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It looks like the psychiatrist who sued a pseudonymous reviewer over a wordless one-star review has finally decided to stop digging this particular hole. Since news broke of psychiatrist Mark Beale's defamation suit against "Richard Hill," Beale has amassed a great many one-star reviews by non-patients. There's no telling if Beale will be seeking to file an en masse lawsuit against these Does (taking a page out of copyright trolls' handbooks), but this cannot possibly be what he envisioned when he decided the original one-star review was worth suing over. Unbelievably, Beale managed to convince a judge to allow him to seek the real identity of "Richard Hill" in order to continue with his lawsuit. Not only did the judge give enough credence to Beale's argument that a one-star review was per se defamatory, but the judge granted the unmasking order, calling a review of business "commercial speech" -- something given less protection under the First Amendment. University of South Carolina professor Eric Robinson has been keeping an eye and the local docket and sends us news that Beale has dismissed the case. It's a voluntary move [PDF] on Beale's part, but it's also without prejudice, leaving the path clear for Beale to refile. But it doesn't look like Beale will amend this suit or refile, even if he's found a judge willing to bypass First Amendment protections to unmask a critic who left nothing more than a wordless single-star review. At least not against a Doe defendant. The unmasking did happen and Beale's request [PDF] to view the information turned over under seal to his lawyer was granted [PDF] by the judge. Soon after that, the request for dismissal [PDF] was filed. This means Beale now knows who "Richard Hill" actually is. He could have stuck with the lawsuit, amending it to include the Doe's real name and serving the defendant. But he sought dismissal instead. Does that mean Beale found "Richard Hill" was actually someone he didn't want to take to court, or worse yet, someone he already knew? Remember, his original lawsuit contained some very curious assertions to bolster his allegations, the weirdest being that his mother thought "someone she knew" was trying to ruin his reputation. Or it could be Beale discovered Hill was an actual patient of his, despite his assertions otherwise. (His lawsuit claimed two things: "Richard Hill" was a fake name and "Richard Hill" was not a patient of his. These two statements are tough to make definitively, but Beale asserted both simultaneously in his lawsuit.) Maybe he didn't feel like pursuing an unhappy patient in court, especially after he had already sworn otherwise in his complaint. Or maybe Beale is planning some sort of offline, out-of-court battle against the unmasked critic -- something that would be unfortunate but at least wouldn't allow this particular judge to continue his attack on the First Amendment. That makes this cut-and-run a bit more interesting than it would normally be, as litigation has ceased after discovery of the only thing Beale appeared to be missing from his suit: a defendant he could serve. Equally problematic is there's a judge in the South Carolina court system where locals can take their grievances about anonymous commenters and expect unmasking to proceed, no matter how weak their arguments are. Whatever the future holds for Beale and his litigious moves is unknown, but there's no undoing the damage Beale did to his own reputation by trying to make a case out of a one-star review. Had he done nothing, it would have been carried away by internet flotsam with zero damage to his career or future prospects. Instead, Beale could not let a one-star, wordless review go unanswered, and now his Google results are full of them. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Keep your skills sharp and stay up to date on new developments with the $89 Virtual Training Company Unlimited Single User Subscription. With courses covering everything from MCSE certification training to animation, graphic design and page layout, you'll have unlimited access to the entire catalog. They have over 1,000 courses, add more each week, and each course comes with a certificate of completion. 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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Very little attracts legal threats faster than someone calling a quack a quack. If it energizes tap water like a duck and promotes off-label use of dangerous drugs like a duck, it's probably a duck. The legal history of "alternative" medical practices is littered with cease-and-desist orders and failed lawsuits. The legal present is just as cluttered. Blogger/skeptic Britt Hermes could have gone down the road to quack infamy. She was on the "naturopathic" career path when she came to the realization the whole things was horseshit. Rather than exploit the horseshit to make sick people sicker, Hermes decided to let the world know just how much horseshit her former colleagues were peddling. One of her targets is Colleen Huber, an Arizona naturopath who is in the process of duping cancer patients out of their health, if not their lives. Here's what Hermes has to say about Huber: Colleen Huber does not use conventional chemotherapy or radiation. She treats cancer with intravenous baking soda, vitamin C, and other “natural” substances, while instructing patients to cut out sugar from their diets. She thinks sugar feeds cancer. Steven Novella, who has stared down lawsuits filed by angry quacks, has more to say about Huber's dubious treatments and even more dubious "science." [Huber's clinic] specifically states that they do not treat their patients with chemotherapy or radiation. Further, they appear to discourage standard treatment as evidenced by this statement on their website: Your best opportunity is to begin the natural treatments before the conventional treatments (chemo, radiation, etc.) sicken and weaken you and ultimately strengthen the disease. Many of the patients who opted for only natural treatments never even got sick and saw no side effects. So in their view chemotherapy strengthens the cancer. Meanwhile they recommend implausible treatments that are not evidence-based. David Gorski has already done an excellent job reviewing the literature on vitamin C and cancer – bottom line, it doesn’t work. Huber likes to claim her research backs up her outlandish claims. But as Hermes has pointed out, there's no way her research is ever going to be questioned, considering Huber's position gives her the power to grade her own papers. Nowhere in any of her “research” that I could find did she write that she obtained written, informed consent from her patients/research subjects. Nor did she write that her “research” was approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov. These are fundamental ethical requirements for research on human subjects. But don’t worry, Colleen Huber is a founding member of a naturopathic Institutional Review Board that has apparently approved her research. The board, which also oversees several other naturopathic organizations, including the Naturopathic Oncology Research Institution (NORI), was established in 2010, and from what I can tell, was registered with the FDA in 2013. This registration is legally required in order to approve research on human subjects. According to the IRB’s meeting minutes from November 8, 2013, the first study approved was a study on an herbal gel for cold sores. But Huber says she started her research in 2006…before her IRB was formed. What comes next is unsurprising. (You did read the headline, right?) Huber didn't like having her horseshit exposed and sent a cease-and-desist to Hermes last fall. Hermes, secure in her conclusions and statements, ignored the C&D. Huber has now taken the next step and is suing Hermes for factually reporting on Huber's dubious… everything. Arizona naturopath Colleen Huber is suing me in Germany for defamation over my opinions about her so-called natural cancer treatments and research. The lawsuit was filed in Kiel, Germany (where I live) on September 17th, 2017. This legal action came four weeks after Huber’s lawyers sent me a cease and desist letter that demanded I remove a blog post about Huber and pay Huber’s legal fees. My lawyer responded that allegations laid out in the letter were not correct and therefore, I would not comply. I believe Huber is attempting to stifle my right to freedom of speech with this SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation). The first sentence of Hermes' post spells trouble for the naturopath-turned-skeptic: Germany is not a great place to defend critical speech. Defamation is a criminal offense in Germany, rather than a civil offense. A lawsuit can result in criminal charges, fines, and prison sentences. Truth is still a defense against defamation claims, but somehow the German government still manages to secure over 20,000 defamation convictions every year. And, of course, there's no such thing as an anti-SLAPP law in Germany, meaning Hermes must foot the bill for legal fees defending herself from Huber's transparent attempt to silence a noisy critic. Fortunately, Hermes has secured one of the best for her legal representation. Dr. Daniel Kötz comes highly recommended by none other than Marc Randazza and is the only European member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association. She has also set up a crowdfunding page for her defense against Huber's attempt to have "might" triumph over "right." Hopefully, this will be dispensed of cheaply and quickly and Huber can go back to having her "medical" practice thoroughly and factually disparaged by actual medical professionals and well-qualified skeptics. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The legal fight over the FCC's historically unpopular decision to kill net neutrality has begun. An announcement by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office indicates that 22 State Attorneys General have filed suit against the FCC. The AGs says the multi-state coalition has filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the first of what's expected to be numerous lawsuits in the weeks and months to come. The announcement makes it clear the suit intends to focus on the FCC's potential violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Under the Act the FCC will need to prove that the broadband market changed so substantially since the passage of the original rules in 2015 to warrant such a stark reversal (tip: it didn't). Under the Act, a decision can be declared "arbitrary and capricious" (Ajit Pai's agenda is undeniably both) if the regulator in question can't prove such a dramatic change, which is why you've watched industry lobbyists and their BFF Pai routinely and falsely claim that the modest rules somehow devastated sector investment. Schneiderman quite correctly documents the potential pitfalls of gutting meaningful oversight of some of the least-competitive companies in America: "An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online. This would be a disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet. That’s why I’m proud to lead this broad coalition of 22 Attorneys General in filing suit to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality." You'll recall that Schneiderman's office is also conducting an investigation into who's behind the flood of bogus comments filed during the public comment period of the FCC's repeal order. Millions of the bogus comments were clearly filed by some group or individual hoping to erode trust in integrity of the comments in the hopes of downplaying massive public opposition to the FCC's plan. When Schneiderman's office contacted the FCC to get some help identifying the culprits the FCC refused nine different times over a period of five months, according to an open letter to the FCC by Schneiderman late last year. Numerous lawsuits are expected to follow once the FCC's repeal hits the Federal Register (expected in the next month or so). All of these suits will highlight the numerous instances of FCC incompetence or fraud, ranging from the fake DDoS attack the FCC apparently manufactured to downplay the John Oliver effect, to why the FCC turned a blind eye while somebody stole the identity of dead people to forge bogus support for the FCC's agenda. Also likely to be highlighted is how the FCC ignored the public, ignored the experts, ignored the industry's startups, and used bogus lobbyist data to prop up what may just be the least popular tech policy decision in the history of the modern internet. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For many years now, we've been among those raising concerns about India's giant identity database known as Aadhaar. A few weeks ago, we wrote that there appeared to be a fairly massive breach of data from that database, and that the information was now available on the dark web for cheap. This is obviously quite concerning and you'd hope that various Indian government agencies would launch an appropriate investigation. And... it appears at least one investigation has been launched. But, not into the leak. Instead, it's allegedly into the reporter who exposed the leak: A branch of the Indian government filed a police complaint last week launching an investigation into journalist Rachna Kaira and the Tribune of India, after the publication released a report describing what looks to be a massive vulnerability in a government database that is being exploited by an unknown group to sell highly sensitive and private data about Indian citizens. The details on the "police complaint" remain sparse, so perhaps it's not a huge deal -- but any attempt to investigate and/or intimidate (and those can be one and the same in some cases) a reporter for merely exposing a fairly big possible data breach that could effect over a billion people at least suggests an interest in covering up the breach, rather than in understanding the breach and preventing further damage. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You may recall that the middle of last summer saw us reporting on a somewhat odd trademark dispute between two breweries, Shipyard Brewing Co. and Logboat Brewing Company. Chiefly at issue was the fact that both breweries used images of schooners on their respective labels, except that the images used were laughably different. Also at issue was that Logboat's "Shiphead" beer used the word "head", which Shipyard says it uses in a variety of other beers, such as Pumpkinhead, Melonhead and other variations. Shipyard, notably, does not have a beer called "Shiphead", making this all the more eyebrow-raising. Well, after we and others reported on this silly lawsuit, it seems that many within the craft beer fanship and community, a passionate group to be sure, felt a desire to let Shipyard Brewing know what they thought of this behavior. This is a common result when passionate fanbases get wind of bad actions taken within an industry. Despite that, Shipyard had apparently decided that all of this backlash was the fault of Logboat Brewing, and added a defamation charge to its lawsuit. The Maine craft brewery’s complaint alleged that the hundreds of one-star reviews as well as negative news articles were prompted by Logboat employees, who made defamatory statements concerning Shipyard to the public “as retribution for Shipyard filing suit.” The brewery listed three examples of statements it considered to be defamatory: -Suggestions that Shipyard is pursuing the trademark lawsuit for ulterior motives -Unsubstantiated claims that Shipyard is a trademark bully -General insults concerning Shipyard’s business and the quality of its beers Well, the judge presiding over all of this has issued a ruling on that portion of this dispute, roundly rejecting the latter two of those three claims by Shipyard because they are matters or expressions of opinion. She went on to say that the claim of ulterior motive is something that could be proved in court and allowed Shipyard to amend its filing accordingly. U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey dismissed parts of a defamation claim against Logboat that alleged the craft brewery’s employees slandered Maine-based Shipyard Brewing Company in retaliation for a lawsuit filed in May. It's not a good first look for Shipyard and it's worth remembering that all of this consternation is in the service of a trademark lawsuit that is wholly unnecessary and one that is almost certainly itself tarnishing the reputation of the brewery in the eyes of the craft beer consuming public. It's probably time for Shipyard to cut both anchor and its losses. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As was unfortunately expected, after a very short (and fairly stupid) debate that was full of misleading statements that focused more on "but... but... terrorism!" than anything substantive, the Senate has voted for cloture on the same bill the House approved last week that extends and expands the NSA's 702 surveillance program, opening it up to widespread abuse and refusing to do simple things like adding in a warrant requirement when used to spy on Americans. The vote was actually surprisingly close -- going right down to the wire. They needed 60 votes to get this bill over the top and they almost didn't get them. The final vote was 60 to 39 with the final vote (well over an hour after the vote starting) coming from Senator Claire McCaskill in favor of warrantless spying on Americans. This is not all that surprising, even if it's disappointing. It follows the pattern that we've seen with surveillance programs over the past decade. Whenever they are up for renewal, Congress refuses to debate or discuss serious reforms until there's like a week left... and then they have a simplistic and rushed debate that basically consists of the hawks freaking out about how we're all going to die if the NSA can't keep spying on people, and civil liberty defenders pointing to the 4th Amendment, only to have the surveillance state supporters push back that the NSA protects us and is full of good people and how dare you question their good nature by insisting on petty little things like "warrants" as required by the Constitution. The cloture vote is not technically the final vote. It just shuts down debate and blocks the ability to raise any amendments. There will be a final vote soon, but the cloture vote is, effectively, the important vote here, and having voted for cloture the bill will pass -- and despite President Trump's confusion last week, he will sign the bill, and the NSA will get to turn back on its "about" surveillance capabilities it had been forced into shutting down last year, and the FBI will continue to get full, warrantless access to the "backdoor" or "incidental" collections of the communications of many, many Americans without a warrant and without anything approaching probable cause. While this was expected to turn out this way, it's still bad. It's our Senate (and the House and the White House) purposely spitting on the 4th Amendment of the Constitution to appease the NSA and the FBI. And, as with last week, it's especially incredible to see a number of Senators who have spoken out against Donald Trump -- including Senators Jeff Flake and Dianne Feinstein -- then turn around and vote for this. Last week, Flake compared Trump to Stalin. And just days later he votes to give that same Trump vast surveillance powers over Americans. Incredible. Meanwhile, Trump has been attacking Claire McCaskill left and right as she's up for re-election... and she repays that by giving him more surviellance power and selling out the American public. Missouri voters should remember that. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Mike was at CES 2018 last week, and now for the third year in a row we've got our special episode of the podcast dedicated to looking at the best (and worst) innovations on show. As usual, he's joined by long-time CES veteran Rob Pegoraro — so without any further preamble, here's The CES 2018 Post-Mortem. 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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When last we checked in with Venice PI, the copyright troll claiming to hold rights to the movie Once Upon A Time In Venice and attempting to claim in court that a 91 year old man with dementia was part of a torrent swarm offering the movie who, oh by the way, had recently passed away, it was being lightly slapped around by judge Thomas Zilly. Zilly had barred Venice PI from contacting the family of the deceased, halted the trial, questioned the quality of the evidence Venice PI had put before the court, and likewise demanded more information on how that evidence was collected in the first place. Given that the evidence mostly amounted to IP addresses obtained by Venice PI, I had written that this particular judge was likely to be unimpressed by whatever the copyright troll provided. Well, hoo-boy, was that ever an understatement. The end result of what Venice PI put before the court in response was the judge issuing a minute order declaring that the company essentially explain its copyright trolling efforts entirely across several cases and slapped the company around for some truly stunning misbehavior. The order goes into three different areas in which Venice PI appears to have really, truly screwed up, starting with the fact that the troll's claims of ownership and affiliations can't even be substantiated. “A search of the California Secretary of State’s online database, however, reveals no registered entity with the name ‘Lost Dog’ or ‘Lost Dog Productions’. Moreover, although ‘Voltage Pictures, LLC’ is registered with the California Secretary of State, and has the same address as Venice PI, LLC, the parent company named in plaintiff’s corporate disclosure form, ‘Voltage Productions, LLC,’ cannot be found in the California Secretary of State’s online database and does not appear to exist.” This rightly is giving the court the impression that something is shady in all of this. We've seen this sort of corporate shuffling shell game in copyright troll cases before and it's never a good sign. Still, the truly alarming stuff is further along in the order and has to do with exactly how Venice IP is collecting its supposed evidence. GuardaLey CEO Benjamin Perino, who claims that he coded the tracking software, wrote a declaration explaining that the infringement detection system at issue “cannot yield a false positive.” However, the Court doubts this statement and Perino’s qualifications in general. “Perino has been proffered as an expert, but his qualifications consist of a technical high school education and work experience unrelated to the peer-to-peer file-sharing technology known as BitTorrent,” the Court writes. “Perino does not have the qualifications necessary to be considered an expert in the field in question, and his opinion that the surveillance program is incapable of error is both contrary to common sense and inconsistent with plaintiff’s counsel’s conduct in other matters in this district. Plaintiff has not submitted an adequate offer of proof.” Guardaley, of course, is the shifty, shady company out of Germany that we've written about many times before. In the past, it's been somewhat difficult to separate Guardaley from, for instance, Malibu Media and its notoriously suspect trolling efforts. As we've noted before, part of the Guardaley