posted 11 days ago on techdirt
When a theater chain announced plans to bring TSA-style security to the movies with bag and purse searches, it sounded stupid. But to Johan it sounded suspicious, leading to our most insightful comment this week: My guess that this is a disguised attempt at catching outside food and drink to boost concession stand sales. Just say you're looking out for customer's safety and at the same time remove the contraband twizzlers. Next, after a photographer attempted to sue over the use of his photo by a map company — despite that use perfectly adhering to the Creative Commons license he chose — Arther Moore won second place for insightful by pointing out just how counterproductive the whole ordeal was: The worst thing is the photographer wasted a perfectly good opportunity. Instead of companies seeing that his work was good enough to be used commercially, they'll now see him as someone who is willing to frivolously attack anyone who does more than look at his work. For our first editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got a comment from a photographer expanding on that point. Marcel de Jong discusses the benefits of sharing your work for free: Most of my photos are released under CC-BY, a decision I didn't take lightly. And some of them have been used in commercial settings (there's a webshop selling fridge magnets of photos of mine, and several have appeared in magazines and online articles (including one in a cracked.com article)). It just makes for a more interesting line on my resume: "Internationally published photographer" instead of "Hobbyist fool with a camera". I'd love to have one of my photos used as the cover of a book/map. I'd buy a copy of that, instantly, or at first ask if I could get one for free. Next, since it wouldn't be a week in 2015 without a story of police misbehaviour, we turn to one such example in which a woman caught an officer beating a handcuffed suspect only to have him attempt to prevent her from recording the incident. One commenter pointed out that we should all really be using software that uploads the videos to the cloud as they are shot, so that you can tell an officer there's no way to delete the recording, but Rekrul had his own idea: No, don't tell them that it's automatically backed up online. Let them think the recording is gone so that they can file their bogus report. Then once they've lied in their official statement, release the recording and prove that they lied. Over on the funny side, we surprisingly start out on that same not-so-funny story, but only because That One Guy latched on to the quote that "guns don’t belong in the hands of children" and provided a response that scored nearly as many insightful votes as it did funny ones: I actually agree wholeheartedly with this, and it's nice of them to finally admit it. Mind, a little odd that he describes the police as 'children' in his statement, but I suppose a group that regularly throws tantrums when they don't get their way does rather fit the definition. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to replace my irony meter, given it seems to have exploded for some reason. For second place, we head to the story about Jeb Bush's campaign against "creating" encryption, leading one commenter to wonder if he realizes that encryption already exists and is in heavy use around the world. In response, an anonymous commenter paraphrased his requests: "Stop making all this math guys!" For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with a response to Xerox's decision to start region-locking ink cartridges. This seemed like a terrible idea, but one anonymous commenter saw a lot of sense in it: Regional ink markets just make good sense. Ink sold in Iowa, for instance, can be sold as 'corn-based'. Markup: 25%. Ink sold in Nebraska can be sold as 'pigshit-based'. Markup: 32%. Ink sold in India can be backfilled with mercury and other cost-effective fillers and sold as 'Murican!' Markup: 13%. Zip code based micro-regions are important in areas like Washington, D.C. Ink destined for the DOJ requires the thick 'Redacto-Blend'. Markup: 325%, while ink going to Congress requires the much thinner 'printed-on-a-tissue-of-lies' blend. Markup: 600%. Yes, ink markets are important, not only for specific customer needs, or "customer needs hahahaha", but for the much more relevant 'where-are-we-going-to-get-the-money-for-our-Caribbean-conferences' requirements. Ink: because the world runs on chumps not knowing any better. Finally, we've got a nice and simple response from Baron von Robber to the folks at Ashley Madison, who are still trying to abuse the DMCA to hide the devastating data leaks: Dear Avid Life Media, I hear pissing into the wind will help too. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago Throughout these posts we've seen lots of snippets of the history of the Pirate Bay, and this week in 2010 we looked at an presentation by Peter Sunde that tells the whole story. Meanwhile, BitTorrent was beginning to directly promote creators who embrace alternative distribution, the porn industry was once again leading the way by embracing piracy and monetizing experiences, and the Kids In The Hall admitted to pirating their own show because it's so hard to get legally. Amidst all this, a popular graph was going around suggesting that the web was dying because of its dwindling share of overall traffic, with P2P and video on the rise — but the absolute numbers told a different story. Industry groups were negotiating net neutrality (again), and the recording industry saw this as an opportunity to link copyright infringement to child pornography (again). John Mellencamp was calling the internet an "atomic bomb" for music while U2's manager was focusing on anonymous blogging as the core problem. Grooveshark was still going strong, but Universal Music pushed Apple into pulling it from the app store, while we pointed to a chart that nicely illustrated the utter insanity of music licensing. Ten Years Ago Five years before that, we were pointing out that the industry has to let go of DRM before it kills mobile music, and that exclusive mobile content deals don't make any sense. We took a look at just how the DMCA came to be, and were happy to see someone finally fighting back against a RIAA lawsuit. In the world of TV, executives were finally starting to realize that they had to embrace new technologies; in the world of movies, some theaters were trying to offer a better experience while others were blaming their slumps on the simple problem of bad movies; in the video game world people were freaking out as usual about violence while we pointed out that games actually suck for indoctrination; and in the newspaper world, it wasn't exactly shocking to learn that the growth was happening online. But by far the most hyped medium was a relatively "new" one: podcasting. Also this week in 2005, Google piqued a little bit of interest with the purchase of a small, secretive startup called "Android" that wouldn't tell anyone what it was working on beyond "mobile software". We expressed doubts that this meant Google would be developing a mobile OS, as some had surmised, and suggested that it was probably something to do with location-aware search and advertising. Little did we know... Fifteen Years Ago A lot of people were expressing doubts about Amazon recently in 2000, and this week the company hit back with numbers to show it's not worried. Annother huge name at the time, RealNetworks, was rolling out a new business model that sounded a lot like premium cable. And who knew what the future would hold for these two companies...? Digital marketing was all about targeting kids this week in 2000. They were, after all, way more likely than teens to click banner ads, and schools were such a great place for advertising to a captive audience. But why stop there? The Internet Underground Music Archive offered a prize to parents who would name their baby IUMA, and it didn't take long to find the first winner. In the world of futuristic tech (some of which remains futuristic) we saw looks at quantum computing and neural networks, surgery conducted with the aid of robots, and far out musings about controlling the weather with satellites and microwaves. One-Hundred And Four Years Ago With the onslaught of people who insist on calling infringement "theft", it's easy to forget that there's also such a thing as real art theft. Perhaps the most high-profile example happened on August 21st, 1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen by a Louvre employee who believed it should be returned to its native Italy. It wouldn't be found for two years. Amusingly, this instance of real stealing had an effect not unlike the "stealing" that oh-so-terribly happens online: it led to a massive increase in the Mona Lisa's popularity. Prior to the theft, the painting wasn't really known outside the art world, but international reporting of the theft and recovery (notwithstanding a significant public-attention detour after the sinking of the Titanic in between) is what turned it into the world's most famous work of art. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
By now, you've probably heard that there's a giant robot fight coming in the near future: a US team has challenged a Japanese team to a brawl, and the challenge was accepted on the condition that it includes hand-to-hand fighting. Clearly America isn't going to back down because of this requirement, but that means Megabots Inc. needs to upgrade its Mk.II bot — and they're turning to the crowd for help. The Good Three words: giant robot fight. Picture BattleBots (it's back!) but way, way bigger and with the drivers inside the robots. Do you need more than that? Well, the specifics are pretty cool: Mk.II is already a formidable robot, but designed mostly to look awesome and deliver long-range attacks. The team has an overall $1.5-million plan to do a significant overhaul and get the Mk.II ready to take on the Japanese bot — and they're seeking the first $500,000 on Kickstarter. That'll cover new armor, melee weapons, a higher top speed, and the necessary hydraulics and power systems to keep all that operational. If they can break through the target and hit some stretch goals, things start to get even more interesting: at $750k they'll begin designing and testing modular weapons to find the best armament; at $1-million they'll begin working with the winners of a DARPA challenge to give the currently-top-heavy Mk.II advanced balancing capabilities (like the videos of self-balancing DARPA robots that get creepier every day); at $1.25-milion they'll bring in NASA safety experts to make sure the driver is completely protected (should this maybe be... higher priority?); and at $1.5-million they'll apply the icing to the cake in the form of a Hollywood-grade paint job. Even if you don't care who wins this fight, you probably want to see it happen. The Bad ...And if you do care who wins this fight (and are rooting for the US) then you should probably back this project, because at the moment there's plenty of reason to believe that the Mk.II might have bitten off more than it can chew. Its opponent — the Kuratas by Suidobashi Heavy Industry — is an extremely impressive machine. The Mk.II might be a bit heavier-duty, but the Kuratas is far more maneuverable and features some pretty advanced targeting and piloting systems. It's pretty clear why the Japanese team wanted a hand-to-hand combat component: the Kuratas hasn't been seen sporting any particularly heavy firepower (while the US bot, unsurprisingly, has) but it's not hard to picture it taking out the Mk.II up close by trumping it on manoeuvrability and balance — because, like so many robot competitions over the years, there's a good chance this one will end somewhat-disappointingly with one of the bots unceremoniously falling over. $1.5-million worth of upgrades will go a long way towards ensuring this is a fair and intense fight. The Empowering Of course, as much fun as it will be to see these robots in action, the real dream for many will be to drive one — and that's absolutely a possibility. Starting at $1000, all the tiers offer the chance to pilot the Mk.II — with higher prices bringing in the chance to try out its guns and fists. At the top tier of $10,000, you get to join the pit crew and get the inside view of the entire match including watching on-site assembly of the bot — and since all five spots were snatched up far more quickly than expected, the team has added another round of five, and three of those have already been claimed. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's amazing the kind of trouble that Carl Malamud ends up in thanks to people not understanding copyright law. The latest is that he was alerted to the fact that YouTube had taken down a video that he had uploaded, due to a copyright claim from WGBH, a public television station in Boston. The video had nothing to do with WGBH at all. It's called "Energy -- The American Experience" and was created by the US Dept. of Energy in 1974 and is quite clearly in the public domain as a government creation (and in case you're doubting it, the federal government itself lists the video as "cleared for TV." WGBH, on the other hand, has nothing whatsoever to do with that video. It appears that some clueless individual at WGBH went hunting for any videos having to do with the PBS show WGBH produces, called American Experience and just assumed that based on the title, the public domain video that Malamud uploaded, was infringing. Because that's the level of "investigation" that apparently the censorious folks at WGBH do when looking to issue takedown notices. Malamud reached out to WGBH and apparently the folks there were most unhelpful. The station's general counsel refused to apologize and simply told Carl that since "American Experience" was "unusual" to be in the title, it was okay for them to issue a bogus DMCA notice. Another lawyer , Eric Brass, told Malamud that they wouldn't be able to do anything about it until next week. Thankfully, someone at YouTube found out about all of this and restored the video so you can watch it: The video is also available at the Internet Archive. While some may argue this is no big deal because by making noise about this, Malamud was able to get the video reinstated, that's ridiculous. WGBH is a public television station that claims in its mission statement that its "commitments" include: Foster an informed and active citizenry Make knowledge and the creative life of the arts, sciences, and humanities available to the widest possible public Improve, for all people, access to public media I'm curious how issuing bogus copyright takedowns on public domain material matches with any of those "commitments." Hell, why is such a public television station worried about so-called "copyright infringement" in the first place? And, as Malamud notes, this little "accident" wasted the time of a bunch of people, and put his own YouTube channel at risk, since it initially counted as a "strike" against him. WGBH owes Malamud not just an apology, but an explanation for why this happened and what the station will do to prevent it from happening again.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Under Armour, the clothing brand built on the idea that my belly fat should be clung to by a shirt while I shoot hoops in my backyard, has built up quite a reputation for itself as a trademark bully. To go along with the fun story of its battle against Ass Armor, Under Armour is notorious for trademarking roughly all the things when it comes to sportswear and equipment, and has always had a liberal idea of just how much control the law allows it to have over the use of the word "armor." Most times, very little public attention is whipped up. But now they're picking a fight with God. In 2013, a Bible-quoting high school football champ named Terrance Jackson, upset that most of the clothing options for his 3-year-old son were covered in skulls and crossbones, decided to start his own “inspirational apparel” company with a scripture-inspired name, Armor & Glory. It recently received some major attention from America’s second-biggest sportswear empire, Under Armour, which demanded the small Maryland company change its name or face all-out legal war. “It’s trademark bullying at its finest. I’m the little kid in the group and they’re trying to kick dirt on my new shoes,” said Jackson, 37, who said the name came to him one morning, from “the full armor of God” cited in Ephesians 6:11. “When God gave this [name] to me, I never thought once about those guys. We don’t even spell it like them.” Indeed, much as Ass Armor did, Armor & Glory's name doesn't include the "u," unlike Under Armour. Which is only a minor point, actually, because the chief test here is customer confusion and brand identity, and it takes a more imaginative mind than mine to think up exactly how a company selling a few hundred shirts is going to be mistaken for the clothing company currently chasing Nike for the sportswear crown. More troubling still is the nature of Under Armour's request. The company's legal representation requested not only that all of Armor & Glory's inventory be destroyed, but that it would also have to hand over its domain, profits, and $100k in damages and attorneys' fees. That would equate to about every last dollar the company has ever made, since its 2013 inception. More interesting, for me at least, is that the company's core audience is Christian athletes wearing the gear in part due to the Christianity-inspired names and slogans. Lawyers for Under Armour have gone so far as to state that if Armor & Glory refuses to cease using the bible-inspired name, the result will be "an expensive and time-consuming legal battle." A more bullying statement is difficult to compose. But Jackson, thus far at least, isn't backing down. Why, you ask? Ed Tomlin, Jackson’s partner and a former director of football development for Under Armour (who says he left on good terms), says “it’s a matter of principle and a matter of faith.” The name, he added, “was inspired by God. … To turn our backs now would be like we were being disobedient.” How about that for a fun First Amendment test? If anything can whip up public support in a David v. Goliath legal battle, it's the injection of some honest to goodness bible-thumping. In fact, Armor & Glory has reportedly increased sales and brand-awareness due to the threat from Under Armour, making it all the more silly for the larger company to have engaged in this silly bit of bullying to begin with. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Billions of people around the world eat rice. So if rice can be made to be more healthy, the benefits could be globally significant. Sure, there are plenty of folks trying to genetically engineer better rice (eg. Golden Rice), but if you don't like GMOs for whatever reason, you're not out of luck. There are a few things that might help improve rice without messing around with rice DNA. Cooking low calorie rice can be accomplished by adding coconut oil to the water used to cook rice. The coconut oil prevents some of the resistant starches in rice from becoming digestible starches, thereby reducing the calories available to whoever eats it. [url] Arsenic content in rice can be reduced by relatively simple rinsing and cooking techniques. A coffee-pot percolation method for cooking rice could eliminate more than half of the arsenic in contaminated rice. [url] Studying the microbiome of rice could help reduce the arsenic levels in the grain and plant. Bacteria in the soil has been found to lessen the uptake of arsenic significantly -- potentially increasing food production productivity and improving food safety and chronic health conditions for the people who eat this staple daily. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We recently covered the complete absurdity that is the Santa Ana police union's legal battle to clear cops caught misbehaving (to put it lightly…) during a raid on a pot dispensary. The cops in question tore cameras out of the wall, disabled the surveillance system and then, when they thought they were "safe," made disparaging comments about a disabled woman, ate presumably pot-laced edibles, played a few rounds of darts and generally behaved like any group of miscreants would if they felt they were unobserved. Among the numerous laughable claims made in the union's effort to block recordings of these actions from being used against the cops performing these actions is that the recording itself is "illegal" as the officers had an "expectation of privacy" while performing their law enforcement duties in a public areas of a publicly-accessible business. The suit also claims the video shouldn't be used as evidence because, among other things, the police didn't know they were on camera. "All police personnel present had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded and the undercover officers, feeling that they were safe to do so, removed their masks," says the suit. First off, any expectation of privacy only arose because the officers thought they had disabled all of the cameras. In any other reasonable situation, the presence of cameras would alert both police and members of the public that any expectations of privacy were severely misguided. Surveillance cameras in businesses are the rule, not the exception. Just because these cops missed a camera doesn't make the recording "illegal," nor does it somehow grant them an expectation of privacy that logically doesn't exist. The legal action seems doomed to failure, even more so now that the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court -- whose jurisdiction includes Santa Ana, California -- has just issued an opinion, backed by Supreme Court decisions, stating that public areas of public businesses carry no expectation of privacy. This ruling sides with law enforcement over a citizen's objections -- the same thing the misbehaving cops are seeking, but completely in reverse. In this case, a motel owner (Mahesh Patel) claimed Fourth Amendment violations were committed when officers entered his business and cited him for code violations in plain view. He claimed his private business (as in private ownership) granted him an expectation of privacy that was violated by the officers' entry. Not so, says the court: As in Barlow's, the police officers entering the public areas of the Galleria Motel are entitled to observe (without a warrant) anything observable by the public. Camara and See [Supreme Court cases cited by the plaintiff] only allow a commercial property owner to manifest a reasonable expectation of privacy in his property by closing off portions of his business to the public. [...] The areas of the Galleria Motel open to the public are not within the enumerated items in the Fourth Amendment; therefore, no search occurs when police officers enter those areas. Because the complaint alleged only that police officers entered the public areas of the Galleria Motel, Patel has failed to demonstrate a reasonable expectation of privacy pursuant to Katz, rendering Camara and See inapplicable to this case. This affirms the lower court's judgment. The only allegation in the complaint (relevant to this appeal) was Patel's claim that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, holding that neither Patel nor HFS had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the areas of the Galleria Motel that were open to the public. So, for consistency's sake, if nothing else, cops can't claim to have an expectation of privacy in areas of businesses open to the public, not if the courts are going to deny the same privilege to citizens. But that's exactly what the police union's filing on behalf of the dispensary-raiding cops is trying to achieve. And, indeed, the judge presiding over the case in Orange County Superior Court has already denied the officers' request for an injunction, stating very briefly that the cops had no expectation of privacy because they were on duty at the time -- never mind everything else about cameras, California's wiretap law (which was invoked by the union) or the public areas of private businesses. The union is still free to pursue its lawsuit against the police department, but it won't be able to prevent the recordings from being used to investigate the participants of the raid. It will almost certainly appeal this decision, but there's nowhere to go with this particular argument. Even if it makes its way up the chain to the federal appeals court, the Ninth has already expressed its opinion on the privacy expectations of public places... and it used Supreme Court decisions to back its assertions up. But police unions and badly-behaving police officers are both known to explore every argument available, no matter how incredibly stupid, simply because to do otherwise is to admit wrongdoing. And there's always a chance a system designed to cut cops as much slack as possible will still somehow come through for them. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
