posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Clip the $12 Universal 3-in-1 Lens Kit onto your smartphone's camera and get a new view for your pictures. Choose between a 180-degree fisheye lens, wide-angle lens, or macro lens, and clip them over the camera. There are no stickers or magnets so your phone and tablet stay clean. It comes with a carrying pouch so you can take it anywhere. 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

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
BuzzFeed had a long and interesting article earlier this week noting Twitter's ongoing difficulty in figuring out an appropriate way to deal with harassment and abuse that is often heaped upon certain users -- especially women and minorities. The article is interesting -- even as Twitter disputes some of its claims. It's also noteworthy that this debate is not even remotely new. Last year, I wrote about it, suggesting that one possible solution is to switch Twitter from being a platform into being a protocol -- on which anyone could then build services. In that world, Twitter could then offer various filters if it wanted -- while other providers could compete with different filters or services. Then the tweets could flow without Twitter having to take responsibility, but there would be options (possibly many options) for those who were dealing with abuse or harassment. Not surprisingly, that kind of suggestion is unlikely to ever be adopted, but reading through the BuzzFeed article, something else struck me. To some extent, the article seemed a bit unfair in portraying some of Twitter's execs as willfully clueless about the abuse and harassment. It repeatedly portrays those who support freedom of expression as somehow being unreasonable extremists. Here's one example: Weeks later, when a rash of beheading videos appeared, Costolo gave similar takedown orders, causing Twitter’s free speech advocates, Gabriel Stricker and Vijaya Gadde, to call an emergency policy meeting. Inside the meeting, attended by Costolo, Stricker, Gadde, and product head Kevin Weil (now Instagram’s product lead) and first reported by BuzzFeed News, tensions rose as Costolo’s desire to build a more palatable network that was marketable and ultimately attractive to new users clashed with Stricker and Gadde’s desire for radically free expression. “You really think we should have videos of people being murdered?” someone who attended the meeting recalls Costolo arguing, while Stricker reportedly compared Costolo’s takedown of undesirable content to deleting the Zapruder film after objections from the Kennedy family. Ultimately, the meeting ended with the group deciding to carve out policy exceptions to keep up grisly content for newsworthiness, according to one person present. Though Stricker and Gadde won, one source described a frustrated Costolo leaving in disagreement. “I think if you guys have your way the only people using Twitter will be ISIS and the ACLU,” Costolo said, according to this person. But I think part of the issue is that people are confusing the nature of free speech, a la the famed xkcd on the issue: However, rather than the way most people take this xkcd to mean that it's right for sites to kick off people, I'd argue that it's something that Twitter itself should be thinking about. To date, much of its plans to deal with abuse seem to be focused on kicking people off the site who abuse the site's terms of service. This has created a few flare ups here and there of people who feel this is improper or unfair -- and that the process is arbitrary. But some of that may stem from the fact that people at Twitter are just as confused about the point of the xkcd above as many of its users are. That is, I think the "free speech wing" of Twitter is absolutely correct that the site should bend over backwards to support the right and ability of people to say pretty much whatever they want to say. But what they don't need to do is force others to listen. That is Twitter should be focused, heavily, on building much, much, much, much more flexible and robust tools for users to curate their own experience. If they want to let in everything, they should be able to do so. If they want to want to block certain types of users, they should be able to do so. If they want to block based on keywords, they should be able to do so. To date, Twitter has mostly offered fairly crude and mostly ineffective tools for users who are trying to deal with harassment. There is the ability to report abuse, but that leads to all sorts of problems and arbitrary decisions about who is violating the terms of service and who is not. The other two tools are the ability to "block" certain users and to "mute" others. There's a subtle difference here: if you block someone, they can discover that (and that leads to its own set of problems). If you "mute" them, they can still read your tweets, you just won't see theirs. People have created "blocklists," but again, these tend to be pretty crude and ineffective. Giving end users not just a full suite of tools to figure out how they get to curate their own experience -- combined with the ability to share the "recipes" one creates -- could actually be super powerful. So, for example, say I don't want to view tweets from users who have had accounts for less than 6 months (a lot of abuse comes from new users) or who haven't actually uploaded an account profile image (so called "eggs"). Let me create that as an option -- and then share that "filter" or "recipe" for others to use. So, someone could create a filter/recipe that only shows notifications from users who have more than 1,000 followers and who have tweeted at least twice per week over the last year. Or, maybe a filter that automatically blocks anyone a particular politician has retweeted. The possibilities go on and on. To some extent, this opens something of an opportunity to go back to the way that Twitter felt in the early days. Somewhat hilariously (in retrospect), in the early days, some claimed that one of the reasons why Twitter was so awesome was that there was "no spam or trolls" because you self-selected everyone you followed. It was a pure curation system. But that was only really true of the earliest incarnation of Twitter, before it incorporated replies, notifications and retweets. With those three things, your own curation skills only accounted for part of what you could be exposed to on Twitter. There became lots of ways for third parties to insert themselves into the conversation. And, to some extent, this is actually really great. I've met some fantastic people and learned a lot thanks to Twitter's ability to connect people. But it also opened the door to trolls and harassment and Twitter's just had so much difficulty figuring out what to do about it. I get that there are two very large (and almost diametrically opposed) camps of people on Twitter who think that Twitter should either do nothing (Camp 1) ... or that they should be kicking a lot more people off the service (Camp 2). I think neither of those camps is being reasonable. For the first camp, ignoring the fact that harassment and spam and other stuff happens is silly. If you have a 100% open system, it gets abused, period. It's a mess. But camp 2 underestimates the subjective nature of what "harassment" is and the importance of being able to make use of a platform like Twitter. In other contexts, we've seen how arbitrary policies have resulted in questionable removals from sites, and that creates some serious problems. Recognizing that Twitter is unlikely to ever move to my original solution, of offering a protocol rather than a platform, it seems that giving the power to each user to better curate and filter their own experience seems like a much more workable idea. In fact, it could help bring about the early Twitter experience, when users really did curate their entire experience. And, contrary to the concerns some supposedly expressed and which were repeated in the BuzzFeed article, it would seem to create a situation that might increase user adoption of the platform, rather than decrease it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
We've noted a few times recently that the Copyright Office has inserted itself into policy disputes where it has no business being. It's important to note that the role of the Copyright Office is supposed to be a rather specific one: to handle the registration of copyrights. It has little official roles in terms of actual policymaking -- the role is more about executing on the policy decisions of Congress. And, yet, over the years the Copyright Office has become a revolving door way station for execs from the entertainment industry, where they seek to use the Copyright Office as something of a taxpayer funded pro-legacy industry lobbying arm. Just in the last few months, we've reported on how the Copyright Office was flat out lying to the FCC about how copyright works in an effort to support the cable industry's plan to stop competition in set top boxes. Then there's its plan to strip websites of their safe harbors by making it a bureaucratic nightmare. Oh, and also its new plan to mess up the part of copyright law that protects libraries and archives. And let's not forget the absolutely ridiculous hearings the Copyright Office held a few months ago about the DMCA safe harbors, where they seemed 100% focused on pushing the RIAA/MPAA's plan to blame Google for everything. What the hell is going on with the Copyright Office? This is not in its mandate and yet it's run like a government-funded lobbying arm of Hollywood? The folks over at Public Knowledge have now started putting together a long list (much longer than the above examples) of the Copyright Office incorrectly weighing in on policy issues, taking positions that favor the desires of the legacy copyright industries, rather than what the law actually says. It's a long and very troubling list. As Public Knowledge notes: "If you’ve ever wondered what a captured agency looks like, look no further." Here are just a couple of the examples from the list: Endorsing SOPA The Copyright Office famously endorsed the doomed (and downright awful) Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, collectively known as SOPA/PIPA. Despite the fact that the bill attacked safe harbor mechanisms, allowed the US government to censor foreign websites, made posting copyrighted work under any circumstances a felony, and swept together all user-driven sites with upload capabilities as “promoting piracy,” the Copyright Office was unwavering in its support. In testimony before Congress, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante called the bill “a sound policy choice,” “measured,” and thanked its drafters for drafting language that “would bestow a number of important responsibilities on the Copyright Office.” [....] A “Making Available” Right that Never Existed In a 2016 report, the Copyright Office declared that U.S. copyright law had an unwritten right that gave copyright holders the power to dictate how, when, and under what circumstances their works were “made available”--or even offered--to consumers. The Office took a “squint-and-you’ll-see-it” approach, saying that the right existed by implication through a “gestalt”-style reading of the distribution, public performance, and public display rights. