posted 10 days ago on techdirt
I'd say it's been pretty well established at this point that the NYPD sucks at Twitter. Occasionally they get it right and engage with the public in a meaningful way, but too often NYPD officers put things on Twitter that can only serve to cause the public to question their judgement. Insensitivity, racism, and otherwise crass behavior doesn't make the NYPD look all that good, of course, so the top brass has a solution. They're going to review their hiring practices to make sure they're hiring good, level-headed men and women to put on the uniform and protect the public. Hahahahaha, just kidding, they've decided to send some of their officers to "Twitter school" instead. After a series of online gaffes — including a joke tweet about a dead woman and a hashtag that became a laughingstock — the NYPD is forcing top officers to take a course in Twitter. “USE COMMON SENSE” reads a memo handed out to the commanders at the first training session at John Jay College. Yes, police are going to a formal class in order to learn how to use Twitter in a manner consistent with common sense. That appears to indicate that common sense isn't all that common amongst NYPD officers, which should probably be setting off alarm bells in everyone's brain. The kind of person that doesn't know they shouldn't make fun of dead members of the public they're supposed to be protecting and serving probably aren't the kind of people I really want walking around with a gun in the first place. The course is designed to prevent embarrassments like a tweet sent by Capt. Thomas Harnisch of Harlem last month in which he made light of the death of a woman who fell onto the subway tracks at Union Square while using an iPad. “Let me guess, driver’s fault right?” he wrote over his personal account in a tweet directed at a safe-streets advocacy group. Lovely. It's not that a single incident like this was particularly egregious, or that it prevents Harnisch from doing his job. The problem is that when the inability to act appropriately is such a pandemic across the police force that formal training on not acting like a jackass is warranted, the public might better be served by excising said jackasses from the police ranks entirely. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Chinese get credit for a lot of things: fireworks, the printing press, bird flu (do not want).... But some things that everyone thinks are Chinese, aren't really Chinese. Here are just a few examples. There's a nine-note melody that immediately signals a Chinese (or generic Asian) stereotype, but where did it come from? Prof Charles Hiroshi Garrett and other curious internet detectives try to track down the origins of this oriental riff, finding that it's not actually Chinese and could be heard in 1847 in a show called The Grand Chinese Spectacle of Aladdin, or The Wonderful Lamp. [url] Chinese food in the US frequently comes with a fortune cookie, but those little desserts actually originated in 19th-century Japan. Fortune cookies were once sold in Japanese confectionery shops in San Francisco before WWII, but then, uh, Japanese Americans were taken away and Chinese businesses took over the fortune cookie industry. [url] The common knowledge is that iPhones are made in China, but technically, the devices are mostly just assembled there. Of the estimated $178.96 wholesale cost of an iPhone, only about 3.6%, or $6.50 of assembly is done in China. The iPhone is obviously sold (and designed) by an entirely US company, and its components are made in several different Asian and European countries. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Thanks to its ingenuity and expeditiousness, the criminal justice system -- from the cops busting perps to judges presiding over arraignments -- is able to perform small miracles. The impossible is nothing, not when these forces come into play. First off, a person picked up by police (for minor possession) managed to commit (inadvertent) suicide with a gun he'd somehow kept hidden during two previous searches of his person. The official statement from police said this: “[Victor White III] was taken into custody, handcuffed behind his back, and transported to the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office for processing. Once at the Sheriff’s Office, White became uncooperative and refused to exit the deputy’s patrol vehicle. As the deputy requested assistance from other deputies, White produced a handgun and fired one round striking himself in the back.” The police questioned his father at 5:00 am the next morning, never once mentioning White was already dead. Police did not allow White's father to see his entire body at the morgue, but what could be seen (White's face) had abrasions and bruising. This somewhat miraculous self-shooting was made even more miraculous by the autopsy report, which showed something else entirely. The autopsy report, issued by Iberia Parish Coroner Dr. Carl M. Ditch six months after the death, revealed that the bullet did not enter the body from behind, as police had claimed. Instead, the report stated that the bullet penetrated White’s chest from the front, perforated his heart and left lung, then exited through his left armpit and injured his upper left arm. So, apparently White, with his hands cuffed behind him, shot himself in the chest. The coroner's report also noticed a couple of other things at odds with the official explanation. According to the report, the forensic pathologist found gunshot residue in the wound, but not the sort of stippling that a close-range shot can sometimes produce. He also found abrasions on White’s face. If you thought this miraculous event would have prompted a full investigation, your faith is sadly misplaced. Despite nothing agreeing with the official narrative, the coroner still found the officers' description of the incident largely believable. Dr. Carl Ditch ruled that White shot himself, and declared his death a suicide. Ditch cited White's "body habitus" as making this highly unlikely event possible. No explanations were given as to how multiple police failed to spot a gun during two pat-downs, nor as to why the involved officers and White weren't tested for powder residue. From one miracle to another. You'd think having a completely airtight alibi would result in charges being dismissed. And this wasn't just any airtight alibi, this was one that could be confirmed by law enforcement officers and their official records. But somehow, because the criminal justice system moves in frustrating and mysterious ways -- this alibi still wasn't good enough. This is how we come to meet Tyree Threatt, 21 years old, facing charges of mugging a woman on June 27. They didn’t arrest him that day, of course, but she gave a description of the mugger. A few weeks later, officers saw Threatt and determined he matched the description. Then they put his photo in a lineup and she picked him out. "Two days after that, a court commissioner signed a warrant for Threatt on a raft of charges, including armed robbery and using a firearm in a violent crime, each of which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Threatt was arrested over the weekend, according to court records." So there he was, facing a crap load of jail time, when the simple fact emerged that on June 27, he was already in jail. Someone incarcerated obviously can't commit criminal acts on the outside. Threatt should have walked away from this one. But he couldn't, because impossibility isn't enough. A public defender who represented Threatt this week says he laid out jail records before a judge Monday showing that his client had what might have been the best possible alibi. But prosecutors said the issue should be sorted out at trial, according to the public defenders office, and the judge declined to release Threatt (he did get $25,000 shaved off his bail). Just being physically unable to commit a crime is no defense against a system that has been fine tuned for prosecution. What seems impossible is now possible, as long as you're willing to have your disbelief forcefully suspended by a perversion of the justice system. But none of this takes into account the law’s stubborn desire to extract a conviction from just about anyone who wanders into its field of vision, despite the apparent physical impossibility of that person to have committed the crime. Someone who was in jail during the alleged crime will now have to return to jail (or make bail) to await a trial for a crime he couldn't possibly commit because the system at play here has decided to sacrifice rights for expeditiousness. Threatt's two options at this particular session were either (a) plead guilty or (b) wait for his turn in the courtroom. It's called a "meet and plead" and it had nothing to do with defending yourself against allegations of impossible criminal activity. Overwhelmed attorneys are pressured by judges into forcing their clients to plead guilty on the day of arraignment to “discounted” and “one-time only” resolutions. So you end up with people who are completely innocent who still plead guilty because they feel like they have no choice and would rather taste freedom again than wait in jail until it’s “sorted out at trial”. Gone is the right to effective representation. If a defense attorney is present, he or she is only there to advise on the choices presented, not defend his or her client. The judge is not there to weigh evidence or even see if the charges should be dropped. The judge is there to accept pleas. Full stop. Anything else -- even something that would take 30 seconds to verify -- is ignored in favor of pushing grist through the judicial mill. In our criminal justice system, the impossible is also the mundane. Narratives only the most extreme conspiracy theorists could love are accepted at face value. Anything that might keep the system from running smoothly -- like someone being unable to leave the building they're in, much less mug someone -- is ignored in favor of obtaining speedy guilty pleas. So, what do you tell the public? That if you're picked up for minor marijuana possession, you might die? That if you were in jail when a crime was committed, you're still a suspect? That doesn't jibe too well with the "if you're doing nothing wrong, you've got nothing to fear" narrative that is pushed by law enforcement defenders and surveillance proponents alike. It's enforcement first and the public's rights and safety are a distance second. Take a look at this chart (via) and see where all the money and attention goes and then ask yourself who's looking out for you. The guy who could take a ride in a cop car and end up dead. Or the guy who could already be caught in the wheels of the system only to find out that being stuck in the machinery doesn't keep the machinery from moving towards its desired conclusions. The criminal justice system doesn't serve the public. It feeds on them. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Public libraries: they're important. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, somebody is going to have to explain to me why we occasionally see people attempt to take books out of libraries on either religious or decency grounds. It seems to me that these people often need a lecture on the First Amendment and how they probably want to be careful about eroding its protections. The latest in need of such a lecture is a group of Texas religious leaders who are circulating a letter demanding a local public library remove all works of fiction that have to do with vampires and the occult. Phillip Missick and other religious leaders have called on the Austin Memorial Library to remove books about vampires, demons and other magical beings from the teen section. Missick is circulating a petition that requests that the "occultic and demonic room be shut down, and these books be purged from the shelves, and that public funds would no longer be used to purchase such material, or at least require parents to check them out for their children," according to the Cleveland Advocate. Missick's reasoning for this is the same moral panic crap we've written about so often: if children read about the occult, they'll end up being demonic little hooligans or whatever. It's Dungeons and Dragons, video games, and chess all over again. But it's all the more egregious when a religious leader calls for the removal of secular funds from a public institution to fulfill his religious views. We don't do that in America. Let me show Pastor Missick why we don't do that, using one of his own statements. "This is dark. There's a sexual element. You have creatures that aren't human. I think it's dangerous for our kids," Missick, a pastor at King of Saints Tabernacle of Cleveland, told KTRK. Now, let me think what other books that might exist that I could argue contain dark literature, sexual elements, and creatures that aren't human? Oh, I know! How about the bible? Plenty that could be considered dark, what with the detailed descriptions of war and Cain killing Abel and all that. Sexual elements? Oh, you betcha, what with the incestuous date-rape of Lot by his daughters and the orgies and whatnot. Non-human creatures? Well, you know, there's God, angels, and demons, so yeah. Most public libraries carry the bible in the reference section, alongside the equally dark-n-sexy religious texts from other major religions. So, are we going to ban the bible in public libraries because of this? Shall we insist no public funds go to buying religious texts, including the bible? Of course not, because libraries aren't for partisan texts, they're for all texts that have value to the public, including texts we may not care for. You can't understand literature if you don't have a basic understanding of religious texts and you can't understand the current realm of young-adult fiction if you don't have access to vampire books. Sad, but that's the way it is. So, hey, to my religious friends: stop trying to ban books. You're chipping away at a federal law that allows you to exist. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The big broadband providers have all been spinning a yarn for a while now pretending that there's widespread competition. A key partner in this has been the FCC, which for years has helped spread this myth by pushing out totally bogus broadband data. If you want a good laugh, go over to BroadbandMap.gov and type in your address -- and discover a bunch of bogus claims about broadband which you really don't have. The speeds are inflated. The services are inflated. It includes mobile data broadband, despite it being priced much, much higher and with very low caps and limits -- and speeds that no one truly considers to be broadband but, that doesn't stop the big broadband players from using that bogus data to claim there's tons of competition. It looks like maybe, just maybe, the FCC is going to be getting out of the business of furthering this bogus narrative. FCC boss Tom Wheeler gave a very interesting speech today, in which he spoke out about the lack of any real competition. Not only that, he didn't use the FCC's old bogus definitions of broadband. Instead, he made it clear that when we're talking about real broadband most people have no competition. The FCC released this chart in conjunction with his speech: Every part of that chart is useful, because it doesn't just blindly say "broadband" and lump in a bunch of crap that isn't broadband. It shows there may be some (still not much) competition at very low speeds, but as you get up to real broadband speeds, competition basically disappears, with most people having only one option (or no options!). Past FCC's have lumped all this data together in a misleading way to pretend there's a lot more competition. It's good to see Wheeler clearly admit that there isn't -- and that this is a big problem. Wheeler makes it clear that 4 Mbps may be the official FCC definition of broadband, but it's not really broadband with today's internet: The bar on the left reflects the availability of wired broadband using the FCC’s current broadband definition of 4 Mbps. But let’s be clear, this is “yesterday’s broadband.” Four megabits per second isn’t adequate when a single HD video delivered to home or classroom requires 5 Mbps of capacity. This is why we have proposed updating the broadband speed required for universal service support to 10 Mbps. But even 10 Mbps doesn’t fully capture the increasing demand for better wired broadband, of which downstream speed is, of course, only one component. It’s not uncommon for a U.S. Internet-connected household to have six or more connected devices – including televisions, desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. When these devices are used at the same time, as they often are in the evenings, it’s not hard to overwhelm 10 Mbps of bandwidth. And consumer demand is growing; today over 60% of peak-time downloads are streaming audio and video. While today that video may be for entertainment, other applications are right behind. For instance, if we are to tackle healthcare costs, high-speed broadband video for remote examination, diagnosis and even surgery is important. If our students are to get a 21st Century education, high-speed broadband to the classroom is essential. And, increasingly, that high-speed will be in both directions And, he finally admits that wireless broadband is not a real competitor: We have great hopes for wireless as a potential substitute for fixed broadband connections. But today it seems clear that mobile broadband is just not a full substitute for fixed broadband, especially given mobile pricing levels and limited data allowances. We welcome, and we must encourage, the development of new technologies that can bring greater competition and more choices to consumers. Furthermore, Wheeler says he recognizes how many other problems are created when there is no real competition in the broadband market: The simple lesson of history is that competition drives deployment and network innovation. That was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. Our challenge is to keep that competition alive and growing. Of course, some of us have been saying exactly that for years, while wondering why the FCC was doing nothing to help it -- and, actually, often helping to enable consolidation, rather than competition. Wheeler also notes that while Google Fiber and other experiments have clearly driven big broadband players to increase investment (not decrease it), Google Fiber and a few similar players are few and far between with very limited footprints. On top of that, he points out that the switching costs are too high. Even if you have choices, if it's a pain to switch from one to the other that makes you captive to the broadband provider you've signed up with -- and apparently he wants that to change as well. But even two “competitors” overstates the case. Counting the number of choices the consumer has on the day before their Internet service is installed does not measure their competitive alternatives the day after. Once consumers choose a broadband provider, they face high switching costs that include early-termination fees, and equipment rental fees. And, if those disincentives to competition weren’t enough, the media is full of stories of consumers’ struggles to get ISPs to allow them to drop service. Okay. So all of that was very good to see, and actually quite refreshing from the FCC. But there's the big question that remains: we've seen FCC people claim we need more competition, but they've done little to actually make that happen. And... that's where Wheeler's speech begins to fall down. Then it devolves back into lip service. Wheeler says the FCC will protect competition where it exists, will "encourage" greater competition where it is needed, will work to "create" competition where there is none and where that's impossible, will "shoulder the responsibility for deploying" broadband. But, what will that actually mean in practice? Wheeler has talked about preempting bans on muni-broadband, but that needs to become a reality (even as some of Big Broadband's friends in Congress have sought to block it). He doesn't really mention anything about net neutrality or reclassifying broadband under Title II -- which would actually give the FCC more power in this space. He doesn't say anything about the Comcast, Time Warner Cable merger, which would clearly (despite what those companies claim) limit competition (not directly in a market by market basis, but in creating a large dominant player in negotiating deals). Not that anyone actually expected Wheeler to tip his hand on any of those things before an official decision is made, but it's one thing to talk the talk -- and the talk was good -- but to actually walk the walk? It's been a long time since we've seen an FCC willing to make the tough decisions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've already mentioned how a number of comments have been submitted concerning Australian Attorney General George Brandis' Hollywood wishlist proposal for copyright reform in Australia. There are a number of interesting comments worth reading. I was pleasantly surprised to see the normally copyright-maximalist BSA come out against the proposal, saying that it will create a real risk of "over-enforcement, punishment of lawful conduct and blocking of lawful content including critically important free speech rights." Dr. Rebecca Giblin, who has studied these issues and other attempts to put in place similar filters (and how they've failed), has also put forth a very interesting comment. The most bizarre comment, however, has to come from Village Roadshow. Village Roadshow is the Australian movie studio that the US State Department admitted was used as the token "Australian" movie studio in the MPAA's big lawsuit against iiNet. iiNet is the Australian ISP that the MPAA (with Village Roadshow appearing as "the local face") sued for not waving a magic wand and stopping piracy. iiNet won its case at basically every stage of the game, and that big legal win is really at the heart of these new regulatory proposals. Apparently, Village Roadshow's CEO still hasn't gotten over the loss in the legal case. I read a lot of public comments to government requests. Comments from individuals may vary in style and quality, but generally speaking, comments from large businesses and professional organizations take on a certain very professional tone. You can see that in basically every comment listed in this particular comment period. Except for Village Roadshow's. The tone is both exceptionally informal and... almost frantic. The use of hyperbole is quite incredible. It claims without these reforms the entire industry will die, and says that infringement is on par with terrorism and pedophilia. Just the intro itself basically highlights the style and tone: Piracy, if not addressed, will shut down the Australian feature film production industry entirely. It will rip out the heart of the cinema and TV industries, creating massive unemployment and slashing the profitability of taxpaying companies. The problem is urgent. Village Roadshow estimates the theatrical business is down 12% as a result of piracy. Rupert Murdoch interviewed in Australia said: “between 15 and 20 percent of Fox’s revenue is being eaten up by illegal downloads”! The problem is urgent as piracy is spreading like a highly infectious disease and as bad habits become entrenched, they become harder to eradicate. Also of course high speed broadband is just around the corner. The dangers posed by piracy are so great, the goal should be total eradication or zero tolerance. Just as there is no place on the internet for terrorism or paedophilia, there should be no place for theft that will impact the livelihoods of the 900,000 people whose security is protected by legitimate copyright. And this is from the company whose CEO is refusing to take part in a public Q&A about the issue because he claims that any such event will be "filled with crazies." The filing also quotes Steve Jobs from Walter Isaacson's book: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realised that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software we’d be out of business. If we weren’t protected there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to dissipate, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason. It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” Of course, there's that other famous Steve Jobs quote that is a bit more accurate: "Picasso had a saying -- 'good artists copy; great artists steal' -- and we've always been shameless about stealing great ideas." And, at least for that quote, we've actually got video of him saying it rather than having it paraphrased through a third party. Village Roadshow's filing actually claims that Brandis' proposal does not go far enough in making ISPs liable and forcing them to magically make piracy disappear: Vitally, in Village’s view, the question of “reasonable steps” presupposes the clear establishment of ISP’s being potentially liable for infringement on their services. It is crucial that this first step be properly legislated – and then ISP’s will approach the consultation process with a legal incentive to co-operate. As the Discussion Paper states “Extending the authorisation liability is essential ….”. Village is concerned that the proposed amendment to Section 101 of the Copyright Act suggested in the Discussion Paper does not clearly achieve this, and supports clear drafting to achieve that objective. The underlines are in the original. Village Roadshow says that it would love to be able to bombard ISPs with notices in a graduated response (i.e., three strikes type) system, but that it will refuse to do so if it actually has to pay for each notice (apparently Village Roadshow not only wants ISPs to be the copyright cops, but it wants them to do so for free). The entire comment filing comes off as ill-thought-out ranting, or last minute answers to a take home exam of a procrastinating junior high school student. Perhaps my favorite example of this is in response to the question "How can the impact of any measures to address online copyright infringement best be measured?" and Village Roadshow starts off its response: Powerfully this will be measured by the results. Powerfully, this comment is not.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