You may remember the bizarre story we had a couple of months ago of how the city of Inglewood, California was suing a critic for copyright infringement. The critic, Joseph Teixeira, does not like Inglewood mayor James Butts. So he takes video (that the city posted online itself) of city council meetings, and adds commentary mocking the mayor. And that, the city claims, is copyright infringement. Not only that, but Inglewood spent $50,000 on a big time lawyer to try to silence Teixeira by abusing copyright law. As we explained, the whole thing was bullshit on multiple levels. First, it's the government trying to silence a critic. That's a pretty big First Amendment no-no. Second, there's no legitimate copyright claim in the videos. Third, even if there were a copyright claim in the videos (and there's not), this would easily be fair use. And, of course, then the city made it even worse -- claiming that Teixeira had altered the videos after the lawsuit to protect himself. The court asked the city to prove it, and not surprisingly the city could not. Because it wasn't true. Adam Steinbaugh, now the "new guy" at Popehat, has all the details of the beatdown the court gave the city, which you can also read directly here. Let's start with the copyright issue. Turns out, as pretty much everyone knew, you can't claim copyright over your city council meetings: The only published authority on the question of the ability of California public entities to assert copyright over works they produce holds that the City may not assert a copyright interest in the City Council Videos. In County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, 170 Cal. App. 4th 1301, 89 Cal. Rptr. 3d 374 (2009), the California Court of Appeal addressed the county’s denial of a request for a geographic information system base map it had created. The court carefully considered California law, including the CPRA and the state’s policies towards openness and accessibility of the writing of public officials and agencies. Id. at 1320 (citing Cal. Const. art. 1 § 3(b)(1) (the state constitution explicitly recognizes the “right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business” and to provide that “the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”) The court evaluated the statutory language of the CPRA and held in part that in the absence of “an affirmative grant of authority to obtain and hold copyrights” a California public entity may not do so. The court is so unimpressed with Inglewood's attempt to get around all of this that it's not even worth discussing what their reasons were. They were bad, and the city should feel bad (that it's wasting taxpayer dollars on this kind of crap). The court then notes that, even if the copyright was valid, it still would be fair use. The court doesn't even need to go this far, having correctly determined the lack of copyright, but decides to do so anyway, just in case the city is thinking of appealing. A review of the videos is sufficient for the Court to rule that the Teixeira Videos are protected by the fair use doctrine as a matter of law. The Teixeira Videos use brief portions of the larger works in order to comment on, and criticize the political activities of the City Council and its members. He uses carefully chosen portions specifically for the purposes of exercising his First Amendment rights, and in doing so, substantially transforms the purpose and content of the City Council Videos. The city's response is laughable. It's almost as if whoever wrote the argument for the city has never come across fair use before or, you know, being honest in court. The City’s contention that Teixeira is “simply republishing untransformed, copies of the Copyrighted works, and free-riding on the City’s expenses” is plainly incorrect on even the most cursory review of the Teixeira videos. The City’s claim that “[t]he facts alleged a complete lack of transformativeness” is also irrelevant given the reference by the Complaint to the videos themselves. Or how about this time, where they claim he's using too much of the videos (even though it's clear he only uses a small portion of them): The City argues that Teixeira fails to meet his supposed burden of showing that it is “essential” to make the copies for his purpose of commenting on it. The City contends that each topic area of the City Council meetings is “an independent and entire work” and Teixeira cannot show why it is necessary to copy these “entire” works. However, a review of the videos makes it clear that Teixeira has copied only the parts of the City Council Videos that serve his purpose of making comment on them, or criticizing very particular statements by Butts. This use of another’s material has been frequently recognized as protected fair use.... The City’s exceptionally narrow view of an “entire” work is without merit and contrary to the purpose of the fair use doctrine, which permits the use of reasonable quantities of a work for the purpose of criticism and comment. Oh, and then there's the bit where the city claims that Teixeira's video will harm "the market" for its videos. The court sees right through that. Not only is that a ridiculous argument (I mean, really, what's "the market" for the city of Inglewood's city council meetings?), it's also true that the city is barred by law from making money off of those videos. The City argues that the factor favors its position because Teixeira’s copying denies the City of the opportunity to “recoup its expenses” and “deprives [the City] of potential revenue.” This argument is without merit and flatly contradicted by the California law that governs the City’s creation and use of the City Council Videos. California law prevents public agencies from charging the public anything more than the “direct costs of duplication” when providing public records. Cal. Gov. Code § 6253(b)... the Legislature “specified . . . that the sole charge should be that for duplication” and specifically for “the direct cost of duplication” and not for “indirect” costs of duplication). The City therefore may only collect fees to reimburse for the direct costs of providing copies of any record it creates, including the City Council Videos. It is specifically barred by law from charging any fee to recoup the costs of original production. And it is certainly not permitted to use the City Council Videos to generate any form of revenue. There can therefore be no commercial market for the City Council Videos and no activity by Teixeira can deprive the City of any revenue. And thus, the City of Inglewood has no legal leg to stand on, not that it ever did: Having reviewed the accused videos, the Court determines that – even assuming the City has any copyright interest to assert – they are clearly protected by the fair use doctrine. Indeed, the Court can scarcely conceive of works that are more appropriately protected by the fair use doctrine and § 107 than the Teixeira Videos. He is engaged in core First Amendment speech commenting on political affairs and matters of public concern. To do so, he has taken carefully selected and short portions of significantly longer works, and embellished them with commentary and political criticism through music, his voice, and written subtitles. Even if California law allowed the City to assert a copyright claim, Teixeira’s activities plainly fall within the protections of fair use. The City accuses Teixeira of wanting “to criticize the City without doing his own work” by “posting substantially all of the full [City Council Videos] with [his] comments posted on top of them.” .... Even if the City’s characterization of the Teixeira Videos were accurate, fair use would allow such use for the purpose of commentary. All of this should make you wonder how the case got this far at all. How did the lawyer, to whom the city agreed to pay $50,000, not tell them that this would end badly? Also, what kind of city sues its critics, first of all, and then completely abuses copyright law to do so? As the LA Times noted about this case: There's something fundamentally outrageous about using tax dollars to sue a taxpayer over the use of a public record that taxpayers paid to create. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The government seems to have lost interest in finding anyone to hang for Snowden's all-access tour of the NSA's internal servers -- access that greatly aided in his absconding with a number of documents revealing the surprising extent of the agency's surveillance programs. It certainly still wants to hang Snowden -- literally, if some legislators get their way. It has, however, decided to nail one handy scapegoat to the wall. This would be the contractor who allowed Snowden to get in the door in the first place. The Register's Shaun Nichols reports that the DOJ is fining US Investigative Services (USIS) $30 million for generally being completely terrible at the one thing it's supposed to be doing: vetting applicants for sensitive government jobs. The DoJ announced on Wednesday that US Investigations Services (USIS) will give up a $30m (£19.14m) payment in exchange for settling charges that it violated the US False Claims Act by failing to properly screen applicants for government security clearances. According to the DoJ, USIS failed to properly screen federal security clearance applicants and, in some cases, submitted incomplete background check reports to the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The USIS wasn't simply mediocre. It was awful. Shortly after Snowden revealed himself as the source of the leaks, USIS was revealed to have riddled the government with security holes over most of the past decade. One contractor was caught interviewing dead people during background checks. Another singlehandedly submitted 1,600 falsified reports. Then in January of last year, the revelations got even worse. The DOJ accused USIS of faking background checks on 665,000 federal employees -- something the DOJ understatedly called "taking shortcuts." The USIS won't actually be paying this fine, however. It will instead work its debt off doing the DOJ's dishes doing the same thing it couldn't be trusted to do in the first place when it was still collecting a paycheck. Why this hasn't resulted in a permanent pink slip for the contractor is beyond me, but it does show the government's endless willingness to forgive… well, certain contractors. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We just wrote about a FOIA request where the government said there were no responsive documents, even though it had already released the very responsive document. It appears that this kind of thing is a common problem in the government -- and it doesn't seem to get solved until you sue the government. Here are two examples. First up, Gawker had sought the email communications of Hillary Clinton deputy Philippe Reines, focused on his conversations with journalists. The State Department came back with a no responsive records reply, which was clearly bullshit, since Reines was known for regularly emailing reporters. So Gawker sued and guess what just happened: the State Department just magically found 17,855 emails that are likely responsive. How about that? Next, we've got Vice, where "FOIA terrorist" Jason Leopold is employed. As you may remember, back in 2014, Ed Snowden claimed that he had made multiple attempts at raising concerns internally at the NSA. Eventually, the Director of National Intelligence released a single email between Snowden and the NSA's General Counsel, which was just asking a specific question. The NSA did hint (in a different FOIA request response) at the likelihood of there being more emails it didn't plan to release. Leopold sent a more specific FOIA request to the NSA... and was told there were "no responsive documents." And, as he's done more than basically anyone, Leopold sued. And at a hearing in that case, the government is now admitting that there are three more emails that Snowden sent to the NSA's Oversight & Compliance Office, though the DOJ claims that none of these emails were actually raising questions about NSA surveillance. It's certainly possible that, in this case, it's true that there really were no more responsive documents, but the late addition noting these three other emails, once again, suggests that when sued, the government suddenly starts finding more documents than when directly asked under FOIA.