posted 18 days ago on techdirt
For the past few years, there have been plenty of discussions about "the future of work," but they tend to fall into one of two camps. You have the pessimists, who insist that the coming changes wrought by automation and artificial intelligence will lead to fewer and fewer jobs, as all of the jobs of today are automated out of existence. Then, there are the optimists who point to basically every single past similar prediction of doom and gloom due to innovation, which have always turned out to be incorrect. People in this camp point out that technology is more likely to augment than replace human-based work, and vaguely insist that "the jobs will come." Whether you fall into one of those two camps -- or somewhere in between or somewhere else entirely -- one thing I'd hope most people can agree on is that the future of work will be... different. Separately, we're also living in an age where it is increasingly clear that those in and around the technology industry must take more responsibility in thinking through the possible consequences of the innovations they're bringing to life, and exploring ways to minimize the harmful results (and hopefully maximizing the beneficial ones). That brings us to the project we're announcing today, Working Futures, which is an attempt to explore what the future of work might really look like in the next ten to fifteen years. We're doing this project in partnership with two organizations that we've worked with multiples times in the past: Scout.ai and R Street. The key point of this project: rather than just worry about the bad stuff or hand-wave around the idea of good stuff magically appearing, we want to really dig in -- figure out what new jobs may actually appear, look into what benefits may accrue as well as what harms may be dished out -- and see if there are ways to minimize the negative consequences, while pushing the world towards the beneficial consequences. To do that, we're kicking off a variation on the classic concept of scenario planning, bringing together a wide variety of individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives and ideas to run through a fun and creative exercise to imagine the future, while staying based in reality. We're adding in some fun game-like mechanisms to push people to think about where the future might head. We're also updating the output side of traditional scenario planning by involving science fiction authors, who obviously have a long history of thinking up the future, and who will participate in this process and help to craft short stories out of the scenarios we build, making them entertaining, readable and perhaps a little less "wonky" than the output of more traditional scenario plans. As the first step in this process, we're asking for input and thoughts on the kinds of "driving forces" that will have the most impact on the future of work in ten to fifteen years. If you go over to WorkingFutur.es right now, you can provide your input on which forces will be the most important and impactful, and help us in thinking through what the future might look like. In late April, we'll also be hosting an event in San Francisco, where we'll be using the results of this online process to help us begin to build the frameworks of multiple future scenarios to explore. Please check out the survey and give us your thoughts. Learn more about Working Futures and take our survey » Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
For a while now, we've noted how FCC boss Ajit Pai professes to be some kind of a hero to the poor, despite the fact that his policies are quickly making broadband and TV services more expensive for Americans. His extremely unpopular net neutrality repeal, for example, will only wind up driving up costs for consumers as entrenched ISPs jack up costs for competitors and consumers alike. And when Pai wasn't busy killing net neutrality, he was busy killing efforts to make cable boxes more competitive and affordable, or making it easier for prison phone monopolies to rip off inmate families via absurdly over-priced services. Pai has also been taking aim at a government program dubbed Lifeline, which makes expensive American telecom services slightly less expensive for poor families. The program, started under Reagan and expanded under Bush Jr., simply gives low-income homes a $9.25 credit they can use for home phone, broadband, or wireless service (they have to pick one). Traditionally, this program has had pretty broad, bipartisan support, and is uniformly seen as pretty much the least the government can do to help those struggling to make ends meet. But Pai's attack on Lifeline has come via death by a thousand cuts, and is starting to alarm folks that actually try to help poor people for a living. Most recently, Pai tabled a proposal that would declare that smaller wireless MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators, like Boost or Virgin Mobile) could no longer participate in Lifeline. While Pai has claimed that these changes will somehow magically boost broadband deployment, he hasn't been able to offer the slightest shred of data to support that contention. Even Pai allies like Verizon, who didn't even ask for this deregulation favor, have stated that Pai's changes won't do what he claims and will harm the poor. It's pretty strange to see an instance of deregulation pushed through that the industry itself didn't push for, just as it's strange to see Verizon and consumer advocates agreeing on something. That said, a group of 10 Senators including Ron Wyden wrote Pai last week expressing concern that Pai's actions are in stark contrast to his breathless support of closing the digital divide: "Your proposal impacts over 70 percent of current Lifeline-recipient households by eliminating their wireless providers from the program, leaving less affordable and fewer Lifeline options, while making it more difficult for the companies trying to serve Lifeline customers," Senate Democrats wrote in the letter to Pai yesterday. "Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services." The Senators were also quick to point out that the FCC offered no hard evidence to support its claim that reducing participation in the program will somehow expand broadband availability: "The December 1, 2017, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) provides no evidence, analysis, or data to support its assumption that the FCC’s proposed changes to Lifeline will spur facilities-based broadband deployment and additional affordable services for low-income families. Provide any specific data, analysis, academic studies, economic reports, etc. that you relied on to support this assumption. Explain why the NPRM included no evidence or data to support this assumption." The FCC has yet to vote on this proposal (the public comment period ended last week), but is likely to in the coming months. Hopefully Pai shows a little more flexibility than he did during his attack on net neutrality when he not only used debunked lobbyist data to justify his positions, but directed journalists to telecom lobbying organizations if they had questions. That said, if Pai has made anything clear, it's that he's on an ideological crusade that's not only viciously unpopular, but isn't likely to have its trajectory altered by pesky things like the welfare of the public, or, say... facts. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Three years after a lower court decided the NYPD could deliver Glomar responses to records requesters, the state's appeals court has handed down its agreement. Apparently the NYPD can -- without being a federal agency or one charged with pursuing terrorists in foreign countries -- refuse to confirm or deny the existence of documents, something previously only granted to federal agencies. The case stems from federal intervention, however. The records sought pertain to the NYPD's now-disbanded Demographics Unit. As its name suggests, the Demographics Unit focused on one demographic: New York City Muslims. They were being placed under surveillance while they engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. This unit was created by a former CIA officer and routinely shared information with federal agencies like the FBI… right up until federal agencies realized the NYPD's routine rights violations made the shared info too toxic to touch, must less to use in prosecutions. C.J. Ciarmella sums up the majority's opinion for Reason. In a lawsuit brought by two Muslim men seeking NYPD surveillance records on themselves under New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), the state Court of Appeals said the department can invoke the so-called "Glomar response" made famous by the CIA—that is, it can refuse to say whether or not the records exist. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, in a majority opinion joined by three of her colleagues, accepted the NYPD's argument that disclosing whether or not such records exist would compromise its counterterrorism operations. FOIL, DiFiore writes, "was never designed to compel a law enforcement agency to disclose inherently confidential, investigatory information of this nature." This is a dangerous decision [PDF], one that will make an agency already belligerently indifferent to its obligations to the public even more secretive. The NYPD is not a national security agency, so its reliance on a national security-related response granted solely to federal agencies is misplaced. Or it was misplaced. Now it's perfectly fine for the NYPD to act like its the CIA or NSA, despite the fact its investigations and prosecutions are all routed through normal courts, rather than the FISA variety. The dissent (there are two dissenting opinions] points out that denying the NYPD the Glomar response does not mean it has to reveal sensitive information to requesters. But the NYPD has little to offer in support of its supposed "need" for a national security exemption previously utilized only by federal agencies. The majority’s reliance on federal Glomar doctrine is misplaced. Yes, FOIL was structurally modeled on FOIA. However, as the dissent explains, the Glomar doctrine arises not from FOIA’s law enforcement exemption, but from FOIA’s exemption of documents “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy,” which has no analog in FOIL. The Constitution arrogates national defense and foreign policy to the federal government; the NYPD is not searching for a lost Soviet submarine or worried about the foreign policy consequences thereof. Both the majority and dissent tar their FOIL analysis by referring to the NYPD’s response as a “Glomar” response. [...] Those foreign-policy insecurities have no place in New York State’s excellent unified court system. Our government features neither a unitary executive tasked with the national defense nor an elaborate system of classified information to which courts routinely defer. Most CIA endeavors will never see the light of day, let alone that of a courthouse; the destiny of every successful NYPD investigation is to appear before a judge. The dissent also calls out the majority for its extreme deference to the NYPD's national security hand-waving. There's nothing the NYPD does that is so far beyond the comprehension of the court that it is not qualified to even discuss the underlying issues in FOIL lawsuits. Regardless of federal courts’ competence to evaluate foreign countries’ changing political climates, we are not similarly handicapped in judging the soundness of FOIL exemptions based on police, privacy, or other justifications. Our courts are fully capable of scrutinizing an agency’s “response on a case-by-case basis to ensure it is warranted under the particular circumstances presented” (majority op. at 16). As it stands now, the NYPD has been given a gift of federal-level secrecy -- one with zero state-level statutory basis. The NYPD can, in essence, do more than the state's public records law permits. Its national security claims will rarely be challenged successfully because FOIL requesters (who often become FOIL lawsuit plaintiffs) will be hard-pressed to assert standing when they can even prove the requested documents exist. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Three years after a lower court decided the NYPD could deliver Glomar responses to records requesters, the state's appeals court has handed down its agreement. Apparently the NYPD can -- without being a federal agency or one charged with pursuing terrorists in foreign countries -- refuse to confirm or deny the existence of documents, something previously only granted to federal agencies. The case stems from federal intervention, however. The records sought pertain to the NYPD's now-disbanded Demographics Unit. As its name suggests, the Demographics Unit focused on one demographic: New York City Muslims. They were being placed under surveillance while they engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. This unit was created by a former CIA officer and routinely shared information with federal agencies like the FBI… right up until federal agencies realized the NYPD's routine rights violations made the shared info too toxic to touch, must less to use in prosecutions. C.J. Ciarmella sums up the majority's opinion for Reason. In a lawsuit brought by two Muslim men seeking NYPD surveillance records on themselves under New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), the state Court of Appeals said the department can invoke the so-called "Glomar response" made famous by the CIA—that is, it can refuse to say whether or not the records exist. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, in a majority opinion joined by three of her colleagues, accepted the NYPD's argument that disclosing whether or not such records exist would compromise its counterterrorism operations. FOIL, DiFiore writes, "was never designed to compel a law enforcement agency to disclose inherently confidential, investigatory information of this nature." This is a dangerous decision [PDF], one that will make an agency already belligerently indifferent to its obligations to the public even more secretive. The NYPD is not a national security agency, so its reliance on a national security-related response granted solely to federal agencies is misplaced. Or it was misplaced. Now it's perfectly fine for the NYPD to act like its the CIA or NSA, despite the fact its investigations and prosecutions are all routed through normal courts, rather than the FISA variety. The dissent (there are two dissenting opinions] points out that denying the NYPD the Glomar response does not mean it has to reveal sensitive information to requesters. But the NYPD has little to offer in support of its supposed "need" for a national security exemption previously utilized only by federal agencies. The majority’s reliance on federal Glomar doctrine is misplaced. Yes, FOIL was structurally modeled on FOIA. However, as the dissent explains, the Glomar doctrine arises not from FOIA’s law enforcement exemption, but from FOIA’s exemption of documents “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy,” which has no analog in FOIL. The Constitution arrogates national defense and foreign policy to the federal government; the NYPD is not searching for a lost Soviet submarine or worried about the foreign policy consequences thereof. Both the majority and dissent tar their FOIL analysis by referring to the NYPD’s response as a “Glomar” response. [...] Those foreign-policy insecurities have no place in New York State’s excellent unified court system. Our government features neither a unitary executive tasked with the national defense nor an elaborate system of classified information to which courts routinely defer. Most CIA endeavors will never see the light of day, let alone that of a courthouse; the destiny of every successful NYPD investigation is to appear before a judge. The dissent also calls out the majority for its extreme deference to the NYPD's national security hand-waving. There's nothing the NYPD does that is so far beyond the comprehension of the court that it is not qualified to even discuss the underlying issues in FOIL lawsuits. Regardless of federal courts’ competence to evaluate foreign countries’ changing political climates, we are not similarly handicapped in judging the soundness of FOIL exemptions based on police, privacy, or other justifications. Our courts are fully capable of scrutinizing an agency’s “response on a case-by-case basis to ensure it is warranted under the particular circumstances presented” (majority op. at 16). As it stands now, the NYPD has been given a gift of federal-level secrecy -- one with zero state-level statutory basis. The NYPD can, in essence, do more than the state's public records law permits. Its national security claims will rarely be challenged successfully because FOIL requesters (who often become FOIL lawsuit plaintiffs) will be hard-pressed to assert standing when they can even prove the requested documents exist. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
It's not a great look when our institutions of higher learning either can't get their own collective shit together on matters of law or else attempt to bully former students with specious claims. And, yet, this appears to happen far too frequently. The most glaring example of this was Iowa State University's attempt to violate the free speech rights of its students that resulted in a $400k bill of blowback. Now it seems that the University of Illinois is seeking to trademark bully an alumnus after failing to take action during that alumnus' trademark registration for a t-shirt in orange and black that reads "Make Illinois Great Again." It claims that an alumnus selling orange-and-black T-shirts with the phrase “Make Illinois Great Again” and a drawing of Chief Illiniwek (below) – the politically incorrect mascot itdumped 11 years ago – is trampling on the taxpayer-funded institution’s intellectual property. The News-Gazette reports that the university claims the shirt’s colors are its “trade dress,” UI is often referred to as just “Illinois,” and that the shirt’s drawing of the chief infringes a 2007 photo of the chief. Therefore, defendant Ted O’Malley is “creating confusion in the marketplace” about who is behind the shirts. You should recognize that this whole thing is absurd. The t-shirt makes no reference to the college beyond the image of The Chief, a dumb "mascot" that the school abandoned over a decade ago. U of I does use orange as a school color, but not black. Orange is also used as the color for many things. Oranges, for instance, turn out to often be orange in color. So do other universities, such as Syracuse. Regardless, while there is a nod to the Illinois school in the design of the t-shirt, it's not one that makes confusing use of trade dress for the school, nor is it one that would cause confusion in the marketplace. In fact, the whole point of the shirt is to protest U of I's shitty athletic program. It's quite hard to argue that anyone viewing that shirt, or the ad for it, is going to think it is coming from the school the shirt is criticizing. O'Malley's lawyer obviously agrees. “No one in their right mind would possibly believe that was something furnished by the University of Illinois,” said his attorney, Doug Johnson. “It’s much like someone making something that said ‘Make America Great Again’ being sued by America. “They are a state actor, and they don’t like the message. They’re trying to stifle First Amendment rights.” … “How many pictures of the Chief have been taken over the last 30, 40 years?” he said. “That’s like saying I took a picture of Wrigley Field, and you can’t draw a picture of Wrigley Field because I took a picture of it one time.” The most face-palming aspect of all of this is that the school had every opportunity to raise these issues when O'Malley registered for a trademark on his slogan and shirt design. Upon his doing so, the school apparently challenged the registration... before falling asleep and forgetting that it had to do more than that. The university sought to stop approval of the trademark in November but couldn’t be bothered to respond to a motion to dismiss by O’Malley’s lawyer Johnson. In that motion with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Johnson said the sought trademark was a “political statement” against the state government for its “unpaid bills of over 15 billion dollars” and record of tax hikes, as well as an athletic statement against the poor performance of the university’s football and basketball teams. Johnson pointed to the nearly 900 registered trademarks with the word “ILLINOIS” in them and said his client’s design didn’t use italics, as does the university’s official design. And that was it. The school never responded. In other words, the trademark concerns it claims to hold so much so as to cause it to sue a former student were apparently not so important to warrant a simple legal response to a proceeding the school itself had initiated. It might be time to make the University of Illinois' legal team great again. Or, if not great, perhaps responsive? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
The government of a small town in Iowa has just received a slapdown from a US federal court. The public servants running Sibley, Iowa -- pop. ~3,000 -- decided it was going to eliminate one resident's First Amendment rights because he wouldn't stop telling people moving to Sibley might be a bad idea. It all began with a meat byproduct processing plant that moved to the small town, creating jobs and a powerful stench. Resident Jeremy Harms approached the town government about the nasty smell several times, but was blown off repeatedly. News of the "blood plant's" unpleasant odor began making news around the state, but it was Harms' personal website that finally pushed the town into violating First Amendment rights. The town's lawyer sent Harms a legal threat, telling him to stop criticizing the town on his website and strongly suggesting he try to be more positive about the stinkhole he lived in. Harms backed down and altered his website. But he also got in touch with the ACLU, which took up his case and sued the town over its rights violations. Less than month later, Harms is free to disparage his town and its so-called leadership. Federal judge Leonard T. Strand has granted a permanent injunction [PDF] against the town of Sibley, preventing it from silencing Harms in perpetuity. Pursuant to the Joint Motion to enter a stipulated injunction, the Court hereby enters the following injunction: 1. An injunction permanently enjoining the City of Sibley and the named Defendants in their official capacities from directing Harms not to speak with reporters, threatening to bring a lawsuit, or actually bringing a lawsuit against the Plaintiff Harms for speaking with reporters or publishing www.shouldyoumovetosibleyia.com in its previous form or in any future form, including www.sibleystinks.com or any other successor websites that criticize the City of Sibley or the Defendants in the conduct of City business. And that's not all. Not only can Harms restore his "should you move" site to its former, more caustic glory, he can get his other website (Sibley Stinks) up and running. On top of that, he's also going to be collecting from the town for his troubles, as Rox Laird reports for Courthouse News Service. In addition to not demanding that Harms alter his website and threatening suit, the city agreed to provide training on the First Amendment to its staff, issue a written apology to Harms, and pay $20,475 in attorney fees and $6,500 in damages. Whatever harm the city imagined might have come to Sibley, Iowa as a result of Harms' website, it likely didn't amount to the $27,000 it now owes Harms. Given that the site's best day of traffic netted roughly 2,000 visitors, it was hardly a cross-platform viral town destroyer. What did go viral was the town's heavy-handed, unconstitutional, completely inept response to justified criticism. Now Sibley's known for something other than blood plant stench. It's known for employing officious, censorial busybodies who seem to believe the only permissible speech is speech they like. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Body cameras on cops are, generally speaking, a good idea. Anything that opens up law enforcement to a little more scrutiny is better than the alternative, even if body cameras contribute more to accountability in theory than in actual practice. But just as soon as some cracks appear in the wall of opacity, legislators and government officials rush in to patch them. Multiple state legislatures have discussed bills making body camera footage immune from public records requests. In other states, the recordings are presumed untouchable until the legislature says otherwise. Public access isn't the only issue to be considered, however. Just as important is officer access to camera footage when faced with accusations of misconduct or abuse. The Dallas PD already took the state's lack of firm guidelines to grant its officers privileges it would never extend to citizens accused of criminal acts. Dallas police are given 72 hours to get their stories straight before being questioned about officer-involved shootings. They are also given access to all video recordings of the incident before being questioned. The state attorney general has now expanded the Dallas PD's ad hoc rule to every law enforcement agency in Texas. [h/t Grits for Breakfast] [AG Ken] Paxton’s opinion follows a September request by Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson to clarify the sweeping body cam law the Texas Legislature passed in 2015, which entitles officers “to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before the officer is required to make a statement about the incident.” As Johnson’s office told us at the time, some Texas police departments interpreted that to mean officers could review only their own body cam footage before going on record, which civil rights groups like the ACLU still criticized as “poor investigative practice” that police would never use on other suspects. Others, including the Dallas Police Department, put that policy on steroids, allowing cops to also review the body camera footage of every other officer who was on the scene before giving a statement, according to Johnson’s office. This interpretation -- which gives law enforcement officers access to all recordings of an incident before questioning -- was supposed to resolve a supposed prosecutorial dilemma. According to Johnson, prosecutors dealing with accused officers were having problems with testimony, considering it all could have been made up on the spot once the footage was reviewed. The dilemma was that cops were considered less trustworthy with a policy like the Dallas PD's in place. Even if officers weren't recalibrating their reports to match viewed footage, the public perception was that they were. Instead of recognizing the problem and addressing it, AG Paxton has made it worse. Every officer accused of anything gets a few days and all the footage they need to address allegations. No criminal suspect has ever had the luxury of viewing all available evidence before even being charged. Cops, however, are special. So special their testimony should be viewed as suspect in cases where they're accused of misconduct. AG Paxton may think he's protecting cops, but he's actually undermining the public's steadily-diminishing faith in their public servants. Paxton has chosen to make this a legislative problem, assuring it won't be addressed for several months. When it is finally addressed, lawmakers will be besieged by police unions and law enforcement reps who are willing to sacrifice officer credibility to protect them from accountability. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Nearly two years ago, we wrote about an important lawsuit concerning PACER -- the electronic records system of the federal court system in the US. As we've pointed out many, many times over the years, the whole PACER system is a complete scam by the federal courts. Beyond the clunky and vintage 1998 interface, it is insanely expensive. It technically charges 10 cents per "page" but it determines "pages" liberally. Do a search? That'll cost you 10 cents. View a docket in a long case? With no warning, that could add $3 to your bill (there is an upper limit of $3 per document). Want to read a filing that's more than 30 pages? $3. For each one. The only thing that's actually free are opinions -- but even just getting to them could cost you some money as you do the search and load the docket, etc. And I won't get into the convoluted system it takes to sign up for a PACER account (at least when I did it, you had to wait for them to mail you stuff through the physical mail -- though they may have since updated it). This is ridiculous for a system that should be open to the public. Case law is a part of the law. The public should have free access to it to understand the law. But it's been made incredibly difficult by this system. On top of that, as we pointed out almost a decade ago, it's also against the law. Under the law that set up PACER, Title 28, the courts are only allowed to charge as much as is necessary to pay for the system (realistically, this should come out of filing fees, rather than user fees, but... that's another issue for another day). And, by all accounts, the PACER system was generating a huge profit for the court system -- from 2010 through 2016, PACER brought in $920 million for the courts. Yes, nearly a billion dollars. Admittedly, the US courts say that they've spent that money in other potentially useful ways -- including upgrading computer systems in court rooms and such. But if Congress wants them to spend money that way, they should say so -- rather than have the courts flat out ignore the law (irony!) and overcharge PACER users. Of course it took until 2016 for the first serious challenge to this practice to be filed, and on Saturday (yes, Saturday), Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled for the plaintiffs, saying that the US Court system was abusing the PACER funds it received. It was not a complete victory, but still an important step in the right direction. As the court notes, the issue comes down to interpretation of the law that enables PACER, and the court actually rejects both sides' interpretation: Plaintiffs take the position that the statute “prohibits the AO from charging more in PACER fees than is necessary to recoup the total marginal cost of operating PACER.” ... Under plaintiffs’ interpretation, defendant’s liability is established because with the exception of the category of expenditures labeled Public Access Services... most, if not all, of the other expenditures covered by PACER fees are not part of the “‘marginal cost of disseminating records’ through PACER.”... Defendant readily admits that PACER fees are being used to cover expenses that are not part of the “marginal cost” of operating PACER ... but it rejects plaintiffs’ interpretation of the statute. Instead, defendant reads the statute broadly to mean that the Judicial Conference “may charge [PACER] fees in order to fund the dissemination of information through electronic means.”... Under defendant’s interpretation, it is not liable because “every single expenditure . . . [is] tied to disseminating information through electronic means.” If the Court agreed with either proposed interpretation, the ultimate question of defendant’s liability would be relatively straightforward. If PACER fees can only be spent to cover the “marginal cost” of operating PACER, defendant is liable most expenditures. If PACER fees can be spent on any expenditure that involves “the dissemination of information through electronic means,” defendant is not liable. But the Court rejects the parties’ polar opposite views of the statute, and finds the defendant liable for certain costs that post-date the passage of the E-Government Act, even though these expenses involve dissemination of information via the Internet. I won't go through the full reasoning, but basically the language of the statute is unclear (good ol' Congress!) and both sides present what the court determines to be strained readings to reach their own interpretations. So the court comes up with its own interpretation of the law -- and finds that under its interpretation, some of the funds were misspent: Having rejected the parties’ diametrically opposed interpretations, the Court must embark on its own analysis to determine whether defendant’s use of PACER fees between 2010 and 2016 violated the E-Government Act. The Court concludes that defendant properly used PACER fees to pay for CM/ECF and EBN, but should not have used PACER fees to pay for the State of Mississippi Study, VCCA, Web-Juror, and most of the expenditures for Courtroom Technology. Again, without going too deep into the weeds (though, feel free to read the whole ruling below), the court notes that the law says that PACER fees must be used in ways that "provides the public with 'access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.'" That is more than just PACER, but... does not cover all those other things the federal courts were spending it on. And as the judge notes, while providing jurors with technology is nice, it does not appear to be covered by the law: From the existing record, it would appear that the only courtroom technology expenditure that might be a permissible use of EPA fees is the “digital audio equipment” that allows digital audio recordings to be made during court proceedings and then made part of the electronic docket accessible through PACER.... But, the Court does not see how flat-screen TVs for jurors or those seated in the courtroom, which are used to display exhibits or other evidence during a court proceeding, fall within the statute as they do not provide the public with access to electronic information maintained and stored by the federal courts on its CM/ECF docketing system. This is a win, though I imagine it's not the final word on the matter as there may still be appeals. The case is a class action, and this could mean that the court system will have to cough up a lot of money to all of us who use PACER regularly. Meanwhile, Stephen Schultze, who has been talking about this issue for a while notes that the judge's interpretation (agreeing with neither the plaintiff nor the defendant) has its own problems: Judge Huvelle is a good and fair judge. She rejected the reasoning of both the plaintiffs and the defendants (the Judiciary). Instead, she substituted her own analysis. Unfortunately, her analysis was both legally and technically flawed. Under her ruling, PACER fee-payers will not recover another $750 million (or so) of fees that I think are unlawful. Schultze post then goes into great details on why the Judge was too broad in her reading of the statute, and how the judicial system could still be abusing its powers here. It's a worthwhile read. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
A state prosecutor who claims to be supportive of lowering drug possession incarceration rates is mad at the ACLU for pointing out the legislation she's backing doesn't support this position at all. The ACLU's activism has led to the county attorney's unfortunate decision to send a formal letter to the group kindly asking it to knock it off. (via the ACLU's Will Gaona) In response to an online campaign, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall sent a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona asking that it “cease and desist from disseminating a misleading solicitation.” The ACLU was “dumbfounded” by the letter, which it found to be without “legal merit,” a spokesman told the Star. Earlier this month, the civil-rights group urged people to contact LaWall and ask her to withdraw her support for House Bill 2241, which would increase penalties for people convicted of several crimes involving certain opiates, including heroin and fentanyl. “This is a dangerous bill that will force Arizonans suffering from drug addiction into prisons for years without treatment,” a March 19 ACLU of Arizona Facebook post reads. “Take action now and tell Barbara LaWall to publicly withdraw her support for HB 2241!” As cease-and-desists go, LaWall's is pretty low-key. The letter [PDF] notes LaWall is not complaining about the people who've contacted her office as a result of the ACLU's post. She's also not requesting the ACLU say nothing more about the issue. Instead, she's asking the ACLU to correct its "misinformation." Contrary to the statement disseminated in the ACLUs solicitation, HB 2241 does NOT punish individual drug users who possess or use these drugs to feed their addictions, and it is highly misleading to suggest that HB 2241 would punish drug users by sending them to prison. This Bill increases the sentence for convicted drug traffickers and drug dealers who flood our community with the deadly poisons of fentanyl, carfentanyl, and heroin. It docs NOT punish those who are arrested for simple drug possession. This is not even technically true. Under LaWall's guidance, the county has already incarcerated people for possessing as little as one-tenth gram of heroin. Statewide, more than 20% of drug felony cases involve less than one gram. The ACLU's opposition to the bill stems from the lack of language separating those who sell small amounts to fund their own habits from those actually "flooding" communities with large quantities of opioids. Even drugs traded for anything of value -- no matter what quantity -- would trigger mandatory minimum five-year sentences for those convicted. LaWall's letter has prompted an angry response from the ACLU, which believes the letter was sent to intimidate it into silence. All the ACLU has done is point out the flaws with the bill and that it runs contrary to LaWall's publicly-stated support for reducing drug-related incarcerations. LaWall's response to the ACLU's criticism -- no matter how mildly stated -- is still a demand the ACLU stop making factual statements about the bill she supports. It's not that LaWall is unaware of these criticisms. Earlier debate on the bill produced the same criticism the ACLU is now being asked to stop: that the bill would result in more incarceration and less diversion of addicts to resource that may allow them to kick the habit and return successfully to society. But anything drug-related -- especially bills attempting to address drug overdoses -- is going to be propelled more by emotion than logic, as is evidenced by this statement from a supportive state legislator. Explaining his vote in support of the bill, state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said: “I don’t care how much one person hands off to another. If somebody is selling dope to my kid, I want them in prison.” Well, let's hope your kid doesn't get caught with any purchased drugs, Mr. Finchem. If they do, the new law does them no favors. Considering prosecutors are viewing amounts less than a gram as felonious -- with the possibility of tacking on distribution charges if Finchem's child has shared or sold any to others -- his offspring could be facing five years minimum just for purchasing enough drugs to feed their own habit. The bill doesn't absolve purchasers, nor make it any easier for them to end up in a diversion program, rather than in jail. The ACLU's criticisms are valid. The county attorney's request the ACLU stop portraying the legislation as opposed to LaWall's stated beliefs is not. Fortunately, neither the bill nor LaWall's demands are moving forward at this point. It's always a bad look when public servants start telling members of the public to exercise their First Amendment rights less. But it's even worse when this attempt starts with the public servant calling facts "misinformation." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Lofree is rising fast in the world of tech hardware and gadgetry and the Four Seasons Wireless Keyboard is just one reason why. The sequel to Lofree's successful first keyboard, the unmistakable retro design is complemented by mechanical upgrades that make typing extremely simple. The improved keyboard layout and optimization of the switch under large-sized keys allows for less forceful typing, while back-lighting lets you type on your iOS device, Android, or Windows PC in the dark. Due to production delays, this model will begin shipping May 5th, a date that is still subject to change. Pre-order yours today for $99.99 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 19 days ago on techdirt
