious challenge to submitted evidence, but it also used evidence it gathered with an unrelated search to pressure him into admitting he was a spy -- something it had no evidence of at all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 16 hours ago on techdirt
We've long noted how ISPs have convinced (read: paid) more than twenty states to pass protectionist broadband laws that prohibit towns and cities from improving their own broadband infrastructure. The bills not only saddle community broadband with onerous restrictions to make them less viable, they often even block towns and cities from striking public/private partnerships with companies to improve broadband. Last year, the FCC voted to take aim at two such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, arguing the laws do little but protect the status quo, hindering the development of alternative broadband delivery options. Pressured by ISPs, both states quickly rushed to sue the FCC, saying that the agency was violating "states rights" (ignoring the rights violated by letting ISPs write awful state law). The FCC, in contrast, says its Congressional mandate to ensure "even and timely" broadband deployment under the Communications Act gives it full legal authority to take aim at such restrictions. Enter Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, who is now pushing amendments alongside Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer that would make a few changes to the FCC Process Reform Act. According to an early version of the proposal provided to industry trade magazines, the bill would tie the FCC's hands when it comes to trying to eliminate state broadband protectionism:"FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says those laws are pushed by incumbents to prevent price and service competition and the FCC has stepped in to preempt state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina. The FCC is currently in a court battle over that decision. The amendment, according to the amendment list obtained by Multichannel News/B&C, "Prohibits the FCC form preventing states from implementing laws relating to provision of broadband Internet access service by state and local governments."This is far from the first effort of this kind. Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn pushed a similar measure last year. Usually, the measures try to sow partisan discord by claiming the FCC has just gone power mad, again hoping nobody notices giants like Comcast and AT&T performing state lawmaker puppetry in the periphery to the detriment of local communities. Note these towns and cities aren't getting into the broadband industry because they think it's fun; they're exploring alternative options because the private sector has failed across huge swaths of the country. Unfortunately, large ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable quite literally control most state legislatures, ensuring things stay that way. ISPs could prevent these kinds of efforts by providing better, cheaper broadband -- though obviously lobbying our compromised state legislative systems is notably less expensive than deploying new fiber -- or lowering prices to compete. The problem for Cruz is that while ISPs have historically tried to frame municipal broadband as a partisan debate to sow discord, that has been less effective over time as public/private efforts from the likes of Google Fiber or Tucows have highlighted the need for some bigger picture thinking. The majority of such networks are now being built in more Conservative leaning areas, and the idea of municipal broadband tends to have broad, bipartisan support. Apparently, disdain for duopoly apathy and high prices is one of the few things most Americans can agree on. As such, rushing to defend giant telecom providers from competition doesn't seem like the brightest bet for somebody trying to win hearts and minds ahead of a national election.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 17 hours ago on techdirt
The DOJ is one step closer to being allowed to remotely access computers anywhere in the world using a normal search warrant issued by a magistrate judge. The proposed amendments to Rule 41 remove jurisdiction limitations, which would allow the FBI to obtain a search warrant in, say, Virginia, and use it to "search" computers across the nation using Network Investigative Techniques (NITs). This won't save evidence obtained in some high-profile cases linked to the FBI's two-week gig as child porn site administrators. Two judges have ruled that the warrants obtained in this investigation are void due to Rule 41(b) jurisdiction limitations. (Another has reached the same conclusion in an unrelated case in Kansas). The amendments recently approved by the US Supreme Court would strip away the jurisdiction limitation, making FBI NIT use unchallengeable, at least on jurisdiction grounds. Rule 41. Search and Seizure (b) Venue for a Warrant Application. At the request of a federal law enforcement officer or an attorney for the government: (6) a magistrate judge with authority in any district where activities related to a crime may have occurred has authority to issue a warrant to use remote access to search electronic storage media and to seize or copy electronically stored information located within or outside that district if: (A) the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means; or (B) in an investigation of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5), the media are protected computers that have been damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts. The DOJ claims the updates are needed because suspects routinely anonymize their connections, making it difficult to determine where they're actually located. Opponents of the changes point out that this significantly broadens the power of magistrate judges, who would now be able to approve search warrants targeting any computer anywhere in the world. The real problem, though, is this: there's no significant Congressional opposition (save Ron Wyden) to the proposed amendments. “These amendments will have significant consequences for Americans’ privacy and the scope of the government’s powers to conduct remote surveillance and searches of electronic devices. I plan to introduce legislation to reverse these amendments shortly, and to request details on the opaque process for the authorization and use of hacking techniques by the government,” said Wyden. “Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once; and the vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime. These are complex issues involving privacy, digital security and our Fourth Amendment rights, which require thoughtful debate and public vetting. Substantive policy changes like these are clearly a job for Congress, the American people and their elected representatives, not an obscure bureaucratic process.” Worse, the amendments will be adopted if Congress does what it frequently does best: nothing. Congress actually needs to take action to block the amendments, but seeing as it only has until December 1, 2016, to do it, it seems highly unlikely that it will make the effort to do so -- not during an election year and certainly not during the annual struggle of approving a budget. On the bright side, Ron Wyden is generally pretty good at mobilizing opposition, even when there appears to be little support for his efforts. We can also expect a variety of civil liberties groups and activists to start pushing Congress to "opt out" of the proposed changes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 18 hours ago on techdirt
Look, we warned everyone. Back in December of last year, we told you that the EU Commission was looking to put in place new regulations that were clearly designed to hamper Google and Facebook with needless regulations. It was pretty obvious from the way it phrased its broken survey form, that this was the intent. We, along with a bunch of internet startups told the EU that this was a mistake. We explained that Google and Facebook are big and they'll be able to handle whatever regulations the EU throws at them, because they can just throw money at the problem. But... everyone else? They're going to get screwed over. The folks over at Euractiv have got their hands on a leaked draft of the plan to regulate online platforms, and it's more or less what we expected, and what was hinted at a few weeks ago. The EU Commission is trying to pretend it's not going to do what it's obviously going to do. On the one hand, it talks about not creating a one-size-fits-all solution. In the conclusion, it states: Overall, at this stage, there is no compelling case for general ex-ante regulation of online platforms across the board. However, elsewhere throughout the document, you can see that the EU is chomping at the bit to put some shackles on Google and Facebook and basically any American company, in the belief that it will magically open things up for EU competitors to take over the market. The document whines about the lack of EU companies: However so far Europe is not driving the online platform revolution: at present the EU represents only 4% of the total market capitalization of the largest online platforms, with the vast majority of platform enterprises originating in the US and Asia. As online platforms increasingly capture new digital value chains, this particularly limits the competitiveness and growth of the EU. Given the growing importance of online platforms in the economy and the disruptive role they play in business, including acting as gateways to customers, the EU must ensure favourable conditions for the creation and growth of online platforms. It really takes a bureaucrat's mind to look at the market and say that the problem here has to be not enough regulation on internet platforms, and not recognize that the overall conditions in the EU are not conducive to the kinds of internet innovations that create successful internet companies. Hell, one of the few truly successful European platforms, Spotify, is threatening to move the company headquarters from Sweden to New York, because the regulatory environment is so hostile. And yet, rather than setting things up to encourage more innovation, the focus is constantly on how can regulations be put onto the big companies to keep them hindered in the EU market. Yes, there is some talk of things, but it's the usual misguided bureucrat's idea of how to encourage innovation: (1) throw money at it and (2) beef up intellectual property protections. On the first one, they talk about increasing funding for innovation. That's not a bad thing, per se, but it almost never works when the government is the one behind such a project. Governments rarely know how to truly invest for innovation. On the second one, it's no surprise that the legacy copyright industries are using this effort as yet another vector to attack internet players, and the EU Commission has bought it hook, line and sinker. It calls for "sectorial legislation" for "ensuring a fair allocation of revenues for the use of copyright-protected content." We keep hearing this line over and over again about "fair allocation." How does that work exactly? Will it mean that record labels no longer are allowed to take musicians' copyrights, and then charge them expenses against their advance so that they never make another dime beyond the advance (which they'll have to use to record)? Seems unlikely. In fact, nearly all of the report uses bureaucratic speak for "we just need to stop these successful companies, and