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you may have heard, yesterday there was a bit of a kerfuffle over the fact that Spotify changed its privacy policy in a way that people are calling creepy and eerie. And there's a ton of chatter on Twitter from people insisting that they'll never use Spotify again because of this. The specific changes that have people up in arms sure do sound creepy at first glance. The key problems are that Spotify's new privacy policy says that it "may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files" and that it "may also collect information about your location based on, for example, your phone’s GPS location or other forms of locating mobile devices (e.g., Bluetooth). We may also collect sensor data (e.g., data about the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit)." There's some other stuff about how it may share information with third party services. I understand, instinctively, why so many people freaked out about this -- but it's a pure overreaction for a variety of reasons, which we'll dig into here. There are problems with this whole scenario, but it has a lot more to do with (1) the stupid reliance on "privacy policies" rather than "user controls" for privacy and (2) Spotify's apparently asleep-at-the-wheel PR team. Privacy is a Trade-off Not a Thing As we've said before, if you ever want perfect privacy, you'd never leave your house. The second you leave your home, you're giving up some level of privacy. But it's a trade-off most people think is perfectly reasonable. Privacy is always like that. It's a trade-off between the benefit you get from giving up a little privacy in order to get the thing that you want. The idea that privacy is some absolute "thing" is a weird way of looking at privacy and makes it difficult to do things in a reasonable manner. The real issue, then, is making sure that people understand the trade-offs involved (and we'll get to that below). Spotify's Privacy Policy is Not that Crazy. Much of the reaction is because people immediately assumed that there was some nefarious reason why Spotify was going to collect all this information on people. Yet, as a few people pointed out when everyone started freaking out -- and which Spotify eventually clarified in a blog post "apologizing" for the poor roll out, there are legitimate service reasons for each of these requests. Also, the company made it clear that before it actually accesses any of this content, it would first ask your permission. In short, it's like when various services ask if you'd like to "find friends" using a service, you have to first approve it. Same would be true here. And, note, that each of the uses would be for services that some people might actually like (personalizing cover art, voice control, etc.): Photos: We will never access your photos without explicit permission and we will never scan or import your photo library or camera roll. If you give us permission to access photos, we will only use or access images that you specifically choose to share. Those photos would only be used in ways you choose and control – to create personalized cover art for a playlist or to change your profile image, for example. Location: We will never gather or use the location of your mobile device without your explicit permission. We would use it to help personalize recommendations or to keep you up to date about music trending in your area. And if you choose to share location information but later change your mind, you will always have the ability to stop sharing. Voice: We will never access your microphone without your permission. Many people like to use Spotify in a hands-free way, and we may build voice controls into future versions of the product that will allow you to skip tracks, or pause, or otherwise navigate the app. You will always have the ability to disable voice controls. Contacts: We will never scan or import your contacts without your permission. Spotify is a social platform and many people like to share playlists and music they discover with their friends. In the future, we may want to give you the ability to find your friends on Spotify by searching for Spotify users in your contacts if you choose to do that. The Real Problem is that We Use Privacy Policies at All For many years, we've been pointing out that this whole system of privacy policies is broken. It's one of those ideas that people came up with years ago that sounds good, but isn't. And yet, we're not only stuck with it, we have politicians who keep pushing more requirements for more privacy policies. But that's stupid. First: the only way you can legally get in trouble over privacy issues is by violating your privacy policy. So every company is incentivized by law to create privacy policies that are very broad and expansive, making it less likely they'll violate them in the first place. The only time such a broad privacy policy backfires is if the public suddenly has a viral panic about it, like this time, but that rarely happens because no one reads privacy policies. In fact, one of the worst things about privacy policies is that people simply believe if you have a privacy policy it means "oh they'll keep my info private" even if the privacy policy says "we're going to share your information with everyone." Let's face it: privacy policies are a stupid way to deal with privacy. They don't work. They fuck up incentives. No one reads them. And yet, because politicians are clueless, they're often "required." You end up with grandstanding politicians who play gotcha games on privacy policies, without caring about actual privacy practices. The Way to Deal With Privacy is MORE TRANSPARENCY and MORE USER CONTROL Rather than using privacy policies, the real way to deal with privacy is to give the end user more transparency into what's happening and more control. I don't have an iPhone, but I believe it already offers the ability at an individualized level to allow users to block apps from accessing certain features/data on a phone. And I know that the next version of Android is moving to a similar model, including only asking you to approve privacy permissions at the moment the app is requesting it. In other words, when Spotify wants to access your photos, the app will directly ask you for permission at that moment -- and, assuming it's for something you want to do (like customizing your cover art), you're more likely to grant permission without thinking it's creepy at all. The Real Problem Here Was The Perception Problem And this is something Spotify should have prepared for much better. The company probably assumed, incorrectly, that no one would really read the new privacy policy, because no one reads privacy policies. But that didn't happen. What Spotify should have done is from the beginning describe the new features it was offering -- with a direct explanation of why that feature might then require a change in the privacy policy, along with the promise that the app will ask permission directly at the time of use. Spotify eventually kind of got there, but they did it after, not before. This goes back to the "more transparency" aspect above. Do it that way, and you have less of a freakout. So, really, to everyone freaking out over Spotify's privacy policy, I understand the gut reaction reasons for doing so. Of course, at first, it seems fucked up that a music player wants to access your contacts or your location. But there are perfectly legitimate, non-nefarious reasons for doing so. And Spotify could have cut off the freakout by being more transparent and upfront about things at the beginning. But, really, the problem here is our stupid reliance on privacy policies, rather than user controls.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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People have been wondering for more than two years how it was possible that Team Prenda was still allowed to practice law. With both John Steele and Paul Hansmeier having moved on to shaking down small businesses by abusing the ADA, while still getting regularly smacked around in court, it seemed amazing that they were still practicing law. After all, it was in May of 2013 that Judge Otis Wright referred Team Prenda to their associated state bars (along with the feds and the IRS). And nothing seemed to be happening -- though, as Ken White noted, long ago, the wheels of justice "turn slowly, but make no mistake, the wheels turn." And it appears they've finally come around on John Steele. The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has just filed a humdinger of a complaint against John Steele. It's worth a read, but we'll go through some highlights below. Let's just say that the IARDC may have taken a long time to get this done, but there appears to be a good reason for that. Pretty much everything is in there -- and it must have taken quite an effort to pull it all together. It goes through the history, with Hansmeier and Steele starting a copyright trolling business, and then pretending to hand it off to Paul Duffy* but still actually running the copyright trolling business they pretended they'd left behind. There are seven counts against Steele, and if you've been following the Prenda saga, none of them will surprise you. The first count is for "Dishonest Conduct and Fraud on the Court," involving everything from Alan Cooper's fraudulent signature in the AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 cases, to pretending those cases were not connected. The complaint goes through a rather detailed blow-by-blow account of all of Steele and Hansmeier's questionable activities. And it concludes that all of the following were misconduct by Steele: bringing a proceeding without a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, by conduct including filing lawsuits without supporting facts, under the names of fictional entities, and misusing the identity of Alan Cooper, for purposes of exacting settlements, in violation of Rule 3.1 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal by conduct including failing to abide by Judge Wright’s order quashing discovery, and failing to appear as ordered at the OSC hearing, in violation of Rule 3.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; in a pretrial procedure making a frivolous discovery request(s), by conduct including filing the motions for early discovery on behalf of shell corporations in violation of Rule 3.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; in representing a client, using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass or burden a third person, or using methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person, by conduct including sending the settlement shakedown letters in violation of Rule 4.4 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, by conduct including filing lawsuits without supporting facts, under the names of fictional entities, misusing the identity of Alan Cooper as a principal of Ingenuity 13 and AF holdings, for purposes of exacting settlements, in violation of Rule 8.4(c); and conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, by conduct including failing to respond to reasonable inquiries posed by the tribunal regarding lawsuits Respondents initiated, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. So, yeah. And that's just the first count. I love the fact that the ARDC flat out calls them "settlement shakedown letters." No beating around the bush here. The second count involves the lawsuit that Alan Cooper filed against John Steele and Prenda for forging his signature and getting Cooper wrapped up in Steele's shakedown business. It turns out that Steele "settled" the case by paying Cooper $35,000. However, he, nor Duffy, ever wrapped up the fact that the lawsuit was also against Prenda Law. Apparently just last month, the court found that Prenda was in default and should pay Cooper another $5,000 for humiliation and $250,000 for punitive damages. Steele appears to have ignored basically all of that. Oops. Count number three involves Guava v. Spencer Merkel case, in which Team Prenda was once again smacked around and ordered to pay a pretty big set of attorneys' fees. If you don't recall, this particular case had some "special" features. It started with a fairly sketchy CFAA claim rather than a copyright claim (this was tap dancing, in which Steele pretended that people had "hacked" into the computer to download the videos that he himself had apparently put up). There were also claims that team Prenda would find the opposing lawyer who was actually working with them, leading one judge to flat out ask if the two sides "were in bed together." And that story was given a lot more credence when Spencer Merkel admitted that he'd agreed to "take a dive" for Team Prenda in exchange for getting off easy in Prenda's accusations against him. After running through the detailed history there, it lists the same basic "misconduct" list from the first charge, but for the Guava case. Count number four is about the Lightspeed v. Anthony Smith case (the one where Team Prenda was just last week ordered to pay another $94,000). Once again, the IARDC walks through all the details... and charts out the misconduct list again. Count number five is still about the same Lightspeed case, but this time related to "obstructing discovery and dishonest conduct." As you may recall, Steele directly reached out to falsely tell parties that subpoenas had been quashed, even though they had not been. These were subpoenas looking into whether or not Steele was lying in pleading poverty to the court to try to get out of paying yet another ruling against him. Or, hell, let's just let the IARDC tell it: On February 19, 2014, Judge Herndon entered an order denying Respondent’s motion to quash the subpoenas Smith issued in case number 12-CV-00889. Respondent learned of the order shortly after it was entered. On March 3, 2014, two weeks after Judge Herndon had denied Respondent’s motion to quash, at Respondent’s direction Paul Duffy sent a file-stamped copy of the motion to quash to JP Morgan. Paul Duffy’s actions, in sending the file-stamped motion to quash to JP Morgan after it had already been denied, were intended to mislead JP Morgan officials into believing that they did not have to respond to Smith’s subpoena because it was subject to a motion to quash. As of April 16, 2014, there was no stay in place in 12-CV-00889. On that date, Respondent Steele sent an e-mail to officials at Sabadell informing them that a stay was in place in case number 12-CV-00889. Respondent Steele’s statement was false and Respondent Steele knew it was false because he knew that a stay was not in place when he made that statement in his e-mail, and his statement that a stay was in place was intended to mislead Sabadell officials into thinking that they did not have to comply with the subpoena Sabadell had received. The misconduct here included: making a false statement of fact to a tribunal, by conduct including claiming an inability to pay the sanction awards imposed against them, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(1) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal by conduct including failing to comply with reasonable discovery requests, in violation of Rule 3.