posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Keyboards are one of the fastest and most accurate ways to input text into a digital device. Sure, you could argue that speech recognition has beaten a txting champion (Ben Cook in 2006), but the more common experience with speech recognition is far from perfect dictation results. Early keyboards used some relatively complex mechanical designs to achieve a nice tactile feel and accurate input -- replaced by various iterations of keyboard improvements to become thinner and lighter and more (or less) clicky-sounding. Here are just a few more attempts to make better keyboards. Designing a keyboard isn't as easy as you might think. Okay, maybe it's just as hard as you think it is.... [url] It might be neat to have a camera sensor track your hand movements so that any surface could become a keyboard or multi-touch input device. But if it's really that great, why aren't there more of these kinds of camera-based keyboards? [url] Touchscreens are lacking in the tactile feedback department, but there's an accessory that features shape-shifting buttons that make raised bumps on a glass surface appear and disappear as needed. Presumably, these shape-shifting bumps don't make clicky noises when you touch them, and making a touchscreen even more complex doesn't sound like a better option than just adding a detachable keyboard for a tablet. [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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Wikimedia's new Transparency Report has been getting some attention, in part because it brought attention back to the whole monkey selfie copyright debacle. However, the rest of the transparency report itself is rather interesting, starting with the fact that it appears that Wikimedia rejected every request to pull down information (unrelated to copyright, which we'll get to in a second). In most transparency reports, this involves government and law enforcement requests to censor content, along with the occasional claims of defamation and whatnot. Either way, Wikimedia felt a grand total of none of them were legit: Admittedly, takedown requests to Wikimedia are a bit different than many other sites since anyone can just go in and edit the page themselves, but such changes will often be reverted, so it's less permanent. On the copyright front, Wikimedia did agree to abide by some DMCA requests, but it does seem notable that it's well less than half of all such requests: These days, with so many sites immediately rolling over when someone complains, it's good to see Wikimedia being willing to stand up against censorship attempts.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Following one Comcast customer-retention rep's brave attempt to set the record for the most annoying cancellation call, The Verge put out a call for past and current Comcast employees to weigh in on just how rare or frowned-upon this sort of thing is. As the initial submissions noted, this sort of thing isn't so much frowned-upon as it is, oh, let's call it super-actively encouraged. So much so, in fact, that the latest confession dump on The Verge includes Comcast's employee handbook for customer retention reps, and it's exactly as infuriating as you think it is. A current employee at Comcast who participated in the Comcast Confessions series provided The Verge with a copy of the 20-page guidelines the company uses for evaluating retention specialists. The guidelines are divided into 13 sections: 1. Greet customer clearly 2. Clarify reason for call 3. Relate and empathize 4. Take control 5. Set the agenda 6. Ask targeted questions 7. Consider unstated needs / active listening 8. Take ownership / make offer 9. Overcome objections 10. Close the save 11. Confirm details 12. End on a positive note 13. Documentation It has all the hallmarks of a playbook designed to piss off and annoy someone who wants to cancel service. Legislated courtesy followed by manufactured empathy that devolves into the assertion of the rep's dominance on the call, all leading to a close of the "save." If you're not in some kind of sales role, this list probably doesn't look familiar to you. I've been in sales all of my life, however, and this is the kind of playbook you get in a sales role at a faceless mega-corporation. Trust me, it's as frustrating for the sales person as it is for the customer. But you know what this isn't? Customer service for someone looking to cancel their damned account. But the handbook does offer indirect advice on how to get past these Comcast retention people in the form of what "objections" cannot be resolved with some contrived buddy-talk and a "special" offer. Save Attempt is Not Applicable in the Following Scenarios -Customer is moving in with an existing Comcast customer (CAE must verify Comcast services active at new address) -Customer is moving to a non-Comcast area (CAE must verify by looking up zip code) -Account holder is deceased / incapacitated -Temporary / seasonal disconnect and Seasonal Suspend Plan is not available in their area -Natural disaster -Customer doesn't know what address they're moving to So, if you're a Comcast customer looking to cancel your service, your playbook is quite clear. Once you are transferred to customer retention, you say the following: "I am cancelling my service because my home was hit by a tornado, flinging me out of the window and into an unknown address that I'll be sharing with someone who already has Comcast service. Also I'm dead." Happy cancelling, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Another day, another abuse of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions to stop things that have nothing whatsoever to do with copyright. As pointed out by Slashdot, the Hackaday site recently had a post about how to clone some Tektronix application modules for its MSO2000 line of oscilloscopes. The post explained a simple hack to enable the application module to do a lot more. And... in response, Tektronix sent a DMCA takedown notice demanding the entire post be taken down. I am the Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at Test & Measurement group of companies including Tektronix, Inc. I have been notified of a posting on the “Hack A Day” website concerning hacking of Tektronix’ copyrighted modules for use in oscilloscopes. Hacking those modules permits unauthorized access to and use of Tektronix’ copyrighted software by means of copying of Tektronix’ copyrighted code in those modules. http://hackaday.com/2014/07/28/cloning-tektronix-application-modules/ A copy of the offending posting is attached for your reference. The posting includes instructions for how to hack our modules and thereby violate Tektronix’ copyrights. Tektronix has a good faith belief that there is no legal basis for this individual to provide such instructions to anyone, much less on a public forum. I hereby submit that the above statements are true and accurate, and under penalty of perjury state that I am authorized to act on Tektronix’ behalf. In view of the above, Tektronix demands that the posting identified above be expeditiously removed from the website. Very Truly Yours, Hackaday didn't remove the entire post, but did basically remove all of the details. While the takedown doesn't say so, it appears that Tektronix is likely relying on a distorted reading of the DMCA's Section 1201, which is the anti-circumvention clause. Of course, court rulings have not been kind to hardware companies looking to use Section 1201 in a similar manner, but it's doubtful that a site like Hackaday feels like getting in a legal fight with Tektronix. And, of course, that's why the DMCA is such a dangerous and overly broad tool. It allows bullies like Tektronix to take down useful information that actually makes its own devices more useful, all because of misguided beliefs about the importance of "protecting" your "intellectual property," rather than making your products more useful and valuable to a wider audience.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Three years ago, we wrote about the bizarre case of a monkey who apparently grabbed a photographer's camera in a national park in Indonesia and snapped a selfie (that was back before "selfie" was so common a term -- and we just called it a "self-portrait"). There were a few different shots, but the one that clearly got the most attention is this one: As we noted when we wrote about it, it seems fairly clear that the work is in the public domain. We were idly curious about how a news licensing agency (Caters New Agency) could claim the rights to the photograph. A few days later Caters itself demanded that we take down the photo, claiming that the copyright was held by the owner of the camera, David Slater. Slater himself insisted the copyright was his. However, as we explained in fairly great detail, looking at the laws of the US, the UK (where Slater is from) and Indonesia (where the picture was taken) the image is almost certainly in the public domain, no matter how you look at it. Under all three laws, the rules say that the work needs to be done by a person, and a monkey doesn't count. Slater, however, claims that because the camera is his, it's still his copyright. While that's what many people think copyright law says, it's not actually what copyright law says at all. The latest is that Slater is apparently still considering legal action against Wikimedia for refusing to take down the image from Wikimedia Commons. The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained To Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button. Mr Slater now faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court. First, I should note that if someone thinks the monkey holds the copyright, that's incorrect as well. While it's true that, in most cases, the person who takes the pictures gets the copyright, as noted above, the laws say it needs to be a person, so monkeys don't count. The image is public domain. The "monkey holds the copyright" claim appears to be a mistake by the author of the Telegraph piece. The guy who uploaded it has directly stated that he said there was no copyright (i.e., public domain) because there was no human author. From here, Slater tries to flip the burden of proof, and claims that the copyright is his until proven otherwise in court: “If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that,” he said. While it's true that a court would decide the final result, the burden is actually on the copyright holder. To bring a copyright claim, you first have to prove that you hold the copyright. It's not the other way around. As Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge notes, a system in which you needed a court to assert an affirmative defense would mean that no one could ever claim self-defense. That's just not how it works. Slater also seems to believe in an odd "sweat of the brow" concept of copyright that simply isn't relevant: “That trip cost me about £2,000 for that monkey shot. Not to mention the £5,000 of equipment I carried, the insurance, the computer stuff I used to process the images. Photography is an expensive profession that’s being encroached upon. They’re taking our livelihoods away,” he said. The amount that the trip cost is meaningless on the copyright status of the photo. Photography is an expensive profession, but sometimes, apparently, it's so simple that... well... even a monkey can do it. That said, the whole "jeopardizing his income" and "taking livelihoods away" lines are pretty extreme and ridiculous. This photo got Slater a tremendous amount of fame, and a chance to capitalize on that. If he wasn't so focused on a misguided legal fight against Wikimedia, why not use the photo as a calling card to get hired to do all sorts of other wildlife shots? So why is this even an issue again at all? Well, that's partly Wikimedia's fault. It just released a transparency report, which discusses the whole monkey situation in a case study.