posted 14 days ago on techdirt
If you're a cable customer you've probably been met with at least one cable retrans blackout. It's what happens when broadcasters and cable operators can't behave like adults and agree on rates for a new programming contract, so instead decide that whining and punishing paying customers is the best course of action. The feuds usually involve months of public bickering, public announcements, ads and on-screen tickers declaring that the other guy is the villain, then blacked out content for paying customers, who almost never see refunds for the inconvenience. These disputes usually end with both sides agreeing to a new confidential contract, with those costs then passed on to the consumer. Rinse, wash, and repeat. Despite 2015 being the year that cord cutting and Internet video finally started to make some real headway (with the launch of Sling TV, HBO Now, and an increasing array of original programming from the likes of Netflix), the legacy pay TV industry continued to bicker like children. In fact, an analysis by the Wall Street Journal showed more retrans blackouts than ever before last year, and 2016 is already looking to likely break that record:"Television viewers around the country endured a record 193 blackouts in 2015, up from 94 the previous year and eight in 2010, due to an intensifying battle between cable companies and the broadcasters who provide a key part of their programming. Already so far in 2016, at least 13 new blackouts have occurred in markets from Tucson, Ariz., and Tulsa, Okla., to Lexington, Ky., and Lafayette, La., according to pay-TV carriers and their allies."The cable and broadcast industry is caught in a death spiral it can't seem to escape. Programmers demand more money for the same content, and the biggest cable operators ultimately agree, passing on those costs to the consumer (though not innocently taking every opportunity to tack on some hikes of their own). Smaller cable operators have started finding that the profit margins are just getting too tight, so they've considered getting out of the TV business entirely. Customers, meanwhile, tired of what's often bi-annual price hikes for huge bundles of unwatched content, increasingly look to other options. Here's what this kind of unsustainability looks like in graphic form:Broadcast TV ratings are collapsing .... @RichBTIG pic.twitter.com/Q4euIwJOwr — Ted Hearn (@TedatACA) January 18, 2016 One of the problems here is that customers (many of them older and frightened by Internet video) are losing access to content they're paying for, and very rarely do they see refunds. Regulators have paid some lip service to this being idiotic, but have so far kept a hands-off attitude to what's treated as run of the mill business disputes. And that hands-off attitude may be the right approach longer term; these feuds are simply a cooperative game of seppuku, and the industry remains collectively oblivious that it's expediting the death of the very cash cow it's bickering over.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If all goes according to these legislators' plans, Flyover Country will have something the coasts don't: encrypted cell phones. Because there's always room for one more bad idea, California assemblyman Jim Cooper is following up New York assemblyman Matthew Titone's call for a ban on encrypted phones with one of his own. California assembly member Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) introduced the legislation, bill 1681, that would require any smartphone manufactured "on or after January 1, 2017, and sold in California after that date" to be "capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider." Any smartphone that couldn't be decrypted on demand would subject a seller to a $2,500 fine. Cooper is either fearless or stupid, given that he's dropping this legislation bomb deep in the heart of Tech Country. Odds are on the latter, though, as he's tying his proposal to his crusade against human trafficking -- something that generally means nothing more than increased persecution of sex workers with very little to show in terms of results. Preying on ignorance and fear never lost anyone any votes. At a press conference today, Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), along with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, crime victim’s families, and bill supporters, announced the introduction of AB 1681. The bill will allow law enforcement to investigate and prosecute suspected criminals and criminal organizations that are involved in human trafficking and other serious crimes. [...] “Human traffickers are using encrypted cell phones to run and conceal their criminal activities,” said Assemblymember Cooper. “Full-disk encrypted operating systems provide criminals an invaluable tool to prey on women, children, and threaten our freedoms while making the legal process of judicial court orders, useless,” Cooper added. You hear that, citizens? Encryption "threatens our freedoms," which is a really weird way to rephrase limiting cell phone buyers' choices and forcing them to select less secure options. Of course, a prominent member of local law enforcement was on hand to offer support for the encrypted phone ban. “I support an anti-encryption policy that will restore the ability to access cellphone data by a court ordered search warrant. If smartphones are beyond the reach of law enforcement, crimes will go unsolved, criminals will not be held accountable, victims will not receive justice and our ability to protect our children and community will be significantly compromised,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Yes, this heartwarming concern for "victims receiving justice" and "unsolved crimes" is the same heartwarming concern that led to a backlog of more than 1,500 rape kits in her jurisdiction, some dating back more than a decade -- a backlog that only began to be cleared thanks to activism and legislation. Cooper's proposed legislation is basically a word-for-word copy of Titone's. A smartphone that is manufactured on or after January 1, 2017, and sold or leased in California, shall be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider. Customers will still be able to implement their own encryption to lock the government out of their phones and, of course, anyone can buy or lease an encrypted phone from an out-of-state retailer and use it in California without fear of reprisal. Unlike Titone, who appears to be slipping this bill into each legislative session with as little noise as possible, Assemblyman Cooper as least has the courage of his convictions to not only craft this terrible legislation, but also announce its arrival with a press conference. Considering his bill is both anti-consumer and anti-constituent, that's a pretty bold move. If you're going to attack your voter base, the least you can do is be transparent about it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Supreme Court's Riley decision made it clear: law enforcement cannot search cell phones without a warrant. Seems pretty straightforward. Cell phones aren't mere "containers" -- they contain a great deal of information that has historically been afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy. Get a warrant. Rep. Martin LaLonde of Vermont feels this is just too much privacy, especially when there's distracted driving that needs to be punished. H.527, introduced by Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, would allow law enforcement officers to see a driver's phone or other electronic device, to see if it was being used. By "see," LaLonde means "look at web activity, text messages, recent phone calls or anything else that might indicate the phone was in use." All without a warrant, and based on nothing more than an officer's suspicion that the driver may have been "distracted." LaLonde, another legislator who seems to have little grasp of the particulars of his trade (other laws, the Constitution) says this won't be an excuse for police to go "rummaging" through drivers' phones. In support of this assertion, he states that he has no idea what limits will be in place or how any of this will actually work. [T]he chief sponsor of the bill said he hasn’t “really thought about” what, exactly, would be fair game for a warrantless search under his bill. Here's a stab at narrowing the search. “Essentially, it’s ‘show me your text log,’” he said. Whatever the fuck that is. To figure out whether or not a driver has been texting, the officer will have to look at a few messages. What if the officer comes across a message that sounds like code for a drug deal? Would it be considered "plain sight," what with the law authorizing a quick peek at recent activity? No man is an island, it has been said. LaLonde may be the exception. No other state allows warrantless searches to combat phone use while driving. LaLonde is trying to equate distracted driving with impaired driving. While the tragic outcomes of these two behaviors may be similar, the evidence gathered is worlds apart. LaLonde said he looked at the precedent of breathalyzer tests. Anyone who drives a vehicle on a highway in Vermont is implied to have given consent to take a breath test if an officer suspects him of driving drunk. Refusing to do so can be introduced as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Under LaLonde’s bill, a driver who refuses police access to his phone would get the same penalty he’d get if he was, in fact, texting. The privacy impact of giving police carbon dioxide and giving police access to a cell phone aren't comparable. While the originating actions could both result in criminal charges, only one would allow officers to access a wealth of personal information without a warrant. There's only so much abuse an officer can perform with a breathalyzer. An unlocked phone, though? That's a fishing expedition waiting to happen. It's not just civil liberty advocates and people with common sense that have problems with LaLonde's proposal. Local law enforcement officials don't seem particularly enamored with the legislation either. Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, president of the Vermont Sheriffs Association, said he would support the bill, though he doesn’t want to infringe on anyone’s rights. Thanks for the 4thA hat tip, Sheriff. That's mighty thoughtful, especially for someone who also heads the local law enforcement union. But why would you support a bill you think might infringe on people's rights? Are you hoping the Supreme Court will reverse its decision in the next few months? Or are you expecting the War on Terrorism to strip away what's left of the Fourth Amendment now that the War on Drugs has had its way with with for four decades? One of Bohnyak's deputies has his own concerns about the bill… but they're strictly logistic. Deputy Bariteau, who spends hours patrolling the roads of Orange County looking for distracted drivers, said he’s concerned about some of the practical aspects of LaLonde’s proposal. For example, he said, there are a lot of different phones out there, and officers might not know how to use all of them. “If you make a law, it’s gotta be enforceable for us,” he said. Warrantless cell phone searches are pretty much illegal, but the only thing bothering the deputy is that some phones might go unsearched because of a lack of officer skillz. Finally, LaLonde defends his proposal by offering up the stupidest, most asinine defense of privacy violations: the "I, for one, welcome our new privacy-violating law enforcement overlords" cliche. “Personally, if I’m in a car and I’ve been text messaging, I should expect narrow privacy,” he said. Here's an idea: if you expect less privacy, then behave accordingly. Hand over your phone along with your license and registration and sign the search consent form. Enjoy your self-imposed lowered expectation of privacy on a one-to-one basis. Don't forget to ask officers to search your trunk, glove compartment and anus, Rep. LaLonde, because those are all places people have been known to hide contraband and you're certainly not carrying any of that, right? Be the hero Vermont neither wants nor deserves. But don't force it on your constituents. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've already talked a couple of times about the intersection with the UK's disastrous Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and its intersection with the country's educational system. As part of its effort to weed out terrorists, the UK tasked teachers with keeping a watchful eye on their students to try to identify those that would be radicalized in the future, a concept that sounds like something out of Airstrip One rather than England. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that a software package that teachers had been given to help with this was exploitable in the typically laughable ways. But the tech isn't the only shortfall here. As one would expect when you take a group of people whose profession has in absolutely no way prepared them to act as counter-terrorism psychologists and ask them to be just that, it turns out that the human intelligence portion of this insane equation is off by several integers as well. Remember a time when someone would harp on you for something you'd written on the internet with spelling or syntax errors? Remember what you called those people? I call them grammar police. It turns out that the UK actually has grammar police. A simple spelling mistake has led to a 10-year-old Muslim boy being interviewed by British police over suspected links to terrorism. The boy, who lives in Accrington in Lancashire, wrote in his primary school English class that he lived in a “terrorist house”. He meant to write “terraced house”. His teachers did not realise it was a spelling error and instead reported the boy to the police, in accordance with the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which states that teachers are obliged to alert the authorities to any suspected terrorist behaviour. As a result, the child was interviewed on 7 December by police and the authorities examined a laptop found at his family home. So, a situation that could have been resolved in thirty seconds with a conversation between the young man and his teacher instead devolved into police activity, with authorities actually traveling to the boy's terraced house to look at a laptop at what they thought might be a terrorist's house. This would be funny if it weren't so frustratingly sad. Keep in mind that this spelling mistake occurred in the child's English class. So, in other words, the very teacher tasked with teaching the boy how to spell properly involved the police in that boy's life because he wasn't spelling properly. One imagines that, assuming this is allowed to continue, the country had better make sure it has only the best and the brightest teaching children how to spell the native language, or else the police can expect to be quite busy. A cousin of the boy, who has not been named to protect his identity, said his relatives initially thought it was a joke, but that the boy had been traumatised by the experience. “You can imagine it happening to a 30-year-old man, but not to a young child,” she told the BBC. “If the teacher had any concerns it should have been about his spelling. They shouldn’t be putting a child through this. He’s now scared of writing, using his imagination.” Let freedom ring, I guess. The freedom from having to think in a common sense manner, at least, as teachers under this law are incentivized into this kind of over-reaction. Putting any class of citizen under this kind of microscope is abhorrent in and of itself, but to do this to children? I had hoped the West was better than this, but now I'm not so sure. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Body cameras are working as intended. Of course, this is a very limited sampling and the fact that anything happened at all to the abusive cop was reliant on him being either too stupid or too arrogant to shut his body-worn camera off. A former Las Vegas police officer was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday on felony charges of roughing up a woman he suspected was a prostitute. Richard Scavone, 49, was charged with violating the civil rights of the woman when he used excessive force while arresting her in January 2015 and falsifying his report of the encounter to obstruct an FBI investigation, according to the Justice Department. The woman was identified in the indictment only by her initials, A.O. Scavone, who also faces a local misdemeanor battery charge in the incident, has been summoned to answer the two felony counts in federal court on Jan. 20. He is to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court that day, as well. The Las Vegas Review-Journal's depiction of the events ("roughed up") is far kinder than the DOJ's press release. According to the indictment, on Jan. 6, 2015, while acting as a police officer, Scavone allegedly assaulted “A.O.” resulting in bodily injury. The indictment alleges that Scavone grabbed the victim around the neck with his hand and threw A.O. to the ground; struck A.O. in the forehead with an open palm; twice slammed A.O.’s head onto the hood of his patrol vehicle; and slammed A.O. into the door of his patrol vehicle. And that is far, far kinder than the Las Vegas Sun's description of the incident from early 2015, when Scavone was only facing a misdemeanor battery charge. Scavone said in a statement that the woman turned her back to officers, a statement police said was refuted by the corrections officer. When she asked how she could put her palms together if he had her hands, Scavone threatened to "dump (her) on the floor" and handcuffed her, the report said. He then told her to spread her feet, and when she replied, "My feet are straight," he grabbed the back of her neck and threw her on the ground, according to the report. The woman cursed and told him to take her to jail, and Scavone struck her face with an open hand before grabbing her left shoulder and dragging her several feet away from his vehicle to get her on her stomach, the report said. Scavone asked the woman if she was "finished fighting" him, the report said. The corrections officer and Scavone picked the woman up and walked her back to the vehicle, where Scavone grabbed her elbow and reached for her necklace, police said. When she turned away, he slammed her head twice on the patrol car, police said. He reportedly told her not to pull away from him and reached inside her dress, pulling out a condom and a cellphone, the report said. Scavone said in his statement he retrieved the items, which were in the area near her breast and armpit, at least partially for officer safety because they could have been weapons, police said. The woman, who was not wearing a bra, told Scavone multiple times not to touch her breast, and Scavone pinched her right breast through her dress before removing an undisclosed item from inside the dress, police said. Police did not find any weapons on the woman, the report said. Scavone accused the woman of reaching for something, and he grabbed her ponytail and slammed her head on the patrol vehicle again, police said. He pulled her ponytail as he pushed her head against the vehicle, and she screamed, the report said. He led her to the back seat of the patrol vehicle while holding her ponytail and slammed her into the passenger window, police said. "You resisted and fought me," he told the woman, according to the report. The federal grand jury indictment is just that: a grand jury indictment. It doesn't take much to convince a grand jury to hand down an indictment, but it is rather unusual to see one stick to a law enforcement officer. The video captured by his camera apparently played a significant part in the bringing of charges -- something that will be applauded by accountability advocates and derided by police unions, etc. who still believe body cameras are nothing more than a nefarious conspiracy to punish cops for doing normal cop stuff. The assault charge is one thing. It's the falsification charge that's going to hurt, if it sticks. According to the DOJ, Scavone lied in his use of force report. That's netting him a federal obstruction charge which could add another 10-20 years to his sentence if convicted. The civil rights charges alone come with a potential 10-year sentence and $250,000 fine. Without the footage captured by his own camera, it's very likely Officer Scavone would still have his job and zero indictments. After all, the woman he apparently abused was suspected of being a prostitute. When it comes down to "her word against ours," a woman portrayed as a sex worker has no chance against an officer who had previously received a commendation for meritorious service. And contrary to the assertions of body camera critics, the department Scavone worked for doesn't appear to be poring through its recordings in hopes of finding cops to bust. Las Vegas police Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said it’s the first time his police department brought “criminal charges associated with the review of a body camera on an on-duty use of force incident.” That the DOJ's press release doesn't mention the use of body camera footage in the indictment process is a little strange considering its push to spread this technology to law enforcement agencies around the nation. Of course, the DOJ is also instrumental in defending law enforcement officers against alleged civil rights violations. Sure, it investigates agencies with abusive histories, but it also works hard to ensure agencies remain legally immunized from the consequences of their actions and has mounted several efforts to keep Fourth Amendment protections to a minimum. It's often a house divided against itself, which may explain why this detail has been glossed over, even if the tech that turned a non-event (according to the officer's police report) into a federal indictment is part of its overall plan to improve the nation's policing. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Textbooks are surprisingly expensive items. The classic example is an introductory math textbook: where the math hasn't changed significantly for over a hundred years, but the price of the newest edition seems to suggest that there should be a lot of new material added to the book. Sure, there's a used book market -- and even rental books nowadays -- but the trend of rising textbook prices has some students and faculty questioning some of the publishing industry's practices. The Supreme Court upheld that anyone, particularly Supap Kirtsaeng, can buy textbooks in Asia and re-sell them for a nice profit in the US -- thanks to the first sale doctrine. Kirtsaeng won his case, but he didn't get his copyright-holding opponents to pay for his legal bills. That could change, though, if the Supreme Court decides in his favor again. [url] There are some obvious problems when professors try to use cheaper textbooks as teaching materials -- including pissing off the authors who might be in positions of authority at the school. Should academic freedom allow a professor to chose a different textbook from his/her colleagues? Will the racket of monotonically increasing textbook prices continue? [url] The 'Integral House' in Canada is up for sale -- once owned by math professor James Stewart. The calculus textbooks authored by Stewart have raked in many, many millions from college students over the years, but if you have a few million yourself to spare, you can buy this math-inspired house (which looks like it comes with a library of math books). [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A former cop is trying to legislate some First Amendment-violating protection for his blue-clad brothers. Everyone's carrying a camera these days and Arizona Senator John Kavanaugh wants them to be as far away as possible from police officers performing their public duties. Ken White (aka Popehat) summarizes the proposed legislation for FaultLines. The proposed legislation makes it illegal to record cops in action. IF THE PERSON MAKING THE VIDEO RECORDING DOES NOT HAVE THE PERMISSION OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AND IS WITHIN TWENTY FEET OF WHERE THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING. If it’s on private property where you have a right to be — say, your house — you can record the cop from the next room, unless of course the cop says you can’t. IF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING IN AN ENCLOSED STRUCTURE THAT IS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY, A PERSON WHO IS AUTHORIZED TO BE ON THE PRIVATE PROPERTY MAY MAKE A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE ACTIVITY FROM AN ADJACENT ROOM OR AREA THAT IS LESS THAN TWENTY FEET AWAY FROM WHERE THE ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING, UNLESS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER DETERMINES THAT THE PERSON IS INTERFERING IN THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY OR THAT IT IS NOT SAFE TO BE IN THE AREA AND ORDERS THE PERSON TO STOP RECORDING OR TO LEAVE THE AREA. Taking video from 19 feet away is a petty offense, unless the cop tells you to piss off, at which point it becomes a misdemeanor if you don’t. Having learned nothing from Texas legislator Jason Villalba's similar attempt to create a footage-free buffer zone for police work, Kavanaugh is headed down the same path towards ridicule and disappointment. The only difference is that Arizona citizens would be "allowed" five feet closer (20', rather than 25') to their public servants. Kavanaugh, as White points out, is a former police officer. This explains his desire to take the "protection" out of "protected speech" and hand it over to law enforcement. Officers will then be free to guesstimate the appropriate distance for filming and enforce the new law accordingly. Kavanaugh's latest effort follows his apoplectic defense of a bill that would shield officers involved in shootings from any sort of public disclosure for at least 60 days. Last year, he claimed the US was full of "lunatics and zealots" seeking to "assassinate" police officers, thus necessitating the conversion of transparency and accountability into an opaque shield for excessive force and misconduct. The legislator's rationale for his boneheaded, unconstitutional legislation traces all the way back to his days as a cop, when an arrest didn't go exactly as planned. Senator Kavanaugh explained to U.S. News and World Report that this is all Wilson Pickett’s fault. "In the early 1970s, Kavanagh says, he arrested a bandmate of the popular “Mustang Sally” singer at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He had the man against a wall after finding syringes in a clam-shell jewelry case when Pickett approached and politely asked, “Is this gonna take long?” he recalls. The next day, the ex-Port Authority cop says, he was told the arrestee tossed a package of heroin behind a television as he looked away." As I recall Yosemite Sam used to fall for that “hey look over there” routine a fair amount as well. Yet Senator Kavanagh didn’t offer a bill prohibiting musicians, or any other class of people, from approaching an officer in the course of a detention or arrest. He aimed at folks recording cops. The omnipresence of cameras is obviously disconcerting for officers who prefer to do their work either unobserved or witnessed solely by unreliable eyeballs. Existing laws can be used to arrest those who truly interfere with police business, but someone roaming the periphery with an iPhone is only a distraction if the officer allows it to be a distraction. Giving them the power to arrest photographers only ensures cops will be more distracted than ever. And while they're approaching the person standing 15 feet away recording the arrest, the suspect will have even more opportunities to discard evidence than the guy in the Wilson Pickett case ever did. Of course, these "distracted" arrests -- accompanied by descriptions of the evidence that got away -- will be offered up as justification for Kavanaugh's First Amendment-trampling. In both of these cases where law enforcement sympathy has trumped logic during the bill-crafting process, no one seems to have taken into account the other photography equipment everyone seems to have: CCTV. In recent high-profile shootings (Laquan McDonald, Fridoon Nehad), this technology has been the silent, unseen witness that has produced evidence that contradicts police reports. How does the 20-foot rule work in these situations? Arguably, a person does control the camera, even if only to collect footage passively. Would Kavanaugh have these cameras disabled or their footage destroyed if they "intrude" on the crime scene? No matter how it's spun, this is nothing more than a former cop trying to delay the inevitable. Why do legislators like Kavanagh keep trying this nonsense? They do so because their constituency is cops, and people who think that cops should be obeyed without question. And cops are nervous. Disturbing videotapes of police misconduct are no longer a rare exception, as in the Rodney King era. With a smartphone-obsessed populace, they’re an almost daily occurrence. At this point, it can't be stopped. It can't even be contained. A roaming 20-foot "halo" around cops won't keep their misdeeds from being recorded. And it's highly unlikely a judge would be sympathetic to the destruction of recorded footage as the result of misdemeanor arrest. As White points out, it's not as though the punishment of bad cops has risen in correlation to the amount of available footage. It's still the exception for an officer to be severely punished, rather than the rule. But that too will change and that's what cops -- and Kavanaugh -- are afraid of. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You may recall that Activision's Call of Duty games have already been the subject of a lawsuit by a historical figure. Previously, notorious figure Manuel Noriega brought a publicity rights case against the game company in the United States, claiming that the game depicted him without his permission. Pretty much everyone agreed that Activision was on solid First Amendment grounds in depicting a historical figure, including Rudy Giuliani, who galloped in to represent Activision and quickly got the case summarily dismissed. You may have thought that would be the end of all that silliness, but you'd be wrong. Over in France, the family of an Angolan rebel also depicted in the CoD franchise is filing a defamation suit against Activision. Note that the defamation laws in France allow for a more liberal application than in the States, and that France doesn't have the same strict concept of Free Speech that we have here. The family of Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan rebel fighter, says Call of Duty: Black Ops II portrays him negatively—specifically, as a “barbarian” and “a big halfwit who wants to kill everybody,” according to the family’s lawyer Carole Enfert. They’re seeking one million euro in damages from the French arm of the video game publisher. The Guardian reports that France has very strict anti-defamation laws, even in cases where the allegedly defamed individual is dead—so his family may have a case. Savimbi was killed by the Angolan government in 2002. So there are a couple of wrinkles that make this case different than the Noriega suit. First, as noted, Savimbi is dead. Very dead. And, while he most certainly is a notable historical figure, he doesn't have Noriega's dastardly reputation. Instead, Savimbi is best known for pushing out Portuguese colonialism in Angola and subsequently leading the fight against the MPLA, which is generally considered to be a genocidal group that had aimed at taking power in the country. Included in his reputation, however, is a firm unwillingness to engage in offered peace talks, choosing instead to continue a bloody civil war from which his nation still hasn't recovered. But it's the final difference that makes this case so baffling: Savimbi is portrayed as a "good guy" in the game. The player is actually tasked with fighting alongside him. See the video below for yourself, with Savimbi's appearance coming in around the six minute mark, and judge for yourself whether you think he's portrayed in a negative way (note: this is a violent video game and the footage below includes some of that violence). None of which is to say that any of this should even matter. Savimbi is a long-dead historical figure and artistic endeavors ought to have full freedom to portray him in the context of his place in history. That's what the game attempts to do. That the family's suit misses the mark in characterizing his portrayal as outlandishly negative in the context of the rest of the game is telling as far as their motives are concerned, but should be ultimately besides the point. After all, if free expression is to mean anything at all, certainly it must allow for the discussion and portrayal of historical figures.