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, by conduct including obstructing discovery and misleading the court in an effort to avoid paying sanction awards imposed against them, in violation of Rule 8.4(c); and conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, by conduct including obstructing discovery and misleading the court in an effort to avoid paying sanction awards imposed against them, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. Count six is about more of the same in another Guava case -- one of the ones involving what appeared to be another Alan Cooper situation with the ever changing person "Allan Mooney"/"Alan Mooney"/"Alan Mony." This was in one of the St. Clair County CFAA cases, that sought to hide that it was really a copyright case. Again, the IARDC finds all sorts of misconduct. Finally, the seventh count involves that time when Steele (and Duffy and Prenda) sued Alan Cooper and his lawyer, Paul Godfread, (and a bunch of internet commenters) for defamation. As you may remember, Steele quickly dismissed his own direct lawsuit against them (perhaps once he realized that he had not followed the proper procedures in Florida for filing a defamation case), though the case technically filed by Prenda lived on -- and was finally tossed out a few months ago. But, as you may recall, there were some shenanigans there as well, where the original Prenda suit was filed in Illinois state court, which Cooper and Godfread removed to federal court, correctly noting that the plaintiffs were in Illinois and they were in Minnesota (which creates diversity, which allows the case to be removed). Except, Team Prenda then lied to the court, said the original complaint had not been served, and then filed an amended complaint that randomly added Paul Hansmeier's Minnesota law firm, so that there would no longer be diversity (diversity is only if there is no overlap in states between plaintiffs and defendants). Not only was this a pretty blatant (and bullshit -- since none of the already questionable statements that the suit claimed were defamatory about Hansmeier's law firm) attempt to try to get around having the case removed to federal court, it also involved lying to the court to file that amended complaint. Then there were more games, where Duffy tried to get the case sent back to the state court again, playing some more tricky games (this post is getting long enough so you can read the full story to get the details). And, yup, the IARDC was paying attention to all of that too. In the end, it's difficult to see how Steele gets out of this in a manner that will ever let him practice law again. There's a lot in there. The IARDC filing is pretty damn thorough, though it does miss a few of Steele's other adventures -- such as his infamous comedy routine in a Florida court where he was not allowed to practice law (but appeared to be doing so anyway). Also missing: the evidence suggesting that Steele himself was uploading all the videos he'd later claim were infringing. But, you know, there's plenty in there already. One wonders if something similar will show up for Hansmeier in Minnesota at some time soon. And if the federal investigations will eventually become public as well... * As a side note, Duffy, the third wheel with Hansmeier and Steele, who was the only official partner of Prenda Law, passed away last week, which explains why he's discussed throughout, but is not listed as a respondent himself.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Play your music anywhere with great sound to boot with 60% off of the Sound Step Lightning 2 Bluetooth Speaker. You can choose to play your tunes via Bluetooth, audio jack plug, a Lightning dock for iPhones or with the Soudfreaq radio app. The speaker has a dedicated sub-woofer and a USB port for charging your device while it plays. You can control everything from your device or directly on the speaker, or with a handy remote control. At around 3 pounds, this little speaker can pack a big sonic punch at your bbqs, tailgates, around the house and more. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few years back, we did a deep dive into the actual numbers for how the entertainment industry had been faring in the post-Napster era, and found that, contrary to the doom and gloom stories the legacy entertainment industry has been stating, the sky was rising, not falling. Since then, we've continued to release updated versions of our Sky is Rising reports, which continue to show the same basic thing: more creative output than ever before in history, more people creating content than ever before in history, more people making money as content creators than ever before in history and more money being spent on content than ever before in history. In other words, the whole idea that the internet and file sharing somehow killed the entertainment industry is complete bunk. It appears that people are finally starting to notice. Steven Johnson, who has written some fantastic books over the years (and built a few startups) has a thorough and detailed piece in this weekend's NY Times magazine, basically making the exact same point that we made in our Sky is Rising reports, going through a lot of the same data. He calls it "The Creative Apocalypse that Wasn't (which is perhaps more catchy than our title). The short version: things are really, really good for creative content. He starts with musicians: What do these data sets have to tell us about musicians in particular? According to the O.E.S., in 1999 there were nearly 53,000 Americans who considered their primary occupation to be that of a musician, a music director or a composer; in 2014, more than 60,000 people were employed writing, singing or playing music. That’s a rise of 15 percent, compared with overall job-­market growth during that period of about 6 percent. The number of self-­employed musicians grew at an even faster rate: There were 45 percent more independent musicians in 2014 than in 2001. (Self-­employed writers, by contrast, grew by 20 percent over that period.) Of course, Baudelaire would have filed his tax forms as self-­employed, too; that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also destitute. Could the surge in musicians be accompanied by a parallel expansion in the number of broke musicians? The income data suggests that this just isn’t true. According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-­employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-­Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves. Somehow the turbulence of the last 15 years seems to have created an economy in which more people than ever are writing and performing songs for a living. And, as we saw in our report, it's not just in music that this is happening. The O.E.S. numbers show that writers and actors each saw their income increase by about 50 percent, well above the national average. According to the Association of American Publishers, total revenues in the fiction and nonfiction book industry were up 17 percent from 2008 to 2014, following the introduction of the Kindle in late 2007. Global television revenues have been projected to grow by 24 percent from 2012 to 2017. For actors and directors and screenwriters, the explosion of long-form television narratives has created a huge number of job opportunities. (Economic Modeling Specialists International reports that the number of self-­employed actors has grown by 45 percent since 2001.) If you were a television actor looking for work on a multiseason drama or comedy in 2001, there were only a handful of potential employers: the big four networks and HBO and Showtime. Today there are Netflix, Amazon, AMC, Syfy, FX and many others. Ah, but some will respond, all this new content is mostly crap. Well, there have been some attempts to look into that as well, which found the opposite. The flood of content has actually created more absolute great content (and, yes, more crappy content with it, but it's easy to ignore). In other words, more content across the spectrum, catering to more tastes. Johnson's research found something similar. He points out that basically everyone agrees that TV is better now than in the past, so there's little argument there. And he presents some evidence of great new films, though they're often financed through different and independent means, rather than the big Hollywood studios. How about books? The one thing that he finds is that the data there is mixed, but he finds it noteworthy that while big chain bookstores have been falling by the wayside, indie bookstores are thriving. This would be even more troubling if independent bookstores — traditional champions of the literary novel and thoughtful nonfiction — were on life support. But contrary to all expectations, these stores have been thriving. After hitting a low in 2007, decimated not only by the Internet but also by the rise of big-box chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores have been growing at a steady clip, with their number up 35 percent (from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,227 in 2015); by many reports, 2014 was their most financially successful year in recent memory. Indie bookstores account for only about 10 percent of overall book sales, but they have a vastly disproportionate impact on the sale of the creative midlist books that are so vital to the health of the culture. Johnson concludes the piece by looking at why this has happened, and why the fear mongering and doom and gloom of the RIAAs, MPAAs, Authors Guilds of the world, and the politicians who often repeat their talking points, were all completely wrong. He points out that while content may now be easier for users to access, that also means people get exposed to a lot more -- and there are many new ways to pay for it as well. Also, perhaps more importantly, without the need to hand over so much money to gatekeepers (who like to take pretty much everything), the ability to go direct, and leverage various platforms, means that even if a particular artist is grossing less revenue, they're keeping more. And, further, as the tools of production have gotten cheaper, the upfront capital costs of creating, promoting and distributing content has dropped massively. It's a worthwhile read, though it won't be surprising if you've read our reports. However, hopefully, with this appearing in the NY Times, it means this concept is finally going mainstream.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a few times now about the leak of data from Ashley Madison, the "dating site for people who want to cheat on their spouses," mostly discussing the company's bizarre infatuation with abusing copyright law to try to take down anyone posting content from the leak. We haven't taken part in any of the stories about naming and shaming individuals who have been found in the database (or just where they might work). As a lot of people have been noting (thankfully) in their stories, for no clear reason, Avid Life Media (the company that owns Ashley Madison) doesn't do email verification. That means anyone can create an account using anyone else's email address. In fact, last month, reporter Farai Chideya noted that someone had created an account using her email. And, apparently, someone thought it would be funny to do the same to me. Yesterday afternoon, I got a message telling me "Welcome to Day 1 of your Ashley Madison Experience." Someone using my email signed me up, using the rather creative account name "masnicator." I'm kinda surprised that Ashley Madison is still even allowing online signups (let alone not using an email verification system, or for that matter even keeping the site up at all). But, perhaps even more ridiculous is that in the "welcome" email, it highlights how the service is "100% Secure." Perhaps even more amusing is that just three minutes after this fake registration, I also got a fake message from someone. And, no, I'm not going to see what the message is, nor even let the image show up (not even for journalistic curiosity). But this certainly adds that much more support to the theory that the site regularly used fake profiles and fake come ons to get men to pay up. As if anyone is (1) still using the site at all and (2) going to respond to an obviously bogus account three minutes after it's created. As if to hammer home just how bogus the whole thing is, the site sent me another email just a few hours later, claiming that it was showing me new people who had just signed up near me. Of course, if anyone is actually "signing up" now, I'm guessing it's for the same reason that someone signed me up: to mess with people or to joke around. Not sure why whoever did this did this, though, I guess thanks for the story?