posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Over the weekend, the NY Times revealed that it is the latest publication to receive notification from Google that some of its results will no longer show up for searches on certain people's names, under the whole "right to be forgotten" nuttiness going on in Europe these days. As people in our comments have pointed out in the past, it's important to note that the stories themselves aren't erased from Google's index entirely -- they just won't show up when someone searches on the particular name of the person who complained. Still, the whole effort is creating a bit of a Streisand Effect in calling new attention to the impacted articles. In this case, the NY Times was notified of five articles that were caught up in the right to be forgotten process. Three of the five involved semi-personal stuff, so the Times decided not to reveal what those stories were (even as it gently mocks Europe for not believing in free speech): Of the five articles that Google informed The Times about, three are intensely personal — two wedding announcements from years ago and a brief paid death notice from 2001. Presumably, the people involved had privacy reasons for asking for the material to be hidden. I can understand the Times' decision not to reveal those articles, but it still does seem odd. You can understand why people might not want their wedding announcements findable, but they were accurate at the time, so it seems bizarre to have them no longer associated with your name. The other two stories, however, again reveal the more questionable nature of this process: One Times article that is being shielded from certain searches in Europe is a report from 2002 about a decision by a United States court to close three websites that the federal government accused of selling an estimated $1 million worth of unusable Web addresses. The complaint named three British companies, TLD Network, Quantum Management and TBS Industries, as well as two men who it said controlled the companies: Thomas Goolnik and Edward Harris Goolnik of London. The case was later settled. Thomas Goolnik did not respond to messages left via social networking sites. Now, if the request was sent in by one of the Goolnik's, it seems especially questionable. The fact that they were involved in a legal dispute is relevant factual information, even if it was eventually settled. As for the other article... In the last of The Times articles, a feature about a 1998 production of “Villa Villa” by the ensemble called De la Guarda, it was much harder to divine the objection. Not a review, the article explored how the antic, acrobatic show was managing “to get a generation raised on MTV interested in seeing live theater.” It's unclear from that article what someone is upset about. There are a few people named (though many are Americans who aren't supposed to be filing for such requests). And, even with the quotes it's difficult to see how any of them could upset someone. The only thing that caught my eye is that the story quotes a "27-year-old art student" named Feliz Skamser. Skamser's quote is innocuous "It was like a dream, only more intense," but the very same sentence awkwardly inserts a quote from The Guardian (not from Skamser) calling the show "theater as good as sex." If people read the sentence quickly, perhaps some might think that Skamser said that latter quote -- and perhaps she was annoyed that people were associating her with a quote about sex? Or maybe she just doesn't want people to know she went to the theater? A search on her name will turn up that story on the American Google, but not the UK Google. Once again, though, we're left wondering how this setup makes any sense at all. If the information was accurate at the time, then why should it be removed?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you look closely enough at nearly anything, you're bound to find some fascinating details. With the right tools, you can see single-celled organisms are literally everywhere (and viruses are even more ubiquitous). The biodiversity of soil is obviously important to farmers, but there are other interesting things we can find out when we quantify the dirt under our feet. If you've ever wondered what's in dirt, check out these links on soil. Soil ecologists checked out some 600 samples of dirt from Manhattan's Central Park and discovered, surprisingly, that the soil contained almost 170,000 different kinds of microbes -- a similar biodiversity to soils found in far less urban locations. These soil researchers also found about 2,000 species of microbes unique to Central Park. [url] Prospecting for oil by looking for certain microbes in soil samples is a technique that's been around since the 1930s. With improving biotech, identifying microbes in oil fields could lead to faster and more accurate prospecting for energy-rich deposits. [url] There's a lot of life going on in soil (aka the pedosphere) with millions to billions of microbes in each gram of dirt. Additionally, fungi, protozoa, earthworms and nematodes are hopefully thriving in healthy soil that we just see plants growing. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The CIA's spying on Senate staff members during the compilation of the "Torture Report" (last seen delayed until late October) provoked some righteous (but hypocritical) indignation from political figures who were otherwise fans of government surveillance of American citizens. Dianne Feinstein's dismay may have been genuine, but it was also completely tone-deaf. CIA director John Brennan said no spying occurred while also admitting some spying had occurred. Further details revealed by an Inspector General's investigation noted that spying continued after Brennan finally told everyone to knock it off, using a classified "hacking tool" to peer into Senate staffers' email accounts. Nothing further has been forthcoming about the subject. The DOJ said it wouldn't investigate the issue and calls for Brennan's resignation have been ignored. The Office of the Inspector General obviously has a deeper read on the tactics used and who was involved, but all the CIA's been willing to part with is a one-page summary. The one-page document points at impropriety but doesn't fill in the blanks. “That doesn’t give you any information about what actually happened, how purposeful this was, how high-level these people were,” EPIC associate director Ginger McCall told The Hill. “Were these high-level agency officials versus just minions down at the bottom?” “There’s not a lot of information in this and it certainly doesn’t say anything about what they’re doing to remedy the problem or how these people are being dealt with,” she added. “That’s what we’re interested in finding out.” EPIC is now suing the CIA over its refusal to respond to a FOIA request for the full report. The lawsuit [pdf link] notes that the group has "exhausted all remedies," which is certainly true if the "responding agency" doesn't bother to respond. EPIC is also asking for several more stipulations to be granted along with the release of the requested document. WHEREFORE, Plaintiff prays that this Court: A. Order Defendant to conduct a reasonable search for all responsive records; B. Order Defendant to promptly disclose to EPIC responsive records; C. Order Defendant to produce a Vaughn Index identifying any document or portion of a document withheld, stating the statutory exemption claimed, and explaining how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption; D. Order Defendant to grant EPIC news media status; E. Order Defendant to grant EPIC a fee waiver; F. Order Defendant to grant EPIC expedited processing; G. Award Plaintiff its costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in this action pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E) (2013); and H. Grant such other relief as the Court may deem just and proper. It may seem like EPIC is jumping the gun by pulling the trigger* on an FOIA lawsuit a mere two months after requesting the documents. But look at it this way: it could have waited for six months… or a year… and still have been ignored or denied. Leading with a lawsuit is nothing more than playing the FOIA game efficiently. If the responding agency doesn't bother to respond within the statutory deadlines, you may as fire off a lawsuit to get the process moving. *Shoutout to Thomas Friedman, yo! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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FBI Director James Comey was on 60 Minutes on Sunday, in a segment that will continue next week as well. Apparently next week is when we'll find out his views on mobile encryption and whether or not the FBI is spying on all of us, but this week, he gave us a tiny hint towards the end of the segment, in which he discusses why the internet is so dangerous. As far as I can tell, the summary is "don't open attachments" (i.e., the same advice that you've been hearing for a decade, and which has little to do with many internet threats today): Scott Pelley: Do people understand, in your estimation, the dangers posed by cybercrime and cyber espionage? James Comey: I don't think so. I think there's something about sitting in front of your own computer working on your own banking, your own health care, your own social life that makes it hard to understand the danger. I mean, the Internet is the most dangerous parking lot imaginable. But if you were crossing a mall parking lot late at night, your entire sense of danger would be heightened. You would stand straight. You'd walk quickly. You'd know where you were going. You would look for light. Folks are wandering around that proverbial parking lot of the Internet all day long, without giving it a thought to whose attachments they're opening, what sites they're visiting. And that makes it easy for the bad guys. Scott Pelley: So tell folks at home what they need to know. James Comey: When someone sends you an email, they are knocking on your door. And when you open the attachment, without looking through the peephole to see who it is, you just opened the door and let a stranger into your life, where everything you care about is. Scott Pelley: And what might that attachment do? James Comey: Well, take over the computer, lock the computer, and then demand a ransom payment before it would unlock. Steal images from your system of your children or your, you know, or steal your banking information, take your entire life. About the only thing I get from all this is that FBI Director James Comey is bad at analogies. Yes, you shouldn't click on attachments from unknown people, and you should even be careful about attachments from known folks. But that makes the internet the "most dangerous parking lot imaginable"? Perhaps the other thing I've learned is that James Comey doesn't have a very strong imagination.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When Apple first launched the iTunes store for music, it had DRM deeply embedded in it. According to reports around the time, this DRM was a key part of allowing Apple to get into the business of selling music. The labels demanded strong DRM. It didn't take long for most people to recognize how the labels' own demands for DRM actually gave Apple tremendous leverage over the record labels by basically handing the market over to Apple while making it that much more difficult for a competitor to jump into the space. While, years later, Apple and the labels finally ditched the DRM on music, one of Apple's competitors, Real Networks had tried to hack its way around Apple's DRM, which was called FairPlay, with its own DRM, called Harmony, that more or less reverse engineered Apple's DRM. Apple responded by changing things so that Real's music wouldn't work on iPods (yes, this was back in the day of iPods). Real adjusted... and Apple broke it again. While all that went on a decade ago, a lawsuit over whether or not Apple's use of FairPlay to keep out Real's music violated antitrust laws appears to finally be heading to trial: In this lawsuit, plaintiffs are claiming the anti-Harmony measures in iTunes 7.0 broke antitrust laws, because it had the effect of illegally raising the price of iPods. Users were continually forced to either stop playing any songs they had bought from the Real store, or convert them to a non-DRM format, for example by burning the music to CD and then ripping the CD to their computer. That produced "lock-in" to the iTunes environment and increased consumers' "switching costs," the plaintiffs argue. Apple sought to have the lawsuit tossed out, but the judge is letting it go forward. While the specifics of this case now seem like ancient history, the eventual results, should it get very far, could be interesting for other makers and users of DRM (Amazon might want to pay particular attention). From the judge: That theory is intricate, but ultimately it amounts to a charge that Apple's release of 7.0 unlawfully maintained Apple's monopoly in the market for portable digital media players by making demand for iPods less elastic. Specifically, plaintiffs claim that 7.0 resulted in an increased "lock-in" effect for iPod owners who purchased songs online. Lock-in, according to plaintiffs' principal economics expert, "is a form of foreclosure that arises from actions that increase the cost to consumers of switching to a product that has better quality