our own companies will grow." That's not how it works. You get a lot of "level playing field" claims throughout: Online platforms have disrupted traditional business models and are increasingly regarded by users as equivalent or as substitutes of traditional services in various sectors. Current examples range from the media and entertainment sectors to the retail and communications sectors. As a general regulatory principle, the same activities must be subject to the same rules in the Digital Single Market. This principle is usually referred to as a "level playing field." Yes, but too often the "leveling" of the playing field seems to be to push it back towards the way legacy businesses ran. The reason startups are disruptive is because they're innovative in ways that tilt the playing field towards them. Having government put its thumb back on the other end of the field doesn't help innovation. It doesn't help the public. It just helps legacy businesses remain static and feel less of a need to innovate themselves. And yes, the report makes a brief nod to that potentially, noting: Competition from online platforms can provide incentives for traditional market players to innovate and improve their performance, as well as point to a need to simplify and modernise existing regulation. This modernisation should seek to avoid imposing a disproportionate burden on online platforms business models. At the same time, in areas where competitive pressures have been increased, deregulation of traditional sectors may offer the most beneficial response to achieve a level playing field. But none of the rest of the report seems to follow up on that. Instead it's just more ways to push the innovation back down. The report also says "we know our intermediary liability protections are important, so we'll keep them... but... we really won't." The public consultation showed strong support for the existing principles of the e-Commerce Directive, but also for the need to clarify certain concepts, including the scope of the safe harbour for intermediary liability, including for online platforms. Given this background, the Commission intends to preserve the existing liability regime. However, with the rise of online platforms monetising users' content and data, and with the need for online platforms to contribute to making the Internet a safer place, the EU needs to further define its approach to their broader responsibility. As they occupy a special role in the economy and society with unmatched influence, online platforms should behave responsibly and have frameworks in place to take reasonable and effective action to protect their users from illegal and harmful activities. Got that? The second paragraph totally undermines the first. Basically it appears that, as we suspected from the way the report was set up, the plan here is to put some sort of "duty of care" or some such on internet platforms. This will mean that Google and Facebook will be fine -- they can staff up giant warehouses of people reviewing content. But it will become extremely expensive and risky for anyone else to enter the space, since they won't have the resources to satisfy the EU's regulators.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 20 hours ago on techdirt
Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein are not giving up that quickly on their ridiculous and technically ignorant plan to outlaw real encryption. The two have now penned an op-ed in the WSJ that lays out all the same talking points they've laid out before, without adding anything new. Instead, it just continues to make statements that show how incredibly ignorant they are. The piece is called Encryption Without Tears (and may be paywalled, though by now everyone knows how to get around that), which already doesn't make any sense. What they're pushing for is ending basic encryption, which will lead to many, many tears. It starts out with their standard ridiculous line, pretending that because a company builds end-to-end encryption, it's acting "above the law." In an increasingly digital world, strong encryption of devices is needed to prevent criminal misuse of data. But technological innovation must not mean placing individuals or companies above the law. People have gone over this time and time again: this is not about anyone being "above the law." It's about whether or not companies can be forced to directly undermine the safety and security of their products (and the public). A paper shredder can destroy evidence. A paper shredder maker is not "above the law" when it decides not to build a system for piecing back together the shreds. And speaking of "above the law" I still don't see Feinstein or Burr commenting on the FBI/DOJ announcing that it will ignore a court order to reveal how it hacked into computers over Tor. That is being above the law. That involves a situation where a court has asked for information that the FBI absolutely has. The FBI is just saying "nope." If Burr and Feinstein are really worried about being "above the law," shouldn't they worry about this situation? Over the past year the two of us have explored the challenges associated with criminal and terrorist use of encrypted communications. Two examples illustrate why the status quo is unacceptable. I love this. They give two examples that have been rolled out a bunch in the last few weeks. The attack in Garland, Texas, where the attackers supposedly exchanged some messages with potential ISIS people, and the case of Brittney Mills, who was tragically murdered, and whose case hasn't been solved. Mills had her smartphone, but no one can get into it. Of course, it took nearly two years of fretting before law enforcement could dig up these two cases, and neither make a very strong argument for why we need to undermine all encryption. It's a simple fact that law enforcement never gets to have all of the evidence. In many, many, many criminal scenarios, that's just the reality. People destroy evidence, or law enforcement doesn't find it or law enforcement just doesn't understand it. That's not the end of the world. This is why we have police detectives, who are supposed to piece together whatever evidence they do have and build a picture for a case. Burr and Feinstein are acting like in the past, law enforcement immediately was handed all evidence. That's never been the way it works. Yes, law enforcement doesn't get access to some information. That's how it works. You don't go and undermine the very basis of computer security just because law enforcement can't find a few pieces of evidence. Our draft bill wouldn’t impose a one-size-fits-all solution on all covered entities, which include device manufacturers, software developers and electronic-communications services. The proposal doesn’t define the technological solutions or tell businesses how to solve the problem. This is also misleading. The bill requires an end to real encryption. That's it. Real encryption means that only one person has the key. This is what Burr and Feinstein don't seem to get. They seem to think it's trivial to leave a key with Apple or whoever. But as basically every crypto expert has explained, it is not. Doing so creates a vulnerability... and worse, it's a vulnerability that cannot be patched. That's hellishly dangerous. Sure, the bill doesn't tell them exactly how to do this, but it does make it clear: you cannot offer real encryption, you can only offer something that can be hacked. That's a problem. We want to provide businesses with full discretion to decide how best to design and build systems that maintain data security while at the same time complying with court orders. We want to provide businesses with full discretion to decide how best to travel back in time, in order to prevent crimes. Seriously: this is basically the same thing that Burr and Feinstein are saying here. They're asking for something that's impossible, and acting like it's a routine suggestion. If they need to comply with these All Writs Act style orders, they cannot build systems that maintain data security. That's a fact. It's mind-boggling that Burr and Feinstein still can't understand this. Critics in the industry suggest that providing access to encrypted data will weaken their systems. But these same companies, for business purposes, already maintain and have access to vast amounts of encrypted personal information, such as credit-card numbers, bank-account information and purchase histories. Argh. This paragraph shows that whatever poor staffer Burr and Feinstein assigned to write this drivel doesn't understand even the first thing about what he or she is talking about. Storing encrypted passwords, credit card info, bank account info, etc. is a totally different thing. Those are encrypted to keep them safe, and part of the reason they're encrypted is so that even those companies cannot reveal them. This point is making the opposite point of what Burr and Feinstein think. Companies encrypt passwords and credit card info and the like so that they're not storing the plaintext info, and there's no easy way for anyone to get that info. This protects user data, and the companies cannot actually provide the plaintext. They're comparing hashes. That's what keeps it safe. If we received a court order demanding our users' passwords, we couldn't provide them. Because they're encrypted. We don't know our users' passwords and can't give them to you. When someone logs in to our website, we can compare a hash of their password to our hashed version and then if they match, we let them in. But we don't know what their password is. So this is a terrible example that actually goes against what Burr and Feinstein are saying. Those encrypted stores of information would be illegal under this bill! We are not asking companies to provide law enforcement with unfettered access to encrypted data. We aren’t even asking companies to tell the government how they gain access to this encrypted data. All we are doing is asking companies to find a way to keep their data secure while also cooperating with law enforcement in terrorism and criminal investigations. Again, that last line is impossible. They're asking the impossible -- and in the process, making everyone less safe. The only way to provide such info to law enforcement is to no longer keep the data truly secure. And the big concern is not unfettered access for law enforcement, but rather whatever this backdoor means for those with malicious intent, who will be very, very, very focused on finding these vulnerabilities and exploiting them. President Obama said earlier this year, “You cannot take an absolutist view on this.” We agree—and believe that strong data security and compliance with the justice system don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Because you don't know what you're talking about. American technology companies have done some amazing things that are the envy of the world. We think that finding a way to achieve both goals simultaneously is not beyond their capabilities. So, in the end, despite basically every cryptography expert telling them this is impossible, Burr and Feinstein come back with "NERD HARDER, NERDS!"Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 20 hours ago on techdirt
End the jingling in your pockets with the $16 Keysmart Key Organizer. It fits fourteen keys into a small space and keeps them neatly folded away until they're needed. It's made in Chicago from stainless steel and comes in black or blue. 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

Read More...