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Thanks to a string of theater-related tragedies, going to the theater is about to become as enjoyable as going to the airport. Following two recent deadly incidents at movie theatres in the US, the Regal Entertainment Group – the nation’s largest movie theater chain – this week added a bag and purse check policy as a security measure in some of the 569 theaters it operates. “Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America. Regal Entertainment Group wants our customers and staff to feel comfortable and safe when visiting or working in our theatres,” the chain said in a statement. This may sound like a harmless bit of "doing something" in response to a few tragic incidents, but there's nothing really harmless about it. First off, it subjects everyone to the same level of scrutiny -- provided they're carrying a bag of some sort. If you have a purse or backpack or (god forbid) a fanny pack, you're a potential threat. Everyone else? Free to go. Weapons tucked into waistbands or shoved into pockets will go undetected. And, like the TSA its emulating, the security measures will be easily thwarted and ultimately useless. For every weapon the TSA brags about seizing, many more end up on planes. A recent audit of the TSA's security efforts found it missed 95% of smuggled weapons and explosives. Anyone thinking Regal's security force is going to be better trained and more thorough than the TSA is kidding themselves. Like the TSA's efforts, this will give moviegoers the illusion of safety, rather than actual safety. An illusion might be comforting enough for most moviegoers and it's all Regal can actually offer. This move is more about PR than reality. According to a new survey conducted by consumer research film C4, following the Nashville incident, 48% of moviegoers are willing to pay $1 or more per ticket for the additional measures. Nineteen per cent of respondents said they would pay $3 or more. And I'm sure Regal will be more than happy to take $1-3 more from every moviegoer in exchange for a hassling a few moviegoers. But Regal's move -- while good-intentioned -- is ill-advised. Offering your customers mostly-theoretical protection places responsibility for any future shootings almost solely on each individual theater. Now, if anyone shoots up a theater, Regal will very likely be successfully targeted in wrongful death suits. After all, it instituted additional measures to prevent further shootings... and then failed to prevent a shooting from happening. The additional measures seem unlikely to dissuade anyone but the most easily-deterred shooters from following through with their plans. In exchange for little more than a temporary bump in goodwill, Regal is assuming a great deal of liability. And given what we know about the most recent theater shootings, a bag check wouldn't have stopped anything. James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 70 in Aurora, CO, stashed his weapons in his vehicle. The shooter in Louisiana may have had a backpack (reports are inconclusive), but it wasn't on or near him when police got to him, and a controlled detonation later proved there was nothing harmful inside it. The shooter at the Antioch, TN theater was carrying two backpacks -- one of which was strapped across his chest. When police engaged him, he was also wearing a surgical mask. Most of what was in his bags weren't actually weapons, though. Pepper spray, a hatchet and an Airsoft gun were used in the theater attack. Only one of these is an actual weapon, and Regal's new policy doesn't make it clear what will happen to those who bring in legal items that aren't weapons but the theater decides could be deployed as one. This focus on bags also makes it clear to potential attackers that security will be looking out for one thing -- backpacks and bags. Avoiding scrutiny simply means not doing that one thing. So, while some moviegoers will be comforted by this security charade being performed on their behalf, many more will be irritated that attending a movie will be nearly as annoying as boarding a plane. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We knew this day was coming. Ever since the EU decided something called the "right to be forgotten" existed, and that Google (mainly) would be tasked with the "forgetting," the descent into an Inception-esque state of forgetting about forgetting about the forgotten was the illogical next step forward. Google has been ordered by the Information Commissioner’s office to remove nine links to current news stories about older reports which themselves were removed from search results under the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling. The search engine had previously removed links relating to a 10 year-old criminal offence by an individual after requests made under the right to be forgotten ruling. Removal of those links from Google’s search results for the claimant’s name spurred new news posts detailing the removals, which were then indexed by Google’s search engine. Google refused to remove links to these later news posts, which included details of the original criminal offence, despite them forming part of search results for the claimant’s name, arguing that they are an essential part of a recent news story and in the public interest. As everyone should have known, forcing a state of forgetfulness more often results in the opposite happening. All Ms. Streisand wanted was for people to stop looking at her house. Now, more than a decade later, many internet denizens can conjure up a mental image of her coastline mansion with minimal effort. Now, when journalists are informed that certain stories need to be "forgotten," they're obviously going to write about it. And with good reason. A stupid decision by the European Union basically gives almost anyone the right to vanish away facts about their past misdeeds. And journalists are going to be righteously angered that past reporting on factual events just has to "go away." So, they report on the requests. And now those hoping to erase the past are condemned to repeat it. Not fair, says the ICO. Henceforth, more stupidity. The UK's Information Commission (ICO) seems to know what it's asking is basically a futile gesture with one foot firmly planted in the realm of impossibility, but it's going to ask for it all the same. [Deputy Commissioner David] Smith said: “Let’s be clear. We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.” See? It's so easy. This can all be fixed just by ensuring complainants don't find anything they don't like when using their own name as a search term. There are no specific instructions for Google to follow other than to delist any requested article discussing Google delistings in response to "right to be forgotten" requests. Obviously, this decision will only result in more articles about requesters and their requests, which will populate search results, leading to more requests to be forgotten, followed by more directives by the various European government bodies, reaching the point where Google will be asked to remove links to articles discussing the removal of links to articles discussing removed links. Repeat until nauseated. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
The DOJ has released its inaugural report on use of subpoenas to obtain information from "media sources." This is part of former Attorney General Eric Holder's nod to transparency -- a nod he gave shortly before leaving office. We'll have to watch this space in 2016 to see if it will actually become an "annual" report. (And if it is, we'll also have to watch this space to see if Reason and Popehat are considered by the DOJ to be "media sources" after tangling with both over the discussion of federal judges and woodchippers.) That being said, there's some interesting information in here, including the DOJ's hassling of the New York Times. In connection with the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who was charged with, and convicted of, offenses related to his unauthorized disclosure of national security information, the Attorney General authorized the Criminal Division and the USAO for the Eastern District of Virginia to issue a subpoena to New York Times reporter James Risen. The authorization was limited to eliciting testimony at trial and/or pretrial hearings confirming (1) that Risen has a confidentiality agreement with a particular source, (2) that Risen authored a particular chapter in his book State of War, (3) that statements attributed to an unnamed source were, in fact, made by an unnamed source, (4) that statements attributed to an identified source were, in fact, made by an identified source, and (5) the existence of a prior non-confidential reporter-source relationship with Sterling. [...] The subpoena was issued, and Risen testified at a pretrial hearing. He was not called to testify at trial. That last sentence is particularly interesting as it pretty much glosses over the DOJ's about face on Risen's testimony. It pushed hard to force Risen to testify in hopes of getting him to reveal his confidential source. Risen did testify (pre-trial) but refused to disclose his source's identity. The DOJ then decided that if it wasn't able to get what it wanted from him, then neither should anyone else. It moved to declare Risen an "unavailable witness," in hopes of blocking the defense from using any testimony he would provide against the government. In the DOJ's retelling of the event, its fruitless struggle to obtain information and its subsequent attempt to block further testimony from Risen is reduced to a very short and very neutral sentence: "He was not called to testify." Of additonal bemusement is the DOJ's interest in determining whether Risen's "unnamed source" was actually an "unnamed source." It appears the government believes it should be the sole provider of "unnamed sources," and then only when such statements deliver the government's unofficial official positions. The DOJ also tried to compel an unnamed "television news producer" to testify on inflammatory statements made to him by convicted terrorist Khalid al Fawwaz. Although the "transparency" report doesn't name the source targeted by the subpoena, the information the DOJ remains coy about is already in the public domain, as Britain Eakin of Courthouse News Service points out. Media reports last year identified the witness in question as "60 Minutes" news producer Richard Bonin. The DOJ says it wanted the producer to testify about anti-American and anti-Semitic statements al-Fawwaz made to him, but that prosecutors ultimately decided not to issue the subpoena when the producer said he would contest it. Other items listed are more run-of-the-mill, including the subpoenaing of media footage of the 2013 Boston Marathon finish line, as well as other footage/recordings of interest to criminal prosecutions. Subpoenas were also issued to media entities to obtain information related to the DOJ's investigation of these entities for antitrust violations and a "tax-related prosecution." The government's insatiable desire for redundancy is also on display in the three-page report. In connection with the prosecution of Roger Key for conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, attempted murder-for-hire, and aiding and abetting the unlawful discharge of a firearm. the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York authorized the issuance of a subpoena to a news media entity for the broadcast footage of, and script for, a report concerning a related murder. The news media entity expressly agreed to provide the requested recordings in response to a subpoena. So far, so good. But... Ultimately, the news media entity failed to respond to the subpoena. That sucks, except… [W]hile the subpoena was pending, the USAO negotiated with the defense a stipulation regarding the admissibility of the publicly broadcast report. Yes, the DOJ subpoenaed a publicly-broadcast news report. I would guess the media entity decided not to respond because the information sought was already publicly available. The DOJ's move to obtain a stipulation while the subpoena was still pending suggests someone involved realized this paperwork was unnecessary to achieve its aims. The report may be brief, light on specifics (some of it due to ongoing prosecutions) and occasionally needlessly opaque (not identifying Robert Bonin, etc.), but it does retain one distinct advantage over all previous DOJ subpoena reports: this one actually exists! Here's to next year's annual report, which will hopefully give us a look at the DOJ's investigation of comment thread bombast and hyperbole. 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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