modus operandi appears to be supplying front-lawyers with so-called experts that proclaim the company's technology for finding real pirates somehow perfect in every respect, just as is happening here. Interestingly, the company's internal documents that declare the experts it relies on iffy at best haven't appeared to deter their use in the courtroom. Guardaley also, somewhat infamously, has used a number of different names for its own operation, and variously names a bunch of "experts" who some sites have argued don't exist. Judge Zilly now seems to be wondering if these people exist as well: The Court has recently become aware that Arheidt is the latest in a series of German declarants (Darren M. Griffin, Daniel Macek, Daniel Susac, Tobias Fieser, Michael Patzer) who might be aliases or even fictitious.... Plaintiff will not be permitted to rely on Arheidt’s declarations or underlying data without explaining to the Court’s satisfaction Arheidt’s relationship to the above-listed declarants and producing proof beyond a reasonable doubt of Arheidt’s existence. Suffice it to say, when the judge in your case is questioning the very existence of one of the key people supporting your story, you're probably in trouble. So, now we're coupling a shady company with shady software that collects evidence, written by someone who claims his software is infallible but doesn't have the necessary credentials to back up such an absurd declaration. It's pretty clear at this point that the Judge Zilly is quite suspicious of the type of operation he's dealing with, and with good reason. It's long been known that IP addresses are shaky evidence at best, and having someone claim he can gather IP addresses completely without false positives is totally laughable. That Venice IP decided its best expert witness to the quality of its evidence was the guy who wrote the software that collected said evidence is nearly hilarious in its vanity. There's also the fact that Arheidt, if he exists, may be breaking the law, and the lawyer for Venice IP was aware of that... and failed to disclose this fact: Nowhere in Arheidt’s declarations does he indicate that either he or MaverickEye is licensed in Washington to conduct private investigation work. See RCW 18.165.150 (performing the functions of a private investigator without a license is a gross misdemeanor); see also RCW 18.165.010(12)(e) (defining a “private investigator agency” to include a person or entity that is in the business of “detecting, discovering, or revealing . . . [e]vidence to be used before a court”). Plaintiff’s counsel has apparently been aware since October 2016, when he received a letter concerning LHF Productions, Inc. v. Collins, C16-1017 RSM, that Arheidt might be committing a crime by engaging in unlicensed surveillance of Washington citizens,2 but he did not disclose this fact to the Court or offer any analysis for why such conduct is not prohibited by RCW 18.165.150. Plaintiff’s counsel’s lack of candor was a serious breach of his ethical duties... Gross incompetence is a phrase that leaps to mind, and it is frankly one of the kinder assessments of exactly what's going on here. To that end, Zilly's order requires that the company provide further details to explain these deficiencies in over a dozen cases and orders Venice PI not to spend or transfer any money it has collected via settlements. That latter bit seems to indicate that the court may seek to have that money repaid to past victims of this trolling operation. Next up: perhaps Judge Zilly can follow in the footsteps of Judge Otis Wright, and demand to know what the hell is really going on here... and refer those responsible for possible criminal prosecution. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For a few years now I've debated writing up a post about why a "blockchain-based DRM" is an idea that people frequently talk about, but which is a really dumb idea. Because the key point in the blockchain is that it "solves" the "double spend" problem of anything digital, there are always some who have argued that it could be useful in stopping the infinitely copyable nature of digital content. But... actually doing that is a much more difficult proposition. Instead, we just get simplistic ideas around using a blockchain ledger merely to establish a form of a rights database. Which... is fine, but hardly all that compelling a use of the blockchain (a regular old database is probably a lot more useful and efficient for that use case). But, last week, there was an awful lot of hype, fuss and confusion around what was billed as Kodak launching its own cryptocurrency / blockchain effort called KODAKone and Kodak Coin, that would "create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they can then license within the platform." More significant details were lacking, but Tim Lee, over at Ars Technica was among the first (if not the first) to realize that "KODAKone" appeared to be little more than a last minute rebranding of a planned initial coin offering (that had basically no interest) put together by an offshoot of a paparazzi photo agency: The evidence strongly suggests that Kodak Coin is the re-branding of an initial coin offering called RYDE coin that never got much attention and was apparently aborted days before Kodak Coin was announced. Until recently, the project had a page on the crowdfunding site Start Engine. The page is no longer there, but Google cached a copy of the site on January 3. As recently as last week, RYDE coin was being pitched as a way of expanding the licensing business of its creator, paparazzi photo company WENN Media. Now the RYDE page has disappeared, and WENN Media's parent company, WENN Digital, has partnered with Kodak to create a blockchain platform that sounds a lot like RYDE—except that there's no mention of celebrity photographs. The site cmyk Trends has many more details showing that this was actually cooked up by WENN and another company, Ryde GmbH, that appears to be something of a copyright trolling operation: It is a partnership with WENN Digital, which in turn is a venture between WENN (a UK based Celebrity and Entertainment News Agency) and Ryde GmbH, Germany. Ryde was founded by Jan Denecke, a lawyer specialized in media and copyright law. Ryde (google "Reward Your iDEas") apparently has software that finds unlicensed material on the internet, politely informs the web site owner of the infringement and collects the settlement. This technology will probably be the policing element in the beautiful new world of digital rights licensing with Kodak Coins for payments. It appears that "Kodak" here is just for the brand name. Since Kodak's bankruptcy a few years back, it's gone heavily into the name licensing business as a way to make money -- and it appears that's exactly what happened here, though it's possible that Kodak may also set up some computers to handle the "mining" needed for Kodak Coin behind all of this. While the details are still a little murky, it appears that the system will be built on the Ethereum blockchain, which has been designed to handle business transactions, digital asset transactions certainly being prime candidates. The Ethereum blockchain has its own crypto-currency Ether, which could certainly be used for payments, but "Kodak Coins" may resonate better with photographers and help the acceptance of the system. So it looks more like an opportunity for Kodak to monetize its remaining brand value, rather than a technology contribution. While WENN Digital is handling the business, Kodak will get an unspecified royalty from all transaction and will start its own "coin mining operation" in Rochester. The term "coin mining" is somewhat misleading. Crypto currencies require consensus based certification of each addition to the blockchain. The computers providing that service - and using lots of energy in the process - get rewarded with new coins. I am speculating, but somebody has to provide the service for a new coin until the big boys get interested. With Bitcoin mining using as much electricity as Denmark (some 32 TWh), becoming a player in coin mining would be a real change for Kodak. And, of course, as with so many silly "now we're doing blockchain!" announcements, this one caused Kodak's stock price to soar, bumping up the valuation of the company over $200 million the day of the announcement, and the stock price has stayed up there since. Of course, as Lee noted in his story about this, the original pitch for RYDE's ico, which has since been scrubbed from the web, focused heavily on digital rights management for paparazzi, and it was only after the last minute rebranding that it became about all photographers. The pitch for the RYDE project highlighted WENN's success in the paparazzi business. "Our paparazzi photographers are the best in the business," the RYDE coin page said. "With RYDE coin, we hope to develop our blockchain platform to deliver registration, licensing, infringement, and other unique revenue streams in order to benefit the community of countless paparazzi and media conglomerates with whom we do business." By contrast, the Kodak Coin press release and website don't say anything about paparazzi photographs. Bolstered by the Kodak brand, they're pitching Kodak Coin as a universal platform for licensing photographs. The press release mentions that WENN "works with approximately 2,500 professional photographers," without being too specific about what kind of photography they're doing. So all that raises some pretty big questions. Obviously, there's a lot of ridiculous speculation on the stock market side for any company that says "blockchain" -- so some of this is to be expected. But does anyone really think that a blockchain-based photography rights database, combined with what certainly sounds like some light copyright trolling ("software that finds unlicensed material on the internet, politely informs the web site owner of the infringement and collects the settlement") is really worth that much money? So far, other public companies that have focused on copyright trolling as a business model haven't found it to be that lucrative. But, perhaps all they were missing was Kodak's respected brandname and some fuzzy hype around the blockchain. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For a few years now I've debated writing up a post about why a "blockchain-based DRM" is an idea that people frequently talk about, but which is a really dumb idea. Because the key point in the blockchain is that it "solves" the "double spend" problem of anything digital, there are always some who have argued that it could be useful in stopping the infinitely copyable nature of digital content. But... actually doing that is a much more difficult proposition. Instead, we just get simplistic ideas around using a blockchain ledger merely to establish a form of a rights database. Which... is fine, but hardly all that compelling a use of the blockchain (a regular old database is probably a lot more useful and efficient for that use case). But, last week, there was an awful lot of hype, fuss and confusion around what was billed as Kodak launching its own cryptocorrency / blockchain effort called KODAKone and Kodak Coin, that would "create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they can then license within the platform." More significant details were lacking, but Tim Lee, over at Ars Technica was among the first (if not the first) to realize that "KODAKone" appeared to be little more than a last minute rebranding of a planned initial coin offering (that had basically no interest) put together by an offshoot of a paparazzi photo agency: The evidence strongly suggests that Kodak Coin is the re-branding of an initial coin offering called RYDE coin that never got much attention and was apparently aborted days before Kodak Coin was announced. Until recently, the project had a page on the crowdfunding site Start Engine. The page is no longer there, but Google cached a copy of the site on January 3. As recently as last week, RYDE coin was being pitched as a way of expanding the licensing business of its creator, paparazzi photo company WENN Media. Now the RYDE page has disappeared, and WENN Media's parent company, WENN Digital, has partnered with Kodak to create a blockchain platform that sounds a lot like RYDE—except that there's no mention of celebrity photographs. The site cmyk Trends has many more details showing that this was actually cooked up by WENN and another company, Ryde GmbH, that appears to be something of a copyright trolling operation: It is a partnership with WENN Digital, which in turn is a venture between WENN (a UK based Celebrity and Entertainment News Agency) and Ryde GmbH, Germany. Ryde was founded by Jan Denecke, a lawyer specialized in media and copyright law. Ryde (google "Reward Your iDEas") apparently has software that finds unlicensed material on the internet, politely informs the web site owner of the infringement and collects the settlement. This technology will probably be the policing element in the beautiful new world of digital rights licensing with Kodak Coins for payments. It appears that "Kodak" here is just for the brand name. Since Kodak's bankruptcy a few years back, it's gone heavily into the name licensing business as a way to make money -- and it appears that's exactly what happened here, though it's possible that Kodak may also set up some computers to handle the "mining" needed for Kodak Coin behind all of this. While the details are still a little murky, it appears that the system will be built on the Ethereum blockchain, which has been designed to handle business transactions, digital asset transactions certainly being prime candidates. The Ethereum blockchain has its own crypto-currency Ether, which could certainly be used for payments, but "Kodak Coins" may resonate better with photographers and help the acceptance of the system. So it looks more like an opportunity for Kodak to monetize its remaining brand value, rather than a technology contribution. While WENN Digital is handling the business, Kodak will get an unspecified royalty from all transaction and will start its own "coin mining operation" in Rochester. The term "coin mining" is somewhat misleading. Crypto currencies require consensus based certification of each addition to the blockchain. The computers providing that service - and using lots of energy in the process - get rewarded with new coins. I am speculating, but somebody has to provide the service for a new coin until the big boys get interested. With Bitcoin mining using as much electricity as Denmark (some 32 TWh), becoming a player in coin mining would be a real change for Kodak. And, of course, as with so many silly "now we're doing blockchain!" announcements, this one caused Kodak's stock price to soar, bumping up the valuation of the company over $200 million the day of the announcement, and the stock price has stayed up there since. Of course, as Lee noted in his story about this, the original pitch for RYDE's ico, which has since been scrubbed from the web, focused heavily on digital rights management for paparazzi, and it was only after the last minute rebranding that it became about all photographers. The pitch for the RYDE project highlighted WENN's success in the paparazzi business. "Our paparazzi photographers are the best in the business," the RYDE coin page said. "With RYDE coin, we hope to develop our blockchain platform to deliver registration, licensing, infringement, and other unique revenue streams in order to benefit the community of countless paparazzi and media conglomerates with whom we do business." By contrast, the Kodak Coin press release and website don't say anything about paparazzi photographs. Bolstered by the Kodak brand, they're pitching Kodak Coin as a universal platform for licensing photographs. The press release mentions that WENN "works with approximately 2,500 professional photographers," without being too specific about what kind of photography they're doing. So all that raises some pretty big questions. Obviously, there's a lot of ridiculous speculation on the stock market side for any company that says "blockchain" -- so some of this is to be expected. But does anyone really think that a blockchain-based photography rights database, combined with what certainly sounds like some light copyright trolling ("software that finds unlicensed material on the internet, politely informs the web site owner of the infringement and collects the settlement") is really worth that much money? So far, other public companies that have focused on copyright trolling as a business model haven't found it to be that lucrative. But, perhaps all they were missing was Kodak's respected brandname and some fuzzy hype around the blockchain. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Complete eduCBA Professional Training Bundle features more than 4,800 Courses and 9,500 hours of training. With this enormous collection of courses, you can access study materials to ace a wide variety of professional certification exams that can help you climb up the career ladder in any industry. Categories include project management, finance, Microsoft, quality management, tech and IT, arming you with essential career tools. The courses cover popular certification exams like Agile, Scrum, Six Sigma, ITIL, CFP, CFA, CCNA and many more. It's on sale for only $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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Last week, a large part of the media ecosystem seemed to totally flip out following Facebook's announcement that it was going to effectively de-prioritize news content in favor of content from friends and family. Facebook was pretty direct about how this will decrease traffic to many publishers: Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses. As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect. From Facebook's standpoint, this move is a pretty easy one to make. Even though it had spent the past few years heavily courting news publishers (including directly paying large publishers many millions of dollars to "pivot to video"), the company hadn't totally succeeded in becoming the go to source for news (that remains Twitter's strength). And yet, Facebook was also getting more and more grief over news items in its feeds, especially post-election when people incorrectly wanted to "blame" news on Facebook for Donald Trump's presidential victory. On top of that, this move will only enforce something that Facebook had been inching towards for a while: forcing businesses and publishers to pay to have their news reach a larger audience. So... if this means that Facebook makes more money, distresses fewer people, and doesn't get attacked as much for the so-called problem of "fake news" it looks like a total win from Facebook's perspective. Publishers, on the other hand, were generally freaked out. Many have spent the past 5 years or so desperately trying to "play the Facebook game." And, for many, it gave them a decent boost in traffic (if not much revenue). But, in the process, they proceeded to lose their direct connection to many readers. People coming to news sites from Facebook don't tend to be loyal readers. They're drive-bys. This is why we actually think this is a good thing. As we've discussed in the past, if your entire business is reliant on someone else's platform, you're going to be in trouble. That other platform can pull the rug out from under you in an instant -- as may be the case here. This is a big part of the reason that we've deliberately refused to "play the Facebook game" over the years, even as friends at other publishers kept telling us we were missing out on traffic. As I noted a few weeks ago in our 2017 wrap-up post, we're pretty proud of the fact that a plurality of our visitors are visiting directly, and that less than 20% of our visits come from social media. It suggests that our audience is pretty loyal, and I don't need to freak out about changes on any platform -- whether its social, search or something else. Of course, it won't be surprising to see some publishers continue to throw away good resources and time towards trying to "game" this new system. As Facebook's announcement states, since it will promote content that people "interact" with, expect to see a lot of ridiculous "comment begging" or "share begging" from publishers. At Techdirt we've long forbidden any kind of "comment begging" in our posts (e.g., "Here's some crazy opinion! Do you agree or disagree? Let us know below!") because it feels cheap, manipulative and inauthentic, rather than genuine. I don't want to insult your intelligence with such things, but I expect many publishers, desperate for that Facebook traffic drip, will resort to that kind of thing. The better solution, hopefully, is that many more publications will get over their needy relationship with platforms like Facebook, and focus on building actual, loyal audiences. If not, perhaps they'll go away. And, frankly, if they've spent the past few years living off of ephemeral Facebook traffic, it's not clear that many will miss them. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
So we've repeatedly noted how the FCC's assault on popular net neutrality protections sits on pretty shaky legal ground. The agency not only ignored the public in trashing the rules, it ignored the nation's startups, the people who built the internet, and any and all objective data. They also ignored the rampant comment fraud that occurred during the public comment period of the proceeding, a ham-fisted attempt by "somebody" to downplay the massive public opposition to the plan. For good measure the agency also blocked a law enforcement investigation into said fraud and even made up a DDOS attack. ISP lawyers and lobbyists know their victory could be short lived if looming lawsuits are able to convince a court that the FCC rushed to pass an "arbitrary and capricious order" while disregarding the public and violating FCC procedure. That's why they've begun pushing hard for new net neutrality legislation they're claiming will put the debate to bed, but has one real purpose: to pass flimsy, loophole-filled rules now to prevent the FCC (or a future, less cash-compromised Congress) from passing tougher, better rules down the road. Just days after Comcast began pushing harder for such legislation, the telecom industry's most loyal ally in the House, Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn, began pushing a law that perfectly mirrors everything Comcast asked for. Namely, it makes everything but the most ham-fisted abuses (like outright blocking of websites) legal, effectively codifying federal apathy on net neutrality into law. The law doesn't ban paid prioritization, zero rating, interconnection shenanigans, or any of the areas the modern net neutrality debate currently resides. To push her fake Comcast and AT&T-written law, Blackburn keeps pushing violently misleading editorials like this one (warning: autoplay video), where she doubles down on a decade of net neutrality falsehoods pushed by the telecom sector. That includes all of your favorite AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast talking points on the subject, ranging from the false canard that the FCC's fairly modest rules destroyed sector investment, to the idea that the real villain here are Silicon Valley tech giants: "The heavy-handed regulations imposed in 2015 have hurt innovation and decreased