You may recall a story we had last fall on a really, really obnoxious and cynical scam to protect sketchy patents by "selling" the patents to Native American tribes. The details here are complex, and that original article has a longer explanation, but the very short version is that in 2010, Congress created a special appeals board to review patents to see whether they never should have been granted. This Patent and Trademark Appeals Board (PTAB) has actually been quite useful in getting rid of sketchy patents, which is why people with sketchy patents hate it, and are trying to get it declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But, while everyone waits on that some lawyers came up with a fairly devious plan to avoid PTAB review. It started when the PTAB agreed to dismiss some reviews of patents held by the University of Florida, after the University claimed that it had sovereign immunity as a state organization. The lawyers for the University of Florida, from the law firm of Shore Chan DePumpo based in Dallas, apparently sensed an opportunity. Realizing that a state-controlled organization could apparently avoid the entire PTAB process by claiming sovereign immunity, it realized that companies facing challenging PTAB reviews could potentially avoid doing so entirely by "selling" the patents to a "sovereign" organization, which would then license the exclusive rights back to the original patent holder. Effectively, the patent holder would pay a bit of money to some sort of sovereign operation, but would retain all of the rights as before, just structured as an exclusive license. The big example of this from last fall was the pharmaceutical company Allergan, which seemed likely to lose some of its patents for the drug Restasis under PTAB review. So right before the PTAB was going to rule, the same lawyers engineered a "sale" of the patents to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Allergan would pay the tribe $13.75 million basically for one purpose only: to magically exempt it from the PTAB process. As we noted at the time, this really does appear to be a sham sale for no other purpose than to avoid the PTAB. The sham not only didn't work, it has backfired spectacularly. In February, the PTAB denied the tribe's motion, clearly recognizing what was going on: Upon consideration of the record, and for the reasons discussed below, we determine the Tribe has not established that the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity should be applied to these proceedings. Furthermore, we determine that these proceedings can continue even without the Tribe's participation in view of Allergan's retained ownership interests in the challenged patents. The Tribe's Motion is therefore denied. Not only that, but the publicity of all of this woke up Congress, which introduced the PACED Act, which is directly designed to stop this kind of activity: Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) along with Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), David Perdue (R-Georgia) today introduced the Preserving Access to Cost Effective Drugs (PACED) Act, which restores the power of the Patent and Trade Office and federal courts, and the International Trade Commission to review patents regardless of sovereign immunity claims made as part of sham transactions. In short, this scam hasn't worked out all that well. And it appears that the lead partner at Shore Chan DePumpo, Michael Shore, is a wee bit sensitive about all of this. Roy Schestowitz of the site Techrights.org has been writing about all of the PTAB shenanigans in numerous posts on his site. For example, here's a post he wrote on March 18th, about the anti-PTAB movement. That post, along with earlier posts about the PACED Act included a headshot of Michael Shore, the lawyer mentioned above. Last week, another lawyer from Shore Chan DePumpo, Shukri Abdi, sent Schestowitz a laughably ridiculous cease and desist letter, claiming that Schestowitz was infringing on Shore's copyright in using a thumbnail of his headshot in those stories. It has come to our attention that you are responsible for unlawfully publishing Michael Shore's photograph on the website www.techrights.org, as the named registrant and creator of the website, in violation of the United States Copyright Act. 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. We demand that you immediately cease such infringing activity, desist from such infringing activity in the future, and comply with the requirements set forth in this letter. As you are no doubt aware, Mr. Shore has exclusive rights in his photographs, which you have widely reproduced, published, and/or distributed without permission. Your unauthorized reproduction, distribution, publication, and/or transmission of Mr. Shore's photograph on www.techrights.org, including the following webpages, constitutes copyright infringement. The letter goes on to demand Schestowitz cease and desist from doing anything with the photograph and gives him until the end of this week to respond. In an abundance of caution, Schestowitz has done so. But he shouldn't need to. Abdi, a recent law school grad, specializes in patent and trademark issues, but considering she worked at the Intellectual Property Law Clinic in law school, one would hope that at some point someone taught her about Section 107 of copyright law, regarding exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. That starts out by noting that using works "for purposes such as criticism, comment, [and] news reporting" can be considered fair use, and thus non-infringing. Indeed, there is a case that is directly on point on this issue, Dhillon v. Does, in which a lawyer named Harmeet Dhillon was upset about a website, called MungerGames, that published an article critical of her that included one of her own headshots that she had posted on the web. In other words, an identical situation to the one here. The court there found it to easily be fair use. And, of course, we won't even get that deeply into the open questions of whether or not Shore actually holds the copyright in this image. Abdi's letter states that Shore "has exclusive rights in his photographs" which is not entirely accurate. It's unclear who took this photo, but it clearly was not Shore. It is possible that there was an assignment of the copyright in the photo to Shore or that it was done under some sort of explicit work-made-for-hire agreement, but nowhere does the letter state that. Indeed, it seems to imply (incorrectly under the law) that Shore has exclusive rights in photos taken of him rather than by him. Notably, nowhere in the letter does Abdi suggest that Shore registered the copyright in the photo, which would be a necessary prerequisite to suing for statutory damages (there simply are no actual damages here anyway). Of course, it's possible that Abdi knows all this and was just doing what the partners at her firm asked her to do, which was to send a purely bumptious, censorial threat to a blogger for daring to call out the sketchy legal practices of the law firm Shore Chan DePumpo in trying to craft sham patent sales for the sake of avoiding questionable patents getting invalidated by the PTAB. Of course, sending such a threat might just backfire, in the same way that Shore's plan to "sell" (wink, wink) patents to Native American tribes has backfired. Indeed, it might call attention to just how thin-skinned Michael Shore is, and how he's willing to have associates at his firm send out completely ridiculous, legally nonsensical threats in a weak attempt to try to scare off someone who was criticizing him. And because this very story is about the headshot, and because using headshots is fair use, and because we're discussing it clearly, here is the headshot of Michael Shore: Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 20 days ago on techdirt
You may recall the years we've spent over the ridiculous monkey selfie story, concerning whether or not there was a copyright in a selfie taken by a monkey (there is not) and if there is (again, there is not) whether it's owned by the monkey (absolutely not) or the camera owner (still no). But one of the points that we raised was to remind people that not every bit of culture needs to be locked up under copyright. It's perfectly fine to have new works enter the public domain. So much of the confusion over the whole monkey selfie thing is that so many people have this weird belief that every new piece of content simply must have a copyright. Indeed, during the PETA legal arguments in trying to claim the copyright on behalf of the monkey, they basically took it as given that a copyright existed, and felt the only fight was over who got to hold it: the camera owner or the monkey. As we mentioned a few times throughout that ordeal, it really appeared that PETA's lawyers at the hotshot (and formerly respectable) law firm of Irell & Manella had taken on the case to establish some credibility on the issue of non-human-generated works and copyright. There isn't likely to be a rush of animal selfies (though there just was a pretty damn awesome penguin selfie -- no one tell PETA), but there are going to be a whole bunch of questions in the very, very near future concerning copyright and works generated by artificial intelligence. If you look, there are already many, many law review articles, papers, think pieces and such on whether or not AI-generated works deserve copyright, and some of these go back decades (shout out to Pam Samuelson's prescient 1985 paper: Allocating Ownership Rights in Computer-Generated Works). But now many of these questions are becoming reality, and some lawyers are freaking out. Case in point: an article in Lexology recently by two Australian lawyers, John Hannebery and Lachlan Sadler, in which they seem quite disturbed about the copyright questions related to the new Clips camera from Google. In case you haven't heard about it (and I'll confess this article was the first I'd found out about it), Clips is a tiny camera that you "clip" somewhere while action is happening and it uses AI to try to take a bunch of good pictures. Sounds interesting enough, if it actually works. But, as these lawyers note, it's not clear there's any copyright for users of the device, and there almost certainly isn't in Australia where they practice: Under the Australian Copyright Act, subject to certain exceptions, copyright in an artistic work is owned by the author, which, in relation to a photograph, is "the person who took the photograph". Therefore, as simple as that, the owner of a Clip (or similar product) which takes photos by AI will not own copyright under Australian law, as they are not the person who "took" the photos. Unfortunately for robots everywhere however, neither will the AI. As you might have noticed in the above quote, it is the person who took the photo who owns the copyright. While "person" is not defined in the Copyright Act, it is defined in the Acts Interpretation Act (which governs the interpretation of legislation), which provides that it includes an individual, body politic, or body corporate but not, by