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last month, we wrote about how the New Zealand ISP Slingshot had started offering what it called "Global Mode" as a standard feature. The ISP realized the simple ridiculousness of geoblocking content, especially since so much content is deemed "unavailable" in New Zealand. So, in response, it basically set its services up so that it disguised where the user was coming from (not unlike many VPN services). This seemed like smart customer service. But, obviously, not everyone is thrilled with it. The local SkyTV is apparently banning ads from Slingshot if they mention Global Mode. Watch SkyTV's spokesperson totally fail to understand the issue: Sky TV spokeswoman Kirsty Way confirmed the advertisements had been rejected because of their references to Global Mode. "We are a business that pays people who create television so we are against any form of piracy or the undermining of intellectual property rights," she said. Except that Global Mode is not piracy, nor does it "undermine intellectual property rights." It merely lets people use the internet in ways to access and pay for authorized content. It actually lets folks in New Zealand do things like pay for Netflix or Hulu -- which they can't do today. Slingshot's General Manager Taryn Hamilton rightly calls this situation ridiculous, noting that rejecting the ads is "unjustified and petty." It's also fairly counterproductive, given that now Slingshot gets probably more publicity for the service without having to pay the foolish and small-minded folks at SkyTV for the pleasure.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The fight over the redactions of the CIA's torture report continue. Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that she and her staff were somewhat taken aback by the amount of redacted information when they received back the black ink-drenched copy of the executive summary to the $40 million, 6,300 page "devastating" report on the CIA's torture program prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee. In response, James Clapper shot back that the redactions were "minimal" and over 85% of the document was free from black ink (it's not clear if he was counting the margins as well...). Of course, as Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, this is just about the executive summary of the report -- which was specifically written to be published. In other words, the really "secret" stuff is in the rest of the report, but the 408 page exec summary was written with public disclosure in mind -- meaning that the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers certainly wrote it with the expectation that it would need few, if any, redactions. So the fact that large chunks of it were redacted immediately set off some alarms. On Tuesday, multiple Senators on the Intelligence Committee spoke out angrily about the redactions. It kicked off with Feinstein who noted that the review her staff went through of the redactions shows that the censors are trying to hide information that should be public: “After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions. Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public. “I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith. This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate. “The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to make public our thorough documentary history of the CIA’s program. That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.” Senator Carl Levin then came out with a much more strongly worded condemnation of the redactions suggesting that they were clearly designed to hide embarrassing information, which is not a legitimate reason for redactions: “The redactions that CIA has proposed to the Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogations are totally unacceptable. Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information. But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009. The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.” Senator Mark Udall issued a statement in which he notes that the "strategic" redactions are used to distort the nature of what's in the report: "While Director Clapper may be technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible and can certainly make it more difficult to understand the basis for the findings and conclusions reached in the report. I agree wholeheartedly that redactions are necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods, but the White House must work closely with this committee to reach this goal in a way that makes it possible for the public to understand what happened. "I am committed to working with Chairman Feinstein to declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee's study to the fullest extent possible, correct the record on the CIA's brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program, and ensure the CIA learns from its past mistakes. And in light of the importance of the work the Senate Intelligence Committee has undertaken, I believe that the chairman should take all necessary time to ensure that the redactions to the executive summary are appropriate — not merely made to cover up acts that could embarrass the agency. "The CIA should not face its past with a redaction pen, and the White House must not allow it to do so." All three of those Senators are well aware of what's in the report, and it appears they recognize that the black ink was being used not to protect national security or "sources and methods" but rather to hide or distort the facts of the CIA's torture program.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In some comments at the US Africa Leaders Summit in DC yesterday, President Obama claimed that he's absolutely against fast lanes and slow lanes on the internet -- which is pretty interesting given that his own FCC appears to be poised to allow exactly that: Net neutrality in the United States -- one of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That's the big controversy here. You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more and also charge more for spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster. I personally, the position of my administration, as well as a lot of the companies here, is that you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed Again, the current proposal from the FCC would actually allow just that. Of course, prepared remarks like these are carefully scoured by White House staff, so this isn't an offhand remark. As with Harry Reid's recent statements, it's entirely possible that this statement is a public nod towards Title II reclassification -- something that Wheeler has previously suggested there wasn't enough political support for. But if powerful Senators and the President are standing behind blocking fast and slow lanes, it certainly seems like the "there isn't political support" argument is quickly disappearing. This certainly doesn't make it a done deal by any stretch of the imagination, but there is reason to believe that Wheeler has been using this comment period to see if there really would be political support for recassification. It's increasingly looking like there is -- and it's going to be up to Wheeler to see if he's willing to be a true leader and make the right call for how to protect an open and free internet, rather than the "easy" call.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you may or may not be aware, Thailand changes governments like we change the oil in our cars: every couple of months or three to five thousand miles, whichever comes first. As we previously covered, the latest in Thai military juntas are (surprise!) huge fans of censoring the internet while claiming they don't and taking down social media sites while claiming that they don't. The picture being drawn for the rest of the world is one of an unsteady military government whose primary unifying factor is that it really likes censoring stuff. But I didn't realize just how insecure these folks also are. That insecurity appears to be on display as the Thai dictatorial government has banned a video game about running a dictatorial government. Thailand, which has been ruled by a military dictatorship for the past few months, has banned the video game Tropico 5 from appearing in stores, saying "some contents of the game are not appropriate for the current situation," according to publisher Kalypso Media. Tropico 5, of course, is a video game in which you can play as a military dictator, building and running your very own country in as sadistic a fashion as you'd like. And, as we all know, subjugating millions of citizens as you laugh maniacally is for real life, not video games. The game, it would appear, hits a little too close to home for the Thai junta. After all, if citizens are allowed to play out what is essentially their government's own role, they may come to see how horrifically they're being treated and rebel. You don't want to remind those under your rule that they're under your rule, I guess. The irony is not lost on Kalypso, the company that makes the Tropico series. And here's Kalypso's Stefan Marcinek, also via press release: "Our distributor has been working hard to gain approval for the release, but it seems that the Board of Film and Video Censors deem some of the content too controversial for their consumers. This does sound like it could have come from one of El Presidente's own edicts from the game." You have to think that a game mechanic was just born for Tropico 6, in which your dictatorial rule is furthered by banning video games. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It would be easy to assume that the European Patent Office (EPO) stands in the same relationship to the European Union as the USPTO does to the United States, but that's actually wide of the mark. The EPO is a very strange beast indeed, as its Wikipedia entry makes clear: The premises of the European Patent Office enjoy a form of extraterritoriality. In accordance with the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities, which forms an integral part of the European Patent Convention under Article 164(1) EPC, the premises of the European Patent Organisation, and therefore those of the European Patent Office, are inviolable. The authorities of the States in which the Organisation has its premises are not authorized to enter those premises, except with the consent of the President of the European Patent Office. Far from being some boring government office like any other, the EPO is like a mini nation-state. This curious fact has been taken as the starting point for a witty post on the IPKat blog about a little-known country, Eponia: a small landlocked state mainly based in Munich, though it has established colonies in The Hague, Berlin, Vienna and Brussels. Few people are born in Eponia (though it is rumoured that quite a few have been conceived there); most are settlers -- though they prefer to call themselves by a less provocative term, Examiners. Here are some details about its financial operation: One of the most buoyant economies in Europe, Eponia enjoys a unique and apparently inexhaustible source of income: patent tourism. Pilgrims come from far and wide to place their supplications before the local sages, or Boards of Appeal. Well-wishers also ply Eponia with money in order to obtain patents, cancel patents, amend patents or sometimes just to accelerate or retard the rate at which these much-desired services are delivered. Those whose petitions for a patent are successful often find that they are blessed with plenty, and that their influence extends from one end of Europe to the other. Some say that this good fortune can persist for getting on for 20 years, so long as occasional sacred donations, quaintly termed "renewal fees", are paid. What other country in Europe can offer such attractions? The horseshoe, the four-leaf clover, the leprechaun pale into insignificance in comparison. And let's not forget about more elevated matters: The national religion of Eponia is contained in a document known as the European Patent Convention, whose Articles (far more numerous than the Church of England's mere 39) are held to have been dictated directly into the ear of Blessed Bob van Benthem by a divine voice in the form of a holy hummingbird. While of less mystical origin, the Rules are also greatly revered. Like