We've been covering the efforts by Hollywood studios to push extreme draconian new copyright laws down in Australia, where their interests are being helped along by the Attorney General George Brandis, who has a cozy relationship with Hollywood, but cannot present any evidence he's ever met with consumer advocates. Brandis pushed out his proposal earlier this year and it was basically Hollywood's wishlist, exactly as many expected. The Australian government has been accepting "comments" on the proposal, and there have been some interesting submissions. Perhaps most interesting was that the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA), a union that represents a combination of both journalists and entertainers, put in a comment supporting the extreme proposal for an internet censorship regime via filtering. You can understand why some of the more shortsighted folks on the "entertainer" side of the union might support such a policy, but the idea that a journalist's union would do so as well seems... troubling. The MEAA proposal said that it "strongly supports the proposal" and even talks up (incorrectly) how useful similar censorship efforts have been in the UK. However, it appears that many MEAA members quite reasonably freaked out to find out that their own union was advocating "strongly" in favor of censorship and internet filters -- because hours later, MEAA withdrew its comments saying that the whole thing was all a big mistake: It was never our intention to make a submission which could in any way be interpreted as supporting an internet filter. We have previously campaigned against Government proposals for an internet filter and will continue to do so, as we also continue to campaign against data retention. That's funny, because in the submission itself they directly talked about how amazingly awesome such a filter in the UK was. Huh. It's almost as if someone simply took some talking points from Hollywood without any real understanding of the deeper issues of what they were supporting, and submitted it -- only to realize afterwards that they were a media union endorsing out and out censorship.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over the past couple of days we've been writing about an incredibly questionable series of articles at Huffington Post, pretending to be about the "history of email" even though they're not. They're actually a completely bogus rewriting of well-documented history to falsely pretend that a guy named V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai invented email as a 14-year-old boy. He did not. Not only do Ayyadurai and some of his friends totally misrepresent reality, they fraudulently make claims that are easily debunked. As we've discussed, their two biggest claims are (1) that the "US government officially recognized Ayyaudurai as the inventor of email" in 1982 and (2) that a leading analysis of electronic messaging in 1977, by Dave Crocker at RAND, claims that a full interoffice email system is "impossible." Both of these claims are absolutely false. As we've explained, the first one relies on blatantly misleading people about what a copyright is and what Ayyadurai copyrighted. Copyright does not cover "inventions." It only covers creative expression. What Ayyadurai got a copyright on is a specific computer program called "email." That does not mean he invented email. Just as Microsoft holds a copyright on "Windows" but did not invent windowed user interfaces, Ayyadurai did not invent email. The copyright does not mean that he did invent email, and the fact that he and his friends continue to pretend that a copyright is something it is not is farcical. They are relying on the ignorance of reporters and the public about what a copyright is. The second issue is even more damaging. Ayyadurai and his friends claim that Crocker's paper is the "smoking gun" that proves that no one else was working on a full email system at the time. And yet, as we noted, they never actually link to the paper. We did. You can read it here, and you see that not only does it say the exact opposite of what they claim (debunking Ayyadurai's claims), they deliberately misrepresent what Crocker said by taking two separate sentences, from different pages in the report, removing the context around them, and mashing them together to pretend they say something they do not. It's shameless. In our first post, we claimed that perhaps it's true that Ayyadurai was the first person to shorten "electronic mail" (which was in widespread use at the time) to "email" -- but now even that has been called into question. Computer historian Thomas Haigh has been tracking Ayyadurai's lies and misrepresentations for years, and alerts us to the fact that Ayyadurai's story has notably changed over the years, revealing additional misrepresentations and attempts to change history. This includes, among other things, him changing his story about when he completed his work -- and when his program "email" was named. Here's Haigh's analysis: “Electronic mail” was widely discussed in the 1970s, but was usually shortened simply to “MAIL” when naming commands. However, the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition online) gives a June 1979 usage (“Postal Service pushes ahead with E-mail”) so Ayyadurai was not the first to use this contraction in print. The program name “EMAIL” is not mentioned in the 1980 newspaper article on Ayyadurai but does appear in his 1981 Westinghouse competition submission. By that year the name EMAIL was in use by CompuServe. Compuserve had offered timesharing computer access and electronic mail to businesses for years. In 1979 it launched a new service, aiming to sell otherwise wasted evening computer time to consumers for the bargain price of $5 an hour. A trademark application (later abandoned) that CompuServe made for “EMAIL” listed 1981/04/01 as its first use by the company, which fits with this May 1981 message mentioning CompuServe’s “EMAIL program.” By January 1983 “Email™” (for trademark) was part of CompuServe’s advertising campaign. For years CompuServe users could type “GO EMAIL” to read their messages. Whether Ayyadurai or CompuServe was the first to adopt “EMAIL” as a program name it is clear that CompuServe popularized it. Furthermore, Haigh details how Ayyadurai has conveniently tried to rewrite his own history to counter the debunkings. For example, in 2011, he originally claimed that while he was "challenged" to create an electronic interoffice messaging system in 1978, he didn't actually get it to work until 1980. But, of course, by then email was much more widespread. So, Ayyadurai changed the story, and pretended that he was both challenged and wrote his "50,000 lines of code" and got it all working in 1978. Furthermore, as we noted in our second post, Ayyadurai and his friends are now trying to rewrite history to ignore all those other previous email systems by tightly defining what an email system is such that only his qualifies. But, as we noted, most of the features he listed are arbitrary and unrelated to the basics of email. All of the core elements of email were widely used before Ayyadurai wrote his system. Haigh details how Ayyadurai has taken this to absolutely ridiculous extremes, claiming that it's not email unless it has 87 specific features (up from 32, which was ratcheted up from an original 6 -- as he continues to revise history): One of the five main tabs on Ayyadurai’s new site is “Definition of email.” This presents a short version (“email is the electronic version of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based email system”) and two lengthy checklists. The first checklist presents 32 distinct features of the traditional mail system, all of which he claims were necessary (“if any one component was taken away…you no longer had a functioning interoffice mail system.”) The second checklist repeats these, with some additional items added, and places a check mark by each one to indicate that Ayyadurai’s system had that capability. There are 87 of these check marks. If I understand his argument correctly then this signifies that a system must possess 87 specific features to properly be called email. Has this definition been widely accepted since 1978, as Ayyadurai claims? No it has not. Indeed, Ayyadurai’s own website did not include these definitions of email until recently. The old site (prior to June 2012) offered a quite different six point definition of “an E-Mail System.” These six points were: User-Friendly Interface; A Rich Set of Features; Network Wide; Security and Login; Enterprise Management; Database and Archival. The definition was originally presented as the work of one Matthew J. Labrador. Labrador claims to have “met Shiva in 1981 in a computer science class” and to have been impressed by his modesty. He recently been motivated by inaccurate reports on email origins to “do my own research… to provide readers with a more comprehensive and holistic history.” Ayyudari’s resume lists Labrador as a student whose bachelor’s thesis he supervised in 1990. Labrador, whose prose style closely resembles Ayyadurai’s own, expressed awe at Ayyadurai’s accomplishments (“in writing this History, I was amazed at the vision that Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai had even as a 13 year old, in developing that first E-Mail system”), acknowledged his graciousness in providing materials, and proceeded to show that Ayyadurai’s system met this unorthodox six point definition. Either way, given the abundant evidence that Ayyadurai's claim is complete bullshit, we were still left amazed that Huffington Post has allowed this to remain on its site. Late yesterday, a PR person from Huffington Post finally got back to me, claiming they did not get my original email. Huffington Post not only stupidly stands by the completely false story, it claims that the matter is okay because they've "updated each piece with a clarification." The clarification is not a "clarification" and it's not an apology for publishing a totally bullshit series. It's merely a repeating of Ayyadurai's lies. Incredibly, they repeat his exact language, suggesting the "clarification" is either from him directly, or taken from the claims in the bogus articles. *Clarification about the series: Electronic messaging predates email. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky in 2012, email, spelled uppercase or lowercase, as defined in 1978, was a computer program which was the first full-scale electronic version of the interoffice mail system (Inbox, Outbox, Drafts, Folders, Attachments, etc.), containing the integrated features of what we experience today in "email" programs. However, this is not to imply that prior to the invention of email in 1978, simple methods of computer-to-computer or device-to-device electronic messaging did not exist. In fact such methods of sending text messages electronically -- text messaging -- could be said to date back to the Morse code telegraph of the mid-1800s; or the 1939 World's Fair where IBM sent a message of congratulations from San Francisco to New York on an IBM radio-type, calling it a "high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow." The original text message, electronic transfer of content or images, ARPANET messaging, and even the familiar "@" sign were used in primitive electronic computer-to-computer messaging systems. While the technology pioneers who created these messaging systems should be heralded for their efforts, and given credit for their specific accomplishments and contributions, these early computer-to-computer messaging programs were clearly not email, the system of interconnected parts intended to emulate the interoffice mail system. There is much credit to spread around to the vast community of academic, industrial and military researchers and engineers who eclipsed the industrial revolution with their contributions to computer science and computer and network engineering. There is no intention to take credit where it is not due. However, email as we know and experience it today, not electronic messaging, was first created in 1978 at UMDNJ. Except, this is equally misleading. The systems in place long before 1978 absolutely were "electronic mail" and absolutely "emulated the interoffice mail system." "Email as we know it" was absolutely not first created at 1978 at UMDNJ and any basic reading of the actual documentation would prove that. I asked Huffington Post's PR people if they really wanted to make this statement, pointing out that it would only make them look silly. For reasons I cannot fathom, they appear to be standing by it and have not yet replied. Furthermore, this completely misleading and factually bogus "clarification" has not, in fact, been placed on all of the articles in this series. This HuffPost Live article by Emily Tess Katz does not include it at all, but rather repeats many long-disproved claims by Ayyadurai. Apparently Katz tweeted that she stands behind the article, but later deleted that tweet. I asked her again last night if she still stood by the article, but, par for the course, she has not replied. Huffington Post's PR people further told me that (1) it had not received any money for publishing the series (i.e., it's not a sponsored post) and (2) that "the authors declared no financial interest." Oh really? As I've pointed