posted 21 days ago on techdirt
How much stupid can you possibly fit into one policy decision? The range is infinite, but the University of North Carolina is aiming high. Administrators at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill are now considering a Yik Yak ban, at the request of some students. "People have been saying some very racist, very hurtful things," Ashley Winkfield, a UNC senior, told WRAL.com. For those of you unaware of Yik Yak's existence, much less its purpose, Yik Yak is a social media app that allows anonymous postings. This anonymity tends to bring out the worst in some people, and Yik Yak has fielded plenty of criticism along these same lines over the past several months. But it's far from the only social media platform that allows anonymous postings -- which is only part of the stupidity inherent to the school's plan to ban this particular app. First off, there's the issue with "hate speech." Some speech clearly falls under this heading. Other stuff tends to fall under the "well, I just don't like what this person is saying" heading. Far too many educational entities tend to frown on both, often with restrictive speech policies. That's where this is going with a full head of "we'll decide what's actually protected speech" steam. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp said UNC-Chapel Hill officials are examining options for dealing with Yik Yak. "I think it adds little to no value to our community and creates more problems for our students than it will ever be worth," Crisp said in a statement. "We want Carolina to be a place where people feel comfortable talking about race and other issues, and we are working hard to create opportunities for them to do that in a constructive and respectful way.” UNC doesn't get to limit speech to only what's "constructive and respectful." Its authority doesn't extend past the First Amendment. But that's only the Constitutional problems. There are additional problems -- ones more firmly grounded in "bright line" areas -- that UNC doesn't seem to have considered… like logistics… or how powerless it actually is. How could colleges possibly stop students from downloading or using a particular app? They can't. But they can make the app slightly harder to use on-campus by blocking it from school wireless networks. That this is largely a symbolic guesture hasn't stopped several schools, including New York's Utica College and Vermont's Norwich University, from doing so. The best UNC can do is possibly inconvenience some of its students. Those who like to fill Yik Yak with hate speech (or just unpopular speech) will move to a platform that isn't blocked, or just take the (minimal) hit on their mobile data plan. At no point will this ban ever achieve its goal of "constructive and respectful" on-campus speech, in large part because the ban will indicate to students that the university has no respect for their First Amendment rights and believes its attendees are little more than misbehaving children who need to have their toys taken away from time to time. You can't nudge people towards respect by infantilizing them, no matter how ignorant some of their speech may be (or how loud their complaints are). Furthermore, the students who wish to see the speech of others restricted are just as naive as the children the school apparently believes they are. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown points out, these students who are shocked by nasty anonymous messages apparently feel the off-campus world is full of constructive, respectful individuals. I find it hard to believe that before seeing these sentiments expressed on Yik-Yak, Winkfield had no idea that any fellow students might be racists and assholes. But whatever. What's more mind-boggling is how she thinks banning Yik-Yak would help here. And how will it help in the future? If you can't learn to combat ignorance and hate within the relative safety provided by the university, how will you possibly deal with it post-graduation, in a world where speech is much harder to constrain? This student's colleagues -- the ones spewing racist crap via Yik Yak -- will move on as well. The ban won't keep racism and other ugliness bottled up forever. More speech could help deal with this problem, but the pursuit of an app ban is nothing more than sliding a policy rug over a particularly unsightly stain on the carpet. And that only works until the next stain appears. Sooner or later, you run out of rugs. And, of course, there are alternatives in teaching people how to deal with these things. It's become something of a cliche at this point that the best way to deal with "bad" speech is "more" speech, but it does seem to be pretty effective in many cases. Even with Yik Yak. Students at Colgate University were dealing with similar problems as those described above, and a bunch of professors decided to do something about it. They didn't try to ban Yik Yak or shut it down. They started posting positive messages to the service and signed their names to it. It didn't stop all the abusive comments, of course, but it did change the tone quite a bit, and made students realize that not everyone was a horrible bully on campus. Our nation's colleges are, for the most part, cranking out incredibly insular individuals who believe the world can be bent to their whims, thanks to the excessive coddling of every person whose feelings have been rubbed the wrong way by the abrasiveness of real life. It's not enough that they'll graduate saddled in debt and possibly armed with a useless degree. They're also being dumped into a world where everyday nastiness can't be papered over by tutting administrators and futile bans. Sure, we all would prefer the world be filled with "constructive" speech and "respectful" people, but it doesn't work like that. By providing shelter rather than pushing students to take control of these situations, these universities are doing their students -- and the future of this country -- a huge disservice.