broadband investment, and only served to bolster the Big Tech special interests that pose a threat to online free speech." Again: SEC filings, ISP earnings reports, and countless statements by nearly a dozen ISP CEOs contradicts the claim that the rules hurt broadband investment, but that doesn't stop Blackburn: "With strong, permanent consumer protections and fewer burdensome federal regulations, internet service providers (ISPs) will again be able to innovate and invest. This will stand in stark contrast to the past two years, when network investment decreased by billions of dollars. We absolutely must reverse that trend, and we will do it with an approach that fits the new, and dynamic digital economy." But again, the broadband industry is lobbying for changes that go well beyond just killing net neutrality. They're (quite successfully) convincing the government to simultaneously gut FTC, FCC and state authority over broadband providers almost entirely, creating a massive accountability vacuum for companies that were already some of the least ethical, and least competitive in America. But they're worried that none of this can happen if the courts overturn the FCC's recent vote to repeal the rules, which is where loyal foot soldiers like Blackburn come in. Like Ajit Pai recently did, Blackburn goes out of her way to malign internet companies like Twitter, throwing a little red meat to a partisan base still upset by the platform's completely-unrelated efforts to rein in the nation's neo-nazi flare up. It's not the massive telecom duopolies with a decade of anti-competitive behavior to their names you should worry about, notes Blackburn, it's Twitter: "These companies, with market caps that are two to four times that of service providers like Verizon or AT&T, go unregulated when it comes to neutrality – yet they spend millions advocating for heavy-handed regulations to be imposed on the ISPs that actually connect millions of Americans to the internet. This is not simply disingenuous, but it also has the potential to harm consumers." While Silicon Valley giants have problems of their own (though it's worth clarifying that Google doesn't truly support net neutrality and hasn't for the better part of this decade), Blackburn once again ignores the fact that net neutrality is just a symptom of a lack of competition in broadband. Users angry with Google (with some exceptions, like advertising) can simply switch to another search engine or e-mail platform. Users don't have to use Twitter. But most users only have access to one or two broadband ISPs, which is where this entire problem originates. Net neutrality violations are just a symptom of a lack of competition in broadband, a problem Blackburn has repeatedly made worse by supporting ISP-written state laws hamstringing competition. Blaming a problem she actively, repeatedly makes worse by pandering to AT&T and Comcast, then blaming Twitter for it is simply obnoxious. Blackburn, whose blind fealty to giant ISPs helped land her a role as chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, proceeds to insist that anybody that tries to block her fake net neutrality law is the real enemy: "You’ll know who the real bad actors are when they try to block or throttle this important legislative effort in 2018." In reality, the "bad actors" are the ones supporting a ham-fisted repeal of incredibly popular rules that completely ignored the public interest. Blackburn won't be the last lawmaker to push such flimsy legislation. Expect a flurry of similar legislation proposals with tractor-trailer sized loopholes as ISP executives grow increasingly nervous that the looming FCC court battle may not go their way. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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At some point in the recent past, Motel 6 owners decided they were deputized law enforcement personnel. So what if people paid for a night's worth of uninterrupted sleep and expected that visits from federal and local officials would be kept to a minimum. These owners -- which the Motel 6 corporation takes great pain to point out are "independent" owner/operators -- have decided to ingratiate themselves with untrustworthy organizations like ICE… or the local PD. Some Motel 6s decided to fax guest lists to police departments every night. Others decided they'd turn over every name that looked slightly non-Caucasian to ICE. In both cases, Motel 6 (the corporation) brought the hammer down, swearing it had never given franchisees the permission to turn guest lists into tip sheets for law enforcement. The post-facto corporate rollback wasn't enough for Washington's Attorney General. The state looked into local policies after hearing about rogue ICE relationships in Arizona. It found more of the same occurring in Washington, resulting in a state lawsuit against company for turning guests list into ICE fodder. The hotel chain Motel 6 routinely gave federal immigration agents guest lists with personal information that it used to make arrests, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by Washington’s attorney general. At least six Motel 6 locations in the state provided the information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — some on a near-daily basis — without any reasonable suspicion, probable cause or search warrants, the lawsuit charges. Agents would then single out guests by their national identity, at times circling “Latino-sounding” names on the list, according to the court complaint. The lawsuit [PDF] requests an injunction preventing Motel 6 employees from passing on information to ICE agents without being provided with at least some legal reason to do (probable cause) by government agents. If this were filed at a federal level, it wouldn't likely find a sympathetic court. A Supreme Court decision overturning a Los Angeles statute granting law enforcement constant, unchallengeable access is about the only restriction on sharing guest lists with law enforcement. The allegations the Washington AG raises are concerning, but they're not actually illegal... at least not under federal law. Since at least 2015, Motel 6 has had a policy or practice of providing to ICE agents, upon their request, the list of guests staying at Motel 6 the day of the agents' visit. The guest lists included some or all of the following information for each guest: room number, name, names of additional guests, guest identification number, date of birth, driver's license number, and license plate number. ICE's usual practice was to come to Motel 6's reception desk and request the guest list from the receptionist. The receptionist would print out the guest list and give it to the ICE agent, along with a "law enforcement acknowledgment form" for the agent to sign, acknowledging receipt of the guest list. The ICE agent would review the guest list and identify individuals of interest to ICE. Motel 6 staff observed ICE identify guests of interest to ICE, including by circling guests with Latino-sounding names. On a number of occasions after reviewing the guest list, ICE agents arrested or detained Motel 6 guests. Motel 6 trained its new employees to follow the practice described above to provide guest lists to ICE agents upon request, without requiring the agents to show any reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or search warrant for the guest registry information. However, at the state level, this appears to be a violation of local statutes. Motel 6's privacy policy also states that Motel 6 may disclose guest registry information to law enforcement agencies pursuant to a court order or in compliance with any applicable law, regulation, rule, or ordinance. Under Article 1, § 7 of the Washington Constitution, motel guest registry information constitutes a private affair protected from disclosure without probable cause. Motel 6 guests in Washington have a reasonable expectation of privacy that their guest registry information will not be disclosed to ICE without probable cause. Motel 6 guests in Washington also have a common law right to the privacy of their guest registry information. This is where the State AG hopes to prevent Motel 6 from using guest lists for ICE bait: at the state level where guest registry info is given more privacy protections than other places in the nation. It seems like ICE shouldn't be too put out by having to show a little probable cause paperwork before it starts browsing registries, but the government doesn't roll like that. It would be pretty easy for Motel 6 to get out from under this lawsuit. All it has to do is tell Washington franchisees to knock it off. It's unclear what benefit Motel 6 receives from this possibly-illegal relationship with ICE. So why not just institute a policy that actually complies with local laws? It certainly won't make ICE happy. No federal agency likes having to ask permission from judges to perform searches. ICE is not a party to this lawsuit, but I'm sure it will find some way to make its presence felt. It may argue the Fourth Amendment does not require warrants to access third party records. Hopefully, the court presiding over this will remind ICE (and Motel 6) state laws can provide more protection than the Fourth Amendment without damaging federal authority. The Fourth Amendment is the baseline. Everything else above that -- established at the local level -- is a completely legal bonus for the state's residents. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 8 days ago on techdirt
This week, our first place comment on the insightful side came in response to our post about the fact that copyright maximalists appear to have thrown in the towel on fighting for more copyright extensions. John Snape offered a simple and popular sentiment: If you can't make a profit after 28 years exploiting a copyright, you're a failure. In second place, we have an anonymous comment that also racked up quite a few funny votes, responding to Trump's latest comments about libel laws: I don't think I'm ever going to get over the guy who says whatever it is that pops into his head complaining that you should not be allowed to say whatever it is that pops into your head. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with a comment from Ninja in response to the NSA denying prior knowledge of the Meltdown and Spectre exploits, noting that this is a little hard to simply believe without questioning: Fox denies knowledge of huge hole in the fence. Claims it would never harm chickens. I've actually truncated Ninja's comment there, because he went on to quote an earlier comment from discordian_eris regarding the FBI and the MalwareTech case, and so rather than include it second-hand, here it is as our second editor's choice for insightful: I'm reminded of this quote almost every time the FBI is involved in a case. He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truth without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. Thomas Jefferson The FBI lies so habitually I fail to see how any judge can treat them as credible. Over on the funny side, our first place winner is another comment about the FBI, this time from an anonymous commenter responding to their latest cries about encryption being a threat to public safety: News Flash: "FBI Says Whispering is Evil and Everyone must speak loudly into the microphone" In second place, it's back to the story about copyright extensions, where regular parodist Mr Big Content bemoaned the sad state of affairs: This Is What Happens When You Let Teh Pirates Make Copywright Laws It should be a Law that anybody who has ever copied ANYTHING should be probihibited from having any say in Coppyright Laws. Then we will SEE FAIRNESS PREVAIL for teh TRUE INTELECTUAL PROPETRY OWNERS. YOU KNOW ITS MORALLLY RIGHT!!! For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with JoeCool offering another analogous take on the FBI's encryption panic: Then the FBI lambasted the glove industry for enabling criminals to commit crimes without leaving fingerprints. The evil geniuses of the glove cartel are making the jobs of police everywhere much more difficult, and should be forced to work on gloves that leave fingerprints when used to commit crimes. /s And finally, we head to our post about how a satirical false excerpt from Fire and Fury demonstrated the futility of trying to ban "fake news", where Roger Strong grasped at some threads of hope: Some of us are holding onto hope that Trump is actually a still-alive Andy Kaufman is his greatest satire yet. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 9 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2013, we watched as new players tried to get into the copyright trolling game but were rebuffed by a court system getting wise to their antics — even if, at the same time, established copyright trolls were upping their insane demands. We got some great examples of copyright nonsense as Lionsgate issued a takedown on a video that the Copyright Office itself had featured as an example of fair use, and Sony released an album literally called The Bob Dylan Copyright Extension Collection in order to extend their European copyrights. Amidst all this, we published a long interview we conducted with Derek Khanna, author of the suppressed RSC copyright policy brief. Ten Years Ago This week in 2008, the web of piracy was getting increasingly complex as large entertainment companies realized they could be mining the world of user-generated content. Hollywood's latest DRM efforts were doing their usual job of punishing only paying customers (though perhaps not as much as their extra-special screener DRM punished Academy members), and the UK was reforming its copyright to adopt DRM anti-circumvention laws of its own. Meanwhile, eBay was fighting back against DMCA abuse and Canadian courts struck down the latest efforts to put a piracy tax on iPods. Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2003, it was the pirate tax on CDs that Canadians were starting to (unsuccessfully) fight back against. We watched as Lexmark got in on the DMCA abuse game to try to block third-party ink cartridges, while the EFF outlined the many unintended consequences of the DMCA, and more people were realizing that Hollywood just doesn't get it. At least Rep. Rick Boucher was trying to defend fair use against the DMCA's onslaught. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 9 days ago on techdirt
Following yesterday's bizarre vote in the House, in which many members who opposed President Donald Trump and warn about his abuses of office voted to give him much greater surveillance capabilities, the issue quickly moved to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a procedural move to ensure no amendments are added, and the bill the Senate will vote on will be basically the awful bill in the House. On top of that he put out a misleading statement, playing up the usual fear mongering about Section 702 and even name-checking 9/11. “Republicans and Democrats agree that we must not deprive the men and women who protect our country of this important tool. Five years ago, a reauthorization of Section 702 passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Al Qaeda, ISIL and associated terror groups remain intent on striking our people, and those serving us overseas. I look forward to renewing the bipartisan consensus on this issue now that the time has come to approve a new extension.” “With each day that passes since this nation was attacked on September 11th, 2001 it seems that the concern over terrorism has waned. That is in part due to the success of our defense and intelligence community in preventing another attack. And they rely upon section 702 to accomplish that mission. But as we know, Al Qaeda, ISIL and associated terror groups remain intent on striking our people, and those serving us overseas.” Of course, this ignores that Section 702 didn't even show up until almost a decade after 9/11 -- so really wasn't responsible for most of the intelligence work that McConnell is giving it credit for. And, on top of that, it ignores the widespread abuse of Section 702 programs that we now know about. It also ignores that in some ways this new bill expands the power to conduct surveillance on Americans without a warrant and to use that surveillance for law enforcement, rather than intelligence purposes. An intellectually honest debate about this would address these issues. But McConnell does not appear interested in an intellectually honest debate, preferring to scream "9/11!" and demand Senators vote to approve the plan. There is a group of four Senators pushing back against this: Senators Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Mike Lee and Pat Leahy have sent a powerful letter to their colleagues, detailing the many problems with the bill. This bill allows an end-run on the Constitution by permitting information collected without a warrant to be used against Americans in domestic criminal investigations. It endorses the possibility that the government will resume “about” collections on Americans, a practice that the government was actually forced to abandon last year due to significant non-compliance with privacy protections ordered by the FISA Court. And it does nothing to protect innocent Americans from expanding warrantless surveillance. Continuing the “backdoor” loophole: The bill does nothing for the thousands of Americans whose private communications are searched without a warrant every year, including those who are not even the subject of an investigation. Nor would it prevent unlimited searches for Americans’ information, even for non-national security purposes. The so-called “warrant requirement” reform in the bill applies only to criminal suspects, and then only to the government’s access to their information at the final stage of an investigation, a situation that, according to the most recent annual data from the Director of National Intelligence, has occurred once. This means that the bill actually treats those suspected of a crime better than innocent Americans. Restarting “About” collection: The bill, for the first time, would statutorily recognize the possibility of the government restarting “about” collection, essentially by default, which would necessarily include warrantless collection of communications to and from Americans for whom there is no suspicion at all. The government was forced to abandon this problematic form of collection last year due to extensive compliance problems, and should not be allowed to resume it without specific Congressional approval. Unreviewable end use: The bill grants new, unchecked powers to the Attorney General to allow data collected without a warrant to be used in domestic criminal prosecutions of Americans. The Attorney General merely has to determine that a criminal proceeding “affects, involves, or is related to the national security of the United States” or involves a “transnational crime.” Alarmingly, the bill explicitly prohibits any challenge to the Attorney General’s decision. To be clear, FISA’s purpose is to collect foreign intelligence, but without additional meaningful constraints, Congress is allowing the government to use information collected without a warrant against Americans in domestic court proceedings. We have introduced two separate bills which preserve the government’s ability to pursue terrorists abroad and protect the country from foreign threats while also making the necessary reforms to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans here at home. The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, however, further expands the risks of unconstitutional spying on innocent Americans, and we encourage you to join us in opposition to this bill. We believe that a clean, short-term extension would be markedly preferable to this legislation. Section 702 was last extended for the length of the Continuing Resolution; if Leadership does not allow any amendments to the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act and it does not pass this coming week, then Section 702 authorities can be extended again on the next Continuing Resolution to allow the Senate to fully debate how to appropriately reform this powerful surveillance tool. It would be nice if other Senators actually paid attention and listened to these four... but the fact that it is just these four (and they tend to be the most reliable four Senators talking about protecting the 4th Amendment) suggests that McConnell knows that he has enough votes to pass the bill and allow the NSA and domestic law enforcement to increase their warrantless surveillance of Americans. This also means that it might be a good time to call your own two Senators and make sure they're voting against this. Fight for the Future is crowdfunding to buy billboards advertising against some Senators who vote for the bill, but the more these Senators hear from constituents saying that this bill obliterates our 4th Amendment rights, the better. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 10 days ago on techdirt
So we've long mentioned how incumbent ISPs like Comcast have spent millions of dollars quite literally buying shitty, protectionist laws in more than twenty states. These laws either ban or heavily hamstring towns and cities from building their own broadband networks, or in some cases from even engaging in public/private partnerships. It's a scenario where ISPs get to have their cake and eat it too; they often refuse to upgrade their networks in under-served areas (particularly true among telcos offering DSL), but also get to write shitty laws preventing these under-served towns from doing anything about it. This dance of dysfunction has been particularly interesting in Colorado, however. While lobbyists for Comcast and CenturyLink managed to convince state leaders to pass such a law (SB 152) in 2005, the legislation contains a provision that lets individual Colorado towns and cities ignore the measure with a simple referendum. With frustration mounting over sub-standard broadband and awful customer service, more than 100 towns and cities have done so thus far. Late last year in Fort Collins, for example, 57.15% of locals voted to open the door to community-run broadband despite Comcast and Centurylink spending nearly $1 million on misleading ads claiming the plan would cause the city to fall into disrepair. And this week, the city council voted unanimously on a plan that will help deliver cheap, ultra-fast (gigabit) fiber broadband to most city residents. Under the proposal, the city will take out a $1.8 million loan to help the local utility with startup costs, with expansion funded by bonds: "Last night's three unanimous votes begin the process of building our city's own broadband network," Glen Akins, a resident who helped lead the pro-municipal broadband campaign, told Ars today. "We're extremely pleased the entire city council voted to support the network after the voters' hard fought election victory late last year. The municipal broadband network will make Fort Collins an even more incredible place to live." With the Trump administration's assault on net neutrality, broadband privacy rules and pretty much all meaningful oversight of telecom duopolies, interest in these kinds of creative solutions as an escape from the broken telecom market is only going to grow. In Fort Collins, a city planning document indicates the city is promising to operate a network that actually adheres to net neutrality and avoid usage caps: "The network will deliver a 'net-neutral' competitive unfettered data offering that does not impose caps or usage limits on one use of data over another (i.e., does not limit streaming or charge rates based on type of use). All application providers (data, voice, video, cloud services) are equally able to provide their services, and consumers' access to advanced data opens up the marketplace." ISP lobbyists, executives, and their paid policy parrots like to paint these community broadband efforts as automatic boondoggles. In reality, they're just like any business plan, with some good and some arguably awful. But lost in this claim is the fact that ISPs are bribing state legislatures to take local infrastructure decisions out of the hands of local voters -- simply because they're terrified of anything vaguely resembling competition. Also lost is the fact that these towns and cities wouldn't be looking into these efforts if U.S. broadband wasn't such an anti-competitive, uncompetitive shitshow. But why should ISPs like Comcast compete when it's much easier to buy awful state laws, then sue any community broadband efforts into oblivion (as Comcast attempted to do in Chattanooga)? The problem for incumbent ISPs is their ham-fisted efforts to obliterate things like net neutrality is only fueling anger in communities looking for any alternative to the dysfunctional status quo. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We recently reported how China continues to turn the online world into the ultimate surveillance system, which hardly comes as a surprise, since China has been relentlessly moving in this direction for years. What is rather more surprising is that Chinese citizens are beginning to push back, at least in certain areas. For example, The New York Times reports on an "outcry" provoked by a division of the Alibaba behemoth when it assumed that its users wouldn't worry too much if they were enrolled automatically in one of China's commercially-run tracking systems: Ant Financial, an affiliate of the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, apologized to users on Thursday after prompting an outcry by automatically enrolling in its social credit program those who wanted to see the breakdown [of their spending made via Ant Financial's online payment system]. The program, called Sesame Credit, tracks personal relationships and behavior patterns to help determine lending decisions. When one of China's business leaders complained publicly about the lack of privacy in China, and how Tencent's hugely-popular WeChat program spied on users, the company's denials were met with another outcry: Tencent said that the company did not store the chat history of users and that it would never use chat history for big data analytics. The comments were met with widespread disbelief: WeChat users have been arrested over what they've said on the app, conversations have turned up as evidence in court proceedings, and activists have reported being followed based on WeChat conversations. Meanwhile, the third of China's Big Three Internet companies -- Baidu -- has been hit with legal action over privacy concerns, reported here by Caixin: Baidu Inc., China’s largest search-engine operator, is being sued by a consumer-protection organization that claims it collected users' information without consent, in the latest privacy dispute involving the country's tech giants. Two mobile apps operated by New York-listed Baidu, a search engine and a web browser, could access a user's calls, location data, messages and contacts without notifying the user, the Jiangsu Consumer Council, a government-backed consumer rights association, claimed in a statement on its website. The Chinese government may not worry too much about these calls for more privacy provided they remain directed at companies, since they offer a useful way for citizens to express their concerns about surveillance without challenging the state. It looks happy to encourage users to demand more control over how online services use their personal data -- so long as the authorities can still access everything themselves. As well as government acquiescence in these moves, there's another reason why Chinese companies may well start to take online privacy more seriously. Аn article in the South China Morning Post points out that if Chinese online giants want to move beyond their fast-saturating home market, and start operating in the US and EU, they will need to pay much more attention to privacy to satisfy local laws. As Techdirt reported, an important partnership between AT&T and Huawei, China's biggest hardware company, has just been blocked because of unproven accusations that data handled by Huawei's products might make its way back to the Chinese government. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Appealing to someone's ego is profitable. Lawyers of Distinction names many, many lawyers to its "distinction" list every year. Some people believe this actually means something. But it doesn't, as Kelsey Butchcoe explained late last year in a post for marketing blog Mockingbird. A lawyer getting a letter from Lawyers of Distinction announcing their selection to the vaunted "top 10%" is, in reality, getting nothing more than unsolicited marketing materials. Following up with Lawyers of Distinction provides curious attorneys the opportunity to spend $425-775 annually to obtain plaques, "crystals," and backlinks to their law firm websites from LoD. Following up further, as Butchcoe did, also uncovers the fact Lawyers of Distinction's prestigious awards emanate from a UPS Store in Las Vegas, Nevada. This post did not make Lawyers of Distinction happy. The "in-house counsel" of Lawyers of Distinction, "Jesse Brodsky ESQ," fired off an emailed cease-and-desist to Conrad Saam of Mockingbird, demanding Saam do some impossible things -- like take the threat seriously and remove the post "from the internet." The email is embedded below, but we'll quote it in full here because: A. It's really short B. It's really dumb C. It closes with a threat ensuring the body of the email will never be taken seriously. It has been brought to our attention that you published an article titled "When the Top 10% Means Nothing." In this article, you include which is defamatory toward Lawyers of Distinction, Inc. Your article is actionable and we will be initiating lawsuits against the author individually, as well as Mockingbird Marketing if this post is not immediately removed from the internet. Your post is rife with false and misleading information regarding Lawyers of Distinction, Inc. For instance, you refer to our offices as being in a strip shopping center, when in fact we have a corporate office in a traditional office building. This is merely a small example of your intent to knowingly publish false and defamatory information, which is meant to harm Lawyers of Distinction's reputation and economic well being, at the same time trying to create a pecuniary gain for your marketing company. If this article is not removed from the internet on or before the close of business on October 10th, 2017, we shall file a lawsuit seeking appropriate actual, compensatory and punitive damages. You have been warned and placed on notice. Every day of delay in removing this article will increase the damages we shall be seeking. Please govern yourself accordingly. Conrad Saam has broken down the best parts of the C&D at Mockingbird, not the least of which is the demand the post be "removed from the internet," as though that were a thing people could actually do. I'm sure Brodsky ESQ meant "delete it from the Mockingbird website" but that just doesn't sound as (vaguely) threatening (and completely unenforceable) as "delete it from the internet." Combine that with "govern yourself accordingly," and you have some poorly-written fluff blustering about noisily in hopes of being mistaken for saber-rattling. Saam has not removed the offending post from Mockingbird nor the internet beyond. Equally unsurprising, Brodsky and his strip mall law office have not filed any lawsuits over the supposedly defamatory post. Saam did reach out for some legal advice before posting the C&D, asking Florida lawyer Brian Tannebaum if he should be concerned about this lawsuit threat. Here's what Tannenbaum suggested Saam be worried about in the context of this angry email from Lawyers of Distinction's in-mall counsel: If I were you, the thing I’d be worried about right now is what you are going to eat for breakfast. After that I’d start concerning myself with lunch and then plans for the weekend. I’d put worrying about what you wrote right below whether you are soon to run out of toothpaste. Being threatened by a lawyer who speaks for an entity that sells plaques to narcissists is low on the list of things to be worried about. There's nothing remotely actionable in the post targeted by the C&D. Nor is there anything actionable is Saam's follow-up posts, which provide more details about LoD's inner workings, as well as successful attempts to get a chicken and a dog recognized as "Lawyers of Distinction." (This is not the first dog to receive top lawyerly accolades from Lawyers of Distinction.) Anyone receiving unsolicited emails from LoD should immediately flag them as spam, because that's all they really are. Or, if so inclined, an attorney could imagine it to be something flattering, and plaster his website with as many meaningless accolades as possible, as this Cincinnati lawyer has. Searching for "lawyers of distinction" reveals a great many lawyers have chosen to republish LoD's meaningless announcements, press releases, and supposed "top 10%" designations. This doesn't prove Lawyers of Distinction is legitimate. All it proves is appealing to egos is guaranteed to separate fools from their money. Lawyers of Distinction certainly seems like an easy way for lawyers to waste their money. It will apparently allow almost anyone (or anything) to claim membership in the "top 10%" of lawyers stratosphere -- and it will autobill recipients $425-775 annually should anyone desire some overpriced memorabilia commemorating the time they got suckered on the internet. The "top 10%" designation means nothing, except to those willing to part with a chunk of their money and reputation. The problem is unsuspecting people looking for representation might believe this "award" -- bought and paid for by an attorney -- actually signifies better-than-average lawyering. Those are the people taken in by "services" like these. Those paying for plaques are only victims of their own hubris. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Another day, another stupid lawsuit/legal threat emanating from the Trump offices. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has decided to rub up against the libel laws Trump so badly wants to "open up" by filing a ridiculous defamation lawsuit against Buzzfeed for publishing the Christopher Steele dossier compiled by Fusion GPS. Fusion is also being sued, but the addition of Buzzfeed strips the lawsuit of much of its credibility. Cohen has every reason to dislike what was said about him in the dossier. According to the Fusion GPS opposition report, Cohen was supposedly instrumental in hooking the president's people up with high-ranking Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Cohen maintains all of these allegations are false. From the lawsuit [PDF]: Under this report, Plaintiff is alleged to have an inappropriate and possibly criminal relationship with the Russian government stemming from his wife's familial relations with a Russian property developer. None of these allegations are true. Plaintiff does not have any relationship with Russian officials and his father-in-law is not a leading property developer in Moscow; he has only been to Russia once. In fact, Plaintiff's father-in-law does not even own a vacation home in Sochi, nor has he ever been there. Additionally, Plaintiff's wife was born in the Ukraine region and immigrated to the United States over forty (40) years ago; she has never been to Russia. The dossier was published in full last January. In March, Cohen provided Buzzfeed with his passport, showing he had never traveled to the areas the report said he had. That should have been enough for Cohen, but he's decided to, at the very minimum, force Buzzfeed to defend itself against defamation claims up to a motion to dismiss. The lawsuit goes on and on about allegations made in the report, each one supposedly provably false. Several paragraphs are devoted to quoting parts of the report, followed by Cohen's rebuttal of the report. Even a casual observer of defamation suits should be able to see the problem. The entity Cohen should be suing is Fusion GPS, and Fusion GPS only. Cohen's lawsuit is largely made up of counterspeech. The best weapon against speech you don't agree with is more speech, delivered from your side. But using a federal lawsuit to engage in counterspeech doesn't do anything positive for the First Amendment. If Cohen wanted to rebut these allegations publicly, I'm sure there's no shortage of press outlets willing to make space for an op-ed piece by the president's personal lawyer. Cohen has instead decided to use the government to grant credence to his side of the story and is hoping to take home $100 million on top of whatever collateral damage he does to the First Amendment. Cohen has to stretch to make Buzzfeed the target of a lawsuit complaining about things that weren't said by anyone at Buzzfeed. Defendants knew that the Dossier reports were false and/or acted with reckless disregard in determining whether the reports were true or false. While it's true Buzzfeed thought the document might be sketchy, it did warn readers the dossier had not been verified and included errors. This is hardly "reckless" behavior. The dossier was definitely newsworthy. On top of that, government officials had already acted on information contained in the document, lending it further credence and adding to its public interest value. Buzzfeed's Ben Smith offered his defense of the document's public value (and implicit pedigree) at the New York Times. His statement goes right to the heart of Cohen's "reckless disregard" allegations: When we published the dossier, we knew a lot: We knew that it had been written by the former head of the Russia desk at Britain’s main foreign intelligence agency, a man whose job had made him a leading source on Russian espionage. We knew that key members of the Senate — Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, and John McCain, the Arizona Republican — had acted on its contents. We had also learned that intelligence officials had briefed President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump on the dossier, and that the F.B.I. was already looking into it. So, it's not as though some internet rando jammed a bunch of virtual papers through Buzzfeed's SecureDrop mail slot. This document had received vetting from government officials, many of which saw enough in it to move forward with investigations and Congressional hearings. To be fair, Cohen is also suing Fusion GPS. But adding Buzzfeed to the lawsuit serves zero purpose other than to hassle it for ensuring the document ended up in the public's hands. This rolls back a lot of the fairness I so recently extended Cohen. New York has a severely-restricted (and mostly useless) anti-SLAPP law so Buzzfeed won't be able to turn around and demand a refund from Cohen for wasting its time. Cohen clearly doesn't like what was said about him in the Fusion report. Great, sue Fusion. Sue Christopher Steele. But don't make this about a third party that did nothing more than publish a document of public interest with fair warning to readers about the dubious veracity of the contents. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's going to be a fun few months for German government officials as they run from one embarrassing fire to the next, hoping to keep their newly-minted "hate speech" law from being scrapped for sheer ineptitude. The law went live January 1st, promising hefty fines for social media companies if they don't remove poorly-defined "hate speech" fast enough. This has resulted in exactly the sort of side effects the law's critics promised. The only remarkable thing is how fast the side effects have presented themselves. Within 72 hours of the law's debut, a satirical post mocking a German's politician's bigoted words was deleted by Twitter in an apparently proactive move. The 24-hour window for content removal is backed by €50m fines for each violation. Given the amount of money on the line, it's no surprise social media companies are trying to stay ahead of Germany's government when it comes to regulating speech. It's also no surprise Twitter, et al are relying heavily on users to help narrow down which questionable posts it should be looking at. You can already see where this is headed. For the second time in less than a week, Twitter has pulled the trigger on an innocent tweet. And, again, the entity whose tweet has been deleted is big enough to attract the attention of German lawmakers. Germany signalled on Monday it was open to amending a controversial law combatting online hate speech as the justice minister fell victim to the rules he himself championed. The move came after Twitter deleted a post by Heiko Maas dating back to 2010 before he was appointed justice minister, in which he called a fellow politician "an idiot". The post was deleted after Twitter received several complaints, fuelling a simmering row over the new regulation which critics say stifle freedom of speech. Proponents of laws targeting speech tend to believe the law will operate in a pristine vacuum where only the purest of intentions will be honored. Anyone operating outside of this mindset knows exactly how speech-targeting laws work in real life: exactly like this, where an internet dogpile resulted in the deletion of a tweet that didn't even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech handed down by the German government. As a result of multiple, high-profile false positives, many German politicians are now complaining about the law and demanding it be altered or struck down. But even with political sentiment swiftly turning against the just-enacted law, the German government will apparently take a wait-and-see approach to touching up the law. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said an evaluation would be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law was working. The way things are going, it's doubtful the law will make it six weeks before being clawed back for a rewrite. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not surprisingly, the Internet Association has stated that the organization intends to participate in the looming lawsuits against the FCC for its repeal of net neutrality. The group, which represents countless tech companies including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Etsy and more, stated that the organization will not only participate in the coming lawsuits (which should arrive shortly after the repeal hits the Federal Register), but would support a "legislative solution" to help make net neutrality permanent (though as we've noted, folks should be careful on that front): "The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers. This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet. IA intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against this order and, along with our member companies, will continue our push to restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections through a legislative solution." To be clear, that's a good thing. These upcoming lawsuits, which will focus on the FCC's blatant disregard for objective data and public interest, are going to need all the help they can get. Said suits will focus extensively on how Ajit Pai and the FCC ignored the nation's startups, the people who built the internet, and any and all objective data as it rushed to give a sloppy, wet kiss to the nation's entrenched telecom monopolies. That said, several IA member companies' dedication to net neutrality has been anything but consistent. Google, while often touted as a "net neutrality advocate," hasn't truly supported the concept since 2009 or so. As the company pushed into fixed (Google Fiber) and wireless (Project Fi, Android) broadband, its interest in rules that truly protected consumers from duopoly market abuse in the sector magically disappeared. And Google worked with AT&T and Verizon to help craft FCC net neutrality protections in 2010 that were so packed with loopholes as to be largely useless (they didn't even cover wireless networks). Other IA members like Facebook have actively worked to undermine net neutrality overseas as they attempt to corner the ad market in developing nations. Facebook received ample criticism for its behavior in India specifically, when the company tried to trick citizens into supporting Facebook's push for a zero-rated walled garden platform dubbed "Free Basics." India ultimately banned such zero rating efforts under its own net neutrality rules, supporting Mozilla's position that if Facebook is so concerned about the Indian poor, it should help fund access to the entire internet -- and not just a Facebook-curated walled garden. Even Netflix, perhaps the most vocal and deep-pocketed support of net neutrality, has softened its position on the subject as it has grown more powerful. Company CEO Reed Hastings recently proclaimed that network neutrality was SOP (somebody else's problem) now that the company is large enough and wealthy enough to fight off anti-competitive behavior by the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast: "The Trump FCC is going to unwind the rules no matter what anybody says,” Hastings argues. He might believe that net neutrality is “important for society," but his company, Netflix, isn’t in trouble so it’s not going to get into the fight. “We had to carry the water when we were growing up and we were small," Hastings said. "Other companies have to be on that leading edge." That's a painfully myopic read of the situation, and one Netflix has been forced to walk back from after ample criticism for its tone-deafness. Or at least, the company has been more vocal about its "support" of net neutrality on Twitter, for whatever that winds up being worth in the face of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast lobbying muscle. All of that said, the IA has a broad roster of countless smaller members, like Etsy, who have been perfectly consistent about their support for net neutrality. That support remains completely intact, according to a statement released by the company: "The FCC’s decision to overturn net neutrality rules was deeply disappointing for those of us who have fought so hard for the strong protections that enable millions of microbusinesses to start and grow online. Under the FCC’s new proposal, millions of small business, like Etsy’s 1.9 million sellers, could find themselves in the internet slow lane or blocked altogether." Again, it's great that some of Facebook, Google and Netflix's money will be used to help fund the fight against the repeal. But if these Silicon Valley giants hadn't decided to take a nap during this latest fight to protect the rules, we might not be in this position in the first place. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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