implication, a machine. Therefore, the answer is that, under Australia law, no-one will own copyright in photos taken by AI. The photos simply will not be protected by copyright in Australia, as they do not have an "author" within the meaning of the Copyright Act. The Australian Federal Court reached a similar conclusion when it ruled that information sheets arranged by a computer program did not attract copyright protection. A similar analysis almost certainly applies to the US and a bunch of other countries (including Spain and Germany) where the law is pretty clear that non-humans don't get copyright. As that and other articles note, there are some countries (including New Zealand, India, Hong Kong and the UK) which have specifically updated their copyright laws to include a new form of copyright for computer generated works (it varies, but basically giving the copyright to whichever person was most involved in the process -- which opens up a whole different can of worms). But what struck me about the article by Hannebery and Sadler, is they don't even stop to consider why we might not want every new work to be covered by copyright. It's not even up for discussion in their piece. They just insist that the lack of copyright must be a problem and demand that Australia amend its copyright laws to fix it without ever bothering to explain why it's a problem: Refusing to afford computer-generated works copyright protection is likely to become more and more problematic, as artificial intelligence develops at a mind-boggling rate and we start seeing artistic works (like paintings, music, and even novels) created by machines. Eventually, Australian lawmakers will have to address this issue. This may mean adopting an approach similar to that of the UK and New Zealand, whereby copyright ownership is granted to (most likely) the creator/owner of the computer program which authored the work. The alternate approach of granting copyright ownership to computer programs would of course be radical, but is certainly not outside the realm of possibility as technology continues to develop. Notice how the lack of copyright is declared to be "problematic," and the only debate, it appears, is between whether the owner of the system should get the copyright, or the programmer of the AI. But that's silly. As we wrote all those years ago, not everything needs copyright. Indeed, even for most of the modern world, we didn't automatically copyright all works of creation until relatively recently. In my case, here in the US, it was still in my lifetime that we assumed most works were in the public domain and only granted copyright to the small percentage that decided to register. It's just in the past couple of decades -- often driven by special interests who have built entire industries on sucking up copyrights and restricting competition with them -- that we've reached a world where the idea of content without copyright is somehow "problematic." But it's not problematic and it shouldn't be, and we should get past the brainwashing of the legacy copyright players, and recognize that not everything needs copyright, and AI-generated works most certainly do not. In that article we wrote years back, there's a quote from Sherwin Siy explaining why it's unfortunate that the meaning of the public domain has changed so drastically in just the past few decades: This is the definition of the public domain—things that are not protected by copyright. We’re used to thinking of the public domain as consisting of things that were in copyright and then aged out of it after a length of time, but that’s just a part of it. There’s also works created by the federal government, and things that simply can’t be protected—like ideas, methods of operation, or discoveries. But, because legacy copyright interests have been so driven into so many people's heads that everything must be covered by copyright, and everything must be owned, and everything must be locked down, some people seem unwilling to even consider that the world might not fall apart if some content is never under copyright. As we've seen in lots of areas where that's the case, those industries often thrive and grow more rapidly than those encumbered with legacy protections in the form of copyright. Hopefully, as more and more AI-generated content exists, we resist the urge to lump it all under an outdated 18th century concept that simply isn't needed to create "incentives" for a computer to generate new works. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 20 days ago on techdirt
The EFF hasn't released a scorecard for secure messaging apps since 2014. The scorecard has been updated several times, but there's no current quick reference guide for secure messaging that considers all the tech (and legal) developments over the past four years. The EFF's guide was handy, but it also was the target of legitimate criticism. Simplifying complex issues is helpful, but not if it inadvertently omits critical considerations. The EFF recognizes there's no quick and dirty way to solve everyone's security issues. Consequently, the EFF has announced that it will no longer be providing a secure messaging scorecard. It will still provide plenty of useful info for those seeking secure options, but it cannot in good faith claim to address every potential issue in an easy-to-follow infographic. No single messaging app can perfectly meet everyone’s security and communication needs, so we can’t make a recommendation without considering the details of a particular person’s or group’s situation. Straightforward answers are rarely correct for everyone—and if they’re correct now, they might not be correct in the future. [...] [A]ny recommendation is much more like a reasonable guess than an indisputable fact. A messenger recommendation must acknowledge all of these factors—and, most importantly, the ways they change over time. It’s hard enough to do that for a specific individual, and nearly impossible to do it for a general audience. There are too many factors to consider to reduce secure messaging options to a simple checklist of features. The features people need depends on the threats they're facing. In some cases, governments and law enforcement are the primary concerns, making secure end-to-end encryption a must. In other cases, it's fellow citizens (ex-spouses, angry co-workers, etc.) who are an issue, making ephemeral messaging more desirable than solid encryption. Also thrown into the mix are options users have when using secure messaging apps, including default options (like cloud backups) users may not be aware of that somewhat compromise the security of their communications. On top of that, there are local laws and local government efforts that affect the security of users. For instance, Telegram's base messaging service is used by millions of Russian citizens. Unfortunately, the base offering is secured by keys held by Telegram, which has just been ordered by a Russian court to turn those over to the government. Fortunately, this isn't necessarily bad news. While a cheat sheet is definitely preferable to digging through a lot of research (some of it impossible to parse by novice users), there's still plenty of information out there that provides info on tradeoffs and step-by-step instructions to hardening your personal security. The EFF will continue to provide as many security tools as possible for those seeking to secure their communications, but it will no longer be a single sheet of Y/N inputs. Security is hard. Personal security -- and personal privacy -- is something that requires a great deal of continuous attention by those seeking to keep their private communications private. While the rise of default encryption has made it easier for many people to secure devices and info on them, it has been accompanied by an increase in cloud-based backups and other, often automatic recovery options that undermine the security of stored communications. Laws controlling government access to communications and data continue to change and our own Justice Department is pushing for legislation compelling service providers to break encryption on demand. Elsewhere in the world, governments are reacting to terrorist attacks and a plethora of speech issues by increasing their direct control of internet communications platforms. The threat models constantly shift and there's very little available that works well for everyone, especially when the main threat is state-sponsored hacking. Everyone should take an interest in securing their communications. The EFF just wants you to know it's not as simple as downloading a couple of apps. There's no one-size-fits-all solution and the EFF would rather no one visiting its site walks away with that impression. There's no shortage of information available but there will be no future messaging scorecards that understate the complexity of the situation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 20 days ago on techdirt
This week, both our winning comments on the insightful side came from anonymous commenters on our post about the CAFC's insane ruling overturning Google's fair use victory against Oracle. In first place, we have some thoughts on whether this goes any further: I think Google actually might have a good shot at the Supreme court, mainly on procedural grounds. The CAFC explictly ruled that a Jury should determine fair use. A superior court normally shouldn't disregard the Jury finding, and they have noted no bad jury instructions or other reasons to disregard the Jury findings. That seems, from an outsider, to be a major misstep, the kind of which the Supreme Court has loved to smack around the CAFC for. In second place, we've got a deeper dive into the problems of the case: This whole argument is being framed over language that is misleading to the extreme. "Declarative code" and "Implementing code" are not industry terms; the terms every CS101 student learns are "code declarations" and "code definitions". This is important, because the phrase "declarative code" implies that code declares, when in reality, code is declared. This is perhaps the biggest source (and evidence of) confusion in CAFC's opinions (and that of the Solicitor General in his brief to the Supreme Court in the previous appeal). Code declarations and implementations are like dictionary entries. Dictionary entries contain two parts: Syntax information (spelling, pronunciation, part of speech, etc) and the definition. Syntax information allows writers to correctly use a word, as well as allows readers to determine if a word is used correctly. For example, if I tell you that the word feldercrump is a noun, then you can write the following sentences, and see that the sentence "I saw a feldercrump" uses it correctly, whereas "I feldercrump on Sunday" does not. However, without the Definition, no one can extract any meaning from the sentence. You can't know what idea backs the word feldercrump. Even still, different dictionaries might contain similar but different definitions for the word, even though the syntax information stays the same. The former is equivalent to code declarations: they do not instruct computers, but rather, allow compilers, interpreters, and programmers to know how code is to be used, as well as determine whether code is used correctly, but there is no code to run or execute. Implementations, however, are the definition of a function, and consist of actual computer instructions. Any function used to implement a particular interface can be used to give meaning to a use of the interface. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with a comment from PaulT on our post about the rise of streaming exclusivity, in response to a commenter noting that it makes piracy the "path of least resistance": That's all it ever is, and all it ever was. The resistance might come in the form of pricing, inconvenience, regional or format windows, language or some other factor. But, piracy usually there as the easy option. It has existed well before the internet, and it will continue to exist. The biggest problem facing these companies is that in order to fight the problems causing this resistance, they erect more barriers (as you correctly note, DRM is one f the more recent ones). If they could just learn to make the legal routes easier than piracy they will find more success. I mean, literally the selling point for most people I know regarding services like Spotify and Netflix is because they were easier than piracy, and they're happy to pay for that. Stop trying to make them more difficult again. Next, we've a simple anonymous response to the RIAA's boasting about all the money being made from streaming subscriptions: In other words, that thing the RIAA fought tooth and nail to prevent from becoming a thing? Over on the funny side, we've got a pair of anonymous winners again. In first place, it's a response to Kim Dotcom's human rights tribunal victory over the New Zealand government: Well, the only reason New Zealand authorities withheld information from Kim Dotcom was because there was no where to transfer all of the files to. In all fairness though after collecting years and years worth of legal documents it would have been a mega upload. In second place, it's another response to the problem of exclusive streaming services: Entertainers Assemble! With so many walled-off streaming services popping up, there needs to be some kind of initiative to provide customers with access to the difference channels of content. Perhaps said services can come together to provide some universal subscription to all of the difference services under an easy to digest acronym, like for example: Content Aggregate Broadcasting Limitless Entertainment Television or CABLE TV for short. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with the story of a school selling out its students first amendment rights by censoring a news article with images of some controversial art. Jeremy Lyman honed in on a different detail, after one teacher apparently apologized "on behalf of 99.9% of the teachers": Probably wasn't a math teacher. They've got at least 1,000 teachers at this school? What are the class sizes like? Finally, we've got a deservedly flippant anonymous response to the accusation that we are ignoring all the arguments in favor of SESTA: All arguments in support of SESTA, in their entirety: fibble dibble bop cluck cluck shrimp paste That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2013, congress released its proposal for reforming the CFAA — and it managed to make the law even worse. Even the one change we at first thought might be good turned out not to be. The whole thing had experts wondering what the hell congress was thinking, and led Eric Goldman to make the case for ditching the CFAA altogether. Meanwhile, we continued to look at the dangers of CISPA, while Hollywood was still working on pushing SOPA abroad. Ten Years Ago This week in 2008, a Columbia professor was jumping on the bandwagon of aggressively using patents and exploiting the ITC loophole, while Seagate was casually promising to try to stop SSD technology with a barrage of patent lawsuits. In Canada, Bell decided to start throttling traffic without telling resellers, and enjoying the monopoly position that let it respond to complaints with, pretty much, "deal with it". Meanwhile, TorrentSpy announced it was shutting down out of sheer exhaustion, Warner Music joined the crowd calling for an ISP tax, the IFPI kept putting pressure on ISPs around the world, and Rep. Berman trotted out the old line that anyone opposing new copyright laws just wants stuff for free. Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2003, all eyes were on the war in Iraq, and we were looking at the impact on and from technology in many regards. Journalists were flexing new technological muscles in covering the conflict, and the military was flexing similar muscles to recruit new soldiers. The internet was changing how people get their war news, and sucking up a whole lot of time from people at home and in the office — and this empowered hackers and hosting companies to become censors. And in a stunningly politically motivated move, a congressman introduced a bill trying to pre-emptively ensure that any new cellular infrastructure built in Iraq after the war would be CDMA. (The war had so far existed for exactly one week.) Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
The topic of censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt. Less common are stories about how to circumvent it. The two which follow are great examples of how human ingenuity is able to find unexpected ways to tackle this problem. The first story comes from Spain, and concerns a banned book. As the Guardian reports: Nacho Carretero’s Fariña, an expose of drug trafficking in Galicia, was published in 2015, but publication and sales were halted last month after the former mayor of O Grove in Galicia, Jose Alfredo Bea Gondar, brought legal action against Carretero and his publisher, Libros del KO. Bea Gondar is suing over details in the book about his alleged involvement in drug shipping. To get around that ban, a new Web site has been created, Finding Fariña, which explains: A digital tool searches and finds the 80,000 thousand words that make up "Fariña" within "Don Quijote", the most universal classic of Spanish literature, and then extracts them, one by one, so that you can read the forbidden story. Because what they will never be able to censor your rights as a reader. Nor words. And least of all, "Don Quijote". The site sifts through the classic Spanish text to find the words that are then recombined to form the forbidden book. You can click on any word in the book's online text to find the corresponding section of Don Quijote. Since Fariña contains words that did not exist in the early 17th century, when Cervantes wrote his novel, the Web site recreates them from fragments of words that are found within the work. That's quite important, since it means that Don Quijote can potentially be used to reconstitute any book, if necessary breaking down unusual words into fragments or even single letters. Equally, the same approach could be adopted for banned texts in other languages: all that is needed is some well-known public domain work that can be mined in the same way. The other approach comes from Germany, but "The Uncensored Playlist," is being used in China, Egypt, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam to circumvent censorship in those nations: While press freedom is not available in the worlds most oppressed societies -- global music streaming sites are. Five acclaimed independent journalists from five countries suffering from strict government censorship teamed up with Musical Director Lucas Mayer to turn 10 articles that had previously been censored into 10 uncensored pop songs. These songs were then uploaded onto freely available music streaming sites. Allowing these stories to be slipped back into the countries where they had once been forbidden. That is, censored information, written by local journalists, is set to music, and then added to playlists that are available on the main streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music. In addition, all the songs are freely available from the project's Web site, in both the original languages and in English. Although neither method represents a foolproof anti-circumvention technique, or a serious challenge to the authorities concerned, they do underline that however bad the censorship, there is always a way around it. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
As entertainment streaming has officially become "a thing", one leading to massive change in the entertainment landscape, many eyes still turn towards the professional sports leagues. That's because live professional sports is now one of the last big bulwarks against cord-cutting. With that in mind, it's interesting to watch the major sports leagues experiment in streaming, a process that began roughly five years ago in earnest. While Major League Baseball has long led the way, the other leagues are catching up. The NBA in 2014 negotiated a new broadcast deal with Disney and TNT, one in which the league insisted that streaming options be significantly expanded. In fact, 14% or more NBA games are now nationally televised on those networks, with streaming options that do not require cable. While that sort of deal is to be applauded, it's admittedly fairly vanilla. Put more broadcasts up on streaming services. There's nothing too experimental about that. Especially compared with a new plan the NBA is kicking around for cheap streams of the last quarter of NBA games. Now the NBA is testing another, obvious-when-you-think-about-it idea: letting fans watch the 4th quarter of a live, in-progress game for just 99 cents. On Twitter, Vasu Kulkarni shared a screenshot of a notification sent by the NBA app. For less than a buck, he could hop in and stream the end of a game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Verge has reached out to NBA Digital for more specifics on how many fans are being presented with this option. I haven’t seen other screenshots or instances of it, and it’s very possible that the price could change as the NBA tries to find a sweet spot. 99 cents seems like a good one, though. Presumably the usual annoyances with these things (i.e. blackouts for local teams) also apply here. If those annoyances are indeed still in place with this option, it would be a massive mistake. The whole value in offering these cheap streaming options for the more thrilling moments of a basketball game -- the end of it -- is the ability to draw in the more casual fan to view more broadcasts. Cutting out the local teams, particularly when what's considered a "local team" is so tortured and laughable for so many markets, undercuts that value at the kneecap. Regardless, it's good to see a league with this much sway experimenting in this way. According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, these experiments are unlikely to end merely with end-of-game sequences. ESPN reporter Darren Rovell predicts that the NBA could turn micro-transactions into a “significant revenue stream” for fans who want to catch the pivotal ending moments of a game. It’s a tiny, tiny fraction of the price of a full League Pass subscription, so it’s a much easier sell for casual fans who would hesitate to fork out for the big package but have no issue paying 99 cents when they get a push notification about a close, high-stakes game. Silver also mentioned the possibility of these streams being offered when a player has a chance of breaking an all-time record or reaching other notable achievements. As the Verge post notes, this is somewhat akin to the NFL's RedZone channel, but you pay for what you want and nothing else. Hopefully the antiquated barriers come down along with this experiment and hopefully we'll see more and more creative options put forth by the leagues as well. If nothing else, it should make some large cable providers start quaking, and that's always fun. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
For years now the narrative du jour in online news circles has been that the news comment section is an irredeemable menace. Outlet after outlet has informed us that they care so much about the integrity of public dialogue online that they've decided to ban website visitors from commenting on news articles entirely. Usually, these bans are accompanied by some sanctimonious claim that banning people from speaking on site was done because the outlet in question just really "valued conversation," or because they're just ultra-interested in building better relationships. In reality, the motivation isn't quite so noble. Most websites just don't want to spend the time and money it takes to cultivate a healthy online community, in large part because bean counters can't monetize or measure the impact of quality discourse. Other outlets don't like having such a visible area where users can point out errors in news coverage. Most really would prefer we return back to the era of "letters to the editor" where the medium gets to dictate whose voices are deemed important, and whose are not. In that way it's often part power play, and part laziness. Time and time again, these outlets have claimed that banning comments is the only option because cultivating on-site community is too expensive and time consuming. Again though, there's every indication that making the news comments section useful again doesn't take all that much work. In Norway, for example, a five-person team tookt all of three hours to code a WordPress plugin with a comically-simple premise: "It was a basic idea," NRKbeta developer Ståle Grut told a South By Southwest crowd on Tuesday. "Readers had to prove they read a story before they were able to comment on it." The plugin doesn't take much work to install, and website operators simply have to build a simple multiple-choice Q&A based on the article to make it work. The coders work for NRKbeta, the tech-testing group at Norway's largest national media organization. And they were quick to point out that asking your on-site community for help (as opposed to, say, implying that their input is no longer relevant) often pays dividends: "Use your audience," Grut told the crowd. "Talk to them; play with them. They'll like you better for it." A WordPress plugin could force users to correctly answer a few multiple-choice questions before the page's comment field would appear. Once he got to the office, he and fellow staffers spent three hours building the plugin, which Grut reminded the crowd is wholly open source. "Naturally, this was paid for by Norwegian people, so you can thank them if you want to implement it," Grut said when emphasizing that he was happy if more sites tried it out." And while the folks behind the plugin note that it's not a magic panacea for all news comment hostility, the fact that they were able to modestly tame news comment hostility with a bare modicum of effort suggests the "irredeemable" and widely maligned news comment section isn't quite the unfixable hellscape many lazy, cheap and threatened media outlets profess it to be. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