out, Larry Weber is one of the biggest names in PR. He didn't just magically decide to write an entire series of blatant falsehoods about the history of email. In fact, it didn't take much sleuthing to discover that Ayyadurai and Weber are business partners in "EchoMail", the company that Ayyadurai also likes to insist was a major part of email's history (it wasn't). Ayyadurai claims that EchoMail "grew to nearly $200 million in market valuation" but provides no evidence for that. Was the company public? Where does this valuation come from? For such an important company, you'd think there'd be a lot more information online about it, but there's basically none. The Wikipedia page for it says that EchoMail is a "subsidiary of General Interactive, but was initially developed under Information Cybernetics." The only "citation" to support these claims is this page at General Interactive. However, General Interactive appears to just be yet another (in an increasingly long list) of websites of questionable businesses that appear to do nothing but promote... V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai. For such a big company, you'd assume there'd be some press reports somewhere. So far, I can find none. It's possible they exist, but they are not readily available. It's not hard, however, to find news reports on other big companies of that generation. Either way, Echomail notes that companies like American Express and IBM are customers. It somehow leaves out that the only confirmation I can find of this is a lawsuit EchoMail filed against both companies in 2005. So, at least they were customers, though it doesn't appear to have ended on friendly terms. Basically, no matter where you start to dig in, nearly everything about Ayyadurai's claims is incredibly sketchy, or outright disproven and debunked widely. It's incredible that Huffington Post has decided to stand by this and merely repeat debunked claims. Even if, as some have claimed, the posts by Weber, Ayyadurai and their friends are on the "unedited" blogs section of HuffPo, the HuffPo Live pieces are a part of the "news" business, and they are reporting blatantly false information. As per usual, Ayyadurai himself refuses to address any of this other than pointing back to the same debunked claims. His Twitter feed is hilarious, just constantly repeating claims, in a foot stamping manner, sometimes referring to himself in the third person. No evidence, no support. And, of course, BBN doesn't claim to have "invented email." Like pretty much everyone else, BBN notes that it was among those who made significant contributions to a large group effort that became email. Oh, and there's also this amusing tweet in which Ayyadurai appears to be implying that we're paid off by Raytheon for writing this. We're curious if Ayyadurai would like to try to present any evidence that a giant defense contractor is paying us off to (1) explain basic copyright law and (2) point to the actual 1977 paper that Ayyadurai himself totally misrepresents. Because we'd like to see him try. In the meantime, the folks over at Huffington Post (the ones who still believe in journalistic integrity) might want to take a closer look at what's going on over there.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
I've never hidden my perhaps strange fascination with video game music. Everything from soundtracks to fan-made remixes, it's something that I love. But, for some reason, video game music for many people isn't so much a lark as a point of major industry contention. Recently we discussed how one composer's union turned into his enemy when he was simply working on a video game. The latest example, however, details how apparently professional musicians and/or their representatives got a game developer to shut down a fan-music contest out of what seems to be pure spite. Some background is in order. Several years ago, developer Red Thread Games produced two insanely good point-and-click adventure games, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. For the third installment, the team decided to turn to Kickstarter for funding, asking for $850k to produce the game and instead getting over one and a half million dollars in funding from fans. It's everything you want out of a Kickstarter story, with a great team organizing their rabid fan-base to both make money and produce another awesome game. And, while Red Thread Games already had a music composer on staff to create the larger soundtrack composition, the team wanted to give a nod to their dedicated fans and set up a contest by which fans could compose background/ambient music for small sections of the game, with the winners of the contest having their compositions included in the eventual release. And that's when everything went to hell. Supposedly professionals within the music arena felt as if the contest was designed to exploit fans and get a hold of royalty-free music for the game, a similar argument that originally caused The Fine Young Capitalists campaign to get shutdown.An update on the official Kickstarter page for Dreamfall: Chapters The Longest Journey details that the contest had been cancelled due to the conflict surrounding the event. As noted on the update, the decision is final and the contest won't be returning. “We do understand the different points of view and the reasons behind some of the backlash, even though we also feel our intentions were perhaps misrepresented and misunderstood. This was not an attempt on our part to commission free music for the game — we already have a fantastic score, a professional composer and some diegetic music — but rather a response to the community asking for a chance to get their music into the game. We felt this competition could benefit both the game and our fans.” And so concludes the attempt by Red Thread Games to connect with their fans in possibly the most meaningful way: inclusion within the project. A fan contest for small amounts of music was done in by industry musicians with no skin in the game. The backlash in the comments on the project, as well as on Twitter and other social media, made the developers out to be greedy robber barons looking to avoid paying a professional musician, which is an interesting theory considering the game already has a professional composer on staff. This was all about letting the fans have some fun, but the industry shouted it down until the project was shut down. The sad reality here is that someone who could have been thoroughly talented, and just needed an opportunity to get their music out there, had a potential avenue to a career in music cut short. This isn't to say that anyone who submitted music to the contest could have become the next Jesper Kyd or Marty O'Donnell, but killing these kind of opportunities to bridge the connection between developers and gamers only hurts game culture. Could you imagine if the same thing extended to the games arena and game jam contests came under the same fire? It's like killing off the potentiality of future artists before they even have a chance to shine. That last bit is of extreme importance, because it's the correct rebuttal to anyone involved in blasting this contest who also says they were doing so to protect the music industry. No, you weren't. You were just being dicks. As a result, a great game is a little less fun and none of you are any more hired for the project today than you were yesterday. Bang up job all around. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
We've heard some folks claim that all these bogus takedown notices we write about are just "anomalies" rather than a pattern of abuse of the law for the purpose of censorship. And yet, there are more and more examples every day. The latest one is particularly bizarre. IFPI (the international version of the RIAA) has apparently been issuing a series of bogus takedown notices to get Kim Dotcom's album "Good Times" taken down off of his own site, Mega. That's... quite incredible. This does not appear to be a strange attempt to hide Dotcom's music, but it looks to just be pure sloppiness on the part of the IFPI issuing misguided takedowns. That is, the IFPI takedown notice lists a totally different song (and it turns out this is the second time this has happened to Dotcom's album in the past month). As short-sighted as the IFPI is, it would take an other wordly level of stupidity to directly target Dotcom's music with a bogus takedown. Even the IFPI must know that that would backfire badly. The story that it's an "accident" makes much more sense. Dotcom filed a counternotice and the album was back up after about a day of being down. However, the real issue here is just how common this sort of thing is. And it comes from the same folks who like to (1) insist that it's "easy" to tell infringing works from non-infringing works and (2) demand that entire sites be blocked based just on their say-so that those sites are "illegal." Of course, Dotcom has some experience on that front, seeing as his own website, Megaupload, was shut down nearly three years ago, despite no adversarial hearing in a court of law on whether or not it was legal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
As Techdirt has reported, so far corporate sovereignty has emerged as the most contentious issue in the TTIP/TAFTA negotiations. In response to the growing public concern in Europe, the European Commission held a consultation on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), although that proved largely a sham, with the desired outcome clearly signalled by the choice of questions and how they were framed. Indeed, Karel De Gucht, the EU Commissioner with overall responsibility for TTIP, even went so far as to call the unprecedented 150,000 public responses an "outright attack" -- which is an interesting way to characterize democracy in action. By contrast, corporate sovereignty has not figured so prominently in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement discussions, even though it is likely to be as problematic there as for the transatlantic nations. The one exception is in Australia, where there has been an interesting debate on the topic thanks to Philip Morris using ISDS to sue that country over plain packaging for cigarettes, and more recently because of a Bill proposed by Peter Whish-Wilson, a senator from the Australian Greens party. It's called the "Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014" (pdf), and consists of the following succinct paragraph: The [Australian] Commonwealth must not, on or after the commencement of this Act, enter into an agreement (however described) with one or more foreign countries that includes an investor-state dispute settlement provision. Earlier this year, the Australian Senate referred the Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation committee for an inquiry and report, which provided a rare opportunity for the public to comment on the inclusion of ISDS in TPP and other agreements. As with the European Commission's consultation, the response was huge. The recently-published report (pdf) explains: The committee also received over 11,000 emails from individuals using an online tool by which people could express their opposition to ISDS clauses in trade agreements to the committee. Due to the large number of emails received, it was not possible for the committee to accept them as submissions and publish them on the committee’s website. The committee, however, agreed to accept the emails as correspondence, and acknowledge them on the committee's website. Although they didn't call it an "outright attack" like De Gucht, the committee was still unable to recognize that using an "online tool" is a perfectly natural and legitimate way for people to express their views these days. The committee also made a recommendation that the Bill should not be passed. But as a press release from the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network (AFTINET) points out (pdf), the Australian government has a majority on the committee, so it was hardly likely to support a Bill that went against its own policy of accepting ISDS chapters on a case-by-case basis. However, the report is reasonably fair in its distillation of the objections to the inclusion of corporate sovereignty clauses as outlined in submissions, and it's worth reading the short document for a good summary of those, and of the arguments in favor of ISDS, which are echoed by the report as follows: The committee is of the view that many of the alleged risks to Australian sovereignty and law making arising from the ISDS system are overstated and are not supported by the history of Australia's involvement in negotiating trade agreements. While the committee acknowledges that past experience may not be an accurate guide to the future in terms of potential ISDS claims against Australia, it stresses that the investment treaty arbitration field is evolving in positive ways to enable countries, including Australia, to put exclusions in place, limit the application of ISDS to the investment sections of agreements, and generally tighten up the wording of agreements. The committee is of the view that it is far more important for Australia to manage any risks associated with ISDS provisions than to reverse its longstanding treaty practice and opt out of the ISDS system altogether. That is, corporate sovereignty hasn't been too much of a problem in the past (if you ignore the threat from Philip Morris), and we're sure we can fix any problems that arise in the future. The first point is an incredibly naïve viewpoint given the changing ISDS landscape, with dozens of new cases each year, and multi-billion dollar awards being made. The second commands no confidence given the refusal to allow people to see drafts of these secret agreements involving ISDS; that means, for example, that serious blunders by the negotiators may not be caught until it is too late to do anything about them, with costly consequences for taxpayers. And even if there are no obvious mistakes in the texts, corporations will still use the threat of ISDS actions to bluff and to bully. The Bill is unlikely to pass in the Australian Senate, and almost certain not to in the House of Representatives, where the Australian government retains a majority, but it has at least provided an opportunity for ordinary people to express their views on a matter that will have a big impact on their daily lives. Although that is welcome, it's disgraceful that they were only able to do so thanks to the efforts of the Australian Greens party, which proposed this Bill largely with that end in view. Such consultations should be a matter of course for these kind of agreements, and the opinions expressed should have a real influence on the negotiations -- and not simply be filed away as empty exercises in pretend democracy. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
