posted 10 days ago on techdirt
The HBO series Game of Thrones always seems to be at the center of the piracy debate. The shows mass popularity certainly has something to do with that (popular content is almost always at the top of various infringement lists), but a big part of it is the fact that, even for people willing to pay for the show, the fact that the only way to do so is to get an expensive cable subscription is a big part of the problem. In fact, there's some reason to suggest that the vast amount of piracy around Game of Thrones has been a key part of its success -- something that many folks associated with the show will admit in candid moments before being told by corporate bosses to shut up. And while the legacy entertainment industry continues to take a "zero tolerance" approach to infringement, by pretending that their various (extremely limited) online services are good enough, the simple truth is that it's ridiculous expensive for folks who just want to watch Game of Thrones online. The good folks at TorrentFreak took a look at what it would cost in a bunch of different countries to watch the authorized version of the show if you were a cord cutter who wasn't interested in anything else in a cable subscription. The Australian result may be the most shocking: When we look at the packages offered on the website the cheapest option appears to be the movie and drama combo, which costs $74 AUD (~ 70 USD) per month. However, the minimum subscription term is six months, which with the added costs adds up to $520 AUD (~ 590 USD). Assuming that someone’s only interested in watching Game of Thrones, an Australian fan will have to pay $52 AUD (~ 49 USD) per episode, which is rather expensive That's a bit of an understatement. And this is especially interesting, given that the US ambassador and the MPAA have repeatedly pointed to Game of Thrones piracy as a top priority that the Australian government needs to "fix." Perhaps, instead, there should be a focus on making it so that each episode is actually reasonably affordable. The situation, of course, is equally ridiculous in most other countries that TorrentFreak explored. And, yes, as HBO has said over and over again, it has good business reasons for doing this (it makes a ton of money from cable and satellite companies for each subscriber -- likely more than they'd pay individually). But the end result is that it should hardly be surprising that plenty of people choose an alternative route -- and it shouldn't be something that has US ambassadors up in arms.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 10 days ago on techdirt
Throw the words "national security" around frequently enough and you might start to believe it actually means something. The EFF's battle against the government's use of National Security Letters (NSLs) is being fought mostly under seal (the EFF can't even reveal whom its clients are). To be sure, there is sensitive material being discussed, but the government's paranoia has extended so far as to seal documents written by entities with no access to classified or sensitive material. (h/t to Trevor Timm) The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (RCFP) recently filed an amicus brief in this case on the EFF's behalf, arguing that the non-disclosure demands of NSLs are a form of prior restraint, something that is clearly unconstitutional. It also notes the chilling effect this has had on journalism. The information at issue is not just important for its own sake, but because, as recent reports have shown, fear of government surveillance has deterred confidential sources from speaking to journalists about a wide range of topics. The brief emphasizes that more knowledge about the NSL program can give sources and reporters confidence that their communications are confidential. The government's desire for secrecy extends even further than the NSLs' gag orders. This secrecy has now spilled over into what would normally be the public's domain. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s challenge involves three cases, all of which are under seal. The Reporters Committee was required to file its briefs under seal, but submitted a motion to the Ninth Circuit asking it to unseal its brief. Whatever the government's stated reasons for requiring the brief to be filed under seal, it's clearly wrong. “The Court cannot constitutionally seal this brief,” the Reporters Committee wrote in the motion. “Amici have had no access to confidential materials in the case; the brief only includes information that is already public; and there are clear public policy reasons for requiring that the materials be open.” The government doesn't know when to quit. It's sealed brief requirement makes about as much sense as government agencies' initial reactions to the first few leaked NSA documents -- instructing their employees to not look at publicly-available information because the documents were supposedly still "classified." As if that designation made any sense under the circumstances. This is the same sort of reasoning: NSLs are super-secret and therefore, anything related to these should be withheld from the public, even if the brief contains nothing more than publicly-available information. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 10 days ago on techdirt
It's a sad fact that a lot of big, important questions today are coming down to the government's word versus the word of whistleblowers and anonymous sources. And as silverscarcat points out in our most insightful comment of the week, it's obvious who deserves the benefit of the doubt: At this point... Snowden has more credibility than the entire U.S. government put together. Save for a few individuals, but they're few and far between. Meanwhile, when it comes to interpreting copyright law, the MPAA seems to think that its word trumps all others, even those found in statute and caselaw. An anonymous commenter won second place this week by reinforcing the point that, whatever you think of Megaupload, you can't just declare war on the whole internet: If you think Megaupload is bad and evil and infringing and criminals and should fry, try replacing all instances of Megaupload with your favorite cloud service of choice and see if the complaint is still valid. Of course, in the world of DMCA takedowns, the sad situation is that the rightsholder's word is law, at least as far as taking something offline until it's contested. That's how Sony was able to take a creative commons movie down, and as an anonymous commenter reminds us in our first editor's choice for insightful, the takedowns we hear about are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg: When I see stories like this I always wonder how many videos with tiny audiences are taken down by mistake and never put back up because the author does not know how to contest the decision, or are simply scared that they may have infringed someones copyright by accident. Also how many people do not know their fair use rights, and so do not contest take-downs when they have a fair use claim, or cannot risk the cost of it going to court? For our second editor's choice, we have a thorough comment from Rich Kulawiec about the fact that even beyond the obvious moral issue, not torturing people is in everyone's best interest no matter how you slice it: Not only is it horrific to contemplate that Americans in positions of authority authorized and/or committed crimes against humanity and tortured helpless human beings to death, but this has serious negative repercussions for American troops in the field. First, American troops are sporadically engaged in combat with soldiers from other countries -- whether in a declared or undeclared war, or a so-called "police action", or something else. One of the things that has often brought those combat situations to a peaceful end is the surrender of those fighting against the Americans. And one of the reasons those surrenders occured is that Americans could and would promise those surrendering that they would not be killed or otherwise harmed: that they would be treated humanely. That was a promise that American commanders very often worked hard to keep, even over the objections of their own soldiers and their emotions, running high in the heat of battle. But no American soldier can promise that any more. And no opposing soldier can believe it. There is every possibility that a peacefully-surrendering individual will be "disappeared" into one of the CIA's gulags and repeatedly tortured, perhaps to death. So why should they surrender? Even if they're surrounded, outnumbered, and in a militarily hopless situation, why should they give up? Why not fight it out and try to take a few more Americans with them? The CIA's torture program has removed one of the primary reasons for considering surrender as a viable option and thus ensures that more American soldiers will die, fighting protracted battles that need not have been fought by anyone. Second, American soldiers are occasionally captured by adversaries. And while some of them have been treated brutally, many have been accorded the rights guaranteed to them under international law by countries who observed the Geneva Conventions because the United States did the same. In other words, those countries treated American prisoners of-war humanely because they wished the same for their own, and they had good reason to believe the United States would obey the law. But the CIA has broken that tenuous trust. They've tortured people to death. And as a result, there is now far less reason for adversaries to treat American prisoners properly: why should they? Which means that captured American soldiers in the field now face substantially higher personal risk than they did previously. This may not be fixable. I don't know. But if there is any possibility of fixing it, surely it lies along a path that includes the full disclosure of the entire report and every accompanying document. It will be ugly. It will be painful. It will be horrifying. But I think it's the only possible way and I think we, as a nation, owe it to the soldiers we put in harm's way. Over on the funny side, first place goes to a comment from ChurchHatesTucker, responding to the news that the EU Court of Justice ruled blanket data retention to be a violation of privacy: So that's where the Fourth Amendment wandered off to. In second place, we've got a callback comment. After Michael Hayden claimed that various cables and documents were just as good a source of information as the torture tapes that had been destroyed, an anonymous commenter took things a step further with help from a recent, but unrelated, ridiculous ruling: According to Indiana, Hayden's testimony is better than the tapes. As noted back at the beginning of this post, there are a lot of battles of "who's lying?" going on right now, and one of the biggest is between Snowden and Rep. Mike Rogers. Our first editor's choice goes to an anonymous commenter for anticipating the latter's response to the former's recent interview: In before Mike Rogers says that his talking to Vanity Fair is a cover for working with the Russians. Finally, we've got another anonymous comment that I think deserves to be elevated to Ironic Adage, because it perfectly sums up the mentality of every indiscriminate, overzealous incident of copyright enforcement: Hey, You can't make an omelet without breaking everybody's eggs That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Five years ago I was just a Techdirt reader. Ten years ago, I was starting journalism school and first discovering the