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, NBC executive Alan Wurtzel boldly claimed that Netflix and YouTube weren't threats to traditional cable. His only evidence? Data purchased from a company named Symphony that guesstimates Netflix's closely guarded viewership numbers. That data actually showed Netflix's viewership numbers for its original series are impressive, but found that viewership wanes a little once users get done binge watching. That's it. The data didn't really support Wurtzel's claim that Netflix doesn't pose a threat to traditional cable, NBC was just boasting that it had figured out Netflix's viewership tallies. Symphony was born out of the well-documented failures by Nielsen to track consumer viewing on new platforms, and not only tracks every viewing habit of some 15,000 Netflix customers, but also uses GPS data to track where these customers are viewing the content. It's a welcome improvement for an industry that spent the last decade paying for data that only told it what it wanted to hear: namely that cord cutting and Internet video weren't a serious threat. And while trying to understand your competitors makes sense, it's hysterical how Netflix's hidden viewership numbers seem to drive traditional broadcasters absolutely crazy. You'll recall that CBS threw a similar hissy fit last year, clearly upset that Netflix doesn't have to adhere to traditional ratings metrics because it's not an ad-supported legacy service. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos also spoke at the same Television Critics Association meeting, and first highlighted how it's telling that NBC took its allotted time at the meeting to obsess over Netflix:"Given what is really remarkably inaccurate data, I hope they didn't spend any money on it," he said of the numbers. "There's a couple mysteries at play for me. Why would NBC use their lunch slot to talk about our ratings? Maybe because it's more fun than talking about NBC ratings. … The methodology doesn't reflect any sense of reality we keep track of."But then Sarandos went on to make what's probably the biggest point (and one CBS and NBC clearly don't understand): the existing ratings measurement system doesn't matter when you're not reliant on traditional advertising."I can't even tell you how many 18-49 users we have … we don't track them," he said. "Those sample sets don't give you a lot of information when people are watching thousands of shows [on Netflix] around the world. Somewhere in the world, every second of every day, someone is pressing start on a Netflix original. … There is not an apples to apples comparison to Netflix watching and any Nielsen rating." Sarandos noted that the specific numbers — Wurtzel had 4.8 million adults 18-49 watching Jessica Jones, followed by Master of None (3.9 million adults 18-49) and Narcos (3.2 million adults 18-49) — wouldn't even be relevant to his business if they were true. "The ratings themselves have no specific impact on the business," he added. "If we were spending a lot of money on shows people weren't watching, they will quit. People are finding value in how we're spending our content dollars … if they're watching today, tomorrow or seven days from now."As for NBC's claim that binge watchers always return to watching TV in the "way god intended," Netflix noted in its quarterly letter to shareholders (pdf) that "our investors are not as sure of God's intentions for TV, and instead think that Internet TV is a fundamentally better entertainment experience that will gain share for many years." Obviously the histrionics by broadcast executives surrounding Netflix obfuscating its viewership numbers originate in jealousy; jealously that Netflix gets to operate under a new paradigm where traditional ratings are less important, while legacy sector executives have to stare at charts like this one:The collapse of broadcast TV ratings. How close to zero before we stop talking about "broadcast", "TV" & "ratings"? pic.twitter.com/4IWnkNAe1J — Chris Anderson (@chr1sa) January 18, 2016 And while it's great that the traditional cable and broadcast industry is finally cooking up viewer measurement systems that challenge its long-held delusions about cable's infallibility, the petty sniping at Netflix really isn't all that flattering and isn't going to help them compete anytime soon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We're back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt. Two weeks ago, our book of choice was a collection of Aaron Swartz's writings. And this week, it's a new book by Justin Peters not only about Swartz, but also about the rise of free culture online, putting Swartz's ideas and actions into context, called The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet. I have to admit that I had no idea this book had even come out until I heard a wonderful interview with Peters over on On the Media (and, for what it's worth, in a separate podcast, OTM's Brooke Gladstone said that the interview was so good that they struggled to figure out how to edit it down -- so I wonder if they'll release an even longer version as a "podcast extra.") After that interview, I picked up a copy of the book and have only just started it, but am impressed already. By not just focusing on Swartz, but the wider context of copyright law and information policy over the years, it makes Swartz's focus much more understandable. I've found that, in talking about Swartz with people who aren't familiar with internet and open information culture, that they don't understand why Swartz would focus on what he did. But when put into the much broader context, it becomes much more understandable. For folks who are already knowledgeable about this world, it's still an interesting overview, potentially capturing parts that you weren't aware of, or putting other aspects into context as well. For folks with little deeper knowledge of the background of the open culture movement, it's a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the details.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Have we mentioned lately that when it comes to the so-called "internet of things," security is an afterthought? Whether it's your automobile, your refrigerator or your tea kettle, so-called "smart" internet of things devices are consistently and alarmingly showing that they're anything but. If these devices aren't busy giving intruders access to your networks and passwords, they're often making life more difficult than so-called dumb devices. Last week, for example, the popular Nest smart thermostat simply stopped working after a software update, resulting in thousands of customers being unable to heat their homes. Now yet another security problem has been revealed in The Ring smart video doorbell, which lets you see who's at your front door via a smartphone app. According to a blog post by Pen Test partners, all an intruder needs to do is to remove two screws, press a big orange reset button, and they're able to access the configuration URL for the entire system, which can be chained with other devices including door locks and home security cameras:"If the URL /gainspan/system/config/network is requested from the web server running on the Gainspan unit, the wireless configuration is returned including the configured SSID and PSK in cleartext. The doorbell is only secured to its back plate by two standard screws. This means that it is possible for an attacker to gain access to the homeowner’s wireless network by unscrewing the Ring, pressing the setup button and accessing the configuration URL. As it is just a simple URL this can be performed quite easily from a mobile device such as a phone and could be performed without any visible form of tampering to the unit."In short, your smart doorbell could potentially make you immeasurably less secure, without any visible signs of tampering to the outside unit. This is, the researchers have warned in a previous post, similar to a vulnerability common in a popular smart bathroom scale, which can be easily tricked into sharing a user's WPA-PSK. Fortunately the company behind the smart doorbell tells the research firm that they quickly issued a firmware patch for the problem, though obviously not all vulnerabilities get fixed this quickly, and it's one more example of "smart" technology being a great advertisement for more traditional, dumb devices. And despite notable experience with security issues, broadband ISPs that have been eager to jump into the smart home arena aren't having much more luck. A flaw was recently exposed in Comcast's Xfinity home security and automation service, allowing a hacker to trick the system into reporting an "all clear" state by jamming the 2.4 GHz radio used by the service. The security service would then report that everything was fine for up to three hours, and once communication was re-established with the service base station, the system never informed the user there was a problem. So smart! And the end of the day, if you're interested in a smarter, more secure home, you may want to consider a dog.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As law enforcement and politicians still keep pushing American companies to backdoor encryption, making the technology less secure and more dangerous for everyone, no one has explained how this will actually help in stopping terrorists from communicating secretly. Back in December, the Open Technology Institute released a paper that detailed how so many encrypted messaging systems were either open source or not controlled by US companies. It even took a WSJ report on the messaging apps that ISIS apparently was "recommending" to people and noted how most of them are not controllable by US laws: And, of course, it should come as little surprise that some security folks are reporting that they've spotted a new secure messaging app that appears to have been created by ISIS itself: ISIS has a new Android app for exchanging secure messages, joining another app that distributes propaganda and recruiting material, according to a counterterrorism network called the Ghost Security Group. While the report notes that the app is "rudimentary" that doesn't mean it won't be improved over time. But, more importantly, it highlights that efforts to backdoor or undermine encryption on American companies certainly won't do a damn thing to stop ISIS from communicating securely. Yes, some will argue that ISIS' homegrown encrypted messaging apps are probably much more vulnerable to NSA cracking, but it still doesn't change the fact that demanding backdoors into US companies messaging systems won't magically lead to uncovering ISIS communications. It will just make Americans less secure.