any sacred text, its superficial meaning is open to misinterpretation, and only specially trained priests are initiated into the deeper meaning of its rites and rituals (enigmatically referred to as "Guidelines"). When sufficiently inspired, those who are closest to achieving spiritual ecstasy can be seen and heard to be "talking in tongues", which embrace English, German and French -- but never Spanish or Italian. It's a great piece, but its gentle humor exposes a serious point about the EPO: it is literally above the law. That could be a problem because of a major change to the European patent landscape: the introduction of the unitary patent: A unitary patent will be a European patent granted by the EPO under the provisions of the European Patent Convention to which unitary effect for the territory of the 25 participating states is given after grant, at the patentee's request. Unitary patents will be granted and administered by the EPO, and will have effect across most of the European Union. However, they will not be directly subject to the European Union. A perceptive paper by Dimitris Xenos, entitled, "The European Unified Patent Court: Assessment and Implications of the Federalisation of the Patent System in Europe", explores some of the problems this could cause once the associated Unified Patent Court (UPC), the sole arbiter of unitary patent disputes, comes into operation : The UPC will operate in relation to an upgraded framework of patents that are granted by the European Patent Office (EPO), with such patents being able to have unitary effect in all participating states (i.e. those which have approved the relevant EU Regulation). By replacing the jurisdiction of the national courts in enforcement and invalidity proceedings of such patents, the UPC will take exclusive competence to determine all disputes relating to patents with unitary effect. The new system has all the main characteristics of a federal court, apart from the name. However, although a federal structure is adopted, important elements are strikingly different. First, the EU states do not form a federation under which benefits are pursued for the common good of one state and second, there is no legislative authority to influence the economic policy which underlies the determination of the legal principles and standards that define patents as objects of property in the UPC system. That emphasizes once more that the unitary patent system has been decoupled from the normal legislative and democratic processes of the European Union, and thus will be under no obligation to take heed of the economic interests of the European citizens. Here's why that is likely to be a problem: There is no precedent in the political history of modern democracies where important property issues affecting the economic sustainability and development of a country, and the proprietary rights and business prospects of its people, were conclusively and exclusively taken by a judicial body at supranational level. A democratic policy-making process for the determination of patents as objects of property exists, of course, in all countries of the world, including the US, whose system the UPC tries to imitate. The difference is that the US unified patent system does not escape democratic control, and the economic policies that it serves are widely debated by legislators, judges, economists, lawyers and industry players, all of whom are residents of the same country. It's still early days for the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court, so it's not yet clear how the new system will work, and how serious the problems will be. The danger is that Eponia might turn out to be not so much a quaint oddity in the European political landscape as a dangerous rogue state with serious negative consequences for the region's businesses and citizens. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While it had trouble keeping its site up during times of intense commenting, the FCC's IT team is now working to make all the submitted comments on its "open internet" net neutrality proposals available to download in a bunch of XML files: Because of the sheer number of comments and the great public interest in what they say, Chairman Wheeler has asked the FCC IT team to make the comments available to the public today in a series of six XML files, totaling over 1.4 GB of data – approximately two and half times the amount of plain-text data embodied in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The release of the comments as Open Data in this machine-readable format will allow researchers, journalists and others to analyze and create visualizations of the data so that the public and the FCC can discuss and learn from the comments we’ve received. Our hope is that these analyses will contribute to an even more informed and useful reply comment period, which ends on September 10. We will make available additional XML files covering reply comments after that date. While the more cynical among you may see this as more of a statement on the rather weak capabilities of the current FCC's system for handling searching through the submitted comments, it's still nice to see at least a move towards openness and transparency in sharing this data for others to search through. As we've noted, we've been digging into some of the data on the comments, and hopefully this will make the process much easier.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Space travel is filled with all kinds of complex challenges -- microgravity, radiation exposure, fuel constraints, etc. Thankfully, engineers and physicists are coming up with creative solutions to some of these problems, and new propulsion systems are being put through a battery of tests to verify their safety and reliability. Here are just a few cool propulsion designs (that may or may not work at all). NASA can't explain how it works, but there's a propulsion system that seemingly violates conservation of momentum -- and it actually produces a small amount of thrust. There are a few different versions of this propellant-free thruster, called a "Cannae Drive" or EmDrive.. and there's even a Kickstarter project to try to build a similar system. Is it April Fool's day every day? [url] NASA is looking into every possible means to improve space travel, including the very speculative faster-than-light "warp drive" that proposes to bend space-time to get to distant destinations in a matter of weeks instead of decades. Alcubierre drives are purely theoretical, and NASA explicitly states any kind of FTL warp drive is firmly in the speculation realm. [url] Vortex rockets provide a practical solution for reducing the weight of a traditional liquid-fuel rocket. Conventional rockets require some (heavy) complex cooling systems to prevent parts of the rocket itself from melting and/or vaporizing away, but a vortex rocket eliminates the need for cooling by creating a mini-tornado of burning fuel where the hottest temperatures are kept away from rocket structures. [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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Following the revelation that USAID built a special "Twitter for Cuba" in an effort to foment dissent in that country, it's now come out, via some AP reporting, that USAID also sent a bunch of Latin American youths from other countries to Cuba on a bogus "HIV prevention" campaign, which was really a cover for recruiting young Cubans to be anti-government activists. Of course, remember that a bogus Polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan has resulted in people there no longer trusting such vaccinations and a rapid return of polio. While it's not likely that this campaign will directly lead to people totally ignoring HIV prevention advice, just the fact that the US government seems to be trying to make use of important health campaigns as part of a strategy to undermine others will have significant consequences, making people who need such information a lot less willing to actually pay attention to it. This doesn't seem like a good thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The EFF has filed an amicus brief in a case involving a business suing anonymous reviewers for defamation. In 2013, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning took seven anonymous Yelp reviewers to court over allegedly defamatory reviews. It asked the court to unmask the people behind the reviews, claiming that they weren't customers and therefore, their reviews were false and defamatory per se. Yelp, the host of the contested reviews, refused to comply with the subpoena, arguing that it didn't meet the constitutional requirements needed to override First Amendment protections. Unfortunately, the state of Virginia has a much lower bar for plaintiffs to hurdle in unmasking anonymous commenters and reviewers. The Dendrite rules, which have been applied in a number of states, weren't used in this case. Instead of having to prove that these reviewers had definitely broken the law, all Hadeed had to do was show the court that it had a "good faith basis" for believing the reviews were defamatory. Hadeed never contested the content of the reviews, but rather relied on the assumption that these reviews weren't posted by actual customers and, almost solely because of this, were actionable. The EFF notes in that the lower court decisions took this low bar and went even lower, threatening to make Virginia a very dangerous place for anonymous speech, especially if it continues to place its state laws above the First Amendment. Hadeed alleged that the reviewers aren't actually customers, but the lower courts didn't require it to provide proof. Nor did Hadeed show how the reviews were defamatory. Whether or not what Hadeed claimed was enough under Virginia law, the First Amendment requires significantly more evidence of defamation. The brief itself points out that stripping away the protection of anonymity will just encourage further bad behavior from a variety of bad actors, who will be able to use subpoenas to expose their critics and subject them to further harassment. Amicus EFF has witnessed these tactics at work firsthand. By bringing an ultimately frivolous lawsuit, litigants often seek to unmask anonymous speakers in order to humiliate them or discourage their speech. Thankfully, most courts have been aware of the harm that would flow from allowing such baseless subpoenas to issue without first considering the justification for unmasking these individuals… The use of harassing subpoenas is also a favorite tactic in online copyright infringement litigation. In a typical case, the owners of adult movies file mass lawsuits based on single counts of copyright infringement stemming from the downloading of a pornographic film, and improperly lump hundreds of defendants together regardless of where their Internet Protocol addresses indicate they live. The motivation behind these cases appears to be to leverage the risk of embarrassment associated with pornography, as well as the accompanying costs of litigation, to wield as a sword to coerce settlement payments of several thousand dollars from each of these individuals… The brief also argues that while anonymity is not guaranteed and can be removed under certain circumstances, the plaintiff's arguments haven't met these requirements. All parties to this dispute agree that the constitutional privilege to remain anonymous is not absolute. Plaintiffs may properly seek information necessary to pursue reasonable and meritorious litigation. As the Court of Appeals put it, “if the reviews are unlawful in that they are defamatory, then the John Does’ veil of anonymity may be pierced, provided certain procedural safeguards are met.” (“Certain classes of speech, including defamatory and libelous speech, are entitled to no constitutional protection.”). Rather, the dispute is as to the proper standard to apply in deciding whether to uphold the reviewers’ anonymity. The Court of Appeals rejected the guidance of numerous other state courts, including the leading case of Dendrite, and instead held that Virginia Code § 8.01-407.1 provides the sole standard for Virginia courts faced