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante even commented that “People question if we have ‘making available’ in the US, and we do--via treaties--and this report will make it clear that we have making available already. The question is whether Congress needs to do anything to make that clear or not.” First, that’s not how treaties (or laws, really) work. Signing a treaty doesn’t make specific rights magically appear in U.S. law. Here--and in most cases--Congress has to actually write statutes to implement treaty requirements. If they decline to write the actual statutes, that’s a pretty clear sign that they’re not interested. And aside from the fact that the right doesn’t actually, you know, exist anywhere in the statute, the Copyright Office conveniently omitted the fact that numerous courts (the majority of those considering it, in fact) have rejected the idea. The creation of an imaginary right wasn’t the only thing wrong in the office’s report; it also claimed that the Copyright Act’s requirement that a copy be a “tangible medium of expression” didn’t really mean anything and could encompass even offered transmissions of data--accepted or not. Alarmingly, the office decided that merely putting files in an accessible place would make a person just as liable as actually distributing them. As support, they cited a handful of minor district court cases from places such as Massachusetts, ignored higher court rulings to the contrary, deemed it an “unbroken line of authority,” and called it a day. Yikes. It's no secret that the Copyright Office wants more of a say in policy issues. This is a big part of the reason why it has been not-so-subtly lobbying to have the Office itself removed from the Library of Congress and set up as an independent agency (or, possibly, merged into the Patent and Trademark Office). But when it's already lobbying in ways that directly counteract the law (which more than one court has noted recently...) and appearing to act like a taxpayer-funded lobbying arm for some private companies, it raises some fairly serious concerns about the priorities and motivations of the Copyright Office and its staff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Another day, another case of Facebook disappearing a video that it should have left up. A politician in Hong Kong says that Facebook banned him from the site for 24 hours for a "terms of service violation" after he posted a video of him confronting men who had been following him around for weeks. The video uploaded by Leung on August 7 showed him approaching a black car which he claimed followed him for a month. When Leung asked the two men inside the car where they came from, they replied “grandpa” – a slang term used for the Chinese Communist Party. “I don’t want to know about you. Someone wants to know about you – I don’t want to know,” said one of the men in the car. That seems like a valuable and important video in the public interest. But Facebook didn't think so: Leung was informed on Tuesday night that his original video was removed for not complying with Facebook’s community standards. Shortly after, he uploaded it again and was banned from posting for 24 hours after the new post also got reported Of course, once the story started getting press attention, suddenly Facebook restored the video. Funny how that works. Either way, though, it's yet another reminder of how much power some of these platforms have over important speech, and how they become centralized attack vectors for those who wish to hide such information.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Readers here likely have begun to associate the attempted twisting of copyright law to go after video game cheaters with Blizzard. After all, between its StarCraft and Overwatch properties, the gamemaker has made something of a name for itself by attempting to assert a combination of "you only bought a license" and "breaking the EULA creates a copyright violation" theories into a "we can sue you for hacking our games" legal sandwich. It's a terribly frustrating thing to watch Blizzard do, as it tries to pretzel copyright law in a way never intended, and typically to achieve little if any legal success by doing so. Well, everyone knew that Blizzard wouldn't be pulling this act solo forever, and now we know who the next game company to take up this loser of a strategy will be: Riot Games. Yes, the maker of the popular League of Legends is asserting copyright violations to go after those who create and use cheats and hacks. The complaint specifically targets a cheat called "LeagueSharp," which apparently allows players to automate aspects of gameplay, including targeting other players and seeing game objects that should be hidden. "Among other things, L# enables its users to abuse LoL by allowing them to, for example, see hidden information; 'automate' gameplay to perform in the game with enhanced or inhuman accuracy; and accumulate levels, experience, and items at a rate that is not possible for a normal human player." While this sounds very similar to many of the cheats and hacks that Blizzard has complained about, part of the impetus for this legal action is the popularity surrounding League of Legends eSport tournaments. eSports is becoming quite a thing these days, with viewership numbers that are comparable to viewership of traditional athletic competitions. As we've said in the past, cheating in online multiplayer games is at best annoying and at worst truly disruptive to the gaming experience. The stakes only rise when we begin talking about the eSports world, with competitive professionals competing. One can see how analagous to steroids in sports hacks might be in the eSports world. Still, the theories Riot Games trots out to back its copyright claims are nearly identical to Blizzard's, and those claims don't become stronger just because eSports is a thing. It won't help the makers of the hacks that they appear to have acted in ways that will put them in a negative light. "Defendants or those working in concert with them disseminated personal and non-public information about a Riot employee, threatened that employee, and posted offensive comments on the employee’s social media. Additionally, knowing that this lawsuit was imminent, Defendants have been quickly and carefully destroying or concealing evidence such as their most incriminating online posts and purporting to hide behind a Peruvian shell corporation created solely for the purpose of evading liability." Which may indeed make them assholes, but it does not make them guilty of copyright infringement. The claims by Riot Games still come down to the claim that a violation of a Terms of Use agreement renders a license for the game invalid, meaning copyright infringement, along with a claim that creating a hack for a video game violates the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA. For that last claim to work, Riot Games would need to demonstrate that these specific cheats are lessening the value of the game in general. Given the insane success that is League of Legends, that might be a tough claim to make. Regardless, this isn't how copyright was meant to be used and stretching it in this way serves nobody at all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Most Techdirt readers probably surround themselves with the latest technology. But there's a slightly unusual class of professionals who are only now beginning to grapple with things like CP/M, 8-inch floppy disk drives and the Apple Lisa. These are the archivists, whose job is preserving cultural artifacts from all periods of history. That includes the recent past, whose technologies now seem paradoxically so strange and distant. The real-life consequences of that growing chasm between today's digital technologies, and those that were commonplace 10, 20 or 30 years ago, are made evident in an article published by the Guardian last week: In the belly of a former whisky store in the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick lies a vast and varied collection of artefacts that feminist scholars can't wait to get their hands on. Nearly 500 boxes in this dark, temperature-controlled warehouse hold a lifetime of handwritten letters, browning manuscripts and newspaper clippings. But there are more modern treasures too: floppy disks containing an unpublished book about Margaret Thatcher; two computers, a Mac Powerbook G4 and iMac G5; and voicemail recordings about dinner plans in 1976. These are all part of the archives of the well-known Australian writer Germaine Greer. According to the article, Greer has been hoarding personal documents and artifacts from the 1950s to the present day, which means they are in both analog and digital forms: Greer's archive includes floppy disks, tape cassettes and CD-roms, once cutting-edge technologies that are now obsolete. They are vulnerable to decay and disintegration, leftovers from the unrelenting tide of technological advancement. They will last mere decades, unlike the paper records, which could survive for hundreds of years. It is an irony of these formerly high-tech holdings that they are far less durable than old-fashioned paper-based systems. And researchers studying them face problems of compatibility that simply don't arise with paper. This is a major issue that is only now being faced, as cultural figures of Greer's generation pass on their archives to universities and libraries, who must start to grapple with the core tasks of deciphering and preserving them. The good news is that once they have been decoded, they can be transferred to other media, and in more open formats that will be easier to access in the years to come. But that still leaves the problem of how to store all these archives in a way that will stand the test of time. Perhaps they will be encoded as data held on the ultimate storage medium, DNA. Or maybe it would just be easier to print the lot out on paper. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
In a polarized America, quite often the claim is made that this news organization or that news organization is making stuff up and calling it news. These claims usually fall along partisan lines, leading those of us that don't consider ourselves affiliated with any side to shake our heads. And, while nobody should ever be so bold as to claim that no bias exists at all, the accusations of purely making up the news tends to pale in comparison to some other nations out there. Let's take Turkey, for instance. Yes the country with the petulant and easily-upset President Tayyip Erdogan, also has some reporters that truly just make stuff up. For instance, you can read about one reporter who managed to find some secret documents from the plotters of the recently failed coup attempt against Erdogan, and you can see an image of the secret codes she found below. If any of that looks familiar but you're still having trouble placing exactly what, here's a basic transcription of the words on the page. GTA IV Cheats I/ Health and Gun II/Health and Armor Yup, those are cheat codes for Grand Theft Auto 4. The reporter, meanwhile, apparently insisted that these were secret communications by the plotters against Erdogan. And you have to admit that that doesn't make any sense, because if those plotters could get more guns and health just by repeating a video game cheat code, the coup probably would have went off without a hitch. I'm not telling you not to be mad at news coverage in the United States. I'm just saying it could be worse. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this year, we noted that Facebook had launched its own ContentID clone, called Rights Manager, which was a response to a bunch of angry YouTubers who were annoyed at people "freebooting" popular YouTube videos onto Facebook. We noted that, like ContentID, we fully expected the system to be abused to take down content. While we haven't heard examples of that just yet, it does appear that Rights Manager had some serious vulnerabilities that enabled anyone else who was signed up for Rights Manager to manipulate the information and rules on any other video in the system (including, obviously, those claimed by other users). Simply put, an imposter could easily wander into your anti-imposter pages without logging in first. According to Muthiyah, pirates could actually have used Rights Manager to rip off their own copies of your reference copies, thus freebooting directly via the anti-freebooting interface To its credit, Facebook fixed the problem and paid the researcher who found it a bug bounty of $4,000. However, this does point out something rather important. Building these kinds of systems is really difficult. Beyond the problem of abuse that we frequently talk about, bugs and security flaws are a real risk as well. And yet, many in the film and recording industries still insist that it's "easy" to build a filtering system like this and that all sites should be legally required to do so. And, sure, Facebook and Google and the likes can afford to pay lots of money to build systems -- even buggy ones -- and then have bug bounties and such. But smaller companies aren't able to do so. Requiring them to do so basically wipes out the possibility of smaller startups entering the space and cedes the market, permanently, to the giant companies that everyone complains about.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Instead of the reading list, this week we're reminding folks that two of our most popular t-shirts are available on Teespring, but only if you order quickly. Our popular copyright takedown t-shirt is available again, after someone pre-ordered a whole bunch yesterday, tipping the campaign and re-opening it. But you've only got 3 more days to get in on that one. And then we've got our new Vote2016() t-shirt explaining your Presidential voting choices this year in code (and, yeah, yeah, we've already heard all your comments about third parties, but let's keep this real here and admit that the code here is what most people are actually looking at). That one's available for just four more days, and you should order soon so you can wear it as much as you want this election season (that one also has stickers which have proven to be quite popular as well!). Either way, once these campaigns end, that's it for getting those t-shirts, unless there's suddenly a major new influx of demand -- so don't miss out. Get yours today -- and help support Techdirt in the process.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
When federal judge Shira Scheindlin ordered a number of stop-and-frisk reforms three years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Chief Ray Kelly both predicted a drop in unconstitutional stops would result in a dramatic rise in criminal activity. Bloomberg: We, unlike many countries, want to keep all of our citizens safe, and keep the crime rate down and make sure that they get home and go to court and protect themselves -- unlike other countries in the world. [...] I wouldn't want to be responsible for a lot of people dying. Kelly: [N]o question about it —violent crime will go up… The New York Daily News often provided a platform for NYPD officials who were quick to blame any increase in crime on the decline in stops. “We’re struggling with homicides and shootings,” NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill said Monday. “As we expect when warm weather comes, we see an increase in certain crimes.” O’Neill laid out the grim numbers during a press conference at 1 Police Plaza, revealing a 19.5% spike in homicides during the first five months of the year. There were 135 murders through Sunday compared to 113 at the same time last year. But… Despite the increase in shootings and homicides, overall crime was down 6.6% through Sunday compared with the same period last year. More NYPD opinions: [S]ome officers believe the jump in killings can be linked to the NYPD’s new restrictions on stop-and-frisk. “It’s because they changed the stop-and-frisk criteria,” one high-ranking police source told The News. “Before I would have said, ‘This guy right here by the way he’s adjusting his pants and moving around I would stop him.’ Now that’s not enough to stop a person so these guys get away with a gun.” Tempered with reality: While murders and shootings have increased, overall crime in the city is down by 10%, statistics show. It's one thing to report on the NYPD's dissatisfaction with the new, court-ordered status quo. It's quite another to make it the publication's official stance. This is exactly what the New York Daily News did after Judge Scheindlin's order was handed down. By imposing a monitor on the NYPD, she has rushed headlong into commandeering how the department polices the city with, she admitted, no concern about endangering life and limb. Make no mistake — Scheindlin has put New York directly in harm’s way with a ruling that threatens to push the city back toward the ravages of lawlessness and bloodshed. Most publications would simply let their bad judgment call recede into the past without comment, even after their assertions have been proven wrong. The NY Daily News should be commended for not only admitting its mistake, but publishing an entire editorial detailing just how wrong it was. As many readers will know, the Daily News Editorial Board supported the NYPD’s strategy as essential to public safety. We also expressed fear that forcing the department to pull back could seriously harm public safety. [...] In other pieces, we predicted a rising body count from an increase in murders. We are delighted to say that we were wrong. The NYPD began scaling back stops under Kelly before Scheindlin’s decision and accelerated the trend under Commissioner Bill Bratton. As a result, the number of stops reported by cops fell 97% from a high of 685,700 in 2011 to 22,900 in 2015. Not only did crime fail to rise, New York hit record lows. The murder count stood at 536 in 2010 and at 352 last year — and seems sure to drop further this year. There were 1,471 shooting incidents in 2010 (1,773 victims). By 2015, shootings had dropped to 1,130 (1, 339 victims). The NY Daily News should be praised for this editorial... but not too effusively. There's still quite a bit of hedging in its blown call admission. The Scheindlin decision somehow remains "flawed," despite its largest supposed flaw ("crime will rise!") being nonexistent. The editorial also hands the NYPD almost all of the credit for the continued decrease in crime, even though it was the NYPD itself that claimed that a transformed stop-and-frisk program would result in a new wave of criminal terror sweeping New York. Regardless, there can be little doubt that the NYPD’s increasing reliance on so-called precision policing — knowing whom to target, when and where — has played a key role. Maybe. Maybe not. The NY Daily News has no way of determining this. It admits that "explaining crime trends is extraordinarily difficult" while in the same breath (so to speak) hands credit to the NYPD for the continued drop in crime rates. But it is something rarely seen: a publication that often seems to act as an unofficial mouthpiece for the NYPD admitting it didn't know what it was talking about when it parroted Mayor Bloomberg's and Chief Ray Kelly's hyperbole following the Scheindlin decision. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this week, we wrote about how the Australian census was looking like a complete mess, with the government deciding that it was going to retain all the personal info that it was collecting, including linkages to other data, rather than destroying it after it got the aggregate census numbers. There were lots of concerns about privacy and security -- and we highlighted some ridiculous statements from people in the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) who are running the census, insisting their security was "the best security" while at the same time they were storing passwords as plaintext. Little did we know that the disaster that many expected was underestimating the actual disaster. You see, once the census website launched on Tuesday, the site immediately got hit by a series of denial of service attacks which took the entire system offline. In fact, it ended up remaining entirely offline for nearly 48 hours, and while the ABS says it's back, many people are still reporting problems. Perhaps that's because the ABS seems to be taking extreme and ridiculous measures to try to block more denial of service attacks, including blocking anyone who's using a VPN or a third-party DNS provider such as Google's DNS offering. For a system that talks up how secure and private it is -- to then push people to drop their use of VPNs and/or more secure DNS providers raises all sorts of questions -- none of them very good. Meanwhile, as people are realizing that this is making Australia look like a global joke, the government seems unwilling to shoulder any of the blame -- with most of the finger-pointing directed at IBM, the company who built the web-based census system. Meanwhile, the ABS folks in charge of the census held an apparently pointless "press conference" where they refused to take any questions, and after a few apologies insisted that everything was fine and everyone should go ahead and fill out their census entries. Of course, now people are turning up old clips of the ABS joyfully explaining just how much money they were saving with this system. Can't get enough of this ABS Senate Estimates exchange. pic.twitter.com/GmP1H6zhP0 — alex (@mramclaren) August 11, 2016 Perhaps they shouldn't have skimped on basic cybersecurity protections. About the only good thing that seems likely to come out of all of this is that it may slow down a push for internet voting. People are realizing that if this is how poorly things work when it's "only" the census, then perhaps Australia shouldn't be rushing to implement online voting. If the census can be taken down for two days due to a denial of service attack, just imagine what would happen to an election voting website...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Keep yourself safe online with the Dashlane Premium And Hotspot Shield Elite VPN Bundle. You get a three years subscription to each service for only $69. Dashlane allows you to import passwords from browsers to an extremely secure, intuitive interface. It even scans your passwords for weak links, and provides you with a password generator to create new, stronger ones to keep your digital identity safe. With Hotspot Shield Elite, you'll be able to hide your data from hackers and safely browse on public Wi-Fi, while still maintaining fast Internet speeds. Combine these two and your important information will be more secure than ever. 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

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