posted about 21 hours ago on techdirt
Once the DOJ told the court in San Bernardino that it had succeeded in hacking into the iPhone of Syed Farook, the big question people asked is whether or not the FBI would then tell Apple about the vulnerability. After all, the administration set up the so-called "Vulnerabilities Equities Policy" (VEP) with the idea of sharing most vulnerabilities it discovers with companies. The White House directly stated: One thing is clear: This administration takes seriously its commitment to an open and interoperable, secure and reliable Internet, and in the majority of cases, responsibly disclosing a newly discovered vulnerability is clearly in the national interest. This has been and continues to be the case. This spring, we re-invigorated our efforts to implement existing policy with respect to disclosing vulnerabilities – so that everyone can have confidence in the integrity of the process we use to make these decisions. We rely on the Internet and connected systems for much of our daily lives. Our economy would not function without them. Our ability to project power abroad would be crippled if we could not depend on them. For these reasons, disclosing vulnerabilities usually makes sense. We need these systems to be secure as much as, if not more so, than everyone else. Of course, there's a big "but" there -- and it's that there's an "exception" for law enforcement. Last fall, after (yet another) big legal fight, the good folks over at the EFF finally got access to the VEP details and you can now read a (heavily redacted) version. Still, one could make a strong case that this vulnerability should be disclosed... even if almost no one expected it to be. Amusingly, just a few days ago, Apple revealed that the FBI used the VEP to disclose a vulnerability for the very first time, on April 14th, just as everyone was arguing about this. Of course, the flaw it revealed was not about hacking into the iPhone, and was actually about a flaw that Apple had discovered and fixed... nine months ago. But, again, if this is the very first time the FBI has disclosed something to Apple, it certainly suggests that the VEP process generally means nothing gets disclosed. In fact, the timing of this really suggests that someone in the DOJ recently flipped out and realized that there's now going to be scrutiny on the VEP, so they might as well disclose something. Thus, they found an old bug that had already been patched and "revealed" it. Either way, things got stranger a couple of days later, when the FBI -- which had already admitted to paying over $1 million to access Farook's iPhone, said that, for all that money, the people it hired never explained the vulnerability. They just opened the phone. Really. “The F.B.I. purchased the method from an outside party so that we could unlock the San Bernardino device,” Amy S. Hess, executive assistant director for science and technology, said in a statement. “We did not, however, purchase the rights to technical details about how the method functions, or the nature and extent of any vulnerability upon which the method may rely in order to operate. As a result, currently we do not have enough technical information about any vulnerability that would permit any meaningful review” by the White House examiners, she said. Now, some are arguing that this suggests absolutely terrible bargaining on the side of the DOJ/FBI. But, another interpretation is that it's how the DOJ knew that it wouldn't have to reveal the flaw to Apple. Of course, this might also explain why the DOJ at one point appeared to claim that the hack in question only worked for Farook's phone. They later claimed that was a misstatement, and it really meant that it only applied to that iPhone configuration. But, if the FBI never actually got the details, then in some sense they'd be right that for the FBI the crack only worked for that one phone. And if they wanted to do it on another phone, they'd have to shell out another ~$1 million or so...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 22 hours ago on techdirt
Pissed Consumer has uncovered another apparent case of bad reputation management, this one revolving around bogus websites facilitating bogus DMCA takedowns. It previously exposed a pair of lawyers using shell companies and highly-questionable defamation lawsuits to force Google to delist negative reviews hosted around the web. These faux litigants always managed to not only find the supposed "defamers," but to also obtain a signed admission within 48 hours of the lawsuit being filed -- a process that usually takes weeks or months, especially if the alleged "defamer" utilizes anything other than their real name when posting negative reviews. In this case, the reputation management scheme involves the use of hastily-set up "news" sites that contain a blend of scraped content and negative reviews hosted at sites like Yelp, Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer. Frankfort Herald, frankfortherald.com is a newspaper website that, despite its trustworthy name, has never really existed, for all intents and purposes, before January 2016 (according to archive.org). However, this did not stop them from sending a DMCA notice to Google claiming that they were the owners of the copyrighted material from Pissed Consumer that was published back in 2012. On April 15, 2016 Pissed Consumer received a takedown notice for a review where frankfortherald.com claimed that they originally wrote the piece of news in question back on January 5, 2012. The review is about Brad Kuskin, and they claimed they had it published only 2 days prior to the article appearing on PissedConsumer.com. Here's the supposed news article Frankfort Herald claims it owns in its bogus DMCA takedown notice. The scheme is just as stupid as convicted fraudster Sean Gjerde's rep management Hail Mary: post copies of reviews or articles you want to see vanished at your own website and then issue DMCA notices claiming you own the words of others. It seldom works and tends to draw more attention to the content someone's trying to hide. (Of course, Sean Gjerde went the extra mile and tried to have the FBI's press release about his conviction delisted by Google…) That's not the only negative content masquerading as "news" at the Frankfort Herald. There's also a negative Yelp review about a Spanish language school, a Ripoff Report review of a Georgia law firm and a CBS story about an apparent scam artist who suckered parents into shelling out thousands of dollars by pretending he was scouting talent for Disney. Disney disavowed any connection to the event. All of these have been targeted by bogus takedown notices under several names linked to the definitely-not-a-local-news-site "Frankfort Herald." Whoever's behind that site has issued bogus takedown notices under the name "Heart Broadcasting" (a name that can only be found in the Frankfort Herald's site footer), "Frankfort Herald News Corp.," and "Frankfort News Corp." Perhaps most idiotically, it has co-opted the name of one of the world's biggest publishers in hopes of giving its bogus takedowns a veneer of respectability: "Hearst Media LLC." Other fake "news" sites containing a jumble of scraped content and completely unrelated negative reviews have also issued bogus takedown notices within the last 30 days. AthaNews sent one on March 25th where the sender claims the following is the result of their journalistic efforts: Bought a house from Lala Ragimov and her “Developer” Husband “Tod”. On the surface their renovatinos seem solid but there were several red flags that I now wish we listened to. 1) “The Ragimov’s” are effectively the same entity. The claim of a seperate relator vs. develoiper and the games they play about “checking with the developer” are a joke. They are husband and wife! 2) We were told our roof was new but the condition was listed as “unknown” in discolsures. We were told this is common since the roof was repaired not replaced. The building was also conviently too tall to bring an inspector with a ladder without a special fee. The result? Leaks almost immideatley! [...] Of course, the alleged infringer is none other than Ripoff Report, which shamelessly claimed this "journalist's" misspelling-laden "exposé" into a local realtor as its own. [eyeroll] AthaNews' mission statement -- found in the website's footer -- is lorem ipsum translated into English. SEI World News is doing the same thing. It issued a DMCA notice to Google on April 7th, claiming one of its "news articles" was being "copied." I am senior editor and my article is copied . Just to harm my reputation online . The article owner anonymously copied my content . Please look into this matter . Once again, Ripoff Report is home to the targeted URL. SEI World has been playing this game for several months now, targeting negative reviews at other site with bogus claims of "copied" articles. Searching Google's DMCA database using Ripoff Report as the target uncovers all sorts of "news" sites claiming negative reviews hosted elsewhere are the genuine byproduct of their journalistic endeavors. "Mass Communications Inc.?" Bogus takedown of a Ripoff Report review. Some site called "Global Girl Magazine" wants Ripoff Report to stop ripping off its "journalist's" work -- which is apparently something about a fund manager with an alleged penchant for scamming clients after taking their retainer fees, written in the first person. The same thing goes for the "Lewisburg Tribune." And so on... The clustering of DMCA notices seems to point to a single reputation management bozo pulling the strings on multiple websites like a more focused Patrick Zarrelli. On the other hand, the scattershot approach and slippery grasp of the English language exhibited in the DMCA notices may indicate this is nothing more than a bunch of Fiverr freelancers making reputation management promises they can't keep. In some cases, it appears to have worked. Several of the bogus takedowns show Google has taken action and delisted links. But those victories will only be temporary. Any challenge from a legitimate site should see these decisions swiftly reversed. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted about 24 hours ago on techdirt