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Pay what you want for the Complete 2016 Coder Bundle. The basic bundle includes two courses on Android Marshmallow and Ruby programming. If you beat the average price paid, you gain access to eight other courses. These cover topics like building Apple Watch apps, AngularJS, HTML, CSS, web development and much more. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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About once a week now you'll see a legacy broadcast executive take to the media to try and "change the narrative" surrounding cord cutting. Usually this involves claiming that things are nowhere near as bad as the data clearly shows, with a little bit of whining about an unfair media for good measure. ESPN, which has lost 7 million subscribers in the last two years, has been particularly busy on this front. The broadcast giant has been trying to argue that cord cutting worries (which caused Disney stock to lose $22 billion in value in just two days) are simply part of some kind of overblown, mass hallucination. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal (registration required), ESPN President John Skipper "plays offense on cord cutting" by effectively denying that ESPN is even in trouble. He starts by proudly insisting that the huge losses in subscribers weren't a surprise to the company:"We stayed pretty calm. [The loss of subscribers] didn’t come as a bolt out of the blue to us. We had been thinking about this. We had a big town hall meeting in December. We had a priorities meeting earlier where we gathered everybody together to try to ground ourselves in our business."Right, except that former ESPN employees have said ESPN execs weren't even talking about cord cutting as a threat until 2015. The company was also spending hand over fist (like a $125 million update for the SportsCenter set), suggesting they didn't really see the subscriber dip coming. After pretending that cord cutting didn't catch ESPN by surprise, Skipper proceeds to admit that "cord trimmers" (people scaling back their TV packages) are a big reason for the subscriber hit, but that the losses aren't all that big of a deal because the departing customers are old and poor:"People trading down to lighter cable packages. That impact hasn't leaked into ad revenue, nor has it leaked into ratings. The people who’ve traded down have tended to not be sports fans, and have tended to be older and less affluent. We still see people coming into pay TV. It remains the widest spread household service in the country after heat and electricity." This narrative that cord cutters and cord trimmers are old, poor, and otherwise of no interest is a popular one among cord cutting denialists, but data consistently shows it's simply not true. Cord cutters and cord trimmers tend to be young, affluent consumers who are just tired as hell of paying an arm and a leg for channels they don't watch. And, if recent surveys are any indication, there are a lot of users who don't watch ESPN and are tired of paying for it. In short, most of the data suggests that ESPN has a lot more subscriber defections headed its way with the rise of so-called skinny bundles (an idea ESPN has sued to stop). When asked what ESPN plans to do to attack the cord cutting trend, you'll note that Skipper's first instinct is to deny that the legacy cable industry really has all that much to worry about:"We are still engaged in the most successful business model in the history of media, and see no reason to abandon it. We’re going to be delivering our content through the traditional cable bundle, through a lighter bundle, through Dish’s Sling TV, through new over-the-top distributors, and through some content that is direct-to-consumer."When pressed for what "direct to consumer" services ESPN plans to offer, Skipper can only provide one example: the company's brief experimentation with streaming the Cricket World Cup. That's because ESPN's contracts with cable companies state that if the company actually evolves and offers a direct streaming service, cable companies are allowed to break ESPN out of the core cable lineup. That means more skinny bundles than ever, and an acceleration of ESPN's problems. So, like a child in the dark, ESPN has decided to hide under the covers and pretend the monster under the bed isn't real. There's no doubt that Disney and ESPN will eventually figure things out and balance the need for innovation with their desire to protect their existing businesses, but it's pretty clear from public comments and past decisions that it's going to be an ugly transition. That transition would be so much less ugly for many legacy broadcast companies if they spent a little less time trying to "correct narratives" telling them truths they don't want to hear -- and a little more time preparing to compete with the internet video revolution.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over the last few weeks, there's been increasing focus on what "else" Silicon Valley can do in the fight against ISIS. Backdooring encryption is a dumb idea that won't work and will make everyone less safe. So, a second idea keeps getting floated: what if we just stopped letting ISIS use the internet. Hell, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supported the idea recently. And then you have some wacky law professors suggesting the same thing. For the most part, cooler heads in the tech industry have pointed out that (1) this is impossible and (2) any attempt to do so would be counterproductive in just encouraging more activity and (3) it would actually undermine intelligence gathering, as public posts to social media are a key source of useful intelligence these days. But, now, at least one prominent person within the tech industry has jumped on board: the somewhat controversial head of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, who used to work for the State Department and now runs Google Ideas (which, for whatever it's worth, isn't "Google"). Cohen gave a talk in the UK in which he argued that ISIS was too good at propaganda on the internet, so the answer is to wipe them off the open internet and leave them shuffling around the dark web instead. Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, believes that to "recapture digital territory" from the terror cell, its members must fear being caught when they post messages promoting the organisation's cause in public. "Terrorist groups like Isis, they operate in the dark web whether we want them to or not," Cohen said at a talk on Waging a Digital Counterinsurgency, at Chatham House. "What is new is that they're operating without being pushed back in the same internet we all enjoyed. So success looks like Isis being contained to the dark web". This is, as noted above, both silly and wrong. First of all, it's impossible. It's a ridiculous task that will waste a ton of time, won't accomplish anything really useful, and will likely result in too many false positives, including (most likely) those who are monitoring and combating ISIS. Second, as mentioned, it will actually do a tremendous amount to limit the intelligence community's ability to monitor and track ISIS. It's funny that on the one hand we have officials demanding an end to encrypted communications, fearing "going dark," while many of those same individuals then turn around and talk about taking ISIS off the public internet, where they reveal a ton of useful information about their activities. Third, it raises serious questions about how committed companies like Google really are to the open internet. Yes, Cohen is director of "Google Ideas" which is separate from Google itself, but basically all of the press coverage about this says that Google is saying people should be kicked off the open web. That's messaging that will come back to haunt Google as it pushes for the open web in other contexts. Cohen has just opened up Google to a major attack on key points it's pushing for everywhere else. On top of that, Cohen seems to think that losing their Twitter accounts will be seen as some kind of punishment: To do this Cohen said that Isis members openly promoting their cause online must fear retribution and being caught for their actions. Their social media accounts must be removed as fast as they are produced to prevent people making contact with Isis recruiters on the open web. But that appears to be somewhat ignorant of how things are currently working. Many of their social media accounts are being removed rapidly and to ISIS supporters it becomes a badge of honor, as they quickly open a new account. It's not retribution, it becomes validation. It's too bad that Cohen would suggest such a short-sighted concept when there's so much evidence these days of how completely counterproductive it would be. This isn't the kind of creative or new thinking that was promised from Google Ideas, it's traditional silly Washington DC thinking, without any recognition of the reality of the technology world. If this is a concept from Google Ideas, let's just say it's a really, really bad idea. Maybe Google needs a department of better ideas.