There's a fairly long history of lawsuits over songs sounding too "similar" -- from the lawsuit over George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" sounding too much like "He's So Fine" to the Verve getting sued by The Rolling Stones for the hit "Bittersweet Symphony" sounding similar to the Stones' "The Last Time." But after last year's verdict in favor of Marvin Gaye's estate in the "Blurred Lines" case, the floodgates seem to have opened, with a bunch of similar lawsuits over songs that sound vaguely similar, but not much more. A couple of months ago, in a bit of a surprise, Led Zeppelin actually won its case over whether or not it had infringed on someone's copyright in "Stairway to Heaven," so there's at least some hope that not every "similar sounding" song will face a copyright lawsuit -- but even then the arbitrariness of these decisions seems problematic. It's especially problematic when the songs are clearly different, even if one was inspired by the other, or was written as sort of an homage to the original. It used to be that this kind of building on the works of others was a sign of flattery and something people should be happy about. But with millions of dollars being thrown around thanks to statutory damages, big lawsuits seem to be the answer instead. Earlier this week, hit pop singer Ed Sheeran was hit with a new lawsuit also claiming that he infringed on an old famous Marvin Gaye tune, "Let's Get It On." This time, it's not the Gaye Estate that's suing (as in the "Blurred Lines" case), but rather the estate of a songwriter on that song, Ed Townsend. The accusation is that Sheeran's hit "Thinking Out Loud" infringes on "Let's Get It On." Here are both tracks: The bass lines are definitely similar, but that's really about it. They're pretty different songs in almost every other aspect. And that bass line is not exactly the most complex or inventive bass line. Of course, people definitely noticed similarities in the bass lines early on. Many reviews mentioned it, and (of course) someone created a YouTube mashup (which I think is actually better than the Sheeran original, but that's a personal preference...). But of course you can mashup lots of songs that way and it hardly means copyright infringement. Since no one else reporting on this has actually shared the filings, I thought I'd fix that. You can read it here or embedded below. There's not much detail in there other than the claim that "Thinking Out Loud" has copied "the heart" of "Let's Get It On." It claims that "the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic compositions" are "substantially and/or strikingly similar" between the two songs. They are, of course, demanding statutory damages, because why not? Meanwhile, this is the second lawsuit of this nature against Sheeran in just the last few months. In early June, he was sued over another one of his hit songs, "Photograph," with the lawsuit claiming it was a note-for-note copy of the song "Amazing" by Matt Cardle (written by the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Martin Harington and Thomas Leonard). In that case, again there are similarities between the two, but they're basically both just guitar ballads, not all that unlike tons of singer/songwriter guitar ballads with pretty basic progressions. But, really, this whole focus on these kinds of lawsuits seems really damaging to the way music is created. Being inspired by other musicians or wanting to write something that "feels like" another artist is pretty standard. And it should never be copyright infringement. These are all different songs and they should stand and fall on their own power, not because of some stupid copyright claim. But, of course, thanks to the recording industry ranting on and on about "ownership" of "intellectual property," combined with the massive rewards for winning a copyright lawsuit (thanks to statutory damages), this is what we end up with -- a world where being creative in a manner that is inspired by someone else, or in homage to them, is called "theft" by some. That seems like it's going to create a massive chilling effect on musicians and songwriters and the way they create music.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
This is not a surprise, but the judge overseeing the case where Twitter was sued by a woman because her husband was killed in an ISIS attack has been dismissed. We fully expected this when the lawsuit was first filed, and the judge was clearly skeptical of the case during a hearing on it back in June. The order dismissing the case comes in at slightly longer than 140 characters, but you get the feeling that was really about all that was needed to point out how ridiculous this case was. As we expected, Twitter pointed to CDA Section 230 to say it's simply immune from such a claim and the judge agrees: As noted above, courts have repeatedly described publishing activity under section 230(c)(1) as including decisions about what third-party content may be posted online.... Plaintiffs’ provision of accounts theory is slightly different, in that it is based on Twitter’s decisions about whether particular third parties may have Twitter accounts, as opposed to what particular third-party content may be posted. But it is not clear to me why this difference matters for the purposes of section 230(c)(1). Under either theory, the alleged wrongdoing is the decision to permit third parties to post content – it is just that under plaintiffs’ provision of accounts theory, Twitter would be liable for granting permission to post (through the provision of Twitter accounts) instead of for allowing postings that have already occurred. Plaintiffs do not explain why this difference means that the provision of accounts theory seeks to treat Twitter as something other than a publisher of third-party content, and I am not convinced that it does. Despite being based on Twitter accounts instead of tweets, the theory is still based on Twitter’s alleged violation of a “duty . . . derive[d] from [its] status or conduct as a publisher.” Even if Section 230 wouldn't have resulted in the case being tossed, Judge William Orrick notes a number of other problems with the lawsuit, including that the claims in the lawsuit don't even make sense (that seems like a big problem). The judge first focuses on how the plaintiffs' arguments shift back and forth between whether it's the mere providing of service to ISIS members that's the problem or the failure of Twitter to prevent the spread of ISIS content. These two things are different, but the lawyers for the plaintiff don't do much to distinguish the two from one another. Plaintiffs characterize these allegations as “focus[ed] on [Twitter’s] provision of . . . accounts to ISIS, not the content of the tweets.” ... But with the exception of the statement that “ISIS accounts on Twitter have grown at an astonishing rate,” ..., all of the allegations are accompanied by information regarding the ISIS-related content disseminated from the accounts. Plaintiffs allege not just that ISIS had approximately 70,000 Twitter accounts, but that ISIS used those accounts to post at least 90 tweets per minute, ... not just that Al-Furqan maintained a Twitter page, but that it maintained one “where it posted messages from ISIS leadership as well as videos and images of beheadings and other brutal . . . executions to 19,000 followers,” ... not just that Twitter failed to stop an ISIS-linked account from “springing right back up,” but that an inflammatory message was tweeted from this account following the shooting attack in San Bernadino, California in December 2015.... The rest of the FAC is likewise riddled with detailed descriptions of ISIS-related messages, images, and videos disseminated through Twitter and the harms allegedly caused by the dissemination of that content. The FAC also includes a number of allegations specifically faulting Twitter for failing to detect and prevent the dissemination of ISIS-related content through the Twitter platform. That issue is a big part of the reason why Twitter's Section 230 defense works. The lawyers for the plaintiff argued that it wasn't a 230 issue because it's about the provisioning of services, not the content of the tweet, but their complaint focuses almost exclusively on the content, which clearly keeps liability off of Twitter. And then there's the other big, non-230, problem with the lawsuit: there's nothing whatsoever in the lawsuit arguing that Twitter had anything directly to do with the ISIS attack that killed Lloyd Fields. The third problem with the provision of accounts theory is that plaintiffs have not adequately alleged causation. Although the parties dispute the exact formulation of the appropriate causal test for civil liability under the ATA, they agree that the statute requires a showing of proximate causation.... Even under plaintiffs’ proposed “substantial factor” test, ..., the allegations in the FAC do not support a plausible inference of proximate causation between Twitter’s provision of accounts to ISIS and the deaths of Fields and Creach. The only arguable connection between Abu Zaid and Twitter identified in the FAC is that Abu Zaid’s brother told reporters that Abu Zaid had been very moved by ISIS’s horrific execution of al-Kassasbeh, which ISIS publicized through Twitter.... That connection is tenuous at best regardless of the particular theory of liability plaintiffs decide to assert. But the connection is particularly weak under the provision of accounts theory because it is based on specific content disseminated through Twitter, not the mere provision of Twitter accounts. The plaintiff, Tamara Fields, can still file an amended complaint that tries to fix these problems, but it's not clear how she'll get past them. I imagine that the various copycat lawsuits that have been filed against Twitter, Facebook and Google in the past few months will all face similar fates.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Smart refrigerators that leak your e-mail credentials. Smart TVs that collect but then fail to secure your living room conversations. Smart thermostats that can be loaded with ransomware. Smart vehicles that can be hacked and potentially kill you. This is the end result of "Internet of Things" evangelists and companies that for the last half-decade put hype and profit (the cart) well ahead of consumer privacy and security (the horse), in the process exposing us all to thousands of new attack vectors in homes and businesses around the world. Not a week now goes by without the Internet of Things revealing a new layer in the dysfunction onion. The latest: researchers have discovered that the majority of Bluetooth-enabled smart locks include broken security, free of charge. Researchers Anthony Rose and Ben Ramsey recently tested 16 Bluetooth smart locks, and found that 12 of them opened when attacked. Like so many IoT products, the companies building these devices failed to take even standard precautions to protect user security: "The problems didn't lie with the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol itself, Rose said, but in the way the locks implemented Bluetooth communications, or with a lock's companion smartphone app. Four locks, for example, transmitted their user passwords in plaintext to smartphones, making it easy for anyone with a $100 Bluetooth sniffer to pluck the passwords out of thin air. "And when manufacturers could be bothered to use encryption, they didn't do a very good job of it:"Other lock manufacturers said they encrypted the user password for Bluetooth transmissions, Rose said. Technically, they did. But with at least one, Rose discovered that he could simply grab the encrypted password out of the air, then send it back to the lock — and the lock would unlock without the password ever being decrypted."The hackers, which demonstrated the attacks at Defcon, noted that owners can help protect themselves by turning off Bluetooth on their smartphones when not in use (or revert to higher quality "dumb" locks). But it's worth noting that forgetting to include basic security on your device is one thing. But time and time again when these companies are informed of the vulnerabilities in their products, they double down on their incompetence and apathy, making it abundantly clear that they don't actually care if their security products are actually secure:"We figured we'd find vulnerabilities in Bluetooth Low Energy locks, then contact the vendors. It turned out that the vendors actually don't care," Rose said. "We contacted 12 vendors. Only one responded, and they said, 'We know it's a problem, but we're not gonna fix it.'"It's worth reading that last bit again, so when Bruce Schneier's Internet-of-Things-induced cyber apocalypse occurs we can't pretend we weren't warned.