with unmasking anonymous speakers. This conclusion should be reversed because this interpretation of § 8.01-407.1 fails to meet the minimum standards of the First Amendment. And if all of that fails to resonate, the EFF says there's also some jurisdictional questions with further First Amendment implications. Yelp's headquarters are in California and Hadeed should be filing its subpoenas there. Of course, the higher standard in California most likely means they would be rejected. But if the lower court's decision holds, people and companies looking to unmask anonymous commenters and reviewers will be making libel tourism stops in Virginia. The lower court’s departure from standard practice means that Yelp is now subject to Virginia’s subpoena standards, rather than California’s. Under the rule that the lower court has adopted, Virginia’s subpoena jurisprudence can apply across the country. An enterprising plaintiff could file subpoenas in Virginia, knowing that Virginia has adopted a more lenient standard than its fellow courts. Non-parties would have to fight their requests in Virginia courts rather than the courts where the documents were stored, at additional and considerable expense. This is particularly problematic where, as here, the subpoena requests implicate First Amendment interests, which states are obligated to uphold on behalf of their citizens… While there are many people who argue that online anonymity is just a way for people to say whatever they like without consequence, there's much more to it than insults, trolling and 4chan. The protections of anonymous speech date back to the founding principles of this country, predating the internet's rise as the simultaneous best/worst thing to happen to the world. Online anonymity needs more protection than the state of Virginia is willing to afford it. The lower court set the bar for unmasking at toe-stubbing level and, if the state Supreme Court upholds it, will make Virginia the new home for the "tyranny of the majority." Hopefully, the state's top court will realize that it's also protecting the rights of American citizens, not just local businesses whose approach to criticism is to start filing lawsuits. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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FIFA, the soccer/futbol/whatever organization that theoretically runs a sporting operation sure seems to actually be some kind of steroid-taking IP lawyer in practice instead. Much like the method by which the Olympics does their business, FIFA has always gone overboard in enforcing its trademarks. It insists on getting airline ads that don't even mention it pulled down, it goes after breweries, and it generally behaves like a psychopathic rich kid who thinks all the toys in the world are his and his alone. Reader John Katos writes in with the latest head-scratching example of this. Nico Rosberg is big in the world of F1 racing and he wanted to celebrate the German's winning the World Cup with a helmet in an upcoming race. German pride, in other words, because when has that ever gone wrong? Earlier this week, delighted with the national team's world cup victory in Brazil, Mercedes driver Rosberg announced he will wear a "special edition helmet" this weekend in Hockenheim. The 29-year-old German revealed on social media that the livery includes an image of "the FIFA trophy". See that thing on top of the helmet? You know, the one that looks like Cthulu's claw reaching up to grip some kind of golden testicle? Well, that's the World Cup trophy, which, really you guys, come up with something a little better than that for the World freaking Cup. Regardless, the uber-lawyers over at FIFA saw this display of national pride and free FIFA advertising and took a dump on it. We reported earlier that reproducing the image of the trophy falls foul of the world football federation FIFA's strict rules protecting its 'official marks'. The Mercedes driver's public relations manager Georg Nolte confirmed: "There will be an update on Nico's Germany helmet design today. "(It) will be without (the) world cup trophy, but (now) with four stars on it." Yes, rather than working out some kind of way to license the helmet for free so as not to risk the dreaded not-protecting-the-mark penalty that seems to drive so much of this heavy-handed nonsense, FIFA just killed off the free advertising. Quite sporting of them, if you ask absolutely no one. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Another leak has surfaced at The Intercept, notably a non-Snowden leak ("obtained from a source in the intelligence community") that shows the utter ridiculousness of the government's terrorist watchlist. Nothing states it better than the universal shrug judiciously applied to the 280,000 people that make up the largest portion of the chart. The culmination of post-9/11 policies and the steady erosion of civil liberties in the service of "fighting terrorism" has opened up nearly 300,000 people to additional scrutiny because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . The list has increased 10-fold during Obama's stay in office, growing from 47,000 at the end of Bush's term to 680,000, 40% of whom the government is sure represent some sort of a threat, even if it can't quantify that in any specific way. When U.S. officials refer to "the watchlist," they typically mean the TSDB, an unclassified pool of information shared across the intelligence community and the military, as well as local law enforcement, foreign governments, and private contractors. According to the government's watchlisting guidelines, published by The Intercept last month, officials don't need"concrete facts" or "irrefutable evidence" to secretly place someone on the list—only a vague and elastic standard of "reasonable suspicion." It's long been noted that articulable facts are unwanted guests in the War on Terrorism (and War on Drugs) discussion. Instead, hunches and gut feelings are elevated to places formerly occupied by Fourth Amendment protections. This group of people, shrugged into "nomination" by a variety of government agencies, is then shared with law enforcement, private contractors and foreign governments. That's at least 280,000 people being vetted with impunity by a variety of TSDB end users -- people who are deemed too dangerous to go unsurveilled but not dangerous enough to arrest or investigate further. If there's any good news here, it's that at least some form of filtering is used to keep the database from swelling exponentially. Most people placed on the government's watchlist begin in a larger, classified system known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). The TIDE database actually allows for targeting people based on far less evidence than the already lax standards used for placing people on the watchlist. A more expansive—and invasive—database, TIDE's information is shared across the U.S. intelligence community, as well as with commando units from the Special Operations Command and with domestic agencies such as the New York City Police Department. Those running TIDE have actually celebrated the fact that they recently added the millionth name to the database, failing to see that the constantly-increasing database is actually an admission of failure. If the system was working, the number of names should remain nearly constant, as those who aren't threats are removed from the list (something which apparently never happens) and those that are threats are rounded up (or otherwise disposed of). And there seems to be a hint of racial profiling contained within the TSDB numbers. The top five U.S. cities represented on the main watchlist for "known or suspected terrorists" are New York; Dearborn, Mich.; Houston; San Diego; and Chicago. At 96,000 residents, Dearborn is much smaller than the other cities in the top five, suggesting that its significant Muslim population—40 percent of its population is of Arab descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—has been disproportionately targeted for watchlisting. Beyond this nearly-suspicionless watchlisting, there's further privacy concerns, prompted by the addition of millions of pieces of biometric data from American citizens, something that ramped up immediately following the Boston Bombing. In the aftermath of last year's Boston Marathon bombing, the Directorate of Terrorist Identities began an aggressive program to collect biometric data and other information on all Americans on the TIDE list. "This project includes record by record research of each person in relevant Department of State and [intelligence community] databases, as well as bulk data requests for information," the documents note. The DTI also worked on the subsequent Chicago Marathon, performing "deep dives" for biometric and other data on people in the Midwest whose names were on the TIDE list. In the process, the directorate pulled the TIDE records of every person with an Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin driver license. That the many agencies tasked with counterterrorism are operating on instinct rather than articulable suspicion is nothing surprising. The large number of people with "no known terrorist affiliation" being added to a terrorist watchlist is the natural progression of bad policies with 12 years of momentum behind them. As an additional note, it appears the US government attempted to "scoop" The Intercept by leaking a much more friendly recap of the leaked watchlist details to the AP, at least according to the this tweet by Jeremy Scahill, one of the post's authors. US government, pissed we were publishing our story, tried to undermine us by leaking it to other news organization right before we published — jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) August 5, 2014 If you can't read the tweet, it says: US government, pissed we were publishing our story, tried to undermine us by leaking it to other news organization right before we published A look at the AP piece seems to confirm this, as it presents something more akin to press release than a serious dive into the numbers. (More confirmation at the Huffington Post. The government claims its scoop "theft" was a "mistake.") It also makes no mention of the information appearing at The Intercept first. The AP's "story" presents this as mostly a triumph by the government, with only the briefest aside about privacy or civil liberties concerns. This excerpt is indicative of the (very short) article's credulousness: The database's growth is a result of the government's response to a failed attempt to blow up a commercial airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. The terror operative's name was included in the database before the attack, but it was not on a list that would have prevented him from getting on a U.S.-bound airplane. Since then, the government has lowered the standards for placing someone on the no-fly list and intelligence agencies have become more diligent about submitting names to the TIDE database. The database was created after the 9/11 terror attacks when it became clear that the government's terror watch list was ineffective. The watch list was once maintained in a rolodex and in paper notebooks, according to redacted photographs provided by the National Counterterrorism Center. And here's the entirety of the "discussion" about the possible negative of an inflated, nearly-suspicionless watchlist of terrorist suspects. The government does not need evidence that links someone to terrorism in order for the person to be included in the database. This is among the reasons the database and subsequent terror watch lists have been criticized by privacy advocates. The AP says it has "learned," but it looks more like it was handed some talking points and an ultra-tight deadline. With thousands of news outlets pulling in the AP feed, this will allow the government to get out ahead of the leak, or at the very least, present a cohesive media presence that presents a "fair" portrayal of its out-of-control counterterrorism databases. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here's what exercising your First Amendment rights gets you in certain parts of the US. Photographer Jeff Gray has been filming cops and photographing public structures, as well as documenting the reactions of law enforcement to his activities. The Department of Homeland Security apparently felt Gray was enough of a "threat" that it opened an investigation on him. After scrutinizing publicly-available information (like Gray's own YouTube account), it came to the conclusion that his activities were completely protected… it just didn't like the way he acted. This subject is exercising his first amendment rights, however the manner in which he lures the officers in is concerning. Well, you can't be "lured" if you just respect citizens' rights -- rights that were recently upheld by a Supreme Court decision. Despite the DHS declaring Gray's actions perfectly fine, local law enforcement officers still took it upon themselves to send social services to his home (after being "tipped" that Gray owned guns) and interviewing his kids at school without his knowledge. Now, Gray has obtained more information that shows law enforcement officers are still trying to find some way to shut down his protected activities. After several years of auditing police departments across Florida to determine whether their officers uphold the First Amendment and the law of the land, Photography Is Not A Crime’s Jeff Gray has had his driver’s license and vehicle tag information searched by police well over 200 times. Gray’s request for the record of who accessed his information on the state-operated Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) turned up police officer after police officer running Gray’s vehicle plate and driver’s license. The number of agencies that have peeked at Gray's records is amazing. District attorneys' offices from two different districts have run his records and 100 officers spread across 28 agencies (including the state's Fish and Wildlife Dept.) have accessed his data, often multiple times. The documents also include a few redacted names, withheld using exemption 119.071(4)(c): Any information revealing undercover personnel of any criminal justice agency is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution. Apparently, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has manpower to burn, and can use undercover personnel to "investigate" First Amendment-protected activities. Gray will probably be able to add the DEA to that list as well, after his most recent interaction, which occurred while filming the agency's offices in Jacksonville, FL. Four unnamed, unidentified DEA agents emerged from the building in hopes of getting Gray to stop, with one of them attempting to grab cameras from both Gray and his filming partner. One of the DEA agents (along with a responding sheriff's officer) emerged with his phone up and in shooting position, the sort of childish reaction that's becoming more common. Officers should film interactions with citizens, but cameras shouldn't be deployed in hopes of cowing someone into shutting off their recording device. (Not to mention the fact that the sheriff's squad car should have had a dashcam rolling from the moment the officer pulled up.) Gray has seen this tactic often enough to good-naturedly suggest the officers move their phones to a horizontal position to get a better recording. The number of times Gray's records were accessed shows that law enforcement officers are looking for anything they can to shut his activism down. While a number of the records requests were probably linked to officers running his info while interacting with him, there are way more hits to the database than can be explained away as adhering to data-access policies. Plus, there's little doubt that most law enforcement officers in the area are familiar with Gray and his activities at this point, making any running of his info completely extraneous. And, as the sheriff in the latter video states, Gray's conduct is perfectly legal, so there's really no reason for officers to be interacting with him at all at this point. Photographing public buildings and figures may make those on the other side of the camera uncomfortable, but they're just going to have to learn to get over it. Running records requests over and over again is simply abusing a tool because you have access to it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you want to build a surveillance state with a minimum of backlash, you'll need a very controllable environment. Shane Harris at Foreign Policy has a detailed report on Singapore's relatively peaceful coexistence with Big Brother that includes the United States' involvement in its creation, as well as the many reasons pervasive surveillance and an out-sized government presence have been accepted, rather than rebelled against. The genesis of Singapore's surveillance net dates back to 2002, and traces all the way back to former US National Security Advisor, John Poindexter. Peter Ho, Singapore's Secretary of Defense, met with Poindexter and was introduced to the Dept. of Defense's Total Information Awareness (TIA) aspirations. It would gather up all manner of electronic records -- emails, phone logs, Internet searches, airline reservations, hotel bookings, credit card transactions, medical reports -- and then, based on predetermined scenarios of possible terrorist plots, look for the digital "signatures" or footprints that would-be attackers might have left in the data space. The idea was to spot the bad guys in the planning stages and to alert law enforcement and intelligence officials to intervene. Though initially presented as an anti-terrorism tool (something Singapore was looking for after several recent terrorist attacks), it first found usefulness as a way to track and predict the spread of communicable diseases. Ho returned home inspired that Singapore could put a TIA-like system to good use. Four months later he got his chance, when an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) swept through the country, killing 33, dramatically slowing the economy, and shaking the tiny island nation to its core. Using Poindexter's design, the government soon established the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning program (RAHS, pronounced "roz") inside a Defense Ministry agency responsible for preventing terrorist attacks and "nonconventional" strikes, such as those using chemical or biological weapons -- an effort to see how Singapore could avoid or better manage "future shocks." Singapore politicians sold "big data" to citizens by playing up the role it would play in public safety. Meanwhile, back in the US, the program began to fall apart as privacy advocates and legislators expressed concerns about the amount of information being gathered. In Singapore, this was just the beginning of its surveillance state. In the US, it became an expansion of post-9/11 intelligence gathering. Rather than end the program, it was simply parted-out to the NSA and other agencies under new names by sympathetic lawmakers. Singapore's TIA program soon swelled to include nearly anything the government felt it could get away with gathering. The government used the data to do far more than track potential terrorists. It used the massive amount of data to examine -- and plan for -- nearly every aspect of Singaporean existence. Across Singapore's national ministries and departments today, armies of civil servants use scenario-based planning and big-data analysis from RAHS for a host of applications beyond fending off bombs and bugs. They use it to plan procurement cycles and budgets, make economic forecasts, inform immigration policy, study housing markets, and develop education plans for Singaporean schoolchildren -- and they are looking to analyze Facebook posts, Twitter messages, and other social media in an attempt to "gauge the nation's mood" about everything from government social programs to the potential for civil unrest. Making this data collection even easier is the Singaporean government's demand that internet service can only be issued to citizens with government-issued IDs. SIM cards for phones can only be purchased with a valid passport. Thousands of cameras are installed and government law enforcement agencies actively prowl social media services to track (and punish) offensive material. But this is accepted by Singapore citizens, for the most part. The mix of Indians, Chinese and Malays makes the government especially sensitive to racially-charged speech. The country's dependence on everyone around it makes everyday life a bit more unpredictable than that enjoyed by its much larger neighbors. In exchange for its tightly-honed national security aims (along with housing and education), Singaporeans have given up their freedom to live an unsurveilled life. And for the doubters, the government has this familiar rationale to offer. "In Singapore, people generally feel that if you're not a criminal or an opponent of the government, you don't have anything to worry about," one senior government official told me. What goes unmentioned is just how easy it is to become an "opponent" of the Singaporean state. It can take nothing more than appearing less than grateful for the many government programs offered in "exchange" for diminished civil liberties. While the government goes above and beyond to take care of its citizens' needs, it acts swiftly to punish or publicly shame those who are seen to spurn its advances, so to speak. Not for nothing did sci-fi writer William Gibson calls this Singapore "Disneyland with the Death Penalty." So, to make the perfect police/security state, you need a small country and a mixture of government largesse and palpable threats. You need a nation so precariously balanced that it "shouldn't [even] exist," according to one top-ranking government official. You also need a nation not built on civil liberties. Despite this, US intelligence agencies still view Singapore as a prime example of what could have been. [M]any current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they'd build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren't standing in the way. After Poindexter left DARPA in 2003, he became a consultant to RAHS, and many American spooks have traveled to Singapore to study the program firsthand. They are drawn not just to Singapore's embrace of mass surveillance but also to the country's curious mix of democracy and authoritarianism, in which a paternalistic government ensures people's basic needs -- housing, education, security -- in return for almost reverential deference. It is a law-and-order society, and the definition of "order" is all-encompassing. If this was what the NSA and others were pushing for, there's no hope of achieving it. The Snowden leaks have undermined a lot of these agencies' stealthy nudges in this direction. The US government can never hope to achieve the same level of deference, not even in the best of times. A melting pot that has folded in refugees from authoritarian nations -- along with the country's founding principles -- have made many Americans predisposed against views of the government as an entity worthy of reverence. Widespread abuse of the public's trust has further separated the government from any reverential thought. This isn't to say the desire to convert US citizens into nothing more than steady streams of data doesn't exist. The NSA's previous director often stated his desire to "collect it all." In the hands of the government, useful things could be done with all of this data (like possibly heading off epidemics, etc.), but the more likely outcome would be collecting for collecting's sake -- which violates the civil liberties the country was built on -- and the use of the information in abusive ways. It may work for Singapore, an extremely controlled environment. But that doesn't necessarily make it right. And it certainly shouldn't be viewed as some sort of surveillance state utopia. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Sharing is a universal concept. Or so you would think. But even a three year-old has a better grasp on the concept of sharing than Amtrak does. An Amtrak passenger uploaded a photo taken from an Amtrak car to Instagram and tagged the company. The company's Twitter account responded, asking the passenger if he'd mind "sharing" the photo with Amtrak. @nruibal We love this pic! Mind sharing with us? Click this link. http://t.co/w9uGua3JXE — Amtrak (@Amtrak) July 28, 2014 Shortly after that, the photographer responded with this: @Amtrak btw, I don't mind *giving* you this photo, but you shouldn't use the word "share" when you mean "permanently assign copyright" — Nathan Ruibal (@nruibal) July 30, 2014 If you can't read it, it says: btw, I don't mind *giving* you this photo, but you shouldn't use the word "share" when you mean "permanently assign copyright" You see, when Amtrak says "share," it actually means "take your stuff and never give it back." When this Twitter user "shared" this with Amtrak (via social media management platform Percolate/Fanbranded), he gave up everything. Here's the Terms and Agreement verbiage Amtrak translates as "sharing." This Photograph Copyright Assignment Agreement ("Agreement") is entered into by and between the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"), a corporation organized under 49 U.S.C. §24101 et seq. and the laws of the District of Columbia, with its principal office located at 60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E, Washington, DC 20002 and Photographer for the assignment of the copyright in the photograph(s) ("Photographs"), which are attached to this Agreement as Exhibit I. Grant of Rights Photographer does hereby grant, assign and transfer all right, title and interest in the Photographs to Amtrak and any registrations and copyright applications relating thereto, including any renewals and extensions thereof. Photographer agrees to execute all papers and to perform such other proper acts, as Amtrak may deem necessary or desirable to secure for Amtrak the rights herein granted, assigned and/or transferred. Attribution Amtrak may, but is not required to, identify and credit Photographer and Amtrak may use or authorize the use of Photographer’s name, likeness or pertinent biographical material in connection with the advertising and promotion of any work containing all or part of the Photographs. Entire Agreement, Modifications and Governing Law This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement and understanding between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes any prior discussion or agreements between them relating thereto. No modification or amendment to this Agreement shall be valid unless in writing and signed by both parties. This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the substantive laws, but not the laws of conflicts, of the District of Columbia. The short version: Sharing = giving away your photo for forever for exploitation solely by Amtrak, which may or may not choose to credit you for your creation and either way, you can't really demand attribution because it's no longer your photo, is it? Is it forgivable? In a word, NO. While we can expect most corporate entities to have their way with user-generated content, the most anyone should ask for is non-exclusive rights. Amtrak has no right to demand this and everyone greeted with this offer to "share" should turn it down with a hearty, "go screw yourself." But this isn't Amtrak's only dip into re-purposing the creations of others into rolling PR platforms (literally). A few months ago, it sent out the call to aspiring writers, offering finalists a free ticket to the place of their choosing provided they rode there in an Amtrak rail car and wrote something suitably inspiring. Every aspiring writer who thought viewing up to $900 of the country by rail would beat back writer's block signed up, forcing Amtrak to end its open call for submissions much earlier than it planned to. Enthusiasm outweighed common sense as every submission (over 11,000 of them) became the property of Amtrak, subject to a whole host of stipulations. In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. If Amtrak was looking for a bunch of free marketing material written by a cast of thousands, it found it. And then, it stripped away any rights the authors had to their creations, even if they weren't one of the 24 finalists. Amtrak isn't looking for talented, original writers. It's looking for some really cheap spokespeople. The Amtrak Residency’s terms and conditions, which prescribe a search for publicists, not the next great American novelist. Applications and writing samples that pass an initial evaluation will then be judged by a panel “based on the degree to which the Applicant would function as an effective spokesperson/endorser of [the] Amtrak brand.” Amtrak really needs a refresher course on sharing. Companies can be partners with creators but far too often, they seek complete control. Notably, everything defining this stripping of the creators' rights happens in the fine print. If you assume the worst about Terms and Conditions, you'll rarely be disappointed. But it takes a certain blend of audacity and forced cheerfulness to use the word "share" to describe what's going on here. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Oh, Randy Queen. If you don't recall, on Monday morning we wrote about him sending some questionable DMCA takedown requests to Tumblr, concerning the Escher Girls Tumblr account, which had posted some of his comic illustrations. Queen, the author of the Darkchylde comic, apparently did not take too kindly to Escher Girls highlighting his work. That is, perhaps, because the Escher Girls Tumblr is all about highlighting ridiculous portrayals of women in pop culture. As we noted, the original works appeared to be a perfect example of fair use -- a concept Queen apparently is unfamiliar with. Escher Girls wrote about his takedowns in a surprisingly even-handed fashion, just informing readers what was going on, but also noting it had no desire to "feud" with him. In response, Queen sent a ridiculous email threatening a bogus defamation claim based on his bizarre (and, well, very very wrong) belief that copyright gives him the right to "protect the perception" of his work. Believe it or not, that wasn't enough for Queen. Escher Girls creator Ami Angelwings informs us that he's now also sent a DMCA takedown on the original Escher Girls story about his DMCA takedowns. Tumblr hasn't taken the original down, but did (for unknown reasons) remove all of the reblogged versions of the Escher Girls post. The last URL in the image below was that Escher Girls post: At this point, Queen is actually playing with legal fire. While you could make the argument that Queen was just clueless about fair use with his original takedowns, with the takedown on the article about his takedowns he has to know that it contains nothing that is covered by his own copyright. He's blatantly abusing the DMCA to silence a critic. We've covered the mostly useless 512(f) provision of the DMCA before, but Queen might want to pay attention to it, because it lets the victims of truly abusive DMCA notices sue for damages and attorneys fees. And Queen has just made it pretty damn clear that he is abusing the process to try to silence a critic. Meanwhile, Popehat has the details of yet another email that Queen sent to Escher Girls, in which he tries out yet another insane legal theory: that this is all "harassment": So, at this point it becomes harassment. Instead of simply removing the content you do not have the right to electronically distribute, you wish to persist in character assassination, and alleged abuse of copyright claims via armchair lawyers. Let’s say I take someone’s old copyrighted photography and ‘corrected’ it for them, as well as posted disparaging comments to circulate along with what may be someone’s first exposure to the work. Guess what? I don’t have the right to do that, it’s not my content. And based on the comments in this thread, it’s an easy argument to make that it is damaging. There are people and animals suffering and dying in the world, and real human rights issues in certain countries, and this is what you take issue with? Art nearly two decades old? I think there are greater causes to champion with the limited time and energy we are given on this Earth. For anyone this may apply to – instead of taking shots at art someone did many years ago while they were still learning – which are no longer representative of their current art style or direction for their character – I encourage you to spend your time, energy, and courage on creating your own comics, and then make the necessary personal sacrifices to bring them to the world. If you think you can do better work, or have more success with it – I encourage you to do so. I promise I will never attack anything you create, and would only wish you only love and happiness. Since you enjoy posting private emails, and needlessly escalating matters, I'm sure this will be next, and would again ask you to please stop. I am sure there are more positive uses of both of our time. Sincerely, ~ R Right. So the filing of false DMCA takedown notices and bogus legal threats is not the harassment? Telling the world (in pretty damn even-handed tones) what Queen did is harassment? Queen really ought to speak to a lawyer (and maybe someone with more than two minute's experience on the internet). Also, once again, Queen seems to have no idea what fair use means. Randy Queen's version of copyright is as imaginary and as improbable as the female characters he draws. And to then jump to, as Popehat calls it, "there-are-children-starving-in-Fuckistan arguments" just adds to the layers of ridiculousness. Just a few days ago, I mentioned that one of the most ridiculous and trollish arguments is to say because you're not doing something about "totally unrelated problem" you have no right to do something about the thing you're actually addressing. At this point, Randy Queen appears to be approaching Charles Carreon-levels of absurdity, and we can only offer the same advice we suggested to him (and which an appeals court recently offered to Team Prenda): stop digging.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Just over a year ago, Techdirt reported on big pharma's application to run a new .pharmacy domain, and later on an attempt by Canadian pharmacies to prevent that happening. They failed, apparently (found via Intellectual Property Watch): As the registry operator of the new .pharmacy domain, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), under a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), will soon provide a means for identifying safe online pharmacies and resources. Under the Association’s Registry Agreement, executed with ICANN on June 19, 2014, the new .pharmacy generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) will be available only to legitimate online pharmacies and related entities located in the United States or other countries. The Registry Agreement also includes a number of safeguards intended to protect consumers around the world. The question is: what will "only available to legitimate online pharmacies" and "intended to protect consumers" mean in practice? The concern is that these are euphemisms for big pharma shutting out those competitors offering lower-cost products, particular foreign pharmacies, and manufacturers of generics. That fear is not assuaged by the following comment from the NABP in its response to such concerns (pdf) the .PHARMACY TLD will provide a powerful tool to educate consumers, distinguish legitimate Internet pharmacies from the thousands of rogue Internet drug outlets, and reinforce the value of purchasing medications only from trusted online sources. Big pharma is clearly as keen as the copyright industries to "educate" consumers about what they ought to be doing. The danger here is that such "education" will include not trusting perfectly safe pharmacies outside the US (in Canada, for example), and not using much cheaper generics. Since NABP now controls this entire domain it will have a free hand to block any outfit that does not subscribe to those views, and thus to attempt to delegitimize them in the eyes of the consumer. This is something new. Hitherto, there has been no danger of this kind of discrimination against particular classes of Internet users, since registry operators were focused on maximizing profits by getting as many domains issued as possible. That won't be the case for .pharmacy, where the aim is to police the online pharmacy world, and to protect the generous profits of big pharma -- not make a few dollars selling a domain or two. Assuming that happens, we can probably expect other industries to follow suit in creating and controlling new domains, and for the Internet to become less free and neutral. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote about Team Prenda being ordered to pay another $64k in attorneys' fees in one of its many cases. This one involved Prenda, along with Paul Hansmeier's "Alpha Law Firm" and local Minnesota lawyer Michael Dugas supposedly representing a company named Guava, suing a bunch of folks in Minnesota state court. The case had taken quite a twist when defendant Spencer Merkel revealed how he'd made a deal to take a dive in the case. That is, he'd been hit with a standard Prenda threat letter concerning "Hard Drive Productions" content, and when he told them he couldn't pay, someone from Prenda made a "deal" with him in which he'd get sued, and would agree to give up hit Bittorrent logs during discovery and then have the case dismissed. Team Prenda needed the logs to find more people to shake down, and most likely wanted to use the case as an "example" that it was okay for them to get logs through these very, very questionable lawsuits. Except, somewhere along the way the court noticed that it was a bogus lawsuit, and that resulted in the order to pay $64k. Team Prenda appealed, and... have lost again as the Minnesota state court of appeals has, like nearly every other court, seen right through the Prenda scam. We have carefully reviewed the record, and we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing attorney-fee sanctions against appellants. The district court found that appellants initiated and pursued this litigation in bad faith, that the only purpose of the litigation was “to harass and burden Non-Parties through obtaining IP addresses to pursue possible settlement rather than proceed with potentially embarrassing litigation regarding downloading pornographic movies.” This is an improper use of the judicial system. As per usual, Team Prenda throws a lot of crap at the wall, hoping something will stick. None of it does. First, they claimed -- as they always do -- a failure of due process. The court brushes that aside and shows that there was plenty of due process, even if some of it could have been slightly clearer. Next, Team Prenda claims there's not enough evidence for "bad faith." The court has no problem rejecting that one quickly: Although the record in this case was not fully developed because appellants voluntarily dismissed the underlying action before it could be considered on the merits, it includes sufficient evidence to support the district court’s finding. The evidence includes Merkel’s affidavit testimony that he received a letter from Prenda Law threatening suit on behalf of its client, Hard Drives; he made arrangements with someone named “Michael” or “Mike” at Prenda Law for an alternative settlement arrangement, including his consent to be sued in Minnesota; Prenda Law referred him to pro bono counsel; Hard Drives would dismiss the suit after Merkel provided his BitTorrent log; and he was surprised to be sued by Guava, rather than Hard Drives. The evidence also includes Morrison’s testimony that Merkel was referred to her by Hansmeier and Dugas; that she expected a lawsuit to be filed by Hard Drives, rather than Guava; and “[t]here’s been some bait and switch you might call it in this case.” And the evidence includes the facts that (a) despite repeated questioning by the district court regarding Guava’s corporate status, appellants failed to file a certificate of authority or provide any evidence regarding Guava’s incorporation, its officers, or its business operations, and (b) despite Merkel’s alleged involvement in a hacking conspiracy, appellants sought no discovery from Merkel during the pendency of the litigation. This evidence, taken together, amply supports the finding that appellants had no good-faith basis for this litigation.... Appellants assert that the district court erred by relying on the communications between Merkel and Prenda Law relating to claims by Hard Drives, arguing that there is no evidence of a connection to this action. But the district court found a connection, and there is evidence in the record to support that finding. “Michael” at Prenda Law offered to refer Merkel to Minnesota attorney, Morrison. Morrison testified that she received the referral from Hansmeier and Dugas; Hansmeier filed a notice of appearance identifying himself as “of counsel” to Prenda Law, and Dugas submitted a declaration in this matter identifying himself as the only “‘Mike or Michael’” at either Alpha Law Firm LLC or Prenda Law, Inc.” Dugas denied representing Hard Drives or being involved in the settlement agreement between Merkel and Hard Drives. But the district court rejected this assertion as incredible, and we will not disturb that credibility determination. There's a funny bit where Team Prenda tries to claim that originally the court thought the case was brought in good faith, so the later bad faith determination shouldn't count. The appeals court is, again, not impressed: We reject this argument as circular and unpersuasive. The district court’s initial determination that Guava demonstrated that the information it sought was relevant and material did not preclude it from later—on being made more fully informed of the facts—finding that appellants were acting in bad faith. Team Prenda also protested the $64k amount. But, again, their arguments fall (mostly) flat. The court basically says the amount is enough, as is the requirement that the lawyers file a $10k bond before filing any more lawsuits, but there was one procedural issue, concerning filing a Minnesota "certificate of authority" that was improperly presented in the lower court ruling, so the appeals court fixes that. It's a meaningless issue, though. Finally, Team Prenda argues that sanctions can't be applied because they had voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit already. No go: Lastly, appellants assert that the district court was precluded from awarding sanctions after the action had been voluntarily dismissed, citing such a limitation in the district court’s authority [citing laws and caselaw that say] “motions for sanctions brought after the conclusion of the trial must be rejected precisely because the offending party is unable to withdraw the improper papers or otherwise rectify the situation”). But the district court’s inherent authority to impose sanctions is not so circumscribed. See, e.g., Brickwood Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g, Inc., 369 F.3d 385, 389 n.2 (4th Cir. 2004) explaining that “failure to comply with the safe-harbor provisions would have no effect on the court’s authority to . . . impose sanctions within its inherent power”). So, once again, an appeal by Team Prenda falls totally and completely flat. And they need to pay up.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Techdirt has been writing about the dangers faced by nations that sign up to treaties containing corporate sovereignty clauses for some time now. These chapters are typically included in so-called trade agreements like TAFTA/TTIP and TPP -- although they actually go far beyond regulating trade -- but are also found elsewhere. For example the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) includes one, as Germany found to its cost when the Swedish company Vattenfall used the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism to claim €3.7 billion after the Germany state decided to phase out nuclear power stations -- thus reducing Vattenfall's future profits. Now the ECT's corporate sovereignty chapter has struck again on an even more staggering scale: In an historic arbitral award rendered on July 18, 2014, an Arbitral Tribunal sitting in The Hague under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) held unanimously that the Russian Federation breached its international obligations under the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) by destroying Yukos Oil Company and appropriating its assets. The Tribunal ordered the Russian Federation to pay damages in excess of USD 50 billion to our clients who were the majority shareholders of Yukos Oil Company. That comes from a press release issued by the lawyers acting for the Yukos shareholders, who are also doing quite nicely: The Tribunal also ordered the Russian Federation to reimburse to our clients USD 60 million in legal fees, which represents 75% of the fees incurred in these proceedings, and EUR 4.2 million in arbitration costs. Even for an oil- and gas-rich country like Russia, this is obviously a massive amount of money. A detailed and insightful post by Kavaljit Singh puts it in context: In relative terms, the compensation award is equivalent to around 11 per cent of Russia's foreign exchange reserves, 10 per cent of annual national budget and 2.5 per cent of country’s GDP. Given the magnitude of compensation, the Award could be more damaging to the Russian economy than all the economic sanctions imposed by the West against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. He goes on to point out one of the most worrying aspects of these awards by tribunals: What is most astonishing is that the arbitral tribunal has not provided any standard or credible rationale behind awarding $50 bn in compensation to claimants. The calculations of total damages put forward by claimants are based on assumptions and hard evidence is lacking. The tribunal found that the claimants contributed to 25 per cent "to the pejudice they suffered at the hands of the Russian Federation." Hence, the amount of damages to be paid by Russia is reduced by 25 per cent to $50 bn from $67 bn. In its lengthy 615-page verdict, no explanation has been given by the tribunal on how did it arrive at 25 per cent of claimants' contributory fault? Why not 30 or 40 or 50 per cent? The arbitrary nature of these awards, and the fact there seems to be literally no limit to the amount that might be awarded, are just some of the many problems afflicting investor-state dispute settlements. Singh notes another disturbing aspect of the current verdict: It needs to be emphasized here that Russia only accepted the provisional application of the ECT (pending ratification) in 1994 meaning that the country will only apply the Treaty "to the extent that such provisional application is not inconsistent with its constitution, law or regulations." Same was the approach adopted by Belarus, Iceland, Norway and Australia. Russia never ratified the ECT and announced its decision to not become a Contracting Party to it on August 20, 2009. As per the procedures laid down in the Treaty, Russia officially withdrew from the ECT with effect from October 19, 2009. Nevertheless, Russia is bound by its commitments under the ECT till October 19, 2029 because of Article 45 (3) (b) states that "In the event that a signatory terminates provisional application…any Investments made in its Area during such provisional application by Investors of other signatories shall nevertheless remain in effect with respect to those Investments for twenty years following the effective date of termination." That is, although Russia signed the treaty, it never ratified it. And yet under its terms, it can still be sued, as here -- another good reason never to sign up to these kind of agreements. Whether it will pay up is quite a different matter, of course. As Singh points out: Shareholders will soon find it extremely difficult to enforce the Award as Russia has already decided to challenge it. The shareholders could seek to seize commercial assets of Russia (owned by country's state-owned corporations and sovereign wealth funds) in 149 countries which are signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Award (popularly known the New York Convention). In any case, it is going to be a time-consuming and uphill process to enforce the tribunal Award in 149 contracting parties of New York Convention. As he writes, the enormous award against the Russian government should stand as the starkest warning yet about the dangers of entering into these kinds of agreements: Even though this Award is related to ECT, it provides important policy lessons to other countries which have already signed or currently negotiating bilateral investment treaties (that allow investor-to-state arbitration -- ISA) without any consideration of consequences and potential costs. Here's why: The existing investment protection agreements have failed to address the balance of rights and responsibilities of foreign investors as it offers numerous legal rights for investors without requiring corresponding responsibilities for them. That's a hugely important point that all those countries taking part in the negotiations for TAFTA/TTIP, TPP and CETA would do well to consider carefully -- or they may find themselves on the wrong end of $50 billion award, as Russia now does. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