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last year, you might recall that Netflix took some heat for striking zero rating deals with Australian ISPs, exempting Netflix content from broadband usage caps. Australia was a relatively unique scenario in that the cost of transit is so high, most big content services had struck similar deals, and Netflix didn't want to put itself at a disadvantage in the newly launched Australian market by stubbornly holding on to neutrality principles. Still, it's worth recalling what Netflix said after a few weeks of criticism:"Data caps inhibit Internet innovation and are bad for consumers. In Australia, we recently sought to protect our new members from data caps by participating in ISP programs that, while common in Australia, effectively condone discrimination among video services (some capped, some not). We should have avoided that and will avoid it going forward. Fortunately, most fixed-line ISPs are raising or eliminating data caps in line with our belief that ISPs should provide great video for all services in a market and let consumers do the choosing."And what it specifically said about zero rating content:"Zero rating isn't great for consumers as it has the potential to distort consumer choice in favor of choices selected by an ISP."Fast forward to 2016, and Netflix is suddenly throwing its support behind T-Mobile and its controversial Binge On zero rating program. Speaking on the company's earnings call this week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings praised Binge On, which throttles every shred of video that touches the T-Mobile network to 1.5 Mbps, whether or not consumers or content partners asked it to. According to Hastings, he's thrilled about the program because it has driven more usage to Netflix:"It’s voluntary to the customer. Every customer of T-Mobile can decide to turn it on or turn it off," Hastings explained on an earnings call today. "They’re not charging any of the providers. It’s an open program. Many of our competitors such as Hulu and HBO are in the program also." Netflix may be more inclined to defend this program because the company benefits from it: Hastings says that Netflix is seeing more viewership from T-Mobile customers — no surprise since it makes "unlimited video consumption possible." Hastings added that he hopes these kinds of programs expand further."But as the EFF has pointed out, the fact that users can opt out is irrelevant. T-Mobile's been throttling every shred of video that touches its network to 1.5 Mbps (streamed or direct downloaded) by default, and then lying about it. Critics like YouTube and the EFF have, quite correctly, pointed out that such a program should be opt-in, for both consumers and content partners. The other problem is simply one of precedent; let T-Mobile dick about with how content gets treated, and that opens the door to every carrier modifying traffic to their own benefit. By refusing to ban zero rating outright, the FCC has opened the door to a flood of similar ideas that are even worse and, cumulatively and aggressively, are eroding the idea of an open Internet. Worse, it's happening to the thunderous applause of some consumers, who think they're being given a gift when an ISP imposes utterly arbitrary usage caps, then graciously allows select content to bypass said caps. Make no mistake though; the act of fucking about with traffic in this fashion is an assault on net neutrality. That many people don't understand this yet (or are eager to ignore the fact when it benefits them) doesn't magically make it less true. A few years ago, Netflix's Hastings went on a Facebook rant about how Comcast was unfairly letting its own streaming services bypass the company's usage caps. But now that Netflix is seeing benefits from zero rating, it's apparently willing to throw its principles in the toilet. Netflix may want to be careful where it treads. As some companies have discovered, zero rating isn't your friend -- and the special treatment that benefits you today may come back to bite you tomorrow.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Sometimes the courts realize today's smartphones can't be reasonably compared to anything else people have historically carried with them, like wallets, address books and the contents of their pockets. In the Supreme Court's Riley decision, it noted that searching a smartphone is roughly analogous to searching someone's house -- people's entire lives are contained in these devices. Hence, the warrant requirement, which turns phones from a "container" to the most sacrosanct domain under the Fourth Amendment. Sometimes, though, the house analogy works against defendants and their smartphones, as in this recent case highlighted at FourthAmendment.com. A warrant application to search a suspect's cell phone was broadly (and badly) written, asking for basically everything the device could conceivably contain. In his affidavit, which was attached to his application for the warrant, Walker set out the substance of the investigative interviews and concluded by stating: "Based on the above facts . . . I have probable cause to believe [the defendant's] cell phone contains valuable information that will link the victim/suspect ([the defendant]) and suspect/victim (Lerouge) to the crime." Walker received and executed a warrant to search the defendant's iPhone for the following: "Subscriber's name and telephone number, contact list, address book, calendar, date book entries, group list, speed dial list, phone configuration information and settings, incoming and outgoing draft sent, deleted text messages, saved, opened, unopened draft sent and deleted electronic mail messages, mobile instant message chat logs and contact information mobile Internet browser and saved and deleted photographs on an Apple iPhone, silver and black, green soft rubber case. Additionally, information from the networks and carriers such as subscribers information, call history information, call history containing use times and numbers dialed, called, received and missed." The suspect sought to suppress the photographs found on his iPhone -- ones in which he was holding a gun and wearing the same jacket as the person sought in connection with a shooting. The court did have problems with the warrant as written. The warrant is awkwardly written, conflating at least in part the items to be searched for and the places to be searched. We agree with the dissent that as written the warrant and the warrant application are overly broad. But it found that considering what would need to be viewed to determine whether or not it was evidence of criminal activity, the search did not exceed the limits of the warrant. [C]onsidered in conjunction with the affidavit incorporated therein, a commonsense reading shows that the warrant authorized a search of various types of files for evidence of communications that would link the defendant and another person to the shooting. In its decision, the court applied the house analogy (tipping a hat towards the Riley decision) and found the broad range of content searched to be roughly equivalent to the search of a residence with a warrant. In the physical world, police need not particularize a warrant application to search a property beyond providing a specific address, in part because it would be unrealistic to expect them to be equipped, beforehand, to identify which specific room, closet, drawer, or container within a home will contain the objects of their search. So, when searching the phone, the government may treat it like a house, providing little more than a short physical description of the item, along with where it thinks evidence may be found. The government, however, should not extend this analogy further than is necessary. It cannot remain vague on the specifics of what it's searching for, nor can it avail itself to the entire contents of the device without reason. Nevertheless, much like a home, such devices can still appropriately be searched when there is probable cause to believe they contain particularized evidence. See McDermott, 448 Mass. at 770-772. However, given the properties that render an iPhone distinct from the closed containers regularly seen in the physical world, a search of its many files must be done with special care and satisfy a more narrow and demanding standard. At issue here were the incriminating photographs, which the defendant sought to suppress. He argued the police only had probable cause to search his text messages and phone calls. The court disagrees. Communications can come in many forms including photographic, which the defendant freely admits. So long as such evidence may reasonably be found in the file containing the defendant's photographs, that file may be searched. [...] Once the photographs in question were viewed, their evidentiary relevance linking the defendant (holding a gun and wearing a jacket similar to the one worn by the shooter) to the specific crimes under investigation was apparent. "Your phone = your house" does the defendant no good here, primarily because warrants can be used to access both with little fear of constitutional violations. Even the comprehensive nature of the warrant falls within the confines of the Constitution, as the swearing officer had shown that evidence linking the suspect to the crime would likely be found on his phone. The dissenting opinion, however, disagrees that the photographs entered as evidence were actually evidence of anything more than the suspect's ownership of a gun and a jacket. I disagree with the court's resolution of the issues presented here. In my view, the search of the photograph files on the defendant's Apple iPhone "smart" cellular telephone was not supported by probable cause, and the warrant authorizing that search was not sufficiently particular. Furthermore, even had there been probable cause to support a search of the photograph files, the photographs seized by the police appear to have been outside the permissible scope of the warrant. The photographs were supposedly "threats" sent to a recipient by text message. The dissent argues that applying the phone = house analogy may prevent warrantless searches, but it does very little to deter police from performing invasive searches of suspects' devices. The court incorrectly holds, however, that there was probable cause to search the entire set of photograph files on the defendant's iPhone. In my view, there was not a substantial basis for concluding that the entire set of the defendant's photograph files, rather than just the subset of photograph files attached to the defendant's text and multimedia messages, was related to the criminal activity under investigation. The dissent warns that the over-reliance on analogies will likely result in more abuse of non-specific warrants as devices carried by a majority of the population continue to hold more and more of their "private" lives. In an increasingly digital world, we continue to lean heavily on analogies between digital media and physical spaces and objects, such as that between a computer and a closed container. In reality, however, searches of physical spaces for physical objects are akin to searches of digital media for digital information much in the way that "a ride on horseback" resembles "a flight to the moon." While narrowing the scope of purely digital searches may be difficult, it is not impossible. The purpose of the court is not to make things easier for law enforcement, but rather demand more from them as the stakes rise. To call a phone a house may keep cops from accessing contents without a warrant, but it does little to prevent them from accessing everything once a warrant is in hand. Here, the state sought to apply the "plain view" standard to its access of photos not attached to text messages -- positing that the incriminating pictures would inevitably have been seen by investigators during the execution of the search warrant. But, as the dissent points out, applying a warrant exception to a not-quite-fitting analogy only encourages law enforcement to pursue generalized searches that encompass the entire contents of suspects' smartphones, rather than limit themselves to where evidence is most likely to be found. In Preventive Med. Assocs., supra at 832, this court elected to "leave for another day the question whether use of the plain view doctrine as a justification for admission of evidence should be precluded or at least narrowed in the context of searches for electronic records." While not today, the day when the court will be called upon to determine more precisely when and how the plain view exception applies to digital searches is likely close at hand. The inevitable has been postponed. This court -- and many others around the country -- will have to tangle with this issue and decide for themselves whether they'd rather apply analogies or remedies. Only one will prevent digital devices from being treated with the disregard as the British treated colonists' homes during the execution of general warrants. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One aspect of the open educational resources movement (OER) is open textbooks that are free to use -- content in the public domain or with copyright terms that require only attribution (or attribution and share-alike clauses). Open textbooks have taken some time to get written, reviewed and adopted -- but now that there are hundreds of these books available, students should be able to use them freely and benefit from (and even contribute to) these educational materials. One estimate reports that college students can save about $128 per course by using open textbooks. That's just a few hundred bucks that pales in comparison to tuition these days, but it could be a significant dent in the publishing industry if every class used open textbooks. [url] OpenStax college books claims to have saved students $39 million in the 2015-16 academic year. OpenStax says that 1 in 5 US colleges are using its textbooks. Launched in 2012, OpenStax is on target for its goal of publishing textbooks for the 25 most-attended college courses and saving students $500 million by 2020. [url] Several states have endorsed open textbook projects. Besides OpenStax, Minnesota has an open textbook library, and California is trying to cut its $400 million costs on K-12 textbooks (someday). [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It looks like Voltage Pictures' hired gun, Carl Crowell, may soon need to find another state to ply his copyright trolling wares. Crowell has already established a reputation as being both shady and willfully obtuse. That reputation appears to have finally reached the federal court system. Crowell, if you'll recall, thought Oregon would be accommodating to his brand of trolling. Not content to simply sue dozens of Does for alleged copyright infringement, Crowell tried to take advantage of the state's trademark law to pursue pirates. This hinged on the dubious claim that torrents of Dallas Buyers Club somehow veered into the production of counterfeit products. That seems to have gone nowhere, as has Crowell's other legal pursuits. Crowell also claimed simply being in possession of Popcorn Time (a torrent-based, entirely unauthorized streaming service) was a criminal act -- calling it a "burglar's tool." Conflating theft and copyright infringement is nothing new for copyright trolls -- but claiming the software was roughly analogous to… I don't know, a ski mask and a bag with "$$$" printed on it -- was novel. Of course, judges are rarely enamored with novel legal theories and Crowell's assertion did little to win him powerful friends where he needed them most. Now, it appears Crowell has made an enemy in the federal court system. Unfortunately for him, this enemy is presiding over most of his Doe lawsuits. Fight Copyright Trolls reports federal judge Michael W. Mosman has set up Default Judgment Roadblock, Esq. in response to Crowell's tactics. Out of [Crowell's] recent sleazes, the most disturbing is the practice of deposing putative defendants prior to amending the complaint (replacing “John Doe” with an actual name). Since the majority of the targeted are laypeople of modest means, they tend not to spend money on attorneys, so they make a grave mistake of agreeing to be deposed without a lawyer. I don’t think it makes sense to explain why it is a real problem... Apparently, the judges are not deaf and blind, and they are increasingly concerned with both the sheer volume of docket-clogging lawsuits, and the troll lawyers’ overreach. Chief Judge Michael Mosman recently drafted a standing order urging putative defendants to seek legal help. Mosman has set up a panel of lawyers who will provide up to three hours of pro bono assistance to anyone accused of copyright infringement by Crowell. That should be enough time to generate the small amount of friction needed to convince the trolling entities to drop the case. Trolling is built on easy wins, not actual courtroom battles. On top of that, Judge Mosman isn't going to let Crowell file lawsuits against single plaintiffs en masse in hopes of increasing his default rate. Not only will this funnel Crowell's lawsuits into Mosman's courtroom, but it will force Crowell and the company he represents to inform defendants of the free legal assistance being provided by the state. The order also requires any communications to defendants be put on the record. Crowell will have to file copies of any contact made with defendants, as well as submit proof that these communications were received. Considering the hurdles Mosman is forcing Crowell to leap, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise to find him exiting the trolling business… at least in Oregon. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's no secret that Sony has never been shy about wielding trademark like a cudgel. That said, there seems to be something new brewing with the company in its recent attempts to trademark fairly common terms, worrying some that it would use those trademarks in the same heavy-handed way. The first of those attempts was the recent Sony filing for a trademark on the term "Let's Play", which any gamer will recognize as the term for popular YouTube videos showing games being played, often offered by well-known YouTube personalities. While the USPTO had already refused the trademark on the grounds that a prior mark for "Let'z Play" had already been registered, a law firm that specializes in gaming law jumped in to try and have the court instead declare that "Let's Play" is now a generic term. In a blog post from the McArthur law firm, the company explained that in its letter to the USPTO it offered up fifty examples of how ‘Let’s Play’ has become a generic term. The most important part of this is that the letter needs to be taken into consideration before awarding a trademark. Sony does have time to respond to the US Patent and Trademark Office’s initial concerns with its trademark application. However, now the office also has evidence from a third-party showing why Sony shouldn’t be handed ownership of the term ‘Let’s Play’. It would be difficult to imagine an argument against the notion that "Let's Play" is now a well-known generic term, given its widespread use by online personalities. More interesting is the attempt itself, in that Sony is certainly well aware of the term's status and use, yet it decided to try to lock up the term via trademark anyway, specifically for the uses in which it's currently employed. That isn't what trademark is for, of course, and it would be insane to see the USPTO award the mark and allow the possibility for an insane number of trademark actions based on Let's Play videos tied to advertising revenue. Blech. But that attempt dovetails nicely with another attempted registration of a trademark by Sony, as the company has recently applied for a mark on the term "VRPG." Filed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan (SCEJ) back in December, the trademark filing was listed online by the Japanese Patent and Trademark Office. The document is entirely in Japanese but DualShockers states that the filing is Class 9 (which is used for games) and “includes pretty much all the standard definition for game trademarks.” Unfortunately, there’s little else to go on, but one popular theory from fans is that VRPG actually stands for Virtual Role-Playing Game and relates to a new PlayStation VR game. It's not clear yet that this is what "VRPG" stands for, but if it is, it will provide a wonderful litmus test for exactly how sane the USPTO is, because awarding that mark would be crazy. RPG is, of course, a standard term in gaming circles, making the application essentially all about the "V", another common abbreviation for all things virtual reality. Virtual reality is itself becoming a household term in gaming circles, with the renewed interest in VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift. Allowing Sony to own a mark on a term that describes what may shortly become an entire genre of the gaming industry is tantamount to a language monopoly that, far from serving the interests of the consuming public, instead serves only to carve out very commonly used terms for sole use by certain corporate interests. This, as in the previous case, is simply not the aim of trademark provisions. There's nothing source identifying in a mark that essentially declares a product to be a virtual reality role-playing game. That's entirely too broad. So place your bets on exactly how sane the folks at the USPTO will be. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Over the last year, ESPN's decision to laugh off cord cutting has truly come home to roost. The company has had to engage in numerous "belt tightening measures" after losing around 7 million subscribers in just two years. Where are these subscribers going? Many are cutting the TV cord entirely. Others are opting for so-called "skinny bundles" that pull pricier channels like ESPN out of the core cable lineup, moving them to additional, premium channel packs. Companies like Verizon that have experimented with skinny bundles have been rewarded for their efforts with with lawsuits from ESPN. But there's every indication things will be getting worse for our friends at Disney and ESPN. A new study commissioned by BTIG Research and analyst Rich Greenfield (registration required) found that 56% of those surveyed would happily ditch ESPN if it meant saving them $8 a month. 