posted less than an hour ago on techdirt
Remember, to hear the MPAA tell it, piracy is really killing the movie industry. It's been whining about piracy for basically my entire lifetime, and constantly predicting its own demise if "something" is not done. And, despite the fact that Congress has < a href="https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120215/04241517766/how-much-is-enough-weve-passed-15-anti-piracy-laws-last-30-years.shtml">repeatedly obliged Hollywood in ratcheting up copyright anti-piracy laws and despite the fact that the MPAA has been clearly wrong repeatedly (such that the new technologies it feared actually helped expand Hollywood's business), the studios continue to push for awful changes to copyright law, citing the horrors of piracy. And yet... now it's coming out that Disney not only had a good year last year, it had the best year ever for a movie studio. Not surprisingly, Disney put out its own glowing press release over this: Today, The Walt Disney Studios will become the first studio ever to reach the $7 billion threshold at the global box office, setting a new industry record. With a powerful $290 million global debut for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Disney's year-to-date grosses are $6,988.3 million from Jan. 1 through Dec. 18, 2016, including $2,700.4 million domestically, also an industry record, and $4,287.9 million internationally, a Disney record. These phenomenal box office results are driven by films from Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm, representing the first time that all five of these world-class brands have released films in the same calendar year. "This historic achievement is possible because all of our film studios are bringing their absolute best to the table, telling great stories of all kinds that resonate with audiences across borders, gender, and generations," said Alan Horn, Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios. "These films work because each one has not only something for everyone, but everything for someone. It's our honor to be able to create these experiences for audiences, and we're thankful to them for continuing to come out to the theater with us. Indeed. Making great movies and making them accessible for people to watch is a great business strategy. Freaking out about a small group of people seeing infringing copies of the movie? Perhaps not so much. Either way, it's amusing to see how the studio's own PR drastically undermines the doom and gloom stories from the MPAA and Hollywood's other lobbyists about how dire the situation is. Maybe copyright infringement isn't such a big problem when you actually focus on making a quality product that people want. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 3 hours ago on techdirt
By now, most Techdirt readers realize that far too many members of Congress don't so much have thoughts about technology policy, as they do bulleted mental lists of talking points provided by a lobbyist happy to do their thinking for them. That has been particularly true when it comes to telecom policy over the last few months, especially the GOP's ham-fisted attack on popular consumer broadband privacy protections and the telecom sector's self-serving frontal assault on net neutrality. Over the last few weeks, as the FCC was preparing to begin dismantling net neutrality rules, House lawmakers received an email from GOP leadership educating them on how to best defend the agency's extremely unpopular decision. Included in that e-mail was an attached list of talking points (pdf) making all manner of disengenous claims about the net neutrality debate: "Want more information on the net neutrality discussion?” wrote Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference. "Here is a nifty toolkit with news resources, myth vs reality information, what others are saying, and free market comments." Usually, Congress members cover their tracks well enough to obfuscate the fact they let lobbyists and campaign contributions do the thinking for them. But the Intercept noticed that metadata attached to the talking points clearly indicate they originated with the cable industry's biggest lobbying organization, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA): "The metadata of the document shows it was created by Kerry Landon, the assistant director of industry grassroots at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter, and other cable industry companies. The document was shared with House Republican leaders via “Broadband for America,” a nonprofit largely funded by the NCTA." As such, you'll surely be shocked to learn that many of the talking points included in the packet weren't remotely true, including one claiming net neutrality is somehow "anti-consumer," another regurgitating the repeatedly-debunked claim that net neutrality killed network investment, and several repeating the industry's favorite claim that net neutrality protections aren't necessary, because the broadband industry never does anything wrong: "These “Title II” regulations, rammed through the FCC by the Obama White House, were based on a hypothetical fear of broadband providers blocking certain websites or putting competitors in slow lanes. But despite ten years of the left stoking those hypothetical fears, they never materialized. Why? Because it is not in the interest of broadband providers to degrade the experience of their customers, especially when watching video or streaming services. The broadband providers would lose customers to their competitors if they ever attempted to block content." Here on planet Earth, we've watched as large ISPs used usage caps to hurt streaming competitors, block users from using certain services unless they pay for more expensive data plans, intentionally congest their networks to drive up interconnection costs, throttle entire classifications of traffic then lie about it, and even group up to block competing mobile apps and services they didn't want to compete with. Anybody that thinks it's hyperbole to state that ISPs will use their size, leverage and the lack of broadband competition to engage in a rotating crop of anti-competitive behaviors simply has not been paying attention. And again, while it's still unsurprising to see lawmakers mindlessly parrot whatever giant telecom conglomerates tell them to, that doesn't make it any less grotesque. Combine that with the bot that's spamming the FCC with bogus support for the FCC's unpopular policies and the coordinated effort to make net neutrality supporters appear racist and unhinged, and you may begin to notice that the companies pushing this latest anti-consumer agenda aren't particularly concerned about integrity or playing fair. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 6 hours ago on techdirt
People in Australia have been asking for the introduction of fair use as part of a broader copyright reform for a long time. Techdirt first wrote about it four years ago, then again last year, when the Australian Law Reform Commission produced one of the best reports ever written on the topic by a government body. Amazingly, most of its ideas, including a call for fair use, survived in the final version of that document, which appeared at the beginning of this year. However, it turns out that those are just a few of the six Australian government reports which have recommended adopting fair use for copyright in Australia. That emerges from a new entry on the English-language Wikipedia, called "History of fair use proposals in Australia". Its appearance is not simply down to some random urge to wiki: it's part of a new campaign by Wikipedians in Australia to put pressure on the government there to bring in fair use after so many official calls to do so. A post on the Wikimedia blog explains the current copyright situation in Australia: all copying requires permission unless you are only using an insubstantial part of a copyrighted work (which is typically very hard to judge), or the Copyright Act provides a specific exception. The most important exceptions, the fair dealing exceptions, cover research, study, criticism, review, parody, satire, reporting the news, and professional advice as long as the use is "fair". Any use not for one of these purposes will be illegal, no matter how fair or reasonable it is, unless the government introduces a specific exception for it. The post also points out ways in which Australia suffers as a result of the lack of fair use, for example: Australian schools end up paying millions of dollars each year to use publicly accessible online content on websites that you use at home for free. No one is asking to be paid for using these websites, and the money rarely makes it to the copyright owner. Just as importantly, the use is transformative and socially beneficial. But because the Act doesn't say such uses are allowed, payment still has to be made. As part of the campaign to raise awareness of fair use and its benefits, Wikipedians in Australia are adding a banner on the English Wikipedia, and have also set up a new site called Fair Copyright. It would be nice to think that all this hard work would lead to the recommendations of those Australian government reports being implemented at last. But as Techdirt noted last month, the copyright industry has built up a fund of $11 million specifically to fight changes to copyright law in Australia, so we can expect fierce resistance to any such moves. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 16 hours ago on techdirt
We've heard many stories at this point about video game producers attempting to use copyright and the DMCA as a censorship tool against criticism. As it happens, the frequency of these stories has tapered off somewhat as best as I can tell, even as the indie gaming scene has resulted in an explosion of small gaming studios. The reason for that delta is probably that the gaming community as a whole has become both far more educated and vocal about any attempts to use copyright as a censorship tool. Rightly or wrongly, honesty and transparency in gaming reviews and commentary has become something of a thing the past few years and one of the possibly unintentional results of that campaign has been for attempts at stifling criticism about games to be top of the average gamer's mind. Which brings us to Wargaming, the studio behind World of Tanks. If you have not heard about the drama from last week yet, it began with a YouTuber called SirFoch, who issued a scathing and expletive-laden review of a specific tank customers could purchase withing the game. In the video, which was re-posted on another YouTube channel, SirFoch said things like, “Fuck Wargaming, fuck their terrible way of making these premium tanks lately, and fuck this premium tank in particular.” Specifically, he criticized the tank’s lack of weak points behind the machine gun ports by showing viewers its collision model which he argued made the Chrysler K overpowered. Crude language aside, he was making an otherwise evidenced-based point, whether you agree with him or not. The problem is that SirFoch has signed up to be a "community contributor" with Wargaming, which is essentially one of the more common fan-influencer platforms becoming more fashionable in gaming circles. SirFoch was not paid for his reviews or commentary, but he was