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Nothing's going to stop Louisiana sheriff Jerry Larpenter from defending his good name. If you "print lies" about the sheriff, he'll "come after you." He'll have to use a criminal complaint filed by someone else (insurance agent Tony Alford) and an unconstitutional law to do it... but he's still coming after you. The "you" in this case is a local police officer who allegedly runs a blog that allegedly made defamatory comments with claims of corruption involving the sheriff, his wife, and the insurance agency she works for. Defamation isn't normally a criminal offense. Louisiana, for some reason, still has a criminal defamation statute on the books, but it only applies to non-public figures, which the sheriff -- and the parish's insurance agent, Tony Alford -- are not. Alford, who filed the complaint, not only holds two government positions but his agency also secured a no-bid contract to provide insurance services to the parish. Never mind all that, though. Sheriff Larpenter found an off-duty judge to sign a search warrant and raided Officer Wayne Anderson's home, seeking evidence that he was the author of the posts. Anderson denies having anything to do with the blog posts, not that it matters. Larpenter's deputies have already made off with five electronic devices, including a laptop belonging to the officer's kids. It would seem that after the initial raid and seizure, cooler judicial heads might prevail. No luck here. Abusing power to oppress speech is something embraced by at least two-thirds of the governmental checks-and-balances system. The judge (Randall Bethancourt) presiding over the case is none other than the judge Larpenter sought to sign his questionable search warrant -- a judge who wasn't on duty for criminal cases when the sheriff pushed his affidavit through. A Terrebonne Parish judge on Friday stood by his decision to authorize the sheriff's office to seize a Houma police officer's computers earlier this week under the theory they were used to post a blog that may have defamed the sheriff. I'm sure the judge was in no hurry to invalidate a warrant he signed. Anderson's lawyer argued there was no basis for it because the statute used to obtain it is unconstitutional as applied to the allegedly-defamatory blog posts. Judge Bethancourt, however, feels none of this is really a big deal. Bethancourt said [the sheriff] had to stay within the "four corners" of the warrant and affidavit and said he couldn't tell if Alford was a public official. Frustrated, Ardoin pointed out that Alford is on the Levee Board, but what's relevant is that the comments in the complaint were about public affairs and should be protected speech. Apparently, Bethancourt will know whether or not the Constitution applies after the sheriff's office has already examined the devices. And why not, because the statute being used can be interpreted many ways, especially with Bethancourt reading it. Bethancourt countered that Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute is "pretty broad" and said he would allow the state to "take a look-see at these computers that might have defamatory statements on them." Gotta love that down-home spin on possible First and Fourth Amendment violations. Law enforcement will just be performing a "look-see" within the "four corners" of a likely-invalid search warrant… all with the blessing of a judge who was apparently in jeans and a T-shirt when approached by someone from the sheriff's office during his day off. The DA's office isn't much help either, stating that the warrant is "presumed valid" until ruled otherwise and "speaks for itself." The DA did not elaborate on what the warrant said when speaking on its own behalf, but WWLTV notes District Attorney Joe Waitz, Jr. is also mentioned in the blog as being part of a parish-wide web of corruption. At least one member of the parish government has decided to take the litigation route, as one normally does when confronted with possible defamation. Alford owns multiple businesses with Parish President Gordon Dove, who, the parish acknowledges, engaged Alford as the parish’s new insurance agent-of-record without any public bid. Dove told WWL-TV that he is considering suing whoever posted the website, in part because it mentions his daughter, who is married to an assistant district attorney. He also defended the hiring of Alford because his insurance agency is local and would replace an out-of-parish consulting firm. This thicket of incestuous business/government intermingling, along with people marrying into the family business (and sometimes the "business" is government) isn't exactly going to persuade outsiders that the blog's allegations of government corruption are likely to be false. From the look of things, it will be almost impossible to find anyone without a conflict of interest to investigate, prosecute, or adjudicate this case. Meanwhile, Officer Anderson has been suspended indefinitely by the Houma Police Department and his electronics remain in control of the clerk of courts while Bethancourt's assertion of warrant validity is taken up the judicial ladder by his lawyers. And Sheriff Larpenter continues to look like someone who's willing to interpret the laws he's paid to enforce as broadly as needed to silence criticism of him and his office. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Cameras have been referred to as "unblinking eyes." When operated by law enforcement, however, they're eyes that never open. Dash cams were supposed to provide better documentation of traffic stops and other interactions. So were lapel microphones, which gave the images a soundtrack. Officers who weren't interested in having stops documented switched off cameras, "forgot" to turn them back on, or flat out sabotaged the equipment. Body cameras were the next step in documentation, ensuring that footage wasn't limited solely to what was in front of a police cruiser. Cautiously heralded as a step forward in accountability, body cameras have proven to be just as "unreliable" as dash cams. While some footage is being obtained that previously wouldn't have been available, the fact that officers still control the on/off switch means footage routinely goes missing during controversial interactions with the public. The on/off switch problem could be tempered with strict disciplinary policies for officers who fail to record critical footage. Or any disciplinary procedures, actually. Chicago, Dallas, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Oakland and San Diego are among the cities that don't specify penalties when officers fail to record, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law. Body cameras aren't just for big cities anymore, which means countless smaller towns are just as lax when it comes to ensuring body cameras are rolling during stops and arrests. Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor, notes the problem isn't just limited to body cameras. It's any camera an officer controls. [Walker] pointed to a study that showed across-the-board low compliance rates of officers in one high-crime Phoenix neighborhood between April 2013 and May 2014, the most recent information available. Officers only recorded 6.5 percent of traffic stops even though the department's policy required cameras to be activated "as soon as it is safe and practical," according to the study, conducted by Arizona State University's Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. With body cameras, the default mode of operations for police officers was supposed to be "always on," with a few exceptions for privacy concerns. Instead, the default mode appears to be "only when an officer feels like it." The Alameda County Sheriff's Department changed its body-camera policy following a highly publicized incident last November where two deputies were caught on surveillance video using their batons to beat a car theft suspect in the middle of a street in San Francisco's Mission District. Eleven officers in all responded and 10 failed to turn on their body cameras. The one who did activate his did so by accident. The problem is endemic. Law enforcement agencies have long felt no one should need more evidence than an officer's word and, for far longer than that, have felt that deployments of force shouldn't be second-guessed by outsiders. Recorded footage far too often runs counter to police reports and official narratives. The problem that needs to be fixed, apparently, is the recording devices. During a six-month trial run for body cameras in the Denver Police Department, only about one out of every four use-of-force incidents involving officers was recorded. Cases where officers punched people, used pepper spray or Tasers, or struck people with batons were not recorded because officers failed to turn on cameras, technical malfunctions occurred or because the cameras were not distributed to enough people, according to a report released Tuesday by Denver’s independent monitor Nick Mitchell. What happens when disciplinary procedures are in place for failing to activate cameras? For one, compliance with camera policies goes way up. According to data from the Oakland Police Department, of the 504 use of force incidents last year, 24 were not captured on camera. That puts the department a 95 percent success rate of recording use of force incidents. The other thing that happens is better quality policing. The Oakland Police Department has seen a 66 percent decrease in use of force incidents since the department started issuing body cameras to all of its officers in 2011. Agencies that aren't willing to hold officers accountable aren't just (often literally) hurting the public they serve. They're also hurting themselves. They may not care what the public thinks when spokespeople deliver the news that all nine dash cams coincidentally malfunctioned during the beating of an arrestee, but they've also got legislators to answer to -- many of whom are tiring of dumping public funds into lawsuit settlement sinkholes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
