posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Walking upright may seem like the most natural thing to do for most people, but it's not that easy if you get injured. Thankfully, there's some technology that can help that isn't as limiting as a wheelchair or a pair of under-arm crutches. And if you want to get some super-human abilities, some gadgets out there can help anyone run faster (with some awkward-looking stilts). Bionic boots could help people run a lot faster without much more effort. There have been other devices like Bionic Boot, so maybe in the future we'll all be able to run a marathon in about an hour with the right equipment. [url] Oscar Pistorius may be more famous for homicide now, but his prosthetic leg technology allowed him to keep up with Olympic sprinters. The spikes on the bottom of his carbon fiber prostheses were extensively tested to ensure consistency in traction and shock absorption, and the technology might re-appear on other athletes. [url] The James Dyson Foundation is considering a Dyson Award for an improved crutch design that keeps a user's hands and arms free (unlike under-arm crutches). This device also allows the wearer to sit without taking it off. No running or jumping with this crutch, though, but then the wearer is likely injured and shouldn't be doing those activities anyway. (N.B. it only works with lower leg injuries.) [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
Last week, we noted that Attorney General Eric Holder was hinting that the DOJ was near "a resolution" with reporter James Risen -- the NY Times reporter who the DOJ has been harassing and trying to force to give up sources. In a recent interview, Risen makes the rather compelling case, that this effort by the DOJ was never about actually solving any sort of crime (the DOJ knows who did the leak), but rather about totally discrediting and/or punishing Risen for some of his other investigative reports. If the DOJ can undermine the ability of Risen to protect sources, he loses many sources. Still, at about the same time that Holder was (again) insisting that no journalists would go to jail under his watch and that they were close to a resolution with Risen, the DOJ was exploring the possibility of issuing yet another subpoena on Risen to try (again) to force him to reveal his sources: Federal prosecutors obtained 100 blank subpoenas last week for use in the upcoming trial of a CIA officer accused of leaking top-secret information to New York Times reporter James Risen. The move clears the way for the Justice Department to proceed with a new review of whether Risen should be subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, the CIA employee accused of disclosing details of a CIA effort to set back Iran's nuclear program. Some of this is procedural. The DOJ put some new rules in place since the last subpoena, and so there's an argument that in order to review the possibility of a new Risen subpoena, the DOJ basically has to do all the initial legwork, and then the DOJ (and Holder in particular) will "review" under the new rules before determining whether to try this silly process again or to back down. Of course, that seems silly. It seems much more viable to just come out and say that they won't subpoena reporters like this and make that a clear and stated rule. But the DOJ seems unwilling to give up this harassment and intimidation tool. In the end, it seems likely that Holder will fold, but this game of chicken, putting the threat of jail time on Risen to see who blinks first, is really quite disgraceful by the DOJ. So far, Risen has given no indication he intends to comply -- and has held to the same story all along, that he will not give up his sources under any circumstance. Holder, on the other hand, has promised not to put a reporter doing his job in jail. If both men live up to their word, Holder is the one who needs to blink, and it's pretty stupid to go through this whole charade in the meantime.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
All too often it seems as though companies take themselves entirely too seriously these days. With branding being seen as all important, too often the concept of actually behaving in a human and awesome way is lost, leading to a total lack of personality. Chevy, on the other hand, showed everyone else exactly how to handle the internet's cruel mockery. If you're even a casual baseball fan, you probably watched some part of the game 7 World Series final the other night. If you stuck around for the presentation of the MVP trophy to pitcher Madison Bamgarner, you witnessed local Chevy guy, Rikk Wilde, attempt to give the sponsored trophy away. It did not go well. While it is certainly understandable how a local guy with probably limited experience with speaking publicly before a national audience might fall victim to nerves in this scenario, the internet is a cruel observer and it went nuts with this video. In particular, Wilde's attempt to sell the world on the sweetness of Chevy vehicles due to the inclusion of "technology...and stuff" was instantly transformed into the meme du jour. Twitter blew up with #technologyandstuff tags, and some enterprising memesters came up with stuff like this. All this was inevitable of course, because the internet loves to take a mistake and multiply it into a cultural thing for poops and giggles. It can't help itself. And, of course, Chevy just wouldn't be able to help from completely freaking out that what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated sponsorship marketing opportunity had turned into a massive joke. They'd simply have to go into damage control. Except they didn't. Nope, not even a little bit. Truck yeah the 2015 #ChevyColorado has awesome #TechnologyAndStuff! You know you want a truck: http://t.co/0NcEoDRSUZ pic.twitter.com/RMiRic8ATF — Chevy Trucks (@ChevyTrucks) October 30, 2014 That's right. Instead of freaking out, Chevy decided to full on embrace the whole thing. Many commentators have suggested that Chevy should be thanking Wilde for his less-than-perfect pitch of the Chevy line and it seems that the company agrees. Chevrolet spokesman Mike Albano, in an email, confirmed that Brian Sweeney, U.S. vice president of sales and service for Chevrolet, called Wilde on Thursday to tell him the Chevy team was behind him. Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristi Vazquez said the company saw a "large spike in hits" at Chevrolet.com on Wednesday night, with visits seven times higher than normal. No kidding. Embracing the meme, even as it mocked the company, was exactly the right thing to do. That said, it isn't always the easiest move to make. Good on Chevy for embracing the meme to its own advantage when using technology and stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
The US intelligence community's $600 million cloud computing deal with Amazon was finalized roughly a year ago, but recent revelations about the CIA's behavior in shared virtual spaces is raising questions about the government's move to virtual computing. Two organizations -- RootsAction.org and ExposeFacts.org -- have just planted the following billboard at the doorstep of Amazon's Seattle headquarters. While there are 17 total intelligence agencies being connected through Amazon's services, the CIA is the one generating the most concern at the moment. Marcy Wheeler (of emptywheel) asks some perfectly valid questions. Marcy Wheeler — who writes widely on the legal aspects of the “war on terror” and its effects on civil liberties including her “Right to Know” column for ExposeFacts.org — said Wednesday that Amazon should answer a number of key questions before its customers and the general public can be assured that personal information from the company’s commercial operations is not finding its way into the CIA’s hands. For instance, she said, Bezos and Amazon should answer the question: “Will there be any overlap between the physical hardware serving Amazon’s commercial cloud service and what is provided to the CIA?” Referring to the CIA’s machinations over the still-unreleased Senate torture report, she added that Bezos should also be asked: “The CIA has admitted accessing documents made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee on shared space — what provisions have you made to prevent similar spying on Amazon’s commercial customers?” If you'll recall, accusations that the CIA "impersonated" Senate personnel in order to access Torture Report-related documents came to light late last month. Unnamed sources close to the action presented the CIA's moves as the misuse of Senate staffer credentials to obtain in-progress documents related to the still-unreleased Torture Report. Another unnamed source closer to the intelligence side of things spun the agency's alleged impersonation this way: “CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said. Peering back "in" using borrowed credentials is a good way to check for leaks, but it also allows the agency to look "out" at anything else stored on shared drives. It's a very handy excuse, and one Marcy Wheeler thinks the agency might be tempted to deploy again within Amazon's cloud service. How thick is the wall separating the intelligence community and private businesses? Does this wall even exist outside of virtual barriers? Intelligence officials seem to be sold on Amazon's ability to protect its assets from outsiders, but don't appear to be nearly as concerned about internal compartmentalization. Will the IC's servers be physically or virtually shared with the general public? Amazon's not saying. And quite obviously, neither are intelligence officials. Adding to the opacity is the fact that Amazon is one of the few tech companies not issuing periodic transparency reports detailing the frequency and number of requests for customer data by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Amazon continues to seek more government contracts, which will result in even more potential intermingling of public and private data in shared virtual spaces. The company hasn't exactly been forthcoming on these government deals, and its ongoing lack of a transparency report isn't much of a confidence builder.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