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Here's more evidence the TSA really isn't about keeping travelers safe. What it is about is malevolent middle-management-types fiercely guarding the borders of their microfiefdoms and arbitrarily ejecting ticket-holding serfs for any conceivable reason. Roger Vanderklok, a distance runner who frequently flies to events around the country, had the misfortune of passing through TSA supervisor Charles Kieser's turf at the Philadelphia airport. Vanderklok faced some legitimate questions (as legitimate as any questions based on the ever-shifting TSA list of suspicious items can be, anyway) and answered them all satisfactorily. On this day, he was headed to Miami. In his carry-on bag was a packet of PowerBars and a heart-monitoring watch. When the bag went through the X-ray scanner, the items looked suspicious to a TSA agent whom Kieser supervises. For the next 30 minutes, screeners checked the bag several times. Vanderklok told them that a tube-shaped case in the bag contained his watch. Then he was asked if his bag contained "organic matter." Vanderklok said no, as he thought "organic matter" meant fruits or vegetables. PowerBars, which contain milk, grain and sugar, are considered "organic matter" and can resemble a common explosive. Terrorists often use a small electronic device, like a watch, to detonate the explosive. Hence the agent's concern. But the TSA's Charles Kieser took issue with Vanderklok's suggestion: that agents make it a bit more clear what "organic matter" entails. Keiser decided Vanderklok didn't appreciate the severity of the situation (that situation being, apparently, that the TSA makes suggestions, not the other way around). According to Vanderklok's lawsuit [pdf link], Kieser became "confrontational." Vanderklok then asked if he could file a complaint. Bad move. Instead, Kieser summoned the Philadelphia Police. Vanderklok was taken to an airport holding cell, and his personal belongings - including his phone - were confiscated while police "investigated" him. Vanderklok was detained for three hours in the holding cell, missing his plane. Then he was handcuffed, taken to the 18th District at 55th and Pine and placed in another cell. He says that no one - neither the police officers at the airport nor the detectives at the 18th - told him why he was there. He didn't find out until he was arraigned at 2 a.m. that he was being charged with "threatening the placement of a bomb" and making "terroristic threats." Vanderklok's Kafkaesque odyssey finally ended at 4 a.m., when his wife paid 10 percent of his $40,000 bail. Kieser provided his version of the story at Vanderklok's trial -- one that was mostly lies. He claimed Vanderklok "threatened" to bring a bomb through security. He also claimed Vanderklok made aggressive arm movements and pointed his finger in Keiser's face. Unfortunately for Kieser, surveillance footage proved nearly every accusation false. Throughout the search, Vanderklok appears calm. His laptop computer is tucked under his arms and his hands are clasped in front of him the entire time. Without any fuss, he follows TSA agents when they move from one part of the screening area to another. He even smiles a little. Not once does he raise his hands. Not once does he point a finger in Kieser's face. If anyone is becoming agitated, the video shows, it is Kieser. And as for the only claim that might have held up -- the "bomb threat" -- Keiser's own words on the police statement, as well as his underlings' actions, undercut that assertion as well. No agent other than Kieser appears to be the least bit alarmed by Vanderklok's alleged bomb threat. One messes with his cellphone. Another rearranges bins. No passengers are prevented from entering the area. In his statement to the police, Kieser claims Vanderklok said "Anyone could bring a bomb through here and you wouldn't know it." That's not a threat. That's an opinion. And, given the TSA's track record on stopping airborne terrorists, the protected opinion/non-threat comes disturbingly close to being a factual statement. The presiding judge dismissed the charges against Vanderklok "within minutes" of Kieser's statements. Kieser's testimony must have been incredibly terrible, considering the judge never even bothered to view the video evidence that contradicted most of his claims. There must have been an obvious odor of vindictiveness permeating the courtroom during the TSA supervisor's statements. And it's that same respect-my-authority-or-else attitude that's likely going to cost the TSA some money. Vanderklok has filed a lawsuit against the agency for his wrongful arrest, one that also names the Philly police department as co-defendants. Perhaps the video clearing Vanderklok will be seen during this court battle, or perhaps the agency will just settle quickly, rather than allow Kieser to further embarrass himself. And perhaps, Kieser will finally be out of a job. But for now, he still wields a level of power that far outpaces his ability to perform his duties in a credible and responsible manner. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
As its plan to completely shatter the support it received recently by attacking the very same concept of free speech its enemies declared war upon with terrorist attacks on a parody magazine not so many weeks back, the French government's ability to be laughable and simultaneously dangerous never ceases to amaze. What at once looked to be rather punctuated attacks on opinions and social media, and even cable news (which I consider a common enemy but for vastly different reasons) has now since devolved into the kind of massive overreaction against a third-party target that is, dare I say, quite American in nature. Apparently no longer content with the plan to police the ever-dangerous internet themselves, the French government has suddenly and, it must be conceded, shockingly announced that it now has veto power over the internet, requiring ISPs to censor sites at its whim. And, because cynicism is practically the secret sauce in these kinds of things, they've laced their claims of "combating terrorism" via censorship powers with a dash of "preventing child pornography" to boot. A new decree that went into effect today allows the French government to block websites accused of promoting terrorism and publishing child pornography, without seeking a court order. Under the new rules, published last week by France's Ministry of the Interior, internet service providers (ISPs) must take down offending websites within 24 hours of receiving a government order. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says the decree is critical to combating terrorism, but civil rights groups say it gives the government dangerously broad powers to suppress free speech. The decree implements two provisions from two laws — an anti-child pornography law passed in 2011 and an anti-terror law passed late last year. A department of the French national police will be responsible for identifying the sites to be blocked, with the suspected terror-related sites subject to review by an anti-terrorism branch. An administrator from the CNIL, France's independent data protection organization, will be charged with overseeing the process. Once a site is blocked, its page will be replaced with an explanation of why the government took it down. In the case of child pornography pages, the text will also include a recommendation to seek medical help. Now, anyone reading this site already knows why anointing a government with these kinds of powers, whether by the excuse of child pornography or via the far more mangled conflation of speech and terrorism, is inherently problematic. We should simply be able to trot out examples of governments declaring non-offending sites as falling under these kinds of headings and rest our case. When we see France spiral into this kind of out of control fear-based tailspin, however (particularly after having gone through it ourselves to such a degree that we're still trying to dig ourselves out of it), we should find it conscripting us to fight against a stupid history that is attempting to repeat itself. What this move relies upon, as do most attempts to censor speech on the internet, is a misguided fear of the seduction of internet-based communications. You can see this especially in the perhaps well-intentioned proponents of censorship when they speak. Supporters of the measure say it's critical to preventing future attacks, pointing to the growing number of young French nationals who have joined jihadist movements in Iraq and Syria, as well as aggressive online propaganda campaigns from terrorist groups like ISIS. "Today, 90 percent of those who swing toward terrorist activities within the European Union do so after visiting the internet," Cazneuves told reporters last week, after presenting the decree to French ministers. "We do not combat terrorism if we do not take measures to regulate the internet." Just try to implement that mode of logic in any arena that doesn't involve the internet and see how far it gets you. You'll be laughed out of the conversation if you were to say, for instance, "A large percent of those committing terrorist acts within Europe attended a mosque before doing so. We do not combat terrorism if we do not regulate mosques." It misses the point entirely, of course, because it punishes what is largely the innocent while doing very little toactually combat terrorism. We might also find that terrorists largely wear silk, or listen to a certain type of music, or are part of any number of subsets of culture that we wouldn't dream of censoring, regulating, or placing under the watchful eye of a French government that has appeared all too happy to blame everyone for the failures of both their own security apparatus and civilization as a whole. But with the internet? That we'll censor, because the ruling class is still of an age that might find it scary enough to allow it to happen. Add to this that the blocking attempt will be largely ineffective for those with the will to circumvent it and this essentially amounts to one part grandstanding and two parts setting up a precedent for government interference in speech in the future. "In light of the recent arrests that have followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks — many of which are clearly overboard — I would say that France's government needs to seriously think about whether this law will stop terrorists, or merely chill speech," Jillian York, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said in an email to The Verge. Others question the effectiveness of the measure. Felix Tréguer, of the French online rights group La Quadrature du Net, says the decree risks "over-blocking perfectly legal content," adding that the domain name system (DNS) blocking that it calls for can be easily circumvented. "The measure only gives the illusion that the State is acting for our safety," Tréguer said in a statement published today, "while going one step further in undermining fundamental rights online." A small ruling class exerting control over the rights of the many in favor of its own power? Where have I heard this story before? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
