posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Techdirt has been writing about open access and open data in the academic world for some years now. But beyond those important ways of sharing lies a more integrated approach, generally known as open science. Gabriella Coleman has passed on some interesting news from Canada in this field. McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), under the leadership of its director, Guy Rouleau, wants to speed up the translation of research into treatments, and thinks that opening up completely is the way to do that, as Science reports: any work done [at the MNI] will conform to the principles of the "open-science" movement -- all results and data will be made freely available at the time of publication, for example, and the institute will not pursue patents on any of its discoveries. Although some large-scale initiatives like the government-funded Human Genome Project have made all data completely open, MNI will be the first scientific institute to follow that path, Rouleau says. Forgoing patent licensing revenues is unusual, but Rouleau makes the important point that early-stage science results are not really worth protecting: "There is a fair amount of patenting by people at the institute, but the outcomes have not been very useful," he says, adding that the institute would rather provide data that others could use to develop patentable medicines. "It comes down to what is the reason for our existence? It's to accelerate science, not to make money." This obsession with patenting that bedevils research at many academic institutions, and the poor returns it produces, is something that Techdirt has written about before. Eschewing patents, and sharing results, data, software and algorithms is bold enough, but arguably even bolder is the requirement that collaborators from other institutions must do the same: The insistence that any organization or institute that collaborates with MNI will also have to follow open-science principles for that project could help to spread the approach, says Dan Gezelter, a chemist and open-science advocate at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. "It's a little bit viral. I've never seen that before," he says. Well, maybe not in a science context, but of course such reciprocity lies at the heart of Richard Stallman's GNU General Public License. The GNU GPL is also something that is often called "viral", but a better name might be evangelical. Let's hope that MNI's project is as successful in spreading the word about open science as the GPL has been in propagating free software. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There was a time when making your own alcohol wasn't a completely legit thing to do. Sure, now anyone can just go down to a corner store almost any time and pick up a chilled alcoholic beverage, but if you're a real do-it-yourself-er, you won't want to drink just anything that comes in a pretty bottle. Here are a few projects you might want to check out someday when you're not feeling like guzzling something made by Anheuser-Busch-Inbev-SABmiller. Folks can brew beer from a lot of unusual stuff, so why not use day-old bread to prevent some food waste? Toast Ale uses surplus bakery bread to make its beer, and it plans to open source its recipe so that more people can find a productive use for baked goods that might otherwise just go in the trash. If you're not a beer drinker, there's also vodka made from potato peels. [url] PicoBrew is a way to brew your own beer at home with the convenience of a Keurig coffee maker. So yah, you can make custom craft beer at home, and you just need to buy these fairly sizable packages of pre-measured hops and grains -- then voila, you'll have fresh beer in about a week. [url] If you'd like to try to make your own moonshine, but you don't really want to go out into the woods and find a source of running water -- just get a tabletop still for your kitchen. It doesn't even require running water, and it'll make about a half gallon of booze on demand (if you're patient). And maybe make sure to discard the first few drops to make sure you're not drinking too much methanol. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I first signed up for Twitter in March of 2007, but I'll admit that I barely used it for about nine months. There were two events in early 2008, however, that convinced me of Twitter's power. The first was that I logged in and saw someone who I only knew online, but not in person, mention a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in NY that I really liked, and because of that, we actually arranged to meet up there for lunch a few weeks later when I was in NY. That ability to connect people was really powerful. The second, though, was much bigger, and it was the Iowa caucus in 2008. It was in January in 2008, but I'm thinking about it today, obviously because (in case you haven't heard), today is this year's Iowa caucus that officially kicks off the Presidential silly season, known as the Presidential nominating process. As the caucuses ramped up in that evening in 2008, something kind of fascinating happened. I saw someone (again, someone I knew via Twitter, but not in real life), retweet an account that someone had set up solely to retweet in person tweets from within the various caucuses. I quickly followed that account (which I long ago unfollowed, so I don't even remember the account name or even if it still exists). And it kept popping up first person real life reports of what was happening with the various caucus gatherings. And then I started following some of the mainstream news coverage of the caucus as well. To be honest, I didn't really care that much about what happened in Iowa, but the tweets from inside caucus gatherings seemed... unique. It made it more real and more personal. And here was the real kicker: almost every retweet showed Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton and John Edwards (the two other "leading" candidates) sometimes by a large margin. And yet every single mainstream news report claimed that based on their "exit polls" or whatever the hell they were doing, all three candidates were stuck in a statistical dead heat 33/33/33. But as the evening wore on, and more and more of the Twitter reports showed Obama winning caucus gather after caucus gathering, the mainstream media reports finally started showing some separating between the candidates, with Obama finally winning with over 37% of the vote (Clinton and Edwards each had about 29+). Of course, in the eight years since, Twitter has grown and changed and struggled. And I doubt I'll have the same experience tonight. Already (unlike eight years ago), the press is pushing out lists of people to follow on Twitter to "get the full story" on the Iowa caucuses, and the list is mainly made up of professional journalists. And, at the same time, the company continues to try to reinvent itself to make itself more acceptable to Wall Street investors. The company stupidly shunned the developers and contributors who made the service so powerful in the early years, meaning that it's getting increasingly frustrating to actually use Twitter. It's been adding in "features" that the company thinks will benefit advertisers, but seem to negatively impact its best users. And there are all sorts of questions about how Twitter will survive (though it has a ton of cash on hand). For a long time I've argued that Twitter made a big mistake in focusing on being a platform instead of a protocol, and the struggles it's facing today are just some evidence supporting that concern. As a "platform" they're so focused on building the business, rather than being useful. And in scaring off or simply blocking or killing their developer community, the fact that the service has gotten more annoying than useful lately, is a real loss. If there were a thriving developer community there would be ample opportunities for those innovations to make the service better. But instead, it's been left to Twitter alone, and the company is failing (badly) in that role. Eight years ago I saw the power of Twitter. And today, I'm really missing that unique power. I hope it can return soon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Apparently the millions Facebook has been spending on advertisements, lobbying, marketing and spamming the Indian government will be for naught. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) appears poised to ban the practice of zero rating as part of its new net neutrality rules, effectively killing Facebook's controversial Free Basics zero rating program once and for all in the country. According to the Times of India, TRAI is expected to deliver the death blow to Facebook's world-domination ambitions within a week:"Trai will issue an order to this effect within a week, top sources told TOI. The order is also expected to bar free or subsidised data packages that offer access to only a select services, such as Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp messenger. "These are discriminatory and are against the concept of digital democracy. We will not allow them," a source said. The regulator's stand will clear the confusion over net neutrality. There were apprehensions over the manner in which free Internet was being offered, after the introduction of some zero-rated platforms with preferential treatment to a few websites for a fee."India would join Japan, The Netherlands, Chile and Slovenia in banning zero rating entirely, based on the idea that cap exemption gives some companies a leg up, and unfairly distorts the inherently level Internet playing field. That's something the FCC refused to do here in the States, and as a result we're witnessing telecom carriers rushing toward who can be the most "innovative" in the zero rating space. AT&T and Verizon are now formally charging companies for premium, cap-exempt status, T-Mobile is throttling every shred of video that touches its network to 1.5 Mbps (and lying about it), and Comcast is now exempting its own streaming video service from usage caps, much to the chagrin of smaller streaming competitors. So far, the FCC's response has been to nod dumbly. In India, Facebook (lead by former FCC boss and neutrality waffler Kevin Martin), has been engaged in a blistering media and lobbying campaign to convince India that a curated walled garden run by Facebook was a great way to help the nation's poor farmers. Indian activists and critics like Mozilla disagreed, arguing that the company was simply hiding its lust to control emerging ad markets under the banner of altruism, and if Facebook really wanted to help India's poor, it should focus on improving the country's actual Internet infrastructure. Facebook's initial response was to call critics of the company's program extremists who were hurting the poor (despite many of the critics being local Indian activists who've dedicated a lifetime to that task). When that didn't work, Facebook changed the name of the program, and filled local newspapers with full-page editorials by CEO Mark Zuckerberg declaring the company's sole interest was poor farmers, not cornering developing ad markets. When people didn't buy that, Facebook tried tricking its users (including those in the U.S. and UK) into spamming the Indian government. It appears to be that last effort that may have pushed TRAI over the edge (you can read TRAI politely trying to ask Facebook (pdf) to prove the 11 million bogus supporters of Free Basics actually exist). Assuming TRAI follows through on reports, Facebook's now forced to do what many critics wanted all along: actually put all of the money spent on lobbying and marketing Free Basics -- into actually helping shore up India's lagging telecom infrastructure.