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The local police union defended the indefensible: the burning/maiming of a toddler with a flashbang grenade, delivered during a no-knock raid in service of the Drug War. According to the union rep, burned toddlers are just the price society has to pay to keep the streets relatively free of criminals. "You have to draw the line between your right as a citizen to privacy and a community's right to live in a crime-free environment. You can't have them both," Mills said. Thanks, but no thanks. Not only did the union defend these Georgia police officers' needlessly aggressive tactics, but it attempted to lay the blame for a burned toddler at the public's feet. And now, with a grand jury indictment being handed down, it appears the union was also defending a liar. According to the indictment, [Deputy] Autry falsely claimed a confidential informant who had provided reliable information in the past had bought methamphetamine from Wanis Thonetheva at his mother's house in Cornelia. In truth, the informant was newly minted, and it was his roommate who claimed (without verification) to have bought drugs at the house. That lie was the basis for the early-morning, no-knock raid during which 18-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, Thonetheva's cousin, was nearly killed by a flash-bang grenade that landed in the playpen where he was sleeping. Any CI that can put a no-knock raid in motion is inherently trustworthy. Except when they aren't. So, much like the toddler's family's lawsuit alleged, the impetus for the raid that saw SWAT members tripping over children's toys in the yard on their way to tossing a flashbang grenade into a crib was nothing more than some random citizen "helping" keep his neighborhood safe. All that investigative work and "upon information and belief" was actually Habersham County Deputy Sheriff Nikki Autry spinning a tale of small-time drug running in exchange for the permission to perform the law enforcement version of a home invasion. Specifically, Defendant Autry provided and swore, in pertinent part, (1) that she conducted an undercover drug investigation during which time CI #1459 was able to purchase a quantity of methamphetamine from [W.T] at [W.T.'s] residence; (2) that CI #1459 [was] a true and reliable informant who provided information in the past that led to criminal charges on individuals selling illegal narcotics… and (3) that she confirmed that "there [was] heavy traffic in and out of the residence." This information that Defendant Autry provided and swore to was false, because, as Defendant Autry then well knew: (1) CI #1459 did not purchase a quantity of methamphetamine from W.T. during her investigation; (2) CI #1459 had not provided information in the past that led to criminal charges on individuals selling illegal narcotics… and (3) she had not confirmed that there was heavy traffic in and out of the residence. The presentment accompanying the grand jury's findings suggest several improvements for drug enforcement activities, starting with dialing back the "gung-ho" aspects of drug warring. Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions. Without serious supervision and constant vigilance, the work of drug enforcement, like many other jobs, can unfortunately become routine and lead to complacency and lack of attention to detail. The difference in this type of work is that the consequences can be devastating to both citizens and law enforcement when things go wrong. Making thing go "right" more often means bringing SWAT teams and tactics back in line with their original intentions: for use only the most dangerous operations. Over the past few decades, SWAT teams have gone from seldom-used specialists who dealt with shootouts and hostage situations to routine -- but extraordinarily violent -- delivery services for unremarkable search/arrest warrants. The presentment points out law enforcement agencies have several options that don't involve violently raiding residences during odd hours. We recommend that whenever reasonably possible, suspects be arrested away from a home when doing so can be accomplished without extra risk to law enforcement and to citizens. Going into a home with the highest level of entry should be reserved for those cases where it is absolutely necessary. This is to protect both citizens and law enforcement officers. We have heard evidence that many drug suspects often initially believe a law enforcement entry is in fact a drug robbery. In an instant, they reach for a weapon or take an action that makes a situation escalate. This is dangerous to all involved, and neither the public nor law enforcement officers should be in this dangerous split second situation unless it is absolutely necessary for the protection of the public, which is the highest concern for our lawenforcement officers under their duty. It's a nice set of words, but the real test will be the application of these principles -- principles that never should have been abandoned in the first place. To start with, it's rare to find an officer who places protection of the public over protection of themselves. Almost every act of unwarranted violence is defended by the words "feared for my safety." We don't ask that officers become punching bags and bullet-catchers, but there's a lot of leeway between a "furtive motion" and emptying a service weapon into an unarmed person. (Or tossing a flashbang through the nearest window with little regard for what lies behind it.) The standard MO for drug-related warrants is to deliver them with as much violence, force and noise as possible, under the assumption that every drug dealer -- no matter how small -- awaits the arrival of police with barricades and an arsenal. This simply isn't borne out by the results of these raids, which often fail to turn up any weapons -- or at least none being wielded by the residents of the home. In some cases, there are also no drugs to be found, but this result rarely leads to the turfing of a CI or a less-violent entry when serving the next warrant. The deaths and injuries caused by drug enforcement aren't in danger of approaching the death and injuries caused by the drug trade, but the former is more disturbing than the latter. While we might expect a certain amount of violence from purveyors of illicit substances, we don't really expect as much from law enforcement. And yet we're seeing it occur on a far too regular basis. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's no doubt that T-Mobile and its smack-talking CEO have been good for the wireless industry, applying pressure on a lot of customer pain points like subsidized devices, international roaming, and long-term contracts and early termination fees. As a result, T-Mobile's been adding more new subscribers than any of the other three major carriers. But as I've noted a few times now, the pricing response to this competition by companies like AT&T and Verizon has been a bit cosmetic and theatrical in nature, since none of the carriers want a real wireless price war. Sure, there are some occasionally decent promotions but, by and large, the name of the game right now for both AT&T and Verizon is driving network usage and shoving customers as hard as possible toward large, expensive, shared data allotments. Verizon has pretty loudly stated it's not going to seriously compete on price because it believes its network is just that good. The latest example of not-really-price competition comes courtesy of AT&T, who is responding to T-Mobile's competitive pressure by... raising fees and creating entirely new annoying surcharges: The new activation/upgrade fee for one and two-year agreements is raising from $40 to $45, which gives AT&T the highest activation fee in the industry (Verizon is still at $40 for now). Going forward after August 1, should you choose to sign-up for a new contract to receive a discounted phone, you will pay $5 more than you used to. In related news, AT&T Next will no longer be a zero-out-of-pocket installment plan. Come August 1, customers who are new to AT&T Next will have to pay a $15 activation fee when they pick up a new phone. This $15 fee also applies to those who bring their own device (BYOD) and sign-up for a new line of service. So yeah, AT&T's response to price competition is -- to raise prices. And its response to media inquiries so far as to why this is occurring has been total radio silence, since there's not much it could say to defend the practice. There are still a few reasons why AT&T doesn't really have to care what you or the media thinks. One, the company's mammoth lobbying apparatus ensures it still gets favorable treatment, especially on the easily manhandled state level, where most legislators would happily sell their first born to win the company's affections. Two, AT&T still has a stranglehold over a huge swath of wireless spectrum thanks to auction rules that historically favored large companies (though that's changing... slowly). Three, AT&T and Verizon combined still control around 80% or more of the wireless backhaul special access market, which companies like T-Mobile need to pay to access in order to reach their customers. Of course hammering customers with a bevy of annoying fees is pretty much standard operating procedure in most industries as a way to pretend your advertised rate is staying the same. But AT&T's latest greedy little cash grab is worth remembering the next time industry trade groups like the CTIA are breathlessly insisting that fierce competition is delivering a bonanza of broadband bargains. There is no "wireless price war." It's more of a theatrical pricing improvisational dance.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Grab these gadgets for your car and be ready for that end of summer road trip you've been meaning to take. Get 25% off of the Neutron A Magnetic Phone & Tablet Car Mount. These shielded magnets attach to your dash and phone or tablet with strong mounting tape. No need to snap your device into a holder as the strong magnets will hold it in place. If you don't want to mess with tape on your stuff, get 33% off of the ExoMount Touch Universal Car Mount. This suction cup mounted holder can grab onto a variety of surfaces and even hugs curves. It's easy to snap your phone in and out of the padded holder. Keep your devices charged up with 80% off of the Mpow 3-Port Intelligent Car Charger. This little charger supports 12V and 18V charging to handle all sorts of USB charging gadgets. Set yourself up with an extra set of eyes on the road with 30% off of the GoSafe 520 Dashcam. Mounted on your windshield, this little camera can record a few hours of driving in 2K Ultra WHD 2560x1080 video. It comes with alarms you can set for driver fatigue, stop-and-go traffic and a light reminder. You could even turn it around and record yourself belting out your favorite tunes to make one of those lip sync videos that seem to pop up everywhere. Happy trails! Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Sixth Circuit court of appeals has now made it clear: you have no expectation of privacy in your butt dials. The full ruling makes for some fascinating reading. Apparently a guy named James Huff made what must be one of the most expensive butt dials in history. Huff, who was chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board (in Kenton, Kentucky) which oversees the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG), was in Europe on a business trip. At one point, he tried to call Carol Spaw, the executive assistant of the airport's CEO, Candace McGraw, to see if Spaw could schedule a dinner reservation for him and another board member. His call failed, but after another board member with Huff successfully reached Spaw, it appears that Huff's phone, in his pocket, called again and he was -- unknowingly -- successfully connected with Spaw. At this point, though, Huff was already talking with the other board member, Larry Savage, about possibly replacing Spaw's boss, McGraw. Spaw proceeded to then continue to listen and transcribe notes of what was being said, including recording parts of the call, which lasted for approximately an hour and a half (yes, from Italy to Kentucky, so... the price of the call alone was probably quite a lot, not counting the eventual legal costs). As for why she did this: Spaw claims that she believed that she heard James Huff and Savage engaged in a discussion to discriminate unlawfully against McGraw and felt that it was her responsibility to record the conversation and report it through appropriate channels. Eventually Spaw typed up the notes she had taken, hired a company to enhance the audio of the recording she made and shared both with other board members. Huff was... not happy. He (and his wife) sued Spaw, claiming illegal wiretapping under 18 USC 2511. The lower court tossed out this claim, and the Huffs appealed. Here, the court examines whether or not Huff had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his conversation, and notes that he knew there was such a risk and had, in fact, made such errant calls in the past. Thus, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy, since it was his own negligence that resulted in the butt dial: At his deposition, James Huff admitted that he was aware of the risk of making inadvertent pocket-dial calls and had previously made such calls on his cellphone. A number of simple and well-known measures can prevent pocket-dials from occurring. These include locking the phone, setting up a passcode, and using one of many downloadable applications that prevent pocket-dials calls.... James Huff did not employ any of these measures. He is no different from the person who exposes in-home activities by leaving drapes open or a webcam on and therefore has not exhibited an expectation of privacy. The court rejects the claim, made by the Huffs, that such a ruling would mean no one had any expectation of privacy in their phone calls: The Huffs warn that, if we do not recognize James Huff’s reasonable expectation of privacy in this case, we would deprive all cellphone-carrying Americans of their reasonable expectations of privacy in their conversations.... We disagree. Not recognizing James Huff’s expectation would do no more injury to cellphone users’ privacy interests than the injury that the plain-view doctrine inflicts upon homeowners with windows or webcams. A homeowner with an uncovered window or a broadcasting webcam lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect only to viewers looking through the window that he neglected to cover or receiving signals from the webcam he left on. He would retain a reasonable expectation of privacy in his home with respect to other means of observation, for example thermal-imagery devices.... Similarly, James Huff retained an expectation of privacy from interception by non-pocket-dial means, such as by a hidden recording device or by someone covertly causing his cellphone to transmit his statements to an eavesdropper..... James Huff lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in his statements only to the extent that a third-party gained access to those statements through a pocket-dial call that he placed. In sum, a person who knowingly operates a device that is capable of inadvertently exposing his conversations to third-party listeners and fails to take simple precautions to prevent such exposure does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to statements that are exposed to an outsider by the inadvertent operation of that device. So, the failed lawsuit would then be the second part of why this was likely the most expensive butt dial in history. Of course, it's not a total loss for the Huffs. As noted earlier, it wasn't just James Huff who sued, but also his wife, Bertha. Apparently part of the overheard conversation was between James and Bertha, and the court is much more receptive to Bertha's "reasonable expectation of privacy" claim. The lower court had said she didn't have a reasonable expectation of privacy, since she knew that her husband's phone might butt dial someone. The appeals court finds that to be a bit more ridiculous. If Bertha waived her reasonable expectation of privacy from pocketdials by speaking to a person who she knew to carry a pocket-dial-capable device, she would also waive her reasonable expectation of privacy from recordings and transmissions by speaking with anyone carrying a recording-capable or transmission-capable device, i.e., any modern cellphone. The district court’s holding would logically result in the loss of a reasonable expectation of privacy in face-to-face conversations where one party is aware that a participant in the conversation may have a modern cellphone. As nearly every participant in a conversation is a potential cellphone carrier, such a conclusion would dramatically undermine the protection that Title III grants to oral communication. And thus, the court sends it back down to the lower court to determine if Spaw's answering of the phone, listening to the call she received and taking such notes (and recording part of the call) constituted "intentional use of a device" to intercept Bertha Huff's oral communications. Most of that seems like a stretch -- though the fact that, at one point, she did have someone go get another phone with which to record the call at least raises some questions that make it not so cut and dried. Either way, the moral of the story: don't butt dial. And, if you do: don't then discuss figuring out a way to fire the boss of the person you butt dialed.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Copyright troll Malibu Media would prefer the many courtrooms it uses as speculative invoicing middlemen to be free of disparaging statements. To that end, it has filed a motion that specifically asks that certain blogs not be brought up nor discussed nor quoted extensively from by the defendant or his counsel. (h/t to Raul) The Court should preclude Defendant from referring to copyleft blogs for any purpose, including specifically references to fightcopyrightrolls.com and dietrolldie.com. Plaintiff expects Defendant may attempt to reference these blogs at trial in an effort to introduce unsubstantiated allegations against Plaintiff. The blogs target Plaintiff and its counsel with vitriolic hate speech and contain comments that are biased, slanderous, and prejudicial, and should not be referred to at trial for any purpose. “Many internet blogs commenting on this and related cases ignore the rights of copyright owners to sue for infringement, and inappropriately belittle efforts of copyright owners to seek injunctions and damages.” Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1, 6, 13, 14, 950 F. Supp. 2d 779, 781 (E.D. Pa. 2013). Yes, we can't have sites that expose the immoral and illegal activities of copyright trolls exposing the immoral and illegal activities of copyright trolls, can we? We'll just have to see what the judge has to say about this exclusionary motion. And in support of its allegations about the content of these blogs, Malibu Media cites a friendly footnote from one of its rare wins [p. 2] -- a derogatory phrase penned by Judge Michael Baylson and co-opted in its entirety by Dallas Buyers Club for use in its threatening letters to alleged infringers. Rather hilariously, Malibu Media uses an infrequently-used term to describe these blogs, in an equally-sad attempt to appear evenhanded. Plaintiff, Malibu Media, LLC (“Plaintiff”) by and through undersigned counsel, hereby moves for the entry of an order precluding Defendant Michael Harrison (“Defendant”) and his counsel from referring to copyleft blogs at trial for any purpose... Sensing the court may not be familiar with the concept of "copyleft," it is more fully described in the attached footnote: “Copyleft” is the polite way of describing an anti-copyright ideology. “Freetards” is the degrading equivalent of “copyright trolls” when used in association with copyright producers. With this handy guide to the nuances of the copyright debate now on the record, the case can presumably proceed safely. According to Malibu, the blogs that have long tracked its legal efforts have "no probative value" and the mere mention of the forbidden sites may "provoke" jurors into browsing these blogs during their downtime... which obviously won't win Malibu any new fans favorable jurors. All in all, it's pretty much a vindication of the efforts made by Fight Copyright Trolls and Die Troll Die. If these were nothing more than storehouses for hyperbolic statements and woodchipper discussions, it's highly unlikely Malibu would be attempting to preemptively banish them from court. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Two years ago, we wrote about the state of Georgia ridiculously threatening to sue Carl Malamud and his site Public.Resource.org for copyright infringement... for publishing an official annotated copy of the state's laws. This followed on a similar threat from the state of Oregon, which wisely backed down. Malamud has spent the last few years of his life doing wonderful and important work trying to make sure that the laws that we live by are actually available to the public. The specific issue here is that while the basic Georgia legal code is available to the public, the state charges a lot of money for the "Official Code of Georgia Annotated." The distinction here is fairly important -- but it's worth noting that the courts will regularly rely on the annotations in the official code, which more or less makes them a part of the law itself. And then, the question is whether or not the law itself should be subject to copyright restrictions. Malamud has long argued no, while the state has obviously argued yes, probably blinded by the revenue from selling its official copy of the annotated code. It took two years, but the state has now done the absolutely ridiculous thing of suing Malamud. It is about as ridiculous as you would expect again focusing on the highly questionable claim that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated is covered by federal copyright law -- and that not only was Malamud (*gasp*) distributing it, but also... creating derivative works! Oh no! And, he's such an evil person that he was encouraging others to do so as well! This action for injunctive relief arises from Defendant’s systematic, widespread and unauthorized copying and distribution of the copyrighted annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (“O.C.G.A.”) through the distribution of thumb drives containing copies of the O.C.G.A. and the posting of the O.C.G.A. on various websites. Defendant has facilitated, enabled, encouraged and induced others to view, download, print, copy, and distribute the O.C.G.A copyrighted annotations without limitation, authorization, or appropriate compensation. On information and belief, Defendant has also created unauthorized