given early access to content. In return, Wargaming requires an amorphous "level of decorum" when discussing the game publicly. It was apparently this lack of decorum on SirFoch's part that gave Wargaming license to threaten him with copyright infringement. In the wake of the video attacking Wargaming for its perceived use of pay-to-win mechanics, a community manager at the company who goes by Zoltan “Ph3lan” Sipos contacted SirFoch over Discord. Ph3lan explained, according to screenshots of the conversation provided by SirFoch, that the YouTuber would be dropped from the program giving him early access to content and would need to take down his video or else Wargaming would be forced to have YouTube remove it for copyright infringement. SirFoch took down the video in question, but then immediately went public with how Wargaming had threatened him because of course he did. The studio, meanwhile, tried to combat the ensuing backlash in its own forums by complaining about the tone and language choices the YouTuber had used, indicating those factors warranted the copyright threat. Gamers watching this discussion rightly realized that this was essentially copping to censorship by copyright of criticism. The backlash grew in size. Over the next several days, Wargaming reps began suggesting to media outlets that SirFoch's video had been laced with not only vulgarity, but homophobic hate speech as well. The video did not in fact include any such language. The backlash grew even louder. Grew loud enough too that the studio has now backed down and issued a public apology. We have further reviewed the incident of last Friday involving SirFoch and his “Chrysler K GF rant” video, and know we could have handled the situation a lot better. We strongly support our players’, including our Community Contributors’, right to speak critically about us and our games. We acted too quickly and over the line when we threatened to have YouTube remove SirFoch’s video through a copyright infringement complaint and we are apologizing for that. We’re committed to doing a better job on this front. We’re going to improve the way we communicate with our Community and our Community Contributors, and as part of that effort we will work with them on more detailed, specific guidelines to help ensure incidents like this don’t happen again. Our official position is that Wargaming will not take copyright action against opinions based on our publicly released content. Over the weekend we released a statement to some media outlets regarding the content of SirFoch’s video that inferred that SirFoch’s videos contained hate speech and homophobia. While we would obviously not want such content to be associated with any of our games – this video clearly did not. We apologize for this statement, and we don't stand behind those claims. It's a good apology but, frankly, a bit tough to swallow given how far the studio went to try to first bully and then defame one of its own contributors entirely because it didn't like the criticism that contributor issued. Wargaming is likely hoping that this incident hasn't tanked its reputation beyond repair, and it's probable that it hasn't. If not, that official position to not be a copyright bully over censorship had better be sincere, because reputations rarely are offered a third chance if there were to be another such incident. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 18 hours ago on techdirt
We've already discussed a memo read by some FBI officials that supposedly was a record of an Oval Office conversation between former FBI Director James Comey and Donald Trump apparently contains the president asking after the possible prosecution of journalists for publishing leaks. Hearsay squared, but still in line with Trump's antagonistic relationship with free speech. There's not much popular support for treating journalists like criminals just for doing their job, but there appears to be plenty of administrative support for the idea. Comey claimed he wouldn't go after journalists for publishing leaks -- something he said with one side of his mouth while redefining journalism to exclude Julian Assange and Wikileaks, which the DOJ is apparently considering pursuing charges against. But that's not the extent of the new administration's Bullets For Messengers™ program. As Betsy Woodruff reports for The Daily Beast, the DOJ is looking to crack down on leaks, leakers, and -- given its inability/unwillingness to subject itself to accountability -- whistleblowers. Under intense pressure from the White House, the Justice Department is prepared to aggressively prosecute government officials who leak classified information. Justice Department officials told The Daily Beast that targeting leakers will be a priority during Jeff Sessions’ time as attorney general—a posture that will hearten national security hawks, while concerning advocates of whistleblower protections. “As the Attorney General has said, the Department of Justice takes unlawful leaks very seriously and those that engage in such activity should be held accountable,” an official told The Daily Beast. Officials may not directly state they're going after whistleblowers, but the FBI and DOJ have never shied away from direct retaliation against those bringing complaints up through the proper channels. The Obama DOJ was particularly unfriendly to whistleblowers, which means many in the DOJ are already well-trained in the art of hunting down leakers. This new DOJ also makes it clear it will only tolerate leaking it approves of. “The fact that the president shared classified information with a foreign government official, in and of itself, is classified,” a former senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “So whoever was trying to burn him for thinking he’s doing something wrong actually is the only one that committed a crime here.” The president possibly exposing an undercover ISIS source to Russian officials? Not a big deal. Someone talking to the press about it? Round up a grand jury! New DOJ boss Jeff Sessions is tough on crime -- all of it. He's just as unhappy as Trump that US press outlets continue to be fed inside info directly contradicting White House statements, stances, and tweets, often within minutes of the president or his press secretary opening their mouths. “I expect we’ll get to the bottom of this,” Sessions replied. “This is not right. We’ve never seen this kind of leaking. It’s almost as if people think they have a right to violate the law, and this has got to end, and probably it will take some convictions to put an end to it.” If there are internal memos related to the DOJ's full court press on leaking, expect it to be leaked. As tough as the DOJ may want to be on leakers and whistleblowers, a president who's failed to earn the respect and trust of so many of the people he supposedly leads only encourages the sort of behavior we're witnessing. No doubt the president and the DOJ would like to get some heads on pikes ASAP to staunch the bleeding, but there's no way this can be done without doing tremendous harm to legitimate whistleblowers and the very important individuals who could only be heard by operating outside a deliberately broken system. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 20 hours ago on techdirt
A few weeks ago, we wrote about Cloudflare's decision to punch back hard against a patent troll, Blackbird Technologies, that had sued the company over a questionable patent (US Patent 6,453,335). Beyond just challenging the claim of infringement, the company also filed ethics complaints against the lawyers who run Blackbird, noting that the company appeared to be a law firm masquerading as a company, and breaking a number of local rules about law firms and "buying" a proprietary interest in a lawsuit. At the same time, Cloudflare set up a $50,000 fund to offer prizes to people who could find prior art not just to invalidate the patent that Cloudflare was sued over but also every other patent held by Blackbird Technologies. Apparently, the company has now received a ton of submissions -- many of which it claims are quite thorough. And it's upping the ante. An anonymous donor has agreed to match the $50,000 fund, and so now Cloudflare is offering $100,000 for prior art to invalidate Blackbird Tech patents. The company says that it's received 140 separate prior art submissions so far, targeting 18 of the 38 patents and applications it knows about, but wants to go after the rest as well. We’ve been impressed with the exceptionally high quality of the submissions. The Cloudflare community of users and readers of our blog are an accomplished bunch, so we have a number of searches that were done by expert engineers and programmers. In one case that stood out to us, someone wrote in about a project they personally had worked on as an engineer back in 1993, which they are convinced is conclusive prior art to a Blackbird Tech patent. We will continue to collect and review these submissions. The submissions so far relate to 18 of the 38 Blackbird Tech patents and applications. You can see a summary of the number of submissions per patent here (PDF). You'll see there are still 20 Blackbird Tech patents and applications we’ve yet to receive a submission for. We’re looking for prior art on 100% of the Blackbird Tech patents. If you are interested in helping, take some time to look into those patents where we don’t have anything yet. We’ll update the chart as we review the submissions with additional information about the number we receive, and their quality, to help focus the search. After the initial review, we’ll start to color code the patents (i.e., red/yellow/green) to demonstrate the number and quality of submissions we’ve received on each patent. Also, Cloudflare is nothing if not thorough in going after any and every argument made by Blackbird Technologies. In response to Cloudflare's ethics complaints against Blackbird as violating rules for lawyers and law firms, the company insists it's not a law firm, to which Cloudflare now claims "oh really?" And Ms. Verlander’s unequivocal assertion that Blackbird Tech is not a law firm can be contrasted with sworn statements submitted by Blackbird Tech attorneys to courts last May asserting how much they operate like a law firm. In Blackbird Tech v. Service Lighting and Electrical Supplies, Blackbird Tech CEO Wendy Verlander, Blackbird Tech co-founder Chris Freeman, and Blackbird Tech employee Sean Thompson, each filed declarations in opposition to a proposed protective order. Protective orders are important in patent litigation. Often, discovery in those cases involves companies handing over highly confidential information about their most important trade secrets or the history of how they developed valuable intellectual property. In most cases, courts limit access to such materials only to outside counsel, as opposed to the parties’ employees and in-house counsel. In-house counsel generally serve a number of functions at a business that include competitive decision-making, either directly or indirectly. Because in-house counsel may benefit from the additional perspective and insight gained by exposure to sensitive trade secrets of a competitor, and are unable to simply wipe their memories clean, courts in patent litigation cases often limit their review of particularly sensitive