The NFL is almost a perfect study in how the combination of an attempt at strict control of its content and a complete lack of understanding of the Streisand Effect will produce the opposite of the intended result. Past versions of this have included the NFL's insane claim of copyright on the only footage that exists of the original Super Bowl, meaning nobody actually gets to see the footage, as well as the league's attempt to bury an ESPN documentary about head trauma as it relates to football. In both cases, the NFL comes out looking petty at best, and much worse in the case of trying to hide the negative health effects of the game from the parents of children who might otherwise play it. But even that kind of evil and petty takes a back seat to the NFL deciding to cut out a portion of Orlando Pace's Hall of Fame induction speech in which he gives a shout-out to the city of St. Louis, former host of the Rams. St. Louis football fans who hoped to see a shout-out from the Rams’ newest Hall-of-Famer Orlando Pace might have been disappointed if they watched the version of his speech uploaded to the NFL’s YouTube channel. While the other inductees’ speeches from last night’s event are presented unedited by the NFL—including Brett Favre’s 37-minute misunderstanding of “go long”—Pace’s speech is cut off before he gets to the portion where he tells St. Louis fans that “nothing can ever take [our championship] away from you.” The Rams, of course, just recently bailed on St. Louis for Los Angeles, to the tune of much strife and controversy. And as much as I love digging at St. Louis sports fans, the NFL's attempt to control its brand message by removing a short, innocuous tip of the cap to a city that a Hall of Fame player called home for so long is almost hilarious in its petty cruelty. And, as per usual, it didn't really work anyway. That Streisand Effect will get you every time. When people noticed that the NFL's official upload had the shout-out to St. Louis edited out, that editing was reported on, and the portion of the speech that had been omitted suddenly became share-worthy. Nice try, guys. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
At long last, the federal government is getting serious about tracking the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. For most of the last two decades, the DOJ has been collecting this information from local law enforcement agencies, but only on a voluntary basis. As a result, the federal numbers have nearly no relation to the real numbers -- which have been compiled by a handful of private actors, including The Guardian, a UK-based journalistic entity. Last June, legislators introduced a bill (that promptly went nowhere) which would replace voluntary reporting with mandatory reporting. The FBI expressed its concern about the government's inability to collect accurate information on citizens killed by police officers, offering on multiple occasions to replace its voluntary system with a better voluntary system. The Guardian is reporting that the voluntary system is finally being replaced with something that will create actual accountability. Police departments will be required to give the US justice department full details of deadly incidents involving their officers each quarter, under a new government system for counting killings by police that was influenced by the Guardian. Announcing a new program for documenting all “arrest-related deaths”, federal officials said they would actively work to confirm fatal cases seen in media reports and other open sources rather than wait for departments to report them voluntarily. This still lets local PDs off the hook in terms of immediate self-reporting. But that's probably ok, as there's nothing in the reporting of deaths at the hands of police officers that encourages urgency or transparency from law enforcement agencies. With the feds independently verifying reported deaths -- i.e., those reported by journalists -- delays between reports and their addition to the federal numbers will be decreased dramatically. Law enforcement agencies aren't completely off the hook, however. They'll still be required to report in custody deaths to the Justice Department. The difference is that the DOJ will no longer wait around for agencies to self-report. Local agencies heavily reliant on federal funding will probably be the agencies filling out these reports the fastest. In their Federal Register article, officials cited their authority under the death in custody reporting act – a law that states local departments must report all deaths in custody to the justice department or lose 10% of their federal funding. The law has been largely ignored since being reauthorized in December 2014. The other change of note is that this will no longer be a year-end tabulation after all the self-reporting is completed. Agencies can fill out one form for 2016's total deaths, but going forward will be required to hand these in quarterly. Agencies will also be responsible for collecting a lot of data they've never had to previously. Details about the deadly incident will need to be provided, along with demographic data on the deceased. Coroners and medical examiners serving law enforcement agencies will also need to turn over information to the government and will be asked to confirm local news reports on officer-involved deaths. This is a huge step forward for a federal agency that has long relied on voluntary reporting from compliant law enforcement agencies to tabulate the use of deadly force by officers. It's a sign that the federal government finally realizes the good people in law enforcement can't be relied on to hand over data on incidents that make them look less that perfect on a voluntary basis. Targeting federal funding is a smart move because that's the sort of money that gets spent on surveillance tools and 1033 acquisitions that agencies normally couldn't afford without it. The real test will come when it's implemented, as it often takes more than federal mandates to alter entrenched cultures where accountability and transparency are considered weaknesses. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
For years we've discussed how incumbent broadband providers protect their duopoly by writing and lobbying for awful protectionist state laws. These laws, passed in nineteen different states, either significantly hamstring or outright ban towns and cities looking to build their own networks, or strike public/private partnerships with companies like Google Fiber. In most instances, these towns and cities only jumped into the broadband business after being under-served for a decade -- if they were able to get broadband in the first place. While it was overshadowed by the net neutrality vote at the time, back in February the FCC voted 3-2 to try and take aim at the most restrictive parts of these laws. The FCC argued that it could use its authority under Section 706 of the Communications act -- which requires the FCC to ensure "reasonable and timely" deployment of broadband access -- to pre-empt these restrictions working in contrast to that goal. But North Carolina and Tennessee quickly sued, arguing that preventing them from letting AT&T and Comcast write awful state laws violated their state rights. In a huge blow to the FCC, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (pdf) has ruled that the FCC's pre-emption of these state restrictions must be reversed, because Section 706 doesn't clearly provide the FCC with the proper authority. While the FCC may have been well intentioned, all three Judges noted that the law simply doesn't give the FCC the authority to strip out chunks of state law:"Section 706 does not contain a clear statement authorizing preemption of Tennessee’s and North Carolina’s statutes that govern the decisions of their municipal subdivisions. Section 706(a) instructs the FCC to utilize “measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” Subsection (b) is a similar but broader instruction—it directs the FCC to “remov[e] barriers to infrastructure investment and . . . promot[e] competition in the telecommunications market."The ruling continues, reiterating that the Communications Act language is simply too murky to be applied by the FCC in this fashion:"Remove barriers to infrastructure investment” is unclear regarding whether it applies to public and private infrastructure investment or only private infrastructure investment. “Infrastructure,” by itself, is not specific to the public sphere. Furthermore, nowhere in the general charge to “promote competition in the telecommunications market” is a directive to do so by preempting a state’s allocation of powers between itself and its subdivisions."While the FCC may have gotten too creative under the scope of the law, the end result of the ruling is unfortunate all the same. For more than a generation, phone and cable companies like AT&T and Comcast have all but owned many state legislatures, who in turn make it their unrelenting mission to protect regional, geographical monopolies (duopolies, if you're "lucky") from any evolution or competition whatsoever. And while Tennessee and North Carolina were quick to breathlessly accuse the FCC of violating states rights, state leaders haven't been concerned in the slightest that letting AT&T and Comcast write bad state laws consistently hurts consumers, businesses, and the state itself. Tennessee remains a broadband backwater for just this reason, so this shouldn't be a ruling anybody in the state (or in policy circles) is popping champagne corks over. It remains unclear what the FCC will do now, though in a statement FCC boss Tom Wheeler said he intends to continue fighting these restrictions, one way or another:"In the past 18 months, over 50 communities have taken steps to build their own bridges across the digital divide. The efforts of communities wanting better broadband should not be thwarted by the political power of those who, by protecting their monopoly, have failed to deliver acceptable service at an acceptable price. The FCC’s mandate is to make sure that Americans have access to the best possible broadband. We will consider all our legal and policy options to remove barriers to broadband deployment wherever they exist so that all Americans can have access to 21st Century communications. "Should states seek to repeal their anti-competitive broadband statutes, I will be happy to testify on behalf of better broadband and consumer choice. Should states seek to limit the right of people to act for better broadband, I will be happy to testify on behalf of consumer choice."The agency could appeal, could try its luck in a different jurisdiction and hope for better results, or it could wait on Congress to properly give it the authority it needs to fight broadband corruption and dysfunction of this type (chortle, guffaw). Unfortunately for consumers, Wheeler's running out of time if, as tradition encourages, he's going to step down with the election of a new President. While we wait, the onus once again rests squarely on the shoulders of voters to be informed, and to kick cash-compromised telecom sector sycophants out of office.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
When it comes to intellectual property bullying, the unholy alliance between the USOC and NBC seems to be trying to see exactly how far it can push things. Between NBC's "most live ever" broadcast of the games that still has unnecessary delays in both its television and streaming product and the USOC's strange belief that companies that sponsor athletes year-round somehow can't tweet out factual results or news images of those athletes as it relates the games due to trademark law, it's enough to make you laugh. But it's not only the antics of the USOC and NBC that is chuckle-worthy. Local sports coverage of the Olympics is too, thanks to the laughable restrictions NBC has put in place. Here's my hometown sports anchor, for instance, who came up with a creative way to cover the Olympics by not covering them at all in protest. Yes, instead of actually reporting on the games at all, Pat Tomasulo of Chicago's WGN decided to relay just how insane NBC is with its demands for how its footage is used and how other news groups are allowed to cover the Olympics. He decided to cover a different international competition run by "one of the most corrupt organization's in the world", whose logo is a series of interconnected triangles and whose theme song is Bump and Grind by R. Kelly. Then he read some Olympics results over footage of his own high school wrestling days, fully crediting his own mother. Now, this isn't just funny, it's also a wonderful little push back against NBC for its frankly insane restrictions on Olympics coverage. As a reward for being that restrictive, at least one local news organization decided not to report on the Olympics at all. So, NBC... mission accomplished? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