derivative works containing the O.C.G.A. annotations by re-keying the O.C.G.A. in order to make it possible for members of the public to copy and manipulate the O.C.G.A., thereby also encouraging the creation of further unauthorized derivative works. Believe it or not, the State of Georgia is actually claiming that it needs the copyright protections here to incentivize it to create these annotated copies of the law. Apparently, without copyright, Georgia's law would remain sadly unannotated. Each of these annotations is an original and creative work of authorship that is protected by copyrights owned by the State of Georgia. Without providing the publisher with the ability to recoup its costs for the development of these copyrighted annotations, the State of Georgia will be required to either stop publishing the annotations altogether or pay for development of the annotations using state tax dollars. Unless Defendant’s infringing activities are enjoined, Plaintiff and citizens of the State of Georgia, will face losing valuable analysis and guidance regarding their state laws. This is ridiculous. In what world does making the law require copyright protection? The State is particularly upset that Malamud ran some crowdfunding and donation campaigns seeking to raise money to keep his operations running, saying that he raised this money "to assist the Defendant in infringing the State of Georgia's copyrights." The State also complains that he uploaded the code to the Internet Archive under a CC 0 public domain dedication, saying (incorrectly) that this implies that he claimed that he was the owner of the annotations. That's not true at all. He's claiming that everyone owns them, because they're the law. Later, the lawsuit makes Malamud out to be some sort of horrible person on a "crusade" to make the laws free, and to "control the accessibility of U.S. government documents." On information and belief, Carl Malamud has engaged in an 18 yearlong crusade to control the accessibility of U.S. government documents by becoming the United States’ Public Printer – an individual nominated by the U.S. President and who is in control of the U.S. Government Printing Office. Carl Malamud has not been so nominated. It takes a special kind of ridiculousness to argue that someone seeking to make the laws of the land more accessible to the public is somehow looking to "control the accessibility" of those laws. But, welcome to the State of Georgia, apparently home to just that kind of special ridiculousness. The complaint further submits as an exhibit this Columbia Journalism Review article about Malamud from 2009 in order to support Georgia's ridiculous claim that Malamud sees what he's doing as a form of "terrorism." The lawsuit says the following: Carl Malamud, has indicated that this type of strategy has been a successful form of “terrorism” that he has employed in the past to force government entities to publish documents on Malamud’s terms Of course, all that's likely to really do is further educate the court about what Malamud is really looking to do: make the laws of the land more publicly accessible. Either way, this seems like a ridiculous move for Georgia. Going after Carl Malamud for copyright infringement for helping to make the public more aware of the law in the state of Georgia just seems ridiculous. And for all of the state's repeated claims in the lawsuit that it's doing this to protect taxpayers, one has to ask why it's spending taxpayer revenue on filing such a ridiculous lawsuit? Back when the state of Georgia first threatened Malamud two years ago, he responded as such: It is a long-held tenet of American law that there is no copyright in the law. This is because the law belongs to the people and in our system of democracy we have the right to read, know, and speak the laws by which we choose to govern ourselves. Requiring a license before allowing citizens to read or speak the law would be a violation of deeply-held principles in our system that the laws apply equally to all. This principle was strongly set out by the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall when they stated “the Court is unanimously of opinion that no reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered by this Court, and that the judges thereof cannot confer on any reporter any such right.” Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834). The Supreme Court specifically extended that principle to state law, such as the Ofcial Code of Georgia Annotated, in Banks v. Manchester (128 U.S. 244, 1888) , where it stated that “the authentic exposition and interpretation of the law, which, binding every citizen, is free for publication to all, whether it is a declaration of unwritten law, or an interpretation of a constitution or a statute.” This still applies, and it seems that the State of Georgia might want to re-evaluate its choice of targets here.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The smartphone sector is undergoing an upheaval at the moment, as Chinese manufacturers move up the global market share rankings. Already, the third, fourth and fifth places are occupied by Chinese companies: Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi. But it's the last of these that has emerged as the real star. Although Xiaomi was only founded in 2010, in 2014, the company sold 61 million phones, and hopes to sell 100 million in 2015. Much of that growth will come from outside China: Xiaomi has already started selling its products across Southeast Asia, especially in India, as well as in Mexico, Turkey, Russia and Brazil. Now it is aiming to enter perhaps the toughest market of all: the US. But it knows that offering hugely-popular products at extremely competitive prices is not enough. If it wants to survive in the US -- never mind thrive -- there is one more thing that it must have, as this report in re/code explains: Xiaomi international head Hugo Barra said on Thursday that the Chinese electronics company is looking to file more patents and strike more deals ahead of a launch into the U.S. market. The move is essential if Xiaomi really wants to play in the U.S. and Europe, where intellectual property issues are taken seriously. … Xiaomi has already filed for 2,000 patents, Barra said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “Think of it as, like, a war chest of sorts,” Barra said, adding that the company is also systematically taking patent licenses, especially for standards-essential patents. Well, "taking intellectual property issues" seriously is one way of putting it. You could also say that the US smartphone market has extremely high entry costs because of patent thickets, and that the only way to play there is to have your own patents that you can use as a bargaining chip with the other patent-holders. But it doesn't have to be this way. China's "gongkai" culture shows how rapid innovation can flourish in an environment where patents and copyright are largely ignored, and where every company builds on the work of others, and is built on in turn. And for those who think that the US approach is safer and easier to manage, it's worth considering the following comment in the re/code article: Even if Xiaomi takes licenses for standards-essential patents from Ericsson and others, it still could face the type of legal action that Samsung faced from Apple. In other words, companies that try to play strictly by US rules find out that the rules are not as clear-cut as they might seem. It will be interesting to see how Xiaomi fares in this strange new world, and whether the "war chest" it is busily acquiring is enough to protect it from the worst excesses of patent monopolies. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A year ago, we wrote about the launch of a new program from a bunch of bigger tech companies who were sick of patent trolls: the "License On Transfer" network (LOT). The program, set up by Google, NewEgg, Dropbox, SAP, Asana and Canon was pretty simple in concept. It's a royalty-free patent cross-licensing program. If any patent held by a member of LOT is transferred to another company, a license is automatically granted to every member of LOT. This serves to avoid patents eventually falling into the hands of trolls and being used against members. A bunch of other companies have joined since it launched, including Redhat, GitHub, Ford, JPMorganChase, Mazda, Khan Academy, Pandora and more. It certainly doesn't solve all the patent trolling problems, but it is a nice way to make sure that patents from these organizations are less likely to be used for trolling and has a really nice incentive structure in that to protect yourself from patent trolling you basically have to make sure your patents are less likely to be used by trolls as well. LOT is still trying to expand, and it appears that Google is taking a step to make it even more attractive, especially for startups: the company is going to start giving away some of its patents to startups, for free, if they meet a few conditions -- including joining LOT (though the membership fees for the first two years will be waived). The program is only available to the first 50 eligible participants who sign up -- and to be eligible, you need to have 2014 revenue between $500k and $20 million. Then Google will offer specific "patent families" from which the startups can choose to take. These patents will not be ones developed by Google itself, but rather ones that it has bought from others. And, of course, the startups agree to issue a license back to Google. And, most importantly, they must agree to only use the patents defensively. If used offensively, the patents go back to Google. In other words, it's another win-win setup. Startups can get some decent patents for free that they can use for defensive purposes, and LOT gets more members from the startup community. The only ones who "lose" are the trolls and their lawyers, but I can't fathom any reason to be upset about that. Of course, if we just fixed the damn patent system so that low quality patents and patent trolling were stopped, none of this would be needed. So, in some sense, it's a bit depressing that all of this is really an economic dead weight loss on society created by a broken patent system. But, at the very least, it's nice to see companies proactively looking for non-regulatory/non-legislative ways to minimize the damage created by a broken system.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The gold rush seems to be over -- for now. The price of gold hit a 5-year low recently, and the prices of other precious metals are also falling. (However, there are more industrial uses for metals like platinum and silver -- while gold is largely either worn as jewelry or just sits in vaults.) Perhaps gold hoarders see an opportunity here to double down on collecting more, but it's probably a better idea to diversify. Asteroid UW-158 isn't too far from our planet, and it has 'up to' 90 million tons of platinum on it. The precious metals on that rock might be worth trillions (maybe as long as you didn't just dump all of the platinum on the free market all at once), and it's not the only valuable asteroid out there. [url] The price of gold isn't doing so great right now, and gold mining companies are doing even worse. If you haven't seen Joe's chart of the day, this video shows just how ugly it is for the gold mining industry. [url] Where does all the gold in the universe come from? It's not known with certainty, but perhaps neutron star collisions are responsible for all the gold (and other heavy elements) that exists. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While I tend to like the use of trademark laws more than other forms of IP, it's long overdue that we all start admitting the realm of trademark has a problem. In a variety of industries, the use of trademarks is either not serving its original purpose or is doing vastly more harm than good. Craft beer is one of those industries, for instance. It's starting to seem like trademark use in certain advocacy realms is getting that way as well. Take the LGBT community, for instance. As the country and the West becomes a more welcoming and tolerant society, I suppose it was somewhat inevitable that we'd start to see trademark related stories about what is essentially a potential customer demographic. That said, it's been frustrating for some of us to see trademark fights spring up between groups that both advocate for LGBT rights. There was the early example of a fight between bloggers over the term "gaymer", for gay gamers. There was also a fight between two companies that specialize in party-planning for LGBT events over the trademarked term "Gay Days." And now it appears that Pride Toronto, a non-profit that hosts Pride Week events, is attempting to register the names of two marches with the Canadian government. Pride Toronto, the not-for-profit organization that hosts the popular Pride Week festivities each year, filed trademark applications for “Dyke March” and “Trans* Pride” on July 8, according to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website. In a statement posted online, Pride Toronto depicted the filings as a defensive measure, saying it was “forced” to apply because a “single individual threatened to personally trademark both of these grassroots events.” And this is where the problem with trademark comes in. If we take Pride Toronto at its word, and indeed the post includes communications from Pride Toronto insisting it will not hold the terms hostage for other marches to use, then the need for a defensive trademark application is a symptom of a broken system. Pride Toronto isn't fearful of any kind of customer confusion. In fact, broad usage of the terms for other Pride events across the world would likely be a boon for Pride Toronto's goals. No, they're afraid of someone else locking up the term and preventing them from using it. And that means that, at least in this specific case, the system has broken. The idea behind trademark is essentially in the nature of consumer protection in the form of brand identification. Nothing about the actions taken by Pride Toronto has anything to do with consumers; it's all fear of language locks. Now, there are several ways to fix this. Common law with respect to trademarks would serve to protect Pride Toronto should someone come along and try to keep them from using the terms by registering them with the government, by allowing for prior use to serve as a defense. That said, it's still a defense, meaning that Pride Toronto would still have to fight for its use in court.. Having government trademark offices that actually bothered to spend some brain cells examining the terms in applications and refusing marks for generic terms, terms of advocacy, terms of broad usage, would be helpful as well. As for Pride Toronto, many other LGBT groups expressed outrage at the trademark applications, resulting in some being assured the applications would be withdrawn. The terms “Dyke March” and “Trans Pride” are employed by activists across the country, some of whom were upset to learn of Pride Toronto’s gambit. In British Columbia, organizers of the Vancouver Dyke March issued a press release Saturday saying they were “stunned” to learn the Toronto group had registered to own their name, slamming the move as “appropriative.” But on Monday, VDM president Catherine Mateosaid Pride Toronto has since “reached out” and guaranteed that it will drop the applications. “If they follow through, as we believe they will, we're satisfied,” she said. Look, language is important, and perhaps some of the most important language we have is that expended in the service of civil rights. Whatever position you might have on LGBT rights, it simply doesn't make sense for members of their community to lock up advocacy language. And the fear that leads some to try, the fear of the language being locked up by a party without their interests in mind, means at the very least that some tweaking is needed in the law. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's extremely difficult to win a defamation suit when the allegedly defamatory statements are THINGS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. It was, on the surface, a bit ironic. A pro se plaintiff who was mentioned in an article about serial filers of lawsuits sued the article's authors and the newspaper that printed it. But the New London Day newspaper, reporter Karen Florin, executive editor Timothy Dwyer and Wyatt Kopp, who was interviewed by the newspaper, prevailed when a judge ruled that no one was defamed in an article that focused on the costs incurred by the court system and defendants when low-income plaintiffs whose court fees are waived file dozens of dubious claims. "After viewing all the revised complaints and evidence in this case, the court cannot identify any statement by Kopp that can be legally construed as defamatory," wrote New London Superior Court Judge Terence Zemetis, who added that "stating that a lawsuit is frivolous is an expression of opinion and is not defamatory." The plaintiff was Sylvester Traylor, a frequent pro se filer whose legal battles (mostly losing) can be found here, as well as other places around the internet. The article at the nominal center of this lawsuit (which was also filed against numerous other parties covering the same proposed bill targeting the abuse of in forma pauperis [waived fees] filing) didn't make any defamatory statements. Everything Traylor took offense to was the direct result of Traylor's own litigious activities. The article simply cites his multiple filings, as well as judges' reactions to his "protracted legal battles." It even directly quotes court orders and opinions -- which are far more damning than anything posted at the New London Day. In July 2012, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed one of Traylor's filings and warned him that "the continued filing of duplicative, vexatious, or frivolous appeals, mandamus petitions or motions may result in sanctions, including a leave-to-file sanction requiring Traylor to obtain permission from this Court prior to filing further submissions in this Court." In a November 2012 order dismissing a case Traylor brought against 12 state legislators, court officials and an insurance company, Hartford Superior Court Judge Carl J. Schumann wrote that Traylor's "litigious ferver is perhaps understandable, but it has clearly reached the point of becoming unnecessarily costly, wasteful and fruitless." In true "vexatious litigant" style, Traylor accused the paper of making "selective and calculated statements to slant the characterization of the plaintiff's legal cases," claiming its failure to cite the three judgments in his favor was some sort of defamation-by-omission. Even more legally-unsound, Traylor argued that the paper said something it didn't actually say. [T]hough the article did paint a picture that Traylor's lawsuits were "frivolous," it was clear that it was Kopp—not the newspaper—drawing that conclusion, the judge ruled. Not that Traylor has anything to worry about. The article he sued over (along with journalists covering the same bill for local TV stations) discussed an attempt to curb serial litigants who "abused" in forma pauperis privileges granted to indigent filers. The first sought greater legal review prior to allowing cases to advance. The latter suggested litigants could work off their comped filing fees by performing community service. Neither bill went anywhere, so Traylor is free to continue filing "frivolous" lawsuits until informed otherwise by presiding judges. He's also free to fight speech with speech, which the New London Day allowed him to do by printing his short editorial against proposed limitations to waived-fee filings. It also contacted him for the January article he sued over, posting his defense of his actions. And none of that was enough to prevent Traylor from filing another lawsuit. The ultimate defense against defamation accusations is the truth. This will probably be lost on Traylor as it's been lost on far too many serial litigants. If a person wants to complain (via the courtroom) that they've been misrepresented by "slanted" statements, they should at least have the self-awareness to recognize it's their actions that are creating this negative perception. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Documents pertaining to the accidental killing of two men by US drone strikes in Yemen can continue to remain unacknowledged by the agencies guiding the strikes. A federal judge has ruled the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) do not have to confirm or deny whether they have records on the “factual basis for the killing” of either Samir Khan or Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were killed in two separate drone strikes in September and October of 2011. The heavily-redacted order does contain some good news, however. The presiding judge ordered the Dept. of Defense and the CIA to turn over FOIAed documents to the ACLU that contain "previously acknowledged facts," thus preventing the Dept. of Justice from turning real life into a bizarre fantasy world where previously disclosed information can be treated as though it was still locked up in the agency's "TOP SECRET" digital filing cabinet. But the obvious downside is this: because the government has been given permission to avoid confirming or denying the existence of the documents the ACLU is seeking, the search for more information on accidental deaths and collateral damage will still consist of issuing speculative FOIA requests, which will then result in more lengthy, expensive litigation. I'm pretty sure the involved agencies believe they can outlast FOIA requesters, especially if they continue to receive mostly-favorable decisions from judges who place more faith in the government and its assertions about national security than in those who view government secrecy with considerably more skepticism. The problem is that the government has the resources to fight long legal battles. Most FOIA requesters do not. This decision also further insulates the government from the repercussions of its own actions. By allowing the agencies to neither confirm nor deny the existence of these documents, it gives the government permission to deflect further inquiries into the oversight governing drone strikes -- and what it does when it suspects a strike has killed the wrong people. If one accepts the government’s claims that Khan and Abdulrahman’s deaths were “accidental,” one at least has to believe the government did some kind of review after the strikes once they recognized two US citizens had been killed. This is what the ACLU suspects. The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights have pursued a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strikes, which killed the three US citizens. And, in this lawsuit, the ACLU has challenged the right of the government to keep information related to their deaths secret. This sort of information is definitely of the "public interest" variety and should be given more heft when weighed against national security concerns. The American public isn't necessarily supportive of this highly-secret program and considering its complete lack of say in the matter, the least it should be given is the opportunity to more closely examine the accountability process. Instead, the opinion allows the government to redact much of what it can't Glomar into nonexistence with the most abused FOIA exemption: b(5). Nominally for "deliberative process" documents only, the exemption has expanded to cover almost anything the government doesn't want to (immediately) reveal. About the only way to remove a b(5) exemption is through the courts -- an expensive process with low odds of success. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Quicklock looks like a normal padlock but does not require an extra set of keys or a memorized combination to open it. The lock opens with a tap of an RF/NFC card (2 included in the purchase) or via Bluetooth and an app on your phone. The lock can be programmed to be used by up to 50 different NFC cards or unlimited phone users and will keep track of who used it and when, according to the Quicklock website FAQ. It's available through the Techdirt Deals store for 18% off of retail and includes a choice of blue or black, 2 NFC cards, a key fob and a micro USB charger. Additional NFC cards, key fobs and even a ring (really?) are available as additional purchases through Quicklock's site. An additional discount is available for this lock only through the Techdirt Store. Use the code QUICKLOCK and get it for $45 (25% off). Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We recently wrote about a German film distributor that went on a DMCA takedown blitz and managed to send notices for sites that had nothing to do with infringing files (such as IMDB and, er, Techdirt). In a somewhat related story, we learn that representatives of Universal Pictures have likewise gone DMCA happy over infringing versions of movies like Furious 7 and Jurassic World -- even to the point of issuing takedowns not only for the film's IMDB page (for Furious 7), but for "127.0.0.1" for Jurassic World. And while we’re on the topic of self censorship, it’s worth noting that Universal Pictures also asked Google, in a separate notice, to remove http://127.0.0.1 from the search results. The mistakes were made by the French branch of the movie studio, which only recently began sending takedown notices to Google. The company has reported less than 200 URLs thus far including the mistakes above. You can see the notice here. 127.0.0.1 is, of course, the IP address a machine uses to refer to itself. It's also known as "localhost." In other words, it basically means "home." ...Should we delist this house from the address books? This is obviously a case of these companies setting up some kind of automated system, working off of an obviously flawed algorithm, that is causing these errors, rather than having real people going through to see if the targets for these takedown notices are actually infringing. Why do we allow this kind of collateral damage in the DMCA system? Even more ridiculous? The organization representing Universal who sent this notice is TMG, or Trident Media Guard, which is the company that is officially working with the French government on its Hadopi copyright enforcement program. You'd think that a company so closely involved in such issues, working with a major movie studio, might try to be a little more careful about these things. But, of course, when have copyright defenders ever cared about collateral damage like this? And here's the really crazy part: it's not like this is even particularly rare. Chilling Effects has long lists of DMCA complaints that point to 127.0.0.1. We're talking about a whole lot of armed militias running around utilizing a targeting system that wouldn't be trusted in a snowball fight, never mind in the realm of something as important as speech and communication via the internet. Here are just some of the most recent (many filed by NBC Universal): If we have to live with the DMCA, filers ought at least be forced to take responsibility for their own notices. Pointing back to their own flawed algorithms shouldn't be an excuse -- especially when the requests are so obviously wrong.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The legislative sausage-making process is apparently so streamlined that many sausage-makers are barely involved in the process. It's not that they don't want to be. It's that other sausage-makers want their product to be pushed out the door with a minimum of inspection. Senator Mike Lee posted a video to his Facebook page that contained a rather graphic depiction of expeditious sausage-making. As his printer whirred away behind him, Lee noted that a $47-billion, 1,033-page transportation funding bill was up for a vote. In less than an hour. If I don't have time to read legislation before voting on it, my default vote is no. We received the highway bill today at 3:06 p.m., and it is over 1,000 pages long. Our first vote on this legislation is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. The bill -- which failed to obtain the number of votes needed to open debate -- was a bipartisan effort (led by Barbara Boxer [D] and Mitch McConnell [R]). That's probably the best thing that can be said about it and the legislators behind it. Rather than prove lawmakers can occasionally put aside their differences and actually move forward with the business of legislating, this bill simply signals that both sides of the aisle are willing to resort to bullshit tactics. The bill arrived at the last minute because the effort itself was last minute. Federal highway aid to states is up against a July 31st expiration deadline. Despite its length, the bill is still far from finished. It takes money from a variety of unrelated programs to fund federal aid for the next three years. The problem is the bill authorizes spending for the next six years. That's the other reason the bill's champions were hoping to shove this through with a minimum of debate: the bill leaves it up to the next Senate class to figure out where it's going to get the other $45-60 billion it will need to keep the federal aid flowing. Fortunately, most senators were angered by this last-minute page dump. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader, said, "I can't remember a time where I have been asked in all my years in the Congress to vote yes ahead of time on a bill we haven't seen, and there are no amendments" allowed. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the bill "a black hole." He said Democrats have been told changes have been made to auto, trucking and rail safety provisions that were agreed to last week on a party-line vote by the Senate commerce committee, but no details were provided before the vote. Some Democrats have described the provisions as giveaways to industry that would undermine safety. Schumer is certainly exaggerating. While the very specific facts of this legislative effort may indeed be unique, shoving under-scrutinized bills past legislators is something of a tradition in Washington. PATRIOT Act, anyone? It took until June of 2014 before many lawmakers realized the extent of what they had authorized in 2001. The recording industry pushed through a favorable law change at literally midnight back in 1999. PoliceStateUSA points out that John Boehner dropped a gun control law on the floor when only 10 legislators (out of 435) were on hand to vote. Just recently, the aforementioned Mitch McConnell put a "no questions asked" Section 215 reauthorization bill up for a vote, using his powers as a majority leader to bypass all the hoops the USA Freedom Act was made to jump through. Anything that might be debated heatedly often arrives at a moment when debate is least likely to occur. Thursday afternoons as legislators are all packing up to return to their homes. Late nights when few lawmakers are left in the building. Or -- like this one -- hundreds of pages of legalese released to voting members shortly before a scheduled vote. And, in this case, the bill arrives with a bit of extortion attached. Senators who refuse to vote for something they haven't read face the prospect of dealing with angry locals whose federal aid has just expired. Far too often, legislators allow everything to reach the brink of collapse before making a move. There's not a person out there who thinks the best laws are made at the last minute. No one wants poorly-written funding programs that hobble other sectors in a short-sighted attempt to balance the books for the very immediate future. Even if this manages to make it out alive, it still only "fixes" everything for half of the time period authorized by the bill. So, in three years, there will be another last-minute attempt to secure funding, and it will be any other funding legislators feel is at least temporarily expendable that will be forced to patch up funding holes left by the last Senate session. Sometimes, the sausage doesn't even get made. Instead, a bunch of random ingredients are shoved into a casing and passed off as a finished product. And it's the public that's forced to "eat" this sausage -- both in terms of the asking price, as well as any nasty side effects consumption of the poorly-made sausage may cause. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Government paranoia about "critical infrastructure" will now be extended to drone photography, if New Jersey's proposed legislation is any indication. While law enforcement agencies are still weighing the Fourth Amendment implications of surveillance drones, some local governments are moving ahead with plans to shortchange the First Amendment. This new legislation makes it a criminal offense to use a drone to take a photograph of “critical infrastructure.” And what is “critical infrastructure”? Any “asset” whose incapacity—even partial incapacity—would have an impact on the physical or economic security, or public health or safety, of the state. This specifically includes highways, waste treatment facilities, bridges, tunnels, and more. This proposal would codify something many public employees (especially those in law enforcement/security agencies) already mistakenly believe: that photography of public structures is illegal and probably has something to do with terrorism. Even if the structure is already completely viewable with the naked eye, can be viewed via satellite photography and has been the subject of multiple official photo releases, people with cameras around certain structures are considered inherently suspicious. Now, this misguided "security" concern is being extended to eyes in the sky, something the government seems to believe should be in the possession of government agencies only. The proposed penalties for violations are fairly severe. Specifically, this bill makes it a fourth degree crime for a person to use a civilian unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly referred to as a drone, to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information or data about, or photographically or electronically record any critical infrastructure without the prior written consent of the entity that owns or operates the critical