We've mentioned some interesting ways to rest in peace before -- turning your body into diamonds or sending your ashes into orbit. It may be a bit morbid, but some space fans really want to get off this planet even after they've died. If you want to leave this world (after death), you can get a ticket on more than one kind of spacecraft headed off beyond the Earth. A startup called Elysium Space will launch your ashes into space -- and even get cremated remains to the moon. The first 50 buyers will get an early bird price of $9,950 to go to the moon, and after that, it'll set you back $11,950. Just burning up in orbit (aka the Shooting Star option) costs just $1,990. [url] The ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the guy who discovered Pluto, are flying out of our solar system into deep space. Tombaugh's remains (just an ounce) were packed on NASA's New Horizons probe to investigate Pluto, along with a few other trinkets. That spacecraft is coasting beyond Pluto now, making Tombaugh the human body that's traveled the farthest. [url] The ashes of Gene Roddenberry and his wife -- as well as Arthur C. Clarke and James Doohan -- were planned to be put into deep space, too. However, the Sunjammer mission was cancelled, so their ride on a solar sail spacecraft might have to wait. Celestis, the company behind this space memorial, has sent some of these ashes into space before, so it'll probably try again on another mission (or if Sunjammer is revived). [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Back in April of this year, Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser sided with the city's law enforcement against transparency and accountability. The mayor promised to outfit officers with body cams in the wake of several, high-profile police-involved shootings. But two weeks after this promise in her State of the District speech, Bowser tucked a provision into a budget bill that would exempt the footage from public records requests. Supposedly, this was done in the interests of "privacy," but the blanket exception just meant local law enforcement would never feel compelled to hand over less-than-flattering footage. Bad news, to be sure, but only a few months later and Mayor Bowser has completely reversed course. Police in the nation’s capital would release more footage from body cameras than in any other major U.S. city under a plan from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser that reverses her previous opposition to making such videos public. Bowser’s proposal, which has the potential to shed light on thousands of recorded interactions between police and the public, would allow private citizens to obtain copies of video recorded on street corners, during traffic stops and elsewhere outdoors. There will still be some exemptions. Anything recorded in a private residence would be limited to court proceedings and footage of traffic stops resulting in no arrests or citations will be heavily redacted to prevent the inadvertent release of personal information. The reason for Bowser's change of heart? Police officers just kept right on killing people. In a statement to The Post, Bowser cited continued police shootings over the past year as a reason for the change, saying the tide has tilted in favor of greater disclosure even as governments must strike a balance between privacy and transparency. The balance has been tipped back in favor of the public, thanks to the actions of law enforcement. In addition to making most camera footage responsive to public records requests, DC citizens will also be allowed to view footage of incidents they're involved in by heading to their local police station within 90 days of the event. Access to all footage will be granted to researchers studying the effects of body-worn cameras. DC cops who thought their videotaped misconduct would be stashed away from the prying eyes of the public aren't going to be thrilled with this reversal. And they have no one to blame but their colleagues. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in April, USA Today had a detailed report on a massive DEA phone records surveillance program that pre-dated 9/11 (and the NSA's similar phone records mass collection). The DOJ put an end to the DEA's program after the Snowden revelations when it realized that the government's own defense of why the NSA program was legal would conflict with the DEA program. Specifically, it kept trotting out "terorrism" and "national security" but that didn't apply to the DEA's program, which was actually used much more widely than the NSA's (according to the report, the DEA searched the database as many times in a day as the NSA did in a year). However, a day after this report, Human Rights Watch, represented by the EFF, sued the DEA over the program -- citing both the First and Fourth Amendment as being violated. As expected, the DEA pulled out the usual defenses to try to get the lawsuit dismissed, including arguing that without direct evidence of surveillance on Human Rights Watch, the organization had no standing. Those arguments were given much more credence by the courts in the pre-Snowden era, but lately the courts have been much more skeptical. And, thus, the district court has (somewhat, narrowly) rejected this argument by the DEA and allowed the EFF to move forward with a bit of discovery, which hopefully will enable it to find out at least some details of the surveillance program. More specifically, the court ruling by Judge Philip Guitierrez says that HRW has enough standing on the 4th Amendment question, but not on the 1st Amendment question. Specifically, on the 4th Amendment issue, the court finds HRW's claims to be entirely plausible, which is enough to allow discovery. First, the Government argues that HRW has not pled that it suffered an injury in fact as a result of the Mass Surveillance Program because HRW has not plausibly alleged that its call records were ever collected pursuant to this Program.... The Government contends that HRW’s allegation that “Defendants obtained records of HRW’s communications to the Designated Countries as part of the Mass Surveillance Program,” ..., is insufficient because it lacks supporting factual allegations that render the claim plausible, rather than merely possible.... For example, the Government highlights that the Complaint and the attached Patterson Declaration do not identify the specific U.S. telecommunications companies that received administrative subpoenas under the Program or a time period during which the Government requested and collected call information.... The Court acknowledges that the Complaint does not contain such particularized pleadings as: HRW staff called individuals in Iran using Verizon lines in 2012; the Government issued subpoenas to Verizon for all 2012 Iranian call data; Verizon produced all 2012 Iranian call data to the Government; the Government obtained HRW’s 2012 Iranian call data. However, HRW’s allegation that the Government collected records of its communications to designated foreign countries pursuant to the Mass Surveillance Program is supported by some specific factual allegations that render this allegation plausible, rather than merely possible. The Patterson Declaration states that the Government compiled a database “consisting of telecommunications metadata obtained from United States telecommunications service providers pursuant to administrative subpoenas served upon the service providers under the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 876.” ... The metadata “related to international phone calls originating in the United Sates and calling [] designated foreign countries, one of which was Iran, that were determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities.” ... The database could then “be used to query a telephone number where federal law enforcement officials had a reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number at issue was related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation.” ... From these factual representations, HRW alleges that the program collected call records for “all, or substantially all” telephone calls originating in the United States and terminating in the “designated countries” since at least 2011.... This allegation that “all, or substantially all” of these calls were collected necessarily embraces the more specific factual allegation that the Government issued subpoenas to all, or substantially all U.S. telecommunications companies to collect these calls.... Moreover, HRW’s allegation that the Government collected call data on “all, or substantially all” calls is plausible. First, the Patterson Declaration did not contain language indicating that the Government targeted only some U.S. telecommunications providers, instead it stated broadly that metadata was “obtained from United States telecommunications service providers.”... Further, because the only criteria for collection were the involvement of certain initiating and receiving countries and the Program’s aim was to create a broad database for criminal investigation queries, it is not implausible that subpoenas would be issued to all U.S. telecommunications companies requesting all qualifying data so that the Government could compile a complete database to better serve the investigative query purpose. And thus: In light of the plausible allegation that nearly all such calls were collected pursuant to the Program, the pled facts regarding HRW’s telephone practices support the ultimate allegation that the Government did collect HRW’s call data, as directly alleged in the Complaint. The government also argued that since the program is over, there's nothing to fight over any way, and there's no standing to seek an injunction since there's nothing to stop. However, the court finds that because the government has not said it destroyed the data, there is at least enough of a reason to move forward to determine if the government retained the data. Standing over the First Amendment claim is rejected, however, because the complaint did not claim a concrete injury: The Court does not reach the legal sufficiency of this claimed injury because HRW has not alleged this First Amendment injury with factual sufficiency. Injury in fact requires a harm that is “‘concrete’ and ‘actual or imminent,’ not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical.’”... HRW does not provide any factual allegations that indicate that HRW’s chilled communication concern is actual and imminent rather than conjectural. For example, HRW does not allege that any of its contacts know about the Mass Surveillance Program or that they have ever refused to communicate with HRW due to the Government’s retention of collected telephone metadata pursuant to a Program that has been occurring for years. Without alleging any specific supporting facts, HRW’s statement that its “ability to effectively communicate with people inside the Designated Countries” has been burdened is a conclusory allegation that the Court does not accept. Moreover, the allegation that HRW “cannot assure its associates abroad that their communications records will not be shared” is implausible in light of the Patterson Declaration’s attestation that the Government is not currently using or querying the collected information. Still, the win on standing over the 4th Amendment issue is important, and it will allow discovery to move forward -- but in a fairly limited way, focused on determining if the government did, in fact, retain the records. The Court agrees that some limited discovery directed toward the Government is warranted because such discovery could possibly provide HRW with jurisdictional evidence suggesting that the Government still possesses HRW’s call records in some form. Accordingly, the Court will allow HRW the opportunity to conduct limited discovery on this issue. [....] The Court limits the interrogatory topics to the following issues: (1) whether the Government retains call records in repositories other than the purged database; and (2) whether the Government retains Program call records in derivative forms. Accordingly, the Court orders that HRW is permitted to serve no more than five interrogatories on the Government regarding these two issues. This is fairly narrow, and it's entirely possible that the government may now try to get out of this whole case by simply saying that it has purged all those records. However, at the very least, as the EFF notes, it will let the world know whether or not the government has kept all those phone records.