I've discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute "thing" rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it's a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren't clear. What you're giving up and what you're getting back aren't always done transparently, and that's where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don't fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that's when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened. And, unfortunately, it often seems like people are increasingly being pressured into deals they don't fully understand and don't have full control over. Michael Price, over at the Brennan Center for Justice, took the time to actually read through the "privacy policy" on his new "smart" TV and it's terrified him. Just the fact that a TV even has a privacy policy seems oddly terrifying, but it makes sense, given that at least some information goes outbound as part of the "smarts." But how much? Potentially a lot more than people would expect: The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy. To some extent, that's not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier: It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine. More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV. You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening. Now, yes, some of that certainly can be useful in creating interesting features and services. And, frankly, almost all of the same things can be said about the smartphone in your pocket with Siri or Google Now listening in to anything you say at any moment's notice. But at the very least, with those smartphone systems people tend to see and understand the immediate benefits: they use those tools to get information and they're fairly easy to turn off without creating other problems. With the TV, it seems to be more of the promise of potentially providing some future service -- but it's still willing and ready to listen in the meantime. This is certainly not to argue that the technology is bad, but that these sorts of things shouldn't be hidden in a 46-page privacy policy that no one is going to read. People should be fully aware of what the deal is, and they should have control over how it's used, with some granular controls: maybe let people set the times in which the TV's "ears" are on -- so that maybe it only works during prime time when you're likely to use the TV. Or let people have access to the logs and data that it's snarfing up so they can view for themselves how it's being used. Make sure that the people using it have both transparency and control, and suddenly this becomes somewhat less scary (well, until the NSA goes to the FISA court to use Section 215 to get all the "metadata" from all your smart TVs.) And, of course, just as I was finishing up with that article, I came across a report of a patent from Sony from a few years ago. It actually got some attention back in 2012 for describing a system in which your TV may ask you to say the advertiser's name to end a commercial. This figure in the patent is the one that quite reasonably got plenty of attention. Perhaps it's no surprise that some companies are considering something like this. In fact, some of the underlying ideas aren't totally crazy. We've long argued that good advertising is about making it good content, and making ads that are interactive and fun is one way to do that. Of course, I don't quite see how the above scenario is very much fun. To me, it sounds horrifying, but others may disagree. Either way, it's become quite clear that while the world is becoming more connected -- between our computers, our phones, our TVs and much more, people are increasingly going to run into challenges around privacy. And, while some are going to jump to the conclusion that any information gathering and sharing is automatically bad and dangerous (or just crazy), it's going to be important to recognize the trade-offs inherent in these new devices and services. If companies don't want the public to totally freak out, they'd do well to make these processes much more transparent, clear and controllable by the users themselves. Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet. The focus is still on hiding these things out of a fear that no one would use them if they knew what they were giving up. That seems like a recipe doomed to create privacy panics, rather than one that actually enables innovation to advance and which lets the public be comfortable with the choices they're making.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
A bunch of libraries in the UK are protesting ridiculous copyright terms by displaying empty cases where they say letters written during World War I should go, but won't, because figuring out how to properly license the work under copyright law is impossible. If you can't read the sign, it says: There would have been a letter from a First World War soldier in this display But because of current copyright laws, we cannot display the original in this instance. Join the campaign to free our history. Many unpublished works remain in copyright until 2039, whatever their age. Tweet a picture of this display with the hashtag #Catch2039 For information on the campaign visit www.cilip.org.uk/freeourhistory The #Catch2039 hashtag is full of similar images. Here are a few: This case should contain a #WW1 soldier's letter. B/c of UK copyright laws the letter cannot be displayed #catch2039 pic.twitter.com/U2L6I3SkAv — Imperial War Museums (@I_W_M) October 29, 2014 Free our history reform #copyright #catch2039. Sign the petition http://t.co/5WuIxQU6SM pic.twitter.com/KZpKjkHXl3 — NKorn (@NKorn) October 29, 2014 Want to see this letter before 2039? Support our campaign to reform #copyright http://t.co/i14a2hZxE7 #catch2039 pic.twitter.com/HB0uQLAflt — LUL Digital Library (@LULDigital) October 30, 2014 As the Director General of the Imperial War Museum, Diane Lees, notes: “During the First World War Centenary commemorations, many organisations want to make original unpublished works such as diaries and letters accessible to the public. Because they are still under copyright protection, they cannot do so without seeking permission from the rights holder. This is even more problematic if the rights holders are untraceable. We are asking everyone who cares about our history, everyone who cares about telling our collective story without restrictions, to join the campaign.” Because, obviously, without the protections that copyrights grant, why would those soldiers ever have written letters in the first place, right? It's stories like this that highlight why we find copyright law so problematic. Copyright law creates all sorts of these nonsensical restrictions that no one in their right mind thinks is appropriate. But because the law looks to protect such works for so long, you end up with results like this. A system that didn't automatically protect every work created, but rather required registration and formalities would go a long way towards solving basic problems like this -- and it's absolutely ridiculous that many consider that option to be a non-starter in any discussion of copyright reform.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Reports are coming out that Congress is looking to push forward with bad cybersecurity legislation after the election, but before the new Congress takes over in January. We've discussed the bill in question, CISA, before. The main idea behind it is to immunize companies from liability if they share certain information with the government. Supporters of the bill note that the information sharing is entirely voluntary, but by taking away the liability it also makes it a lot more likely that companies will choose to give information to the government, and it's not yet clear why the government really needs that information. But the FUD levels are high, with Senator Saxby Chambliss actually suggesting the entire economy is at stake here: "If we wait another year, we are really risking the economy of the United States." Oh, come on. People have been saying this for years -- along with the whole "cyber pearl harbor" claims -- but have failed to present any explanation or details of how (1) there's a real risk to the economy or (2) how current laws block necessary solutions. On top of that, no one seems willing to explain how further information sharing will actually help stop online attacks. Remember, this is the same federal government that didn't even notice that the White House's own network had been breached until some other country told us about it. And yet, we now believe that if only US companies were feeding more information to the NSA that they'd magically be able to stop attacks (and save the economy?). That seems unlikely. It also sounds like there may be some sort of potential trade-off, in which Congress will try to lump this bill with the USA Freedom Act, as the White House is said to be focused on surveillance reform over the cybersecurity bill. But, the reality is that the two are in many ways attached. And there are increasing worries that the final result on the USA Freedom Act will, in some ways, actually (yet again) enhance the NSA, rather than hold it back. Combine that with a cybersecurity bill that will give the NSA even more ways to get our data, and the end result could be the surveillance state increasing, rather than shrinking, with no actual benefit to the American public. There would be fewer privacy protections and just some arm waving about saving the US economy.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
A few more details have emerged concerning the Dept. of Homeland Security's daring daylight raid of a Kansas City lingerie shop. Our long, dark national nightmare ended just before Game 1 of the World Series when Peregrine Honig's custom-made Royals-related underwear was seized by gun-toting DHS agents. The crime? Presumably trademark infringement (the government's panty raiders specifically pointed out the joining of the letters K and C as problematic), although everyone involved (including the DHS super troopers) keeps referring to it as a "copyright" issue. But lingerie shop proprietor Peregrine Honig wasn't the only one involved in this criminal attempt to join the letters K and C across the buttocks of perky Kansas Citians. Techdirt reader GMacGuffin points us to this interview with Eric Lindquist, owner (and sole employee) of Lindquist Printing, where Honig's allegedly infringing design was applied to a durable (but breathable) cotton blend. Apparently, the DHS agents first tried a little subterfuge in hopes of catching Lindquist in the act of infringement. “Agents met me on my way to a café next door to Birdies.” (Undercover officers wanted to know if Lindquist printed the panties.) “I said, ‘Yeah, we’ve done a bunch of projects in the past...’ He cut me off and says, ‘Well, I’ve got a project like that. Do you want to meet?’ I said, ‘I’m really busy. I don’t think I can get anything done if it’s Royals related. I’m planning on leaving town tomorrow.’” At this point, the DHS likely felt they had a fleeing felon on its hands. Lindquist, however, didn't put this all together until he saw the lingerie store's Facebook page, which contained a post showing the infringing panties in a DHS evidence bag. The DHS agents again tried to get Lindquist to agree to whip up some printed infringeables for them, but the print shop proprietor headed this off by demanding something rarely found in the possession of law enforcement officers: a warrant. I said, ‘I don’t know what to do at this point. I think I’m supposed to ask for a warrant.’ He took that very poorly, explained I was in serious trouble and faced potential fines up to $250,000 and/or six years in jail. He said I had broken copyright law. " ("Copyright law." Or whatever. I guess the finer nuances of IP enforcement are left to those in the upper reaches of the DHS organizational chart.) The warrant request angered the g-men, as did Lindquist's decision to stop talking to them. Lindquist retreated back into his studio. When he emerged a half-hour later, DHS agents approached him in a more straightforward fashion, with hands resting gently but threateningly on their holstered firearms. “Two agents were in the dumpster, another six in my space, and another two were securing the building out front. They told me it could go one of two ways: I could insist or resist a search by demanding that a warrant be delivered there. If that was the case they would need to confiscate anything related to printing, which is, basically, my business. “I didn’t feel I had much choice. So I did sign a piece of paper saying they had permission to search the premises…" That's what you get for exercising your rights, as they say. Rather than lose his business indefinitely (via the "forfeiture" of his presumed-guilty equipment), Lindquist waived his rights and allowed the ten DHS agents to rifle through his stuff in search of infringing goods. Their efforts were ultimately useless and Lindquist was allowed to return to his violated studio. Bonus points for Lindquist: Because of a recent freelance (with the emphasis on "free") stint in Ferguson, MO, DHS agents searched his studio while surrounded by photos of cops hauling away protesters. Rumors that Lindquist greeted DHS agents clad in one of his Ferguson-inspired creations -- an UNARMED CIVILIAN shirt -- are unconfirmed, but we're certainly free to imagine they're true. Security Through IP Enforcement. That's MY DHS!Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