Back in February the FCC voted on a new plan to open up the traditional cable box to competition. According to a fact sheet being circulated by the agency (pdf), under the FCC's plan you'd still pay your cable company for the exact same content, cable operators would simply have to design systems -- using standards and copy protection of their choice -- that delivered this content to third-party hardware. The FCC's goal is cheaper, better hardware and a shift away from the insular gatekeeper model the cable box has long protected. Given this would obliterate a $21 billion captive market in set top box rental fees -- and likely direct consumers to more third-party streaming services -- the cable industry has been engaged in an utterly adorable new hissy fit. This breathless hysteria has primarily come in the form of an endless stream of editorials -- most of which fail utterly to disclose financial ties to cable -- claiming that the FCC's plan will boost piracy, hurt privacy, "steal the future," and even harm ethnic diversity. And now, the industry's also threatening a lawsuit. As the industry argued with Title II, net neutrality, and everything else, former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Michael Powell is arguing that the FCC has once again overstepped its regulatory authority:""An agency of limited jurisdiction has to act properly within that jurisdiction," Powell said, making it abundantly clear the NCTA does not believe the FCC has not done so in this case. He said that the statute empowers the FCC to create competition in navigation devices, not new services. "Every problem does not empower an FCC-directed solution. The agency is not an agency with unbridled plenary power to roam around markets and decide to go fix inconveniences everywhere they find them irrespective of the bounds of their authority."Except unlike net neutrality, telecom policy wonks like Public Knowledge's Harold Feld (who probably spends more time wading through FCC policy and legal issues than anybody on earth) notes there's absolutely no doubt the FCC has the authority to act here:"First, it’s important to recognize that the cable folks were already in front of the D.C. Circuit three times on this issue, and lost each time. See General Instrument Corp. v. FCC, 213 F.3d 724 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Charter Communications Corp. v. FCC, 461 F.3d 31 (D.C. Cir. 2006); and Comcast Corp. v. FCC. In each of these cases, the cable industry made similar statutory arguments about the limits of FCC authority in Section 629. On each occasion, the D.C. Cir. — which was a lot more pro-business and anti-FCC back then, rejected them. Despite being 0-3 on all challenges to the FCC’s 629 rules to date, NCTA’s cadre of lawyers assures us that this time will be totally different because FCC, overreach, regulation, power mad, Title II, Google too, Leonard Bernstein Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce, and Tom Wheeler END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT!! Or something like that.So if the cable industry's lawsuit goes nowhere, its only other hope is that it can convince the public via editorials, sockpuppetry and astroturfing that the FCC's plan isn't actually about helping consumers, it's just a power-crazed attempt by "big tech" (read: Google, Amazon) to treat poor, under-appreciated cable companies unfairly. The problem with this effort, as usual, is that the cable industry remains the least liked industry in America thanks to a generation of anti-competitive behavior. Therefore the only folks likely to buy the cable industry's argument here are those with a political axe to grind (conflating government over-reach in other areas with the FCC's attempts to fix a broken telecom market), or those that tend to profit from said broken telecom and TV market. If there's any question at all about the FCC's effort, it's whether or not the agency would find its time better spent focusing its regulatory calories on shoring up broadband competition, since the rise of Internet video is inevitably destined (even though it may take another decade) to put the lame old cable box out to pasture without government intervention.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techdirt
If it's mid-spring, it means it's time for the US Trade Representative's "Special 301 Report," the annual "event" that names and shames countries who don't live up to US industries' intellectual property protection ideals. The same countries that have made the list for years still make the list, although a few have moved up a notch from the "Priority Watch" list to just the normal "Watch" list. There are lots of familiar names on the lists, including such perennial favorites as China, India, Russia and… Canada. The report offers congratulations to countries like Italy, which has managed to steer clear of the watchlists by instituting censorious IP enforcement procedures like site-blocking. And it pats other countries on the head for ceding to the USTR's IP imperialism in exchange for upgraded 301 listings. USTR has noted the willingness of two Watch List countries, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, to work with the United States on improving their IPR protection and enforcement regimes and will conduct an OCR for each country to evaluate whether specific steps taken merit their removal from the Watch List. The USTR has no interest in determining whether the US's IP laws are actually a good fit for other nations, especially those with a host of more pressing problems. All it cares about it whether they live up to the American ideal, as stated by the loudest "more-is-better" IP enforcement proponents. All in all, it's a completely ridiculous bit of paper rattling, served up annually for maximum theatricality. Sadly, many of those who have landed on the USTR's Naughty 301 list take this process far too seriously. Even at its gravest, the USTR's only real threat is that if things don't change, it will be forced to print out Country X's name under a different bold sub-header in next year's report. USTR extends the current OCR of Paraguay, which is currently on the Watch List, to provide additional time for conclusion of a bilateral IPR Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). USTR encourages Paraguay to conclude the MOU by June 30, 2015, and notes that if Paraguay does not do so, USTR will evaluate possible implications accordingly, including with respect to Paraguay’s status under Special 301. Meanwhile, the USTR wants governments with histories of human rights abuses to institute stricter IP-related policies -- one that should better aid them in achieving their censorious ends. Thailand, which has already put mass internet surveillance in place to make sure its king remains unbesmirched, is encouraged to put its police force to use to round up infringers. Pakistan, itself engaged in censorship and mass surveillance of its citizens, is told it should hand over ex officio power to law enforcement to move against infringers without having to wait around for rights holder complaints. Ecuador, which already knows a thing or two about abusing the DMCA process, is elevated to the "Priority" list for not treating other nations' IP as worthy of the same sort of censorious actions. The USTR wants Mexico to divert law enforcement resources to combating counterfeiting and piracy, as if dealing with the consequences of four decades of US drug warring wasn't enough to keep it busy. And the USTR issues demands to Venezuela, as if that dumpster fire of a government has any interest in listening to what a US representative has to say -- especially one acting on behalf of a handful of US industries. Like every year, the report is a joke. And it's not even a report -- not in the normal definition of the word. There's no independent action by the USTR to investigate IP laws and violations elsewhere in the world. Instead, it relies on submissions from entities like the MPAA and BSA and writes their accusations up as a "report" on the state of IP protections elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, there aren't enough countries in on the joke. Canada, for one, at least issues nothing more than an eye roll in response to being listed as one of the world's top offenders, despite having IP laws at least as stringent as the United States'. And there's something both surreal and ugly about a process that includes the executive vice president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association -- whose members depend heavily on cheap foreign labor -- complaining that other countries aren't doing enough to prevent citizens from purchasing affordable knockoffs of the same clothes they're making for US companies, but can't actually afford to buy. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Back in 2014, Techdirt noted that arguably the most serious problem with corporate sovereignty was not the huge awards that could be imposed on countries, but the chilling effect the mere threat of those awards could have on national sovereignty. In that post, we quoted from a remarkable 2001 article in The Nation. A former Canadian government official in Ottawa revealed that numerous proposals for new environmental regulations had been dropped in the face of threats that NAFTA's investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) framework would be used against Canada if it brought in new laws. The Techdirt post also mentioned a case in Indonesia, where a mining company dropped a corporate sovereignty case when it was offered "special exemptions" from a new mining law. More recently, we've seen New Zealand put on hold its plans to require plain packaging for cigarettes, as a result of Philip Morris bringing an ISDS claim against the Australian government for doing the same. The New Zealand government was concerned it too might get hit, and so decided to wait. Now that the Australian case has been thrown out, New Zealand is pressing ahead with its plain packs legislation. The chilling effects of corporate sovereignty are now so well established that companies are even beginning to cite them as a reason for including it in trade deals. The minutes of a meeting that took place between European Commission officials, and Chevron executives, obtained by The Guardian, make that plain: "ISDS has only been used once by Chevron, in its litigation against Ecuador," say the minutes of a meeting in April 2014 between unnamed Chevron executives and European commission officials, which the Guardian obtained under access to documents laws. "Yet, Chevron argues that the mere existence of ISDS is important as it acts as a deterrent." Chevron is talking about the multi-billion dollar award made against Ecuador in one of the longest-running and most complex disputes involving corporate sovereignty. When contacted by The Guardian, Chevron repeated its claim that ISDS was a really great weapon to wield against countries, although naturally it expressed that view in somewhat different language: ISDS serves a useful function of encouraging investors and host states to negotiate in good faith in order to avoid escalation of disagreements that occasionally arise. Aside from confirming people's worst fears about the chilling effects of corporate sovereignty, Chevron's candid admission that it wants ISDS in TAFTA/TTIP as a "deterrent" reveals something else. It shows that corporations not only demand a unique privilege to circumvent national legal systems using secret tribunals composed of corporate lawyers, but are now trying to craft yet another "right": to deploy routinely the mere threat of ISDS as a "deterrent" to government action. Or, as you and I would put it, the right to engage in raw, brutal bullying on a global scale. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Hoverboards of various designs have captured the imagination of kids for quite some time. Mobility devices like the Segway were supposed to revolutionize transportation and city planning, perhaps replacing cars with somewhat ridiculous 2-wheeled vehicles. Maybe someday self-balancing mobility devices won't be some kind of joke. We might have to wait until all the patents expire, though. The popularity of a hoverboard has died down a bit, but is there any real innovation in these personal mobility devices? A patent for one of these hoverboards got some attention from Mark Cuban, but it looks like Cuban might be planning to make a different kind of hoverboard with its own silly patent. [url] If you can't be bothered to stand on a 2-wheeled hoverboard, maybe you should get an attachment that turns a hoverboard into a 4 wheeled cart that you can sit on. The HoverCart or HoverSeat doesn't look like anything you couldn't slap together after a trip to any hardware store (however, it's patent pending...), but it's a novelty attachment for your novelty hoverboard -- and it won't catch on fire by itself. [url] Could riding a pogo stick become an extreme sport -- or a strange form of personal transportation? Who needs wheels at all when a pogo stick can launch you several feet in the air.... [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

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Since its launch, Windows 10 has received its fair share of criticism, mostly revolving around the very valid privacy concerns that the megalithic company has chosen to shrug off as mere noise from the peanut gallery. Now, I have more than one machine at home, and I have upgraded some of them and have chosen not to upgrade others. Because of this, I am victim of Microsoft's quite regular insistence that I upgrade everything I own to Windows 10, which presents itself in the form of a popup. This popup tells me that Microsoft thinks it knows what I should do better than I do and offers me two glorious options: upgrade to 10 immediately or schedule the upgrade to run at a different time in the future. Closing the popup satisfies it...for a while. Then it pops up again, because there's no option to tell Microsoft to boil its new operating system in water and screw off. But what's a minor annoyance for me can be something altogether different for others. Say, for instance, a live newscast just trying to give its viewers the weather. Yes, the annoyance that is this popup gets the spotlight treatment on live television, successfully sending the weather forecast askew as it interrupts the broadcast. Is it a funny little occurrence? You betcha. Does meteorologist Metinka Slater deal with the whole thing in stride? Mostly, I guess. But it's the obviously planned lack of options Microsoft's request presents that should piss people off here. As always the annoying window offered two choices — ‘Upgrade now’, or ‘Start download, upgrade later’. Slater wisely chose neither option and switched to another video source instead. The point is that Microsoft's bull-headed attempt to push its latest operating system on the public wouldn't be so blatant if it simply allowed people, including newsrooms, to shut it the hell up. But that truly is probably asking too much. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techdirt
You should know by now that YouTube's ContentID system is a horrible mess. This system, which allows purported intellectual property owners to claim other people's uploads as containing their content, and then allowing those purported owners to either take the videos down or monetize them for themselves, is so rife with abuse, trolls, and mistakes that it's a wonder anyone at any point thought this was an idea that could work. Lost in all of this bowing towards intellectual property owners has bred some creative methods for getting around ContentID abuse, but it's still a problem. A problem particularly challenging in the video game reviews space on YouTube, where entirely too many game studios think that using ContentID to flag game reviews is a practice worth repeating. But one game reviewer, Jim Sterling, decided to test out a way to keep his videos advertising-free. The method? Include all kinds of previously flagged content in his new videos from different IP owners and set them all into a ContentID war with one another. Earlier this week, game critic Jim Sterling uploaded an episode of his Jimquisition series, where he skewers the recently released Wii U game Star Fox Zero. The entire episode is worth a watch based on Sterling's well-reasoned arguments. But the thing that really sets it apart is a revelation near the end of the video, where Sterling explains why he makes such ample use of footage that is completely unrelated to what he actually discusses throughout the video. "You may have noticed this week's video had footage from Metal Gear Solid V, Grand Theft Auto V, and Beyond: Two Souls in it," Sterling said. "Now, there's a reason for that. The reason is Nintendo. Because I'm talking about a Nintendo game this week, I've used Nintendo game footage, and that means Nintendo will attempt to monetize this video even though the point of the Jimquisition is to be ad-free, thanks to your lovely help on Patreon." But by including game footage that had been previously flagged through ContentID by other studios, particularly studios known to not try to monetize game reviews, he created a ContentID race between the different studios. The result? "I can confirm it works," Jim Sterling said over email. "It's worked several times before. WMG tried to monetize the video for the Erasure music, but couldn't because Nintendo and Take-Two had set their ContentID in this particular case to Not Monetized." It's like beating cancer by contracting herpes and having the herpes eat the cancer... or something like that. Look, I didn't go to medical school, alright? The loophole in the ContentID system is that it's not like all kinds of people can flag a video for monetization. It appears to be a first-to-flag-wins sort of scenario. So, just include some completely unrelated footage from a studio that is known to flag reviews as "Not Monetized" and the content remains ad-free. It's clever, to be sure, but some of us long for the day when such workarounds aren't needed just to produce a simple video game review. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 1 day ago on techdirt
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. In last week's Reading List post, we highlighted William Patry's Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, in which he laid out a strong case for just how badly the debate on copyright has been warped by legacy industry forces creating bogus analogies. One of the complaints some leveled at that book was that it only discussed the problems, rather than offering any solutions. Of course, that wasn't the point of the book. Nevertheless, Patry was then convinced to write a follow up book How to Fix Copyright, in order to respond to those critics (most of whom will never be satisfied). Once again, the book is an excellent read. It is not -- as some believed -- an entire book dedicated to discussing possible solutions. Instead, it again spends a lot of time making sure people really understand how messed up copyright law has become, and then towards the end proposes a few, relatively simple, solutions (which, frankly, may not go far enough). It talks about things like bringing back formalities (i.e., make copyright opt-in again) and shortening copyright terms. Since it appears that Congress is really moving forward with copyright reform, it's definitely worth reading Patry's book again, and seeing if Congress goes anywhere near implementing his suggestions. My guess: not a chance.