documents. In such cases, documents classified as “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL—ATTORNEY EYES ONLY” are limited to review by outside counsel, who are less likely to face the same sort of business decisions in the future. When it served their purposes in opposition to a proposed protective order, the Blackbird Tech attorneys were quick to point out how much they operated only like a law firm and distance themselves from their business roles. Their sworn declarations specifically asserted: “Although the structure of Blackbird is unique, the realities of patent litigation at Blackbird are very much the same as patent litigation on behalf of clients at law firms.” (Verlander at ¶13, Freeman at ¶14) “Thus, in many ways, my role at Blackbird as a member of the Litigation Group is identical to my previous role as outside counsel at a law firm.” (Verlander at ¶13, Freeman at ¶14)(emphasis added) “Blackbird’s Litigation Group operates almost identically to outside law firm counsel. Blackbird’s litigators are presented with patents and possible infringers, just as clients bring to law firms. The Blackbird litigators then bring their litigation expertise to bear and thoroughly analyze the patent and the potential infringement case, ultimately deciding whether to move forward with litigation — just as a law firm would evaluate a case. If the Blackbird litigation team identifies a strong infringement case, the litigators draft Complaints and conduct litigation, acting in the same role as outside counsel.” (Verlander at ¶14, Freeman at ¶15)(emphasis added). “On a day-to-day basis, what I do at Blackbird is the same as what I did when practicing at a firm.” (Thompson at ¶2). This inconsistency points out once again how Blackbird is attempting to gain an advantage by turning traditional roles on their head. If they were a typical company, that was looking to make products using the patents they own, then we’d be able to seek discovery on their products and operations. Instead, they function as a law firm with no business operations that would be subject to the same sort of scrutiny they will apply to a company like Cloudflare. Also, while we noted the ethics complaints that Cloudflare has filed, it appears that politicians are paying attention and at least one is looking to make Blackbird Technologies' style of patent trolling explicitly illegal: On May 23, 2017, Rep. Keith Wheeler of Illinois introduced a bill (the “Ethics in Patent Litigation Act”) that would make it the public policy of the State of Illinois that attorneys in the state, like Blackbird co-founder Chris Freeman (LinkedIn), should not be able to buy patents themselves for the purpose of suing on them if they are not in the business of any other productive activity. Cloudflare is very much building on the Newegg strategy of making sure that if you try to patent troll against it, it's going to hit back hard -- which should discourage other patent trolls from trying (in Newegg's case, this has been amazingly successful, even if it took a few years). But, again, the idea that our system allows this to happen in the first place is the real travesty. Companies shouldn't have to fight back hard to discourage being attacked by patent trolls. The very existence of trolls is the problem. Bad patents, broadly granted, combined with a ridiculous patent litigation process that makes this system ripe for abuse. It's great that Cloudflare is fighting back. It's frustrating that it's even necessary. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 22 hours ago on techdirt
Just last week, we reported on how a British human rights activist was held at London's Heathrow airport by UK border police, and risked prison for failing to hand over his passwords. Now we learn from the Independent about a Brazilian journalist, Diogo Bercito, who was detained at Manchester airport for reading a book during his flight there: He was reading The Isis Apocalypse, by former adviser to the US State Department on terrorism issues Will McCants. It explores the ideology of the terrorist organisation and is often used as a reference for journalists and researchers. That seems a perfectly reasonable thing for a journalist to be reading in order to understand the background to the Manchester attack, which Bercito had been sent to cover for his employer, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. But it was apparently enough for the border police to pull him in for questioning. His passport and press credentials were taken away, and he waited for an hour before he was interviewed. The police officers then explained exactly why Bercito had been singled out for special attention: another passenger on his flight had felt "uncomfortable" about his choice of reading matter. To be fair, you can't really blame the Manchester border police for following up on that complaint, given the terrorist attack that had taken place in the city just 24 hours before. But it's a sad reflection of the effectiveness of the authorities' scaremongering that some members of the public feel the need to report someone because he or she was reading about ISIS. What next: reporting people to the police for watching TV reports about terrorism? After a few questions, Bercito was allowed to continue with his journey, with the friendly warning not to read his book in public -- in case other, similarly-nervous people thought he was a terrorist -- as well as a less-friendly threat: Mr Brecito said they then returned his passport to him, but warned that "if they wanted, they could keep him for a long time". And they're right -- as David Miranda discovered the hard way. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 23 hours ago on techdirt
It's no secret that there are those in the current UK government who are just itching to kill encryption. Earlier this year, Home Secretary Amber Rudd made some profoundly ill-informed comments about how encryption on the internet was "completely unacceptable" and saying that they needed to stop companies from providing end-to-end encryption. And, in the recently leaked Tory Manifesto, it was made clear that the current government sees breaking encryption as a priority: In addition, we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability. As has been explained time and time again, the only way you prevent bad guys from having encryption is by preventing everyone from having effective encryption... and that makes everyone significantly less safe. Seriously, the only way to do this is to put dangerous vulnerabilities into encryption that will certainly be hacked fairly quickly. This doesn't make people safer. It makes them less safe. But, of course, like so many politicians these days (of all major parties) it appears that the Conservative Party in the UK can't let a good tragedy go to waste. The Independent is reporting that, because of the attack in Manchester this week, the party is ramping up its plans to outlaw encrypted communications: Government officials appear to have briefed newspapers that they will put many of the most invasive parts of the relatively new Investigatory Powers Act into effect after the bombing at Manchester Arena. The specific powers being discussed – named Technical Capability Orders – require big technology and internet companies to break their own security so that messages can be read by intelligence agencies. Again, in case you're just joining us, requiring that internet companies "break their own security so that messages can be read by intelligence agencies" is the nice way of saying "kill real encryption." It means that these companies will be deliberately forced to leave vulnerabilities in encryption that will be a goldmine for hackers of all kinds, from foreign surveillance to online criminals. And, so far, there is zero evidence that the Manchester attack had anything to do with encryption. And, even if it did, so what? If the UK forced companies to break encryption, people planning terrorist attacks would just switch to other encryption products that don't have corporate entities in the UK. Or they'd come up with other ways to communicate. It will do basically nothing to stop terrorist attacks, but will instead make it much, much easier for all sorts of people with nefarious intent to hack into the private communications of everyone. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 23 hours ago on techdirt
Available now in the Techdirt Deals Store is the Kickstarter success story, Ticwatch 2. This innovative smartwatch uses a sleek design and its unique Ticwear OS to deliver a powerful, but simple smartwatch experience that will genuinely make your life easier. Speak to it to get an Uber, set reminders, make calls, get text notifications, and much more. Plus, it's geared towards an active lifestyle, letting you track your steps, heart rate, and the distance you've traveled right on the watch. It's on sale for $169.99. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You may remember, a few years ago, Verizon attempted to start its own tech blog, called "SugarString," where the founding editor they hired was telling potential reporters they couldn't write about net neutrality. After that got mocked around the web, the whole idea of SugarString faded away. However, these days, Verizon actually owns a ton of content sites. It bought AOL in 2015, which already owned the Huffington Post, Techcrunch, Engadget and more. More recently, of course, it bought Yahoo as well. Suddenly, Verizon owns a ton of tech reporting. And here's the amazing thing: some of the best reporting about how awful Ajit Pai's net neutrality proposal is... is coming from those sites now owned by Verizon. For example, over at Yahoo News, Rob Pegoraro has been doing a great job debunking many of Ajit Pai's claims about the history of the internet. In particular, Pai and his supporters keep insisting that the move by then FCC boss Tom Wheeler in 2015 to reclassify broadband under Title II upset a consensus going back to the Bill Clinton years that broadband was not under Title II. Except that's... just wrong: Pai led off with a dubious recap of history. In his telling, broadband thrived from the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 until Pai's predecessor, former FCC chair Tom Wheeler, forced through today's net-neutrality rules that subject internet providers to phone-company "common carrier" regulations dating back to the 1930s that require the equal treatment of customers' traffic. "Two years ago, the federal government's approach suddenly changed," Pai said. "The FCC, on a party-line vote, decided to impose a set of heavy-handed regulations upon the internet." But as the FCC's own site shows, the commission didn't reclassify cable providers to lift them out of the common-carrier bucket until March 14, 2002, not 1996. That's when the commission reclassified cable providers from open-ended "telecommunications services" to "information services" — a term that as, described in the 1996 law, better fits proprietary online services like floppy-disk-era AOL. The commission didn't extend the same treatment to phone-based providers until 2005. There's a lot more in that piece as well, correcting the blatant factual errors in Ajit Pai's claims about net neutrality. Of course, you might claim that Verizon just purchased Yahoo, so