The big telcos don't exactly have particularly good records protecting your privacy. And now the FCC has reached an agreement with Verizon to pay the largest ever fine to the FCC to settle a long-term practice of hiding the fact that customers could opt-out of having their private info shared with marketers. Even as the "largest" ever such fine, it's still pennies for Verizon at $7.4 million. At issue was that Verizon is required to have either an opt-in system for sharing information on users with marketers or an opt-out system. But if they have an opt-out system, they have to clearly tell new customers that they can opt-out and how to do so. Not surprisingly, Verizon chose the "opt-out" method... and then conveniently left out the part where they tell customers they have the right to opt-out. And they did this for several years. To approximately two million customers. Oh, and to make matters worse, the company is required to let the FCC know of any violation within five business days of becoming aware of it. Verizon finally "noticed" it's own failure to tell people about the opt-out in September of 2012, but forgot to say anything to the FCC for... 126 days. That's a bit longer than five. For many of its customers, Verizon has used an opt-out process, sending opt-out notices to customers either as a message in their first bill or in a welcome letter. During its investigation, the Enforcement Bureau learned that, beginning in 2006 and continuing for several years thereafter, Verizon failed to generate the required opt-out notices to approximately two million customers, depriving them of their right to deny Verizon permission to access or use their personal information for certain marketing purposes. Moreover, the Enforcement Bureau learned that Verizon personnel failed to discover these problems until September 2012, and the company failed to notify the FCC of these problems until January 18, 2013, 126 days later. Under the terms of the Consent Decree the FCC announced today, Verizon must take significant steps to improve how it protects the privacy rights of its customers. For example, Verizon will now include opt-out notices on every bill, not just the first bill, and it will put systems in place to monitor and test its billing systems and opt-out notice process to ensure that customers are receiving proper notices of their privacy rights. Any problems detected that are more than an anomaly must be reported to the Commission within five business days, and any noncompliance must be reported as well. To resolve the matter, Verizon will pay $7.4 million to the U.S. Treasury, which is the largest such payment in FCC history for settling an investigation related solely to the privacy of telephone customers’ personal information. The fine is a slap on the wrist, but this once again suggests the rather cavalier attitude the telcos have concerning privacy and the ways in which they clearly are not particularly concerned about obeying FCC regulations.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
It's never fun to walk unexpectedly into a spider web because you didn't see it. And even if you're not a true arachnophobe, it's still a bit unsettling to see a spider scurry across a wall or the floor in the way only an eight-legged creature can. If you genuinely like spiders, then you perhaps these stories on finding arachnids in unexpected places will be fascinating. Otherwise, maybe you'd better not read on. There are arachnids on your face. Right. Now. Seriously. Okay, so microscopic arachnids -- distantly related to spiders and ticks -- that live in your facial pores (and on nearly every mammal on the planet) aren't visible to the naked eye and are generally harmless, but still. [url] In 2013, in the Brazilian town of Santo Antonio da Platina, spiders built a big web overhead and the spiders crawled around a disturbingly large area where it looked like spiders were just floating in the sky. A biologist identified the spiders as Anelosimus eximius and said this wasn't an unusual event for other cities like Sao Paulo -- so you've been warned, folks. [url] Mazda issued a recall for 42,000 cars because the yellow sac spider likes to crawl into Mazda engines through a fuel tank hose and potentially cause a fire. Apparently, these particular spiders like Mazda vehicles because this isn't the only recall issued due to these little guys crawling into Mazdas. Zoom-Zoom! Yikes! [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Apparently it's a big deadmau5 day on Techdirt. Not only do we have the story of Ferrari looking into blocking the sale of his Purrari, Disney is officially opposing his attempt to trademark his logo mousehead, which he famously wears in concert. Deadmau5 responded to this by saying "lawyer up mickey" though we're pretty sure that Mickey's been quite "lawyered up" for a long, long, long time. He further noted: Disney thinks you might confuse an established electronic musician / performer with a cartoon mouse. That's how stupid they think you are. — deadmau5 (@deadmau5) September 3, 2014 While he's right that the likelihood of confusion may not be that strong, it wouldn't actually be a surprise to see Disney win this. Disney has a big music business on its own, and Deadmau5's mouse head may be considered similar enough. I personally think it's silly, and the real likelihood that anyone thinks Deadmau5 is associated with Disney is pretty slim, but the USPTO doesn't always agree with me, and (again) "Mickey" has some powerful lawyers on his side. Of course, it's not really a big deal if Disney succeeds here. All it would do is block Deadmau5 from having a registered trademark on the design, but that's neither necessary nor required. The real question is if Disney would go even further and attempt to block Deadmau5 from continuing to use the design. That... would be a lot more questionable.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Los Angeles law enforcement has been battling privacy activists seeking access to license plate data for over a year now. The plate and location data scooped up by the city's many automatic license plate readers is considered fair game by law enforcement because visible license plates obviously don't carry any sort of expectation of privacy. This argument only goes one way though. Back in July of last year, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept. refused to hand over plate data, citing confidentiality concerns. While using one of side of its mouth to argue that plates aren't personally identifiable information, the LASD used the other side to claim that releasing the data was impossible because even anonymized, non-personal data was too sensitive for public release. Let that argument soak in for a bit, because that's basically what Judge James Challant said in his opinion preventing the release of the data: "The [LPR] data contains hot list comparisons, the disclosure of which could greatly harm a criminal investigation," Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote in his 18-page decision. "It also would reveal patrol patterns which could compromise ongoing investigations, and even fixed point data could undermine investigations. Disclosure could also be used by a criminal to find and harm a third party. Balanced against these harms is the interest in ascertaining law enforcement abuse of the ALPR system and a general understanding of the picture law enforcement receives of an individual from the system, unsupported by any evidence as to how well the ALPR data will show this information. The balancing works in favor of non-disclosure." So, harvesting license plates and location data is no different than walking around with a camera snapping photos of vehicles driving or parked on public streets. But this very public collection method is somehow also a protected method that could be undermined by the release of data. While some patrol patterns might be ascertained from a week's worth of data, it's unlikely that such a short selection would reveal much. The judge also could have asked for a redacted release, with plates/locations tied to ongoing investigations blacked out, but instead he simply bought into law enforcement's arguments. (Caveat: Los Angeles law enforcement has argued that every plate collected is "relevant" to its investigations.) The idea that a criminal could use the database to "find and harm someone" is the most ridiculous statement. (Although the circular reasoning about whether or not the undisclosed information will show abuse by law enforcement comes close. If you can't see it, you can't really look for signs of abuse.) License plates are public information. Anyone with eyes could "find and harm someone" by looking for license plates. (And -- again -- I thought this data wasn't "personally identifiable.") As long as the vehicle isn't parked inside, anyone can see its plate and location. While a dump of license plate data would make it easier, it's not as though withholding the information will have any noticeable effect on that sort of criminal behavior. The end result is the expected: law enforcement gets access to anything considered "public information" and the public gets nothing in return but second-hand concerns about compromising investigations. It's the same argument, whether it's local law enforcement or the NSA. The public can't logically make the argument that plate readers are a violation of privacy but it has every right to expect that its law enforcement agencies are handling data responsibly and can be held accountable if they aren't. Humoring arguments like "all data is relevant" and "public data is confidential" doesn't achieve that end. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Plebgate is one of those silly minor political spats in the UK involving a top UK politician who apparently got angry that police wouldn't let him ride his bike out of the main gate at 10 Downing Street. The details really don't matter. It's just one of those political type stories that the press loves. But, now it's come out that in investigating this incident, the Metropolitan Police appear to have abused an anti-terror law to obtain the phone records of journalists who reported on the story. Specifically, the police made use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), the big anti-terror law in the UK that earlier this year we noted was abused to track down a government whistleblower. And this time it was used to get the phone records of Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of The Sun, because the Sun reported on the whole Plebgate affair. The use of RIPA -- which, again, is supposed to be for tracking down terrorists -- let the police circumvent the law they're supposed to use, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), which requires the police to actually go before a judge first when trying to access journalistic materials. With RIPA, the police could just claim they need the records, and boom, the phone company handed them over. For various obvious reasons, journalists are fairly alarmed by this clear abuse of the law to view the private communications of journalists. From the Guardian's coverage of this: Sources in the Sun newsroom said Newton Dunn was disgusted and outraged to learn the police had seized his phone records. “The first we knew of it was yesterday, we are taking legal advice,” said the source on Tuesday. “We would never have known unless the Met report came out.” Another said: “This is unbelievable. It’s like the secret police going round checking journalists’ phones. If they have done this, the bigger question is how often have they done this?” Actually, the bigger question goes beyond just how often have they done this for journalists' records, but how often are they doing this for lots of other stuff. As David Meyer at GigaOm rightly points out, the recent (rushed through with no debate) data retention law, DRIP, in the UK expands RIPA to cover all kinds of internet communications as well. Thus, thanks to DRIP, the police can get all sorts of similar information -- and they seem clearly willing to use it on cases that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all, but even in minor political spats that involve the police themselves. It's not a surprise that surveillance laws will be abused. But it's worth highlighting when they're abused so egregiously.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