site. Fifteen years ago, the main thing I used the internet for was playing Team Fortress Classic and a MUD called AfterShock. With that perspective in mind, let me take you on another of our weekly digs through Techdirt history: Five Years Ago: Today, Time Warner Cable and Comcast are working on getting their merger approved — five years ago, TWC was in the process of rolling out its metered/capped broadband services for the first time, while claiming it was what customers wanted. At the time, the response from other service providers offered a prime example of how broadband competition encourages lower prices and unlimited data. Unfortunately, when you get down to it, it's hard to say there's been much progress in improving US broadband since then, at least not from the consumer perspective — and this new merger is certainly not going to help. Five years ago was also when a second circuit ruling opened Google up to trademark liability in AdWords — something that, we noted just this past November, may finally be coming to an end. The same can't be said for the Associated Press' aggressive interpretation of copyright law, which manifested as them targeting news aggregators for the first time in 2009. Nor can it be said for EA, which was fresh off the Spore DRM failure while Atari was following in its footsteps. Nor still can it be said about GEMA, which we were still identifying first as a "German Collections Society", for the name was in the early days of its notoriety. These were also the days just after the ProIP bill. We noted at the time that Hollywood was already brainstorming its next round of draconian copyright legislation and, well, we all know how that ended. Ten Years Ago: Well this is interesting: five years ago this week Google was beginning to face trademark issues over AdWords — and ten years ago this week they had just decided to allow purchasing trademarked terms in the first place. The company was also just launching localized ads (only weeks after first testing local search). In fact, location-based services in general were only just starting to appear. Gmail was brand new and causing a stir in California with one state senator seeking to ban it, and we were also still musing about the future Google IPO. Ten years ago this week, we also featured an innocent one-paragraph post about "the rise of patent hoarding houses" — the term "patent troll" hadn't even appeared yet. Little did we know just how bad things would get. Back in 2004, only one in six US users had gone online via WiFi. AOL was still sending CDs and DVDs by mail. California had just made its first arrest for recording movies under its new anti-camcording law — meanwhile, the state's first anti-violent-videogame bill was shot down. Some analysts were mocking the low resolution of what we still called "camera phones" while others were smartly realizing the potential of a camera that's connected. The still-unsettled question of smartphones on airplanes was just being raised, and the finally-starting-to-settle debate about blogs and journalism was firing up as well. This week in 2004 was also the first time that salespeople started popping up in chat boxes on websites. Fifteen Years Ago: Things were very different this week in 1999. Microsoft had just announced that it would enter the instant messaging game. I believe I was still on ICQ at the time (uh-oh!) Some folks were trademarking Y2K. PalmPilots were still a big deal, though some were beginning to talk about the mysterious "web phones" that the future held. Network Solutions was still clinging to its monopoly on domain registration — and there were still some dictionary word dot-coms available to be registered. Amazon.com was sued by Amazon Bookstore, and since I don't think I've ever heard of that latter one, I can guess how that ended. Folks were insisting that Mozilla was dead at the hands of IE 5.0, but even though Firefox was years away, we weren't ready to bury them yet — though we were less optimistic about web portals. Online bill payment existed in 1999, but it still usually cost money to use, and the first free services were just appearing. Linux also existed, but the first distribution with a graphical installer was still being finalized. 400 Years Ago: In 1614, John Napier devised logarithms and shared them with the world, paving the way for countless innovations, discoveries and advances in virtually every field of science, engineering and beyond. Techdirt did not cover this — but I like to think we would have. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Style and fashion constantly change in capricious, unpredictable and decidedly non-linear ways — but the underlying function of clothing and accessories follows the same path as any other technology: innovation, refinement and improvement. This week's Awesome Stuff takes a look at some practical innovations from the world of wearables. The ZipSeam A day comes in most men's lives, usually sometime late in or just after college, when we (a) realize that dress shirts have become the bulk of our wardrobe and (b) look closer and realize that absolutely none of them fit us particularly well. If we're lucky we may have found a few brands with off-the-rack sizes that fit as though tailored, but that's a rare thing indeed. Certain shirt alterations are "easy", but it's all relative (in this case relative to just putting on an ill-fitting shirt, so in other words: hard). But what if trimming baggy sleeves and waists was as simple as snapping an extra piece into place? That's what the ZipSeam aims to make possible: Innie Shoelace Locks Shoelaces are among those funny things that have been the same seemingly forever, and yet really feel as though they should have somehow been improved or replaced. The in-many-ways superior option of velcro has been arbitrarily stigmatized; zippers, having all but completely eliminated laces in the realm of shirts and pants, remain a distant second in the shoe game. For whatever reason, people just really like laces on their shoes, while simultaneously realizing that they are often a huge pain. Maybe the solution is the Innie, which does away with bows and excess length while preserving the timeless look of laces: Vinco Wallets The constant flood of "revolutionary" new wallets on Kickstarter still shows no sign of slowing down, and these days it's rarer and rarer to see an idea that actually stands out in any meaningful way. But the Vinco wallet is something a little different: instructions and supplies for making your own lifetime supply of temporary paper wallets. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
The Supreme Court may take up the question of whether or not communicated threats are still threats even if the person making the statement doesn't necessarily have the ability or the intent to carry them out. In short, at what point does it turn from protectable speech into something the First Amendment won't cover? The latest case involving the legal parameters of online speech before the justices concerns a Pennsylvania man sentenced to 50 months in prison after being convicted on four counts of the interstate communication of threats. Defendant Anthony Elonis' 2010 Facebook rant concerned attacks on an elementary school, his estranged wife, and even law enforcement. "That's it, I've had about enough/ I'm checking out and making a name for myself/ Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius/ to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined/ and hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a Kindergarten class/ the only question is … which one?" read one of Elonis' posts. This is a subject we've discussed several times previously. People (mainly teens) have made statements and comments via social media that have veered close to being threats, but once investigated, turn out to be nothing more than stupid kids being stupid. Prosecutors and law enforcement have made some questionable decisions in their attempts to portray youthful indiscretions as the words of would-be killers, such as withholding the surrounding context or willfully misreading the words themselves. Elonis' case is a bit more complicated. For one, Elonis is 30 years old. While growing older doesn't necessarily make you immune from stupidity, the expectations are a bit higher in terms of online discourse. It's a little harder to claim you're running on the same high-octane concoction of hormones and blood displacement that teenage boys are. Not that all youthful indiscretions are excusable, but given that age group's tendency towards disproportionate drama in all things, it does make it more understandable. In addition, Elonis' statements were directed at a variety of targets, any of which would seem to be a viable recipient for his anger. Not only did Elonis mention shooting up a school (specifically a kindergarten), but he also apparently had dire "plans" for his wife and local law enforcement. Again, the post-Sandy Hook law enforcement/judicial mentality further clouds the issue, raising the question that if Elonis had left out the part about the school shooting, would he still be facing 30 months in prison? (Of course, threatening law enforcement tends to create just as much of a legal mess, usually one far worse than simply threatening your estranged spouse does…) But the odds are fairly long that the Supreme Court will find the ability to carry out the threat matters as much as the perception of everyone else but the person making the statement. Only one federal appeals court has sided with Elonis' contention that the authorities must prove that the person who made the threat actually meant to carry it out. Eight other circuit courts of appeal, however, have ruled that the standard is whether a "reasonable person" would conclude the threat was real. This long shot is also reliant on another long shot: that the administration will support this appeal. A similar case involving an Iraq War vet was greeted by the White House with a written petition asking the Supreme Court to reject the case. These two obstacles make it unlikely that the judicial system will start treating so-called "threats" any differently than they have in the past. And it's a very long past. David Kravets at Ars Technica points out that the statute being applied to these cases originated in 1932. There are legitimate threats and these are rightly not treated as free speech. But there are others that are treated as legitimate threats even when there's no evidence the person uttering them has the ability, much less the intention to back up their unfortunate statements. Applying a 1932 statute to the wide open discourse platform that is the internet is doing little more than putting loudmouths and idiots in jail. Those who mean actual harm to others generally don't enlighten their future targets via Twitter, Facebook and forum posts. By all means, potential threats should be investigated, but the courts need to come to the realization that these statements cannot be entirely robbed of their context (including intent and ability) and presented "as is" to the hypothetical "reasonable person." Reasonable people are completely capable of understanding that not every hurtful word can actually hurt someone, nor do they believe every "threat" is the sign of impending danger. Not only should the statute be reconsidered, but so should the court's "reasonable person" ideal. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