infrastructure. A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. On top of that, the legislation would help the state build a list of "usual suspects." The bill also prohibits a person from operating a civilian drone unless it is registered with the Division of Aeronautics in the Department of Transportation. In addition, a person is prohibited from operating a civilian drone unless the person maintains liability insurance coverage to insure against loss resulting from liability for bodily injury, death, and property damage sustained by any person arising out of the ownership, maintenance, operation, or use of the drone. The required minimum coverage is to be in an amount determined by the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance in consultation with the Commissioner of Transportation. A person who operates a civilian drone without the required registration or insurance is subject to a civil penalty of not less than $1,000 for a first offense and not less than $5,000 for a second or subsequent offense. In addition, for a second or subsequent offense, a person’s civilian drone registration is to be revoked for a period of two years. So, while law enforcement agencies argue that aerial surveillance has minimal Fourth Amendment impact because public places have a lowered expectation of privacy, they're also supporting legislation that would grant public structures more protection than a member of the public's fenced-in backyard. Of course, the Fourth Amendment only deals with privacy. This legislative push concerns security -- something that tends to receive higher priority than Constitutional rights. Then there's the inherent stupidity of carving out a drone-specific ban. People with regular cameras (or cell phones) will still be able to photograph these structures, as will aerial photographers in planes and helicopters. It's a very specific paranoia -- one limited solely to new tech that's currently subject to very little government control. And that's really what this is all about. Lawmakers have (civilian) drone fever and the only cure is more cowbell legislation. Those pesky men (and women) and their flying machines are harming the nation's security somehow with their democratization of aerial photography. These legislators obviously feel the only entity that should have full access to the skies and everything below is the government. And if the First Amendment has to suffer some cutbacks, so be it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few years ago, if you asked cable and broadcast executives if cord cutting was real, most of them would proudly declare that it was a complete and total phantom (like Yeti). The few that could admit to the trend would usually try to argue that the only people engaged in this kind of behavior were losers not worthy of their consideration when contemplating their business models. Of course data has emerged since suggesting that not only is cord cutting very real (albeit slow), the people doing it are affluent, educated, and right in cable's key future target demographic. These days, most cable and broadcast executives, after slowly hemorrhaging basic cable subscribers for several years and watching broadcast TV ratings drop through the floor, will at least admit that cord cutting is real. But there's still a strong contingent among them that desperately wants to believe that cord cutting is a media-manufactured phenomenon and that their beautiful legacy cash cow will somehow live forever. The latest case in point comes via a Fortune article that explains "Why Cord Cutting Is a Myth" without actually doing anything of the sort:"The way content is consumed is changing,” said Amy Banse, managing director of Comcast Ventures. “We’re all aware of that. But I personally believe, and also by looking at our own statistics, that the volume of press around cord cutting doesn’t quite match reality."Again though, Banse doesn't offer any data to support the argument that cord cutting is a mass media hallucination. Factoring cable's failure to scale with new housing growth as the housing market recovered, telecom analyst Craig Moffett (who used to deny cord cutting) notes the pay TV business lost 1.4 million subscribers in the last year. The pay TV industry saw its first net subscriber loss during the first quarter of this year, and the industry is contracting at a 0.5% annual rate. This is before you factor in that many people aren't "cutting the cord" -- they're not signing up for traditional cable in the first place. And all of this is hitting cable and broadcast ratings hard. Comcast's recent earnings say the company lost 69,000 basic video subscribers last quarter and 3 million over the last six years. These are measurable metrics -- some small, some not so small. All important, and none imagined. Still, to hear the cable industry tell it, cord cutting is "over-reported":"George Kliavkoff, president of Hearst Ventures, agreed, and said the topic is low-hanging fruit for the media: “Cord-cutting is a great ‘story,’” he said. “But I think it’s over-reported.” What’s more likely to gain sizable traction, he said, is cord “shaving,” where consumers simply move away from all-encompassing multichannel packages. “A la carte purchasing of channels—and not taking most of them—is a far more interesting area,” he said.The second half of that argument could certainly be true. "Cord shaving" or "cord cheating" is also occurring at an increased rate as cable customers socked with bi-annual rate hikes look for any opportunity to cut their monthly bill. Eventually, these users will also likely be turning their gaze toward redundant cable voice services, forcing cable operators to replace that revenue in new and "creative" ways. This is all part of one conversation. And while yes, some media outlets do overhype cord cutting without nuance or context (as happens with all things), how the media explains what's happening is a distraction. The focus should be on how the cable and broadband industry is failing to adapt to internet video through its refusal to offer truly evolutionary products and pricing. Some of this is semantics. Some cable execs simply don't like to call it "cord cutting," given there's still a cord -- it just happens to be broadband only. But whatever you call it, the answer to all of these problems has a single unified answer. With 2015's rise in new internet video options, cable's going to have to do the one thing it has spent a generation refusing to do: compete on price.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've argued for quite a long time that treating "pirates" like criminals instead of potential customers is a massive mistake for a whole host of reasons. There's the futility of the legal game, for instance, as well as the possible public relations nightmare that going after the public, even the infringing public, can create. But the best reason to not treat infringers like criminals is because they're often the best actual customers of content out there as well. In study after study, it's shown that a person who engages in some infringement spends more total money on movies, music, and video games than someone who gets everything legit. Pirates, scurvy-laden bastards as they may be, happen to be the creative industries' best customers. And it turns out it's no different in Australia, where a recent government study bore out the same conclusion: infringers spend more money on content than content-saints. Consumers who flirt with the morally ambiguous line of content consumption spend more money, according to a survey released by the Australian Department of Communications. Over a three-month period among respondents aged 12 and over, the survey found that those who consumed a mixture of copyright-infringing and non-infringing content spent on average AU$200 on music, AU$118 on video games, AU$92 on movies, and AU$33 on TV content. Consumers who only consumed non-infringing content spent only AU$126 on music, AU$110 on video games, AU$67 on movies, and AU$22 on TV; whereas pure copyright-infringing content consumers spent a mere AU$88 on music, AU$24 on video games, AU$53 on movies, and AU$8 on TV content. In every market, the sometimes-infringer spends more. In the case of music and movies, the delta between the occasional infringer and the all-legal consumer is huge, much larger than the delta between the all-legal and all-infringement consumers. Video games and television don't show the same delta, but even in those arenas the occasional infringers spent more than the saint. Why? How? Well, because the occasional infringer infringes because they're a fan, a fan perfectly happy to spend money on scarce goods where spending that money makes complete sense. However, the survey also found that the majority of spending on music and movies was not on the content items themselves. "For both music and movies, the majority of the average spend was not from purchases of either digital or physical copies. In the case of music, this primarily consisted of concerts and gigs, and in the case of movies, this primarily consisted of going to the cinema," it said. And since the advents of the VHS and cassette tapes, that's always been the case. Theaters are about experience and live music for great acts will always be in demand, even if bootleg tapes and pirated DVDs are in hefty supply, which they are. For the content itself, the survey respondents essentially indicated that the juice wasn't worth the squeeze. A majority of survey respondents said that they would pay for a music subscription service that charged AU$5 per month, and AU$10 per month for a movie subscription service. Only 5 percent of respondents said that nothing would make them stop consuming copyright-infringing content. In other words, the "everyone just wants everything for free" line the entertainment industries have been pimping for decades is bunk. Instead, the overwhelming majority of customers and potential customers want content on-demand at prices that make sense, in which case they're perfectly willing to fork over the money. And even when they feel the price doesn't make sense, they're still willing to fork over money for things they do value as fans -- even though they may have become fans through pirated content. Either way, the industries win. It's just a matter of how much they want to win. Hint: crying over infringers who spend the most money isn't the optimal response. Frustratingly, this government study was released roughly a month after Australia passed its version of SOPA, largely at the behest of industry lobbyists armed to the teeth with industry numbers showing industry losses at the hands of these same dastardly pirates who are spending so much money on their products. It sure would have been nice if the government had managed to have access to their own data before passing such draconian legislation, rather than relying on the historically unreliable data from the entertainment industry. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this week, we noted that NY City mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to pick a fight with Uber that he couldn't possibly win. The plan was to create a taxi medallion-like system for car hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, but which would cap the number of such cars that could be on the road. The PR campaign against this effort was tremendous (obviously, some of it pushed by Uber and Lyft -- but much of it by the happy users and drivers on those platforms). De Blasio and his staff apparently believed that there really wasn't popular support for these platforms, which was just wrong. As the negative publicity continued to mount, including having various celebrities weigh in on how stupid the plan was, it appears that de Blasio has backed down and agreed to drop the plan, at least for the time being. The agreement brings a temporary end to a fractious struggle that had consumed City Hall for several days, and inundated parts of the city with mailers, phone calls, advertisements and even celebrity endorsements. Under the agreement, according to three people familiar with the agreement, the city will conduct a four-month study on the effect of Uber and other for-hire vehicle operators on the city’s traffic and environment. To save face, the mayor's office is also claiming that this is a "victory" because Uber agreed to share some data with the mayor's office about usage of the platform. However, this is pretty clearly a victory for Uber, its drivers and the people who use the service. There are some legitimate questions about how these companies operate and what they mean for the cities and residents where they exist, but this move, from the beginning, was clearly about paying back taxi cab companies who had supported de Blasio's election, rather than any legitimate concern for the city.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Computers are getting smarter all the time. Even though science fiction sometimes tends to paint artificial intelligence in an evil light, humans are building these intelligent machines -- and presumably, we'll have some control over how dangerous they'll ultimately become (but maybe not). People are building artificial brains without really knowing how brains work, but that's how we're learning. Maybe we should be breeding hyper-intelligent parrots, instead? Virginia Tech scientists have a mathematical model for using bacteria to function as a robot brain. Complex emergent behaviors can arise from bacteria-bots and create interesting cyborgs with capabilities that might be attributed to higher order animals. [url] Computerphobia doesn't seem like a common term or actual fear these days, but in the 1980s, when computers were much less familiar, it wasn't crazy to see people approach PCs with anxiety. Computers are just waiting for us to let our guard down before they attack us.... [url] RoboBrain is an online artificial intelligence that any robot might tap into for some cognitive help. Robots might develop more quickly if they can help each other learn via 'cloud robotics' and distributed processing/intelligence resources. Hello, Skynet! [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The CIA has been fighting to keep POW/MIA records out of Roger Hall's hands for over a decade. With that FOIA battle finally over, the CIA is now fighting to keep its money out of Roger Hall's hands. Judge Royce Lambert's order sounds a little exasperated with this vexatious defendant. First, the CIA admits Hall (and Studies Solutions Results) have mostly won. But it then goes on to claim it shouldn't be required to follow this provision of the Freedom of Information Act -- that "substantially prevailing" plaintiffs are entitled to legal fees. The CIA concedes that the plaintiffs have prevailed on several of their claims and that they are therefore eligible for fees. Opp'n 8. The CIA also "accepts some responsibility for the unnecessarily protracted nature of this litigation" and notes that there is "accordingly no need for the Court to consider whether the plaintiffs are entitled to an award." Furthermore, the CIA does not argue that interim fees are inappropriate or that fees should not be awarded until the conclusion of litigation. So, what is the CIA's problem? It admits fault but only wants to pay a small fraction of what Hall is seeking. Hall claims a decade's-worth of the CIA's admittedly "unnecessarily protracted" litigation has cost him more than $400,000. The CIA thinks $75,000 is more than fair for screwing him around for 10+ years. First, the CIA claims Hall's win isn't much of a win, and if he's racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, it's his own fault. The CIA requests that the Court reduce the requested fees because plaintiffs have achieved only limited success, calling their victory "largely pyrrhic..." The CIA argues that because plaintiffs sought such "extraordinarily broad categories of records," "it was almost inevitable that litigation would ensue." Judge Lambert points to the court record as being contradictory to the CIA's portrayal of the litigation. This allegation is, to some extent, in tension with the statement that it "does not dispute that the plaintiffs have substantially prevailed on several of their claims." Indeed, the Court has repeatedly rejected the claim that the FOIA requests were overly broad and unduly burdensome, and now agrees that plaintiffs have achieved significantly more than a victory. In fact, he points out it's the CIA that's been racking up loss after loss. Overall, the Court finds that the plaintiffs in this case have been quite successful in achieving their objective: obtaining documents unlawfully withheld. When this lawsuit was filed, the CIA refused to release the requested records and failed to respond to plaintiffs' request for over a year. After many years of litigation, the CIA has released more than 4,000 documents, quite a substantial success. The Court finds that plaintiffs' actions in diligently pursuing their claims were reasonable -- even those that were ultimately unsuccessful -- and it will not use the benefit of hindsight to scrutinize every one of plaintiffs' actions. And while the CIA attempted to use a little math to buttress its claims that Hall's litigation has been mostly unsuccessful ("CIA… specifically takes issue with a number of unsuccessful motions filed by the plaintiffs…"), it didn't bother to apply anything of the sort to its counteroffer on legal fees. [T]he court finds it troubling that the CIA did not even attempt to analyze how many hours related to such motions, instead stating only that "a fee award up to $75,000 may be appropriate." Which means the court now has to do the calculations the CIA couldn't be bothered to perform. The CIA… [provided] no basis from which to determine how much of a reduction would be appropriate and [left] such calculations to the Court. This not only inconveniences the Court, but should the Court produce its own analysis for the first time in a written opinion, the plaintiffs would not have a chance to respond. And it comes to much, much more than the CIA offered. Applying the historic Laffey rates to Hall and SSR's total requested hours produces an award of $346,231 after billing 0.8 hours [yes, the CIA argued over 0.8 billable hours -- out of 1,008.7 total] to the clerical rate rather than the attorney rate. Their attorney, James Lesar, agreed that it is appropriate to deduct 15% of the time recorded as a matter of billing judgment, yielding an award of $294,296.40. In addition to the $294,000, another $120,000 will be going to James Lesar himself, bringing the total award to $414,478.40. After being presented with these results, the CIA argued that it was simply too much… by citing other cases with lower awards, no matter their relevance to the issue at hand. The cases the CIA cites in an attempt to show that this award is out of sync with fees awarded in similar cases are not illustrative. Simply listing cases and fee awards is not helpful. The CIA will now be lifting over $400,000 from taxpayers' wallets to pay for its combative, secretive behavior. Records pertaining to prisoners of war and missing in action soldiers are the very definition of "public interest" documents. Throughout the course of this case, the CIA repeatedly claimed otherwise, claiming that the documents might be of interest to surviving relatives/spouses only. The court disagrees. Certainly information regarding missing following the Vietnam and Korean Wars is exactly the type of information that interests the public. Disclosure of this information has the potential to shed light on the extent, nature, intensity, and duration of the government's efforts to locate and show the degree to which the CIA has accurately informed the public about its search efforts and the information it possesses. [...] Information regarding POW/MIAs is not only of interest to the public, but hard to come by. It's the public that's been forced to take part in a pyrrhic victory. More documents have been freed, but it took years of litigation. That bill will be footed by the same public the CIA denies has any interest in the documents. There's more information available now than there was 10 years ago, but every step of the way, the CIA used the public's money to fight against the public's interest. And now it needs another $400,000 from the public to pay back other members of the public. The servicemen and women whose information the CIA fought to withheld would probably have reminded the public that "freedom isn't free." The payout resulting from this extensive legal fight turns those words into a ghastly parody. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While Comcast's failed merger attempt with Time Warner Cable received a well-deserved media and public beating, AT&T's almost-as-bad $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV has been able to largely fly under the radar, despite the fact that only the latter eliminates a direct pay TV competitor. With less public pressure from consumer outrage, the FCC and DOJ appear poised to approve AT&T's deal, and the FCC is circulating an order approving the deal among the agency's Commissioners. Approval could occur as soon as this week. In a statement issued to the FCC website, FCC boss Tom Wheeler states he's pushing for several conditions on the deal he claims will "protect consumers, expand high-speed broadband availability, and increase competition." One of them involves restricting AT&T from using its fixed-line usage caps for anti-competitive advantage:"In addition, the conditions will build on the Open Internet Order already in effect, addressing two merger-specific issues. First, in order to prevent discrimination against online video competition, AT&T will not be permitted to exclude affiliated video services and content from data caps on its fixed broadband connections."The problem? While AT&T's DSL users do face a 150 GB monthly usage cap (with $10 per 50 GB overage fees), AT&T's busy kicking these unwanted customers to the curb because they're too expensive to upgrade. On the other hand AT&T's U-Verse customers, the ones AT&T plans on keeping, don't face an enforced usage cap. As such, a condition preventing them from abusing this non-existent cap isn't much of a condition. Most of AT&T's controversial "zero rating" practices in regards to usage caps are happening on AT&T's wireless network, which the condition wouldn't apply to. Wheeler's also promising that his conditions will force AT&T to deploy upgraded broadband services to more areas than ever before:"If the conditions are approved by my colleagues, 12.5 million customer locations will have access to a competitive high-speed fiber connection. This additional build-out is about 10 times the size of AT&T’s current fiber-to-the-premise deployment, increases the entire nation’s residential fiber build by more than 