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Undeniably, Prince’s death last week marked the loss of a true musical genius and maverick. In his life, he was known for being talented musical innovator with flamboyant clothes and a contrarian streak. He was adept at a range of instruments, as well as in multiple genres of music including funk, jazz, pop, rock, and R&B. As broadly gifted an artist as he was, Prince never quite found the right approach when it came to licensing his music for distribution -- in spite of the fact that sold over 100 million records, placing him among the best-selling artists of all-time. He won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and seven Grammys, among other accolades. His massive discography includes 50 albums, 104 singles, 136 music videos, among other creative works. And yet his fans were left in the odd position, on the news of his death, of being frequently unable to provide links to Prince’s massive oeuvre. Like David Bowie, who died only a few months earlier this year, Prince was constantly reinventing himself throughout his career. But one key reason for his reinvention -- at different times, he was known by “Prince,” “Jamie Starr,” an unpronounceable glyph, and perhaps most notoriously, as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” -- was his unhappiness with his record labels, and later with digital/Internet distribution. And even now, if you’re looking to listen to your favorite Prince tracks on popular digital music services like Spotify or Apple Music, you’re out of luck. While you can find some live performances on YouTube, and a couple exceptions like his single “Stare” on Spotify, the streaming rights to his music are licensed exclusively through Tidal -- a niche subscription-only service owned by Jay Z. You can see why Prince may have been attracted to Tidal as a service. Since its launch in late 2014, a number of major artists have embraced it, offering exclusive releases and touting the service’s better deal for artists. Indeed, Tidal purports to “pay the highest percentage of royalties to artists, songwriters and producers of any music streaming service.” But it’s hard to see how it would make business sense to exclusively license with them, as Prince did. For one thing, it’s not entirely clear that Tidal’s rates are that much better than Spotify. Respectively, they each claim to pay out 75% and 70% of their revenues to rights holders. Yet, Tidal has also claimed that they pay out four times Spotify’s royalty rate. Vania Schlogel, then executive at Tidal, clarified their rates in an interview for the Hollywood Reporter There was some confusion on the Internet about whether “royalty rate” was a percentage of Tidal’s total revenue. According to Schlogel, it is. The industry standard royalty rate, she says, is 70% (roughly 60% to record labels, roughly 10% to artists via publishers). Tidal pays 62.5% and 12.5% (which equals the 75% Jay Z is referring to). This makes their base royalty rate going to artists 25% higher than Spotify. But Tidal also has about 45% of their subscribers on a $19.99 per month premium tier. This would make the share of revenue going to artists around 80% higher. That’s a lot more! Artists should all be switching to exclusive deals with them, right? Well...not so fast. Spotify alone has 30 million paying subscribers. 100 million if you include ad-supported free tier listeners. Apple Music has another 11 million paid subscribers. Compare that with Tidal’s relatively paltry 3 million. Not to mention commercial distribution to YouTube’s 1 billion active users, or the dozen other streaming services out there. Assuming those subscribers have comparable activity profiles, it wouldn’t make business sense even if they paid ten times the royalty rate -- at which point it would be more than total revenue. Although, artists can do whatever they want. It’s a free market (sort of). But for Prince, his embrace of Tidal may not have been just about royalty rates. Rather, it may have been a reflection of his proclivity to assert tight control of his brand. As Vox’s Constance Grade writes: It's classic Prince: Tidal is the best program not only because it pays better, but because it gives him the most control over his music and his persona. And Prince never let someone else control his persona if he could help it. This was fully consistent with the character of a man who preferred to play small, intimate venues even when he could have been selling-out stadiums. But making music less accessible poses serious challenges for artists and consumers alike. For one thing, as English singer/songwriter Lily Allen explains, it will reinvigorate incentives for piracy (notably, she has also had an interesting relationship with Techdirt): I love Jay Z so much, but Tidal is (so) expensive compared to other perfectly good streaming services, he's taken the biggest artists ... Made them exclusive to Tidal (am I right in thinking this?), people are going to swarm back to pirate sites in droves ... Sending traffic to torrent sites. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Kanye West decided to release his album The Life of Pablo exclusively on Tidal, it was pirated over 500,000 times in its first day alone -- drawing fire for reinvigorating online music piracy. A recent study by Columbia University (among other research including the Copia Institute’s “The Carrot Or The Stick?”) confirms that providing access to good legal alternatives is effective at reducing online piracy -- particularly among young people. To take another example, the rise of Spotify in Sweden was followed by a major decline in music sharing on the Pirate Bay. According to Copia’s study, “a similar move was not seen in the file sharing of TV shows and movies...until Netflix opened its doors in Sweden.” During his career, Prince also flirted with various album release strategies, and explored ways to cut out the middleman by going fully independent. Price’s strategy was visionary, but ahead of its time. A solution that’s just now coming of age is blockchain-driven smart contracts for digital music consumption. If they catch on, they could cut out the middleman and transparently distribute revenues directly to artists behind a given work, according to pre-arranged terms. Prototype service Ujo is already doing it with artist Imogen Heap’s single “Tiny Human.” So, in actuality, perhaps Jay Z should be more worried about blockchain than Spotify. Indeed, as streaming becomes the dominant revenue source in the music market, and consumers continue to shift away from physical media and digital downloads, the pressure from artists will only increase as they seek more transparency, and a stronger ability to renegotiate their share of revenues from all sides (but particularly from labels). On Twitter, Allen echoed this sentiment, writing that rather than demonizing streaming services, artists should look towards the hefty cut of revenue taken by labels: For Prince, online streaming services were just the latest challenge in his complex relationship engaging with evolving digital markets. Like Bowie, Prince was a digital pioneer -- among the first to embrace the Internet’s potential to create a direct relationship with his fans. In 2001, he opened one of the first music subscription services, NPG Music Club, which was open for 5 years. In 2009, this was succeeded by lotusflow3r.com. As the Wall Street Journal describes it: LotusFlow3r.com, resembled a galactic aquarium, featuring doodads like a rotating orb that played videos. The promise: fans who ponied up $77 for a year-long membership would receive the three new albums, plus an ensuing flow of exclusive content, like unreleased tracks and archival videos. It was also met with a mixed reception, and a year after its launch, it went dark. Ultimately, as the Internet came of age, Prince met it with increasing resistance. Likely, he saw his ability to assert control slipping away. He wasn’t a fan of people repurposing his work in the analog era, so why should we expect him to embrace a digital one -- where it’s far easier to remix, edit, dub and repurpose? As Mike Masnick explains, Prince became a militant enforcer of his intellectual property, who played fast and loose with the law in his litigiousness: He's also gone legal a bunch of times, suing a bunch of websites, threatening fan sites for posting photos and album covers on their sites, suing musicians for creating a tribute album for his birthday, issuing DMCA takedowns for videos that have his barely audible music playing in the background and 6-second Vine clips that are clearly fair use. At one point, he even declared that the Internet is a fad, rebelling against a model that wouldn’t work on his terms: The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it. (At this point he could have styled himself “The Prince of Denial.” He even deleted his Facebook and Twitter accounts.) Famously, Prince, via Universal Music, was behind the “dancing baby” DMCA lawsuit, which featured Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” playing faintly in the background of a short clip as a toddler danced. Ultimately our friends at EFF, who were representing defendant Stephanie Lenz, prevailed on their fair use claim. In 2013, EFF awarded him their “Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award” for “extraordinary abuses of the takedown process in the name of silencing speech.” Despite all the digital-copyright agitation Prince managed to generate in the steps he took to express his unhappiness with Internet distribution channels -- and despite his insistence, it doesn’t seem as if the Internet is “over” quite yet -- he will of course be remembered primarily for his genius as a songwriter, performer, and producer. And, also, as a visionary. Although he passed away just before the rise of virtual reality and mixed reality technologies, one can only imagine him as someone who would have embraced it. Even if imperfectly. Ironically, given his virtuosity and lasting impact on pop music, limiting his digital distribution, and the ability of his fans to find new creative uses for his work, makes it orders of magnitude more difficult for fans to bring his music to new generations of listeners, who may never know what all the fuss about Prince was about. And that’s a shame. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