One of the largest stories of the past year has been the Larry Nassar story. Nassar, the now disgraced atheltic trainer for multiple entities, including USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, has been accused by scores of women for sexual abuse and misconduct under the guise of his medical profession. Recently, Nassar's boss at Michigan State, William Strimpel, who was the university's dean of the osteopathic medical school, was himself charged with criminal sexual misconduct. Whatever is going on at Michigan State, it hasn't been good for some time. One would imagine that in the wake of the allegations and, in the case of Nassar, conviction, the school would be getting its collective shit together. Instead, MSU has taken on the project of obfuscating what occurred under the school's watch and, reportedly, paying half-a-million dollars to have an outside firm monitor the social media accounts of Nassar's accusers and the journalists that have been and are covering the story. MSU hired the New York-based public relations firm Weber Shandwick to do more 1,440 hours of work. “The firm billed for work done by 18 different employees, whose hourly rates ranged from $200 to $600 per hour. Five of those employees billed MSU for more than $50,000, including one who billed for $96,900 and another who billed for $120,893,” according to the article. During Nassar's trial, MSU employees as high up as former school president Lou Anna K. Simon were furnished with regular reports on what his victims and journalists were saying on their social media accounts. The reports also went into some depth about which stories and which victims were gaining the most eyeballs in the public. I suppose the idea here was to allow the school to get out ahead of reports that were beginning to gain traction, though, as the Deadspin post notes, the idea that any of this should cost a school $500k is rather absurd. That’s a lot of money to spend to find out that when your institution is found to have harbored and enabled a serial sexual predator for decades, people are going to write some mean things about you on Twitter. Meanwhile, news of this surveillance of the victims puts the school on poor footing should it want to make any attempt to rehabilitate its image. It seems obvious that both the time and money spent on all of this could have been better spent making sure monsters like Nassar are never allowed to work at the school again, while also making reparations for the abuse that has already occurred under its watch. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Back in 2016, the Malaysian government pushed for broad censorship of an already tightly-controlled internet. The basis for this push was the government's inability to stop Malaysian media from reporting on government corruption. This reporting continued on platforms (and with news agencies) the government didn't directly control. To shut this down, the government decided to strip immunity from media platforms, making them directly responsible for user content. This allowed the government to control the narrative by going after service providers, rather than those publishing inconvenient facts. The Malaysian government still hasn't been able to completely shut down critical reporting. Two years later, it's trying again, this time using an excuse provided by the newest US president: fake news. Under the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, anyone who publishes so-called fake news could face fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,140), up to 10 years in jail, or both. “The proposed Act seeks to safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news whilst ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected,” the government said in the bill. The government defined fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and included features, visuals and audio recordings. The law, which covers digital publications and social media, would apply to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected. The last part attempts to make this enforceable anywhere in the world, putting foreign service providers at risk of accruing fines for refusing to take down anything the government declares "fake news." The proposed bill has already been criticized by Amnesty International as being nothing more than a "blatant attempt to shield the government from peaceful criticism." The first part -- the contradictory claim that targeting news the government doesn't like somehow equates to a free speech protection -- is just knuckle-dragging dissembling from a government that knows the public doesn't believe its claptrap. Even if the government's intentions are pure (which they certainly aren't), the term "fake news" is almost impossible to define. Outlandishly false "reporting" is rarely targeted. What's most commonly referred to as "fake news" is any reporting the party in power doesn't like. The same would be the case here, as one Malaysian government official helpfully explained: A deputy minister was quoted in Malaysian media last week as saying that any news on 1MDB that had not been verified by the government was “fake”. The bill is nothing more than a threat to dangle over the Malaysian public to deter further discussion of government corruption. The government already directly controls the mainstream media, so the addition of an "affecting Malaysian people" clause is there to give it the legal permission to demand removal of content worldwide. Service providers located in other countries should follow blogging platform Medium's example: when faced with demands to delete reporting on the magical appearance of $700 million in the Malaysian prime minister's bank account, the platform demanded proof of the government's claims that the report was false. When this failed to materialize, Medium left the content up and reiterated its support for investigative journalism. This will likely become law in the near future. The party in power holds a significant majority in the Parliament. The country's corrupt government will give itself the tools it needs to punish citizens for attempting to hold it accountable. And the term "fake news" will continue to be abused by authoritarian governments to stifle dissent. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
The TREBLAB Z2 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones feature top-grade, high-performance neodymium-backed 40mm speakers and active noise canceling technology to drown out background noise. They're designed to fit ergonomically and securely for comfortable all-day wear, and with a 35 hour battery life, you can use them all day without needing to stop for a charge. The Z2s come with a carrying case, AUX cable and USB/micro USB charging cable, and are on sale for $78.99. 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 22 days ago on techdirt
So, in the lead up to Congress' vote on FOSTA/SESTA, we pointed out that a court in Boston was likely on the verge of ruling that Backpage was not protected by CDA 230, because of actions the site had taken. Considering that the publicly stated rationale by nearly everyone supporting FOSTA/SESTA was that it was needed to get around Backpage's CDA 230 protections, we wondered why Congress couldn't wait to see how the court ruled. Yesterday, the Judge indeed ruled against a motion to dismiss in the case of one of the plaintiffs (there were three in the case), saying that enough evidence had been presented to get around CDA 230 for the time being. The key issue: whether or not Backpage directly changed the content, making it the content creator, rather than just the service provider. Backpage has insisted that it didn't make any changes (that a user did), but the court finds that there's enough evidence to reject the motion to dismiss, and to allow the case the move forward: The allegation in the complaint that “Backpage . . . redrafted the advertisement [of Jane Doe No. 3] to suggest she was an adult” suffices to allow the complaint by Jane Doe No. 3 to proceed in the face of the CDA’s statutory immunity, which does not protect service providers when they create content, FTC v. Accusearch, Inc., 570 F.3d 1187, 1197 (10th Cir. 2009). The further discovery, while not clarifying greatly the matter, provides, drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, a modicum of support for the notion that Backpage has substantively changed an ad, which then supports the information and belief allegation in the complaint. Thus, the CDA poses no bar to Jane Doe No. 3’s claim at this stage of the proceedings. On the other two plaintiffs, the court notes that merely classifying posts or removing terms that imply illegality doesn't rid the site of its protections: Plaintiffs allege Backpage revised one advertisement regarding Jane Doe No. 1 by not only deleting words but also by adding a word.... The advertisement initially included the language “Latina shorty,” which was later replaced by the words “Exotic Latina.” Id. Backpage’s alleged alteration of the advertisement of Jane Doe is not enough to transform Backpage from an internet service provider to the creator, even in part, of this advertisement’s content. “Shorty”, per the Complaint, signaled, in slang, a young girl. Id. The deletion of this word did not create content. Backpage added the word “exotic.” The Complaint does not allege that the word exotic carries any special or slang meaning. Ordinarily, the word means from a foreign or distant land. In the circumstances of this advertisement as described in the complaint, the addition of the word exotic is in the nature of editorial change rather than content creation, as its addition does not substantively alter the meaning of the already provided identifier “Latina.” Separately, the court feels the need to point out that what happened to the plaintiffs, as alleged in the complaint, is horrifying. But that does not mean it's appropriate to blame a tool that was used by those doling out the horrific practices. Finally, crediting the truthfulness of the Plaintiffs’ allegations, as the law instructs, the Complaint describes unimaginable sexual abuse, repeatedly endured by each Plaintiff.... Nothing about the Court’s ruling as to Jane No. 1 or No. 2 diminishes the harm suffered by each of these woman. The ruling addresses only the applicable civil law. 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(1) (creating immunity from civil and state criminal law, but not federal criminal law). For FOSTA/SESTA supporters, they will almost certainly use this as vindication for why FOSTA/SESTA is still necessary. After all, the court ruled against them here. But, in actuality, it should again show why CDA 230 is properly calibrated. If Backpage had no direct role in creating the content, why does it make sense to hold it liable? What happened to the plaintiffs here does sound horrible. But the proper people to go after are those who actually engaged in trafficking the women. And nothing has ever stopped law enforcement from doing that. Similarly, as the court notes, Backpage is still subject to federal criminal law (and multiple reports have said that a federal grand jury has been empaneled to investigate the company's operations). And, finally, the fact that Jane Doe 3 is able to proceed shows that Backpage can potentially face liability if there is evidence to suggest that it had a real hand in creating the content, thus removing the liability. This ruling, once again, shows why FOSTA/SESTA was not needed to get at the original stated goal of those pushing for it. Indeed, as law professor Eric Goldman points out, this ruling makes it plain that the logic behind FOSTA/SESTA is "nonsensical." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