We've seen all sorts of bizarre and questionable attempts by companies to silence criticism or content they just don't like. Bogus copyright, trademark and defamation claims are pretty standard these days. There's also just general "begging" or the random "tortious interference" arguments. But according to Metafilter's Matt Haughey, timeshare company Sundance Vacations may have taken things to insane new levels: forging a bogus court order to try to get Metafilter to remove a years-old thread. It started nearly two years ago when Sundance Vacations sent Haughey an email, asking him to remove this 2010 thread in which someone asked about Sundance Vacations marketing process -- starting off with "am I about to get screwed by Sundance Vacactions?" leading to a rather tame discussion about the sales tactics of the timeshare industry, and ways to deal with the dreaded "informational meeting" (really a hard sales pitch). The email included an attachment of a "court order" against someone who was supposedly running a "Sundance Vacations Protest site" barring them from speaking negatively about the company online. I don't see how such a court order is actually legal given the whole First Amendment, but we'll leave that aside for the moment. Haughey pointed out that the person named in the court order was clearly not the person who posted the Metafilter thread, and everyone went on with their lives. Until a few days ago, when Sundance Vacations sent a new email to Haughey, talking about a new court order, apparently against the person running this Boycott Sundance Vacations Facebook group. Bizarrely, the "court order" listed the Metafilter page in the document. Haughey posted the court order as an image: As Haughey noted, there are some oddities in that court order. For example, the signature page has a "signature" of "Sundance Vacations" (actually signed as such) rather than the name of an individual, as would actually be required. The part at the top listing the plaintiff and defendant has "Sundance Vacations" in a different size and font than everything else -- suggesting a cheap insertion. Even reading through the document, much of it looks to be about a basic restraining order between two individuals rather than a company. The order mentions "Defendant Friedman" despite the fact there is no Defendant listed with the name Friedman. On top of that, the Order lists out five URLs which it claims are defamatory and says that plaintiffs can use the order to get those articles removed or delisted. While it's not unheard of for local clueless courts to make such rulings, you can't actually make such an order, because it violates Section 230 of the CDA. Thus even if it were true, it wouldn't be enforceable. But it's not actually true. After questioning it, Haughey called the actual court: Today (Tuesday) I called a clerk in the Hinds County Chancery Court office. They asked me to fax them a copy of the court order so they could verify the document. I did as requested and a few hours later got a call back from the office saying it was not a real document from their court. The case numbers on the first page are from an unrelated case that took place last year. The clerk said they found a case from August 21, 2014 that used similar language but had different plaintiffs and defendants, but the same lawyers on page 3. In their opinion, it seemed someone grabbed a PDF from a different case and copy/pasted new details to it before sending it on to me. As Haughey notes, forging court documents is a felony. It kind of makes you wonder, if a company will commit felonies to hide some (very mild) online criticism, what kind of crap will it do in its regular business of trying to do high pressure sales to buy into their timeshare? Ken "Popehat" White points out that Sundance Vacations is now denying having sent the email, though it's pretty difficult to think who else might be sending such an email. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
We already covered the bizarre situation in which one of the biggest names in PR has "teamed up" with the Huffington Post to write an entirely bogus "series" of stories on the "history of email" that is nothing more than a PR campaign for a liar. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai claims to have invented email. He did not. We went into great detail on this on Tuesday, so you can check out the history there. Despite my requests to both Huffington Post and Larry Weber (the PR guy who kicked off the "series"), neither has responded and explained if any money is changing hands here. That means either it is, and Huffington Post is violating FTC rules concerning "paid" posts, or Huffington Post just made it clear that it is willing to post pure bullshit without the slightest bit of fact checking. I'm still not sure which is worse. Instead, it appears that they've gone forward and posted the latest in the series. Incredibly, they've convinced an MIT professor, Deborah Nightingale, to destroy her own credibility by writing a piece that is supposedly "debunking" the "myths" that everyone puts forth in proving that Ayyadurai is simply wrong in claiming to have invented email. Except the "myths" are not myths, and her debunking does not debunk anything. It just repeats the same false claims (using nearly identical language) as Ayyadurai and his friends in their original posts. Nightingale cherry picks a few things, presents them in a misleading way, repeats the entirely bogus story about Dave Crocker claiming interoffice email was impossible (which is not at all what he actually said), and then just repeats (almost word for word) Ayyadurai's previously disproven claims. It's clear that the only way they think they can win this debate is to redefine what email is in such a narrow way to pretend that Ayyadurai's specific implementation was the "invention" of email. It's not. It's ridiculous. Here's their definition, according to Nightingale, though more or less repeated word for word by the other posts in the series. "first full-scale electronic replication of the interoffice mail system consisting of the now-familiar components of email: Inbox, Outbox, Folders, Attachments, Memo, Address Book, Forwarding, Composing, etc.," Again, as noted in our post yesterday, nearly all of that was done previously by others (often many years earlier). But Ayyadurai, Weber and Nightingale are pretending that none of that was truly email because it didn't have every single component that Ayyadurai's app had. That's ridiculous. Email is an ever-evolving set of standards. You could just as easily make an equally ridiculous claim that "email" didn't really exist until it also had color highlighting. After all, the offline interoffice mail system had the ability to highlight with colored pens, and email didn't include color highlighting until years later. But, of course, that's ridiculous, because color highlighting doesn't make email. Email was very much in place long before Ayyadurai's app. It included all the basic concepts of email, including an inbox, folders, to:, from:, subject, cc:, bcc:, etc. Ayyadurai may have written a wonderful new form of electronic messaging, but he didn't "invent" email. The thing that's amazing here is that Ayyadurai is using one of the oldest trolling tricks in the book, in pretending that everything that he is actually doing is actually being done nefariously against him. Almost everything that he claims people are doing to him are things that he is actually doing himself: He claims that the attacks are because Raytheon/BBN's entire "identity" is built off of its fake claim to have invented email. First off, that's not true. Raytheon is a giant multi-billion defense contractor. It doesn't care about who invented email. BBN has a long and well-documented history of a whole bunch of innovations concerning the internet and networked computing. If it didn't invent email (and no one there really claims to have "invented" email anyway -- they say, rightly, that it was a group evolution by a bunch of folks, some at BBN and some elsewhere), its legacy as the core innovators of the internet would still be in place. Instead, the only one whose entire "identity" is built off a fake claim to have invented email is... Ayyadurai. Here's his Twitter page: His entire Twitter stream is about him claiming to have invented email. Tweet after tweet after tweet are just about those claims. He has an entire website called "the inventor of email." He's written a book about email, which claims on the front page that he's "the inventor of email": Oh, and notice the "blurb" on the cover of the book? It's from Larry Weber. Gee... He claims that others "fabricated a controversy" to deny him his rightful place in history The only fabricated controversy is by him. There is no controversy. He didn't invent email. But he sure trades off of the claim that big powerful interests are trying to silence him. He claims that those of us debunking his bogus claim refused to look at the primary documents This is untrue. We went through the documents in detail and explained why they actually debunk Ayyadurai's own claims. Their "smoking gun" is a paper by David Crocker at RAND from December 1977, in which they falsely claim he said that an interoffice email system was impossible. Yet they never point you to the paper. go read it here. Go read the primary documentation and you'll see that not only did Ayyadurai and his friends/colleagues totally take Crocker out of context, they pulled two totally unrelated sentences from different parts of the report, excised from context, to pretend he said something he did not. Read the whole report and you'll actually see that not only were email systems quite common, lots of folks were developing all sorts of components of an electronic interoffice mail system. Crocker's paper is about one such version, but notes that many others are doing the same, and it includes screenshots of messages that clearly look like email today. He claims that everyone is trying to rewrite history He and his friends are the only ones doing so. The history is clear. There is no controversy other than the one that he's manufacturing. What's bizarre is that the Huffington Post is a willing accomplice in perpetuating this myth -- and why the company won't comment on this, and the nature of its relationship with Weber and Ayyadurai. Again, either the Huffington Post is running a sponsored series without disclosing it (in violation of FTC rules) or it has been totally duped. I've heard from some folks suggesting that this is just the "blogging" side of Huffington Post, where there are no real editorial controls, but that doesn't explain HuffPost Live's multiple segments on this issue, including its bizarre interview with Ayyadurai. That is a journalistic endeavor (or purports to be) that appears to have been totally duped. The series still promises one more article, by Ayyadurai himself, and we expect more of the same rewriting of history, using the exact same phraseology. The question is whether or not Huffington Post will recognize that it's being used as part of an effort to drum up a faux controversy over something that is blatantly untrue.