The FBI recently spent more than $1 million for assistance in decrypting a device's contents. It may have overpaid. Alternatives exist, whether it's a $5 wrench or indefinite imprisonment for not helping the government with its prosecution efforts. A Philadelphia man suspected of possessing child pornography has been in jail for seven months and counting after being found in contempt of a court order demanding that he decrypt two password-protected hard drives. The suspect, a former Philadelphia Police Department sergeant, has not been charged with any child porn crimes. Instead, he remains indefinitely imprisoned in Philadelphia's Federal Detention Center for refusing to unlock two drives encrypted with Apple's FileVault software in a case that once again highlights the extent to which the authorities are going to crack encrypted devices. The man is to remain jailed "until such time that he fully complies" with the decryption order. The Fifth Amendment should prevent the government from punishing a person for not testifying against themselves, which is what's being argued by the defendant's representation in its appeal to the Third Circuit. (Although it's actually indirect representation. The government's case is actually against Doe's devices ["United States of America v. Apple MacPro Computer, et al"] and his lawyer is hoping for a stay of the contempt order during the appeal process.) Mr. Doe… has a strong likelihood of success on the second issue: whether compelling the target of a criminal investigation to recall and divulge an encryption passcode transgresses the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Supreme Court precedent already instructs that a suspect may not be compelled to disclose the sequence of numbers that will open a combination lock — clearly auguring the same rule for any compelled disclosure of the sequence of characters constituting an encryption passcode. Doe's rep also argues that the All Writs order obtained by the government has no jurisdiction over Doe or his devices. Mr. Doe’s first claim is that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The claim stems from the government’s apparently unprecedented use of an unusual procedural vehicle to attempt to compel a suspect to give evidence in advance of potential criminal charges. Specifically, the government took resort not to a grand jury, but to a magistrate judge pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. (Ex. F at 1). It is black letter law that the All Writs Act never supplies “any federal subject-matter jurisdiction in its own right[.]” Sygenta Crop Protection, Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 31 (2002) (citation omitted). It is equally well-settled that the Act has no application where other provisions of law specifically address the subject matter concerned. Pennsylvania Bureau of Correction v. United States Marshals Service, 474 U.S. 34, 40-42 (1985). The compelled production of evidence in advance of criminal charges is specifically addressed by Rules 6 and 17 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which authorize the issuance and enforcement of grand jury subpoenas; and by 28 U.S.C. § 1826(a), which specifies the authorized penalties for a witness who refuses without good cause to give the evidence demanded by the grand jury. As it stands now, Doe is still being held in contempt of court for refusing to decrypt his devices for investigators. The district court that held him in contempt has refused direct appeal of that order, resulting in the labyrinthine legal strategy of using the government's case against Doe's devices as a vehicle for challenging the lower court's contempt order. Doe has not been charged, yet he's in prison. Backing up the government's assertions for holding him in contempt are two dubious pieces of hearsay. One is from his estranged sister, who claims to have seen child porn on Doe's computer, but can't actually say whether it was located on the devices the government is seeking to have decrypted. The other is from some sort of law enforcement encryption whisperer, who can apparently see things in the scrambled bits. The government’s second witness was Detective Christopher Tankelewicz, a forensic examiner with the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office. He testified only that it was his “best guess” child pornography would be found on the hard drives. (Ex. J at 346). According to Tankelewicz’s understanding of the Freenet online network (in which he admits having no training), there were signs on an Apple Mac Pro computer seized with the hard drives of a user accessing or trying to access message boards with names suggestive of child pornography. (Ex. J at 306, 311-312, 339-340). In rather ambiguous testimony, Tankelewicz did not appear to say this meant any image traded over these boards was on the hard drives. (See Ex. J at 303-317, 336-340, 345-350). Instead, he identified a single image he believed there to be a “possibility” was on the drives. (Ex. J at 308-309). As he described it, the image was of “a four or five-year-old girl with her dress lifted up, but the image itself was small so you really couldn’t see what was going on with the image.” (Ex. J at 308). No one wants to see a sex offender walk away from charges, but at this point, Doe hasn't even been officially charged with anything more than contempt. The problem with that charge is it has no end date. He can either stay in jail or comply with the order, even when the order conjures jurisdiction out of nowhere and violates his Fifth Amendment rights. If the government doesn't have enough evidence to pursue a case against Doe, it should cut him loose until it does. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Learn how to take truly great photos with the $29 Adobe Digital Photography Training Bundle. The first course will teach you all about your camera, how to frame shots, how light affects your compositions, and more. After that, the other three courses cover how to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and introduce you to concepts in graphic design. 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

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
The Wall Street Journal has been a reliably pro-surveillance voice over the years, calling Snowden a "sociopath" while calling for even less NSA oversight, making up bizarre conspiracy theories, and fighting back against any surveillance reform. It even once argued that the tech industry should put backdoors into its encryption to better help the surveillance state. That's what makes its recent editorial, The Encryption Farce (possibly behind a paywall, though the version I just opened showed up fine), so remarkable. It completely bashes the FBI over its attempts to force Apple to build a backdoor into its encryption -- though mainly because of the ridiculous fact that in the two most high profile cases, the DOJ magically got into the phones just as the cases got serious. The WSJ editorial doesn't pull any punches, asking what the hell is going on at the Justice Department: If history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, what does the FBI have in store next for its encryption war with Apple? After withdrawing its demands in San Bernardino and then reopening hostilities with a drug prosecution in Brooklyn, the G-men abruptly dumped the second case over the weekend too. Is anyone in charge at the Justice Department, or are junior prosecutors running the joint? The editorial goes on to mock the FBI's claim that these cases are all about getting into just that phone, and notes that constantly finding ways in at the last minute are destroying the FBI's credibility. This second immaculate conception in as many months further undermines the FBI’s credibility about its technological capabilities. Judges ought to exercise far more scrutiny in future decryption cases even as Mr. Comey continues to pose as helpless. It goes on to suggest that the FBI stop bringing these cases, and that the President and the DOJ should put an end to this ridiculous attack on encryption: Yet forgive us if this “conversation” now seems more like a Jim Comey monologue. The debate might start to be productive if the FBI Director would stop trying to use the courts as an ad hoc policy tool and promised not to bring any more cases like the one in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the White House has taken the profile-in-courage stand of refusing to endorse or oppose any encryption bill that Congress may propose. If the Obama team won’t start adjusting to the technological realities of strong and legal encryption, they could at least exercise some adult supervision at Main Justice. On its own, such an editorial might not seem like a huge deal, but coming from the Wall Street Journal -- a source that has previously championed much greater surveillance and even supported backdoors -- it's a surprising shift. And it shows just how badly the DOJ and FBI miscalculated in their attempts to use the courts to get their desired results in breaking encryption.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this month, the Fifth Circuit appeals court tossed out the lawsuit that Google had filed against Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, following Hood's decision to send a subpoena that was written by the MPAA's lawyers, as part of a plan by the MPAA to pay money to get state Attorneys General to attack Google. While some in the legacy copyright world painted the ruling in the Fifth Circuit as a "victory" for Jim Hood, and a loss for Google, anyone reading the details would recognize it was anything but that. The court made it pretty clear that Hood's subpoena was ridiculous and had no chance of surviving a judicial review... but dumped the case on a procedural issue, arguing that since Jim Hood had not yet taken any action concerning Google's unwillingness to respond to parts of the subpoena, there was nothing to dispute. Basically, the court said "wait until Hood actually tries to force you to do something... and then we'll tell him his subpoena is bogus." Google has now asked the appeals court to reconsider throwing out the case, but also reveals an interesting tidbit in the footnotes: it appears that after the ruling, Hood withdrew the entire subpoena: If you can't read that, it says: By letter of April 22, 2016, Hood withdrew the subpoena that Google had challenged. That should be a pretty clear indication that this wasn't the victory some of the MPAA/Hood supporters have been claiming. Of course, Google does think it's entirely possible that Hood