In a recent ruling in a child porn investigation case, a judge declared that the FBI's Network Investigative Technique (NIT) -- which sent identifying user info from the suspect's computer to the FBI -- was the equivalent of a passing cop peering through broken blinds into a house. [I]n Minnesota v. Carter, the Supreme Court considered whether a police officer who peered through a gap in a home's closed blinds conducted a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. 525 U.S. 83, 85 (1998). Although the Court did not reach this question, id at 91, Justice Breyer in concurrence determined that the officer's observation did not violate the respondents' Fourth Amendment rights. Id at 103 (Breyer, J., concurring). Justice Breyer noted that the "precautions that the apartment's dwellers took to maintain their privacy would have failed in respect to an ordinary passerby standing" where the police officer stood. What would normally be awarded an expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment becomes subject to the "plain view" warrant exception. If a passerby could see into the house via the broken blinds, there's nothing to prevent law enforcement from enjoying the same view -- and acting on it with a warrantless search. Of course, in this analogy, the NIT -- sent from an FBI-controlled server to unsuspecting users' computers -- is the equivalent of a law enforcement officer first entering the house to break the blinds and then claiming he saw something through the busted slats. The DOJ may be headed into the business of breaking blinds in bulk. Innocuous-sounding legislation that would allow the FBI to shut down botnets contains some serious privacy implications. Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Graham (R-SC), and Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Botnet Prevention Act in May, which (among other things) amends the portion of federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1345) that authorizes these injunctions. The bill would expand § 1345 by adding violations of a section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) that covers botnets (and more) to the list of offenses that trigger the DOJ’s ability to get an injunction. More specifically, it would allow injunctions in all violations or attempted violations of subsection (a)(5) of the CFAA that result or could result in damage to 100 or more computers in a year, including any case involving the “impair[ment of] the availability or integrity of the protected computers without authorization,” or the “install[ation] or maintain[nance of] control over malicious software on the protected computers” that “caused or would cause damage” to the protected computers. It only sounds like a good idea: the government riding to the rescue of unaware computer users whose devices have been pressed into service by malware purveyors and criminals. But, as Gabe Rottman of CDT points out, there's some vague wording in the existing law that would undercut important Fourth Amendment protections when used in conjunction with the DOJ's botnet-fighting powers. Buried deep within § 1345(b) is a single phrase that could open up a number of thorny issues when this injunctive authority is applied to botnets. The section not only allows the government to obtain a restraining order that stops someone from doing something nefarious, but also an order that directs someone to “take such other action, as is warranted to prevent a continuing and substantial injury . . . .”' Rottman points to the FBI's 2011 shutdown of the Coreflood botnet. After obtaining a restraining order under the federal rule, the FBI used its own server to issue commands to infected computers, halting further spread of the malware and shutting down the software on infected host devices. Again, this seems like a good use of the government's resources until you take a closer look at what's actually happening when the FBI does this sort of thing. The court hearing the Coreflood case accepted the government’s argument that the “community caretaker” doctrine allowed the transmission of the shutdown order, as the action was “totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” At the time, the government likened its actions to a police officer who, while responding to a break-in, finds the door to a house open or ajar and then closes it to secure the premises. The "community caretaker" function is one exception to warrant requirements. Accessing peoples' computers without their permission under these auspices allows the FBI to avail itself of a second warrant exception. In order to scrub private computers for malware, the government would, by necessity, have to search the computer and its contents for the malware. Once the door is ajar, rather than closing it, the police would actually “walk in” to the computer. And anything they find in “plain view” can be used as evidence of a crime. Nothing in the current version of the bill would prevent such a search or collection, giving the government the potential means to search countless computers of victims of the botnet (not the perpetrators) without a warrant. While these are both valid exceptions to warrant requirements, they've never been deployed on this sort of scale. Officers can perform community caretaker functions that may result in contraband being discovered in plain view. When the FBI takes on a botnet, however, it will have access to potentially thousands of computers at a time and the legislated permission to not only "enter" these computers, but to take a look around at the contents. The Fourth Amendment was put into place to end the practice of general warrants. The FBI's botnet-fighting efforts turn court-ordered injunctions into digital general warrants, only without the pesky "warrant" part of the phrase. And, unlike other warrants, the proposed legislation would do away with another Fourth Amendment nicety: notification. As CDT noted in its comments on the Rule 41 change mentioned above, potentially as many as a third of computers in the United States are infected with some form of malware. And, botnets are extremely hard to clean up, especially when you depend on victims to voluntarily submit their computers for cleaning. Given this reality, unless notice is required by statute, law enforcement would have an incentive to dispense with notice in the much wider array of shutdowns permitted under the Graham-Whitehouse bill. The bill has only been introduced and there's no forward motion as of yet. It's in need of serious repair before it heads further up the legislative chain. As it's written, there's nothing standing between people's personal files and a host of digital officers wandering through virtual houses in search of malware and searching/seizing anything else that catches their eye. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
The Developer's AWS Mastery Bundle will help you master Amazon's popular cloud computing platform. The first course prepares you to take the AWS Certified Developer Associate Exam with 64 lectures and practice exams to test your knowledge. The second course is an introduction to AWS Lambda and will teach you how to write, deploy, scale and manage lambda functions, so you can architect solutions from microservices that scale massively and respond almost in real time. Learn all about Git and GitHub and how to integrate GitHub with AWS in the third course. The fourth course in the bundle covers AWS CloudFormation which allows you to deploy resources in Amazon Web Services quickly across multiple regions. All four courses are available for only $29 in the Techdirt Deals Store. 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

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
For nearly two years now, we've been following an important DMCA-related case between music publisher BMG and the ISP Cox Communications. While the issues are a bit down in the weeds, what it really comes down to is a question of whether or not internet access providers are required to have a "repeat infringer" policy that removes customers who are seen to have been engaged in too much copyright infringement. Most people had assumed that the DMCA's requirements for a repeat infringer policy only applied to hosting providers -- i.e., those who help people host content -- as opposed to transit providers, who are merely providing the connectivity. In this case, though, that important nuance seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle, mainly because of some stupid behavior on the part of Cox. Amazingly, Cox is basically the only major ISP out there that has a history of actually kicking people off its service for infringement. Most others have historically refused to do so. But Cox's policy is ridiculously complex, and involves something around 13 steps... and, on top of that, Cox admitted that once it's kicked people off they can just sign up for new service. Seeing all that, the court basically decided that Cox was acting in bad faith, and thus jumped right over the question of whether or not the repeat infringer policy even applied to Cox. The judge in the case, Judge Liam O'Grady (who is also handling the Kim Dotcom case...) is not exactly known for his love of the internet. Earlier in the case, he had mocked the idea that there was any harm in kicking people off the internet. Responding to an attempt by Public Knowledge and the EFF to file an amicus brief, the judge mocked both organizations and the proposed brief itself: It is a combination of describing the horrors that one endures from losing the Internet for any length of time. Frankly, it sounded like my son complaining when I took his electronics away when he watched YouTube videos instead of doing homework. And it's completely hysterical. Up against that, it's no surprise that Cox found itself on the losing side. We explained why this ruling was so problematic and it goes way beyond the $25 million Cox was told to pay BMG. As part of the process of moving on to appeal, Cox asked Judge O'Grady to reconsider his original ruling as a matter of law, and he's now rejected that plea with a fairly long and detailed opinion. Cox raised three specific concerns about the original ruling, saying that BMG failed to show actual direct infringement, that it failed to provide evidence of Cox's liability and that it also failed to show evidence of willfulness. O'Grady is not impressed. On the question of direct infringement, Cox pointed out all of the problems with Rightscorp's system (which is what BMG was using) in identifying infringement -- and also argued that Rightscorp's own downloads aren't evidence of infringement. BMG responded that they tested Rightscorp's system and it seemed accurate to them. O'Grady says that