What with the democratization of filmmaking technology, we've seen a relative explosion in films, as production has been opened to a whole population that would otherwise be unable to produce their wares. This, by and large, is a good thing. The barriers to entry have been lowered, streaming sites like YouTube provide an avenue for distribution, and we all get as many cute puppy videos as we can possibly handle. The flipside is that there are some jackasses out there who put out terrible crap. The whole Innocence Of Muslims fiasco is but one example, with actors reportedly being duped, controversial producers who remained in the shadows, and a finished product that would be most at home in the nearest dumpster. The technology is a great thing, but that doesn't mean there aren't pitfalls, and those lending their names to films and shows need to be careful about what they're getting into. Like Kate Mulgrew, for instance. The former Star Trek captain apparently did some voiceover work for a film that pushes the theory of geocentrism (Earth as the center of the universe). Kate Mulgrew—best known as that show’s Captain Janeway—has lent her familiar voice to The Principle, an upcoming documentary about the belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. The film has been in the works for a while, though it’s mostly been as ignored as those who have propagated the theory of Geocentrism past the 17th century. In a post on her Facebook page, the actress addressed that discussion, denying any involvement beyond being a hired gun who maybe should have asked a few more questions: "I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused." Lawrence Krauss, should you not know, is a famous physicist that would push the idea of geocentrism as much as he'd claim the moon was made of cheese (it's not by the way...). He published an article in Slate stating that he's unaware of how he ended up in the film, but it probably resulted from filmmakers pulling clips of him from around the internet and editing them in such a way as to make it sound like he supported the theory. Krauss, being smart, refuses to dignify the film with any legal action. The man behind the film is Robert Sungenis, who has dedicated his life to arguing for geocentrism, among other crackpot nonsense. Sungenis—who has a Ph.D. in religious studies from “a private distance-learning institution in Republic of Vanuatu”—has used those credentials to establish a career as a leading proponent of Geocentrism, based on an understanding of astrophysics drawn from that most esteemed of scientific manuals, the Bible. In addition to denying anyone can prove the Earth revolves around the sun, he’s also well known for denying anyone can prove 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust. He’s also claimed that Jews are in league with Satan to take over the planet. Delightful. In any case, it would be very easy and understandable for Mulgrew and Krauss to be royally pissed over this and pursue legal action. In fact, in light of the recent ruling in favor of Cindy Garcia, Mulgrew may even have a copyright claim to make, as ridiculous as that is. What a wonderful world of litigation Judge Kozinski has opened for us all, despite his proclamation on how rarely his ruling could be enforced. We're mere weeks away, yet here's another situation in which an actress who should have done her homework can point to Cindy Garcia's victory and claim copyright. Fortunately, Mulgrew seems to understand what Kozinski did not: that she was a "voice for hire" and that a good deal of the responsibility for knowing what she was lending her voice (and thus credibility) to is her own. I'd argue that a little public refuting without any legal action, which would only serve to put The Principle in the headlines, and a more proactive approach to vetting the material before committing to a project is all that's required. After all, it's not like any substantial number of people will take this film seriously. As long as the public knows some of those involved were duped, that should be the end of it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Who watches the watchers? Well, when you're the Los Angeles Police Department, you watch yourself. And when that kind of watching seems to be inhibiting, you just screw with the "watching" equipment. (via Ars Technica) Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in dozens of patrol cars in an effort to avoid being monitored while on duty, according to records and interviews. An inspection by Los Angeles Police Department investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing antennas, which help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed. These antennas, linked to both in-car camera systems and officers' body mics, helped increase the recording range. Removing the antennas didn't completely prevent recordings, but it did make it harder to pick up officers' voices once they entered buildings or ventured further away from the receivers located in the vehicles. According to the manufacturer, the antenna boosts the effective range of the body-worn transmitters by roughly a third. When you're watching yourself (something prompted by a decade-long DOJ investigation of the LAPD), you have this luxury. No cop's going to turn in another cop who removes an antenna or otherwise tampers with the department-imposed oversight measures. A whole lot of time elapsed between when the tampering was discovered and when it was finally brought to the attention of those charged with monitoring the monitoring. Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later. In interviews with The Times, some commissioners said they were alarmed by the officers' attempts to conceal what occurred in the field, as well as the failure of department officials to come forward when the problem first came to light. "On an issue like this, we need to be brought in right away," commission President Steve Soboroff said. "This equipment is for the protection of the public and of the officers. To have people who don't like the rules to take it upon themselves to do something like this is very troubling." This is very troubling, and while it's nice of the Police Commission to admit that fact, this tampering points to the officers' underlying resentment of nearly any method of monitoring or control. Many police officers don't like being recorded in public by citizens, so it stands to reason they don't much care for being recorded by the department itself. Hence, antennas go missing. Those who are supposed to be making sure the police officers aren't becoming a law unto themselves seem to have little interest in attacking the mindset that leads to this sort of behavior. "We took the situation very seriously. But because the chances of determining who was responsible was so low we elected to … move on," [LAPD Commander Andrew] Smith said, adding that it cost the department about $1,500 to replace all the antennas. Too hard, won't try. That's the standard being applied to the LAPD. Instead of making an effort, band aids are being applied. Officers are now supposed to sign off that the antennas are in place at the beginning and end of their shift. This leaves a gaping hole in coverage (otherwise known as the shift itself) should officers decide they'd rather not be recorded. This hole has received its own band aid. To guard against officers removing the antennas during their shifts, Tingirides said he requires patrol supervisors to make unannounced checks on cars. Great, but considering there are many more officers than supervisors, and considering the fact that it took months before the missing antennas were brought to the attention of the Police Commission, who really believes this is going to stop officers from disabling antennas during work hours? Oh, Commander Smith believes. Since the new protocols went into place, only one antenna has been found missing, Smith said. Well, that's the sort of result you can expect from self-reporting. Sure, a few cops may get a verbal handslap from a supervisor if they happen to come across a missing antenna, but it's a safe bet these supervisors aren't any happier about their men and women being recorded while on duty. Because if they did care, it never would have gotten to the point where nearly half of the antennas in a single division went missing. With these cops being charged with keeping department-issued antennas present and accounted for, some have opted to go a different route to avoid being recorded. Last month, the department conducted a follow-up audit and found that dozens of the transmitters worn by officers in Southeast Division were missing or damaged. This time there's actually an investigation being opened, months after the original antenna abuse was uncovered by an internal audit (but hidden from the Police Commission). Judging from what's happened previously, there's very little reason to believe this will lead to the ouster of bad cops who don't like accountability. A few scapegoats may be offered up to calm both the public and department oversight, but if a ten-year investigation by the DOJ failed to bring about the sort of systemic change needed, it's highly unlikely an internal investigation will result in anything better. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
People eat a lot of weird things: bugs, fungus, all kinds of fermented stuff. However, the craving for dirt is a real phenomenon, and people do actually eat various kinds of dirt. There's some evidence that our ancient ancestors -- 2 million years ago -- (aka homo habilis) ate dirt. Dirt is even sold for eating in the USA right now. If you'd like to learn more about eating dirt, here you go. People in the southeastern US eat "white dirt" -- a soft, chalky clay also called kaolin. No one really knows why people started eating dirt, but there are some suggestions that dirt could have protected people from poisons. That's probably not a good reason to start consuming dirt now, though. [url] Pregnant women sometimes crave dirt or mud. Eating dirt is "geophagy" or is called "pica" as an eating disorder. Some people think women crave dirt while pregnant in order to get pre-natal vitamins. [url] In 2008, poor Haitians resorted to a traditional remedy for hunger -- cookies made of dried yellow mud. Apparently, these mud cookies cost about a nickel each -- and leave a lingering aftertaste. [url] Maybe we've eliminated a bit too much dirt from our diets, and the lack of exposure to various microbes is causing an increase in the prevalence of allergies. Gut microbes may be important to our overall health, and consuming a narrower population of microbes might be problematic. [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 12 days ago on techdirt