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Since late last week, we've been getting lots of inbound requests and submissions to write about The Fine Brothers, and the claims that they're somehow trying to "control" or "claim ownership" on the concept of "react videos." Almost all of the inbound requests are expecting us to trash the Fine Brothers for this apparent attempt to "own" something that can't be owned, and we're going to disappoint them. Having gone through all of the details, it actually looks like the Fine Brothers were legitimately trying to do something that's actually... kind of cool. Now, before you rip off my head as well, please wait and hear me out. I will say that they could have been a bit more tactful about it, but I don't think they deserve the intense hatred they're getting. There are lots of details here, but it starts with the Fine Brothers, Benny and Rafi, who have built up a rather impressive empire in creating amusing internet videos. They have a bunch of shows, many of which are crazy popular. Among the most well-known is probably the "Kids React" series, in which they film kids reacting to things (often "old" things that the kids may not be familiar with, frequently pop culture related). Personally, I like the one where kids react to seeing the very first iPod. Warning, if you're older than, like, 10, this video may make you feel really old. Anyway... this latest mess kicked off with a YouTube video where Benny and Rafi Fine act as if they've just cured cancer or something, they're so excited for what they're putting out into the world -- a way for anyone to "license" their various show "formats," like Kids React: And, right off the bat, I can totally understand why people were at least a little concerned about this. We've all spent enough time dealing with big successful entities using "licensing" to mean "we're going to stop you from doing stuff unless you pay us." And, honestly, the video above does feel a little weird with the two of them acting as if they've just done the most amazing thing in the world for their fans. I think the other problem with the way they announced this is that they've probably been so deep in the Southern California/entertainment world where questions about "licensing formats" for TV shows is something that's understood by everyone, that they just used the same terminology, without realizing how that would play with basically everyone else in the world, especially among their fan base. Again, to most people "licensing" means taking someone else's money and "formats" sounds like they're claiming ownership of any kind of reaction videos. But, having gone through the video, the details, more details, the FAQs and their hurried attempts to defend themselves, I actually do think they were trying to do something that is kind of cool. But they got seriously tripped up by the way they presented it. Here's what they probably should have said they were trying to do: "Hey, everyone, we know we've got lots of enthusiastic fans who love our react videos and want to make their own. And now we're going to help you make those videos, help promote them and even help you make some money off of them! Yay! Isn't that exciting?" Here's what they said instead: "Hey, everyone, we're going to let you license our "React" intellectual property. Also, people who copy our videos are bad people, but now you can do it if you license from us! Isn't that totally exciting?" Here's what everyone heard: "Hey, everyone, we own "reaction videos" and now if you want to make your own, you have to give us a cut or we'll shut you down, because you're bad! Isn't that exciting?" The problem was that they focused on the mechanism ("licensing!") rather than the benefits. They've been pretty clear that they're not looking to shut down anyone. And all the claims from people saying that they're claiming "ownership" of reaction videos is wrong. Yes, they've trademarked some stuff, but trademarks are not copyrights or patents. And, yes, while there is trademark abuse, there's no indication that what they're trying to do here is abusive. Actually, it looks like a pretty good idea. They know that lots of people make similar reaction videos. And a lot of those people are their fans. But rather than shut them down and rather than demand big licensing fees, they created this (somewhat unique) program, where they're giving a license to anyone who wants it, and with that license, you get a variety of benefits, including graphic elements and (importantly) the ability to have the Fine Brothers help promote and monetize your videos. They take a cut (looks like a pretty small percentage actually), but that should be worth it for many people, who probably wouldn't have many opportunities to monetize the videos by themselves. So, rather than use intellectual property to limit people (especially fans), this effort looks like it's designed to do the opposite. It's offering ways for fans who make their own videos to be considered "official" videos. Imagine, for example, if LucasFilm did the same thing, giving a sort of stamp of approval for people making fan Star Wars films -- and would even let them release them, just as long as LucasFilm got a small cut? That would be kind of cool. Now, there is some, potentially valid, concern that the Fine Brothers have attempted to trademark some of the names of their shows, and those trademarks could potentially be abused. Additionally, the whole "people are stealing our formats!" claim in the video above just comes across as silly. Finally, there are at least some examples of absolutely stupid takedowns that may have been made by the Fine Brothers or by people working for them. And those are all certainly issues to be concerned about -- and the Fine Brothers should have perhaps realized that those issues were going to come up, especially the way they presented this. But, going back to the actual licensing program, it's not that crazy by itself. A trademark is pretty limited in what it can prevent here, and it really doesn't look like they're trying to take down generic reaction videos -- and the fact that they've publicly insisted they're not intending to do so would clearly hurt any actual attempt to do so later. The takedown pointed out above was stupid, and pretty clearly fair use, but was using the Fine Brothers' original work (it was a video of him reacting to one of their Kids React videos). Again, it was a really really dumb takedown that they shouldn't have done, but is a separate issue from this licensing program for people creating something different entirely. Similarly, a lot of the criticism is that there's nothing special or unique in "reaction videos" and that plenty of others have done them, even predating the Fine Brothers. That's true -- and this is where the misunderstanding of "format" outside of the cozy Southern California entertainment world comes in. What they're talking about is building off of the larger reputation associated with the shows themselves -- something the Fine Brothers actually did build up beyond just generic reaction videos -- including a general setup and script for how each of the videos goes along with the graphical elements that accompany the shows. Most other reaction videos don't follow that same format -- with multiple people looking at a laptop or a piece of technology, with the quick cuts between different folks, and the captions and explanation bubbles and whatnot. I'm not saying any of that is brilliant, but it is the kind of thing that, when packaged together, could certainly be a valid "format" for a show. Again, if you separate it out, overall, this actually looks like a pretty cool idea for how an entertainment brand could (and probably should!) embrace fan culture and fans trying to build on their work. But, it was presented slightly awkwardly, with a focus on terminology not well understood outside of the entertainment business, and in a world where people are (so rightfully!) concerned about abusing intellectual property. And, the fact that the Fine Brothers have apparently done some stupid takedowns doesn't help at all. Mix in a bit of Reddit mob behavior and you have a recipe for a massive overreaction.