and/or a lower price.".... Plaintiffs offer expert opinion that Apple, by counteracting Harmony, "raised the cost of switching from iPods to competing portable digital media players by eliminating the ability of consumers to collect a library of downloads that could be played on all players." (Id.) That is, 7.0 made iPod owners unable to play songs purchased from iTS competitor Real and thus pushed them to make their online song purchases only on the iTS. As a result, it discouraged iPod owners from buying a competing, non-iPod digital portable music player when it came time to replace their iPods due to loss, breakage, or a desire to upgrade. (Id.) Such owners would have to either forego use of the songs they had purchased through Real (as well as any other online music store besides iTunes, though that is not part of the damages alleged in this case), repurchase such songs through other, iPod-compatible means (for instance, iTS or physical CDs), or convert music bought from Real into a non-DRM format, for example, by "burning" that music to a CD and then "ripping" the CD onto their computers in a file format with no DRM, from whence the songs could then be loaded on their iPods. These increased "switching costs," plaintiffs argue, locked iPod owners into continuing to purchase iPods, notwithstanding the allegedly similar or better quality of and lower prices of competing products. They also locked out owners of non-iPod portable digital media players who had downloaded songs from the Real store. The effect of both lock-in and lock-out, plaintiffs say, was to reduce competition in the market for digital portable music players and to reduce the price elasticity of iPods, which permitted Apple to charge a supracompetitive price therefor. While other DRM situations may not be quite as involved, the idea of using DRM as a form of lock-in, increasing switching costs is clearly a legitimate concern. Having DRM present a potential antitrust concern could make for some interesting situations for companies today who rely on DRM.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few weeks ago, we wrote about "Walter O'Brien," the guy who is supposed to be the basis of the CBS TV show Scorpion. The problem we had was that O'Brien made a ton of absolutely fantastical claims and, after doing a little fact checking, none of them seemed to check out. At all. Since a few people brought this up, let me make it clear: I have no issue with exaggerating on a TV show for the sake of good entertainment. I don't even mind bogus claims like "based on a true story" because, hey, Fargo was pretty awesome. If that's all that was going on, it wouldn't be a big deal and everyone could get on with their lives. What concerns me about the bogus Walter O'Brien story is twofold: (1) Gullible reporters simply repeat his claims without even the slightest bit of skepticism, which is just shameful reporting and (2) O'Brien and his friends aren't just making a TV show: they're trying to spin the TV show (which, as far as we can tell has close to no basis in reality) into a way to promote O'Brien's "business" with claims that are wholly unbelievable -- in that, literally, I don't think most of the claims are true. It worries me that some people will take the TV show's inflated claims at face value and think that throwing gobs of money O'Brien's way will get them the clearly exaggerated solutions the show is pitching. Last week, O'Brien appeared with Scorpion producer (and Justin Bieber manager) Scooter Braun at the "Techmanity"* conference in San Jose, and I went to the show hoping to talk to O'Brien and/or the producers of the show to see if they could help clear up the inconsistencies in his story (many of which we detailed in the original post). Instead, despite multiple requests, I was denied an opportunity to interview them before or afterward. They did appear to show up right before going on stage, and then I was told they had to leave immediately after (though, at least one other conference attendee posted a selfie with O'Brien well over an hour after O'Brien got off stage). Despite the agenda specifically promising a Q&A with O'Brien and multiple producers, there was no Q&A (and those other producers weren't even there). A microphone stand that had been present for Q&A during earlier sessions was removed prior to the panel, so it was clear that there was no intention of a Q&A at all. Instead, there were just more questionable claims from O'Brien, on a panel moderated by Fast Company's Chuck Salter, an "award winning" reporter who didn't seem interested in challenging a single claim from O'Brien, taking them all at face value. Fast Company, which co-produced the conference, and thus, perhaps, had business reasons for suppressing all skepticism, also wrote a big article again repeating the O'Brien myth, though that article appears to have been dropped behind a paywall. O'Brien tells some of the same stories he's told before -- claiming the company only hires people with IQs over 150 and that people with high IQs have "low EQs" and they try to help them on that front. This leaves aside the whole fact that the concept of "EQ" is pretty questionable in the first place and that even IQ is a pretty limited and misleading tool, which may be useful for determining some innate problem solving skills in kids, but means little once they reach adulthood. Once you're an adult, however, IQ is somewhat meaningless. That doesn't stop O'Brien from continuing to assert that he has an IQ of 197, and multiple publications to claim that he's either the "fourth smartest man" in the world or has the "fourth highest IQ ever recorded." As we noted in our original post, there is no public evidence that O'Brien actually even has such an IQ, let alone that it's the 4th highest ever recorded. In his Reddit AMA, Walter admits that the "4th highest" claim comes from just getting a 197 (still no proof shown) and using this table on the distribution of IQ to assume that he must be the 4th because a 197 IQ only should occur in 1 out of every 1.5 billion people, and then he estimated based on the number of people on the planet. Of course, for someone with such a high IQ, that shows a surprising lack of understanding how IQ actually works. He also notes that he took the Stanford-Binet IQ test, though he doesn't say when. If it was while he was a child (as suggested by his claim to have been "diagnosed" as a "child prodigy") then it's likely he took an earlier version of the Stanford-Binet test -- either the SBIV or the L-M, depending on when he took the exam. It seems noteworthy that modern research has noted that scales on the results of those two versions of the test should equal lower scores on the current SB5. The 197 score (assuming it's true), strongly suggests he took the L-M, which used a ratio scoring system, as opposed to the IV, which was standardized. As such, it also would mean that using the deviation chart Walter uses would be inaccurate, since the ratio score wasn't based on the same scoring system (you'd think someone with such a high IQ would recognize that). And, about all that would suggest was that, at a young age, he was likely far ahead of his peers, but that's about it. Either way, the whole "4th smartest man" in the world claim is clearly ridiculous. After some other chatter, O'Brien talks (again) about hacking NASA at age 13 (he still hasn't explained how Homeland Security came to get him at the time considering Homeland Security didn't exist and wouldn't be operating in Ireland, but details, details) and then hacking into banks at age 16. Then he says he was developing some software "image recognition software" which he notes he developed "for peaceful purposes" related to autonomous vehicles around that time "for the government and a private contracting group underneath the government" (not sure what that even means). Then he says that project got scrapped, and "the software got reused, without my permission, in the Gulf War" leading to "2600 casualties for civilians, because it was built for speed over accuracy." He notes that he "took that pretty hard." He then says he "didn't talk to anyone for about 18 months, I became scared of my own abilities." I can't see how any of that is even close to accurate. The timing of the first Gulf War would have coincided with Walter being in high school, which matches his story about being recruited by the non-existent DHS, but even if he was developing image recognition software at the time, from Ireland, for the US government (really?), the idea that even after his project would be scrapped that he'd then be told (as an Irish high schooler) that the same software was misused leading to 2,600 casualties? That's not happening. That leads to a discussion about how his company, Scorpion Computer Services came about. He claims he was just being asked to do usual computer things -- set up computers, install operating systems, set up printers, etc and the business just grew -- to the point that he was doing work on "localization." Of course, to some extent much of that might be accurate, and Walter's own LinkedIn page suggests he was working on a bunch of fairly straightforward (i.e., no "genius IQ" required) projects around localization. This is further supported by the "references" page on the Scorpion Computer Services website, which is basically just a bunch of reference letters from the late 90s referring to what appear to be fairly mundane computer jobs he held -- often with fairly muted praise. My favorite is this one in which a development manager merely "confirms" that Walter O'Brien worked there. Not explained is why the genius who is building amazing image recognition software for the US military is now working on Word Basic and Visual Basic for projects in Ireland... and apparently desperate for references to get a new job. Something doesn't add up. And of course, Walter still posts this letter from Steven Messino, claiming Messino is a "co-founder of Sun Microsystems." Yet, as we noted last time, Messino joined Sun years after it was a public company, and then as a "regional sales manager." O'Brien also leaves out the fact -- as seen on his own LinkedIn page, that he was a QA guy at The Capital Group from 2002 to through March of 2009 -- at which point, in the storyline, we're supposed to be believing that he was saving the world at Scorpion Computer Services. But, no matter, at the conference, O'Brien lists out the kinds of "projects" Scorpion was supposedly handling around this time: "Handle my divorce, put a shark tank in my office, build a casino overseas, choose winning race horses based on their DNA." I'm guessing these are plotlines for future episodes of the TV show. How much they're based in reality, well, that's anyone's guess. In past interviews, O'Brien has shied away from saying how much of the actual show is true, pretending that he can't really reveal it. Yet here, he at least suggests that the plots of the shows are almost entirely fictional (which makes sense, given the pure ridiculousness of the plots). So, for example, after a clip is shown of the TV version of Scorpion making a bunch of ridiculous assumptions to find a guy on an airplane with an analog phone turned on, O'Brien just says that "out in the desert" doing some testing they have to use "old Nokia analog phones, because it's the only thing that will pick up a signal -- so I knew that those old phones have a stronger signal." So, first of all, he seems to be admitting that the whole premise of calling the guy in the plane is made up -- it's just based on his personal experience with old analog phones out in the desert. Second, for a technical genius problem solver, he doesn't seem to have the faintest idea why analog works better out in the desert, or have much knowledge about wireless frequencies and the different ways in which analog and digital phones work. He later admits that the story of the plane flying low with the car driving under it was his "idea" (not based on reality) and that the director added the ethernet cable concept to make it "more exciting." In other words, Walter appears to reveal that he just tosses out some ideas about technologies, and then the writers create these crazy scenarios that have almost no basis in reality (the second show appears to have been equally as unreal, focusing on a "personalized virus" that was designed for a single person. Uh, yeah). Basically, this whole thing just continued to enforce the idea that Walter O'Brien's claims appear to be a Walter Mitty-esque imagining of the world he wants to live in, rather than one based on reality. Other stories claim that Scorpion Computer Services has "2600 people in 20 countries and over $1.3 billion in revenue" (that's from the Fast Company story). Yet, on LinkedIn I can find only 10 people who list Scorpion as an employer -- and some are merely "advisors." No, you don't expect everyone to list Scorpion or even be on LinkedIn, but 10 out of 2600 people? That's not particularly believable. Then there's the fact that the company's address is a UPS Store in Burbank, and the building shown on its website is actually a photoshopped image of the headquarters of German glass manufacturer, Glaskoch, based in Bad Driburg, Germany: In other interviews, he's directly said -- or often coyly implied -- that his work helped "stop two wars" (at 3:09 in this video), caught the Boston bombers (though this video just says the FBI used "the kind of technology" that was developed by O'Brien -- not that he actually developed, and presents no evidence the FBI even used similar tech, let alone O'Brien's), and searched for the downed Malaysian Airlines plane, saying his software was used "to make sure the crash site wasn't tampered with." O'Brien frequently plays up the fact that he's in the US on an EB1-1 visa, which he always notes is the "same one given to Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill." That may be true, but he makes it out like he and those two are the only ones who got this visa. Actually, thousands of people get one every year. In O'Brien's visa application he claims "he placed among the top programmers in the world in several international high-speed programming competitions, including a sixth-place finish in the 1993 Information Olympics, and first-place showings in the 1991 and 1992 Wisconsin International Computer Problem Solving Competition." Except, elsewhere reports have him coming in 90th in the 1993 Informatics Olympiad and sixth (not first) in Wisconsin. So, did he lie on his visa application too? The various companies that O'Brien is associated with have websites that are filled with gibberish rather than actually supportable claims. "We saved $43 billion in opportunity risks over a five-year period." That doesn't make any sense. "We invented an efficiency engine that performs 250 human years of work every 1.5 hrs with over 99% improvement over human error." An old, now deleted, part of the Scorpion website hilariously claimed that Scorpion Computer Services was a venture fund with $204 billion (with a b) under management. It also claims that it had a 7200% return in 1999. This was on his website in 2003 -- the very same time he was doing QA for The Capital Group. Odd. The "ScenGen" software that Walter frequently touts as being able to "exhaustively... think of" and then "execute... all user actions" appears to just be a rather straightforward system for inputting a bunch of variables and brute forcing every possible combination. The documentation on it suggests that you can solve NP-complete problems, like the traveling salesman problem, just by running every possible solution through a computer program. While you, of course, could run through all possible scenarios, that's... not a particularly useful or intelligent way to solve complex problems. Walter has hinted that one of the reasons he "went public" now is because Wikileaks revealed some of the projects he's worked on. Indeed, there is this page on Wikileaks from the hacked and leaked Stratfor emails, showing Walter trying to reach out to the founder of Stratfor, George Friedman, in 2009 saying "we should talk" and including a PowerPoint about ScenGen... and a resume for Walter which does not mention Scorpion Computer Services (and also lists himself as a "tech specialist" at Capital Group, rather than "Tech Executive" as his LinkedIn now claims). In 2009 -- at which point we're now supposed to believe Scorpion has been in business for 25 years. Yet, the email is sent from Walter's MSN.com email address. It also says nothing of his supposed image recognition skills, but focuses on his QA, compliance and globalization work. It also includes the same 1990s press clippings that Walter promotes on his website. There doesn't appear to be any reply or any other Walter-related info on Wikileaks. In the presentation, though, we learn that this masterful bit of programming called ScenGen is less than 200kb in size and produces output like this: The more you dig, the more of the same you find. Former co-workers of O'Brien's have shown up in comments or reached out to me and others directly -- and they all say the same thing. Walter is a nice enough guy, works hard, does a decent job (though it didn't stop him from getting laid off from The Capital Group), but has a penchant for telling absolutely unbelievable stories about his life. It appears that in just repeating those stories enough, some gullible Hollywood folks took him at his word (and the press did too), and now there's a mediocre TV show about those made up stories. Again, I'm all for fictionalized TV. And O'Brien, Braun and others associated with the show keep claiming that they're doing this to help "smart kids" not feel like outcasts (though, I'd think the success of Silicon Valley and the internet in general, is doing a much better job of that...). And that's great. But, telling highly questionable stories that seem easily debunked doesn't seem like a good way of helping people. It just feels... like a fraud. In fact, the story continues to remind me of the similar case of Shiva Ayyadurai. In both cases, you seem to have guys who had a certain amount of fame about their computer programming prowess as teenagers, and where both of them still keep those newspaper clippings from their youth around and frequently highlight them and show them off as if it's proof that they did, in fact, amount to something great later in life even if the actual details of their lives don't quite match the hype. They both seem to cling to those predictions of their youth as if they had to come true. In both cases, they successfully convinced some folks -- notably, a gullible press -- to spin the fictionalized account as being something more. I have no problem with people exaggerating and puffing up their own stories -- that's pretty common. But when it's being used in a way to fool the press and the public and take credit where little is deserved, often with ulterior motives in mind, that seems problematic. Side note: in nearly 20 years of conference attending, Techmanity appeared to be one of the worst organized events I've ever attended. In many ways, it felt like the Walter O'Brien of conferences -- making lots of fantastical claims that didn't hold up to much scrutiny ("Silicon Valley's Biggest Annual Gathering"? Not even close. They held the "Techmanitarian Awards" which was described as an "Exclusive, VIP celebration" yet anyone could have just wandered in -- and, even then not too many people did, "the most dangerous and disruptive startups on the planet" not even close). The event organizers appeared to figure out a way to get a few famous Hollywood/music industry folks (Jared Leto, Weezer, Troy Carter, Scooter Braun, Thievery Corporation), but very few actual tech minds. The whole thing seemed designed to get as much money out of sponsors as possible, with little thought to the actual content of the event, beyond "ooh, famous people, the sponsors will love that!" There was lots of talk about "bottom up" creations and the end of powerful top down efforts, yet almost no sessions had any interactions (only a few even had basic Q&A). The pinnacle of poor organizing was highlighted by the scheduled promise of a free showing of Brian Knappenberger's documentary on Aaron Swartz, The Internet's Own Boy, at a local movie theater in San Jose. A bunch of attendees trekked over to the theater only to be told the theater had no idea what any of us were talking about. On contacting the media relations people at the conference we were told that someone "forgot" to actually set that up, despite it being on the agenda. A bunch of angry conference-goers were left pondering what to do outside the theater. I feel particularly bad for the various startups who must have paid a pretty penny to be part of "Startlandia" a bunch of startup kiosks that went mostly ignored. Some I spoke to flew in especially for this event, expecting something with a lot more substance. Instead, they got a Potemkin Village of a tech conference. Finally, at least the "media" side of the event was organized by Racepoint Group. I knew the name sounded familiar -- and then remembered that the CEO of Racepoint is Larry Weber, the PR "guru" behind the Shiva Ayyadurai story. I don't know if/how Racepoint is connected to the whole Scorpion thing, but at the very least, the connection is an amusing coincidence. Perhaps there's a PR business to be built in building up fake tech heroes.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
In the past, we'd been fairly worried about governments seizing website domains with little or no notice, but it's perhaps equally, if not more, troubling when it's done by private individuals and companies. This was one of our concerns with the original version of SOPA, which included a "private right of action." But, even though SOPA never became law (and the private right of action was dropped fairly early on), it appears that some courts are still allowing this to happen. Just a couple of months ago, we wrote about a troubling ruling in an Oregon district court that let a Filipino entertainment company seize a bunch of domains, in a process that was done under seal. In the past, we've seen other brands, like Chanel do the same thing. Louis Vuitton has also tried seizing domains. The latest such example seems especially troubling because no one has any idea what's fully happening, but it appears to involve Chan Luu, a jewelry and clothing retailer. The Internet Commerce Association notes that approximately 5,000 domains appear to have been seized, handed over to a private "receiver" who is now trying to sell those domains -- for no clear reason. One of the victims, Michael Berkens, who lost some of his domains, has explained what little details he's been able to find out: Overnight I received a notice that several domain names I owned were transferred by a sealed court from Verisign without notice and of course without the court order. The domain names just were transferred by Verisign to another domain and are now listed for sale at another marketplace. Another domainer sent me an identical notice he received overnight on domain names he owned. The Domain names are now all owned by COURT APPOINTED RECEIVER – ROBERT OLEA and have been moved to Uniregisty as the registrar and are now listed for sale at domainnamesales.com The only information that Berkens received was the following email: Please be advised that Verisign has changed the registrar of record for certain domain names pursuant to a ***SEALED*** court order. The domain names identified below were affected by this action. Alexander the Great, LLC —————————————————————————– RETRACTIT.COM If you have any questions relating to these actions, please contact: David J. Steele Partner, Christie, Parker & Hale LLP Adj. Professor of Law, Loyola School 18101 Von Karman Ave, Suite 1950 Irvine, CA 92612-0163 office: +1 (949) 476-0757 direct: +1 (949) 823-3232 fax: +1 (949) 476-8640 email: david.steele@cph.com Thank you very much, The Verisign Transfer Dispute Team”” transfers@verisign-grs.com Others have tracked down that it has something to do with this case, but with the details under seal, it's all a bit of a mess. Here's Phil Corwin from the Internet Commerce Association: The only other available facts that we are presently aware of are that a copy of the “Clerk’s Certification Of A Judgment To be Registered In Another District” issued by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in the case of Chan Luu Inc. v. Online Growth, LLC et al is available at the Justia website, and the order was registered in the Florida Middle District Court. The other defendants in the case are “Grant Shellhammer et al”. There was a considerable time lag in this proceeding, with the original judgment entered in California on May 23rd, the certification dated September 8th, and the domain transfers occurring around October 2nd. The damages granted to plaintiff are $200,000 plus interest, court costs and attorney fees; we note that there is a strong possibility that the domains transferred in this case may have an aggregate market value far in excess of that total judgment, and that is likewise disturbing. The California court document covers domains that are identical or confusingly similar to Plaintiff’s CHAN LUU mark – but we’re not sure if the domain cited by Mike in his article, RETRACTIT.COM, or any of the other transferred domains fit in that category. Chan Luu is a retailer of jewelry, accessories, and ready-to-wear clothing based in Los Angeles, and so far as can be discerned makes no commercial use of the term “retractit”, so it is unclear why that domain was covered by the court order. This is problematic on many, many levels -- and is exactly why we've been so concerned about any process that allows for domain seizures without any sense of due process. In this case, with all the details under seal and the domain owners having their websites simply ripped away from them with no explanation at all, it should raise serious questions about why courts are allowing this to occur. To take domain names away from people who aren't even parties to a lawsuit, based on a sealed document, and then to immediately put them up for resale seems sketchy beyond belief.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