A certain percentage of police officers are "bad cops," just like a certain percentage of the human race is composed of thuggish sociopaths. That's an unfortunate fact of life. Whether the percentage of bad cops is greater than the percentage in non-law enforcement positions is still open for discussion, although there's a lot about a cop's job that would attract thuggish sociopaths: power, better weapons, nearly nonexistent accountability, etc. We often ask why bad cops aren't rooted out more quickly. And the answers are depressing and numerous. Bad cops are protected by their own. Bad cops are also, unfortunately, protected by otherwise "good" cops because "bad cops" are often the most dependable of cops. In the rare cases when bad cops are cut loose from the force, the local police union usually works tirelessly to get them reinstated. But even within police departments themselves, there's little interest in rooting out the bad apples. Inside every cop shop is an Internal Affairs department. In some rare cases, these departments are effective in rooting out the worst of the force. In return for this service, they are universally reviled by the rest of the department -- even by "good" cops. And they often see their uphill battles undone by police unions or upper management. In other cases, though, Internal Affairs is just another integral part of the defensive "blue line" that shields bad cops from accountability. Among the many instances of abusive behavior uncovered by the DOJ's review of the Newark (NJ) police department (including racist behavior, stop-and-frisk abuse, intimidation and excessive force being routinely deployed) is this incredibly ugly statistic. The previous year, the American Civil Liberties Union had filed a complaint with the Justice Department accusing police of misconduct. The group provided statistics showing that only on rare occasions did the department act on complaints against officers accused of using excessive force or conducting improper searches and false arrests. In 2008 and 2009, only one complaint of 261 filed was sustained by department investigators, the ACLU found. The Justice Department review appeared to confirm that the trend continued in the ensuing years; from 2007 to 2012, just one complaint of excessive force made by civilians was sustained. One complaint sustained in five years. New Jersey US Attorney Paul Fishman blamed this on a "dysfunctional Internal Affairs department." Paul: you spelled "corrupt" wrong. The only way this happens is if Internal Affairs is in the business of clearing officers of wrongdoing, rather than investigating allegations. That's not accountability. That's aiding and abetting. The DOJ uncovered all sorts of misconduct that should have been discovered by IA and corrected by PD management. Blacks, on average, are 2½ times more likely than whites to be stopped on the street, the report found. While Newark police conducted 111 stops for every 1,000 residents among whites, it made 283 stops for every 1,000 residents for blacks — even though the likelihood of finding evidence of crime was about the same for whites as it is for blacks, the report noted… The reports also said there were "credible" complaints that police sometimes detained people in their cruisers without filing charges, calling it "a humiliating and often frightening experience." It also documented so-called "contempt of cop" arrests, a phrase used to describe people charged with a crime because they lawfully objected to police actions or were disrespectful. Finally, in a sentence that is inadvertently hilarious, the DOJ notes that the Newark PD likes to punch people until they calm down. And, the report noted, officers were quick to defuse volatile situations by using open and closed fists to the head, even though "in many cases these actions were not necessary … and seemed to be simply retaliatory." The Newark Police Department is ugly all over and Internal Affairs is as much to blame as every officer who participated in this abusive behavior. But it's not just complicit Internal Affairs departments keeping bad cops on the force. It's also people outside the department who are equally unwilling to hold officers accountable for their abusive behavior. (via Ben Swann) The Hartford state's attorney has rejected an arrest warrant submitted by Enfield police to charge one of their own officers with third-degree assault and fabricating evidence. The seven-page arrest warrant application submitted by Lt. Lawrence Curtis concluded that Officer Matthew Worden hit suspect Mark Maher with punches that "were neither necessary nor needed" during an arrest on April 1. Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy rejected the arrest warrant application late last week, concluding that although Worden's actions might violate police department rules they did not rise to the level of criminal prosecution. "Although striking Maher may have violated Enfield Police Department's use of force policies, Worden's conduct seemed to be aimed at an attempt to restrain Maher who was resisting officers' attempts to handcuff him, rather than an intention to inflict physical harm," Hardy concluded. When police departments make proactive moves to not only oust but press criminal charges against one of their own, it should be taken seriously. No one knows better just how abhorrent Officer Worden's behavior was than the Enfield Police Department. But when it tried to do the right thing and hold him accountable for his misconduct, the State's Attorney's office shut it down. And not only did it shut the arrest warrant down, it made excuses for the officer's actions. Officer Worden said Maher was "clenching his fists" and "tensing his arms" as he moved in to effect the arrest. This supposed resistant behavior led to the following: Worden told Curtis that he delivered two closed fist punches aimed at Maher's upper right arm "to disrupt the nerves and incapacitate the muscles so the arms could be controlled." Worden said Maher was thrashing on the ground after officers took him down and that "this thrashing caused one of the punches to hit Maher in the right side of his forehead above the eye," the application states. Except the booking photo shows the punches landed somewhere else, contrary to Worden's assertions. This looks like the result of a direct hit, not the "right side of the forehead above the eye." Then there's this: The application states Curtis concluded that the video did not show Maher resisting arrest and that at one point it shows Worden, while Maher is on the ground with one arm pinned behind him, stopping to adjust the glove on his right hand before delivering two of the four punches he threw. I would think someone has effectively stopped "resisting" if the apparently threatened officer has time to make sure his punching fist is gloved properly. Adding to the ridiculousness of the State's Attorney's decision is the fact that the entire incident was caught on video. The attorney's excuse for seeing/not seeing the same actions that led to the PD drawing up a warrant for Officer Worden's arrest? The arrest scene was complex, therefore: nothing to see here. In her letter rejecting the arrest warrant Hardy said the video "depicts many moving parts where it is extremely difficult to keep up with everything that is going on with all parties." "ALL parties?" Does Hardy mean all both of them? She only had two people to keep an eye on: Maher and Worden. But she makes it sound as though the altercation took place on the Coca-Cola bottling factory floor during a visit by a touring Cirque de Soleil troupe. This willingness to see the forest rather than the trees does nothing to deter future bad behavior by Worden or any other officer on the force. And it's apparent that Worden was one of Enfield PD's worst. Enfield, a department with nearly 100 sworn officers, has had 26 civilian complaints in the past four years. One-third of those were against Worden, records show. In 2013, Worden had half of the six citizen's complaints against the department. In his seven years on the force, Worden has been involved in a domestic dispute, fought with another officer, and faced multiple complaints about racist behavior or racial profiling. Notably, not a single complaint filed since 2010 has been sustained. Internal Affairs has played a part in Officer Worden's lengthy, troublesome career. But this is yet another part of the "bad cop" problem. Worden had been previously suspended and ordered to attend additional training, but those deterrents haven't worked. He's apparently still a problem for the department. So, the department made what appears to be a long overdue move and brought assault and fabricating evidence charges against one of its own -- an incredibly rare move in the world of law enforcement. And when it did, the state's attorney tossed it out because the recording was hard to follow and her office apparently doesn't feel it can win the case. But we can be 100% sure that if the situation was reversed, and the arrestee had dealt out a few punches of his own, Hardy's office would have suddenly found the recording easy to follow and clearly indicative of the citizen's guilt. The system has been rigged for so long that when a law enforcement agency tries to buck the trend by holding an officer accountable, its efforts are completely undermined by the next step in the legal process. Bad cops are here to stay. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Queuing theory is a subset of applied math that looks into the behavior of waiting in line and algorithms that optimize various aspects of this particular kind of resource allocation. Retailers of all kinds are interested in this kind of math because it can improve customer satisfaction and get more products out the door. Apple reduces long cashier lines with employees who can accept payments anywhere in its stores. Fry's Electronics has the giant single line that feeds into a massive array of cashiers (aka the serpentine line). There are self-checkout lanes at the grocery store, but there's no silver bullet to eliminate waiting in lines. Here are just a few more links on this problem of civilization. Ever pick a checkout line at the grocery store and think "I always pick the slowest lane" once you've committed to a particular cashier? The math says that the odds of picking the fastest lane are against you, so you're most likely right that you never pick the fastest line. [url] Waiting in line at Disney can be cut short with its Fastpass system, but what does Fastpass really optimize? FYI, Disney doesn't let you hire disabled kids to cut in line anymore. [url] The best system for boarding planes is not the one that most airlines use, but Southwest's boarding method does pretty well. A few studies have looked at how to board planes more efficiently, but the Jason Steffen method isn't used by any airline (and there's little incentive for most airlines to change what they're currently doing). [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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