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in 2013, not long after Aaron Swartz's tragic suicide, reporter Kevin Poulsen (who had also worked with Swartz on what became SecureDrop, the system for whistleblowers to anonymously submit documents to journalists) submitted a Freedom of Information Act with the Department of Homeland Security about what info it had on Swartz. There were some legal fights about it, but eventually DHS was forced to release the documents, which now reside at a site set up by Poulsen called SwartzFiles.com. These documents revealed things like the government's weird infatuation with the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto, that many believe was written (at least in part) by Swartz (there's at least some dispute over this). Meanwhile, Jason Leopold, who uses FOIA requests so frequently and so effectively that the DOJ once labeled him a "FOIA Terrorist," submitted a similar request with the Justice Department -- specifically targeting the US Attorney's Office in Massachusetts -- which is the office out of which Swartz's case was prosecuted. Obviously, they have plenty of such documents. In fact, in Poulsen's DHS Swartz files there are emails between DHS and DOJ folks. But, an astounding three years and 11 days after Leopold submitted his FOIA request, the DOJ has told him it has no responsive documents. That's obviously bullshit. There's simply no way that the office that was prosecuting Swartz has no responsive documents on the case. And, of course, perhaps the worst FOIA requester to give a bogus answer to is Jason Leopold. Not only is he one of the most persistent FOIA filers, he also is absolutely willing to file FOIA lawsuits when the government tries to deny him what he wants. As a recent profile noted, he's filed more FOIA lawsuits by himself than almost all other news organizations combined. And it seems quite likely that the DOJ just convinced him to file another such lawsuit.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Keeping tabs on your network can help keep your important and personal information secure. For $29, Glasswire Pro for PC helps to visualize your past and current network traffic to help you better understand what is going on in the background. It alerts you to suspicious activity, allows you to block access by specific programs with its firewall, and uses limited resources so it won't slow down your computer. The tools allow you to monitor specific applications and protocols, and the Pro version lets you monitor up to 3 computers. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Apparently two French Parliament Members are on a mission to ban linking to websites, unless you first have permission. In short, they're looking to undermine one of the key features of the internet itself. The idea was proposed but rejected by the Legislative Commission, but it is brought back again. Socialist Karine Berger and Valérie Rabault once again tabled their Amendment #843 to Axelle Lemaire’s Bill for a Digital Republic, which would actually prohibit by default a large quantity of hyperlinks in France. This device aims at amending the Law for Confidence in the Digital Economy and hold ISP and hosts criminally responsible as soon as they “allow public access to works or objects protected by the copyright code, including through automated means.” The amendment states “users are required to obtain authorization from concerned rights holders”. The two MPs demand that “such authorization covers actions by users of such services when transmitting to the said users the protected works or objects, in order to allow use as stated in the fist paragraph inasmuch as such users are not acting on professional purposes”. Now, it's fairly obvious that you're dealing with two politicians who think they're somehow proposing a solution to "piracy" on the internet. But it's really yet another attempt at punishing Google. Similar to efforts in Germany, Spain and even the European Parliament, very, very shortsighted Google haters think that a way to "punish" Google is to make it pay money to sites that it links to (mainly when it comes to news aggregation). The two French politicians admit flat out that they're trying to help copyright maximalists: The amendment is intended to “protect the creation of authors and define the scope of their rights on hyperlinks”, according to the two MPS’ rationale. “The amendment aims at reinstating protection on these hyperlinks, in favour of the authors and rights holders of the links’ target content.” But linking isn't and should never be infringement. It's a reference and it takes you to the original content, which is beneficial. And yet, of course, it all comes back to politicians thinking that just because Google is successful while linking to others' content, Google must be somehow bad. “Just look at Google’s referencing procedures: they are based on hyperlinks, and links that lead to copyright-protected works on their publishing site are precisely what allows Google to create any added value whatsoever”, said MP Karine Berger in her plea for the amendment. “In other words, some commercial Internet operators benefit from the value of some copyright-protected cultural goods and services without ever paying for using them. The amendment, by raising the question as to whom is responsible for collecting value through hyperlinks, aims at overturning jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is a paramount legal and economic issue.” Yes, Google creates value for itself in linking to websites. It also creates value for users. And for the websites it links to. That's why there's a massive search engine optimization business in which sites purposely try to get ranked better on Google, because sites that are linked from Google get tremendous benefit out of it. I have a hard time understanding any kind of logic wherein you have a setup in which everyone basically benefits... and a politician still wants to come in and complain because one of the parties in the setup is doing well.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Apparently, the only way to stop terrorists from hating us for our freedom is to strip away those offensive freedoms. Erik Barnett, the DHS's attache to the European Union, pitched some freedom-stripping ideas to a presumably more receptive audience via an article for a French policy magazine. Leveraging both the recent Paris attacks and the omnipresent law enforcement excuse for any bad idea -- child porn -- Barnett suggested victory in the War on Terror can be achieved by stripping internet users of their anonymity. You know, all of them, not just the terrorists. After a short anecdote about a successful child porn prosecution in Europe. Barnett gets straight to the point. Here's Kieren McCarthy of The Register. Before we have an opportunity to celebrate, however, Barnett jumps straight to terrorism. "How much of the potential jihadists' data should intelligence agencies or law enforcement be able to examine to protect citizenry from terrorist attack?", he poses. The answer, of course, is everything. Then the pitch: "As the use of technology by human beings grows and we look at ethical and philosophical questions surrounding ownership of data and privacy interests, we must start to ask how much of the user's data is fair game for law enforcement to protect children from sexual abuse?" In short, if you value internet-related freedoms, you're basically supporting terrorism and child porn. No person -- especially no legislator -- would want to be seen as valuing personal freedoms over the good of the nation's infrastructure/children. And, because terrible ideas must be buttressed by terrible analogies, Barnett theorizes that the internet is basically a car. "When a person drives a car on a highway, he or she agrees to display a license plate. The license plate's identifiers are ignored most of the time by law enforcement [unless] the car is involved in a legal infraction or otherwise becomes a matter of public interest. Similarly, should not every individual be required to display a 'license plate' on the digital super-highway?" To use the Fourth Amendment for a moment, a lowered expectation of privacy is in play when operating a vehicle on public roads. However, the Fourth Amendment affords a great deal of privacy to the interior of people's homes. Because the government (in most cases) does not provide internet access, it has no basis to demand ongoing access to citizens' internet activities. It may acquire this information (along with subscriber info) using search warrants and subpoenas during the course of investigations, but it cannot demand (or at least shouldn't) -- for national security reasons or otherwise -- that every internet user be immediately identifiable. Discussions of requiring a license for internet usage have been raised previously but rarely go anywhere. To do so is to start heading down the path to totalitarianism. Unfortunately, being in a constant state of war against an ambiguous foe often results in legislators and government officials declaring their interest in seeing this path not only surveyed, but the first layer of asphalt applied. Barnett is one of this number, and he wants a strawman to serve as construction foreman. "Social media is used to generate support for terrorist groups ... How appropriate is the law enforcement engagement of the social media companies to reveal digital fingerprints of these extremist groups? Who determines the level of 'extremism' of a group? Few would disagree that law enforcement and intelligence services should have the ability..." Actually, lots of people would disagree, starting with many citizens and running all the way up to their service providers. On top of that, the nation's courts would find the institution of a law that strips the anonymity of internet users to be unconstitutional, so that's another hurdle Barnett and like-minded officials would not be able to clear, no matter their stated justification. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The way things are going, pretty soon FBI Director James Comey is going to be out there alone, flipping off light switches and blowing out candles, all the while cursing the going darkness. A new report by Harvard's Berkman Society for Internet and Society debunks law enforcement's fearful statements about encroaching darkness. (h/t New York Times) As the report points out, there may be some pockets that are darker than others, but the forward march of technology means other areas are brighter than they've ever been. In particular, the growing Internet of Things is pretty much just the Internet of Confidential Informants. Three trends in particular facilitate government access. First, many companies’ business models rely on access to user data. Second, products are increasingly being offered as services, and architectures have become more centralized through cloud computing and data centers. A service, which entails an ongoing relationship between vendor and user, lends itself much more to monitoring and control than a product, where a technology is purchased once and then used without further vendor interaction. Finally, the Internet of Things promises a new frontier for networking objects, machines, and environments in ways that we just beginning to understand. When, say, a television has a microphone and a network connection, and is reprogrammable by its vendor, it could be used to listen in to one side of a telephone conversation taking place in its room – no matter how encrypted the telephone service itself might be. These forces are on a trajectory towards a future with more opportunities for surveillance. On top of the additional opportunities for surveillance, there's encryption itself. The best friend of Public Enemies #1-whatever is far from the insurmountable obstacle Comey and others have presented it as. While some companies are offering encryption by default and others are specializing in secure communications apps and tools, this is still mostly in service to niche markets. [C]ompanies typically wish to have unencumbered access to user data – with privacy assured through either restricting dissemination of identifiable customer information outside the boundaries of the company (and of governments, should they lawfully request the data). Implementing end-to-end encryption by default for all, or even most, user data streams would conflict with the advertising model and presumably curtail revenues. Even Apple and Google -- the two companies that added encryption-by-default to their devices -- aren't interested in encrypting everything. Google offers a number of features in its web-based services that require access to plaintext data, including full text search of documents and files stored in the cloud. In order for such features to work, Google must have access to the plaintext. While Apple says that it encrypts communications end-to-end in some apps it develops, the encryption does not extend to all of its services. This includes, in particular, the iCloud backup service, which conveniently enables users to recover their data from Apple servers. iCloud is enabled by default on Apple devices. Although Apple does encrypt iCloud backups, it holds the keys so that users who have lost everything are not left without recourse. So while the data may be protected from outside attackers, it is still capable of being decrypted by Apple. In short, far more surveillance doors have been opened in the past decade than have been closed. As the authors point out, smart devices and online services have implemented voice commands, giving them the capability to record conversations far more private than those that might take place over other encrypted channels. As a case in point, the report notes the FBI exploited in-car microphones more than a decade ago, using an luxury auto "concierge" service to eavesdrop on conversations between organized crime members. They also point out that encryption isn't always surveillance-proof. NSA officials have encouraged the use of encryption -- not just because it protects ordinary citizens from attacks, but also because it can crack some of it and grab tons of metadata no matter what form is being used. Not only that, but officials have admitted that the use of encryption "lights up" potential surveillance targets, making its haystack trawling much more efficient. Comey is the odd man out here, abandoned by the NSA, administration and, with few exceptions, other law enforcement agencies. The solution isn't bans or backdoors. The solution is the exploitation of every new attack vector willingly created by social media apps, smart devices and the general interconnectedness of the world wide web. If he persists in this fashion, it won't be too long before he's considered no more credible than the ranting doomsayers who prowl city streets and subway platforms. And let's not forget law enforcement agencies solved crimes and captured criminals for over two hundred years in this country -- and never found the lack of access to smartphone contents to be a hindrance. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For many, many years, the big German music performance rights organization GEMA has been at war with YouTube over what rates YouTube must pay for any streamed music. It started with GEMA more or less arguing that a stream on YouTube was effectively the same as a purchased download on iTunes, and that it should get $0.17 per stream (yes, per stream). For anyone who understands even basic economics you'd recognize that's not even remotely in the realm of reality. The battle has gone on ever since, and unlike basically every other country in the world GEMA has refused to budge. Because of this YouTube has blocked most major label music from its service in Germany, while GEMA has filed a variety of lawsuits against YouTube in the country arguing that YouTube is somehow responsible for what YouTube users upload. In the latest round, YouTube scored a victory as a court rightly found that YouTube is a neutral platform and not liable for a user's uploads. According to David Meyer at Fortune: On Thursday, the higher regional court of Munich rejected GEMA’s claim for damages to the tune of around €1.6 million ($1.75 million). If you’re wondering, that figure represents royalties for 1,000 music videos chosen as examples, at a rate of 0.375 euro cents per view. The court upheld a judgement by the lower regional court in Munich, which said YouTube is just a host for uploaded video. Meyer also notes that Germany will likely appeal, so it's not over yet. He also notes, of course, that the rate demanded, while still insane, is at least lower than what GEMA was originally asking for.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
This week, one of the stories that got the most response was the extreme claims by the IAB chief that using an adblocker means you hate free speech. One anonymous commenter took first place for insightful with a simple explanation of this common fallacy: Like many people who wish to impose their views on others, he is confusing free speech with other people freedom to ignore his speech. Free speech rights do not guarantee an audience, let alone permit someone to force an audience to listen to them. In second place, we've got a comment from TechDescartes which examines a particular statement from Kuwait regarding its mandatory DNA database: Yet The DNA will not be used for medical purposes, such as checking for genetic markers of disease, which will avoid issues of whether people should be told about their predisposition to possibly serious illnesses. Nor will the DNA database be used for "lineage or genealogical reasons." Followed by the unwritten word "yet": "It won't be used for these purposes...yet." For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with an anonymous response to the senators complaining about the FCC's 25 Mbps broadband standard on the basis that nobody could need that much: I like that excuse of ever possibly need. That is something that could easily be turned right back around. Why do they need $174,000 salaries? $50,000 is more then they will ever need. Next, we've got TKnarr with some musings on reforming the adversarial justice system: Thought: apply an old solution. Force the state governments to fund 2 offices for prosecution and defense. An accused who cannot afford an attorney gets to pick which office will handle his defense, with the other office handling the prosecution (if the accused can afford his own attorney, the state can assign prosecution to whichever office they want). Any crossing-over between the offices during a case would result in a mandatory dismissal with prejudice of all charges. The problem should solve itself after that. Over on the funny side, we start out with this year's perennial funny story: the monkey selfie copyright fight, which the monkey recently lost on account of being a monkey. Capt ICE Enforcer declared this a travesty of the highest order: This is absolutely horrible. Now monkeys will not have any incentive to create masterful artworks. It was bad enough that the life of a monkey is usually less than 20 years. Which means that a monkey would only get 90 years max for copyright protections. If I was a monkey, I would go on strike. They should be compensated for all their hard work writing books, singing hit songs, and creating masterful artwork thru the use of brush and photograph. We are about to experience a new dark age. In second place, we've got yet another anonymous comment, again in response to those broadband-fearing senators: While we're at it, what's up with phone numbers that are 10 digits long? PEnnslyvania 6-5000! For editor's choice on the funny side, we start by returning to the IAB chief's anti-adblocker speech, where one anonymous commenter suggested adding an audiovisual component: I think it would be poetic if his speech were constantly interrupted by random loud invasive ads projected on the wall behind him. Finally, we've got Crazy Hong Kong Monkey with a response to the unfolding legal fight over the apathetic honey bear: I guess "Honey Badger Does Care" That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago There were two related incidents this week in 2011, to do with citizens in Illinois videotaping authorities. One woman was arrested and faced 15 years in prison for recording her attempt to file a report of being sexually assaulted by a police officer; meanwhile, an artist faced the same sentence for video taping his own arrest. On the flipside, in the same week, a man was acquitted of charges that came after he filmed the TSA and refused to show his ID. The George Hotz situation was still in its early stages and unfolding slowly, but was already troubling after the judge approved an aggressive temporary restraining order requested by Sony. UFC was going after Justin.tv for inducing infringement, a Japanese court deemed overseas place-shifting of television to be infringing, and mass copyright shakedowns appeared based on Paris Hilton's sex tape and, more generally, the wide world of porn. Amidst all this, the president nominated a former top RIAA lawyer to be Solicitor General. Ten Years Ago Speaking of the RIAA, this week in 2006 they were pushing the new line that merely making files available is infringing, while some were predicting that their next target might be ISPs (following other trailblazers). In Canada, one record label actually stepped up to help defend a teen against the RIAA's aggressive tactics. The MPAA, for its part, exposed a serious double standard when it defended its own right to internally copy and distribute movies, even as the industry continued to push a plug for the analog hole in the form of secretive technology that nobody's allowed to examine. Following the disastrous launch of its Video project, Google admitted its mistake (though perhaps didn't quite grasp its full scope). This came the same week that Google announced it would let the Chinese government censor results on a special version of its site — a disappointing move, though we weren't sure why congress was grandstanding about it. Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2001, IBM was claiming to have developed "Napster-proof" DRM-laden music, Sega was getting out of the console business, the digital holdouts at The New Yorker were finally getting ready to go online, and even the smartest among us often failed to recognize the potential of mobile internet. The Presidential turnover was marked by widespread failures on the new Whitehouse website, though perhaps they had something to do with the prank pulled by the outgoing Clinton administration: removing the "W" key from all the keyboards in the building (prompting one TV show to hold a drive to collect replacements. Also this week in 2001: Despair.com (in)famously managed to trademark the :-( emoticon. Thirty Years Ago As you've likely noted, this Thurdsay was the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Back in 2001, we wrote a little about it on the 25th anniversary. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, we're looking at a pair of crowdfunded projects for proud urbanites: artwork that celebrates our streets and cityscapes. Microscape Models There's no shortage of souvenirs in the name of New York City, but this project offers an incredible new way to celebrate Manhattan: 1:5000 scale 3D-printed replicas of the cityscape itself, made with unbelievable levels of accuracy from recent aerial scans. Eventually they plan to do a huge array of cities, but for now it's the big one, rendered in all its gridlocked glory. The designs are hand-tweaked to optionally include buildings under construction or still in planning. The models come as individual 6" squares which can (for a hefty total price tag of $25k) even be assembled into a complete replica city — but, just one or two are pretty damn impressive all by themselves. There are also special landmark tiles available to Kickstarter backers, focusing on spots like the Chrysler Building, One World Trade Center, and Washington Square Park. Every Road Custom Maps Late last year, you might have seen a map making the rounds that purported to show how every road does indeed lead to Rome. Of course, as most people noticed (including the creators), you could create the same kind of visual for any spot on the road network of any location — and that's exactly what Every Road offers. They are custom map posters generated with an address of your choice in any given city, showing all the thousands of street routes from every point of the city to your chosen spot. The results are wispy, fractal-esque versions of recognizable city maps, and no two will be identical (unless two people choose the same address). The pricing is a little odd, with high-res digital copies costing slightly more than the smallest available print size — but for those who want to save cash, there's also a $5 desktop wallpaper option. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
A few weeks ago, we wrote about some details from the court hearing in the ridiculous monkey selfie case in which PETA (the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) claimed not only that it represented Naruto, an Indonesian macaque monkey, but that the monkey should hold the copyright on this selfie: However, as we've explained time and time again (much to the chagrin of David Slater, the photographer whose camera was used to take the photo), the photo is clearly in the public domain, as it's long been held that the Copyright Act only applies to human authors. In court a few weeks ago, the judge made it clear he didn't believe PETA had any case at all, but Judge William Orrick has now come out with his written opinion in the case explaining his reasoning why. Not surprisingly, it more or less tracks with what he said in court: there is no evidence that the Copyright Act applies to monkeys, and thus, case dismissed -- with leave to amend. The judge cites numerous cases in which the courts clearly say the Copyright Act means a "person" when it refers to author... and PETA cited a grand total of zero cases that argued otherwise: Here, the Copyright Act does not “plainly” extend the concept of authorship or statutory standing to animals. To the contrary, there is no mention of animals anywhere in the Act. The Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit have repeatedly referred to “persons” or “human beings” when analyzing authorship under the Act. See, e.g., Aalmuhammed v. Lee, 202 F.3d 1227, 1234 (9th Cir. 2000) (“[A]n author superintends the work by exercising control. This will likely be a person who has actually formed the picture by putting the persons in position, and arranging the place where the people are to be.”) (internal quotation marks, citations and modifications omitted) (emphasis added); Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra, 114 F.3d 955, 958 (9th Cir. 1997) (“For copyright purposes, however, a work is copyrightable if copyrightability is claimed by the first human beings who compiled, selected, coordinated, and arranged [the work].”) (emphasis added); Cmty. for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 737 (1989) (“As a general rule, the author is the party who actually creates the work, that is the person who translates an idea in a fixed, tangible expression entitled to copyright protection.”) (emphasis added). Despite Next Friends’ assertion that declining to grant a monkey copyright to a photograph “would depart from well-established norms,” Next Friends have not cited, and I have not found, a single case that expands the definition of authors to include animals. And the judge is also convinced by the Copyright Office rejecting non-human copyrights as well: Moreover, the Copyright Office agrees that works created by animals are not entitled to copyright protection. It directly addressed the issue of human authorship in the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices issued in December 2014 (the “Compendium”). “When interpreting the Copyright Act, [the courts] defer to the Copyright Office’s interpretations in the appropriate circumstances.”... In section 306 of the Compendium, entitled “The Human Authorship Requirement,” the Copyright Office relies on citations from Trade-Mark Cases, 101 U.S. 94 (1879) and Burrow-Giles to conclude that it “will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being.”... Similarly, in a section titled “Works That Lack Human Authorship,” the Compendium states that, “[t]o qualify as a work of ‘authorship’ a work must be created by a human being. Works that do not satisfy this requirement are not copyrightable.”... Specifically, the Copyright Office will not register works produced by “nature, animals, or plants” including, by specific example, a “photograph taken by a monkey.” And thus, sucks for Naruto (and PETA): Naruto is not an “author” within the meaning of the Copyright Act. Next Friends argue that this result is “antithetical” to the “tremendous [public] interest in animal art.” ... Perhaps. But that is an argument that should be made to Congress and the President, not to me. The issue for me is whether Next Friends have demonstrated that the Copyright Act confers standing upon Naruto. In light of the plain language of the Copyright Act, past judicial interpretations of the Act’s authorship requirement, and guidance from the Copyright Office, they have not. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not that long ago, we mentioned that progress towards an algorithm that could play the game of Go better than humans was on the horizon. It looks like our wetware shouldn't be too smug about being able to play Go now, but we can still have fun playing, right? And it'll still take a while before robots are any good at (non-contact) sports. Ping pong, FTW! Google has announced that its machine learning system AlphaGo has beaten a human expert in 5 games. That's impressive, considering that all other attempts haven't been able to reliably defeat amateur players. In March, AlphaGo is scheduled to play a top player in the world, Lee Sedol, to really test its abilities. And hopefully, this time the human player will lose more gracefully without accusing the computer's side of cheating. [url] There are some games that you can play to win, but it's not a very fun experience. Try playing Monopoly ruthlessly. If you played Monopoly as a kid, you probably didn't learn the rules correctly. And you probably up-ended the board to end the game. [url] Ideally, we humans should take advances in machine learning as an opportunity for more human-machine cooperation to solve the world's most dire problems. Together, machines and people should be able to solve the "wicked" hard problems of poverty, pollution, diseases and more. Maybe we can convince the robots to help us. [url] Oh. And Facebook's effort to get a computer playing Go that can beat humans is "getting close" -- but maybe it can get exponentially better by March? The guy sitting a few feet from Mark has a bit of time to really get his algorithms working. Or maybe it should challenge Alphago to a match to see how the two compare. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back when you were a kid, you may (depending on your age) have checked books out of your library using a circulation card. The cards, like the one pictured below, would allow the librarian to keep track of the books, who had them, and when they were expected back at the library. (Ohio Univ Libraries / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) This month's Stupid Patent is awarded to Xerox, who on January 19, 2016 was awarded a patent on essentially the library circulation card, but done electronically. The patent, U.S. Patent No. 9,240,000, is entitled "Social Network for Enabling the Physical Sharing of Documents." The patent discusses what it sees as a problem with current methods of sharing documents. Specifically, it says that "systems and methods which enable the sharing of documents among people working in proximate locations, while still promoting worker efficiency and independence, is [sic] needed." In addition, "there is still a need for an efficient social networking platform which is organization specific and which allows members of an organization to know what other members sitting in the same organizational space are reading, what documents they are amendable to sharing, and to which documents they are providing physical access." And how does the patent solve these problems? Claim 11 details one way: 11. A computing system for enabling a physical sharing of a hard copy of a document, comprising: [a] a plurality of programmatic instructions stored on a medium, wherein, when said plurality of programmatic instructions are executed, cause a client computing device to present a first graphical user interface to a user, wherein said first graphical user interface comprises a plurality of printing options for printing the document, wherein said first graphical user interface comprises an input for receiving an indication by the user that the user is willing to physically share the hard copy of the document within a predefined period of time; and [b] a computing device for hosting at least a portion of a social network comprising a profile page of the user, wherein said computing device receives at least one of a characteristic of the hard copy of the document, in response to the user indicating a willingness to physically share the hard copy and publishes said characteristic on the profile page of the user, wherein said profile page is accessible to everyone who is connected to the user in a social network, and wherein said characteristic include at least one of title, date, location of document, or location of printing. This claim is a good example of patent-speak. For various reasons, patent claims are often written in long, obfuscating language that tends to make them difficult to understand for anyone who isn't a patent lawyer. To be clear: patent lawyers will rightly tell you that every word in a claim is important. This is true. But what is also true is that often times claims include terms—such as "plurality of programmatic instructions stored on a medium"—that are essentially meaningless outside the patent system. Claim 11, when given a plain English translation, reads something like this: A computer that, [a] via a GUI, asks the user whether they want to print something using through a variety of methods, and to note whether they want to share the document once printed, for a certain amount of time and [b] if the user says they want to share it, updates the user's status on their profile page that tells people the name of the paper, the date it will be available and where. This claim reads as merely a computerized version of the library's circulation card. A library purchases a book (similar to the printing of claim 11). The library then offers it to one of its patrons, who then decides they would like to borrow it for a certain amount of time. The patron brings the book to the counter, the card is filled out with the patron number and due date, and then placed in the file of all the cards for other patrons to search if they're looking for that book and when it will become available. We just gave Xerox a patent on what amounts to sharing a book, but electronically. When considered this way, it is clear that Xerox's patent is a stupid patent. It deserves our censure. But more importantly, this patent issued this month, on an "invention" from 2011. Ultimately this patent is one of hundreds or thousands of patents that don't describe actual inventions, but rather just rehash old, obvious ideas "on a computer" using confusing language. The failure of the patent office to prevent this patent from issuing is regrettable, and shows just how dysfunctional our patent system is. Republished from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Stupid Patent of the Month series Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
I really hate stories where there is no one to root for. Unfortunately, this is one of those stories. C'est la vie. If you were ambulatory enough to get to your computer these past few weeks, you likely came across a video from a Donald Trump rally, in which a group of five young girls, only three of which are seen in the video, called the USA Freedom Kids hip-bobbed a serenade to the Trumpster about how awesome America is. It was horrible. It was jingoistic and patronizing with just a dash of discomfort as these young girls were dressed in pleated red, white and blue skirts and tops. So that you don't think I'm exaggerating the level of horror here, see the video of the whole thing below, if you can stomach it. That video is from the YouTube account for The USA Freedom Kids. I embedded their video instead of this one that was uploaded by a Phoenix, Arizona Fox affiliate, because, well... Yeah, it was taken down by EMI. But why, you ask? While many of us would thank anyone or anything that could tear the existence of this horror show away from wherever unsuspecting innocents might happen across it, what stake does EMI Music have in this song sung by The USA Freedom Kids? It’s possible that YouTube’s auto-removal bots finally caught some infringement (real or perceived) on the song, though if that’s the case, it’s odd it took them so long. The more likely case, though, is that someone realized that “Over There,” the World War I song that Freedom’s Call’s tune is taken from, is still copyrighted. And that the copyright belongs to Sony/ATV Music Publishing, EMI Music Publishing’s parent company. Fox 10 Phoenix didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, nor has EMI. Given the autobots haven't gobbled up other versions of the recording, it appears most likely that EMI specifically targeted the one shared by Fox. Now, look, what the hell am I supposed to do here? I don't want that video to exist, but I also don't like EMI being able to disappear content of any kind in favor of protecting their rights to a song that was created before my grandfather graced Earth. It's like trying to decide whether to back Stalin or Pol Pot in a fistfight: I'm just wishing there was a way where everyone could lose. There are so many reasons why it's ridiculous that EMI could take down this video to begin with: the age of the song, the nature of the use for political speech by these girls, the fact that a news organization did the sharing in its capacity on reporting the news, etc. But this is what you get when you mix silly politics with insanely over-reaching copyright law, I suppose. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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EPIC is reporting that the DOJ has finally caved and is handing over a document it requested last fall. The document EPIC sought was the "Umbrella Agreement" between the US and Europe on the handling of each entities' citizens' data. On September 8, 2015, European and US officials announced that they have concluded an agreement, the so-called Umbrella Agreement, which is a framework for transatlantic data transfer between the US and the EU. The proposed goal of the Agreement is to provide data protection safeguards for personal information transferred between the EU and the US. Despite the announcements, neither US officials nor their European counterparts made the text of the Agreement public. Two days after this announcement, EPIC filed expedited FOIA requests on both sides of the pond for the text of this agreement, arguing (logically) that the people this would affect had a right to know what their governments were agreeing to. EPIC specifically had concerns that the US would offer less protection to foreign citizens' data than to its own citizens, given that it has historically refused to extend these niceties to those residing elsewhere on the planet. The DOJ has provided EPIC with a copy of the agreement. In doing so, it hopes to bring to an end EPIC's FOIA lawsuit against the agency. But the DOJ notes in the letter attached to the agreement that it's only doing so in the most begrudging fashion. If only its partners on the other side of the Atlantic hadn't blinked first… After carefully reviewing the record responsive to your request, I have determined that, as a matter of discretion, this document may be released in full. While this record is likely subject to Exemption 5, which concerns certain inter- and intra-agency communications protected by the deliberative process privilege, given the fact that the European Commission has provided you with a copy of the record and is making the file publicly available on its website, I have determined to release the record as a matter of discretion. That's the "most transparent administration" at work. The European Parliament released the agreement on September 14, 2015 -- six days after the announcement. The DOJ, on the other hand, held out for nearly six months and is only releasing it because it's already in the public domain. And it's arguing that it should still be exempt as a "deliberative document" -- using the government's most-abused FOIA exemption -- even when another, larger government agency has determined the document deserves no such protection. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Stanford Law professor Barbara van Schewick, one of the leading scholars on net neutrality, has filed a report with the FCC detailing how T-Mobile's Binge On clearly violates net neutrality. As we've been highlighting, Binge On has numerous problems when it comes to net neutrality, and appears to clearly violate some of the FCC's rules. There's also the fact that T-Mobile flat out lied about it and claimed that it was "optimization" when it's really throttling. The 51-page report by van Schewick details the problems with Binge On in great detail, noting that it falls afoul of the FCC's transparency rules, that it unfairly picks winners and losers and that it harms competition. The core argument: Binge On undermines the core vision of net neutrality: Internet service providers (ISPs) that connect us to the Internet should not act as gatekeepers that pick winners and losers online by favoring some applications over others. By exempting Binge On video from using customers’ data plans, T-Mobile is favoring video from the providers it adds to Binge On over other video. T-Mobile says that it does not intend to become a gatekeeper on the Internet: It says Binge On is open to all legal video streaming providers at no cost, as long as they can meet some “simple technical requirements.” The idea is that any discriminatory effects of Binge On disappear as more providers join the program. However, the technical requirements published on T-Mobile’s website are substantial. They categorically exclude providers that use the User Datagram Protocol (UDP), making it impossible for innovative providers such as YouTube to join. They discriminate against providers that use encryption, a practice that is becoming the industry standard. While some providers can join easily, a significant number will need to work with T-Mobile to determine whether their service can be part of Binge On. Many will have to invest time and resources to adapt their service to T-Mobile’s systems. The smaller the provider, the longer it will likely take for T-Mobile to get to it. The result: Binge On allows some providers to join easily and creates lasting barriers for others, especially small players, non-commercial providers, and start-ups. As such, the program harms competition, user choice, free expression, and innovation. What's perhaps even more interesting is that van Schewick includes in the report alternatives that T-Mobile could have adopted that would have created similar plans that actually benefit consumers without messing up net neutrality: Binge on in its current form violates net neutrality. However, T-Mobile could offer alternative innovative plans that benefit customers and allow the ISP to compete without violating net neutrality. For example, T-Mobile could offer customers a zero-rated low-bandwidth mode at the same speed as Binge On, but contrary to Binge On, customers would be able to use this mode to watch video or do anything else online. It would be their choice. Alternatively, T-Mobile could allow customers unlimited access to the entire Internet after customers reach their cap, just at a slower speed – the same speed currently offered through Binge On. After reaching their cap, customers could watch video or do anything else online; again it would be their choice. This option offers customers truly unlimited video, unlike Binge On. Contrary to advertising, Binge On video is limited: Customers can watch video included in the program only until they reach their monthly data cap through other Internet uses that are not zerorated. As such, advertising Binge On as “unlimited” video might violate the FCC’s transparency rule, which requires ISPs to accurately describe their service. In contrast, this alternative option would allow T-Mobile to offer “unlimited video streaming” that stands up to its name and respects net neutrality. Finally, T-Mobile could increase the monthly data caps on its capped plans to account for the average amount of video that people are watching. Customers could use that additional bandwidth to do anything online, including watching video. Again, it would be their choice. All of these alternative plans are entirely consistent with net neutrality. Of course, the remaining question is still the really big one: will the FCC actually do anything about Binge On... Van-Schewick-2016-Binge-on-Report-20160129Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over in Japan, there's been a big political scandal brewing over the last few days, leading the country's economy minister Akira Amari to resign amid charges that he received significant bribes from a construction company. What makes that relevant to us here is that Amari was also Japan's leading negotiator on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and his resignation and the bribery charges are raising additional (and fairly serious) questions about whether or not Japan really should support the TPP. So far, the bribery that's been discussed does not appear to directly impact that TPP, but it at least raises other questions about whether or not the TPP itself was compromised by similar corruption (of course, some may argue that the entire process, in which big companies basically helped write the thing, is itself corrupt). Amari had been expected to travel to New Zealand in the next few days for the TPP signing ceremony, but obviously someone else will now have to go. Japan's role in the TPP has always been somewhat controversial. It was late to join the effort, and there has been a lot of fear within the country, which has kept up some protectionist trade policies for quite some time, some of which the TPP would force them to remove. As I've said, I actually think the TPP's efforts to remove actual tariff barriers should be applauded, but it's the majority of the rest of the agreement that's so troubling -- including things that seem actually the opposite of free trade, like increasing protectionist intellectual property laws. Indeed, Japan was often one of the most aggressive in pushing for stricter copyright and patent rules within the TPP. And now we have to wonder if that was actually done because Japan believed it was in its best interests, or if other, perhaps more corrupt factors played a part. The signing ceremony is just the beginning of the process, of course. The ratification by various countries is the big fight. Amari's resignation and the related scandal now increase the chances that Japan may not be ready to approve the TPP, and that could put the entire agreement at risk.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Despite its terrible name, the $20 LithiumCard Wallet Battery seems like a really cool product. It is roughly the thickness of 5 credit cards stacked together and is designed to fit in almost any wallet. The charge cord (Lightning or microUSB -- select your preference from the drop down menu) can be easily tucked away in the battery. It comes with a Nanostik pad for attaching to your device if you'd rather not carry it in your wallet. The 1200mAh promises a quick charge wherever you go. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A couple of years ago, the Commerce Department put out a somewhat problematic "Green Paper" on copyright, that at times seemed to have been pretty heavily influenced by the maximalist view of the world, without recognition of how widely copyright is abused. Lots of people responded to it with their concerns -- including an excellent response from (believe it or not) Hollywood screenwriters who actually pointed out the problems of copyright maximalism, statutory damages, abusive takedowns and attacks on fair use. I don't know if it was that letter that really influenced things, but the Commerce Department has now come out with its follow up "White Paper" and it's really quite good. It basically says that copyright's statutory damages are a huge mess and need to be fixed. We've argued in the past how statutory damages are a big part of the reason why copyright law is so messed up. If you don't know, copyright law allows rightsholders to ignore actual damages (especially if they don't exist) and elect to go for "statutory damages" in which they can seek $750 to $150,000 per work infringed. And, of course, they always claim to go for the $150,000. And when you're talking about someone non-commercially sharing, say, 20 songs, and the fact that they could suddenly be on the hook for $3 million, it begins to be clear how copyright law seems totally divorced from reality. Those crazy statutory damages have a number of super damaging effects: Massive chilling effects. Any hint of a lawsuit gets people to back down as the damages can be debilitating, even if there was no actual damage. Copyright creep. People use copyright threats for reasons having nothing to do with actual copyright, such as to censor content they don't like, because they know that threat of statutory damages is so powerful. Parasitic and abusive businesses, such as copyright trolling, which heavily relies on the threat of $150,000 in statutory damages per work to extort money from individuals. Thankfully, there's been at least some recognition in Congress that maybe it's time to revisit statutory damages, and this new white paper from the Commerce Department should be quite helpful on that front. What's slightly amazing, honestly, is that some of the folks involved in the writing of the paper actually include some fairly well-known copyright maximalists, who have historically always pushed for expanding copyright law and been against fixing statutory damages. In this paper, they don't ask for a total overhaul of statutory damages, like many of us feel would be appropriate, but still do push for reforms that recognize the widespread abuse and chilling effects of statutory damages (the paper even namechecks Righthaven and Prenda Law as examples of abusing statutory damages for copyright trolling). Key reforms the paper supports include expanding eligibility for "innocent infringement," which greatly lowers the statutory damages. Historically, courts almost never allow innocent infringement defenses. Expanding that would help out many cases of blatant trolling. But the big change is giving the courts much more discretion in determining the proper amounts for statutory damages, including a specific list of factors that judges and juries should be tasked to consider before determining an award -- and that includes both actual losses to the copyright holder and the "benefits" to the infringer. The Task Force recommends that Congress enact a new paragraph in Section 504 of the Copyright Act specifying factors that must be considered when determining statutory damage award amounts. The aim is to ensure a greater degree of predictability in copyright infringement cases across the country and address some other concerns raised in this proceeding. In considering what factors should be included, we have drawn upon existing model jury