A few more details have come to light on the police state experiment conducted in Ferguson, MO over the past couple of months. Despite repeated denials that continued all the way up until October 31st, the real reason for the FAA's no-fly zone over Ferguson has been revealed. "They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out," said one FAA manager about the St. Louis County Police in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Associated Press. "But they were a little concerned of, obviously, anything else that could be going on. At another point, a manager at the FAA's Kansas City center said police "did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this TFR (temporary flight restriction) all day long. They didn't want media in there." Law enforcement put FAA staffers in an awkward position with this request. The FAA (obviously) has nothing in the rule books that provides for blocking First Amendment-protected activity. While there would be the heightened danger of collisions if police helicopters were also in the area, it's not like this sort of situation hasn't been handled without incident before. (See also: news coverage of every demonstration/riot/police pursuit to this point.) No, law enforcement simply wanted to keep news coverage to a minimum and control the narrative through the indiscriminate use of tear gas, a ridiculous (and unconstitutional) "five second rule" and the casual detainment of reporters at ground level. St. Louis police claimed over and over and over again that the no-fly zone was for "safety," citing a single incident where a police helicopter was allegedly shot at -- an incident that only existed in the minds of those looking to keep the press from circling overhead. [P]olice officials confirmed there was no damage to their helicopter and were unable to provide an incident report on the shooting. On the tapes, an FAA manager described the helicopter shooting as unconfirmed "rumors." Small concessions were made when law enforcement realized what it was asking for was impractical (and mostly illegal). As one news director pointed out, his crew was eventually told it could fly over Ferguson but only at an altitude above 3,000 feet -- not exactly a height that produces optimal (or even usable) footage. Whatever your stance on the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, the fact remains that nearly everything local law enforcement did in response was poorly thought-out at best, and an outright abuse of power at worst. Officials have lied to the public, paywalled public documents, released information in a purely self-serving fashion (and over the objections of Eric Holder and the Justice Dept.) and approached the citizens they serve as an occupying force, rather than trusted allies.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
It was hard not to laugh this week when the MPAA, during the act of banning Google Glass from movie theaters, claimed it had a long history of welcoming technological advances. But despite how funny that was, it actually gave rise to our most insightful comment of the week, from an anonymous commenter pointing out a whole other ridiculous inconsistency in the MPAA's position: So an industry that thinks a blue ray is so much better than a DVD that people will pay money to replace their DVDs with blue rays, also thinks that a cam of a film with enough wobble to cause motions sickness will destroy their sales. Makes perfect sense to me. /s I'll be honest — some of the details of our second most insightful comment of the week flew a little over my head. But the message is clear and interesting: according to sigalrm, there's a significant chance that mobile ISP Cricket's blocking of encrypted emails was the result of a relatively common error, not a nefarious choice: "inspect esmtp" is the default setting for Cisco ASA Firewalls across at least the 7.x, 8.x, and 9.x code trains, and causes exactly this behavior. It's a single line in what is generally a very large config file, buried near to the end of the config, trivial to overlook, and generally a pain in the ass. To make things even better, "inspect esmtp"'s functionality is further obfuscated by the fact that most "inspect xyz" commands on the ASA actually allow for proper handling/operation of protocols that require special treatment - packet manipulation to deal with nat/pat, firewall pinholing, etc. Examples of protocols requiring inspection for proper operation on the ASA platform include, but are not limited to, netbios, sunrpc, sip, h323, etc. Nothing about "inspect esmtp" _or_ it's location in the ASA configuration file implies "break critical esmtp functionality" Unless/until you've been bitten by this, most people firewall administrators don't know to look for it, and the reaction I've seen from most people when they find the solution is along the lines of "damnit cisco..." Frankly, having deployed a fair number of Cisco ASA's myself, this sounds more like a missed configuration setting followed by an "oh crap" moment on a new deployment than a malicious "let's break encrypted email" conspiracy. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with a comment from Rich Kulawiec, responding to Senator Burr's concerns that information in the CIA Torture Report could "potentially cause the losses of life to Americans": Other things that potentially cause the losses [sic] of life to Americans: Interstate highways Cigarettes Guns Furniture [1] Obesity Swimming pools Inadequate medical care Motorcycles Football Flu Police officers and so on. If the criteria for decision-making are that all outcomes which might possibly result in an American death are disallowed, then no possible decisions can be made. Ever. [1] Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism - Micah Zenko - The Atlantic Next, we've got a quick note from silverscarcat on one of this week's DailyDirt posts, reminding us of an important day in the histories of both medicine and intellectual property: Just a FYI to everyone... Today is the day, 100 years ago, Jonas Stalk was born. In 1955, he discovered the cure to Polio, but chose to not patent it, allowing everyone easy access to the cure. Had he patented it, he may have made over 7 billion dollars in his lifetime. Over on the funny side, we start with a response to Eric Holder's apology about the not-so-funny act of lying to a judge, in which he claimed the law made him do it. Vidiot won first place by offering some sympathy for his plight: Hey... it happens I know a guy who was forced to lie to the court, saying he didn't rob that bank... all because of a stupid statute which says you can't rob banks. Totally sympathize with Holder. For second place, we head to the news that the FTC has fined an online dating site for its fake profiles. BentFranklin latched on to the funniest phrase to emerge from the whole ordeal, "Virtual Cupid": There once was a Virtual Cupid Arousing our male members' group id, With bosoms enticing At premium pricing, We truly can say "I'm With Stupid". For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with one more response to the MPAA's hilarious claim about welcoming new technology. Chris-Mouse decided to frame it as a lie of omission: They just forgot to mention that they have a history of welcoming technological advances with torches and pitchforks. And finally, after the somewhat disturbing news that the White House didn't find out it was hacked until another country let them know, Blaine offered some security advice: Maybe the White House should hire an outside expert? I hear there's some Keith Alexander guy that's has some new magic security technology that he came up with all on his own.... but he doesn't come cheap. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago A lot of these history posts have mentioned the lead-up to the GeoCities shutdown, and this week in 2009 it finally happened. Goodbye, GeoCities. It's easy to forget now that Netflix started as a DVD-rental-by-mail service before it became a streaming juggernaut, and for a long time the streaming service was considered an add-on. So it's funny to hear Reed Hastings in 2009, claiming that Americans don't want a streaming-only service. How times change. Also in 2009: UK Business Secretary Peter Mandelson came home from his dinner with David Geffen and promptly introduced an anti-file-sharing plan; the RIAA spoke up about net neutrality, saying they support it as long as it gives them a way to block file sharing; Germany was investigating criminal infringement charges against Google; an Italian politician tried to file charges against nearly 5,000 YouTubers; Amazon was appealing the rejection of its one-click patent in Canada; and, in an appropriate counterpoint to all this negativity, the EFF launched its Takedown Hall of Shame. Ten Years Ago Remember pay phones? They were still a reasonably common fixture in 2004, but their days were clearly numbered. That didn't stop BT from trying to rescue them with a bizarre plan for pay phone music downloads. I guess that's one way to approach device convergence, with another being publishing a bunch of lifestyle magazines about it. Ten years ago, reporters suddenly discovered that celebrities were online, and that a bunch of amateur reporters were too (and doing a pretty good job). Rolex discovered that it was a fixture of online spammers, then proceeded to get confused and send a C&D to a mailing list that had been receiving such spam. Blockbuster realized (to no ultimate avail) that it had to drastically change its business model, and ICANN failed to realize that nobody would care about .travel and .post domains. Also, back in 2004, there was not yet such a thing as Google Earth. In fact, it was this week ten years ago that Google bought Keyhole and laid the groundwork for the insanely comprehensive maps/earth service we enjoy today. Fifteen Years Ago As we approached the year 2000, it became time for the lists of millennium predictions. I suspect many of the predictors are glad the link is now dead. Not that there was no catalyst for panic: the world was full of lab-grown arteries and genetic auctions promising a sci-fi future. Plus, we were gathering rumours about the mysterious X-Box, and who could resist getting excited about that? 1999 was long before anyone talked about the "cloud". In fact, the whole idea of online storage space was new and a little odd, met with doubt by many people including us here at Techdirt. We were also a little dubious about the idea of online retailers opening brick & mortar shops, and we were a little more on the money with that one. Twenty Years Ago Before Techdirt was around, HotWired launched in 1994. It was the first commercial online magazine, and notable for being an entirely distinct entity from the print magazine Wired, even though it was launched by the same company. Of course, HotWired also gave birth to the banner ad as we know it today, selling the first ever display campaign to AT&T. So, mixed blessings all around... Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff, we're doing away with productivity tools and revolutionary ideas and just looking and some crowdfunding projects for things to be played with. Mate: The Wall Hanging Chess Board If I'm being honest, I've long thought chess was a highly overrated game, since it seems to only require actual ingenuity and creativity at the very lowest and very highest levels of play, with years of little more than rote memorization and study in between. Nevertheless, there's no denying that it's a cultural icon, not just as a game but as a physical object and a set of symbols. It has inspired countless pieces of magnificent functional art and craft. It's also fascinating to me for its asynchronous nature: the most interesting chess matches to me aren't rapidfire showdowns with two masters slapping the clock, they are the curious experiments where Kasparov takes on the world, or an avid player engages in ten games-by-mail at once over the course of months and years. The Wall Hanging Chess Board combines both these aspects: a neat piece of home decor that also creates a cool in-home play dynamic, where a long-term game can evolve on the wall as people make their moves whenever they pass by the board. Tactics: Revolutionize The Foosball Table Foosball, on the other hand, is a game I've always thought was highly underrated. It may just be because they had a table in my high school, and I've always sucked at ping-pong and pool — but as far as bar and basement games go, I think foosball takes the cake, and has a surprising amount of depth once you get past the "madly spin the handles" stage. Thus, the idea of Tactics, a foosball table that adds a bunch of new twists like specially-shaped feet on certain players to allow more precise aiming, and adjustable team configurations, is an intriguing one to me. Mineblock: A Small Affordable Minecraft Home Server I'm almost ashamed to say that I've never actually played Minecraft. I strongly suspect that I would consider it neither over or underrated — it seems to be exactly as brilliant and significant as everyone claims. But I also love the idea of any game where people set up many servers in which they build entirely new worlds, then go and visit each others' creations to interact or compete or just tour around. While a big part of the beauty of this is the fact that these worlds can exist anywhere, all connected by the internet, the idea of tying one to a specific physical space with a local server is also fascinating. The Mineblock, an easy-to-set-up home server for hosting a dedicated Minecraft world, could be a lot of fun, and make this sort of home network gaming more accessible to the less technically inclined. It also looks great. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
Just a couple months ago, we wrote about how the folks behind Tor were looking for ways to deal with the fact that much of the web treats Tor visitors differently. It's a tough problem to solve, as we noted, because for all the benefits that Tor provides by allowing people to be anonymous, it's also very much a tool that is abused by some for nefarious purposes, including spamming and attacks. For sites that have any sort of heuristic systems in place (including us at Techdirt), it often defaults to treating many, if not all, Tor users as second-class citizens. This isn't an easy problem to solve, by any means. We've done our best to train our systems to minimize the hassle for Tor users, and yet they are still more likely to run into issues than non-Tor users (sometimes because of upstream efforts). We're certainly watching this effort closely, in hopes that we can benefit from it as well. However, it looks like Facebook has taken a rather bold move to help Tor users: setting up its very own Tor hidden service, effectively creating a special "hidden" Tor version of Facebook that is designed for Tor users. Yes, Facebook has joined the dark web. It may not seem as cool as various dark markets and such, but it actually is rather important in helping to validate the use of Tor and the fact that not everything on Tor hidden services are about selling drugs or hiring hitmen, as some reports seem to imply. This is a pretty big move, because Facebook was rather aggressive in treating tor users badly in the past, sometimes accusing them of hacking their own account, kicking them out or just displaying stuff weirdly. Obviously, users logged into Facebook over Tor are identifying themselves to Facebook, but it does provide more security and privacy for others, and works more seamlessly for those who wish to use Tor regularly. As Runa Sandvik also notes, this is the first time that a certificate authority has issued a legitimate SSL certificate for a .onion address (Facebook is at https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/ in case you were wondering). Having both of these things happen at once may, as Andy Greenberg jokes, feel sort of like when your parents joined Facebook, but it also, hopefully, is the beginning of more widespread recognition that the Tor hidden services can be useful -- and not just for questionable enterprises. Hopefully others follow Facebook's lead.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
There's an old saying that goes something like: bullies are cowards, and if you fight back, they'll run away. Like most sayings of the kind, it's not nearly as universal as it claims to be, but sometimes the old saying is an old saying for a reason. Take the story of Saks Fifth Avenue deciding to threaten trademark action against the owner of Snaks 5th Avenchew, a small business that provides specialty treats for dogs like mine. "Did you say something about treats?" Upon learning of the clearly threatening company run by one woman to make puppies happy, Saks sent her a sternly-worded letter. It was a typical cease and desist, claiming that Snaks was endangering the Saks brand through dilution. It seems likely that the lawyers for Saks figured Carrie Sarabella, owner of Snaks 5th Avenchew, would be so frightened by the letter as to simply change the name of her business. Those lawyers would be wrong. She got herself a lawyer instead, who sent Saks a letter in reply. But Sarabella, 32, who sells merchandise online and directly to retailers, hired Sam Israel, a copyright lawyer, who fired back with a missive of his own. Israel said he argued the name was acceptable under the so-called fair-use law, which “recognizes that parody marks cause no harm to the established mark.” Israel cited the examples of pet perfume brand Tommy Holedigger and fluffy toys maker Chewy Vuiton — both of which survived federal infringement suits from the companies they spoof, Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton. Pretty funny parody names, right? "Seriously, what's the ETA on these treats?" Anyway, the whole story comes packaged with a happy ending. After her lawyer sent the letter, Saks replied by saying they were dropping the matter entirely. Sarabella gets to go back to running her business, with a little publicity boost thanks to this story, and Saks Fifth Avenue gets a slight publicity black eye and looks like the bully they attempted to be. You have to wonder how many times this story went the opposite direction, however, in which no lawyers for the small business ever acted and the bully won. Not a pleasant thought. "I'm not getting any treats, am I?" Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some folks just don't like the idea of killing animals for food, but clearly there are plenty of people who don't have a problem with eating meat. Technology might have an answer -- if meat grown in a lab can be considered a humane way to treat living tissues. Here are just a few attempts at making fake meat. Modern Meadow is a biotech startup growing meat and leather in a lab. The company can grow a 1-square-foot, flawless (no scratches or stretch marks) piece of leather in about 6 weeks, and it's made some "steak chips" that will probably need to pass some complex regulatory hurdles before being ready for general human consumption. [url] Impossible Foods is a company that has made a veggie burger that almost bleeds because it contains iron-containing heme compounds similar to those in real red meat. The fake burger apparently tastes like a cross between beef and turkey, with a texture that is nearly like animal tissue (or at least not much like tofu). Still, it costs about $20 per burger patty, so there's a bit more work to be done. [url] Hampton Creek Foods is creating a vegan egg that could replace factory-farmed eggs. Beyond Eggs (and its fellow meat substitute competitors) need to find just the right proteins and emulsifiers that can fool the human palate and also maintain an eco-friendly and sustainable reputation. [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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It's well known that CIA's been stalling over the release of the officially declassified 480 page "executive summary" of the 6,300 page CIA torture report, put together by staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee over many years at a cost of $40 million. It's known that the report is somewhat devastating to the CIA and the CIA isn't happy about it (at all). Originally, the CIA suggested redactions that made the report incomprehensible, even as James Clapper said it was "just 15%" that was redacted. Recent reports have focused on the fight over redacting pseudonyms. Apparently the CIA wants all names, including pseudonyms redacted, while the Senate Intelligence Committee thinks that pseudonyms (but not real names) should be left in so that the report accurately reflects if the actions were done by a large number of diverse individuals, or by some particular individuals again and again and again. The CIA, likely employing some sort of "mosaic theory" claim, say that they're worried that even with pseudonyms, identifying the same person in a few different situations will make it easier for some to figure out who they are. In response, Senator Ron Wyden has attacked the CIA's position and noted that it's "unprecedented" and that plenty of other, similar, reports have made use of pseudonyms, without a problem. The CIA’s current opposition to using pseudonyms runs contrary to decades of precedent.  U.S. government agencies have used pseudonyms to protect agents’ identities in public reports going back decades, including: Review of the FBI’s Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq (2008) – Refers to FBI Special Agents involved in detainee interrogations using pseudonyms such as  “Thomas” and “Gibson.”  The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) – Refers to agents involved in hunting Osama Bin Ladin and other sensitive operations using pseudonyms such as “Mike,” “Richard,” “Jeff.” Pages 110, 112, 113, 114, 130, 131, 133, 138, 142, 204. The Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility (2004) – Refers to CIA employees at the Abu Ghraib prison using pseudonyms such as “Other Agency Employee01,” “Other Agency Employee02,” etc. Pages 53, 54, 55, 76 Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board – (1998) – Includes the names of some CIA officers, and notes that “in some cases pseudonyms are used instead of an individual’s true name.” (p. 52)  Also notes that “the Review Board would not agree to CIA’s request for blanket postponements of CIA names.” Page 48. Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair (1987) – refers to a CIA station chief in Central America using the pseudonym “Tomas Castillo. “ Pages pp. 139, 142, 143, 144, 146, 147, 505-510. Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders – (1975) – Report authored by the Church Committee notes that “We believe that the public is entitled to know what instrumentalities of their Government have done,” and that “the Committee, on occasions, resorted, on balance, to the use of an alias or a general description of the individual or his position.” Page 2. So why does the CIA seem to think it's such a problem here? Well, mainly because the CIA is willing to do just about anything to stop this report, perhaps in an effort to run out the clock until some more "CIA friendly" Senators take over. Still, it seems that the more the CIA fights over this, the more and more likely it is that someone is just going to leak the damn report, and it may reveal a lot more than what's currently on the table.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this week, we wrote about widespread demonstrations against a monumentally stupid plan by the Hungarian government to tax internet usage on a per-gigabyte-downloaded plan. The protests caused the government to "modify" the plan and put a cap on how much tax would be charged, but that seemed to do little to stop the complaints -- and thus, the government is shelving the plan entirely, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban announcing that the "tax in its current form cannot be introduced." Of course, that leaves open the possibility of it coming back in "another" form. But perhaps Orban is learning not to take on the internet. An analysis from the BBC talks about why Orban backed down: Viktor Orban does not often back down, but he has done so on this occasion for several reasons. He saw how unpopular the tax was. He managed with one stroke to do something which opposition leaders had tried and failed to do for five years: unify his opponents He took on the best-organised community in the country - internet users - and lost The government's communication methods failed again - as they have with almost every major decision since Fidesz came to power "We are not Communists. We don't go against the will of the people," he said - a sign that growing comparisons between Fidesz and the old Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party are hitting the mark. At the very least, this is yet another example of how the public is not willing to just roll over when politicians attack the internet.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we've pointed out in the past, the wireless providers, led by lobbying group CTIA, are desperate not to have the FCC include wireless broadband in whatever new net neutrality/open internet rules it releases. However, Tom Wheeler has been hinting that he's had enough of wireless providers screwing over the American public. The head of CTIA, Meredith Attwell Baker (famous for jumping from an FCC commissioner job to head Comcast lobbyist just months after she approved Comcast's merger with NBC Universal), has written an absolutely hilarious opinion piece at Wireless Week insisting that everyone loves their wireless providers, so there's no need whatsoever to apply any net neutrality rules. Of course, her definition of everybody loving their mobile operator differs from, well, basically everyone not paid by the mobile operators to be their public spokesperson. From our innovation economy to the free exchange of ideas, the United States is a shining example to the world of the promise of an open Internet. It is widely embraced by policymakers, innovators and consumers alike, particularly with respect to mobile broadband. We remain the global leader in mobile innovation and have embraced openness across the ecosystem. So much so, that not a single formal complaint against wireless providers has been made to the Federal Communications Commission since it first adopted open Internet rules in 2010. Oh, really? First of all, that last sentence is so ridiculous that it deserves a special callout for just how blatantly dishonest it is. You know why there's been no formal complaint to the FCC against wireless providers under its 2010 open internet rules? Because those rules never applied to wireless in the first place. This was one of the major loophole/problems with the 2010 rules: they explicitly carved out wireless providers. So the reason why there haven't been any formal complaints against wireless providers is because you couldn't make a formal complaint under those rules. To use that as the example of "nothing to see, move along now" is ridiculous -- and totally dishonest. Furthermore, the idea that the US is a "shining example" is laughable. Our mobile broadband offerings are a joke. The mobile carriers have run into many, many problems, often around really nasty anti-consumer practices. As we've discussed just this week, AT&T got fined for lying to subscribers by selling them an "unlimited" plan and then throttling it down to useless, and Verizon Wireless agreed to pay $64 million for regularly overbilling customers. Sure, there were no complaints under the open internet rules that didn't even apply to the wireless providers, but there were tons of complaints about anti-consumer behavior. And that's not even mentioning AT&T getting fined (earlier this month) for cramming charges put on consumers' bills (in which the FCC made use of its Title II authority, which could be the prime tool for net neutrality rules). Or their efforts to block out alternate payment solutions in favor of their own ISIS Softcard initiative. Or the efforts to block certain devices from their network. The US mobile broadband network is not, in any way, a shining beacon of openness and freedom as Attwell Baker represents. It's the opposite. Subjecting wireless broadband networks to rules that dictate how wired broadband networks are designed and operated would be a mistake. Instead, wireless network managers need maximum flexibility to keep networks expanding and clear. And wireless companies need the ability to differentiate their products and services without having to ask permission. This is our best guarantee that we maintain an open and innovative Internet—one in which mobile broadband retains its virtually limitless capacity to transform our lives. Ha! What she's proposing is that while wireless providers may not have to ask for permission, everyone else will have to do so because what CTIA wants is for the mobile operators to be able to discriminate and block and set up tollbooths. If we have to choose between the big wireless providers having to "ask for permission" from the FCC to engage in anti-consumer behavior... or every app maker, or online service provider having to beg for permission to work on a mobile network, it seems like the former is much more likely to lead to an "open and innovative internet." In commenting on last month’s vote for Scottish independence, President Obama turned to an old maxim that retains a modern ring of truth: ‘If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.’ When it comes to maintaining the open Internet and all the momentum surrounding mobile broadband, we couldn't agree more. It seems like the mobile ecosystem is very, very broken, considering just how much the mobile operators have been able to get away with. But, we're supposed to ignore all of that just because no one complained under a set of rules that they couldn't complain under? How stupid does CTIA think everyone is?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here we go again. For some reason, alcohol products, particularly beer, seem to make everyone go trademark crazy. This latest case concerns Empire Brewing Company out of New York (you know, the "Empire State") and their latest brew released in bottle form, called "Strikes Bock." Do you already know where this is going? I'm pretty sure you already know where this is going. Lucasfilm has filed a trademark dispute with a small brewery in Syracuse, New York. Empire Brewing Co., named after New York’s Empire State Building, recently applied for a trademark for its signature lager, Strikes Bock, according to Syracuse.com. The Star Wars producer contends Empire’s beer infringes on Lucasfilm trademarks and could be used to deceive consumers or cause brand confusion. Of course, Lucasfilm, now featuring a litigation supercharger in the form of Disney ownership, has filed a trademark dispute. As best as the internet can tell me, there is no such thing as a Star Wars beer produced by Lucasfilm. As the trademark opposition itself notes, the trademark that Lucasfilm has is for "toys, games, apparel, video/computer games, personal-care products, paints, trading cards, confections, prerecorded films and music, books, magazines, music and entertainment services." I don't see beer. Or any other kinds of beverages. The best Lucasfilm can come up with in its opposition filings is that Lucasfilm licensed the "Skywalker" name to Skywalker Vineyards, which makes Skywalker wines. But it still seems like a stretch to argue there's a likelihood of confusion here, rather than just a basic homage to the film. “The thing is the beer is called ‘Strikes Bock,’ not ‘Empire Strikes Bock,’” Empire Brewing Co. owner David Katleski said. “It’s ‘Strikes Bock,’ by Empire.” That may sound like a minor difference, but add to it the fact that Empire Brewing Company's name is not in itself under dispute and their logos and packaging to date are in no way similar to any Star Wars films, and what we end up with is an obvious nod to the film -- one which won't cause any brand confusion -- that's being disputed by Lucasfilm just to be a pain in the ass. It's worth noting, by the way, that Strikes Bock certainly isn't the only such craft beer nod. Here's a list of some more, including my favorite. Lucasfilm might have a marginally stronger argument as a dilution claim, but especially given that it's not actually "Empire Strikes Bock," or even "Empire's Strike Bock," but "Strike Bock by Empire Brewing Company," even the dilution claim feels a bit iffy. Katleski has hired a lawyer, but he also acknowledges his small brewery doesn't have the money to contend with Lucasfilm in the long run if they decide to throw their money behind this. Of course, there is a reasonable flip side to this, which is that if they're just such a small brewery, why did the company even bother filing for a trademark in the first place? The company doesn't need the trademark to sell the beer. It could easily rely on common law trademark instead of getting a registered one, saving it some money (and calling in the attention of Lucasfilm/Disney lawyers). In the end, though, we just have another trademark dispute that doesn't seem to serve any real benefit to anyone.