will issue an updated subpoena, which is part of the reason that it's asking the court to review the ruling. In a later footnote it points out that along with the withdrawal letter, Hood did warn them that the letter requiring Google to retain documents for possible litigation "remains in effect." As for the meat of Google's petition, the company argues that the court was wrong to dump the entire lawsuit, pointing out that there were two claims in the original filing -- one for injunctive relief (i.e., blocking Hood from doing anything with the subpoena) and one for declaratory judgment (basically saying that the company was doing nothing wrong). The company says that the ruling tossing the lawsuit just referred to the injunctive relief question, not the declaratory judgment -- and further makes the argument that there was a real risk of Hood pursuing unconstitutional measures, meaning that a lawsuit for declaratory judgment is perfectly reasonable. The panel directed the district court to dismiss the entire case as unripe because Google had not shown an “imminent threat of irreparable injury.” ... But that standard does not apply to Google’s claims for declaratory relief regarding threatened enforcement action. Under settled law, such claims “need cross only a low threshold; the Supreme Court requires no more than a ‘credible threat of prosecution,’ one that is not ‘chimerical,’ or ‘imaginary or speculative.’” .... Google met that standard. Accordingly, Google requests that the panel amend its decision to permit Google’s claims for declaratory relief regarding threatened enforcement action to proceed. Of course, it's also possible that the court may argue that even if that's true, the whole thing is moot now that Hood has withdrawn the subpoena. Google tries to address that as well, but I'm not convinced the court will buy it. In addition to identifying specific conduct he deemed unlawful, Hood took concrete steps that reinforced the peril Google faces. He wrote the company’s outside counsel requesting that Google “preserve potentially relevant information that may be used as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.”... Hood gave a presentation to fellow attorneys general that detailed Google’s alleged wrongdoing, explained the elements of “Possible Causes of Action,” and offered theories to overcome Google’s anticipated defenses. It's in this section that Google includes the footnote noting that Hood told the company that the preservation letter was still in effect, suggesting that he may still intend to go after Google. Still, it looks like all the MPAA got for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it threw at this was making Mississippi's Attorney General look foolish, and showing just how far the MPAA will go to try to attack Google, rather than adapt to the internet.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
After taking a PR beating for several years on the matter, Comcast has announced that it's significantly bumping the company's usage caps. Since 2013 Comcast has been conducting a "trial" in many of the company's less competitive markets, capping usage at 300 GB per month, then charging users either $10 per each additional 50 gigabytes, or providing users the option of paying $30 to $35 per month extra to avoid the cap entirely. But according to a new blog post by the cable giant, the company will be bumping that usage allotment to one terabyte per month starting June 1. Users will still need to pay $10 per each additional 50 gigabytes of data consumed should they go over the cap. And they still have the option of paying a penalty should they want to avoid usage caps entirely, though Comcast has bumped the price of such an option to an additional $50 per month. Comcast's quick to insist that the terabyte cap is so generous, few consumers will ever find themselves running into the limit:"A terabyte is an enormous amount of data. It’s far more than most of our customers will ever use in a month. Today, more than 99 percent of our customers do not come close to using a terabyte. Our typical customer uses only about 60 gigabytes of data in a month – that’s far less than a terabyte (in fact, 940 gigabytes less), or less than six percent of a terabyte."Of course, while that's true today, that doesn't mean it will be true tomorrow. And while the increase is certainly welcome, that doesn't change the fact that usage caps on fixed-line networks still aren't necessary. As we've repeatedly noted, Comcast's cost to provide broadband service remain fixed or in decline, and the company's own support documents and engineers have suggested the caps have nothing to do with congestion or network necessity. That's because they have everything to do with protecting TV revenues from Internet video competitors. While Comcast's announcement implies Comcast is graciously responding to consumer feedback, the origins of the company's decision lie elsewhere. With the FCC imposing a seven year ban on usage caps as a Charter merger condition this week, many believe the FCC is signaling it intends to finally crack down on usage caps. The agency has tap-danced around the issue for years, but with a growing number of companies exploring the option -- and a growing number of companies (including Comcast and Verizon) exempting their own content from such caps, pressure has mounted steadily on the FCC to wake up from its regulatory coma on the subject. If that's to happen, it will likely happen after the industry's lawsuit against the agency over net neutrality is settled. Comcast's also responding to the fact that AT&T is planning to impose its own usage caps starting May 23. AT&T plans to begin imposing usage caps ranging from 300 GB to 1 terabyte, and, like Comcast, charge $10 per each additional 50 GB consumed. Also, like Comcast, AT&T intends to begin charging customers a $30 premium should they want to avoid the charges, effectively charging customers significantly more money for the same service they had yesterday. Comcast bumping its cap to more closely match AT&T's is the U.S. broadband market's rather twisted version of competition. It seems likely that some news outlets will frame what Comcast's doing as "generous." And while a definite improvement, it shouldn't overshadow the fact that these caps are little more than glorified price hikes on uncompetitive broadband markets, and an anti-competitive weapon against the threat of Internet video disruption.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Blizzard, maker of World of Warcraft, has a long and dubious history when it comes to trying to twist intellectual property laws and requirements to be whatever they want it to be at the time. These instances have mostly revolved around using copyright in an attempt to stop people who use cheat-bots to play the company's games, as well as those who make the bots. The actual tactics Blizzard uses in those cases, which chiefly revolve around twisting copyright into knots as never intended, can get lost because of the hatred most players have for those who game the gaming system. But it's a different story when it comes to Nostalrius, which was the name for fan-servers offering up a "vanilla" version of World of Warcraft to gamers who wanted to play the game without any of the expansion packs that Blizzard has released. Serving thousands of individual gamers, Blizzard decided the fan-server was a threat to its business and used trademark law to threaten those running it into shutting the whole thing down. Smart or not, Blizzard was within its rights to do this. Its explanation as to why, however, is absolutely dripping with bullshit and needs to be called out. We'll start with the now common refrain the company offered as to why it shut down the server, responding to public backlash for having done so. Why not just let Nostalrius continue the way it was? The honest answer is, failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard’s rights. This applies to anything that uses WoW’s IP, including unofficial servers. And while we’ve looked into the possibility – there is not a clear legal path to protect Blizzard’s IP and grant an operating license to a pirate server. It's difficult to see how this could possibly be true. Policing the trademark is indeed a requirement within trademark laws generally, but policing doesn't offer a dichotomy between choosing to give up the mark or shutting the fan server down. There are other avenues that could have been explored, such as granting an inexpensive license to Nostalrius, which would allow them to continue as an official arm of Blizzard's IP. That satisfies the requirement and doesn't result in pissing off thousands of Blizzard fans. Keep in mind that Blizzard itself does not offer a similar vanilla version of WoW such as this. Working with the folks behind Nostalrius, it could have claimed to have done so through a third party. Problem solved. Why is it that those that use intellectual property so heavily, assets which are often designed to spur creativity, are the least creative when it comes to how to enforce that intellectual property? As for why Blizzard doesn't just offer up a similar service for gamers? Well: We explored options for developing classic servers and none could be executed without great difficulty. If we could push a button and all of this would be created, we would. However, there are tremendous operational challenges to integrating classic servers, not to mention the ongoing support of multiple live versions for every aspect of WoW. So, Blizzard, a rather large company, couldn't figure out how to accomplish what a single fan server did? Please. And even if that were indeed true, why again not simply utilize what Nostalrius had already built and license it so that it was kosher? Why instead bring the legal hammer down and force the whole thing into shutdowns-ville? Blizzard says they're in talks with the folks behind the fan server now that it's been shut down, but there was no reason to shut it down in the first place, aside from the misguided belief that pissing of your fans will get them to give you more money. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...