40 percent, and more than triples the number of metropolitan areas AT&T has announced plans to serve.The problem here is that AT&T's been manipulating its broadband deployment statistics for fifteen years or so to win regulatory favor. The company will take deployments already planned (or in some cases built), pretend these users are new deployments, then promise regulators it will engage in a broadband "expansion" if regulators only agree to "X" (deregulation, more subsidies, more tax breaks, merger approval, whatever). Nobody in DC has ever bothered to actually audit AT&T's endlessly shifting deployment projections, or even call them on the statistical slight of hand. And AT&T appears to be doing that again here. With the FCC's help. Back on April 21st, 2014 -- a month before the deal with DirecTV was even struck -- AT&T announced a shiny new PR campaign (designed to counter Google Fiber's buzz) proclaiming the company would be bringing fiber to "up to" 100 cities. These are cherry picked installs, mostly high-end developments, where install costs are already low because fiber's already in the ground. You might recall that AT&T then pouted and threatened to pull these limited upgrades if net neutrality rules were passed. When pressed by the FCC, AT&T backed down on the threat. But in a highly-redacted June response to the FCC (pdf), AT&T states that the company is promising to deploy fiber broadband to a total 11.4 million homes (this includes the April 2014 plans) should the merger be approved, with only 2 million of this total being actual, new deployment. So only a fraction of this 12.5 million number Wheeler is using is "new" at all, and it's certainly nowhere near "10 times" the size of AT&T's current deployment. The tl:dr version is that AT&T's taking existing (and in some cases finished) deployments, pretending they're totally new deployments only made possible by the DirecTV merger, and the FCC's helping them. The real irony is that AT&T's actually cutting fixed-line investment CAPEX so it can focus on more-profitable capped wireless, and in the process preparing to hang up on tens of millions of unwanted DSL users. This is going to leave cable with an even stronger monopoly than ever before across a huge swath of the country, and few people in the press, public or in government appear to have noticed or care. Instead, we get a mega merger bloated with AT&T's miracle math. I think the majority FCC is ok with AT&T's merger because buying a satellite TV provider on the eve of the Internet TV revolution is basically business seppuku, ultimately made irrelevant by the rise of alternative options. But the elimination of a direct competitor still means higher rates in the short term, and there's an awful lot of actual fiber that $49 billion could help deploy. There's little to no hard consumer benefits here, and as usual AT&T lawyers are doing a bang up job manufacturing some out of very thin air (while filing two lawsuits against the FCC's net neutrality rules to ensure nothing ). Note the FCC hasn't released the full details of the conditions, so hopefully there's more teeth here than Wheeler's original announcement suggests. But his willingness to buy into AT&T's magic math isn't a promising start.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Too busy to sit down and get through your book list? One company thinks they have your answer. Blinkist offers a way to read or listen to summaries of key points of books in about 15 minutes. It features over 1000 books with 40 new ones added each month. They cover a diverse range of topics and authors like Amanda Palmer's "The Art of Asking" and Paul Graham's "Hackers and Painters". You can sync with Evernote, and access your library across your Kindle, phones or computers. The Blinkist Premium edition is available in the Techdirt Deals Store for 62% off of a 1 year subscription. (Blinkist has a free 3 day trial available) Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've talked plenty about the value of body cameras and dashcams for police -- in acting as a deterrent to bad behavior by police while supposedly acting as public servants. Of course, that only works if people trust the video not to be edited and doctored. This week there are all sorts of questions being raised about the arrest and hanging death of activist Sandra Bland in Texas. There are plenty of questions about why she was even arrested in the first place, and then plenty more about why she died (the police called it a suicide, which many who knew Bland find highly questionable). In response to some of these concerns, the police released a 52 minute version of the dashcam video of her arrest -- though for some reason, the YouTube version has since been taken down. Perhaps it's because people watching the whole thing noticed a bunch of really sketchy problems with it that suggested the video had been edited, while the audio remained in tact. Ben Norton first posted the details of these, highlighting a bunch of weird artifacts like disappearing cars that magically reappear seconds later: Or the tow truck driver who gets out of his truck, walks behind the car and out of frame... and then suddenly gets out of the truck again: You can skip your "glitch in the Matrix" jokes. They've already been made. Plus, this is about someone who died. The Texas Dept. of Public Safety said it would look into the video problems, and officials have denied any edits and have said that they will re-upload the video (which likely explains why the original has now gone missing). It also seems worth noting that the timing of the edits doesn't make it look like anything important was edited out (it all happens after the arrest itself). It's possible that there was just some sort of weird glitch with this footage, but it's a reminder that anything that calls into question the credibility and accuracy of these kinds of videos will only undermine the purpose of these videos. We've heard too many stories about how some of these cameras can be "turned off" or that police would have access to the coverage before it's released to the public. If officials want these systems to actually work, they have to be trustworthy on their own. While this is likely just going to turn out to be some sort of technical problem that will be fixed, with nothing nefarious at all, it still acts as a strong reminder for the need to make sure that this kind of footage is stored and released in a way that doesn't raise such questions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Post sponsored by Call them patent assertion entities, non-practicing entities, or, in the words of John Oliver, raccoons, but whatever you do, don’t call them small inventors. Patent trolls do not create jobs or products, and their profits certainly are not small. In an effort to clear the air of all the misinformation going around by the patent troll lobby, we spent the day with Jeff Glueck, COO of tech startup Foursquare, as he and other Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and Engine Advocacy startup members met with members of Congress and their staff to describe his many encounters with patent trolls. A frontrunner in the industry, Glueck has worked in leadership positions at various tech companies, such as mobile software startup Skyfire and now Foursquare. So it should come as no surprise that he needs two hands to count all of his encounters with frivolous patent lawsuits. As he describes it: The typical troll process is to shake down small companies or startups with the expectation that business owners will settle rather than endure the cost of fighting frivolous claims in court. It's sad when you work hard to create real inventions and a group of lawyers with a vague patent — that never should have been granted in the first place — is able to derail your business with a groundless claim. ... Small businesses take it on the chin. Last year, patent trolls targeted small businesses and tech companies about 80 percent of the time. Now, that number is approaching 90 percent. You may as well call it an all-out assault on the innovation economy. In fact, 2015 is on track to be a record-breaking year for the patent troll lobby. Comparatively speaking, patent trolls have filled over 11 percent more lawsuits this year than at this point of 2014. Even worse, they are attacking tech startups more than ever before. Patent trolls traditionally have targeted small businesses that are least equipped to defend themselves. For those select small businesses courageous enough to fight back, the costs are steep financially and the reward is purely ideological. It can take over a million dollars and three years to defend your company going all the way to trial against a troll. Few small businesses or startups have that luxury. And that’s only counting legal fees and legal costs. For small business, a bigger cost can be the time and distraction, or the way that customers and partners may shy away from doing business with you while under a patent assault. As CEO at Skyfire, Jeff saw a baseless patent troll suit against his first major telco customer delay launch of Skyfire’s mobile network software by 15 months. With a deployment on hold, Skyfire couldn’t get paid, and had to keep the company alive at a cost of $15 million dollars until ultimately the troll was defeated in court. Now, in his role at Foursquare, he sees the company dealing with five trolls at any one time, and roughly a million dollars annually in costs dealing with trolls: That’s nearly ten engineers we would hire tomorrow, but instead that money is going to lawyers. As a country, our leadership in software is a huge potential job growth engine. We can have companies focus on improving their products to grow users and revenues globally, or we can have an economy derailed by everyone suing everyone. The current climate is daunting for tech entrepreneurs, and Glueck is focused on a solution. In this case, it’s legislative — the U.S. House of Representatives Innovation Act, which is slated for a floor vote this month: We’re fans of H.R. 9. We need to put a stop to the corrupt process of venue shopping – it’s un-American. Overly burdensome upfront discovery is being used as a weapon and fishing expedition to force companies into settling regardless of the merits of the case.  Narrowing early discovery will take away a weapon for trolls. An automatic stay for innocent users will also help to protect innocent small businesses – from restaurants to tech startups – who just simply use a product. They don’t make it. Ahead of the upcoming crucial vote for the tech community, contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to support innovative startups like Foursquare by reforming America’s patent litigation system. The patent troll lobby is big and its pockets are deep; don’t let these extortionists get away with another cent.                                 (function(d, s, id) {                   var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];                   if (d.getElementById(id)) return;                   js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;                   js.src = '//p2a.co/js/embed/widget/advocacywidget.min.js';                   fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);                 }(document, 'script', 'advocacy-actionwidget-code'));                 Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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