More well-intentioned lawmaking is resulting in terrible legislation proposals. France is looking to Germany for guidance for the first time in a long time, thanks to its Prime Minister's desire to regulate "hate speech" on the internet. Edourd Philippe has apparently overlooked the disastrous roll out of Germany's hate speech law, which has resulted in a steady stream of embarrassments since its inception. During a visit to the National Museum of the History of Immigration, Philippe said he intends to fight racist and anti-Semitic content on social networks, to launch an Internet portal to inform and help victims of hate, racism and discrimination, and set up training sessions for teachers to manage and prevent offensive remarks in schools. He also plans to set up a national response team to assist teachers and field workers confronted with conflict situations. “French law should be amended to strengthen the obligations of detection, reporting and deletion of illegal content on the Internet,” he said in a speech. [...] In outlining his plans, Philippe said the government is considering following Germany’s lead with heavy fines for companies slow to react. He also mentioned the possibility of closing accounts with repetitive and massive dissemination of hate content. This is a remarkable turnaround for Philippe, who just two months earlier was arguing in favor of anti-Semitic speech on behalf of an influential French author. France’s prime minister said he backed the publication of anti-Semitic essays by the author Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, also known as Celine, despite concern from the country’s Jewish community. Edouard Philippe said the essays, published under the pseudonym Louis-Ferdinand Celine between 1937 and 1941, could not be ignored, though the publication would have to be carefully watched. The January version of Philippe said anti-Semitic works could be published, accompanied by more speech -- the companion publication of a "scientific style" explainer that would hopefully deter readers from assuming the French government or a majority of the French population supported the author's views. It seems more speech is no longer the answer. Philippe wants to directly regulate the internet, holding service providers responsible for user-generated content. If successful, France will enjoy a new revenue stream: hefty fines collected from social media platforms for failing to nuke content fast enough. Once this cash IV is hooked up to French coffers, demands for removal will increase, turn-time for removals shortened, and mission creep will set in. Philippe expressed his concern about the perceived proliferation of hate speech with a statement that inadvertently supports arguments made by service providers about the impossibility of these content removal mandates. “What annoys me is that nowadays, it seems easier to remove a pirated video of a football [soccer] game than anti-Semitic remarks.” Interesting. It seems not all that long ago, government reps and the lobbyists who keep them well-maintained were complaining about how difficult it was to remove pirated content. Government officials tend believe removing pirated content should be as easy as removing child porn, even though one's much easier to spot and has a database of known child porn to compare content to. With copyrighted content, it's not always clear the stuff targeted is infringing, and issues not present in child porn -- like fair use or public interest -- complicate matters. The problems with identifying targeted content are only exacerbated when platforms are tasked with identifying and purging things like "terrorist content," "hate speech," and "fake news." None of these concepts are distinctly definable and a patchwork of contradictory laws makes compliance a logistical nightmare. What tends to happen is preemptive removal by platforms, which has resulted in the purging of satirical posts and content that is, at best, slightly offensive, rather than being the invective governments claim they're targeting. PM Philippe is making this push despite hate crime numbers continuing to drop in France. The Prime Minister offers only ethereal suppositions in support of his legislative desires. Philippe said that although the number of hate incidents may have dropped in 2017 for the second year in a row, the statistics do not account for the “surge of hatred that is expressed daily on the Internet.” You can't quantify what you can't clearly define. And if you can't clearly define it, you probably shouldn't regulate it. If France has a problem with hate speech, the corrective measures should target hateful citizens, not service providers. But it really shouldn't target this speech with increased regulation. It should do as Philippe suggested only two months ago: greet hate speech with more speech, because this is the only route guaranteed to prevent the speech-targeting laws from becoming tools of government oppression. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
This line of thinking can never be reinforced too often by public officials: the First Amendment is great but only if your speech doesn't offend someone powerful. (via Adam Steinbaugh) A California high school took matters into its own hands -- not even waiting to see if powerful people were offended -- and memory-holed both its physical and online student publication after a student wrote article about the relationship between art and activism made some parents take to Facebook to complain about "liberal propaganda." The article contained images found via Google searches, including one depicting Trump with a Nazi symbol on his head and another with a cop in Klan hood pointing a gun at a black child meant to represent Travon Martin. The following image comes from the Facebook post that started the backlash against the school. The cascade of criticism on Facebook led to the mayor of the California town (Don Kendrick) to offer this explanation of how someone at the Bonita High School made the mistake of allowing students to engage in protected speech. [Line breaks added for readability, since apparently even mayoral announcements on Facebook must be delivered as a wall of text.] First, I would like to thank everyone for your interest in this topic. Yes, I was furious when I first learned about this and I am still concerned. But I have had discussions with a number of people and would like to share those with you. I would like to address two issues. One, the incident, and the other, the clubs at Bonita High School. First the incident. As most of you know, the city of La Verne Police Department has a very good, if not excellent, relationship with our school district, and especially Bonita High School, with a police officer assigned to the La Verne schools as a School Resource officer. This is a relationship that has been ongoing for over 25 years. This unfortunate incident with the school newspaper has turned out to be a very bad judgment call by a new teacher, not an example of what normally goes on at the school. One Bonita teacher went to the police station on his own, talked to the Chief of Police, and apologized on behalf of what he said was 99.9% of the teachers at the school. Further, the Superintendent of Bonita Unified School District and the Principal of Bonita High School also went to the police station, met with the Chief, and apologized. Mistakes are made. The Police Department is fully committed to working with everyone in the school district, including the students, to make our community the best it can be. The Chief said it was an unfortunate mistake, but should not be used to judge the school district or the relationship that exists with the police department, and one that will continue to exist. The second topic is the Bonita High School clubs. Did you know that there were over 60 clubs on the campus? Why so many? Because there is a wide variety of interests among the students. There is a club for everything you can think of, and even a club if there is no other club to belong to. Engaged students, doing things they like, leave little time to become engaged in destructive activities like we have recently witnessed in Florida. Every student at Bonita High School is expected to be engaged and involved in something. We are a better community when they are. Thank you for your time. Within this announcement are several concerning statements and assertions. First, the mayor is ready to throw a single teacher under the bus for allowing students to freely express controversial ideas. Second, the school is apparently so worried local officers might be offended that it took it upon itself to make sure local cops knew this was the work of one bad apple. Third, the mayor insinuates that approved school activities, if there's enough of them, will either prevent school shootings (which I doubt is what he meant -- no one refers to shootings as "activities") or prevent students from engaging in activism (like the several protests/walkouts that followed the Parkland shooting). If it's the latter, the mayor is encouraging the school to further divert students away from any outlet in which controversial ideas might be expressed. This is bad for students and bad for the First Amendment. The thread of comments on the Facebook post that started this all is the expected hellhole of ignorance and calls for heads. The two Fox articles covering this both claim officers were offended by the publication but feature no direct quotes from anyone at the PD saying as much. As quickly as staff rushed off to prevent public servants from having their feelings hurt by a publication they likely never would have seen, it's hard to believe any officers were offended until after they'd been apprised of the situation. It's not like the PD applied pressure on the school. The school just simply abdicated its responsibility to its students in favor of preemptive feather de-rufflings. To top it all off, the school's statement on the issue is a non sequitur. "There is a California Education Code that affirms the First Amendment rights of student newspapers," Carl Coles, the interim superintendent of the Bonita School District, said in the statement. "The student journalist's article does not represent the views of Bonita High School or the District." Great. But what the hell does that mean in this context? A school vanished away speech it find uncomfortable despite this "affirmation" of students' rights. If the school had left the article live on the website and the physical publication untouched and simply informed parents, cops, and the mayor that it did not represent the views of the school, everything would have turned out much better than it has. Instead, the school has announced its subservience to local law enforcement and its willingness to silence students rather than overrule heckler's vetoes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
A constant refrain from the publishing industry is that it's impossible to make a decent profit from online publishing because of all those people downloading and sharing digital stuff for free. An interesting article in Caixin reporting on the Chinese digital giant Tencent offers an interesting perspective on that issue. It provides an update to a story we wrote last year about Tencent moving into online publishing, with evident success: Net profit for Tencent's online publishing unit China Literature was 15 times greater in 2017 compared to 2016, according to the company's first annual results released after its blockbuster initial public offering (IPO). Revenue grew by 60% to 4.1 billion yuan ($648 million), from 2016's 2.6 billion yuan. Profit attributable to shareholders jumped by a staggering 1,416% from last year's 36.7 million yuan [$5.8 million] to 556.1 million yuan [$88 million] in 2017. As the article explains, revenues came mostly from payments by readers of the company's online offerings, which cater for a wide range of tastes -- from comics to romance. In total, works are supplied by 6.9 million writers, most of whom are contracted to produce original material for the company. The scale of the operation is similarly large: last year around 11.1 million people paid to use China Literature's services, up from 8.3 million in 2016. Although those are all impressive figures, it's worth noting one of the key factors driving this business. Tencent is the company behind the WeChat messaging app. Last year, there were 963 million users, so it's likely that more a billion people now use WeChat's powerful and wide-ranging platform. That naturally makes selling China Literature's services much easier. Traditional publishers will doubtless claim this means they are unable to compete with this kind of platform power, and that they can never generate significant profits online. Their conclusion seems to be that companies like Google and Facebook should be punished for their success. Indeed, this demand has been crystallized into a slogan -- the so-called "value gap", which supposedly represents the money that publishers would have received had it not been for the online giants. In truth, this "value gap" is more of an "innovation gap": if the publishing companies had embraced the Internet fully in the early days, there is no reason why they could not have turned into Google and Tencent themselves. Instead, publishers have fought the Internet from its first appearance, as they still do. They hanker for the more profitable days of analog publishing, when they were the undisputed gatekeepers. And in their heart of hearts, they secretly hope one day those times might return if only they can persuade politicians to bring in enough retrogressive copyright laws to hobble innovative online companies. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...