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've heard some mumbling about one of the main reasons that the CIA has been dragging its feet on declassifying the executive summary of the CIA torture report that the Senate Intelligence Committee put together: it knows there's a decent chance that the Republicans will win the Senate next week, and suddenly the report may disappear from view. As you may recall, the Intelligence Committee (with support from GOP Senators) voted to declassify the 480 page executive summary of the 6,300 page report (which the Senate spent $40 million putting together). Multiple leaks concerning the report have suggested that it's devastating and details how terrible the CIA's torture program was, how it was completely ineffective and how the CIA lied about it all. But most of the support for releasing the report is coming from the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Dianne Feinstein (who sides with the NSA on plenty of stuff, but is more willing to challenge the CIA). But if the Republicans take the Senate next week, then the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee will likely shift to Senator Richard Burr, who has made it quite clear that he's on the CIA's team and against the public interest. "I personally don't believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly," Burr told reporters in March. "If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing." It's also expected that Burr will try to muzzle Ron Wyden and Mark Udall (if Udall is re-elected, which is iffy at this point): If Burr takes over as chair, he could easily sideline the committee's vocal civil libertarian bloc led by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and bolstered by Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), two senators who've called for Brennan's resignation. Udall, in particular, drew blunt criticisms from Burr earlier this year for disclosing the existence of an internal CIA review of the detention and interrogation program that Democrats believe vindicates their own study. "I think Mark did make some public releases that were committee-sensitive information, but that's for the committee internally to handle," Burr told reporters in March. "My concern is that the release of information could potentially cause the losses of life to Americans. That to me, is a threshold that should be addressed." As for the torture report itself, Burr has already said that the report is inaccurate and he's against it being released in any form. When a group of religious leaders asked him to support releasing the report, Burr told them he didn't think the report was accurate: Last year, Burr drew criticism from more than 190 North Carolina religious leaders, including Christians, Jews, Quakers, and Muslims, for opposing the release of the Senate's post-9/11 torture report. "The U.S. does not condone torture, but torture has been done by our citizens and in our country's name," reads a letter the religious leaders sent Burr. "We are writing to you as fellow people of faith to support the release of the ... report." Disappointing the religious groups, Burr responded in a letter saying he opposed making the report public due to factual inaccuracies contained within the report. "I believe the American public should be provided with reports that are based on accurate facts," he said. Given all of this, if the GOP does win, it seems like the only way the public may ever see the details is if someone steps up and leaks the damn thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Gautham Nagesh at the Wall Street Journal (who was also the first to reveal many of the details of Tom Wheeler's original net neutrality proposal) had a story last night confirming the buzz over the last few weeks that Wheeler is now exploring a new set of "hybrid" net neutrality rules that appear, on their face, to take parts of the plans that consumer groups want and parts of what the broadband players want... and comes out, in the end, with a plan that almost no one wants. There is something to the old saying that a good compromise leaves everyone a little unhappy, but it appears that the rules being contemplated right now might leave nearly everyone really unhappy. It's not clear that's a good result. First, it's important to note that the WSJ article only describes the plan in slightly vague generalities, and the specifics matter a lot in these situations. It's tough to know exactly how good or how bad this is without those details, but there are some broad brush strokes of what the FCC is leaking now to see what sort of reaction there is. The plan looks to be loosely based on a proposal Mozilla submitted back in May, in which the FCC sets up rules that sort of split the baby, by separating out the relationships directly between various internet providers, classifying that under Title II (common carrier rules), while leaving the last mile sections (the part delivered to you at your home or office) regulated under 706 as an "information service." But then, it sets up very loose rules on top of that structure, that potentially have massive loopholes for the broadband players -- and that's where the specifics matter. The end result could be that the broadband players could still make deals for "differentiated services" to the end connection -- which is what many fighting for net neutrality were most worried about. Here's how the WSJ describes Wheeler's current thinking: The plan now under consideration would separate broadband into two distinct services: a retail one, in which consumers would pay broadband providers for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content. The FCC would then classify the back-end service as a common carrier, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers. But, yes, the plan would still allow for paid prioritization: People familiar with the FCC’s thinking say the agency remains skeptical of a flat ban on paid prioritization, noting that even common carriers are allowed to charge for certain specialized services. Mr. Wheeler suggested in December that he would be open to some such arrangement. He has been careful since then to emphasize that the FCC won’t tolerate harmful discrimination, though hasn't called for a flat ban. [....] The proposal would leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for, say, videogamers or online video providers, which require a particularly large amount of bandwidth. The proposal would also allow the commission to explore usage-based pricing at some point, in which consumers are charged based on how much data they use and companies are able to subsidize traffic to their websites or applications. In an attempt to deal with the concerns of such paid prioritization, Wheeler's plan apparently would put the burden on the telcos to have to "prove that the arrangements would be beneficial to consumers and equally available to any company that would like to participate." If this is the actual plan, it's definitely better than Wheeler's original May plan, which would have allowed such prioritization if it were "commercially reasonable." Having a combination of it being "beneficial to consumers" and with a non-discrimination component is a clear step up. But -- and here's the important bit -- it's unclear what benefit this hybrid proposal really buys. Anything that touches on declaring any part of the network Title II is going to lead to lawsuits from the broadband players, as Verizon made clear just yesterday. In fact, it potentially gives them another legal argument in saying that not only is using Title II improper, but so is the attempt to slice and dice what parts of the network get Title II. And, the consumer advocate groups may (in a funny way) be with them on that argument. In a statement Free Press put out in response to the WSJ article, they also declare the splitting the baby solution to be legally dubious: The FCC is supposed to protect our communications, period. Chairman Wheeler can't wave a wand, change the law, and pretend to break the Internet in two. But these schemes suggest just that: dividing the Internet to protect corporations sending information, but not the people receiving it. Such an untested, too-clever-by-half approach is bad law and a bad idea. It will not survive in court, and it is clearly inferior to reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. It's also unlikely to buy Wheeler any political support from Congress. The anti-net neutrality crowd in Congress which has been so revved up to be against anything that even hints at Title II will immediately condemn this plan, and supporters from the other side will find it equally distasteful in allowing the broadband guys to mess around with the last mile connections. Still, the end result here seems like a plan that may be noticeably better that the original proposal, but which angers almost everyone, and possibly kicks off a more aggressive set of legal challenges that may be more complicated (and potentially even less likely to survive a legal challenge). While I recognize and appreciate the goal of trying to find a "compromise," it seems that coming up with one that is even less likely to survive a legal challenge is a risky proposition, because it means in another three to five years, we'll be right back here again after a court tosses out these rules and a different FCC has to try again. This definitely is a shift towards stronger rules, but the devil is in the details, and many people seem to be wondering, if the FCC is willing to go part way towards Title II and strong net neutrality rules, why not go all the way. The political opposition will likely be the same, as will the legal challenges. A compromise solution always sounds nice, but it's not entirely clear what this buys in the long run. And, if this plan (again, details matter) still leaves a way for big broadband players to pick winners and losers, that's a problem. And, again, that's what this all comes down to. When the big broadband players get to act as gatekeepers who can set up tollbooths for internet services, there's a real risk of massive chilling effects and a worse overall internet experience.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Gautham Nagesh at the Wall Street Journal (who was also the first to reveal many of the details of Tom Wheeler's original net neutrality proposal) had a story last night confirming the buzz over the last few weeks that Wheeler is now exploring a new set of "hybrid" net neutrality rules that appear, on their face, to take parts of the plans that consumer groups want and parts of what the broadband players want... and comes out, in the end, with a plan that almost no one wants. There is something to the old saying that a good compromise leaves everyone a little unhappy, but it appears that the rules being contemplated right now might leave nearly everyone really unhappy. It's not clear that's a good result. First, it's important to note that the WSJ article only describes the plan in slightly vague generalities, and the specifics matter a lot in these situations. It's tough to know exactly how good or how bad this is without those details, but there are some broad brush strokes of what the FCC is leaking now to see what sort of reaction there is. The plan looks to be loosely based on a proposal Mozilla submitted back in May, in which the FCC sets up rules that sort of split the baby, by separating out the relationships directly between various internet providers, classifying that under Title II (common carrier rules), while leaving the last mile sections (the part delivered to you at your home or office) regulated under 706 as an "information service." But then, it sets up very loose rules on top of that structure, that potentially have massive loopholes for the broadband players -- and that's where the specifics matter. The end result could be that the broadband players could still make deals for "differentiated services" to the end connection -- which is what many fighting for net neutrality were most worried about. Here's how the WSJ describes Wheeler's current thinking: The plan now under consideration would separate broadband into two distinct services: a retail one, in which consumers would pay broadband providers for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content. The FCC would then classify the back-end service as a common carrier, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers. But, yes, the plan would still allow for paid prioritization: People familiar with the FCC’s thinking say the agency remains skeptical of a flat ban on paid prioritization, noting that even common carriers are allowed to charge for certain specialized services. Mr. Wheeler suggested in December that he would be open to some such arrangement. He has been careful since then to emphasize that the FCC won’t tolerate harmful discrimination, though hasn't called for a flat ban. [....] The proposal would leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for, say, videogamers or online video providers, which require a particularly large amount of bandwidth. The proposal would also allow the commission to explore usage-based pricing at some point, in which consumers are charged based on how much data they use and companies are able to subsidize traffic to their websites or applications. In an attempt to deal with the concerns of such paid prioritization, Wheeler's plan apparently would put the burden on the telcos to have to "prove that the arrangements would be beneficial to consumers and equally available to any company that would like to participate." If this is the actual plan, it's definitely better than Wheeler's original May plan, which would have allowed such prioritization if it were "commercially reasonable." Having a combination of it being "beneficial to consumers" and with a non-discrimination component is a clear step up. But -- and here's the important bit -- it's unclear what benefit this hybrid proposal really buys. Anything that touches on declaring any part of the network Title II is going to lead to lawsuits from the broadband players, as Verizon made clear just yesterday. In fact, it potentially gives them another legal argument in saying that not only is using Title II improper, but so is the attempt to slice and dice what parts of the network get Title II. And, the consumer advocate groups may (in a funny way) be with them on that argument. In a statement Free Press put out in response to the WSJ article, they also declare the splitting the baby solution to be legally dubious: The FCC is supposed to protect our communications, period. Chairman Wheeler can't wave a wand, change the law, and pretend to break the Internet in two. But these schemes suggest just that: dividing the Internet to protect corporations sending information, but not the people receiving it. Such an untested, too-clever-by-half approach is bad law and a bad idea. It will not survive in court, and it is clearly inferior to reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. It's also unlikely to buy Wheeler any political support from Congress. The anti-net neutrality crowd in Congress which has been so revved up to be against anything that even hints at Title II will immediately condemn this plan, and supporters from the other side will find it equally distasteful in allowing the broadband guys to mess around with the last mile connections. Still, the end result here seems like a plan that may be noticeably better that the original proposal, but which angers almost everyone, and possibly kicks off a more aggressive set of legal challenges that may be more complicated (and potentially even less likely to survive a legal challenge). While I recognize and appreciate the goal of trying to find a "compromise," it seems that coming up with one that is even less likely to survive a legal challenge is a risky proposition, because it means in another three to five years, we'll be right back here again after a court tosses out these rules and a different FCC has to try again. This definitely is a shift towards stronger rules, but the devil is in the details, and many people seem to be wondering, if the FCC is willing to go part way towards Title II and strong net neutrality rules, why not go all the way. The political opposition will likely be the same, as will the legal challenges. A compromise solution always sounds nice, but it's not entirely clear what this buys in the long run. And, if this plan (again, details matter) still leaves a way for big broadband players to pick winners and losers, that's a problem. And, again, that's what this all comes down to. When the big broadband players get to act as gatekeepers who can set up tollbooths for internet services, there's a real risk of massive chilling effects and a worse overall internet experience.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been meaning to weigh in some more on the whole Amazon/Hachette battle, because lot of misinformation has been spewed around (including by

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In September, both Apple and Google announced plans to encrypt information on iOS and Android devices by default. Almost immediately, there was a collective freakout by law enforcement types. But, try as they might, these law enforcement folks couldn't paint any realistic scenario of where this would be a serious problem. Sure, they conjured up scenarios, but upon inspection they pretty much all fell apart. Instead, what was clear was that encryption could protect users from people copying information off of phones without permission, and, in fact, the FBI itself recommends you encrypt the data on your phone. But it didn't stop FBI director James Comey from ignoring the advice of his own agency and pushing for a new law that would create back doors (he called them front doors, but when asked to explain the difference, he admitted that he wasn't "smart enough" to understand the distinction) in such encryption. So, now, of course, the FBI/DOJ gets to go up to Congress and tell them scary stories about just how necessary breaking encryption would be. And it's being done in total secrecy, because if it was done in public, experts might debunk the claims, like they've done with basically all of the scenarios provided in public to date. FBI and Justice Department officials met with House staffers this week for a classified briefing on how encryption is hurting police investigations, according to staffers familiar with the meeting. The briefing included Democratic and Republican aides for the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the staffers said. The meeting was held in a classified room, and aides are forbidden from revealing what was discussed. It's almost guaranteed that someone will introduce some legislation, written primarily by the FBI, pushing for this (such a bill is almost certainly already sitting in some DOJ bureaucrat's desk drawer, so they just need to dot some i's, cross some t's and come up with a silly acronym name for the bill). So far, many in Congress have been outspoken against such a law, but never underestimate the ability of the FBI to mislead Congress with some FUD, leading to all sorts of scare stories about how we need this or we're all going to die.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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EFF recently learned about a patent that covered a method of filming a yoga class. We reviewed the patent and discovered that it was just as ridiculous as it sounded. Despite our familiarity with absurd patents and our concerns about cursory review at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), we were still surprised that this one issued. It seemed the so-called "invention" wasn't the kind of thing that should be patented at all—or at the very least, was not something novel or nonobvious. Yet another stupid patent, and winner of our October accolades. There's a silver lining to this story. The yoga community affected by this stupid patent wasn't willing to give in. Instead, the community fought back, and as our post was set to go live (and on the day EFF contacted the patentee's lawyers for comment), the patentee publicly disclaimed all interest in the patent. So this stupid patent is now a stupid ex-patent. Even though the patent owner, YogaGlo, Inc., has already given up, we think the story of this patent is still worth telling. We think it reveals a lot about how our patent system is desperately broken. This story is one of a grave series of omissions and errors that resulted in a patent that should never have been granted in the first place, and a patent applicant incentivized to do everything in its power to keep filing for more. This blog post goes into this history in detail. Filing for a Patent on Filming a Yoga Class U.S. Patent No. 8,605,152 claims to cover a "method and apparatus for yoga class imaging and streaming." To be clear, the patent involves slightly more than just filming a class, but not much. The claims require, among other things, "a studio having a front area and a rear area," "a line of sight corridor," and an "image capturing device" at a "height of about three feet." In non-patent speak: a room, a direct view of the instructor, and a camera positioned about three feet above the ground. Figure 2 from the patent, shown below, is described as "an embodiment of the present invention," and shows all the elements of the claimed "invention." The yoga patent came out of U.S. Patent Application No. 13/763,569 (the "'569 Application"), filed on February 8, 2013. Derik Mills, the CEO of YogaGlo, Inc., a Santa Monica based company that strives to provide "the experience of being in the class at your home," listed himself as the inventor. At the time the '569 Application was filed, a related patent was also making its way through the PTO. Mills had previously filed U.S. Patent Application 13/220,621 (the "'621 Application") on August 29, 2011. Both applications claimed priority (meaning there was a claim to an earlier date of "invention") to a previous application filed August 27, 2010. This sort of "continuation practice"—having multiple applications relating to the same or related inventions—is common at the PTO. What was not common, however, was that the original '621 Application was literally identical to the original '569 Application: Mills sought to claim the exact same thing through both the '569 and '621 Applications. (It is unclear why Mills filed two applications with exactly the same claims. One possibility is that Mills felt his chances with the second examiner were better than the first.) Often, similar or related applications are assigned to the same examiner. But Mills' applications were given to two different examiners for review (we're not sure why). The '569 Application was assigned to Examiner Nhon T. Diep and the '621 Application was Examiner Mohammad J. Rahman. Both the '569 Application and the '621 Application were initially rejected. Diep initially rejected the '569 Application on July 3, 2013, on two grounds: double patenting (can't get two patents on the same thing) and obviousness (the "invention" was not different enough from what came before). In making the obviousness rejection, Examiner Diep relied exclusively on patents or patent applications. Shortly after that, on August 5, 2013, Rahman (faced with the exact same claims that had just been rejected) rejected the '621 Application for the same reasons. But from there, the two applications and their histories at the PTO diverge. "YogaGlo intends to enforce its intellectual property rights" On August 26, 2013, despite having both its patent applications initially rejected on multiple grounds, YogaGlo sent demand letters to its competitors, including Yoga International. In the letter, YogaGlo (through its lawyers) pointed to its patent applications and stated its belief that Yoga International "streams online fitness classes that mimics [sic] the method and technique of YogaGlo's U.S. patent application." Although YogaGlo did not explicitly demand that Yoga International remove the videos it believed infringed YogaGlo's not-yet-existing rights, it warned that the letter "shall serve as actual notice of the existence of the YogaGlo Patent Applications" and "upon patent issuance, damages may be due retroactively to the date of patent publication." Yoga International, concerned by the idea that a company could get a patent on filming a yoga class, decided to fight back. It told the yoga community about the letter and the yoga community went into uproar. Yoga Alliance, another Yoga