instructions as well as federal case law. The Task Force considered proposing federal model jury instructions, but concluded that a statutory set of factors would be preferable since they will be binding on all courts. We believe that litigants and courts would be well-served by requiring consideration of a uniform set of factors designed to result in an appropriate award based upon the facts of each case. The nine factors listed below are those that will most often be applicable in a statutory damages determination. We believe that they should be non-exclusive, so that courts are not foreclosed from considering other factors that may be relevant in a particular case. The Task Force proposes a new clause in subsection Section 504(c)526 as follows: FACTORS TO CONSIDER -- In making any award under this subsection, a court shall consider the following nonexclusive factors in determining the appropriate amount of the award: The plaintiff’s revenues lost and the difficulty of proving damages. The defendant’s expenses saved, profits reaped, and other benefits from the infringement. The need to deter future infringements. The defendant’s financial situation. The value or nature of the work infringed. The circumstances, duration, and scope of the infringement, including whether it was commercial in nature. In cases involving infringement of multiple works, whether the total sum of damages, taking into account the number of works infringed and number of awards made, is commensurate with the overall harm caused by the infringement. The defendant’s state of mind, including whether the defendant was a willful or innocent infringer. In the case of willful infringement, whether it is appropriate to punish the defendant and if so, the amount of damages that would result in an appropriate punishment. When calculating the total award, all of these factors should be weighed holistically, in the context of the entire case, to ensure that the overall award is appropriate. Frankly, that's a pretty good list overall. The fact that it includes whether the infringement was "commercial in nature" also seems like it could be super helpful in getting rid of many of the worst abuses. There are, of course, other potential improvements that can and should be made to statutory damages, but this is a good start, and it's great to see it come from the Commerce Department, that in the past seemed a little too smitten with Hollywood's love of statutory damages. Separately, the paper also embraces the value of remixes in culture, and why fair use is so important for that to thrive. It doesn't recommend any changes to the law over that (which is too bad), but at least it's not the typical maximalist view of "remixes have no value, or should first be licensed entirely." It does suggest, however, that there be clearer "guidelines" to provide clarity over when fair use should be applied to remixes to at least take away some of the chilling effects of copyright threats. Remixes make valuable contributions to society in providing expressive, political, and entertainment content. It is important that the copyright framework continues to allow the broad range of remixes to thrive, ensuring that a vibrant fair use space coexists with effective licensing structures. The Task Force concludes that the record has not established a need to amend existing law to create a specific exception or a compulsory license for remix uses. We have several recommendations that would make it easier for remixers to understand when a use is fair and to obtain licenses when they wish to do so. Specifically, the Task Force recommends pursuing three goals: The development of negotiated guidelines providing greater clarity as to the application of fair use to remixes; Expanding the availability of a wider variety of voluntary licensing options; and Increasing educational efforts aimed at broadening an understanding of fair use. Those are decent recommendations to start with, and again, it's nice to see a real recognition of the importance and cultural value of remixes. And, finally, the paper looks at the question of digital first sale rights, and whether or not there's a way to "preserve the benefits" of first sale rights (which allow you to, say, resell a book you bought without having to first get approval of the copyright holder). The paper basically says that it's too early to try to change the law on this issue. This may be the only somewhat disappointing aspect of the paper, as it seems to argue the typical maximalist response of "well, new licensing solutions should take care of that." But first sale rights are not just about licensing. And just because there may be easier licensing solutions, you're still creating a permission framework where previously the exchanges were permissionless. And that creates a market friction. However, the paper does recognize that there are some concerns here -- especially from libraries, and recognizes the issue may need to be revisited in the future. Overall, it's a surprisingly good paper that (not surprisingly) doesn't go as far as I might have liked, but goes much further than I would have expected from the government these days.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So we recently reported on a claim that ISIS had been spotted making use of their very own encrypted messaging app, and highlighting how totally useless US laws requiring tech companies to backdoor encryption would be in that situation. However, it turns out that we should have been a lot more skeptical of the original report, coming from a single sourced security company. Over the years, we've learned that single-sourced security company claims are often highly suspect, and designed much more to get attention or increase FUD, than based on any real issue. The good folks over at Daily Dot are now reporting that this encrypted messaging app doesn't really appear to exist, and their investigation is pretty thorough and fairly convincing. Just like the claims that ISIS had a "training manual for encryption," this claim appears to be false. That said, it still doesn't mean that ISIS is actually relying on encrypted apps that would be opened up by a US legal change requiring encryption backdoors. As we noted in our last post, research from the Open Technology Institute showed that almost all the popular encrypted communications app that were named as being used by ISIS were either open source or not maintained by a US company, meaning any such law would be basically meaningless to ISIS folks trying to communicate. And given the open source nature of many of those apps, it wouldn't be surprising at all to find out that, eventually, someone forks an existing project to create a separate one relied on by ISIS. And none of that would be impacted by US laws anyway. So the only impact would be on weakening the safety and security of Americans who rely on encryption every day to keep themselves safe.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not too surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal has been a big booster of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement over the past year, repeatedly praising the deal and claiming it will save the world in all sorts of ways. Most of that is based on the faulty belief that the TPP is actually a "free trade" deal (it's actually the opposite), with some of it just being the standard WSJ faith-based belief that "if big businesses like it, it must be good." Given that, it's a bit surprising that even the WSJ is now calling out the US Trade Rep (USTR) for its blatantly misleading propaganda about the TPP. As Glyn recently wrote about, the Peterson Institute for International Economics released a summary showing tiny economic gains from the TPP -- to the point that it makes you wonder what the fuss is. Some folks have already called into question the Peterson Institute's methodology, suggesting the results may be even worse, but even if we accept the organization's findings, the benefits to the TPP are miniscule: increasing GDP 0.5% by 2030. But, no matter. The USTR decided to hype up this report... by tweeting out a chart so misleading that even the WSJ called it out as bogus propaganda. From the way that chart is drawn, it sure looks like a really big gap between "with TPP" and "without TPP." But, of course, it's really just the difference between $25,754 billion and $25,885 billion. Yes, $131 billion is nothing to sneeze at, but on an economic projection 15 years out, that's a rounding error. But the chart, of course, makes it look like a big deal. Here's the notoriously TPP-supporting WSJ explaining how ridiculous the chart is: Notice anything wrong here? Look at those two values on the right side of the column. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, U.S. real national income will be $25,885 billion in 2030. Without, it will only be $25,754 billion. That’s a difference of $131 billion. But the chart presents that gap as about the same, in size, as the gap between $18,154 billion and $25,754 billion. That’s a difference of $7.6 trillion. Yep, that’s trillion with a “t.” The WSJ then tried to help out with its own, more accurate chart: But, of course, even that chart is somewhat misleading, since the y-axis is truncated (which the WSJ itself admits). So, to help out, we created our own chart based on Peterson's numbers (in Table 2, in case you're wondering): Notice how you basically can't see the difference between the two lines. Yeah. Compare that to the USTR's gloating above. And people wonder why we call out the USTR for being a secretive, totally dishonest organization. Amusingly, when the WSJ reached out to the USTR, the USTR pretended that its original chart was an "error" and promised an "updated" chart: “We noticed the error and are tweeting out updated, corrected graphics now,” said Andrew Bates, press secretary for the Office of the USTR. So... what is the "updated, corrected graphics"? Here: So, uh, yeah, its "corrected" graphic is even more misleading in that it just hides the base altogether and makes it look like this change is some huge change. Oh, and the original graphic, which the USTR admits is an "error"? That one is still up. Because of course it is.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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