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We still hear from copyright system supporters who insist that copyright is never used as a censorship tool. And yet... we've written a few times about a Spanish firm named Ares Rights that works with the Ecuadorian government and others to seek to censor critical content by totally abusing the DMCA process. However, it appears to have stepped things up a notch in the ridiculous category, now seeking to abuse the DMCA even further to censor stories about its own censorship-by-DMCA. It gets a bit recursive. Last week, Adam Steinbaugh had a good blog post detailing how Ares Rights had issued some bogus DMCA notices over some news coverage in Ecuador... of Ares Rights itself. In May, PlanV had written about Ares Rights and its abuse of US copyright law to try to censor stuff on behalf of the Ecuadorian government. It's a good detailed breakdown of how Ares Rights abuses copyright law. However Ares Rights sent a takedown, claiming trademark infringement in the article, because (you guessed it) the article mentions "Ares Rights." Except that's not how the DMCA or trademark law works. At all. Of course, rather than having the criticism of Ares Rights disappear, it just resulted in a lot more coverage of the situation (and, of course, the original article stayed up). It got American press coverage as well as Ecuadorian coverage from multiple sources. Rather than learn the lesson that issuing bogus takedowns is a bad idea that not only doesn't work, but will likely backfire spectacularly, Ares Rights doubled down... and sent a new DMCA takedown to try to take down Adam Steinbaugh's post. In this case, Ares Rights is claiming the following: b) Copyrighted work or other intellectual property that we are claiming to be infringed: Your customer shows private and not public data. Your customer displays a document with copyright. Note strictly private use with contact address, email and telephone. This data is private and not public use only. Your customer violates privacy laws Spain and CEE. Please, delete this url. c) A description of where the infringing material is located on your Site: http://adamsteinbaugh.com/2014/08/29/ares-rights-wants-ecuador-journalists-to-stop-talking-about-ares-rights-censorious-abuse-of-copyright/ Of course, most of that has nothing to do with copyright, and thus a DMCA notice is improper. Second, all of it is pure bullshit. Steinbaugh filed a "counter notice" which is well worth reading: Dear Mr. Martínez: I am writing in response to your censorious DMCA takedown notice of today’s date, which demands that I remove the entirety of my post about your firm’s censorious abuse of DMCA notices to intimidate or censor your critics and political dissidents, which is located here: http://adamsteinbaugh.com/2014/08/29/ares-rights-wants-ecuador-journalists-to-stop-talking-about-ares-rights-censorious-abuse-of-copyright/ This communication to you is a DMCA counter notification letter as defined in 17 USC § 512(g)(3). My response is this: fuck off. In more delicate terms: First, your notice is defective in that it fails to identify the specific work claimed to be infringed, as required by 17 USC § 512(c)(3)(A)(i). Second, the material at issue is not protected by copyright, and in the unlikely event that it’s protected at the barest margins of copyright law, my use of the material — which is still unidentified — is a fair use under 17 USC § 107. I declare, under penalty of perjury, that I have a good faith belief that the complaint of copyright violation is based on mistaken information, misidentification of the material in question, or deliberate misreading of the law. And, to be sure, your reading of the law to demand removal of your abuse of the DMCA is unmistakably deliberate. To encourage the re-calibration of your interpretation of copyright law, please refer to 17 USC § 512(f), which provides for attorneys fees should a content provider be hoodwinked into temporarily disabling access to material on the basis of your fraudulent DMCA takedown notices. My name, address, and telephone number are as follows: Adam Steinbaugh [redacted] I hereby consent to the jurisdiction of Federal District Court for the judicial district in which I reside, which is the Federal District Court for the Central District of California, conveniently located six blocks away from the foregoing address. I agree to accept service of process from the complainant. My actual or electronic signature follows: XOXO, Adam Steinbaugh As per usual, Ken Popehat White does the best job summing this up. It's not clear what Ares Rights hopes to accomplish. Their DMCAs will fail. This won't slow coverage. Trying to brush off the EFF or Steinbaugh with a DMCA notice is like trying to get a dog to stop humping your leg by petting it and feeding it bacon. Maybe they bill by the hour, even for patently ridiculous tasks? Maybe they are trying to convince their Ecuadorian masters that they are doing something, anything? Maybe they are just really very bad at their jobs? Stay tuned to find out. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've covered a lot of stories dealing with the Right of First Sale being undermined by digital goods being sold as licenses, rather than products. It's much more rare to find the Right of First Sale being yanked away from paying customers who have purchased physical products. But it happens. You'd think shelling out a quarter-million dollars would allow you to do what you please with your purchase. Think again. Apparently Ferrari was none to pleased with the custom badges and associated floor mats on Deadmau5's 458 Italia Purrari. So much so that Ferrari North America sent the self-admitted button-pusher a cease and desist to have the custom emblems removed. Deadmau5 (aka Joel Zimmerman) wrapped his 458 in a vinyl tribute to Nyan cat, running it in a few rallies and getting coffee with assorted celebrities and disgraced politicians before it went up for sale. Deadmau5 didn't share the actual cease and desist order but pointed out later that it specifically mentioned the badges and floor mats. Ferrari was probably none too thrilled with the custom wrap, which took the vaunted manufacturer's luxury sportscar and turned it into a meme-on-wheels for the Gumball 3000 Rally. First off, it seems a car company should let its customers customize their vehicles however they want to. Second, it was originally done for the Gumball 3000 -- an event where all sorts of vehicles are wrapped/customized to ridiculous extents. But that's Ferrari's m.o., apparently. Not only will it get testy about Pop Tart cats trailing rainbows, but it also won't let you sell its vehicles without its permission. The Right of First Refusal contract (posted at a Porsche enthusiasts forum) states that Ferrari, not the customer, gets to say who the car gets sold to. Customer recognizes that the 430 is a limited-edition, high-performance vehicle and that it is the goal of both Ferrari and the Dealer to offer and sell such vehicles principally to Ferrari enthusiasts who are purchasing the vehicles for their own use, who intend to use the 430 and not for purposes of resale or price speculation. Customer further recognizes that, in the past, Ferrari vehicles like the 430, have frequently appreciated in value, such that used and "almost new" vehicles can be sold at prices substantially in excess of the original Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price. While there is no guarantee that the 430 will enjoy similar customer acceptance, and while Ferrari and the Dealer recognize Customer's ultimate right to enjoy any appreciation that may occur with respect to his/her vehicle, Customer acknowledges that Ferrari and Dealer have a legitimate interest in minimizing speculation in the 430, at least and the time of, and within reasonable time after, introduction of the vehicle. Customer, in particular, acknowledges that, in the past, excessive speculation in certain Ferrari vehicles has resulted in customer ill-will and can, under certain circumstances, expose Ferrari and/or Dealer to liabilities over which neither has control or recourse. In order to address the foregoing concerns. Customer hereby grants to Dealer, as a material consideration for the opportunity to purchase a 430, an option to repurchase the 430 at its market value (but in no event more than the original Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) at any time within two (2) years of the date of delivery of his/her 430, provided Customer decides to sell, lease or otherwise transfer possession the vehicle to a third-party during that period (the "Right of First Refusal"). Customer agrees to abide by this provision, and understands that, notwithstanding any other terms thereof, it constitutes an integrated and material part of the retail contract between Customer and Dealer. To put this in the best light, Ferrari (and its licensed dealers) doesn't desire for the rich to become richer by flipping its vehicles. It apparently wants customers to drive the cars, not buy up a few with the hopes of profiting on the price appreciation. It's a noble thought, but it completely destroys the Right of First Sale. The contract says it recognizes the customer's "right" to "enjoy any appreciation," but then says the dealer gets first shot at repurchasing the Ferrari "at no higher than the "original MSRP." How often this clause is actually triggered is unknown, but it basically takes control of a very expensive vehicle out of the customer's hands for two years. I'm not saying more money should mean more rights, but it would seem that those spending a small fortune for Ferrari's vehicles should at least be able to paint the vehicle like the General Lee and sell it to old money in Mississippi without the owner having to check with the dealer first or receive ludicrous cease-and-desist orders. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The surveillance device that dare not speak its name (thanks, FBI!) is on its last legs… or at least one version is. Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica reports that law enforcement agencies are moving quickly to avoid being locked out of the cell tower spoofing racket. Documents released last week by the City of Oakland reveal that it is one of a handful of American jurisdictions attempting to upgrade an existing cellular surveillance system, commonly known as a stingray. The Oakland Police Department, the nearby Fremont Police Department, and the Alameda County District Attorney jointly applied for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to "obtain a state-of-the-art cell phone tracking system," the records show. The Stingray is Harris Corporation's most infamous product. But the original version has its limitations. While the nation's cell phone carriers have largely moved on to 3G/4G networks, Stingray devices without optional upgrades haven't. All they can access is 2G, the default connection when nothing better is available. Those looking to capture cell activity on 3G and 4G networks will need to purchase Harris' "Hailstorm" upgrade… which also means they'll need to start generating paperwork and asking federal and local governments for funds. The problem with these actions is that they have the tendency to expose those in need of new capabilities. Other locales known to be in the process of related federally-funded upgrades include Tacoma, Wash.; Baltimore, Md.; Chesterfield, Va.; Sunrise, Fla.; and Oakland County, Mich. There are likely many more, but such purchases are often shrouded in secrecy. FOIA requests have turned up some information, but much of it is redacted and many more requests have been refused or ignored. With the federal government itself instructing local law enforcement to cover up its acquisition and use of tower spoofers, the FOIA process becomes even more of an uphill battle. Law enforcement can't be happy to see 2G networks being switched off. When you're in the untargeted dragnet business, 2G is a willing supplier of "business records." 2G networks are notoriously insecure. Handsets operating on 2G will readily accept communication from another device purporting to be a valid cell tower, like a stingray. So the stingray takes advantage of this feature by jamming the 3G and 4G signals, forcing the phone to use a 2G signal. What's considered a criminal act when performed by a civilian is just SOP for law enforcement. The same can be said for the fake sworn documents (warrant requests, subpoenas) obtained to cover the use of these devices. The manufacturer with the most devices in use is no better than the agencies it sells to. When approached about this scramble for upgrades, Harris Corporation borrowed the NSA's Glomar. "We do not comment on solutions we may or may not provide to classified Department of Defense or law enforcement agencies," Jim Burke, a spokesman for Harris, told Ars. The timeline for 2G shutoff is still vague. Verizon says "by the end of the decade." AT&T says 2017. So there's still some time for law enforcement agencies to avoid being bypassed by the slow rollout of network upgrades. But between now and then, these agencies need to put together nearly $500,000 just to stay current. And as usual, as much as possible about the process will be obscured, because otherwise the terrorists criminals win. "Once that's disclosed then the targets of the technology will know how to avoid it," [Alameda County Assistant DA Michael] O’Connor, the assistant district attorney, told Ars. "Once the bad guys understand how to beat it then they will." It seems like all the bad guys would need to know is that the technology exists and is being used and just stay off their cell phones. But in this day and age, being completely unconnected while away from home is untenable, if not nearly impossible. Communication is key in criminal enterprises, and the steady disappearance of pay phones doesn't leave them with many options. O'Connor completely overstates the "exposure" danger and follows it up with this: "It can't easily be resolved—the public's right to know, the Fourth Amendment rights of people who might be subject to this kind of analysis and the needs of law enforcement to keep sources confidential especially in a day and age when the bad guys have acquired considerable technology that is turned against good guys." One: if it can't "easily be resolved," why not err on the Fourth Amendment/public knowledge side, rather than on the cop side? Two: the bad guys' "considerable technology" isn't lapping law enforcement's. This ridiculous