organization, started a petition asking YogaGlo to withdraw its patent applications and received over 14,000 signatures. YogaGlo responded with its own interpretation of the situation, saying that it filed for the patents "in order to continue to provide our community with this distinctive online yoga class experience at an affordable price." In effect, YogaGlo's argument appeared to be that without patent protection, it would cease to exist. Except that for at least the first few years of YogaGlo's existence, this wasn't true. YogaGlo, it seemed, had been flourishing for many years without the patent protection it now felt it needed. Patent Protection Not Required Nor Deserved Patents are only supposed to be granted on what is novel and nonobvious. The Patent Office, in initially rejecting YogaGlo's patents, relied on other patents and patent applications. But filming a yoga class didn't seem to us like something that should (or would) be in a patent or patent application. Filming methods just aren't something that are traditionally patented (nor should they be). Instead, it seemed to us that prior art for systems and methods for filming would most likely be found in actual films. So in order to help understand just how "novel" YogaGlo's invention was, we did an Internet search for other, similar "systems" and "methods." Below is a collection of just some of the videos we found, all uploaded or filmed before YogaGlo filed its patent application: Based on our search, it seems like YogaGlo's patent should never have issued. But even more interesting is that last screen shot. Its similarity to Figure 2 of YogaGlo's patent applications is not surprising, because it is from YogaGlo's own website—and it's dated July 28, 2009. This is a problem for YogaGlo. Even if something is novel and nonobvious, a patent should not be granted if the application is filed more than one year after the "invention" is made, used, or sold. This is commonly referred to as the "one-year statutory bar." Basically, you can't patent something once the public has known about it for over a year. The public policy rationale is that patents are meant, in part, to get inventors to disclose their inventions to the public. If the invention has already been disclosed, the applicant didn't need the patent "carrot". The one-year statutory bar is well known by patent practitioners and is often used to invalidate a patent or prevent one from issuing. One organization, after receiving YogaGlo's letter, found YogaGlo's invalidating videos and recognized their importance. After receiving YogaGlo's letter, and before any patent issued, that organization sent YogaGlo's lawyers a letter and pointed to the videos as prior art,. And Yoga International wasn't the only ones who noticed that YogaGlo shouldn't be able to get a patent. A comment on YogaGlo's own website on the post about YogaGlo's patent applications, dated before any patent issued, also highlighted the videos: That link at the end? That's to the "Manual of Patent Examining Procedure" and the section on the one-year statutory bar. Back at the Patent Office Because YogaGlo filed its original patent application (the one to which both its applications claimed priority to) on August 27, 2010, more than one year after it had posted videos using its "invention," no patent should have been allowed. The one-year statutory bar prohibits it. But if the PTO doesn't know about prior art, it can't use it to reject an application. This is why the patent office relies on patent prosecutors (the people who file applications on behalf of inventors) to bring to light prior art known to the applicant. The PTO itself will do a search, but it's expected that prosecutors will point out art too. Indeed, they have a duty to do so. In prosecuting the two applications, Mills and YogaGlo were represented by patent prosecutor working at the same office as the lawyer who sent Yoga International and others the letter about YogaGlo's patent applications. This is also the same the law firm office that received the responses, including its mention of YogaGlo's own invalidating videos. But despite the duty of disclosure, neither Mills, YogaGlo's lawyers, nor anyone else associated with YogaGlo notified the PTO about YogaGlo's own videos that implicated the one-year statutory bar. At this point, its important to note is that the '569 Application was filed under what's called the "Accelerated Examination Program." This program allows applicants to get their applications reviewed more quickly if they can meet certain requirements, including making a statement regarding the "most closely related" prior art and how the "invention" is different than what came before. (Normally a hopeful patentee isn't required to particularly point this art out. It's enough to merely list it on a form). YogaGlo identified and discussed some prior art, but it failed to bring up the most damning examples: its own videos. So on October 7, 2013, when it came time to address the examiner's initial rejection, YogaGlo did not identify its own videos and correct the failure to identify them at the outset. Instead, it filed an "amendment" and "request for reconsideration" of its '569 Application. YogaGlo modified its claims slightly, and argued that the claims were now patentable. The reason? The prior art, according to YogaGlo, didn't disclose "a line of sight corridor." In plain English: YogaGlo argued that when filming a teacher from eye level at the back of the room, it wasn't known or obvious to keep students from blocking the camera's view of the teacher (yes, really). Incredibly, Mills and YogaGlo—despite Yoga International's letter, posts on their blog, and explicit recognition of the duty of candor—never told the PTO about its videos. Instead, on October 29, 2013 and without explanation, Examiner Diep allowed YogaGlo's patent, having never been given the chance to consider the art that was so clearly important. To be clear, Examiner Diep did a search for prior art. He searched databases available at the PTO, but he did not do a YouTube (or even general Internet) search. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he did not find YogaGlo's videos, or the many other videos that predated YogaGlo's "invention," among the patent databases he searched. The '569 Application issued on December 10, 2013, almost two months after YogaGlo received the information pointing out YogaGlo's prior art videos, and more than four years after YogaGlo had first started posting its videos. If at First You Succeed, Try Again? Having received one patent, YogaGlo continued to seek a second through its '621 Application. On February 5, 2014, like with the '569 Application, YogaGlo modified its claims slightly and argued that the claims of the '621 Application were now patentable. Again YogaGlo did not disclose its own videos. But unlike Examiner Diep, Examiner Rahman searched for prior art on YouTube. Below is part of his results: Through this YouTube search, Examiner Rahman was able to easily find YogaGlo's own videos that implicated the one-year statutory bar. On that basis, the '621 Application was finally rejected on March 7, 2014. But in a practice that has become all too common at the patent office, the "final" rejection became not so final. On September 17, 2014, YogaGlo asked the examiner to reconsider the application. In an act that can only be called brazen, YogaGlo argued that it's own videos were not prior art, because "while the video appears to show the line of sight corridor, it is clear that it does not show the widening of the corridor as shown in Fig. 1" Here is Figure 1 from the application with another frame from that "John Friend" video: We're having a hard time figuring out how this does not blow YogaGlo's claim out of the water. When looking at the frame (a different one than that cited by the examiner), YogaGlo's argument seems completely frivolous to us. But because the examiner cited to a different frame, YogaGlo was able to cite to some minute distinction between its claim and the picture Examiner Rahman found, and ignored the rest of its video. But even if a distinction exists, why does it matter? Is this really something that's a "patentable distinction" over the prior art? Should someone be entitled to a patent every time a room is set up differently or a camera is moved slightly? Practices at the PTO encourage applicants to keep filing, and to make this sort of meaningless distinction. Examiner Rahman had already finally rejected this application once. But YogaGlo is insistent. Unfortunately, if Examiner Rahman wants to get this work off his plate, the quickest and easiest way is to allow the patent. And applicants know this. Symptom of a Larger Problem YogaGlo's patent never should have been filed, and never should have issued. Even more importantly, hopeful patentees should not be incentivized to continue to push for patents despite clear evidence showing the claims are invalid. In the broader view, it seems unlikely that patents are needed in order to incentivize people to develop new systems and methods for filming. Hollywood has existed for many generations without every director rushing out to patent new styles and angles of filming. Most likely, this is because patenting a new way of filming just doesn't seem like something that patents were meant to protect, and nor are they needed in order to encourage the next Stanley Kubrick. And YogaGlo seems to acknowledge this: their own statement says they wanted to protect the "look and feel" of their videos. This is not something our patent system was designed to protect. But our culture of overclaiming of intellectual property rights likely encouraged YogaGlo to file for a patent and incentivized YogaGlo to seek it at all costs—including honesty. We don't know why YogaGlo's decided to not disclose its own videos, but its failure to do so seems questionable (at best). We asked YogaGlo's lawyer for comment, but he declined. The PTO relies on applicant disclosures, and should be able to, but in this case, it is clear that such reliance was misplaced. And what is also clear is that an incentive exists to not disclose. The fee worksheet in the file history for the '569 patent application shows that YogaGlo paid $663 when it filed its application. After paying a few more thousand in fees during the pendency of the application, YogaGlo got an almost twenty-year monopoly on its systems and methods for filming a yoga class. We strongly believe that YogaGlo's patent never should have issued. And we're glad YogaGlo has belatedly agreed. YogaGlo's pending patent application is as deeply flawed as the issued patent. It should do the right thing and abandon its application too. Although pressure from the Yoga community convinced YogaGlo to do the right thing at least with respect to the issued patent, for most people getting rid of a patent is not so easy. To invalidate a patent, the cost is a minimum of $6,000, which is the cost of filing an ex parte re-examination. Fortunately for the Yoga community, people were willing and able to fight back. But often communities aren't able to do so, and EFF can't help with every stupid patent we find (trust us, we see a lot of them). This is why reform is needed: too many incentives exist to encourage patent applicants to be less than forthcoming, and it is too expensive and difficult to challenge stupid patents. We hope that in telling this story we can start a dialog on how to fix the system to make sure that no one gets a stupid patent on filming a yoga class again. Reposted from the EFF Deeplinks Blog Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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