perhaps word had not yet filtered down. But let's shift over to TechCrunch, which has been on the AOL banner for years, and the Verizon/AOL banner for quite some time as well. Over there, a reporter by the name of Devin Coldewey has written a series of truly excellent articles about the FCC's plans to roll back net neutrality. Those pieces are thorough, detail-oriented and not prone to the sorts of hyperbole that (unfortunately) have been seen on both sides of the net neutrality debate. For example, look at his article from last week that carefully goes through the arguments against net neutrality that people are making, and then carefully debunks each one. The piece is so damn good, I wish we ran it ourselves. For example, here's just one of the eight separate arguments that he debunks: We’re not trying to remove net neutrality rules, just Title II TL;DR: Removing the rules is literally in the proposal It is frequently said that the point is not to remove the rules themselves, just change the authority to something a little less heavy-handed. This is a puzzling assertion to make when the proposal itself asks over and over again whether the “bright line” rules of no blocking, no throttling, etc should be removed. It’s pretty clear that proponents don’t think the rules are necessary and will eliminate them if they can. Just because they frame their preference in the form of a question doesn’t make it any less obvious. A sort of corollary to this argument is that internet providers will voluntarily adhere to suggested practices. This is a pretty laughable suggestion, and even if it were true, it self-destructs: if companies have no problem subjecting themselves to these restrictions, how can they be as onerous as they say? Then, this week, once the rules were actually released, Coldewey absolutely destroys the key argument that Ajit Pai's FCC is making about the rules, noting that it appears to be a deliberate misrepresentation of how the internet works: The first point the FCC makes is regarding the text of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and how it defines “telecommunications service” (how broadband is currently defined, allowing net neutrality rules to be effected) and “information service” (how it was before the net neutrality rule). Now, I’m going to list the two definitions. Which one do you think sounds like what a broadband provider does? “The offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system.” “The transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.” Take your time. ... Okay. Number 2, right? Because your ISP doesn’t store the data you post on Facebook, or the address you look up on Google Maps, or the Pope you read about on Wikipedia. It’s edge providers like the ones I just mentioned that do all the “generating, acquiring, storing,” and so on. ISPs just transmit the information, don’t they? Perhaps it would surprise you, then, to hear that the FCC has the exact opposite idea of how the internet works! This is good stuff. Thorough, careful, and detailed facts that totally undermine Ajit Pai and the FCC's arguments. And it's coming from a site owned by Verizon. Now, obviously, the good news out of this is that it appears that Verizon is not interfering with editorial on these sites. That's actually encouraging (though I do wonder if the company will push to have "the other side" heard on these sites as well). Honestly, though, the links above are to three of the best pieces I've seen on net neutrality and how the arguments being made by Ajit Pai are either faulty, bogus or, at the very least, misrepresent reality. It's just icing on the cake that they happen to be on sites owned by Verizon, a company that has been at the center of the fight to kill net neutrality, and even had to drum up a fake journalist to talk to one of its execs, who insisted that the company really loved net neutrality (note: it does not). Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Like clockwork, every few months you'll see a Comcast executive pop up like a meerkat to proclaim the company has seen the error of its ways, and will henceforth focus on dramatically improving its historically abysmal customer service. In 2014, that involved the well-hyped hiring of a new "customer experience" VP who was supposed to "reimagine the customer experience and ensure that we are delighting our customers at each touch point." But these heavily-marketed promises are never matched by measurable improvements in satisfaction studies, where Comcast remains among the worst companies in any industry when it comes to customer satisfaction and support. In fact, despite these promises by Comcast, things are somehow getting worse. The well-respected American Consumer Satisfaction Index ranks customer satisfaction across 43 different industries. Their latest rankings of pay TV providers has found that Comcast has slipped four points in the ACSI rankings, from 62 to 58. That fall places it as the second worst-ranked cable TV provider in the United States -- six points worse than the already-bad national average for cable TV providers, and thirteen points lower than industry leader Verizon FiOS: That's a different story than the one Comcast keeps telling the press, featuring a supposed relentless dedication to shoring up customer service and support. For example, a company executive recently told the Chicago Tribune that Comcast's evolution is moving along so nicely, execs don't even think of Comcast as a cable company any longer -- but as a premiere technology brand more in line with Google and Apple: "We don't see ourselves as a cable company," (Comcast exec Matt) Strauss said. "We see ourselves as a technology and communication-entertainment company, much more in the consideration set of Apple and Google than more of the traditional cable and satellite providers." Except consumers don't agree. If you check out Apple's ratings in those same ACSI rankings for cell phone manufacturers, perhaps you can spot a slight difference: In fact, Comcast is not only nowhere in the same universe as Apple when it comes to customer satisfaction, but the ACSI indicates that most government agencies are more liked than Comcast, including the IRS (at least for individual filers). That's not a particularly impressive feat for a company that has pledged, every six months or so for the better part of the last decade, that it's working tirelessly to fix the cable industry's justifiably abysmal reputation for service. Of course there's an obvious reason Comcast doesn't really improve: it doesn't have to. Cable's customer satisfaction problems originate with the focus on prioritizing growth at all cost. And, once large, these companies ensure that when they "compete" it's traditionally of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety. And as telcos refuse to spend the money needed to upgrade lagging DSL networks, Comcast is slowly but surely building a growing monopoly over fixed-line broadband service, allowing it to impose extremely unpopular usage caps and overage fees (glorified, unnecessary rate hikes) and turn a blind eye to consumer complaints. And with the current FCC looking to gut everything from media consolidation restrictions to privacy and net neutrality consumer protections, you can expect a hell of a lot more of this particular brand of dysfunction in the years to come. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Three years ago, we brought you the horrifying story of Diego Gomez, a grad student in Colombia. While working on his own research, he relied on and cited a paper that he couldn't find anywhere else online. As was common practice in Colombia, Gomez uploaded that paper to Scribd so that others could follow his own work and understand his citation. As a research practice, this is a really good idea. Under copyright law, however, it gets stupidly problematic. And it was made much more stupidly problematic by the insane copyright law passed in Colombia -- under pressure from the US -- which made this a criminal act for which Gomez faced up to 8 years in prison along with monetary fines. Again, he absolutely did upload someone else's paper to the internet -- but this was an academic paper, it wasn't for Gomez's own profit, but for perfectly reasonable academic purposes, to make sure people were better informed. Not only that, but as soon as he found out the paper's author was unhappy, he deleted the paper from Scribd. And yet he's spent the past few years dealing with criminal charges over it. Thankfully, just this week Gomez was cleared of any wrongdoing. It just cost him four years of absolute hell. And it's not totally over yet. While the judge has given a "not guilty" verdict, the prosecutor has already announced plans to appeal. "I have been cleared. I am innocent," a delighted Gómez said after the verdict. "When I received the news, after 4 years with so much uncertainty, which is an obstacle in personal and professional life, that was a great happiness. However, knowing that the prosecutor appealed brings uncertainty back." EFF has been heavily involved in this case, and note that it shows one of the many problems with countries ratcheting up punishments for copyright infringement often under the guise of "complying with international agreements.": Diego’s story also demonstrates what can go wrong when nations enact severe penalties for copyright infringement. Even if all academic research were published freely and openly, researchers would still need to use and share copyrighted materials for educational purposes. With severe prison sentences on the line for copyright infringement, freedom of expression and intellectual freedom suffer. Diego’s story also serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when copyright law is broadened through international agreements. The law Diego was prosecuted under was enacted as part of a trade agreement with the United States. But as is often the case when trade agreements are used to expand copyright law, the agreement only exported the U.S.’ extreme criminal penalties; it didn’t export our broad fair use provisions. When copyright law becomes more restrictive with no account for freedom of expression, people like Diego suffer. Indeed. I know that we get a fair amount of pushback from some in the copyright industry whenever we talk about the free speech or chilling effects impact of overzealous copyright enforcement. Time and time again we're told that these are "anomalies" or that such things are impossible, because why would anyone ever use copyright to stifle someone's speech. However, I can't even imagine the horror that Gomez has gone through for the past four years, in which he was literally facing being locked up for years and fines for being a good academic. That's insane -- and so is any copyright law that would allow this to happen. The fact that Colombian prosecutors aren't yet willing to drop this case is even more upsetting and concerning. What possible reason do they have for thinking that this case is worth pushing forward like this? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few weeks back, I wrote about IndieGogo shutting down a crowdfunding project for a small notetaking/speaker device called Titan Note. As I pointed out at the time, there were a lot of alarm bells about the product, but I had still backed it just to see if it might actually work. IndieGogo shutting it down actually had me relieved because the more I thought about it, the less sure I was the project was legit. Making things even more bizarre -- and leading to my post about it -- was the news that the guy behind Titan Note had sent a bogus DMCA takedown notice to the Verge over its skeptical take on the product. The DMCA notice targeted the use of Titan Note's promotional images -- which are clearly fair use for news publications. A few days after that all went down, I went to see if the guy behind Titan Note had anything to say about it. There was a post on Facebook claiming that it was all IndieGogo's fault and promising it would be on another "more trusted" platform soon: As you have noticed, your orders on Indiegogo have been refunded. We got into a dispute with Indiegogo and we decided to use another platform instead. Indiegogo doesn't have your best interest in mind and we decided to find a better solution for both you and ourselves. This seemed... sketchy for a variety of reasons. What kind of "dispute" could they have gotten into? A number of people asked in the comments, and the Titan Note guy (it's unclear if it's more than just one guy), just started pasting the same boilerplate response over and over again, insisting that there was a "dispute" over "payment and fees." The dispute was regarding the payment and the fees. Moreover, Indiegogo has a history of not taking responsibility for the users on its platform. Many are dissatisfied with the Indiegogo platform. It was a wrong move from our side to take orders on the Indiegogo platform in the first place and we truly apologize about that. We promise that we will make it up to you when we relaunch Titan Note on a more trusted platform next week. Please let us know if you have any other questions. More people began to question this, and then he started insisting he couldn't talk any more about it, because he was going to sue IndieGogo. We are in the process of pursuing legal action against Indiegogo for their misconduct. Because of this, neither we or them can go into more specific details. We appreciate your understanding and we apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you. Somewhere around this time, I decided to ask some questions on the Facebook page as well, noting that the boilerplate claims didn't make much sense. There's no reason to expect a dispute about "fees" since IndieGogo is pretty damn clear on the fee breakdown. I pointed out that there's simply no reason that he can't explain more of what the problem was, even if a lawsuit was in process -- and furthermore, suggested that it might make sense to delay a new crowdfunding campaign until after such a lawsuit was filed, so that backers could better understand the details. Separately, I asked about why they sent the DMCA notice. A few hours later, I noticed that my question about the DMCA was deleted. I saw someone else asked a similar question -- and that was deleted. After a few more people asked, he finally posted another boilerplate answer, responding to a bunch of users: About the DMCA: We sent the DMCA notice to the verge because they used our copyrighted images without our permission. No reputable publication would do that. They stole our property and we had to take action. I responded to that, noting that this explanation made no sense at all. First of all, the images were promotional images, released for the press. Second, the Verge's use was clearly fair use. And, finally, I pointed out that this explanation was clearly not true, and the reason for the DMCA notice was obviously the skeptical nature of the Verge's article because none of the other news articles that were hyping up the Titan Note -- and which the company proudly linked to -- appeared to have DMCA notices over their use of the very same images. And that's when I got blocked from commenting on the Titan Note Facebook page and all my remaining comments were deleted (he had already deleted my DMCA questions earlier). So that confirmed just how sketchy this whole project was to me. The DMCA notice was bad. The nonsensical explanations were worse. And deleting some fairly straightforward questions about all of that (and then blocking me from commenting any more)? That's not a trustworthy project. At almost the exact same time that I got blocked, Titan Note "relaunched" on a supposedly more trustworthy platform, an Australian site called Pozible. The project quickly got to nearly $100,000 in backing. I emailed Pozible to ask if they did any checking on projects, and pointed out that IndieGogo had taken the same project down. Almost immediately I got an email response from someone at Pozible, telling me that their own system had "flagged" the project and they were suspending the project until the creator provided more information. I similarly reached out to IndieGogo to find out if the "fee dispute" claim was legit. Not so, the company told me. While they would not go into the full reasons for the project being suspended, they did say that "a lengthy investigation" by the trust and safety team determined that the company was violating IndieGogo's terms and services, and made it clear "this was not a dispute about fees, but a violation on their end." IndieGogo's terms involve lots of things, but one line that stands out: Campaign Owners are not permitted to create a Campaign to raise funds for illegal activities, to cause harm to people or property, or to scam others. If the Campaign is claiming to do the impossible or it's just plain phony, don't post it. Not surprisingly, after Pozible shut down the campaign after just a few hours, a bunch of people went back to Facebook to ask questions and note that this was now two crowdfunding platforms that had shut down the campaign entirely, and demanding answers. A few joked that "boilerplate" answers would be coming soon. It actually took a few days, but eventually... To clarify, Neither of those platforms have seen our product. The outcome is not a reflection of Titan Note's quality and again, they have not seen our product. We have had competitors that have posted slanderous information to the platforms and we are in the process of bringing legal action against one of those platforms for their misconduct. We will not let a bump in the road stop our passion. So... yeah. That doesn't actually answer the question. Nearly all crowdfunding projects don't involve the platforms seeing the projects, but it's very rare for projects to be canceled. It certainly suggests something else is up with this project and that's why they were canceled. Besides, the original story was that IndieGogo canceled over a "fee dispute." If that's the case, why would it matter that it hadn't seen the product? And, of course, a few days after that -- earlier this week -- Titan Note launched its own website entirely (previously, one of the concerns was that the company didn't appear to have a website). And that website is allowing pre-orders. We won't link to it directly (no reason to give it free advertising), but astoundingly, the company is using the canceled IndieGogo project on its new website as proof of how cool it is: Yes, the IndieGogo campaign had over 12,000 backers and had initially raised over $1.1 million dollars. But that was canceled and all the money was refunded. It seems very, very, very questionable to then go on and put up a website that suggests the project successfully raised that much money when that's not how things actually ended. Distressingly, the project is also using the various positive press it got upon launching on the website, leaving out the Verge (obviously). Not surprisingly, I am not the only person concerned about all of this. There are still some users in the Titan Note comments concerned about this (I have no idea how many others had their comments deleted, as mine were). There's also a Facebook group on crowdfunding scams that has taken a special interest in Titan Note with a few different discussions on it -- including concern about the current offering directly off the website. Throughout all of this, I still would like the product to be legit, because it certainly would be an interesting product! However, with all of the red flags raised, and the questionable way that Titan Note has responded to these kinds of questions, it seems entirely reasonable to believe that the product is, at the very least, greatly exaggerated, and might possibly not exist at all. I did send Titan Note an email listing out a series of questions and letting them know I would be writing about this. So far, there has been no response. If one should come in, I will update this post. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The U.S. Senate is about to consider mostly pointless legislation that would make the nation's register of copyrights—the individual who heads the U.S. Copyright Office, officially a part of the Library of Congress—a presidential appointment that would be subject to Senate confirmation. While the measure has earned praise from some in the content industry, including the Motion Picture Association of America, unless senators can find better ways to modernize our copyright system, they really should just go back to the drawing board. The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 already cleared the U.S. House in April by a 378-48 margin. Under the bill and its identical Senate companion, the power to select the register would be taken away from Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden. Instead, the president would select an appointment from among three names put forward by a panel that includes the librarian, the speaker of the House and the majority and minority leaders of both the House and Senate. And the register would now be subject to a 10-year term with the option of multiple reappointments, like the Librarian of Congress. The legislation is ostensibly the product of the House Judiciary Committee's multiyear series of roundtables and comments on modernizing the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition to changes to the process of selecting the register, the committee had recommended creating a stakeholder advisory board, a chief economist, a chief technology officer, making information technology upgrades at the office, creating a searchable digital database of ownership information to lower transaction costs in licensing and royalty payments, and creating a small claims court for relatively minor copyright disputes. Alas, while it’s billed as a “first step,” the current legislation gives up most of those more substantive reforms and instead amounts largely to a partisan battle over who will have the power to select the next register: Hayden, who was appointed by Barack Obama, or President Donald Trump. Opponents argue the bill will make the register and the Copyright Office more politicized and vulnerable to capture by special interests, while ceding more power to the executive. They argue that vetting the register through the nomination process could delay modernization efforts. Hayden needs the position to be filled expeditiously to implement her modernization program, and Trump already faces a sizable confirmation backlog. Meanwhile, proponents argue a more independent register, less tethered to the will of the Library of Congress, will make