Back in December, we noted that the House Judiciary Committee had approved an unfortunately watered-down, anti-patent troll bill. It was better than nothing, but we hoped that the Senate would approve a much stronger version. For a while it seemed like that was likely to happen, but... those who abuse patents are pretty damn powerful. Even those who have been hit by patent trolls in the past, like Apple and Microsoft, have decided to join forces in lobbying against meaningful patent reform. They've been pushing to water down the Senate's bill, taking out nearly everything that would make the bill useful -- and it appears that they're succeeding. Over the past few weeks, we've been hearing time and time again about an expected manager's amendment to the bill in the Senate, along with a markup. There was a brief attempt at a markup, but everything keeps getting pushed off. A few more days, then a few more days, as Senate insiders insist that a "deal" is being made. The latest is that things have been pushed off for a few more weeks, as the patent abusers have been throwing their weight around quite a bit in the Senate. A manager's amendment from Senator Leahy is still expected, but no one is quite sure what will be in it. From talking to a bunch of folks with knowledge of what's going on, the general consensus is that while some are still optimistic, it seems quite likely that most of the useful stuff to stop patent abuse will get tossed out. Of course, this is just history repeating itself. The America Invents Act, which was a patent reform bill that was fought over for nearly seven years. In its initial form, like the latest attempts at patent reform, there were some good ideas (mixed in with the bad). But as the patent abusers ramped up their lobbying effort, more and more of the good ideas got stripped out of the bill. After seven years of trying, the final America Invents Act was a shell of what it had been, and did basically nothing to stop patent abuse. And that's why we're back to square one with this latest attempt at patent reform. But, tragically, it looks like a spineless Congress is falling for the lobbying of patent abusers, and there's a decent chance that they'll move forward with an essentially worthless attempt at patent reform, meaning that actual innovators -- the kind who deal with patent abusers every day -- will have to go back to Congress yet again and highlight how badly they mucked things up this time. Or, you know, Congress could grow a damn spine, do what's right, and stop patent abuse.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
The internet is still reeling from the discovery of the Heartbleed bug, and yesterday we wondered if the NSA knew about it and for how long. Today, Bloomberg is reporting that the agency did indeed know about Heartbleed for at least the past two years, and made regular use of it to obtain passwords and data. While it's not news that the NSA hunts down and utilizes vulnerabilities like this, the extreme nature of Heartbleed is going to draw more scrutiny to the practice than ever before. As others have noted, failing to reveal the bug so it could be fixed is contrary to at least part of the agency's supposed mission: Ordinary Internet users are ill-served by the arrangement because serious flaws are not fixed, exposing their data to domestic and international spy organizations and criminals, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Maryland-based cyber-security training organization. “If you combine the two into one government agency, which mission wins?” asked Pescatore, who formerly worked in security for the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service. “Invariably when this has happened over time, the offensive mission wins.” There is, in fact, a massive hypocrisy here: the default refrain of NSA apologists is that all these questionable things they do are absolutely necessary to protect Americans from outside threats, yet they leave open a huge security hole that is just as easily exploited by foreign entities. Or consider the cybersecurity bill CISPA, which was designed to allow private companies to share network security information with the intelligence community, and vice versa, supposedly to assist in detecting and fixing security holes and cyber attacks of various kinds. But, especially after this revelation about Heartbleed, can there be any doubt that the intelligence community is far more interested in using backdoors than it is in closing them? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Update: The NSA has denied the Bloomberg report, briefly stating that the agency "was not aware of the recently identified Heartbleed vulnerability until it was made public." We'll continue to update as more information emerges. The internet is still reeling from the discovery of the Heartbleed bug, and yesterday we wondered if the NSA knew about it and for how long. Today, Bloomberg is reporting that the agency did indeed know about Heartbleed for at least the past two years, and made regular use of it to obtain passwords and data. While it's not news that the NSA hunts down and utilizes vulnerabilities like this, the extreme nature of Heartbleed is going to draw more scrutiny to the practice than ever before. As others have noted, failing to reveal the bug so it could be fixed is contrary to at least part of the agency's supposed mission: Ordinary Internet users are ill-served by the arrangement because serious flaws are not fixed, exposing their data to domestic and international spy organizations and criminals, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Maryland-based cyber-security training organization. “If you combine the two into one government agency, which mission wins?” asked Pescatore, who formerly worked in security for the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service. “Invariably when this has happened over time, the offensive mission wins.” There is, in fact, a massive hypocrisy here: the default refrain of NSA apologists is that all these questionable things they do are absolutely necessary to protect Americans from outside threats, yet they leave open a huge security hole that is just as easily exploited by foreign entities. Or consider the cybersecurity bill CISPA, which was designed to allow private companies to share network security information with the intelligence community, and vice versa, supposedly to assist in detecting and fixing security holes and cyber attacks of various kinds. But, especially after this revelation about Heartbleed, can there be any doubt that the intelligence community is far more interested in using backdoors than it is in closing them? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Every few days, more details leak from the Senate's $40 million, 6,300 page report on the CIA's torture program. We'd already heard about how the torture program turned up no useful info and how the CIA lied to Congress about it (pretending information gleaned from other places was obtained via torture, when the truth was it wasn't). We've also heard about how the CIA's torture practices went beyond the (already too high) levels approved by the DOJ and CIA leadership. The folks over at McClatchy have another batch of details, repeating the revelation from last week that the report details how the torture program went beyond its "legal authority" and also detailing how it was used on many more people than the CIA has admitted to in the past: The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.” There are also additional details about how CIA officials tried to mislead practically everyone about all of this. Of particular importance was how the CIA misled the Justice Department, which was in charge of determining if the program was legal. The DOJ did, in fact, approve the use of certain "interrogation methods" (which already seemed way too extreme), but it appears the CIA misled the DOJ about what it was actually doing from the very start: [Defenders of the CIA's torture program] based their defense on a series of top-secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department beginning in August 2002. At that time, the agency sought advice on whether using the harsh techniques on Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a close aide to Osama bin Laden who went by the nom de guerre Abu Zubaydah, would violate U.S. law against torture. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn’t breach the law because those applying them didn’t have the specific intent of inflicting severe pain or suffering. The Senate report, however, concluded that the Justice Department’s legal analyses were based on flawed information provided by the CIA, which prevented a proper evaluation of the program’s legality. “The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” the report found. All of this seems consistent with earlier reports, but it's good to see more details coming out. Of course, we're still only seeing bits and pieces, which is why it would be better if the full report were released.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For many years, we highlighted how Spain was a country that actually had much more reasonable copyright laws, in that it did not try to blame third-party tool makers for the actions of their users. In the 2009/2010 time frame, there were a series of rulings that rejected concepts like secondary liability for tool makers, on the same basic principle as the US Supreme Court decided the Betamax case years ago: it's inappropriate to blame the tool/service maker for how the tool is used. If users are using a tool to infringe, that's not the fault of the tool maker. Of course, the entertainment industry flipped out that Spain would have such reasonable copyright policies. They started a scorched earth campaign, insisting they would pull out of Spain entirely. And, of course, they whined to the USTR, which started putting Spain on the "naughty list" of the Special 301 report. US diplomats in Spain then started putting tremendous pressure on the Spanish government to pass draconian copyright laws. In fact, some of the State Department cables leaked via Wikileaks basically showed that the US entertainment industry wrote the law and handed it to the Spanish government, telling them to pass it. Public opposition to the law was massive, and even the head of the Spanish Film Academy quit to protest the law, noting that the new law was anti-consumer and no way to embrace the future. And yet, in early 2012, under tremendous pressure, the Spanish government adopted the law. And, of course, because ratcheting up copyright laws never actually stops infringement, it was barely a year before the US entertainment industry kept on complaining. While Spain was temporarily dropped from the Special 301 list, the legacy entertainment industry demanded it be put back on. So, once again, a year ago, the government started pushing even more draconian copyright laws, flat-out admitting that the only reason they were doing so was to try to stay off the USTR's Special 301 naughty list. And, of course, late last year, new more draconian copyright laws were put in place. Given all that history, it's fascinating to see a new ruling concerning a Spanish file sharing software called Blubster. As TorrentFreak reports, after all those legal shenanigans by the legacy American entertainment industry, the Spanish courts still seem to recognize how ridiculous secondary liability is for the creators of tools. Despite a massive lawsuit from the record labels, a Madrid court of appeals has upheld a lower court decision that Blubster and related programs from MP2P Technologies are neutral and not liable for infringement. This is a huge victory not only for the company's founder, Pablo Soto, but for the Spanish public and basic common sense around copyright law: “[Soto's] activity is not only neutral, and perfectly legal, moreover it is protected by article 38 of our Constitution,” the Court wrote in its ruling. In case you're wondering, Article 38 of the Spanish Constitution protects "free enterprise within the framework of a market economy." The court rejected various theories brought by the labels, including the idea that file sharing software was "looting" or that it was "unfair competition." It noted that since MP2P wasn't in the recording business, it wasn't "unfair competition" and, importantly, that it's simply ridiculous to blame the service provider for the actions of its users. Of course, given the history we outlined in the first few paragraphs, it doesn't take much of a fortune teller to predict what's likely to happen next. Expect the pressure to ratchet up, yet again, for another change to Spanish copyright law.