claim has been used as justification for warrantless cell phone searches, and it failed to move the Supreme Court justices. Pushing this narrative now just makes the pusher look like the sort of credulous rube who would put together a Powerpoint presentation on food-trucks-as-terrorist-vehicles. The bright side here is that more paperwork is being generated… which eventually means more of the public will know their local law enforcement is scooping up their location/connection info (most likely without a warrant) at any given time and is not above killing their network to do it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the less well-known projects of the West is to convince developing countries that they need to convert traditional approaches to agriculture, which have functioned well for hundreds of years, into a system of intellectual monopolies for seeds -- the implicit and patronizing message being that this is the "modern" way to do things. Last year we wrote about how this was happening in Africa, and an article on bilaterals.org reports on similar moves in Guatemala: On 10 June, the Congress of Guatemala approved Decree 19-2014 or the "Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties" which led to an outpouring of criticism from various sectors of civil society. This law, published on 26 June, protects the intellectual property of plant breeders deemed to have "created" or "discovered" new plant varieties, or genetically modified existing ones. This way, the beneficiaries of the law -- "breeders", which are typically companies producing transgenic seeds like the transnational corporation Monsanto -- obtain property rights over the use of such varieties, in the form of plants or seeds. Here's how that is likely to impact Guatemalan farmers: In a publication, the Rural Studies Collective (Cer-Ixim) warned about the consequences of this "Monsanto Law". They explained that under this law the possession or exchange of seeds of protected varieties without the breeder's authorisation will be illegal and punishable by imprisonment. It will also be illegal, and punishable by prison, to posses the harvest from such seeds or to save them for future plantings. According to the law, the breeder's right extends to "varieties essentially derived from the protected variety." In this sense, a hybrid produced from a protected variety crossed with an unprotected variety would automatically belong to the breeder of the patented variety. The law thus promotes privatisation and monopolies over seeds, endangering food sovereignty, especially that of indigenous peoples, said Cer-Ixim. It also warned that Guatemala's biodiversity will fall "under the control of domestic and foreign companies." The new law was brought in as part of the process of complying with the 2005 CAFTA-DR free trade agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the US. Under its terms, signatories are obliged to sign up to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties -- exactly the same one that was being foisted on Africa last year. However, as bilaterals.org reports, despite that obligation, there is mounting resistance to handing over the country's seed sovereignty in this way: The growing opposition to the "Monsanto Law" comes from diverse sectors of civil society such as indigenous organisations, environmental groups, scientists, artists and members of Congress. ... Artists and television celebrities have joined an online signature campaign to reject the law. Their petition is addressed to the President, Otto Perez Molina, via the Avaaz website, and argues that the law is unconstitutional. "This law violates articles of the Constitution relating to the Protection of Individuals, Cultural Identity, Natural Heritage, Right to Health, the principles of the Economic and Social Regime, in addition to the obligation of the state to protect consumers," the petition states. Just recently, the Constitutional Court, Guatemala's highest legal body, provisionally suspended the entry into force of the law, giving 15 days for the various parties to to present their arguments. Despite the broad-based support for repealing or modifying the law, it is not clear what options the government has. After all, passing the law is a requirement of CAFTA-DR, and if Guatemala refuses to comply, we can expect the US to apply considerable pressure to encourage it to toe the line. Ultimately, the US can refuse to bring into force the agreement; given the presence of corporate sovereignty (pdf) and other onerous provisions in CAFTA-DR, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing for the people of Guatemala. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is based on a fictional technology that allows people to selectively forget events in their life that they don't want to remember. While that whole movie was dedicated to erasing memories, memory loss actually isn't an uncommon plot device. For example, Men In Black had "neuralyzers" that zapped away a person's memory, and the main character in Memento suffered from a complete loss of his short-term memory. (And don't forget all the soap operas that use amnesia in various convenient situations.) In reality, it's much harder to induce forgetfulness on demand, but some research could make it easier to do so in the future. Here are a few studies you might want to remember -- and later forget. Xenon gas is already used medically for anesthesia and diagnostic imaging, but it might some day be useful for erasing unwanted memories. So far, though, only mice have been dosed with a low concentration of xenon to successfully block some receptors involved in memory formation. [url] Selectively inhibiting memories for drug-addicted mice seems to erase drug-related memories and keep other remembrances intact. In one study, mice still remembered food rewards and foot shocks, but they didn't remember cues related to methamphetamine dosages. [url] Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been getting popular for tinkering with all kinds of brain functions (or disorders), and it has been shown to enhance memory in healthy people. The effects of TMS haven't yet been extensively studied (especially on healthy people), but it could be useful for understanding the mechanisms of memory -- and forgetting. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Having had our own run-ins with Google's opaque (and often hypocritical) decision-making process at times, it's not surprising (though unfortunate) to hear of yet another case. The folks over at Disconnect.me have been working on tools to give people more control over their own data and how it's shared. They're not looking to stop all data sharing, but rather put it back under the control of the individual users, rather than companies in the middle. While this may make some companies nervous, it shouldn't. A company that is actually providing value and is properly transparent shouldn't have to worry about such things. So it's quite disappointing that Google has chosen to pull Disconnect.me's new app from the Android store based only on a very vague and broad "prohibition" in its terms of service, saying that you can't offer an app that "interferes with" other services. The email Google sent doesn't provide many details, other than saying that the Disconnect.me app "interferes with or accesses another service or product in an unauthorized manner." Now, you can understand the basic rationale for why this term is in Google's rules -- the intent there is to block malicious activities. But what's "malicious" in this context? Disconnect believes Google mistook its app as an adblocker: But our mobile product (like our Desktop product) is not an adblocker. Instead Disconnect focuses on protecting people from invisible tracking and sources of malware, and all too often these threats come in the form of advertising. In fact, some of the most privacy invasive data collection online happens through ads, which see you even if you don’t see or interact with them. And worse, ad networks (including Google) are increasingly being used by “advertisers” to spread malware. This increasingly popular tactic, called malvertising, is currently being investigated by the US Senate, and Disconnect Mobile is the first app to directly address it. The fact is, we are not opposed to advertising and think advertising plays a critical role in the Internet economy. But we are 100% opposed to advertising that invisibly tracks people and compromises their security. In short, Disconnect.me is working to block evil activities. You'd think that the company with the whole "don't be evil" slogan would appreciate an app that tries to protect users from evil. But, as was the case when we got threatened with being cut off from ad revenue, it appears this is yet another case where you have a very large company that has put in place "by the book processes" that lead to a lack of common sense being employed. Instead you get checkmarks and bad end results. This all goes back to one of my biggest complaints about Google, going back years, that it continues to be the big white monolith when dealing with all sorts of users, customers and partners. Programs like AdSense and the Android Play Store are massive, and there are, certainly, those who look to abuse those systems. And so it's no surprise that the company has put in place policies to help try to weed out those abuses -- even leading to some false positives. The problem is that the company all too frequently doesn't have any real second level of review where common sense comes back into play. Disconnect.me is appealing the decision and seeing if it can get Google to reverse its position -- and hopefully that happens. It still seems to me that this is one of Google's most glaring problems as it has grown, and it's shown little sign of improving on this front to date. I know that Google is especially sensitive to antitrust concerns being leveled against it, and I'm honestly confused why the company doesn't view this as a potential concern on that front. When it has the ability to cut people off from areas where it has massive control (including the Android market and the advertising market), it's only asking for trouble from those where it makes the wrong call.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in May last year, Techdirt wrote about how the UK police worked in worryingly-close collaboration with the local anti-piracy group, FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft), effectively becoming its private enforcement squad. As we noted recently that case has now passed through the UK courts, with Philip Danks receiving 33 months in prison. The severe sentence is noteworthy, but what's really interesting here is how Danks was tracked down. TorrentFreak has written a fascinating follow-up piece explaining just how easy he made it. Apparently, Danks's online alias in the torrenting scene was TheCod3r. That seems safe enough, revealing nothing about the person behind it. But as TorrentFreak notes, a quick online search for that term brings up a link to someone else using exactly the same nickname, this time on the dating site Plenty of Fish: Clicking that link on dating site Plenty of Fish (POF) reveals a whole range of information about a person who, at the very least, uses the same online nickname as Danks. There's no conclusive proof that it's the same person, but several pieces of information begin to build a picture. In his POF profile, Danks reveals his city as being Willenhall, a small town situated in an area known locally as the Black Country. What FACT would've known soon after the movie leaked online was which cinema it had been recorded in. That turned out to be a Showcase cinema, just a few minutes up the road from Willenhall in the town of Walsall. Danks also seems to have been incredibly reckless on Facebook: On May 10, 2013, Danks again took to Facebook, this time to advertise that he was selling copies of movies including Robocop and Captain America. This continued distribution of copyrighted material particularly aggravated the Court at his sentencing hearing this week, with Danks’ behavior being described as "bold, arrogant and cocksure offending." The TorrentFreak article concludes by making an important point: While the list of events above clearly shows a catalog of errors that some might even find amusing, the desire of many pirates to utilize the same nickname across many sites is a common one employed by some of the biggest in the game. Once these and other similar indicators migrate across into real-life identities and activities (and the ever-present Facebook account of course), joining the dots is not difficult -- especially for the police and outfits like FACT. And once that happens, no amount of VPN encryption of lack of logging is going to put the genie back in the bottle. In other words, these high-profile wins for the copyright industry are not the result of the police making use of surveillance powers, or of clever sleuthing by organizations like FACT. Rather, they are the direct and largely predictable result of the arrogance and stupidity displayed by those breaking the law. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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