The Washington Post editorial board has weighed in on the recent "controversy" over Apple and Google's smart decision to start encrypting mobile devices by default. The "controversy" itself seems pretty hyped up by law enforcement types who are either lying or clueless about the technology. Throwing a bunch of technically ignorant newspaper editors into the mix probably wasn't the wisest of decisions. Much of the editorial engages in hand-wringing about what law enforcement is going to do when they need the info on your phone (answer: same thing they did for years before smartphones, and most of the time with smartphones as well, which is regular detective work). It even repeats the bogus use of the phrase "above the law" that FBI director James Comey bizarrely keeps repeating (hint: putting a lock on your stuff isn't making you above the law). But the real kicker is the final paragraph: How to resolve this? A police “back door” for all smartphones is undesirable — a back door can and will be exploited by bad guys, too. However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant. Ultimately, Congress could act and force the issue, but we’d rather see it resolved in law enforcement collaboration with the manufacturers and in a way that protects all three of the forces at work: technology, privacy and rule of law. Did you get that? No "back door," but rather a "golden key." Now, I'm not sure which members of the Washington Post editorial board is engaged in mythical "golden key" cryptography studies, but to most folks who have even the slightest understanding of technology, they ought to have recognized that what they basically said is: "a back door is a bad idea, so how about creating a magic back door?" A "golden key" is a backdoor and a "backdoor" is a "golden key." The two are indistinguishable and the Post's first point is the only accurate one: it "can and will be exploited by bad guys, too." That's why Apple and Google are doing this. To protect users from bad guys. In the meantime, just watch, and we'll start to see ignorant politicians and law enforcement start to echo this proposal as well, talking down "backdoors" and talking up "golden keys." The fact that we already had this debate in the 1990s, when the "golden key" was called "key escrow" and when having the government lose that was was fairly important in allowing the internet to become so useful, will apparently be lost on the talking heads. Still, a small request for the Washington Post Editorial Board: before weighing in on a subject like this, where it's fairly clear that none of you have the slightest clue, perhaps try asking a security expert first?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Ever since the government first declared it had located the Silk Road server linked to Dread Pirate Roberts (Ross Ulbricht) thanks to a leaky CAPTCHA, there have been questions about the plausibility of this explanation. Ulbricht's attorneys suggested it wasn't the FBI, but rather the NSA, who tracked the Silk Road mastermind down. This suggested parallel construction, something federal agencies have done previously to obscure the origin of evidence and something the FBI actively encourages local law enforcement agencies to do when deploying cell tower spoofers. Technical documents filed in response to discovery requests seem to solidify the parallel construction theory. Brian Krebs at Krebs on Security and Robert Graham at Errata Security have both examined the government's filings (the Tarbell Declaration [pdf]) and noted that what the government said it did doesn't match what's actually on display. Krebs' article quotes Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley, who points out that where the FBI agents say they found the leak doesn't mesh with the server code and architecture. “The IP address listed in that file — 62.75.246.20 — was the front-end server for the Silk Road,” Weaver said. “Apparently, Ulbricht had this split architecture, where the initial communication through Tor went to the front-end server, which in turn just did a normal fetch to the back-end server. It’s not clear why he set it up this way, but the document the government released in 70-6.pdf shows the rules for serving the Silk Road Web pages, and those rules are that all content – including the login CAPTCHA – gets served to the front end server but to nobody else. This suggests that the Web service specifically refuses all connections except from the local host and the front-end Web server.” Translation: Those rules mean that the Silk Road server would deny any request from the Internet that wasn’t coming from the front-end server, and that includes the CAPTCHA. Weaver says that FBI agents would have been served nothing at all when attempting to access the server without using Tor. The server simply wasn't leaking into the open web. The more likely explanation is that the FBI contacted the IP directly and accessed a PHPMyAdmin page. Robert Graham's analysis of the documents notes something slightly different than Weaver, but still arrives at the same conclusion. Brian Krebs quotes Nicholas Weaver as claiming "This suggests that the Web service specifically refuses all connections except from the local host and the front-end Web server". This is wrong, the web server accept all TCP connections, though it may give a "403 forbidden" as the result. Even with this detail being off, the parallel construction theory still fits. Graham notes that the Tarbell Declaration (the filing that contains the official explanation of how the Silk Road server was accessed) is noticeably light on supporting documentation -- like screenshots, packet logs or code snippets. Now that the government has been forced to hand over more technical documentation, it's original story is falling apart. Since the defense could not find in the logfiles where Tarbell had access the system, the prosecutors helped them out by pointing to entries that looked like the following: 199.170.71.133 - - [11/Jun/2013:16:58:36 +0000] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200 2616 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/27.0.1453.110 Safari/537.36" 199.170.71.133 - - [11/Jun/2013:16:58:36 +0000] "GET /phpmyadmin.css.phpserver=1&lang=en&collation_connection=utf8_general_ci&token=451ca1a827cda1c8e80d0c0876e29ecc&js_frame =right&nocache=3988383895 HTTP/1.1" 200 41724 "http://193.107.86.49/" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/27.0.1453.110 Safari/537.36" However, these entries are wrong. First, they are for the phpmyadmin pages and not the Silk Road login pages, so they are clearly not the pages described in the Tarbell declaration. Second, they return "200 ok" as the error code instead of a "401 unauthorized" login error as one would expect from the configuration. This means either the FBI knew the password, or the configuration has changed in the meantime, or something else is wrong with the evidence provided by the prosecutors. The NSA as the purposefully-missing link makes sense. First off, Ulbricht's back end server was located in Iceland. Graham points out basic authentication was provided by this server via Port 80. If the NSA was monitoring traffic in and out of Iceland (as it is legally able to do), it could easily have captured a password for this server. Furthermore, the front end server (located in Germany -- also within the NSA's established dragnet) would return "forbidden" errors when accessed outside of Tor, but would not when accessing PHP files (as Weaver noted). To get to the admin page, other possibly non-NSA-related tactics could have been used. (Graham suggests a couple of different methods well within the FBI's technical grasp and abilities -- "scanning the entire Internet for SSL servers, then searching for the string "Silkroad" in the resulting webpage" or doing the same but correlating the results with traffic traveling across the Tor onion connection.) However, none of the above is suggested by Tarbell's recounting of the events. In fact, the official narrative is vague enough that almost any explanation could fit. Tarbell doesn't even deny it was parallel construction. A scenario of an NSA agent showing up at the FBI offices and opening a browser to the IP address fits within his description of events. Graham calls the declaration from Special Agent Tarbell "gibberish" (and points out that Ulbricht's opsec "sucks"). Ulbricht's legal team is still pushing for the government to explain why its declaration doesn't match the details it's handed over during discovery. A new filing by his attorney, Joshua Horowitz, isn't much kinder, calling the declaration "implausible." [pdf link] The presiding judge has given the government until the end of Monday to respond to Horowitz's filing… if it wants to. [pdf link] Defendant has submitted a declaration from Joshua Horowitz in support of his motion and request for an evidentiary hearing. If the Government has any response to the factual statements (and/or relevance of the factual statements) asserted therein, it should file such response by C.O.B., October 6, 2014 (if possible). The government may not feel compelled to respond. A filing from earlier in September (but added to the docket on Oct. 1st) suggests it's pretty much done discussing Ulbricht's "NSA boogeyman." [pdf link] In light of these basic legal principles, the Government objects to the September 17 Requests as a general matter on the ground that no adequate explanation has been provided as to how the requested items are material to the defense. Most of the requests appear to concern how the Government was able to locate and search the SR Server. Yet the Government has already explained why, for a number of reasons, there is no basis to suppress the contents of the SR Server: (1) Ulbricht has not claimed any possessory or property interest in the SR Server as required to establish standing for any motion to suppress; (2) the SR Server was searched by foreign law enforcement authorities to whom the Fourth Amendment does not apply in the first instance; (3) even if the Fourth Amendment were applicable, its warrant requirement would not apply given that the SR Server was located overseas; and (4) the search was reasonable, given that the FBI had reason to believe that the SR Server hosted the Silk Road website and, moreover, Ulbricht lacked any expectation of privacy in the SR Server under the terms of service pursuant to which he leased the server. Particularly given these circumstances, it is the defendant’s burden to explain how the contents of the SR Server were supposedly obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights and how the defendant’s discovery requests are likely to vindicate that claim. The defense has failed to do so, and the Government is unaware of any evidence – including any information responsive to the defense’s discovery requests – that would support any viable Fourth Amendment challenge. Instead, the defense’s discovery requests continue to be based on mere conjecture, which is neither a proper basis for discovery nor a proper basis for a suppression hearing. The response document notes that it has already responded with several documents, won't be responding to a host of other requests, but most tellingly, says the government is "not aware" of any supporting documentation for Agent Tarbell's declaration. (As noted by Robert Graham, the declaration as written is "impossible to reconstruct," with the lack of technical details being a large part of that.) 5. The name of the software that was used to capture packet data sent to the FBI from the Silk Road servers. Other than Attachment 1, the Government is not aware of any contemporaneous records of the actions described in paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Tarbell declaration. (Please note that Attachment 1 is marked “Confidential” and is subject to the protective order entered in this matter.) 6. A list of the “miscellaneous entries” entered into the username, password, and CAPTCHA fields on the Silk Road login page, referenced in the SA Tarbell’s Declaration, at ¶ 7. See response to request #5. 7. Any logs of the activities performed by SA Tarbell and/or CY-2, referenced in ¶ 7 of SA Tarbell’s Declaration. See response to request #5. 8. Logs of any server error messages produced by the “miscellaneous entries”referenced in SA Tarbell’s Declaration. See response to request #5. 9. Any and all valid login credentials used to enter the Silk Road site. See response to request #5. 10. Any and all invalid username, password, and/or CAPTCHA entries entered on the Silk Road log in page. See response to request #5. 11. Any packet logs recorded during the course of the Silk Road investigation, including but not limited to packet logs showing packet headers which contain the IP address of the leaked Silk Road Server IP address [193.107.86.49]. See response to request #5. Parallel construction matters, but the government claims it doesn't. It will probably continue to declare it a non-issue so long as the courts agree that Ulbricht's Fourth Amendment rights weren't violated. Ulbright's Fourth Amendment defense is admittedly a disaster, making claims that have nearly no chance of holding up under judicial scrutiny. The Silk Road indictment is a lousy test case for challenging parallel construction. But parallel construction spills over into purely domestic investigations where Fourth Amendment rights are supposedly guaranteed. As long as the "expectation of privacy" isn't violated -- according to the government's definition of what does and doesn't enjoy this "expectation" -- the origin of the evidence isn't really up for discussion, according to the government's own filing. And what the government says here is that what was ultimately obtained matters more than how it was obtained. Parallel construction covers up invasive surveillance and investigative tactics, providing courts with evidence that looks clean but was illicitly gathered. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Compare and contrast: Product A Alerts for terms used in Chat or Texting. Access to videos as well as web, camera and cell phone images loaded on device. Review & delete images. Email, Print or Save results. View Internet History Log. Keystroke logging. Product B View sent/received text messages. Access chatlogs. Look at photos, videos, music stored on device. View visited sites and bookmarks. Alerts for suspicious words. One of these products is handed out by law enforcement agencies. One just had its creator arrested after an FBI investigation. Product A is ComputerCOP, a deeply-flawed set of tools that allows parents to spy on their children's computer activities, provided they don't mind getting hundreds of false positives returned during searches or having passwords stored as plaintext by the built-in keylogger. Product B is StealthGenie, a piece of software aimed at giving the inherently suspicious (or routinely cuckolded) person surreptitious access to everything on their significant other's phone. The full set of features included are astounding, including location info, email access, eavesdropping via the built-in mic and the perverse ability to lock or wipe someone else's phone. It's not that the FBI was wrong to shut down the sale of this software, even if it does sound like the sort of thing the agency wishes it could deploy rather than terminate. It's that the law enforcement-approved tool set overlaps so heavily with something aimed at tearing the digital roof off someone else's life. ComputerCOP -- unlike the more (necessarily) targeted StealthGenie -- doesn't ultimately care who's using the device it's installed on. You may just want to track your kids' internet activity, but anyone who uses it while it's activated will have their web history -- along with any keystrokes entered -- automatically logged. If anything, ComputerCOP is a cheap, legal alternative to StealthGenie, even if it's strictly limited to personal computers. But one of these is being handed out by law enforcement agencies without any oversight (and with loads of misinformation). The other was the subject of a federal investigation. There's a certain amount of disconnection here, similar to law enforcement's use of encryption to protect themselves from criminals but wanting to deny the public the same option. Just replace "StealthGenie" with "ComputerCOP" in these statements from the FBI's press release and see if it ultimately makes any difference. [h/t to Techdirt reader Will Klein] "Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it's a crime," said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell. "Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim's personal life -- all without the victim's knowledge." “StealthGenie has little use beyond invading a victim’s privacy” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “Advertising and selling spyware technology is a criminal offense, and such conduct will be aggressively pursued by this office and our law enforcement partners.” “This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victims’ phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move. As technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge.” Spyware is spyware, whether it's sporting a uniform and a badge or an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
So, as you probably heard last week, JP Morgan revealed more details of how it had been hacked, noting that the number of households impacted shot up to 76 million, thus impacting a pretty large percentage of Americans. The hack involved getting access to customer names, addresses, phone numbers and emails. It doesn't appear to have gotten anything else, but that's plenty of information to run some sophisticated phishing attacks that could lead to some serious problems. It's expected that the fallout from this could be quite long lasting. Almost immediately, politicians leapt into action... but not in any good way. They're cynically using this as an excuse to push questionable cybersecurity legislation. Specifically, Senator Angus King used it to push CISA, a bill that actually undermines privacy, rather than protect it, by giving companies incentives to share info more freely, opening up greater opportunities for leaks and breaches. CISA gives those companies a blanket get-out-of-jail-free card by taking away any liability in sharing such info. What no one explains is how something like CISA would actually have helped stop the JP Morgan hack. That's because it wouldn't have helped. Congressional supporters of cybersecurity legislation keep playing the "something must be done!" card, without ever bothering to explain how the something (CISA) will actually help. They just make vague promises that by somehow letting companies share info without liability, we'll magically all be better protected. Given the recent revelations about how government has regularly abused access to information, it's hard to accept the "just trust us" explanation for why companies should just hand over more information. Even worse is that King went for the FUD-based "cyber Pearl Harbor" claim -- one that's been trotted out regularly, usually by intelligence community folks who just want access to your data, when the reality is that even James Clapper has admitted that there's little real chance of such a thing happened. But that doesn't stop King: “Congress must work to pass legislation that will improve our capabilities and protect us against more attacks like these,” King added. “The next Pearl Harbor will be cyber, and shame on us if we're not prepared for it.” Okay, sure. Shame on us if we're not prepared, but how will this law help us prepare for it? This is a question that no one in Congress seems willing to answer. They just insist we have to "do something." King wasn't the only one: Sen. Ed Markey called the hack “yet another example of how Americans’ most sensitive personal information is in danger.” "It is time to pass legislation to protect Americans against these massive data breaches,” he added. Rep. Yvette Clarke tweeted that the U.S. “must keep up on cybersecurity.” Right, but again, how will the proposed law actually help? The problem is that no one answers because the truth is that it's unlikely to actually help keep companies and your data secure, though it might just make it easier for the intelligence community to get their hands on your data.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
We were disgusted with Eric Holder this week when he rolled out some egregious "think of the children!" pleas as part of an attack on phone encryption. Ninja won most insightful comment of the week with his thoughts on the matter: Excuse me mr Holder but I'd rather live with the dim risk of my kid falling in the hands of your fictional psychopath than having the very same kid live in a totalitarian, Police State future. The said child abuser is merely a small, statistically insignificant probability that law enforcement can maintain low by using basic investigative measures while the other is almost certain and will permeate all aspects of this kid life later. Over in the UK, Home Secretary Theresa May was looking for the ability to ban "extremists" from using social media or appearing on television, as long as they represent a threat to "the functioning of democracy". John Fenderson won second place for insightful by turning her words against her: Funny, that. As soon as you are barring people from speaking -- no matter how unpleasant you find the speech -- you are a threat to "the functioning of democracy" yourself. The functioning of democracy requires the ability for people to speak freely, especially unpopular speech. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with one more response to Eric Holder. This time it's Applesauce, reminding us that the issue of backdoors for spying on communications isn't just about how much you trust the US government: In all these comments, everyone seems to keep forgetting that if the NSA and/or the FBI has a back door key, they will be unable to keep it secure. The Russian FSB will have it, and so will the Russian Mafia. The Chinese PLA will have it and all their friends too. It will be a long list and the key will be available for sale to anyone with $$$ soon after. If anyone doubts this, remember: 1. The walker spy ring, which sold USA's most secure Navy codes to the Soviets (for mere pennies, BTW). 2. The Robert Hanssen case, where the FBI's top counterintelligence officer was a Soviet Spy. 3. All the ones who haven't been caught yet (Hanssen got away with it for 22 years). This week we also saw Grooveshark's unsurprising loss to the record labels in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Though there was no doubt that Grooveshark's actions were particularly egregious, there's a broader perspective from which this whole thing is yet another broken copyright farce. Ninja gets a second nod this week for exploring that side of things: They clearly are in the wrong side of the law but this whole issue begs much needed questions: 1- If the service was popular (and it was) why don't the labels set up similar services and monetize on them (and instead try to actively kill the existing stuff like spotify or pandora)? 2- If it was doing good, why not strike a deal anyway and demand some money as compensation for the unlicensed days? Everybody wins. 3- Why is Grooveshark so vilified when the MAFIAA in general had to resort to piracy and infringement in their early days to take off? Would Grooveshark reach such size if they went the legal, standard ways? Can any service aspire to get big using the standard paths? (The answer here is clearly almost always no) If no, what are they waiting to open opportunities to more startups thus increasing their revenue channels? We all know the answers and, sadly, they aren't good or reasonable. Over on the funny side, we start out with our post about a bizarre CIA redaction hiding the price they paid for a single Amiga computer in 1987. Though the agency later claimed it was a simple error, johnjac still deserves his win for funniest comment of the week: It doesn't make sense until you realize that this is the CIA security question for master password resets: What was the price of your first computer? In second place on the funny side, we've got Chris ODonnell playing the lonely supporter to Eric Holder: I'm with Holder. Who wants to return to the wild west days before smart phones, when all crimes went unsolved due to lack of evidence? For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with a story that is kind of funny in itself: a company that claims to be algorithmically generating content, and copyrighting it, so that it basically controls everything. One anonymous commenter decided to play along and crunch some numbers (or maybe they just faked it, I didn't check): All joking aside, the number of possible variations of, say, a 256 color image 32 pixels wide by 32 pixels high would be: 1090748135619415929462984244733782862448264161996232692431832786189721331849119295216264234525201987 2239572917961570252731098708201771840636109797650775547990789062988421929895386098252280482051596968 5161359163819677188654260932456012129055390188630101790025253579991720001007960002653583680090529780 5880952350501630195475653911005312364560014847426035293551245843928918752768696279344088055617515694 3499454066778251408149006161059202564385045780133264935658360472424073824428122451315177575191648992 2636574372243227736807502762788304520650179276170094569916849725787968385173704999690096112051565505 0115561271491492515342105748966629547032786321505730828430221664970324396138635251626409516168005427 6234359963089216914461811874063953106654048857394348328774281674074953709935118687563599703901170218 2361674945862096985700626361208270671540815706657513728102702231092756491027675916052087830463241104 9364568754920967322982459184763427383790272448438018526977764941072715611580434690827459339991961414 2427414105991174260605564837637563145276113626586283833686211579936380208785376755453367899156942344 3395566631507008721353547025567031200413072549583450835743965382893607708097855057891296790735278005 4935621561090795845172954115972927479877527738560008204118558930004777748727761853813510493840581861 5986522116059603083564059418211897140378687262194814987276036536162988561748224130334854387853240247 5141941718301228107820972930353737280457437209522870362277636394529086980625842235514850757103961938 7449629866808188769662815778153079393179093143648340761738581819563002994422790754955061288818308430 0796486932321791587659180355652161571154029921202761556078731079374774668415283629877086994501520312 3186259420308569383894465706134623670423402682110295895495119708707654618662279629453645162075650935 1018906023773821539532776208676978589731966330308893304665169436185078350641568336944530051437491311 2988343672652385954049042734559287239495252271846174043678547546104743770197680255766058810380772707 0771794222197709038543858584409549211609985253890397465570394397308609093059696336076752996493841459 8185705963754561497355827813623833288906309004288017321424808663962671333528009232758350873059614118 7237814221014601986157473868550968960891891804413395585248228675411132126387936755676503403629700319 3002339782846531854723824423202801518968966041882297600081543761065225427016359565087543385114712321 4227266605403581781469090806576468950587661997186505665475715792896. Finally, since much attention has been paid to the Bendy iPhone Scandal recently, we'll close things out with DannyB and his summing up of Apple's gag-the-critics, sweep-it-under-the-rug strategy: Do not try to bend the iPhone, for that is impossible. Only try to realize the truth. There is no iPhone. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago Last week, we revisited the Lily Allen incident of 2009. This week, we round that memory off with the most entertaining part of its legacy: Dan Bull's musical open letter, Dear Lily. Also in 2009 this week, we saw the debut of the North Face/South Butt dust-up, watched Disney prevent a Disney appreciation club from watching Disney movies, and discovered some complications in the rights battle over Spider Man. The US prosecutor from the Lori Drew case, ridiculously, started looking to appeal the ruling, while at the same time Congress was showing reluctance to pass any anti-cyberbullying laws. Meanwhile, we talked about the importance of establishing software ownership rather than software licensing, and later in the week were pleased to see the court in a case involving Autodesk do just that by defending the right of first sale. Ten Years Ago This week in 2004 we had a pair of DMCA-related rulings. One was good: Diebold was found guilty of abusing the DMCA to take down sensitive documents showing the company was aware of security flaws in its system. The other was not so good: some developers who reverse-engineered a game server were ruled to have violated the DMCA despite no clear act of infringement on their part. Tech panic was in full-swing, with the media telling one-sided stories about internet use at work, other media worrying about iPod use at work, and cops attacking people for using cellphones. But there was plenty of tech optimism happening too. It was also this week in 2004 that we first heard Tim Berners-Lee speak out about patents and the harm they do to the web. Meanwhile, SpaceShipOne made the first of the two flights that would win it the X Prize. Fifteen Years Ago Once again, this week in 1999 was a simpler time. The concept of paid product astroturfing online was new and uncertain. Traditional retailers were still struggling to get online, and Nike had just brought its products to the web.. Amazon started letting people set up their own stores for the very first time. Online bill payment was still somewhat arcane. We were still surprisingly tepid about smartphones. Biodegradable plastic grown from crops was brand new. And, for some reason, you could trade stocks with a Sega Dreamcast. Sixty-Three Years Ago On September 28th, 1951, CBS released the first commercial color television in an interesting moment from the history of innovation. CBS had been actively pursuing color broadcasts, and was making them available in many US cities, but it had a problem: nobody had color receivers, manufacturers didn't want to build them, and advertisers didn't want to pay for color ads when nobody would see them. So the network bought a TV manufacturer and starting building the sets itself. It was an utter failure, with only 200 sets ever shipped, only half those sold, and the operation shut down in less than a month. Three years later, NBC would do a much better job of getting America hooked on color TV. BONUS: Nine-Hundred And Forty-Eight Years Ago It's not exactly a Techdirt topic, but it has to be mentioned, because if you can so much as read this article, then this event impacted you. September 28th marked the beginning of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror (or Bastard, depending on who you ask) in 1066, just three days after Harold Godwinson defeated the viking invaders at Stamford Bridge. The war lasted just over two weeks, and the Norman victory would set the course of all English culture (and its offshoots) forever, shape the English language, and consign the Anglo-Saxon kings to history. It's almost impossible to imagine the last thousand years of Western history (and much beyond) had the invasion never happened, or ended differently. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
My mind has been taken up by a lot of design projects lately, so for this week's awesome stuff we're looking at some excellent graphic design from the world of crowdfunding. Historic Robotic Spacecraft Though the majority of what we write about here at Techdirt is earthbound technology, I know there are plenty of space enthusiasts in our audience. If you're among them, you might like the idea of decorating your walls with elegantly designed posters of famous robotic spacecraft. The ultimate plan for this project is a series of three, but so far just one has been unveiled depicting the Voyager probe. If the others are as visually well-conceived and composed, it will be a very attractive set. New York City Subway Signs New York City's subway signage is some of the most identifiable graphic design work out there. Like all good functional design, the vast majority of people who see it make no conscious notice of it, but they would also instantly recognize it anywhere in the world and immediately notice it if it changed. These handmade wooden replica NYC transit signs let you bring some of New York's iconic visual language into your home. And for those who want to dig deep into the design philosophy of the world's most famous signs, there's another Kickstarter project selling a reissue of the 1970 NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual. The Art Of Sandwiches Well, this one's just for fun. The premise is pretty random and silly, but these Art of Sandwiches posters are definitely attractive. The decision to make them available without text was a smart one, and they'd make a nice set — unfortunately, as is often the case with international Kickstarter projects, the price for people outside (in this case) Australia is a touch prohibitive. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Say what you want, but one thing has become abundantly clear since the whole Ferguson debacle began: the people running and policing that city aren't interested in your concerns. Throughout this entire process, the city and its police force have obfuscated the facts and people involved in the shooting of a civilian, they have cynically released information and videos when it suits them, and they've treated journalists covering the story with the kind of contempt they normally reserve for their own constituents. And now, utilizing a method previously beta-tested by both local and federal law enforcement agencies, they've decided the best way to respond to the ongoing outcry is to try to charge insane amounts for FOIA requests. Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees' salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The city has demanded high fees to produce copies of records that, under Missouri law, it could give away free if it determined the material was in the public's interest to see. Instead, in some cases, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown. In one case, it billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day's work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk's office, and it didn't include costs to review the emails or release them. Allow that to sink in for a moment and marinade in your brain juices: information that could be given for free if it was of public interest is instead being billed at ridiculously high rates. Does anyone seriously want to argue that more transparency out of the Ferguson government isn't in the public's interest? Of course not. This is all about intimidating journalists and trying to put roadblocks in front of likely damning information. Ferguson has a public relations problem in the truest form and their strategy appears to be to freeze out journalists trying to provide information to the public. That won't win them any friends. And don't think that this strategy is used rarely. The Washington Post was told it would need to pay $200 at minimum for its requests, including city officials' emails since Aug. 9 discussing Brown's shooting, citizen complaints against Ferguson officers and Wilson's personnel file. The website Buzzfeed requested in part emails and memos among city officials about Ferguson's traffic-citation policies and changes to local elections, but was told it would cost unspecified thousands of dollars to fulfill. Inquiries about Ferguson's public records requests were referred to the city's attorney, Stephanie Karr, who declined to respond to repeated interview requests from the AP since earlier this month. Through a spokesman late Monday, Karr said Missouri law can require fees but she didn't address why charges specific to the AP's request were nearly tenfold the lowest salary in the city clerk's office. Karr said searching emails for key words constitutes "extra computer programming" that can bring added costs. Searching emails by keyword now equals "programming?" Brilliant! Although I suppose it's not as egregious as suggesting shooting unarmed civilians equals "policing." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
All the money being poured into the NSA (under the cover of darkness) over the past several years is paying off. Taxpayers who helped fund the NSA's programs have the opportunity to pay even more money for the privilege of licensing the non-classified fruits of the agency's labor. So if you're looking to buy a tool to transcribe voice recordings in any language, a foolproof method to tell if someone's touched your phone's SIM card, or a version of email encryption that isn't available on the open market, try the world's most technologically advanced spy agency. It's called the Technology Transfer Program (TTP), under which the NSA declassifies some of its technologies that it developed for previous operations, patents them, and, if they're swayed by an American company's business plan and nondisclosure agreements, rents them out. There's actually no "transfer" going on here. Nearly everything in the catalog [pdf link] (with the exception of a few, decidedly unimpressive physical items near the back) is a license, and quite possibly a non-exclusive license at that. (Companies can lock other companies out, but not the government itself, and the catalog notes that licensees will have to relinquish sole control "within a reasonable period of time.") Should the NSA decide it can trust a company with its leftover inventions, it will have an opportunity to utilize stuff most companies don't really need or technology that's hardly state-of-the-art at this point. While some of this could be a potential starting point for bigger and better stuff, most of the offerings are leaving security/cryptology experts underwhelmed. [Bruce Schneier] was dismissive of the remarkability of the agency's cryptographical offerings. "It's not new, it's very old, a few decades," he said of one product, listed as a Cryptographic Efficient Elliptic Curve. "It's a way to get your door locks a little bit better. Does that change the value of your house? Kind of, not really," he said. "These are all pieces of plumbing. Plumbing has value, but this is one of the problems of patent law. Patents really overstate the value of plumbing, of technology. It's a little value, sure, but it's never gonna make or break a business." In some of the released tools, you can see the origins in bulk metadata/communications harvesting. One patented product automatically detects voices in audio recordings. Another deals with creating cryptographic key escrow accounts for "third parties" to access encrypted files. Various data visualization programs separate needles from haystacks, while multiple tools tackle the task of turning virtual reams of text into coherent summaries. While the NSA is following the spirit of the statute ordering the redistribution of government knowledge, it's probably the agency least likely to declassify anything groundbreaking. The best stuff still remains locked up. One also has to question the timing of this catalog release -- it's offered this service for years, but this is the first time the NSA has ever made the document public. Is this just another stab at rehabilitating its reputation, albeit one approached at a very oblique angle? Someone inside the NSA seems to think so. The Daily Dot relayed one NSA employee's claim to Schneier, that the TTP was a means of injecting federally-funded research back into the U.S. economy. Well, only if you take the most generous view of the NSA's scattershot collection of fine licensables. Schneier doesn't take this view. "Bullshit," he responded. “The NSA's not stimulating the economy. They just said that and it sounds good. They just made that up." No, it very definitely isn't stimulating the economy, at least not anywhere outside the Beltway. The damage the public disclosures have had on the private tech sector very much outweighs the potential income created by the NSA's mandated return of publicly-funded research and development -- a "return" that isn't a gift but a perpetual license and one that's only available to the companies the NSA chooses to work with. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Some folks want to suck out all the marrow of life, but apparently when it comes to fast food, it's much more expedient to just suck all the meat off the bones, grind it up with some other stuff, and fry it until it's a delicious golden brown. Chicken nuggets are popular with kids meals, and there are apparently various patented processes for cutting up chicken meat into innovative products. Here are just a few good nuggets on some fast food chicken items. What is a chicken nugget made of? An anecdotal analysis finds that some chicken nuggets (not McNuggets) are mostly fat (~56-58%), about 40-50% muscle meat, along with some bone fragments and breading and other bits. (And don't forget the BBQ sauce.) [url] McDonald's Canada took a film crew to document the process of making chicken nuggets. Did you ever notice that there are four distinct nugget shapes: the bell, the ball, the bow tie and the boot? If you want to see how the sausage nugget is made, check out the video. [url] KFC got on the boneless chicken wagon in 2013 to go after the 6 in 10 customers that say they prefer chicken meat without bones. Customers have to pay a little more to eat chicken without bones, so the convenience comes with a price. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