Rightscorp's downloads are perfectly good evidence and doesn't go much deeper than that. On the question of Cox's liability is where things really go off the rails. Cox points to the famous (and important) ruling in the Sony Betamax case that said that VCR devices are legal thanks to "substantial non-infringing uses." BMG then tried to use the Grokster ruling on inducement to undermine what the Supreme Court said in Sony. Here, O'Grady decides that the Sony ruling was a narrow one. That's a problem. O'Grady says that because Cox has an ongoing relationship with potential infringers, rather than ending that relationship at the point of sale, the Sony standard doesn't apply. Such a claim is possible here because, unlike in Sony, Cox maintains an ongoing relationship with users of its service. Sony's last point of contact with users of the VTR was at the point of sale.... An ongoing relationship between a defendant and direct infringers presents a potential for culpability quite beyond distribution or design.... The judge also rejects the "in the alternative" argument presented by Cox that even if Sony doesn't apply, under Grokster the only way to apply liability is if Cox was found to have induced infringement (remember, the Supreme Court in the Grokster case made up -- out of thin air -- an "inducement" standard to explain why Grokster's file sharing system wasn't protected by the Sony ruling). Here, however, O'Grady takes the Grokster ruling to mean not just that there's an inducement standard, but rather as open season to come up with reasons why the Sony standard doesn't apply. Yikes. Cox also argues that if Sony does not provide immunity, the Grokster Court made clear that BMG's only path to liability was through an inducement claim. The Court again disagrees. It bears noting that adopting Cox's reading of Sony and Grokster would greatly simplify this area of law. Sony would be a complete bar to contributory infringement whenever a defendant's product or service is capable of commercially significant noninfringing uses, and that safe harbor would be removed for only a distinct subset--those that actively induce infringement. Well... yeah. That's what the courts have said. What's so terrible about that reading of the law? It makes perfect sense. Instead, O'Grady wants the law to be something different -- allowing courts to shut down services with substantial non-infringing uses by pinning liability based on... vague other claims. That's problematic on a number of levels as it almost writes the Sony ruling out of existence. (As an aside, in a footnote, O'Grady notes that if the appeals court disagrees with him on this point, the case is effectively over, as BMG didn't claim that Cox engaged in inducement until after the case was over, which he notes, correctly, "is far too little and far too late." Finally, on the question of whether or not Cox was "willfully" blind to infringement on its network, O'Grady again takes a very expansive and troubling view of what he believes the law says. While multiple courts have taken the quite reasonable view that "willful" blindness requires actual knowledge of infringing behavior, O'Grady goes with a broader definition, and takes jokey emails from Cox's abuse team as "proof" that it knew of infringement, and then combined that with the fact that Rightscorp bombarded Cox with notices (whose sole purpose was not to stop the infringement, but rather in hopes that Cox would pass them on to subscribers to get those subscribers to cough up money). But Judge O'Grady takes Cox's decision to treat Rightscorp notices more like spam as a sign of willful blindness: There was a significant amount of evidence of Cox's general knowledge of infringement on its network. Cox received notices from other copyright holders complaining of infringement. Cox knew from its traffic analysis that subscribers were using BitTorrent.... There was evidence from industry reports that the overwhelming majority of traffic on BitTorrent was infringing, and emails among members of the Abuse Group indicated Cox's knowledge of that fact.... ("Bittorrent is used for one thing only... and I would know. ;-)")... ("99% of DMCA violations is from people using P2P on purpose and not Trojan activity.") While generalized knowledge of infringement occurring on its network is not sufficient standing alone, it did provide the backdrop for Cox's decision to continuously ignore and take no action in response to the 1.8 million notices, weekly letters, and dashboard from Rightscorp. There was also evidence that Cox had configured its graduated response system in such a way as to reduce both the total number of notices that entered the system and the amount of customer-facing action that may be required. Moreover, internal Cox communications, which were admitted over Cox's objections, signaled that Cox's decision not to process Rightscorp's notices may have been due to more than just the presence of the settlement language and instead reflected a general disdain for any enforcement responsibilities. Again, O'Grady reads this in the worst possible light. But an ISP should have disdain for copyright holders trying to lump all the liability on them. The whole idea that everyone thinks ISPs should be Hollywood's private police force is silly, and it's why the safe harbors of the DMCA are designed to keep most of the liability off of the ISPs. Not surprisingly, O'Grady also rejects all of Cox's complaints about the jury instructions and the exclusion of certain evidence. This included O'Grady's decision to block evidence of Righscorp's seriously scammy behavior -- such as its phone script telling people who said they hadn't infringed that they needed to hand their computers over to the local police to search the hard drives. O'Grady says he was right to exclude that evidence because it might unfairly prejudice or confuse the jury. Basically the only thing that goes Cox's way is O'Grady's decision to deny BMG's request for a permanent injunction At the outset, the Court notes that BMG's brief in support of an injunction relied heavily on a statement of fact that was not true. Specifically, BMG alleged that, following the jury verdict, Cox had continued to ignore Rightscorp's detection of "massive infringement" on its network.... ... In fact, Cox provided notice to BMG shortly after trial that Righscorp was no longer blacklisted. The court goes on to note that BMG's request for an injunction is overly broad and extreme, and would basically allow Rightscorp to kick people off of Cox's service with little oversight. Hilariously, BMG also demands that Cox "hand over the identity, email address, mailing address, and telephone number of every subscriber that BMG identifies...." Which is basically "please let us let Rightscorp play its shakedown game." Thankfully, the court rejects that too and laughs off BMG's claim that this is necessary for "transparency." Quite obviously, if that were the reason, there would be numerous ways to anonymize subscribers and still track Cox's actions. There certainly would never be a need for an email address, mailing address, and telephone numbers. When asked, counsel conceded that the infromation would be given to Rightscorp... Anyway, all of this is just prelude anyway. It seems highly likely that Cox will appeal this decision (though, it's also possible that it will come to some sort of settlement agreement with BMG). It's the appeal where all of this will become especially interesting.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
For years we've noted how as a product of the cable and broadcast industry, Hulu has often gone out of its way to avoid being truly disruptive. Owners 21st Century Fox, Disney and Comcast/NBC have worked hard to ensure the service is never too interesting -- lest it cannibalize the company's legacy cable TV cash cow. So Hulu has been doomed to walk the halls of almost but not quite compelling purgatory, a rotating crop of execs for years trying to skirt the line between giving consumers what they actually want -- and being a glorified ad for traditional cable television. Fast forward to this week, when Hulu announced that the company is backing away from free as a core component of its business model. While Hulu began as a free option, it has slowly but surely been making free content harder to come by. Instead, users now have the option of paying either $8 per month for a streaming service with ads, or a $12 per month service (mostly) free of advertising. As such, the company proclaims that offering anything for free is no longer part of the company's vision of the ideal "Hulu experience":"For the past couple years, we’ve been focused on building a subscription service that provides the deepest, most personalized content experience possible to our viewers,” Hulu senior VP and head of experience Ben Smith said in a statement. “As we have continued to enhance that offering with new originals, exclusive acquisitions, and movies, the free service became very limited and no longer aligned with the Hulu experience or content strategy."Instead, Hulu intends to focus on its subscription services, and the launch of a live TV subscription platform sometime in early 2017. It will offer some free content 8 days after a program's air date, but only via a new Yahoo/Verizon web portal that may or may not even exist next year at this time. Thanks to intentional release delays, a shrinking catalog of free options and other restrictions you'll note Hulu can't specifically claim that the free business model failed, because it was never truly given a chance to succeed. And because this is the cable and broadcast industry, Hulu's "content strategy" will remain hamstrung by all manner of unnecessary restrictions. Time Warner, which recently paid $583 million for a 10% stake, has been pushing to pull all current seasons of shows from the service. It's also worth remembering that the 2011 NBC Universal merger conditions blocked Comcast from meddling in Hulu management (not that this always stopped Comcast) to prevent anti-competitive shenanigans. But those restrictions will sunset in early 2018, at which point ownership pressure to ensure Hulu isn't too disruptive will only grow. So on one side, you have Hulu claiming it wants to become disruptive and profitable. On the other side, you have its owners intentionally doing things to ensure it never becomes too disruptive and profitable. And offering free services as part of your business model certainly doesn't line up with the goal of keeping the legacy cable industry cash cow happily mooing for another decade. As we've long noted, most cable and broadcast companies think this whole cord cutting thing is a fad that ends when Millennials start procreating. As such the focus is on the illusion of innovation while they wait for the storm to pass. While ditching free may not be a great idea, the real threat to the viability of a streaming revolution remains exclusive licensing and fractured content availability. As broadcasters increasingly focus on their own streaming services, exclusive arrangements (like CBS with Star Trek) are flourishing. In Hulu's case, it means losing access to the CW network, now exclusive to Netflix. It also means losing access to the Criterion Collection of films, now the streaming exclusive of a new Turner-owned streaming platform called Filmstruck. This fractured availability only frustrates and confuses customers, many of which will simply return to piracy.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...