USCO more accountable. They say it will make the office run more efficiently and allow it to modernize. They also believe it will address important constitutional questions, such as the separation of powers and oversight by the president. At the heart of these constitutional questions is the fact the Library of Congress has both significant legislative and executive functions. Housed within the legislative branch, it also sets royalty rates and rules on exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Critics have derided the Copyright Office for being slippery about whether it is serving a legislative or executive role, depending on who’s asking. The contention is that this unusual arrangement renders USCO a “constitutional chameleon.” Of course, it is not uncommon for entities in one branch to perform the functions of another. The president has a role in the legislative process through his veto power. The International Trade Commission performs judicial functions, but is an independent agency housed within the executive branch. The federal government's separation of powers is not absolute. But there does come a point where those lines become so blurred as to call the original classification into question. In that respect, Congress should consider taking certain functions—such as the Copyright Royalty Board or the Triennial Section 1201 Proceeding—out of the Copyright Office. Some would propose moving the entire Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress and rendering it a standalone agency, which would elevate the register’s position to one of an officer of the United States. Under that highly controversial scenario, the Constitution's Appointments Clause definitely would require the job be filled by the president. But for now, since the librarian still has ultimate authority over the substantive regulatory powers surrounding copyright, changing who appoints the register won’t change anything outside of a short-term political calculation of who the next register is. The bottom line is that the current bill simply doesn’t do that much, good or bad. Making the position a presidential appointment is unlikely to speed up IT modernization efforts, at a time when the office has faced numerous setbacks and problems getting that IT infrastructure in place. The original policy proposal drafted by the House Judiciary Committee was a more comprehensive and substantial approach to modernization and many of its provisions were supported broadly. First step or not, this is a feeble try. As the Senate considers the bill in the coming weeks, they should either amend the legislation so that it will do something to modernize copyright, or just jettison it entirely. As currently written, the bill serves no purpose, and Congress shouldn’t waste its time on it. Sasha Moss is Technology Policy Manager for the R Street Institute Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While the Boston Globe has had a paywall on its site for some time -- the metered sort that lets you read a certain number of articles for free before insisting you sign up for an account with a subcription -- that paywall also featured an open tunnel allowing anyone running their browsers in private or incognito mode to drive right through it. This workaround was well known and used since at least 2014, although hunting around on google search results seems to make it clear that this was all found out because people generally like to use privacy and incognito modes in their browsers for the very reasons the browsers developed them: security and privacy. Two things that perhaps the folks at the Boston Globe don't consider terribly important as they have elected to simply block all readership from browsers running in privacy modes unless the reader signs up for a subscription. The Boston Globe website is closing off a hole in its paywall by preventing visitors who aren't logged in from reading articles in a browser's private mode. "You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode" is the message given to BostonGlobe.com visitors who click on articles in private mode. "To continue reading articles in this mode, please log in to your Globe account." People who aren't already Globe subscribers are urged to subscribe. It's a strange request for a couple of reasons. First, many privacy modes don't even keep sites from tracking what you're doing. They do, however, tend to limit the ability to track you across multiple different sites as you browse. Second, there is still a laughably easy workaround for anyone that wants to keep seeing free articles from the Boston Globe without a subscription: simply delete all cookies from the Boston Globe off of your computer and, voila, you get more free articles. Regardless of both, punishing readers for their privacy concerns probably isn't the best way to build subscription bases. The Globe policy is a case of "disrespecting user preferences," Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Technologist Alexei Miagkov told Ars. Miagkov was not aware of any other sites blocking users in private browsing mode. Logging into the website in private mode puts your privacy at risk, he said. "By logging in you make it easy for them to keep tracking you, to keep building their (advertising) user profiles," he said. "They may also sync their tracking data with their advertising partners whereas if you hadn't logged in, those advertising partners might see a new visitor for every new incognito session." It's worth noting that this isn't a technical limitation, but a choice that the Globe is making almost certainly for those advertising reasons. There are many newspaper sites that have managed to allow for free articles in privacy modes, such as The Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Whatever you think of paywalls generally, I can't imagine how this disregard for readers' privacy choices builds a path to long term paywall success. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The GOP’s leading campaign and fundraising arm, the Republican National Committee, has thrown its support behind an initiative that could allow marketing firms and robocallers to spam your voicemail inbox -- without your phone ever ringing. Under former FCC boss Tom Wheeler, the agency notably ramped up its assault on annoying robocalls. That included some particularly notable pressure on AT&T, which for years had provided a rotating crop of excuses as to why its customers continued to get hammered by phone marketers even if included on the National Do Not Call Registry. Under current law, marketers aren't allowed to annoy you via your cellular phone unless you give your express, written consent. In the hopes of boosting revenues without running afoul of the law, the industry has begun pushing for exemptions in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for "ringless voicemail," which would allow a company to leave you a marketing message in your voicemail, without your phone ringing. Of course you'd be hard-pressed to find a single consumer that thinks this is a good idea, which is apparently why the current FCC is exploring precisely this option: "Back in March, a marketing firm called All About the Message LLC specifically asked the telecom agency to issue a ruling on the legality of its “ringless voicemail” technology. In its petition, the company said it doesn’t cause “disruptions to a consumer’s life,” such as “dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times, or delivery charges.” And it stressed that its technology isn’t even a “call” by conventional standards." In comments filed with the FCC (pdf), the RNC effectively warns the FCC not to stand in the way of its quest for ringless voicemail spam, and tries to argue that blocking such marketing is somehow an assault on the First Amendment: Political speech is "at the very core of the First Amendment," and subjecting direct-tovoicemail political messages to the TCPA would unnecessarily and improperly restrict that speech. It is a basic canon of constitutional law that the government may not restrict constitutionally protected speech unless “it chooses the least restrictive means to further [a compelling] interest. While the government may have an interest in protecting individuals from unwanted and intrusive phone calls, direct-to-voicemail messages are designed to be nonintrusive so as not to interrupt the recipient. Again though, this ignores the fact that consumers themselves would still have to clean up their voicemail box of additional spam, and don't want this added nuisance. The effort also runs in stark contrast to recent FCC efforts to actually reduce the level of marketing annoyance most wireless subscribers currently face. In its own filing with the FCC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tried to argue that existing consumer protections provided under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act are "archaic" and stifle the evolution of new, (annoying) technologies: "The Commission cannot continue to sweep new technologies into this technologically-archaic statute. The language in Section 227(b) reflects a compromise by Congress. The Commission should stop undoing this compromise by expanding the reach of the TCPA into new technologies that Congress has yet to consider, weigh, and assess, so as to ascertain whether those technologies should be unlawful and to determine what penalty should attach to their use." Whether you want to have a voicemail inbox magically filled with political missives, ads for mattresses and assorted other sales pitches apparently doesn't even enter into the equation. If you'd like to share your thoughts with the FCC on this subject, you can find and comment on the particular proceeding in question, here. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The world's most thin-skinned "leader" is at it again. Perpetually-insulted Turkish super-villain Recip Erdogan is still firing off court orders to Google, expecting the immediate banishment of anything he finds offensive. Dean Jones of the invaluable Shooting the Messenger has more details: The Turkish tyrant ordered Google [Note: actually, Google only dealt with three Blogspot URLs; the rest is addressed to the Internet in general, I guess.] to delist over 40 URLs including a critical report by The Washington Times, plus an AOL image search for “Adolf Erdoğan,” because they allegedly link to “hurtful, humiliating” images and memes. [...] The targeted sites had reported about Erdoğan’s recent crackdown on journalists and other critics of the Turkish government, comparing him to Hitler. Not helping these comparisons is Erdogan's similar facial structure and his endless vindictive actions against anyone who's hurt his feelings. Turkish law gives him considerable leeway to do this. Unfortunately, a small handful of countries have extended helping hands rather than middle fingers in response to censorship and/or prosecution demands. It's unknown why the Turkish government thought Google could help it out with an AOL image search, but it's equally unclear why it didn't ask for the delisting of Google's image search, which shows virtually-identical results. The more someone humors this tyrant, the worse he's going to get. And it certainly doesn't help that Jones' report comes on the heels of the Erdogan's US visit, during which his personal bodyguards beat up American protesters. This prompted a tepid display of disappointment from the US State Department and a much more hot-blooded demand for an apology from the Turkish government US law enforcement daring to interrupt Erdogan's bodyguards while they were beating up US citizens. The court order [PDF] contains a long list of sites likely worth visiting, if for no other reason than to stock up on Erdogan/Hitler memes to spread around the web. It's the circle of life, as lived by Erdogan and defined by Barbra Streisand. The more takedown notices sent by the Turkish government, the more the images and content spread… leading to more takedowns and more dissemination. If Erdogan wasn't so completely monomaniacal, he might realize the futility of his overseas efforts and content himself with jailing his constituents. Instead, he keeps engaging in internet turf wars with foreign governments, with very minimal success. ISPs like Google have stated they'll perform selective blocking in response to court orders, but honestly they shouldn't even be doing that. Not for someone like Erdogan -- an extremely powerful lout who appears to be shooting meme history by coming closest to the "literally Hitler" ideal. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Broaden your knowledge of programming with the $44 Complete Programming Language Bootcamp. The 8 courses cover Scala, Java, Python, C++, Ruby on Rails, C, PHP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Each course features short lectures with plenty of hands-on learning using each language. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Legislator Tom Graves is pushing his cyber defense bill again. So far, his bill -- which we covered here in March -- is still in the drafting stages and has yet to be introduced. It has a unmemorable name (Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act) [but a much better acronym (ACDC)] and a handful of ideas that are questionable at best. The bill would amend the CFAA to give companies the ability to "hack back" to shut down attacks and identify the attackers. It would not allow them to go on the offense proactively and it doesn't actually grant companies new statutory permissions. Instead, it provides them with an affirmative defense against CFAA-related charges, should someone decide to take them to court. The good news about the bill's slow crawl is it's being rewritten before being introduced. According to the Financial Times, Graves and his team are consulting with cybersecurity experts to craft a better bill. The Active Cyber Defense Certainty bill, co-sponsored with Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, is in its early stages. After consulting with cyber security executives at an event at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the bill is being redrafted to include safeguards such as the requirement for companies to notify law enforcement if they are using such techniques, so they can examine that they are being used responsibly. However, Graves' consultation process seems to begin and end here. There are many more security experts out there who believe this bill will do more harm than good and there doesn't appear to have been much consultation with those who disagree with Graves' beliefs. The other questionable aspect of this renewed push for hack-back legislation is Graves' belief this bill would have prevented something it likely wouldn't have: the WannaCry ransomware attack. Mr Graves said he believed the WannaCry ransomware, that hit the UK’s National Health Service and US companies including FedEx, may have been prevented if his bill had already been passed. “I do believe it would have had a positive impact potentially preventing the spread to individuals throughout the US,” he said. “Our proposal is to empower individuals and companies to fight back basically and defend themselves during a cyber attack.” First off, nothing prevented companies and individuals from defending themselves from these attacks. Well, something did prevent them from defending themselves adequately, but the two entities most at fault were the NSA and Microsoft, with the former's exploit making prodigious use of the latter's security holes. There are other intermediate defensive steps that might have been taken just in general, but Microsoft is the dominant force in business software and the NSA itself was concerned this exploit might be too powerful and result in too much collateral damage. Second, hacking back wouldn't have halted the attack. What killed the attack wasn't an attempt to track down the ransomware purveyors but rather by examining the exploit itself. A security researcher accidentally found a kill switch for the malware: an unregistered domain name which he purchased to hopefully track the attack. It turns out it also stopped the attack. There was no legal change that is needed to enable that to happen. Even if Graves' bill were law, it would have had nothing to do with ending the WannaCry attack. Certainly this won't be the case in every attack, but the lessons learned from the WannaCry attack have almost nothing to do with the actions this legislator wants to make legal. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we recently noted, more than 40% of the 2.5 million comments filed with the FCC on net neutrality are entirely fake. The comments, which oppose net neutrality, have been posted using a bot that's pulling the names used from a hacked database of some kind. When the people that own the actual names behind these comments have been contacted by the media, many have stated they didn't make the comments, and/or have no idea what net neutrality even is. In an ideal world, the FCC would easily parse out these obviously fraudulent, duplicate comments and shore up the abuse of its API. But because these comments support the current FCC's belief that meaningful net neutrality protections are somehow an assault on "American freedom," the FCC appears poised to completely disregard the fact that a malicious actor is manipulating the FCC's systems. The FCC isn't candidly admitting this, but FCC boss Ajit Pai's non-statements and statements alike so far indicate he's inclined to include the obviously fraudulent comments: "The FCC didn’t respond to repeated requests to specifically say whether it would filter out the astroturfed comments. Speaking to reporters after announcing a step toward rolling back existing net neutrality protections, FCC Chair Ajit Pai admitted “a tension between having an open process where it’s easy to comment and preventing questionable comments from being filed.” “Generally speaking, this agency has erred on the side of openness,” he said." When pushed, FCC officials have said they'll purge comments made under obviously phony names, but isn't willing to comment further on the obvious blind eye to manipulation of the comment system: "Pai said the agency wouldn’t consider comments with obviously fake names, like Wonder Woman and Joseph Stalin, but declined to go further. Reached for comment after Pai’s statement, an FCC official declined to comment specifically on astroturfed comments. "You heard his answer on erring on the side of inclusion," the official said. And again, the FCC is turning a blind eye to this fraudulent behavior because actual humans overwhelmingly oppose what Pai and friends are up to. Recent analysis of the comments made so far to the FCC indicate the vast, vast majority of consumers -- across all political ideologies -- don't want the agency gutting meaningful oversight of the already uncompetitive broadband sector. That could be problematic later this year, when Pai faces inevitable lawsuits over his rush to kill the protections despite no corresponding market necessity, and the broad public support for the rules. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in 2015, Wikimedia's lawsuit against the NSA -- filed with several other plaintiffs and with the help of the ACLU -- was tossed out by the district court. Wikimedia argued it was illegally the subject of NSA upstream surveillance, thanks to the nature of this Section 702 collection. Wikimedia's reach is global, making it highly likely the NSA was gathering its content and communications while snagging data off internet backbones. To further demonstrate the probability of this happening, Wikipedia submitted leaked Snowden documents, including an NSA presentation slide that contained Wikimedia's logo. > No dice. The district court said Wikimedia had no standing to pursue these claims, even with the unexpected buttress of leaked NSA documents. The court went even further, disabusing Wikipedia of its "99.9999999999% certainty" notion that the NSA had illegally harvested at least one of its trillions of internet transactions. In all, it was a very ugly day for Wikimedia and its lawsuit. Fortunately, for Wikimedia, its lawsuit has been revived on appeal. The Fourth Circuit Appeals Court is far more amenable to Wikimedia's claims, finding them to be more credible than the lower court determined. From the opinion [PDF]: [A]t least at this stage of the litigation, Wikimedia has standing to sue for a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And, because Wikimedia has self-censored its speech and sometimes forgone electronic communications in response to Upstream surveillance, it also has standing to sue for a violation of the First Amendment. The court doesn't necessarily treat all of Wikimedia's allegations as true, but finds it has handed over enough background evidence to give it standing to pursue its First and Fourth Amendment claims. But this revival is limited to Wikimedia and only some of its claims. The seven other plaintiffs aren't invited to the next district court round. A lack of produced evidence appears to have killed off the "dragnet" claims raised by the plaintiffs (which includes Wikimedia). The other defendants have a much smaller web footprint, making it less plausible their communications were subjected to upstream collection by the NSA. The only way those claims would be plausible is if the court found the "dragnet" assertions plausible… which it doesn't. The Dragnet and Wikimedia Allegations share much in common. Because each alleges the same particularized and ongoing cognizable injuries, our analysis of the injury-in-fact, traceability, and redressability elements of Article III standing with respect to the Wikimedia Allegation also applies here. But there’s a key difference in the scope of the two allegations. In the Dragnet Allegation, Plaintiffs must plausibly establish that the NSA is intercepting “substantially all” text-based communications entering and leaving the United States, whereas it’s sufficient for purposes of the Wikimedia Allegation to show that the NSA is conducting Upstream surveillance on a single backbone link. Because Plaintiffs don’t assert enough facts about Upstream’s operational scope to plausibly allege a dragnet, they have no Article III standing. The difference between the two claims is one of numbers. Wikimedia only had to show its traffic traveled across enough internet backbones to plausibly claim harvesting from any one of them would result in interception of its communications. The "dragnet" argument claims the NSA is harvesting almost everything that travels across multiple backbones. The majority finds this assertion unlikely. The dissent, however, says the same arguments Wikimedia put forth to demonstrate the probability of illegally-intercepted communications lend credence to the "dragnet" argument simply because that's how internet traffic works. Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the NSA surveils most backbone links because — based on the technical rules governing internet communications — the agency cannot know which link the communications it targets will traverse when they enter or leave the United States. The path that packets take along the internet backbone is determined dynamically based on unpredictable conditions. Thus, a communication sent by a surveillance target can enter the United States through one backbone link, but an immediate response returned to the surveillance target can traverse a different backbone link. Similarly, communications sent by a surveillance target at different times or locations can traverse different backbone links. Given this technical limitation, the government’s disclosure that the NSA seeks to “comprehensively acquire communications that are sent to or from its targets,” J.A. 49, renders Plaintiffs’ allegation plausible. If the NSA cannot know which backbone link its targets’ internet communications will traverse, then the only way it can comprehensively acquire its targets’ communications is by surveilling virtually every backbone link. It's a good point but it's not enough to save the rest of the plaintiffs, which include the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. Perhaps a further examination of Wikimedia's arguments by the lower court will aid these plaintiffs in their future legal endeavors. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
By now, Tinder is probably in the common lexicon. The dating app has been fairly successful, boasting something like 50 million people using it and managing to make something like 12 million matches per day. It's a household name, in other words, which is what makes it a bit strange to see the company bother to oppose a fairly silly trademark application by one guy who designed a dating app to get dating matches for exactly one person: himself. Shed Simove called the app Shinder and said he built it to find himself a partner. However, when he tried to trademark it, a Notice of Threatened Opposition was filed to the Intellectual Property Office by dating giant Tinder. "I think it's a case of a big corporate giant looking at an entrepreneur who sees the world differently and being punitive," he said. "It's unlikely that the female population will stop using Tinder and start using Shinder." To be clear, the attempt to trademark "Shinder" itself is silly. The app was created by Shed Simove for the sole purpose of getting himself a date. He's the only dude on the roster. While the app attempts to recruit women to use it, he's the only option for them. It would be kind of funny, if it weren't so creepy. The attempt to trademark Shinder, according to Simove, was done because he's thought about white-labeling the app for any individual to use. And yes, this is every bit as dumb and probably not trademarkable as it sounds. "If it was 'white label ' - that would mean if I chose to I could take the raw guts of the code and allow people to have their own versions. Jane could have Jinder, and so on." Jinder? Please. The whole point of trademark law is to keep customers from being confused between products and services. There is a roughly zero chance that anyone is going to mistake Tinder, megalith in the dating app world as it is, for Shinder, an app used by almost nobody created by one guy to get himself a date. Why Tinder is even bothering with this is beyond me. Although, because every funny story needs an even funnier punchline, Tinder was not the only one concerned. He also received a letter from lawyers representing the elevator firm Schindler. Schindler asked him to commit to refraining from entering the elevator or escalator market. If trademark law has gotten to this point, is it time we contemplate whether it's serving its purpose any longer? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
It appears that a vendor working for Comcast sent a totally bullshit cease-and-desist letter regarding a pro-net neutrality site: Comcastroturf.com, created by our friends over at Fight for the Future. The Comcastroturf website was set up as a tool to see if someone filed bogus FCC comments in your name. As you probably recall, there is a bot that has been flooding the FCC comment site with bogus anti-net neutrality comments, filed in alphabetical order. Reporters contacted some of the individuals whose names appear on these comments, and they had no idea what it was about. People are still trying to track down who is actually responsible for the bogus comments, but Fight for the Future set up this neat site to let you check if your name was used by whoever is behind it. And, of course, the name "Comcastroturf" is pretty damn clever, given the topic. Kudos to Fight for the Future for coming up with that one. It is, of course, totally legal to use the domain name of a company that you're protesting in your own domain. There are numerous cases on this issue, normally discussed as the so-called "Sucks Sites." There's clearly no legal issue with Comcastroturf, and any reasonably informed human being would know that. Unfortunately, it would appear that Comcast hired a company that employs some non-reasonably informed humans. The cease-and-desist letter was sent by a company called "Looking Glass Cyber Solutions" (no, really), which used to be called "Cyveillance" (only marginally less bad). We've written about Cyveillance twice before -- and both times they were about totally bogus takedown requests from Cyveillance that caused serious problems. The most recent was the time that Cyveillance, working for Qualcomm, filed a bogus DMCA notice that took down Qualcomm's own Github repository. Nice move. The earlier story, however was in 2013, and involved Cyveillance -- again representing Comcast -- sending a threatening takedown demand to some more of our friends over at TorrentFreak, claiming (ridiculously) that public court filings were Comcast's copyright-covered material, and threatening serious legal consequences if it wasn't taken down. Eventually, Comcast stepped in and admitted the cease-and-desist was "sent in error." You'd think that maybe this would have caused Comcast to think twice about using Cyveillance for such things. But, nope. The rebranded Looking Glass Cyber Solutions has told Fight for the Future that "Comcastroturf" violates Comcast's "valuable intellectual property rights" and that failure to take down the site may lead to further legal action around cybersquatting and trademark violations. Of course, there's no way that Comcast would actually move forward with any legal action here. In fact, I'm pretty sure it already regrets the fact that the numbskulls at this vendor they hired to police their brand online just caused (yet another) massive headache for their brand online. Maybe, this time, Comcast will finally let Cyveillance/Looking Glass Cyber go, and find partners who don't fuck up so badly. Meanwhile, the fact that Looking Glass Cyber can't even figure out that Comcastroturf is a perfectly legal protest site makes the company's website -- which is chock full of idiotic buzzwords about "threat mitigation" and "threat intelligence" -- look that much more ridiculous. The only "threat" here is Looking Glass/Cyveillance and their silly cluelessness sending out censorious threats based on what appears to be little actual research. Of course, without true net neutrality, if Comcast really wanted to silence Comcastroturf, it would just block everyone from accessing the site... Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
When the "death of the MP3" started being reported, we were among the very few blogs that said umm, no — but the deluge of eulogies for the still-thriving format has been overwhelming and quite surprising. This week I join the podcast to discuss why the MP3 isn't dead, and how so much of the tech press got it so wrong. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
Everyone's favorite abusable statute is back at it. Anyone can file a DMCA takedown request. Not everyone gets theirs granted. But it's a zero-cost, mostly-zero risk effort that takes about five minutes from start to finish. It's no wonder it's been abused by a handful of ex-cons and, very memorably, by a revenge porn purveyor who suddenly developed concerns about personal privacy. In this case, it's someone named in an Albuquerque Journal article about a federal fraud indictment. The most obvious pick would be the couple named early on in the article by Nicole Perez: Michael Jacobs and/or Ruth Handler-Jacobs. But there are others listed as well, co-conspirators Rienzie Edwards (of Sri Lanka), F.K. Ho (a broker located in Singapore), and a couple of other Americans, Laurence Lester and Rachel Gendrau. It could be any one of these people (though the fractured English in the takedown request would seem to point overseas), but there's no way to know for sure because the DMCA notice is clearly falsely filed in the name of the journalist who wrote the article. This appropriation of someone else's name and profession leads to one of the most unlikely claims ever made in a DMCA notice: that journalists refer to publishing articles as "posting a content." Here's the whole BS claim: I am Nicole Perez. I posted a content about Michael Jacobs's fraud cases on abqjournal.com. I personally investigated that my original content is copied and posted on different websites. I contacted the webmaster team of the websites to remove it, but did not get any positive response. I request you to remove it from online searches. It's extremely likely none of what's said here is true, starting with the name used. I find it incredibly hard to believe someone impersonating a journalist "contacted webmasters" to have these articles removed. (The lack of positive response is the only believable part, but that relies on the original contact taking place.) It's even harder to believe when one of the websites is the Albuquerque Journal's Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/TheAlbuquerqueJournal/posts/10154300263908237 It's impossible to believe when one of the targeted URLs is the DOJ's indictment press release. https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/manhattan-us-attorney-announces-charges-against-six-individuals-international-high Others targeted include Ripoff Report, Courthouse News Service, and Sri Lankan news site The Sunday Times. The inclusion of this site shifts the needle of blame towards Reinzie Edwards. This story includes a photo of Edwards as well as details of his run-ins with local authorities over apparent financial fraud. Again, nothing can be said conclusively about the origin of this DMCA notice, other than it obviously wasn't Nicole Perez, who would likely prefer her "content" to be spread as far as possible across the internet. The people written about, not so much. When you're already facing federal fraud charges, what's a little perjury? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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