60% of females say they would ditch the channel for the $8 discount, while 49% of males would do the same. And while ESPN could pursue a standalone streaming service, 85% of those polled say they wouldn't subscribe at $20 a month, even if it bundled in all of the additional ESPN channels such as ESPN 2 and ESPN 3. And there are some additional problems with ESPN pursuing a standalone streaming platform. ESPN's recent lawsuit against Verizon revealed that many of the channel's contracts with cable operators restrict them from breaking ESPN out of the core cable bundle; a provision that is nullified if ESPN offers a streaming version of its own. So ESPN could accelerate its own evolution in the face of cord cutting and go straight to consumers, but (at least initially) it would greatly accelerate the company's losses as more cable operators pull ESPN out of the core channel lineup. The problem is effectively that ESPN has enjoyed more than a decade in an artificial bubble, where, thanks to the inflexibility of cable offerings, users were stuck paying for a channel they never watched. In that bubble, ESPN had no real motivation to adapt, and now the check is coming due thanks to internet video. But with the playing field changes, Greenfield's quick to note that even as a standalone option, there's simply no way that the financials work out (at least nowhere near the level ESPN's used to):"The reality is that ESPN would likely have to charge dramatically more than $20/month/sub in a direct-to-consumer model, given the dramatic reduction in penetration rates..."The math for a direct-to-consumer offering for a basic cable network does not work, especially for channel(s) with very high monthly fees embedded within the current MVPD bundle. Disney cannot take ESPN direct-to-consumer and they know it, whether they admit that publicly or not. Furthermore, if the multichannel video bundle frays faster than expected and the TV ad market continues to weaken, ESPN's future growth prospects are dim, at best."As The Weather Channel can attest, there's obviously going to be some casualties in the cord cutting revolution. As some companies like The Discovery Channel have been realizing, one way to ensure customers don't flee under the new paradigm of consumer is to focus on quality, a mysterious new frontier for broadcasters used to getting paid an arm and a leg for delivering the bare minimum.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
One of the reasons why many people are opposed to various "site blocking" laws, is that inevitably such things get abused. And while the US successfully stopped SOPA's site blocking plan, plenty of other countries went ahead and implemented something similar -- including, apparently, Portugal. Yet, earlier today, reports came out that the Portuguese site-blocking system was now blocking the website of an American video game development shop called Carbon Games. Now, it does appear that someone just screwed up here. It's not happening on all Portuguese connections, but it did happen on multiple ISPs according to the initial report on Reddit. Also, it seems they only blocked the version of the website where the URL starts with "www." Get rid of that and people could access the website without a problem -- again adding to the likelihood of a general screwup. Oh yeah, also, it looks like if you use any other DNS provider, such as Google's DNS, you'd avoid the blocks (another reason why blocking at the DNS level is kind of stupid). Either way, even if it was just a "mistake," the fact that it happened at all should be a huge concern. When entire websites can be blocked without any real review or due process, it opens the door to much more serious and widespread censorship. It's again troubling how quickly many in the copyright realm ignore the nature of this slippery slope.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
You don't have to worry about keeping your devices charged up with this $45 Solar 30000mAh Battery Pack. This battery pack uses the power of the sun to charge its high-capacity rechargeable Li-ion battery. It has a built-in flashlight and it's small and light enough to slip into your bag so you can always keep it nearby. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Late last year, Senator Richard Burr, who is painfully wrong on encryption announced that he and Senator Dianne Feinstein were working on new legislation that would mandate backdoors to encryption. Most people recognized that such a bill had little-to-no chance of actually passing Congress, as there are at least enough folks up on Capitol Hill who realize that such a law is painfully stupid. Given that, it's little surprise that reporter Jenna McLaughlin from The Intercept is reporting that such legislation "has been delayed." But, fear not, foes of strong encryption, because there's always a plan B. Late last year, we also noted that Rep. Michael McCaul, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee was going to propose legislation that would create a "commission" bringing tech companies and law enforcement to work together on a way to undermine encryption. While, at the very least, he noted concerns about backdooring encryption (and later noted how backdoors could weaken everyone's security), it hasn't stopped him from moving forward with this commission, and making some fairly ridiculously ignorant statements about all of this. McCaul, together with Senator Mark Warner (who should know better), has announced that they're moving forward with legislation to set up this commission, and still ridiculously claims that "going dark" is a real problem that needs to be "solved." McCaul said the group would be given “a tight time frame” to develop “recommendations to the Congress as to what can be done to solve this urgent, and I think very challenging threat to our national security.” But as if to underline how little McCaul really seems to understand about the issue, during a press conference about this, he claimed that the "going dark debate" was started by Ed Snowden's use of encryption, leading to a rather sarcastic reply from Snowden himself: Chairman McCaul on "going dark": "It’s ironic that Edward @Snowden really sort of created all this when he started using encryption." — Kaveh Waddell (@kavehewaddell) January 19, 2016 Other things Chairman McCaul thinks I created: famine, climate change, bieber. https://t.co/eJ8JWyDy1K — Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 19, 2016 It's troubling that the guy who thinks Snowden started the debate on going dark is now apparently going to lead this commission to deal with the "problem" of going dark. Nor is the whole "tight timeline" particularly encouraging. Because the whole thing is based on a false premise that if we just "get smart people in the room" they'll figure out "a solution." But how many times does it need to be said before law enforcement and politicians understand the rather basic facts: you can undermine encryption, but it makes everyone significantly less safe. There is no way to build technology that says "only the pure of heart may use this technology, while ISIS may not." The second you try to do that, all you end up doing is opening up serious vulnerabilities that will put everyone at risk. Meanwhile, another report on this planned commission claims that it will "be tasked with developing a solution that doesn’t require a “backdoor” into encrypted communications." That's obviously better than being tasked with backdooring encryption... but what does that even mean? The whole setup of the discussion and the debate is falsely framed around the idea that strong encryption is a "problem" that needs to be "solved." Saying "but we don't mean backdoors" feels like a semantic game, such as James Comey's ridiculous attempt a few months back where he insisted that the FBI wants "front doors" instead of backdoors. If Rep. McCaul and Sen Warner were serious about "Homeland Security" they'd both get on board the bandwagon supporting strong encryption because that, and that alone, is the best way to protect computer security for Americans.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Verizon has joined the chorus of companies testing the FCC's willingness to enforce its own net neutrality rules. The telco just unveiled something it's calling FreeBee sponsored data, which effectively lets content companies pay to have their content exempt from wireless user usage caps. Much like AT&T's controversial sponsored data service, the service makes a mockery of net neutrality in that it lets companies pay to give their content a leg up in the marketplace, putting other competitors at a distinct disadvantage. According to a Verizon press release, companies can either pay Verizon to have their entire app or website exempted from usage caps (paying Verizon for each byte consumed), or pay Verizon a lump sum to have specific content exempted from usage caps (a video, a single audio file, or an app download). This is, according to Verizon, a wonderful way to add "value and utility" to the overall consumer experience:"With 1 in 3 Americans now watching videos on their smartphone, and another 100 million on tablets, the business case for mobile is clear," said Colson Hillier, vice president, Consumer Products at Verizon. "In today's digital economy, FreeBee Data is a departure from the one size fits all approach to marketing. The opportunity to add value and utility to consumers' everyday experiences will fundamentally transform how brands and businesses connect with their customers."Right, well, no. While these zero rating efforts are pitched to oblivious consumers as akin to "free shipping" or "1-800 numbers for data," they've been rightly lambasted by critics as a mammoth distortion of the traditionally-level Internet playing field. Whereas deep-pocketed companies can gain marketing advantage by throwing money at Verizon for cap-exempt status, smaller competitors, startups and non-profits won't enjoy the same luxury. Not only does sponsored data give wealthier, bigger companies an unfair advantage, it gives companies like Verizon (with a generation of anti-competitive behavior) far too much power. Unlike numerous other countries (Norway, Chile, Netherlands, Japan, Slovenia), the FCC chose to specifically avoid banning zero rating, instead stating it would act on a "case by case basis" to determine what's anti-competitive, and what's just creative marketing and pricing. That has opened the door to companies being allowed to brutally violate net neutrality, provided they're just marginally clever about it. Comcast, for example, is now exempting its own streaming service from its usage caps, claiming that it doesn't violate net neutrality because its streaming service spends more time on Comcast's managed IP infrastructure than the actual Internet. T-Mobile's now throttling every video service that touches its network by default (and lying about it), but claims this is ok because users can opt out. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, are simply letting giant companies pay if they want to gain an utterly unfair competitive advantage over smaller, more shallow-pocketed competitors. And so far the FCC's response to these practices has ranged from praising them to weak-kneed promises that the agency is conducting notably informal inquiries. And while it's entirely possible the FCC wants to see if its neutrality rules withstand ISP lawsuits before leaning on them too heavily, it's also entirely possible the regulator's simply too timid to actually enforce the rules the public demanded it pass.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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