California governor Jerry Brown has just vetoed a bill that would add a warrant requirement for drone surveillance. In Brown's opinion, the demands of the bill surpassed what the Fourth Amendment actually requires. "This bill prohibits law enforcement from using a drone without obtaining a search warrant, except in limited circumstances," the governor said in his veto message (PDF). "There are undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate. The bill's exceptions, however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the 4th Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California Constitution." Rather than err on the side of the public's interests, Brown has come down on the side of law enforcement. Currently, only 10 states require warrants for law enforcement drone usage. California won't be joining them. Brown does have a point about public spaces and the Fourth Amendment. There's little practical difference between drone surveillance and other warrantless surveillance techniques that involve public areas. Police helicopters routinely fly over large cities. Why shouldn't drones? Just because drones can fly longer, follow closer (and more surreptitiously) and provide a more targeted view doesn't necessarily turn its surveillance into a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Just as taking pictures of a single person's license plate is not a violation of privacy, neither are the millions collected every day by automatic license plate readers. The solution here isn't necessarily warrant requirements, but it's worth a shot when there are so few options. Even though some states have managed to push through similar legislation, they're unlikely to survive legal challenges -- at least not in terms of the Fourth Amendment (mileage varies considerably with state constitutions). This is part of a push for more accountability from law enforcement, whose capabilities have advanced at a rate far surpassing its effort to keep the public informed of its activities. California law enforcement agencies, more often than not, are forced to relinquish information on newly-acquired surveillance technology. There's rarely an attempt made to consider the public's concerns before deploying. Drone purchases and deployments almost always lead policy-making by weeks or months. There needs to be more done to address privacy concerns than simply deferring to the "outside is public" argument. Government figures like California Senator Diane Feinstein and Justice Sotomayor complain about drone usage by the public, claiming they would hate to have a privately-operated drone flying "right outside their windows." But they defer to law enforcement discretion, somehow forgetting that whatever a privately-owned drone can do, a law enforcement drone can do -- including hovering outside a window. (Law enforcement officers suffer from similar rhetorical blind spots...) If private drones are going to be subject to several rules, so should law enforcement drones. There's no reason to assume law enforcement officers are better pilots or more inclined to avoid using the drones to invade someone's privacy. What a warrant requirement does is add a small layer of accountability: who is using it, where they're using it and why. This generates a paper trail that will help deter abuse. The Fourth Amendment may cover expectations of privacy and prevent unreasonable searches, but there's nothing similar demanding transparency and accountability from government agencies. At this point, drone usage by law enforcement agencies isn't an "if." It's a "when." The public's rights are being trimmed around the edges by law enforcement tech and that's what's prompting this sort of legislative pushback. The legal reasoning may be flawed but the underlying motivation isn't: police powers continue to expand while the public's rights continue to erode. There's an urge to reset this balance and it will sometimes manifest itself as unsound legal arguments. A good faith effort would be the embrace of warrants for drone usage. Anything that requires warrants also contains several exceptions to be used in emergency situations. This proposed law was no different. If time and/or public safety is a concern, the drones can be immediately deployed. Anything else can wait for a judge's signature. But this is the sort of proactive move very few will make. The city of Seattle tossed out its drones because of public concern, but it's a singular exception. That the drones ended up in a state where the governor has vetoed an attempt to force accountability into the system lies somewhere between irony and kismet. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Hotel WiFi sucks. If you do any traveling, you're aware of this. Though, from what I've seen, the higher end the hotel, the worse the WiFi is and the more insane its prices are. Cheap discount hotels often offer free WiFi, and it's generally pretty reliable. High end hotels? I've seen prices of $30 per day or higher, and it's dreadfully low bandwidth. These days, when traveling, I often pick hotels based on reviews of the WiFi quality, because nothing can be more frustrating than a crappy internet connection when it's needed. But, even worse than the WiFi in your room, if you're using the WiFi for a business meeting or event -- the hotels love to price gouge. And, it appears that's exactly what the Marriott-operated Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville did. Except, the company went one step further. Thanks to things like tethering on phones and MiFi devices that allow you to set up your own WiFi hotspot using wireless broadband, Marriott realized that some smart business folks were getting around its (absolutely insane) $1,000 per device WiFi charges, and just using MiFi's. So, Marriott then broke FCC regulations and started jamming the devices to force business folks to pay its extortionate fees. In response, the FCC has now cracked down and Marriott has agreed to pay a $600,000 fine for the practice, while also promising to continue to make sure it doesn't make use of jammers and to update the FCC on "compliance" every three months for the next three years. The FCC found out about all of this because a customer sent in a complaint -- though its unclear if the customer just figured it out by themselves, or if some employee at Opryland stupidly admitted to the hotel's practices.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
A few days ago, we wrote about the CIA redacting information regarding the price it paid for a single Amiga computer back in 1987. After such news reports came out, the CIA admitted that this was an error and shouldn't have been redacted. Of course, the only reason the documents with that information came out in the first place was because of the efforts of former CIA agent Jeffrey Scudder, who had come across a bunch of classified documents internally that he realized should no longer be classified. Based on that, he filed a FOIA request for those documents -- leading the FBI to come after him and end his CIA career (despite his actions being entirely legal). It's hard not to see all of that as evidence that the CIA has a pretty serious overclassification problem. But don't tell that to the CIA. A newly (yes) declassified report from the CIA's Inspector General reveals that they could not find a single example of overclassification by the CIA. None. Nada. The CIA has a perfect score, apparently. They do admit to finding errors in how some information was recorded, but not a single case of overclassification: If you can't see the image, the key part is: We found no instance of over-classification in the sample of [REDACTED] finished intelligence reports that we reviewed Admittedly, the number of reports reviewed is classified here, so perhaps the Inspector General just reviewed one. Or zero. But, uh, wait a second... why is the number of reports reviewed classified in the first place? The number is listed as (b)(3) exemption, which tells you basically nothing. It just incorporates things exempted by other statutes. Basically, it's saying there's some law out there that forbids us from revealing this. Of course, one could argue that this seems like a case of overclassification... in the report that insists that the Inspector General couldn't find any examples of overclassification. Still, it seems like it should raise some alarm bells when they can't find a single example. It's like cheating students, with poor test-taking history, who suddenly get all the answers correct. It should make the teacher more skeptical. Cheating students often know to at least get one or two answers wrong on purpose, and it's fairly amazing that the CIA couldn't find any examples of overclassification just to keep the red flags from being raised. But, then again, who are we kidding? This is the CIA and it's never been concerned with red flags. It throws them up left and right and no one seems to care.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Via Sarah Burstein and the Design Law Blog, we discovered that just this week the US Patent Office granted a design patent... on a toothpick: You can see D714,495 here, if you'd like, or you can look at the full patent embedded below. It's important to note that this is a design patent, rather than a utility patent. Design patents are a lot more like trademarks than what many people think of as a regular "patent." But still. It appears the unique "design" element is that this toothpick has those lines up top. But I've had toothpicks like that many times in the past. It's hardly a new design. Just doing a super quick search, I came across this page, which includes this picture: But, thanks to the geniuses at the USPTO, anyone now selling a toothpick "substantially similar" to the design in the image above can be stopped and have to pay up.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
We recently wrote about district court judge Philip Gutierrez ruling against Sirius XM on the issue of streaming pre-1972 recordings. As we noted at the time, the ruling appeared to upset what was considered more or less a settled issue. Pre-1972 sound recordings are not covered by federal copyright laws, but rather by a hodgepodge of state laws (and common law), but those have been entirely focused on reproduction/distribution and not on public performance. But this ruling changed all that. Sirius XM, of course, has already made it clear that it's appealing the ruling, and on the other side, the victors in last week's ruling, Flo & Eddie, have already moved to sue Pandora as well. While I tried to express how much this ruling upsets what had been considered pretty much solid law, law professor Tyler Ochoa does an astounding job actually detailing the history and just what a big change this ruling is, calling it a "seismic" ruling on the scale of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Here's just a snippet, though you really ought to read the whole thing, detailing historical case law that this ruling totally upends: ...in the early days of radio, sound recording copyright owners also tried to use state law to restrict unauthorized broadcasts of sound recordings (which, as explained above, were not eligible for federal copyright).  In 1937, in Waring v. WDAS Broadcasting Station, 194 A. 631 (1937), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that state common law prevented the unauthorized broadcast of phonograph records (when the legend “Not Licensed for Radio Broadcast” was printed on the records); but in 1940, in RCA Mfg. Co. v. Whiteman, 114 F.2d 86 (2d Cir. 1940), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Learned Hand, held that common-law copyright prevented only the duplication of a sound recording, and that sale of phonograph records exhausted any common-law property right to prevent the unauthorized broadcast of the recording (notwithstanding the same restrictive legend).  The Supreme Court denied certiorari, which effectively meant that broadcasters did not have to pay royalties to sound recording copyright owners to play their records on the radio.  (Broadcasters still had to pay royalties to musical work copyright owners, under federal copyright law.) ... when sound recordings were added to the federal copyright act in 1972, Congress likewise limited the exclusive rights that were provided to sound recording copyright owners. Authors of most copyrightable works receive five exclusive rights: the right to reproduce the work, to adapt or prepare derivative works based on the work, to publicly distribute copies of the work, to publicly perform the work, and to publicly display the work. But broadcasters had enough lobbying power to block any action in Congress if it required them to pay more royalties. As a result, Congress gave sound recording copyright owners only the right to reproduce and distribute copies of the sound recording, and to prepare derivative works (by electronic manipulation of the sounds recorded, not by imitation or simulation). Congress did not give sound recording copyright owners any right to publicly perform their works. (The policy argument was that radio airplay served as free advertising for the sale of phonograph records.) In other words, contrary to what you'll hear today from the record labels and copyright maximalists, this ruling was not obvious or about Sirius XM, Pandora and others ripping off artists. This was actually about them upending what had been considered completely settled law. It was only in 1995 that Congress first established that copyright had any sort of "public performance" exclusivity -- and then only for post-1972 recordings (remember, the recording industry itself has fought quite hard to exempt pre-1972 sound recordings from other aspects federal copyright law) and only on digital streaming. So, to argue that pre-1972 state and common law somehow was intended to cover such a public performance right is almost impossible to fathom. Yet that's what the court ruled. And the impact could be immense. Beyond just Sirius and Pandora, it could hit a lot of others as well. In a big way, in part by undermining the very foundations of the DMCA safe harbors. The ruling is a huge victory for sound recording copyright owners, which can use the ruling not only to negotiate higher negotiated rates for public performance of pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, but may also use such older recordings as leverage for negotiating higher rates for post-February 15, 1972 sound recordings. (Such negotiation tactics might be deemed to be copyright misuse, but it is unclear whether state law will recognize this federally-recognized defense.) Moreover, nothing in the decision limits the state-law violations to public performance by means of digital audio transmission, so the decision gives sound recording copyright owners the general public performance right in pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings that they have always craved, but that was previously denied to them under federal law (and was assumed not to exist in state law under Whiteman). That means that traditional AM/FM broadcasters and television broadcasters, who are expressly exempt under federal law with respect to post-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, can expect to be sued next. Sound recording copyright owners can also use the ruling to go after internet service providers. Section 512 of the federal Copyright Act provides that internet service providers are not liable for infringements committed by their users, so long as the service provider promptly complies with the “notice-and-takedown” provisions of that section. But because Section 301(c) states that pre-February 15, 1972 sound recording copyrights are not preempted by the federal act, sound recording copyright owners have been suing internet service providers under state law, arguing that service providers are liable for reproduction and electronic distribution of pre-February 15, 1972 recordings under state law, and that the limitation of liability provided by federal law does not apply. Existing court decisions so far are split, with the New York Appellate Division holding that Section 512 does not apply to pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, because of the express terms of Section 301(c); while the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has held that Section 512 does apply to pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, notwithstanding Section 301(c). In the meantime, Ochoa notes, expect "oldies" to start disappearing from lots of different services as companies seek to limit their liability. Funny how yet another copyright ruling is likely to make music even more scarce.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
For many years, we've written about questionable activities by the Olympics, usually focusing on the organizations insanely aggressive approach to intellectual property, which could be summed up as "we own and control everything." Yes, the Olympics requires countries to pass special laws that protect its trademarks and copyrights beyond what standard laws allow. Of course, this is really much more about control and money. It's simply shining a light on just how corrupt the whole Olympic setup is. For decades, the Olympics has tried to hide this basic truth, and it has always been able to get various cities and countries to actively compete to suffer through the Olympics requirements, often with promises of big money in tourism and local business as a result. But it looks like gig may be up. As Dan Wetzel notes, it appears that almost no one has any interest in hosting the 2022 Olympics. The only active attempts are Beijing (which is 120 miles from a mountain suitable for skiing) and Almaty Kazakhstan. All the other credible players have bailed out: Certainly not Oslo, Norway, not even at the bargain rate of an estimated $5.4 billion in a nation of just five million people. It once wanted desperately to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and its bid was so perfect that it was considered the favorite to win. Then the country held a vote earlier this year and 55.9 percent of Norwegians opposed. Wednesday the Norwegian government effectively pulled the bid. Norwegians are known for the ability to cross country ski really fast and being so friendly they beg visitors to come experience their picturesque nation. Since this involved the IOC however, they decided against having visitors come experience their picturesque nation to watch them cross country ski really fast. They aren't alone. Previous finalist Krakow, Poland, saw 70 percent voter opposition and pulled its application. A majority felt the same way in Germany and Switzerland, killing bids in Munich and St. Moritz respectively. In Sweden the majority party rejected funding the proposed games in Stockholm. Plenty of other countries didn't even bother thinking about it. As Wetzel points out, basically the only two countries interested are authoritarian regimes: Essentially the only places interested in hosting the 2022 games are countries where actual citizens aren't allowed a real say in things – communist China and Kazakhstan, a presidential republic that coincidentally has only had one president since it split from the old USSR in 1989. To sum it up: Essentially the entire world has told the IOC it's a corrupt joke. Don't hold back: The IOC has billions of dollars laying around and billions more coming because to most people the Olympics is just a television show and the ratings are so high that the broadcast rights will never go down. The IOC doesn't pay the athletes. It doesn't share revenue with host countries. It doesn't pay for countries to send their athletes. It doesn't lay out any construction or capital costs. It doesn't pay taxes. It basically holds caviar rich meetings in five star hotels in the Alps before calling it a day. That and conduct weak investigations into corruption charges of the bidding process, of course. "No evidence uncovered" is on a win streak. It's a heck of a racket. Except now the racket may be ending. Except for China and Kazakhstan. Wetzel's conclusion is spot on: So China or Kazakhstan it is, the last two suckers on earth willing to step up to this carnival barker. One lucky nation will win. The other will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The Olympics are from another era -- one of top down, "we control and own everything while paying none" variety. We've seen those types of businesses failing in lots of other arenas -- and now it may be happening to the Olympics as well.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
If you've paid attention to anything tangentially related to technology news over the past couple of weeks, you're probably familiar with "bendgate", the feverish reaction to the realization that Apple's newest iPhone 6 Plus includes the feature of a bending case if you accidentally sit on it or something. As an Android loyalist, these reports have been an endless source of entertainment thus far, but even that has now been trumped by Apple's reaction to the issue. Apparently the company has decided that the best response to a technology news organization's reporting on the bendy Apple phones is to threaten to freeze that publication out of future bendy phones and likely-bendy Apple events. Computer Bilde, a German site, put up a video showing the new iPhone bending and reporting on it. That's when they received a call from a local Apple guy. The German PR department of the company reacts in a disturbing way: Instead of answering the questions about why the iPhone 6 Plus is so sensitive, a manager called COMPUTER BILD and told us, that COMPUTER BILD will not get any testing devices and no invites to official events any more. How very Apple of them. It apparently is time to remind Apple that it makes products. It is not the corporate embodiment of Judge Smails threatening to keep honest reporters out of its country club. This idea that journalists who report to the public about very real issues with Apple products should no longer get access to reporting on Apple products is a strategy doomed to failure. Once the word is out that only favorable reports on Apple products are allowed, then nobody is going to trust the reports any longer. That means less sales, since people won't trust the information on the products they'll be receiving. And it won't even stop the independent reviews, any way. Computer Bilde made the point nicely in an open letter to Tim Cook. Dear Mr. Cook: Is this really how your company wants to deal with media that provide your customers with profound tests of your products? Do you really think that a withdrawal of Apple’s love and affection could have an intimidating effect on us? Luckily we do not have to rely on devices that Apple provides us with. Luckily, a lot of readers are willing to pay money for our magazine to keep us independent. So we are able to buy devices to do our tests anyway. Even devices of manufacturers that seem to fear COMPUTER BILD’s independent judgement. Even if we are quite dismayed about Apple’s reaction, we won’t give up our principles: We will continue our incorruptible tests that have the same high reputation in the german media-landscape as Apple has for its products. So far. We congratulate you to your fine new generation of iPhones, even if one of them has a minor weakness with its casing. But we are deeply disappointed about the lack of respect of your company. Nice attempt at strong-arming the press, Apple. Too bad it will accomplish nothing except to build distrust of your brand. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Techdirt has written before about so-called "fat finger" errors in the world of finance, where traders mistype and end up buying or selling huge quantities of stocks, often causing major losses to their employers. The London Evening Standard has a new fat finger story, but one with a couple of interesting twists: Share trades worth more than the size of Sweden’s economy had to be cancelled in Tokyo today after what is believed to be the biggest “fat finger” error on record. It is thought to be the most extreme example of a trader in financial markets inputting hopelessly wrong figures while working under intense pressure. The identity of the trader is not yet known. Orders for shares in 42 major Japanese companies, including household names such as Toyota, Honda, Canon and Sony, totalling 67.78 trillion yen (£381 billion [$600 billion]), were overturned, according to the Japan Securities Dealers Association. Naturally, the most striking feature of this particular fat finger is its size: $600 billion, bigger than Sweden's economy ($552 billion). The second unusual aspect is that this error cancelled sales by mistake, rather than make them. That was fortunate for the company concerned, since it probably limited the damage caused. But even more than for the cases we've written about in the past, the fact that a single trader was able to make a mistake on this extraordinary scale, and that the system did not block or even query it in any way, suggests that the trading software is appallingly designed and the management dangerously lax. The fear has to be that, without robust systems in place to stop such actions, one day a fat finger might not simply cause a company to lose a big chunk of money, but take out an entire country's economy -- or even trigger the meltdown of the world's financial system. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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