It's often been said that trust is something that you earn -- or that you completely destroy in irredeemable ways. So it's a little bizarre to see President Obama trying to restore German trust in the US (and specifically over NSA surveillance) with a bogus "hey, trust us" line, when his own government has spent the past few years doing everything possible to undermine any residual trust. Yet here he is, in a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking for "the benefit of the doubt." There are going to still be areas where we’ve got to work through these issues. We have to internally work through some of these issues, because they’re complicated, they’re difficult. If we are trying to track a network that is planning to carry out attacks in New York or Berlin or Paris, and they are communicating primarily in cyberspace, and we have the capacity to stop an attack like that, but that requires us then being able to operate within that cyberspace, how do we make sure that we’re able to do that, carry out those functions, while still meeting our core principles of respecting the privacy of all our people? And given Germany’s history, I recognize the sensitivities around this issue. What I would ask would be that the German people recognize that the United States has always been on the forefront of trying to promote civil liberties, that we have traditions of due process that we respect, that we have been a consistent partner of yours in the course of the last 70 years, and certainly the last 25 years, in reinforcing the values that we share. And so occasionally I would like the German people to give us the benefit of the doubt, given our history, as opposed to assuming the worst -- assuming that we have been consistently your strong partners and that we share a common set of values. And if we have that fundamental, underlying trust, there are going to be times where there are disagreements, and both sides may make mistakes, and there are going to be irritants like there are between friends, but the underlying foundation for the relationship remains sound. Yes, I can understand why President Obama would want that, but that doesn't mean that he deserves it. This is the same president who allowed the surveillance to happen in the first place, who acted surprised when told it covered Angela Merkel, and who has done nothing more than paid lip service to the idea of reforming surveillance. This is the president who could have ended the bulk collection of phone records just by ordering the NSA to not seek a renewal for its authority, but has not done so. This is the same President who has prosecuted more whistleblowers and journalists under the Espionage Act than all other Presidents combined (and then doubled). And this is the same administration who has fought off nearly every attempt at transparency over these actions. So, I'm sorry, but it seems rather hilarious to just say "trust us" when no reason has been given for that trust. No effort has been made to show why the US is trustworthy on this matter. Yes, mistakes are made at times, and then it's quite right to recognize that not everyone is perfect. But to suggest that the US's surveillance actions over the past decade have all been a result of such slip ups doesn't hold any water at all. There is a consistent pattern of stretching the boundaries further and further and playing games with definitions in the law and ever increasing the powers of the surveillance state. President Obama and the US government may have had the benefit of the doubt in the past, but on surveillance, at this point in time, it seems like it's going to need a hell of a lot more than "hey, we're the good guys!" to get people to trust them on that again.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
When TAFTA/TTIP was first announced, David Cameron said it would "have a greater impact than all the other trade deals on the table put together." We were repeatedly assured that it would boost both the US and EU economies significantly. But when people started looking at the European Commission's own projections for TTIP (pdf), they found that the reality wasn't so impressive. Here's the economist Dean Baker, in a post entitled "Why Is It So Acceptable to Lie to Promote Trade Deals?": The most widely cited projections for the growth impact of the TTIP are from the Centre for Economic Policy Research [CEPR] in London [in a study paid for by the European Commission] which shows the pact leading to an increase in GDP of 0.4 percent in the U.S. when its effects are fully felt in 2027, and 0.5 percent in the European Union. The analysis explicitly says that it will not lead to more jobs since the models are full employment models. It may lead to somewhat higher wages, but it is not a way to employ the unemployed. Furthermore, the discussion notes that in the transition, some workers may end up unemployed as the economies adjust to the new rules. Implying that a deal that raises GDP by 0.4 or 0.5 percent 13 years out means "job-creating opportunities for workers on both continents" is just dishonest. The increment to annual growth is on the order of 0.03 percentage points. Good luck finding that in the data. Recognizing that claims of substantial growth don't stand up to scrutiny, boosters of TTIP in Europe have resorted to a fallback technique: anecdote. If you can't prove something is good in general, show that it will be good for someone -- anyone -- and then extrapolate. Of course, that means you need to find an example of an industry that would definitely benefit from a US-EU trade agreement. An EU document on regulatory harmonization (pdf) from September 2013 gave a strong hint of which that might be: The safety regulations that apply to cars are different in the US and the EU -- even if the end result is comparable levels of safety. In fact, it's already possible to drive some US- approved cars on European roads, under a special European approval system. Through TTIP, the Commission would like regulators to formally recognise that important parts of our two regulatory systems are broadly the same in safety terms. Later in the same document we read: Electric cars offer great potential to tackle climate change and pollution while boosting growth. Many companies on both sides of the Atlantic already sell them. Making them practical however will require new infrastructure as well as technologies and standards to ensure they are safe. That is why EU and US regulators and standard setters on both sides of the Atlantic are getting together early in this process to try to find common solutions that would allow for a real transatlantic market. And then: One example is the whole area of car safety already mentioned. The political choice in this kind of regulation is that the car has to be safe. For example, doors need to be strong enough to withstand impact and airbags need to function perfectly. It is striking how the