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Asset forfeiture finally found its way into the mainstream after years of coverage by media outsiders. The sudden increase in negative attention brought about some needed reform efforts. The DOJ issued new guidelines on civil asset forfeiture, as did the IRS, which announced it would no longer pursue seizure of funds under "structuring" statutes unless there was evidence the money came from criminal sources. One of the victims of the IRS's bogus "structuring" seizures (made pre-policy shift) is Randy Sowers, a dairy farmer who had $63,000 seized by the agency in 2012. The cash came from sales made at local farmers' markets, but the IRS viewed it as a criminal act simply because Sowers never topped the magical $10,000 mark with his deposits. The Sowers were "working" with the IRS to have the funds returned (this implies a modicum of due process that doesn't actually exist in civil forfeiture). Then Randy Sowers almost screwed things up, as Melissa Quinn of the Daily Caller reports. While the couple was in the midst of settlement negotiations with the government, hoping to have most of their money returned, Randy Sowers spoke with a reporter from The City Paper in Baltimore, Md., about his experience with structuring and civil asset forfeiture. On the day the article was published, Stefan Cassella, the assistant U.S. attorney overseeing Sowers’ structuring case, told the family’s lawyer he had a “problem” and was no longer willing to negotiate a settlement amount, according to court filings. This attitude seems to be common to IRS prosecutors. They don't mind taking your money for the flimsiest of reasons and they don't mind fighting you every step of the way should you choose to challenge the seizure, but goddamn if it doesn't piss them off if you decide to discuss your situation in public. If you'll recall, another victim of a bogus structuring seizure took his case (mostly anonymously) to a Congressional hearing. The prosecutor in that case reacted just as badly to the public airing of IRS-related grievances. He sent a letter to the Institute of Justice (which is representing the convenience store owner who had $107,000 seized by the IRS) that basically stated any publicity resulting from this would only harm this person's case. Because vindictiveness. I do not know who did that, and I am accusing no one, but it was not from our office and could only have come from your clients. That was certainly not my intent in making this available. Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case… Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn't help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. The prosecutor then offered a take-it-or-leave-it deal of 50% of the seized cash back. C-store owner Lyndon McLellan chose the latter. Sowers, however, did eventually settle with the IRS, receiving (coincidence?!) half of the seized funds. Why settle when you're clearly in the right? Because it's tough to run a business when your liquid assets have suddenly vanished. Half is better than nothing, especially if you want to remain solvent. Now, he wants the other half. And he's brought backup. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee is coming together to ask the Treasury Department to return nearly $30,000 it seized from Maryland dairy farmers in 2012. The letter, sent August 11 to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, calls on the agency to return $29,500 the Internal Revenue Service seized from Frederick-based dairy farmers Randy and Karen Sowers through civil asset forfeiture. The lawmakers also asked Lew to review similar cases and return money seized by the tax agency under the practice. The letter reminds the Treasury Department that the seizure program is in place to stop money laundering, drug trafficking and disrupt the funding of terrorist organizations. It is not just a quick and dirty way for the government to take money from cash-heavy businesses who frequently deposit cash in sub-$10,000 quantities. In many of these cases, it appears business owners have received bad advice from well-meaning family members or friends. In other cases, the bad advice comes from the bank employees themselves. What doesn't appear to be integral to these disputed cases is any link to criminal activity. A very long petition for the return of the money has been lodged with the DOJ. It points out that under the agency's current rules, the sort of seizure they've experienced would not even be initiated. It also points out that the couple was apologized to by several members of the Congressional committee and the IRS Commissioner himself. And yet, the Treasury Department refuses to cede any ground on the other half of the Sowers' funds. Hopefully, a three-page letter from a bunch of legislators will compel the return of the Sowers' money -- something their 209-page complaint has yet to accomplish. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
We're starting a new feature here at Techdirt, in which each week we'll promote a book -- either new or old -- that we think our audience really might enjoy reading. For a while now, we've had an Amazon widget over in the right-hand column, and all of the books we discuss here will be added to that widget, if they're not there already. And, yes, if you buy via our link to Amazon, we'll get a cut of that, so you'd be supporting Techdirt in addition to getting great and thought-provoking books to read. This week, the book of choice is The Internet Of Garbage by Sarah Jeong. You may already know Sarah from her prolific and entertaining Twitter feed or from her (sadly, apparently now defunct) hilariously funny email newsletter about intellectual property issues, 5 Useful Articles (which she did with Parker Higgins). Sarah has recently joined Vice, where she's a contributing editor to Motherboard. Sarah was also kind enough to participate in our Copia Institute inaugural summit, where she spoke on many of the topics raised in the book. Given the title, some seem to be assuming that the book is a polemic against "bad stuff" online, following the standard pattern of such books that discuss how awful the internet is and then moralize about how it needs to be cleaned up. This book is different, much more nuanced and well worth reading. You probably won't agree with everything, but it will at least get you thinking about the way the internet works today, how harassment is a legitimate problem for a lot of people -- but also how the knee-jerk reactions to it aren't always that helpful either. If you want a sample, I recommend reading this excerpt about how we shouldn't be abusing copyright laws to censor content. Here's just a bit to whet your appetite: When people are harassed on the Internet, the instinctive feeling for those targeted is that the Internet is out of control and must be reined in. The most prominent and broad regulation of the Internet is through copyright, as publicized in the thousands of lawsuits that RIAA launched against individual downloaders, the subpoenas the RIAA issued to the ISPs to unmask downloaders, and the RIAA and MPAA’s massive lawsuits against the Napsters, Groksters, and even YouTubes of the world. In our mass cultural consciousness, we have absorbed the overall success of the RIAA and the MPAA in these suits, and have come to believe that this is how one successfully manages to reach through a computer screen and punch someone else in the face. Online harassment, amplified on axes of gender identity, race, and sexual orientation, is an issue of social oppression that is being sucked into a policy arena that was prepped and primed by the RIAA in the early 2000s. The censorship of the early Internet has revolved around copyright enforcement, rather than the safety of vulnerable Internet users. And so we now tackle the issue of gendered harassment in a time where people understand policing the Internet chiefly as a matter of content identification and removal—and most dramatically, by unmasking users and hounding them through the courts. Yet an anti-harassment strategy that models itself after Internet copyright enforcement is bound to fail. Although the penalties for copyright infringement are massive (for example, statutory damages for downloading a single song can be up to $150,000), and although the music and movie industries are well-moneyed and well-lawyered, downloading and file-sharing continues. The book is well worth reading (and setting aside whatever per-conceived notions you might have about it before jumping in). It notes that nearly everyone instinctively recognizes that some forms of content moderation (e.g., spam filtering) are perfectly reasonable and also that harassment online is both very real and very damaging. But it doesn't immediately resort to ideas that we need to just start deleting "bad" content. It suggests that there are more ways to deal with such behavior than just the single broad tool of content blocking, and that various sites should be a lot more deliberate in understanding all of the options and possibilities (and exactly what those sites are trying to achieve) before jumping willy-nilly to any single solution, which may have serious consequences (intended or not). So, go check it out and let us know what you think of the book... and of our new (hopefully) weekly book discussion.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Last month, we wrote about attempts by the Indian government to make Aadhaar, the country's identity number system, mandatory. This was despite repeated rulings by the Indian Supreme Court that it should not be compulsory for government schemes. Last month, another application was made to the court, asking it once more to forbid the Indian government from requiring the Aadhaar card and a unique 12-digit identification number for its services. During the case, India's Attorney-General, Mukul Rohatgi, made the following remarkable assertion, reported here by Hindustan Times: "[India's] Constitution makers did not intend to make right to privacy a fundamental right," Rohatgi told the bench, during the hearing of petitions opposing a government order that made the 12-number unique identification number mandatory, especially for seeking government welfare benefits. As the site Scroll.in explains: The Attorney General quoted two decisions in support of his proposition -- from 1954 and 1963. Those opposing his argument contended that these decisions had been overtaken by the constitutional jurisprudence that had since evolved. But as well as his purely legalistic arguments, Rohatgi took another, very different angle, telling the court: It should balance the petitioner's rights against those of the roughly 700 million people, whose subsidies and welfare benefits were dependent on the "fool-proof scheme." Despite this emotional blackmail -- give up your privacy, or 700 million people will go hungry -- the Indian Supreme Court's interim order confirmed that: It is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card and the production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen. However, the Supreme Court did allow the Aadhaar card and number to be used for a few specific government schemes: those for "distributing foodgrains and cooking fuel, such as kerosene." So perhaps people won't want for food or fuel even if campaigners continue to insist that privacy most certainly is a fundamental right, and that making Aadhaar mandatory would infringe upon it. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here at Techdirt, we've had a great deal of fun at the expense of the TSA and the agency's wonderful brand of security theater masquerading as actual airport security. Yes, the government putting on a kind of clinic in the simultaneous overreach into civil liberties for false security and the kind of wasteful government spending that makes the conservative talkshow hosts of the world dip back into the Oxy has been an ongoing source of entertainment. But the TSA can take the same kind of heart that thousands of purported UFO abductees do: you are not alone. No, as it turns out, foreign airport security agencies can be just as laughable as we can be. Witness the Irish, for instance, and the way they bravely disarmed a three year old of a toy fart-gun. Can't believe that a minion fart gun was taken from friends toddler, security felt it posed a threat @UniversalPics pic.twitter.com/iAPLlmdTv3 — Paula (@NursepollyRgn) August 16, 2015 As Paula pointed out, this is a replica of the "Fart Blaster" wielded by the minions in "Despicable Me." So I guess it does have a track record of being used for evil purposes. But in real life it doesn't do anything except make noise and apparently emit an odor that thankfully is said to be banana-scented. Do I want a kid to wield one of these on a plane? No. Does it need to be confiscated by security personnel? No. Well, I do want a kid wielding one of these delightful toys on an airplane, sirs. The very idea of a three year old tumbling down the aisle spraying a bunch of uptight, too-stiff adults with insufficient senses of humor in the face with banana-farts is exactly the kind of life, liberty and happiness no government ought be denying my right to pursue. What's far less funny - kind of - was the Irish authorities' insistence that they confiscated the "weapon" because it violated the rules against replica guns. Replica guns typically refer to realistic representations of actual firearms that don't work. The fart gun is not a representation of a real gun at all. And it most certainly works as intended. The spokesperson noted that the toy was "being kept safe at the airport" so the child can get it back when the family returns, so that's nice. It's not nice; it's exceptionally stupid. The Irish authorities are sitting on a children's toy that they absolutely know is not a weapon over a ham-fisted attempt to play by bureaucratic rules. I think it's time these lads went and had a Guinness and let the kid have his toy back.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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