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The US government's promise to give everyone affordable healthcare coverage and an armored vehicle in every law enforcement agency's garage continues to come to fruition. Sure, the healthcare thing may have hit multiple technical snags during rollout, but the assault-rifles-and-assault-vehicles part is swiftly turning every police chief and sheriff's domain into Kabul Lite™. The latest recipient of a free MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) is none other than Washington, Iowa, a town of 7,000 residents and a police force of 12. Tuesday night, in a four to one decision, the Washington City Council approved Police Chief Greg Goodman's request for a "demilitarized" MRAP or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected troop transport... MRAPs typically cost about $500,000. [Another article puts the prices at $733,000.] Washington Police are getting theirs for free under a U.S. Defense Department program that gives surplus military equipment to law enforcement. Washington Police said the only cost will be the transportation fee to bring vehicle up from Texas. Nothing like a free armored personnel carrier, just the sort of thing a bustling metropolis of 7,000 needs, at least according to the police chief. Chief Goodman calls the MRAP a big win for his officers’ safety. I would think so, considering he can probably fit his entire police force into it. Goodman envisions it rolling up at a local school or workplace in the unlikely event that an "active shooter" situation develops. Not only that, but Chief Goodman apparently feels his department can no longer afford to be without this sort of protection based, again, on another outlying incident. The chief said he saw the need for an MRAP in 2011, when Keokuk County Sgt. Eric Stein was shot and killed by a gunman. Goodman believes the armored vehicle might have allowed police to approach the home in safety from gunfire and use non-lethal means to subdue the shooter. Eric Stein was shot during a four-hour standoff with a resident of Sigourney, Iowa, home to a little over 2,000 Iowans. Goodman seems to believe this sort of threat is persistent (even in Washington, Iowa), despite the fact that Stein became only the second peace officer killed in Iowa in nearly thirty years (September 1985). But Washington now has an MRAP to deal with its crime "problem," which include three murders since 2001. Oddly, the grant money isn't going towards outfitting the town's 7,000 citizens with bulletproof vests, despite it apparently being at least three times as dangerous to be a member of the general public. Robert Shellmyer, the lone "no" vote on the city council, raises a valid question about the "safety" the MRAP's acquisition supposedly brings with it. "How do we know, having a six-wheel armored vehicle, it's going to be on the site when the bullet's shot that's going to do the injury?" Shellmyer said. That's it. You don't know. So to be safe, you take it everywhere. The MRAP will likely be deployed to handle any situation where officers believe they might encounter resistance, which will turn every banal warrant service into a quasi-military operation. You don't get something like this and not use it. Chief Goodman says it will be "rarely used," but plans are already in place to contact other local law enforcement agencies to spread the MRAP around and, in the process, have these entities contribute to the upkeep. Many people are wary of militarizing police forces, a number which includes a vast amount of law-abiding citizens. The government, however, seems perfectly willing to make law enforcement agencies virtually indistinguishable from the armed forces by giving away military guns, equipment and vehicles to any entity that's willing to check the box next to "active shooter" (or "terrorism") on the request form. The vehicles and weaponry will be put into use frequently, contrary to the assertions of small town law enforcement officials, and this escalation -- during a time when crime rates continue to fall -- will push these same officials to misrepresent and exaggerate the dangers they face in order to keep playing their martial law dress-up game. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been covering the prosection of Andrew "weev" Auernheimer for over a year, and things were not looking good for him, with the court seemingly stacking the deck in favor of a clueless DOJ. But instead, today the appeals court reversed his conviction and 3.5-year jail sentence (which, let's not forget, was handed to him for exposing a security flaw, under the DOJ's twisted interpretation of the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act). The hope, of course, was that the court might address the ridiculousness of the charge and the huge problems of the CFAA, which currently permits the government to go after pretty much anyone who uses a computer in a way they don't like. Instead, the conviction was tossed for being in the wrong venue: Although this appeal raises a number of complex and novel issues that are of great public importance in our increasingly interconnected age, we find it necessary to reach only one that has been fundamental since our country’s founding: venue. But, while the ruling punts on the CFAA, it raises some issues in its venue analysis that could themselves have a wider impact. Weev was prosecuted in New Jersey based on the flimsy rationale that New Jersey residents were affected by the security flaw exposure (but really because New Jersey has its own anti-hacking laws, and the DOJ was able to pursue a harsher punishment if the CFAA intersected with state laws). But the appeals court found that, since none of the allegedly illegal activities undertaken by weev happened in New Jersey, this was inappropriate: The statute’s plain language reveals two essential conduct elements: accessing without authorization and obtaining information. New Jersey was not the site of either essential conduct element. The evidence at trial demonstrated that the accessed AT&T servers were located in Dallas, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, during the time that the conspiracy began, continued, and ended, Spitler was obtaining information in San Francisco, California, and Auernheimer was assisting him from Fayetteville, Arkansas. No protected computer was accessed and no data was obtained in New Jersey. Since the question of venue is still very muddy when it comes to the internet, this likely isn't the last we'll be hearing about this ruling, and its impact on other cases could prove interesting. It's also likely not an end to weev's story, and certainly not an end to government abuse of the CFAA. But, for now and at the very least, it says that if the DOJ is going to try to throw you in jail for the crime of Vaguely Misusing A Computer While Being Kind Of A Jerk, it at least has to do it in the correct venue instead of going fishing for the most favorable one. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this week the MPAA filed a very questionable lawsuit against Megaupload, recognizing that the statute of limitations would run out in a few months. And just days later, the RIAA has followed suit with a nearly identical filing. While they're done by two different law firms, the similarities between the lawsuits are uncanny -- including the numerous defective (to dangerous) attempts to reinterpret copyright way beyond what the law actually says. We already covered why most of these theories are defective, but let's look at some similarities between the filings. I mean, honestly, if the RIAA and MPAA weren't so close, and if it were possible to claim copyright on legal filings (as some do assert), you'd think that the MPAA attorneys might have a claim on the RIAA's attorneys for copying their work. One wonders how much the RIAA's lawyers charged to basically rearranged some words in the MPAA's filing. Let's start at the beginning. Here's how the MPAA describes what Megaupload does: Megaupload amassed the millions of popular content files that it hosted on its servers and offered to the public for download by openly encouraging and paying users to upload these files. Any Internet user who went to the Megaupload website could upload a computer file, whether or not the user registered as a member. When the upload was completed, Megaupload reproduced the file on at least one computer server it controlled and provided the user with a Uniform Resource Locator ("URL")"link" beginning with "megaupload.com." The uploader could then propagate the link broadly over the Internet, so that anyone interested in downloading or otherwise accessing a copy ofthe file could easily find it on Megaupload's servers. Any user who had the URL link could access and download the associated content from Megaupload's servers. By "clicking" the URL link (or copying it into any web browser), the user was taken to a "download page" on the Megaupload website that allowed the user to download a copy of the file from a computer server controlled by defendants. And the RIAA's version: Beginning in late 2005 and continuing at least to January 2012 when Defendants were indicted, Megaupload amassed the millions of popular content files that it hosted on its servers and offered to the public for download by openly encouraging users to upload these files. Until mid-2011, Megaupload went so far as to actually pay its users to do this. Any Internet users who went to the Megaupload website could upload content files, regardless of whether the users registered as members. Upon completion of the uploads, Megaupload reproduced each file on at least one computer server it controlled and provided the users with a Uniform Resource Locator ("URL") "link" beginning with "megaupload.com" for each uploaded file. The uploading users could then propagate the links broadly over the Internet, so that anyone interested in downloading or otherwise accessing copies of the files could easily find them on Megaupload’s servers. Users in possession of the Megaupload URL links could access and download the associated content from Megaupload's servers. By "clicking" the URL links (or copying them into any web browser), users were taken to a "download page" on the Megaupload website that allowed users to download the content, including Plaintiffs’ recorded music, from computer servers controlled by Defendants. Yeah. That's pretty damn similar, including numerous identical phrases. Someone's copying something. Okay, how about the lack of a search (which, as we noted previously, is ridiculous, since Napster got in trouble for having a search, and now everyone's saying that not having a search is just as damning). Here's the MPAA: To conceal the scope of infringennent occurring on the Megaupload website, defendants did not provide users with a searchable index of files available for download from the Megaupload website (although defendants themselves had access to such an index). Instead, defendants relied on numerous third party "linking" sites to host, organize, and promote URL links to Megaupload-hosted infringing content, including plaintiffs' copyrighted works. Such linking sites made infringing content broadly and easily accessible to users by maintaining an index of links to content files organized by category and/or alphabetically by titles of the copyrighted work; some such linking sites also offered search boxes where users could enter queries quickly to find the content they wanted. Many of these linking sites were blatant pirate sites, hosting thousands of links to infringing material. Any visitor could quickly see the widespread availability on many linking sites of links to infringing content on Megaupload. Defendants knew of this open infringement on pirate linking sites and closely tracked the traffic from those sites to Megaupload. Furthermore, defendants provided financial incentives for premium users to post links to these sites through the Uploader Rewards program. Okay, and the RIAA version: To conceal the scope of infringement occurring on the Megaupload website, Defendants did not provide users with a searchable index of files available for download from the site (although Defendants themselves had access to such an index). Instead, Defendants relied on numerous third party "linking" sites to host, organize, and promote URL links to Megaupload-hosted infringing content, including Plaintiffs' copyrighted works. Such linking sites made infringing content broadly and easily accessible to users by maintaining an index of links to content files organized by category and/or alphabetically by titles of the copyrighted work; some such linking sites also offered search boxes where users could enter queries quickly to find the content that they sought. Many of these linking sites were blatant pirate sites, hosting thousands of links to infringing material. Several of these linking sites exclusively offered Megaupload links. Any visitor could quickly see the widespread availability on many linking sites of links to infringing content on Megaupload. Defendants knew of this open infringement on pirate linking sites and closely tracked the traffic from those sites to Megaupload. Defendants also knowingly interacted with users of linking sites and have visited such sites themselves. Defendants also provided financial incentives for premium users to post links to these sites through the Uploader Rewards program. Right. So those two paragraphs are identical, except the RIAA adds in two extra sentences about the linking sites. It goes on and on like this, with both filings clearly working off of either each other or the DOJ indictment, which they're copy/pasting into their own filing and fussing with a word or two here or there. Here's just one more example. Both filings claim that Megaupload can't be considered a "cloud storage" site because it would delete unpopular files. Here's the MPAA's version of this: Contrary to some of defendants' public assertions, Megaupload was not designed to be a private data storage provider. Users without premium subscriptions were restricted not only in their downloading capabilities, but also in their ability to store files on the site. Any content they uploaded would be deleted if it was not also downloaded within a certain period of time -- after 21 days in the case of unregistered, anonymous users and after 90 days in the case of registered users who were not premium subscribers. Only premium subscribers (estimated to be 1% of users) could use Megaupload for long-term file storage. And the RIAA's nearly identical text: Megaupload was in no respect designed to be a private data storage provider. Users without premium subscriptions were restricted not only in their downloading capabilities, but also in their ability to store files on the site. Any content that users uploaded would be deleted if it was not also downloaded within a certain period of time--after 21 days in the case of unregistered, anonymous users, and after 90 days in the case of registered users who were not premium subscribers. Only premium subscribers (estimated to be one percent of users) could use Megaupload for long-term file storage. Of course, Kim Dotcom has now refuted this claim, saying that content that was unpopular was not deleted from Megaupload. However, even beyond that, I fail to see how having a service like this that deletes unpopular content suddenly disqualifies it from being a legitimate service. Lots of other legitimate services have similar terms. While it appears to have recently changed this, the popular image sharing site Imgur (which we use at Techdirt) used to have a very similar clause, saying that "images that are not viewed for 6 months may be removed. However, images with pro accounts can only be removed by you." That doesn't mean they were not a legitimate service. Nor does it mean it's not a "cloud" service. Different cloud services serve different markets, and services like Megaupload (and Imgur) tend to be more focused on the immediate sharing of content (not necessarily infringing content). In fact, if you look back at the origins of Megaupload, it initially resembled services like the old "YouSendIt," which were focused on making it easier for people to move any file from one person to another. That's not encouraging infringement, it's encouraging being able to transport a digital file it's completely neutral to whether or not the content is or is not infringing. Either way, the RIAA's lawsuit is a near carbon copy of the MPAA's, and is just as faulty in its reasoning. It's nothing more than a blatant pile on in the attempt to twist copyright laws to their liking.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some very interesting claims arose from oral arguments related to a case that has been kicked around the court system for a couple of years now. The case is People v. Golb, one that arose out of an extended disagreement between two college professors (Norman Golb of the University of Chicago and Lawrence Schiffman of NYU) over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. One thing led to another… which then (inexplicably) led to Norman Golb's son, Raphael, creating more than 50 online aliases to create a ground swell of support for his father's views… which then (even more inexplicably) led to Raphael Golb impersonating Lawrence Schiffman (via email) in order to portray Schiffman as a plagiarist -- using Schiffman's own email address. It is this Golb the People have a problem with. (Even more inexplicably, this somehow also led to a lawyer claiming to represent Schiffman sending legal threats to bloggers who had covered the case, asserting that their "criminal postings" needed to be taken down immediately. Clifford A Rieders Esq. could not have picked a worst trio of bloggers to send baseless legal threats to: Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice, Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy and Ken White of Popehat. Lessons were indubitably learned.) In January of 2013, the court found that the younger Golb's First Amendment rights had not been violated during his prosecution for impersonating Schiffman in order to discredit him. The pre-Washington Post version of Volokh Conspiracy covered the relevant parts of the decision. Defendant’s convictions arise out of his use of emails to impersonate actual persons. Nothing in this prosecution, or in the court’s jury charge, violated defendant’s First Amendment or other constitutional rights… Among other things, defendant sent emails in which one of his father’s rivals purportedly admitted to acts of plagiarism… Defendant was not prosecuted for the content of any of the emails, but only for giving the false impression that his victims were the actual authors of the emails. The First Amendment protects the right to criticize another person, but it does not permit anyone to give an intentionally false impression that the source of the message is that other person (see SMJ Group, Inc. v 417 Lafayette Restaurant LLC, 439 F Supp 2d 281 (SD NY 2006]). This decision is now being appealed, and the Volokh Conspiracy (Beltway Edition) is again on the scene, pointing out how the prosecutor is pushing for a very broad reading of relevant statutes -- something that will be of concern to anyone who might say something offensive via the internet. I’ve blogged before about the danger of criminal harassment laws, when they are extended beyond offensive speech to one particular unwilling person — the traditional telephone harassment example — and apply instead to speech about a person. (See posts here and here, as well as this law review article, which starts by concrete examples of how such laws have been used.) And the prosecutor’s statement in this argument helps illustrate just how broadly prosecutors can read such laws. Eugene Volokh quotes part of the oral arguments presented April 2nd. Here's the lead-up and the relevant quote, both of which highlight the prosecutor's (Vincent Rivellese) ridiculous stance, as well as the judges' incredulity at what's being claimed. CHIEF JUDGE LIPPMAN: Is this aggravated harassment or is this just annoying behavior? MR. RIVELLESE: Well, it's both, that's for sure. What's the - - - CHIEF JUDGE LIPPMAN: Well, but is it technically a crime? Can it be in this kind of - - - MR. RIVELLESE: Yes. CHIEF JUDGE LIPPMAN: Isn't that a little bit overbroad? MR. RIVELLESE: No. CHIEF JUDGE LIPPMAN: No? Go ahead. Why not? MR. RIVELLESE: This - - - this is the closest argument obviously in the case, but the aggravated harassment involves an intent to harass, annoy or alarm, and it's - - - it's got an intent that's required. It's also got the likelihood of harassing or alarming the recipients or the victims. It's also got - - - JUDGE SMITH: If I - - - if I ask you a question that I expect to be an annoying question, and is likely to be an annoying question, am I committing a misdemeanor by asking the question? MR. RIVELLESE: No, because there's no writing. The aggravated harassment - - - JUDGE SMITH: Oh, but - - - oh, but if I submitted the question in writing, it would be a misdemeanor? MR. RIVELLESE: Well, if - - - if you conveyed to somebody. So if you e-mailed somebody or you wrote a letter - - - JUDGE SMITH: Really? Really? The delineation is obviously foggy if saying something is no crime, but writing it down is. Further on: JUDGE SMITH: If I e-mail someone an annoying question, I get a year? MR. RIVELLESE: Well, it has to be likely to annoy, harass, or alarm - - - CHIEF JUDGE LIPPMAN: So if Judge Smith put what he's asking you now in writing, this is a crime? MR. RIVELLESE: I'm not annoyed. I'm not annoyed. So I'm fine. CHIEF JUDGE LIPPMAN: Oh, okay, you're not annoyed. Okay. It might have been mis - - - JUDGE SMITH: Give me - - - give me time. MR. RIVELLESE: The proper discussion - - - JUDGE ABDUS-SALAAM: Counsel, is it that subjective that the person who receives the question has to feel that it's annoying? MR. RIVELLESE: Well, no, it is - - - it's reasonableness. JUDGE ABDUS-SALAAM: It has to have an objective right. So it would appear. Objective but not subjective, but in this case, with the impersonation of another person, Rivellese seems to feel that it's actually more a subjective problem, especially when it's not even the victim who's being directly targeted. And the "intent to annoy and alarm" exception to the First Amendment should be enforced even if the speech is about a person rather than directed at a person. JUDGE PIGOTT: But as a third - - - you're saying there can be a third-party aggravated harassment. MR. RIVELLESE: Yes, if still - - - there's still an intended victim. JUDGE PIGOTT: So if - - - well, that's I - - - you get - - - you get three college kids - - - you get some college kid who write - - - who e-mails the girlfriend of his roommate saying, you know, he really is a useless person. Is that aggravated harassment with respect to the victim, boyfriend/roommate? MR. RIVELLESE: Yes, because it's got - - - JUDGE PIGOTT: Really? MR. RIVELLESE: It meets all the elements. It does not require that the person that you send the communication to is the same person that you intend to harass, annoy and alarm. This is what alarms Volokh. The narrow targeting of the First Amendment exceptions are being broadly read by prosecutors. This is the sort of expansion -- one that pushes behavior normally subject only to civil actions into criminal territory -- that invariably makes its way into newly-crafted laws targeting online behavior. Here's what Volokh originally said about the decision that's now being appealed. Intentionally trying to make others believe that someone did something (write an e-mail) that he did not inflicts specific harm on that other person, whether by harming his reputation or at least by making others think that he believes something that he doesn’t (which will often be civilly actionable under the false light tort). To be sure, that usually leads to civil liability, but nothing in the Court’s decision suggests that criminal liability in such cases is impermissible, especially when the law is limited to relatively clearly identifiable falsehoods, such as falsely claiming to be someone you are not. That's much more limited than what the prosecutor's arguing. His argument removes the limitations (falsehoods and false impersonation) and suggests that nearly any attempt to harass or annoy someone is a criminal offense. This is on top of his claim that there's a clear delineation between oral and written speech, with the latter being the more "criminal" of the two. It's this sort of broad reading that makes nearly every new cyberbullying/harassment law a handy new tool to criminalize a vast swath of online behavior. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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No entity highlights the ridiculous amount of bureaucratic inefficiency and ineptitude of government agencies better than the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Its reports are loaded with the sort of damning evidence that would lead those unfamiliar with how government actually works to assume that heads will be rolling. In reality, the agencies investigated by the GAO soldier on from scathing report to scathing report with little to no sign of improvement. Tom Coburn, a long-time combatant of government waste and fraud who publishes a yearly report exposing the worst of worst in terms of senseless government spending (the "Wastebook") is now using the GAO's own words to craft a bill targeting the money pit that is the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). Here's the leadup: (3) NTIS is tasked with collecting and distributing government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information and reports. (4) GAO found that NTIS sold only 8 percent of the 2,500,000 reports in its collection between 1995 and 2000. (5) A November 2012 GAO review of NTIS made the following conclusions: (A) 'Of the reports added to NTIS's repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, GAO estimates that approximately 74 percent were readily available from other public sources.' (B) 'These reports were often available either from the issuing organization's website, the Federal Internet portal (http://www.USA.gov) or from another source located through a web search.' (C) 'The source that most often had the report [GAO] was searching for was another website located through http://www.Google.com.' (D) '95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS were available free of charge.' (6) No Federal agency should use taxpayer dollars to purchase a report from the National Technical Information Service that is available through the Internet for free. And here's the punchline: SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the 'Let Me Google That For You Act.' Someone had fun cranking out this "Short Title." As the bill points out, it was suggested by the Secretary of Commerce in 1999 that the NTIS would eventually outlive its usefulness. According to the GAO's 2012 findings, that sell-by date was reached more than a decade ago. NTIS product expenditures exceeded revenues for 10 out of the past 11 fiscal years. The "Let Me Google That For You" Act calls for the repeal of the 1988 National Technical Information Act and the disbandment of the agency itself, with the redistribution of whichever of its duties are still deemed essential to the Commerce Department. It's not often you get the chance to watch an extraneous government agency be put down and even rarer still under a snarky, incisive, short title. This is for the best. As we've seen all too frequently, time marches on, swiftly distancing itself from the glacial pace of government innovation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The DOJ, via its Deputy Assistant Attorney General, has sent a memo to FISC Judge Reggie Walton, informing him of just how compliant the agency has been during the last couple of months as conflicting orders over the retention of bulk record data went flying as a result of multiple BR-related lawsuits. The DOJ, speaking for the NSA and FBI (who actually collect the collections), went from one court to the other (the Northern District Court of California and the FISA Court), trying to figure out whether it would be destroying aged-off data or holding onto it. It was hard to discern which route the DOJ preferred to take, but FISA Judge Walton managed to sniff out the agency's true intentions, calling them out for not only failing to inform the FISA court of standing retention orders but also attempting to talk the involved plaintiffs from passing this information along to the involved courts. Given these actions, it would appear the DOJ preferred to dump the data rather than have it actually appear in court as evidence. But Judge Walton, along with the district court, prevented that. The DOJ's letter to Judge Walton conveniently glosses over its misconduct, instead portraying the agency as a conscientious party doing the best it could under the circumstances. The DOJ's letter notes that it managed to restrain itself from destroying any aged-off data while waiting for the conflicting orders to be settled (March 5 - March 12), which means the BR data still has a chance to be used in court. According to the letter, this retained data is being held separately from the rest of the bulk collections, which means it can't be accessed by analysts searching the metadata. Supposedly, the NSA will only be allowed to peek in on the retained data to verify it's all still present and accounted for. While this sort of hi-gloss portrayal is to be expected from an agency that probably still believes it did nothing wrong, it's rather audacious of the DOJ to attempt to pass this narrative off to the same judge that called it out for misleading the FISA court and attempting to bury plaintiffs' concerns. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the great unwritten rules of parenthood is that the right to name your offspring should be treated as a privilege. The temptation is to give the child a "unique" name that sets him or her as far apart for his/her eventual peers as humanly possible, thus living up to the common parental delusion that each child is its own special flower, unlike the millions born before it or after it. Unfortunately, a "unique" name is often just an unwieldy name, if not simply embarrassing. And the unlucky child has to bear that clumsy moniker until he or she hits the legal paperwork-filing age and changes it to something that won't trigger an inadvertent laugh from college staff and potential employers. The intervening years will pass excruciatingly slowly as the child awkwardly orbits his peers like a gatecrasher at a menage a trois, trying desperately to find somewhere to fit in. This is generally made worse by the "unique" parents, who somehow view intense shunning as more "evidence" of their child's one-in-a-million qualities. This unwritten rule holds true even if (or especially if) the abusive-by-proxy moniker holds some deep and special meaning to the parent attempting to sabotage their child's future before the ink on the birth certificate is dry. Hajar Hamalaw wanted to name his son, who was born on March 14th, after the online whistleblowing platform as it “changed the world”, the Passauer Neue Presse reported. But the 28-year-old failed to get the name past authorities in Passau, Bavaria. Hamalaw's heart is in the right place, at least in terms of having a decent reason to name his new child "Wikileaks." But first he had to convince local officials, which went just about as well as could be expected from any place where newborns' names get run past local officials. But Wikileaks did not make it onto the birth certificate. "The registrar said that this was not a first name. He thought it was a series or TV show," said Hamalaw. Beyond the out-of-touch registrar, there's another rule on the books that keeps Passau parents from saddling their offspring with ridiculous names. A spokesperson for the town of Passau said the decision by the registry office was based on legal rulings which state a child’s name should not be granted if it could endanger their welfare. I don't agree that any government entity should keep you from naming your child whatever you want, but if you're going to have a stupid rule like this, at least have one that looks out for the child's best interests. When "Dako" (the "Plan B" name, apparently) hits legal age, he'll have the option to change his name to "Wikileaks" or "Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova" if he'd like and no one, not even a person who thinks "Wikileaks" went downhill after its third season, will be able to stop him. But until then, he's got several years of pre- and post-pubescent awkwardness to live through that will have nothing at all to do with his father's love for leaked documents. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Professional wrestling league, the WWE, is truly a lesson in paradoxes. A theatrical production presented as an athletic competition sets the stage for a business that at times can't quite seem to figure out exactly how it wants to behave. On the one hand, you have their plan to embrace a streaming product that leaves much of the rest of the "sporting" world to shame. On the other hand, WWE executives have been known to protect their intellectual property on a level bordering insanity. In this latest story, executives for WWE seem to be channeling one of their in-the-ring evil personas, in which they pretend to offer up an apology to a streaming site operator all in an attempt to sneak his identity and contact information from him. It all starts with battling a website designed to bring wrestling fans the streaming they wanted (note: this was before WWE offered its own streaming service): During March 2013, Facebook said that WWE Intellectual Property Director Matthew Winterroth was behind the closure of a page operated by Wrestling-Network, a site offering links to WWE streams and shows. Wrestling-Network operator ‘BeBe’ was told by the social network that he would need to contact the lawyer directly to solve the dispute. BeBe decided to quit Facebook and moved to Twitter instead, but by the summer WWE had raised its head again, this time after PayPal disabled an account used for the site’s finances. BeBe says that in October WWE sent a takedown notice to Cloudflare, who handed over the details of the site’s actual host. For a few months things went calm, but last week all that changed. PayPal closed the site’s new account which had been opened by a third-party, and Facebook shutdown Wrestling-Network’s new page and BeBe’s personal page while they were at it. It's a story that feels as old as the bible these days. Guy runs sites pointing to links of illegitimate streams, content producer works to take the site down, cat-and-mouse game commences. Now, we could have a long discussion about how links aren't themselves infringement, about how WWE could (and it appears eventually did) offer a competing legitimate service, and all the rest. This isn't that post, however, because it was around this time that things got a bit strange. BeBe did as he was asked and reached out to the WWE to resolve the issue. In his communique, he offered up only his handle and his email address. Winterroth responded to BeBe, suggesting the takedown of his site may have been a mistake. It seems unlikely Winterroth was being honest about this, since he was the one named in the takedowns. Stranger, a follow-up email from Winterroth requested BeBe's real name and address, promising a WWE giftbag and an apology for taking down the sites. BeBe wasn't taking. “I mean, I heard a long time ago about a case where in order to arrest them on US territory, some guys were attracted to the USA by undercover FBI agents who promised them money and girls, but a gift bag from WWE? Really? He could at least given me some WrestleMania tickets.” BeBe says he politely declined the offer. Winterroth's response had, shall we say, a slightly different tone. He tells BeBe he's tracked him down to Romania and promises to send the blackshirts over for a visit. “Should you not shut down the website and agree not to infringe WWE intellectual property in the future in an immediate fashion, WWE will continue to work with our counsel in Romania, as well as the relevant legal authorities, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs/Bucharest City Police and Romanian National Audiovisual Council on our ongoing criminal complaint against you.” What followed were demands for BeBe to hand over his domain but with tempers beginning to fray, that seemed unlikely. From there, the exchanges devolved, on both sides, into threats from the WWE and BeBe's sophomoric attempts to remind Winterroth that Romania is actually a country outside of the United States, where US copyright law is as applicable as federal payroll taxes. Nobody comes out clean in the exchange, with both sides behaving like children. Which is the entire point: if I can't tell the difference between a guy running a streaming-links site and the counsel for a multi-milliion dollar entertainment business, we have a problem. Also, false apologies and underhanded attempts to sneak contact information out of a guy who is just running a site linking to what might be legitimate targets for corporate counsel make everyone look oily. Finally, this seems like an awful lot of energy to spend on this situation, particularly when the release of a real damned streaming product to compete with the "pirates" was just around the corner. So, for all that work, Winterroth likely gets nothing other than a single link site taken down, while the folks putting together the streaming site actually work to make the company more money. It makes one wonder which side is getting the higher pay in this equation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There are a lot of myths and aphorisms about the passage of time. A watched kettle never boils. Time flies when you're having fun. However, these observations could lead to some important discoveries about human psychology and how our brains perceive and remember various events in our lives. Does "proportionality theory" really explain why 8yo kids and 80yo senior citizens judge time differently? Here are just a few links on the topic of time. Does the perception of time really speed up as you get older? It depends on the time frame -- days and weeks may pass at a normal speed, but it's the years that seem to fly by. [url] The perception of time passing can be changed by emotions (fear seems to slow time down), disrupted routines and new experiences. Also, drugs that affect dopamine function in the brain (eg. Ritalin, Adderall and anti-psychotic drugs) can speed up or slow down how a person perceives time. [url] If the maximum sentence for criminals is life in prison, could we make the punishment worse by giving inmates drugs that make the time seem to pass more slowly? Obviously, there are some serious ethical questions about customizing punishments with technology, but it's an issue that should be debated as medicine comes up with ever more ways to extend human lifespans. [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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It's not too surprising that one of the first questions many people have been asking about the Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL is whether or not it was a backdoor placed there by intelligence agencies (or other malicious parties). And, even if that wasn't the case, a separate question is whether or not intelligence agencies found the bug earlier and have been exploiting it. So far, the evidence is inconclusive at best -- and part of the problem is that, in many cases, it would be impossible to go back and figure it out. The guy who introduced the flaw, Robin Seggelmann, seems rather embarrassed about the whole thing but insists it was an honest mistake: Mr Seggelmann, of Munster in Germany, said the bug which introduced the flaw was "unfortunately" missed by him and a reviewer when it was introduced into the open source OpenSSL encryption protocol over two years ago. "I was working on improving OpenSSL and submitted numerous bug fixes and added new features," he said. "In one of the new features, unfortunately, I missed validating a variable containing a length." After he submitted the code, a reviewer "apparently also didn’t notice the missing validation", Mr Seggelmann said, "so the error made its way from the development branch into the released version." Logs show that reviewer was Dr Stephen Henson. Mr Seggelmann said the error he introduced was "quite trivial", but acknowledged that its impact was "severe". Later in that same interview, he insists he has no association with intelligence agencies, and also notes that it is "entirely possible" that intelligence agencies had discovered the bug and had made use of it. Another oddity in all of this is that, even though the flaw itself was introduced two years ago, two separate individuals appear to have discovered it on the exact same day. Vocativ, which has a great story giving the behind the scenes on the discovery by Codenomicon, mentions the following in passing: Unbeknownst to Chartier, a little-known security researcher at Google, Neel Mehta, had discovered and reported the OpenSSL bug on the same day. Considering the bug had actually existed since March 2012, the odds of the two research teams, working independently, finding and reporting the bug at the same time was highly surprising. Highly surprising. But not necessarily indicative of anything. It could be a crazy coincidence. Kim Zetter, over at Wired explores the "did the NSA know about Heartbleed" angle, and points out accurately that while the bug is catastrophic in many ways, what it's not good for is targeting specific accounts. The whole issue with Heartbleed is that it "bleeds" chunks of memory that are on the server. It's effectively a giant crapshoot as to what you get when you exploit it. Yes, it bleeds all sorts of things: including usernames, passwords, private keys, credit card numbers and the like -- but you never quite know what you'll get, which makes it potentially less useful for intelligence agencies. As that Wired article notes, at best, using the Heartbleed exploit would be "very inefficient" for the NSA. But that doesn't mean there aren't reasons to be fairly concerned. Peter Eckersley, over at EFF, has tracked down at least one potentially scary example that may very well be someone exploiting Heartbleed back in November of last year. It's not definitive, but it is worth exploring further. The second log seems much more troubling. We have spoken to Ars Technica's second source, Terrence Koeman, who reports finding some inbound packets, immediately following the setup and termination of a normal handshake, containing another Client Hello message followed by the TCP payload bytes 18 03 02 00 03 01 40 00 in ingress packet logs from November 2013. These bytes are a TLS Heartbeat with contradictory length fields, and are the same as those in the widely circulated proof-of-concept exploit. Koeman's logs had been stored on magnetic tape in a vault. The source IP addresses for the attack were 193.104.110.12 and 193.104.110.20. Interestingly, those two IP addresses appear to be part of a larger botnet that has been systematically attempting to record most or all of the conversations on Freenode and a number of other IRC networks. This is an activity that makes a little more sense for intelligence agencies than for commercial or lifestyle malware developers. EFF is asking people to try to replicate Koeman's findings, while also looking for any other possible evidence of Heartbleed exploits being used in the wild. As it stands now, there doesn't seem to be any conclusive evidence that it was used -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't being used. After all, it's been known that the NSA has a specific program designed to subvert SSL, so there's a decent chance that someone in the NSA could have discovered this bug earlier, and rather than doing its job and helping to protect the security of the internet, chose to use it to its own advantage first.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Swedish ISP Bahnhof has long been a supporter of keeping its customers' data private. Five years ago, we wrote about its decision to delete user log files to avoid having to rat out users under Sweden's draconian IPRED law (which required ISPs to hand over info on users accused of copyright infringement). However, various data retention laws were put in place to stop that sort of thing two years ago. So, it's not too surprising that following the ruling this week in the EU Court of Justice that found the EU's data retention directive invalid, that the ISP has acted swiftly to delete all user records and to cease collecting and retaining any more information. After the decision in the European Court of Justice on Tuesday, the internet service provider Bahnhof decided to delete the records and to stop retaining the data with immediate effect. That said, it may be a bit hasty for Bahnhof to have done this. As many people noted in response to the EU Court of Justice ruling, it was only ruling on the EU directive itself, and didn't directly apply to various laws passed in different countries to comply with that directive. Technically, those laws still apply -- and Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask seems to imply that Bahnhof's decision broke the law. But the minister is not pleased about Bahnhof's decision to stop all data retention immediately. "Swedish law still applies. It is not the case that you can start applying other conditions straight away. But of course we need to quickly consider what the consequences are so that everybody can get the right information," she said. Still, it's nice to see Bahnhof, once again, make it clear that it doesn't want to be the custodian of information for law enforcement.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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