anecdotal stories about the various ways in which the automotive industry would benefit from TAFTA/TTIP have become even more widespread recently. Here's the British MP John Healey, one of the main cheerleaders for TTIP in the UK, writing in October 2014 about the "potential gains" of the agreement. Guess which example he chooses? Take the car industry -- a British success story; supporting hundreds of thousands of good manufacturing jobs across the country. Eight out of ten cars made in the UK are sold abroad, but we currently sell far fewer than we could to the US because of different regulatory rules. This needn’t mean standards are higher or lower. Just as we drive on the left and they on the right, some regulations are not better or worse, just different. Here's the EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom, speaking to the European Parliament's trade committee in December 2014: Take cars, we could look at the differences in our car crash tests or the way we check if the seat covers are flame-resistant. Reconciling small differences like these, without compromising on safety, would be a huge step forward. A recent video from the German industry association BDI extolling the virtues of TTIP for small and medium-sized companies uses two examples -- one of which is cars. And here's a video from BBC News which is all about the fact that TTIP will make it easier to sell European products in the US, using cars as its example. The main CEPR study on the economic impact of TTIP does, indeed, predict that car sales will increase. In fact, as Martin Whitlock has noted, that boost to transatlantic trade in cars contributes half of TAFTA/TTIP's total projected uplift to economies: Cars form a big part of the E.U.'s case for TTIP. They account for 47% of the increase in exports and 41% of the increase in imports in the best case scenario, with well over three times as many vehicles braving the Atlantic storms in one direction or the other than at present. Since the gains for this industry are expected to be so large, and those for other industries so small, why not drop all the contentious stuff that threatens to derail the whole deal, and concentrate on cars? In any case, it would be more honest to rename the TTIP proposal as the "Atlantic Car Trade Agreement," since that's what it is really about. We could even call it "ACTA" for short. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
A couple decades ago, the choices for elementary schools were pretty simple and limited -- public or private school. It's a bit more complicated now with public schools, charter schools, magnet schools and various different kinds of private schools that may be religious or based on a particular philosophy or pedagogical technique. (There's also the choice of opting-out with homeschooling....) In the end, there's no certainty in any complex decision -- some schools might have higher test scores, but quantitative statistics aren't everything. Here are just a few links for parents looking at a choice between elementary schools. If you're totally new to the experience of picking a pre-school or elementary school, PBS Parents has compiled some questions to think about. Or just more stuff to stress about.... [url] Most parents just send their kid to the school closest to their home. But for those parents who are considering different schools, test score data should be interpreted in a trend context, not just as a snapshot grade for the school. [url] Some techies are opting to homeschool with the help of online resources and hacker groups to collaborate on DIY projects. There are some startups like AltSchool and programs from the Khan Academy that are contributing to this additional alternative to the public/private school model. [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

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
You may remember that several months ago, Nintendo announced plans to create a YouTuber-affiliate program that would finally allow YouTube personalities to, according to Nintendo, share in the ad revenue generated by YouTube videos featuring Nintendo content. Leaving aside the notion that such videos are essentially a version of free advertising for the company, there was also a great deal of concern over how much control Nintendo wanted to leverage over the content within the videos. The wording in the agreement made it clear that access was being traded for positive coverage, essentially destroying the trust relationship between YouTube producers and their hard-won audiences. Well, as if those concerns weren't enough, it turns out that Nintendo can't even administer to their own program appropriately, the result of which is them attempting to exert even more control. The problem? Well, it turns out too many people wanted to sign up. Many people are still waiting for Nintendo to approve their first set of submitted YouTube creations despite the company’s promise to process videos in “two to three days.” The game publisher has acknowledged the problem, and it says that it’s still working on getting caught up. Game videos on YouTube is a big business, as that category regularly has the biggest audience of viewers and subscribers. “Due to your enthusiasm for the program, we’re receiving a higher volume of applications to register channels and videos than expected,” reads an update on the Creator’s Program website. “It is taking longer than we anticipated to confirm the applications. We appreciate your patience as we work through them as quickly as possible.” Given the kind of money involved in game videos on YouTube, you have to believe the request for patience is being met with glares and stares. Especially, as I mentioned above, since Nintendo appears to be a subscriber to the theory that every crises is an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to tighten their grip on video content even more, to a degree that's actually quite stunning. Nintendo posted an extensive whitelist of games that it has said are OK to monetize on YouTube. You can read the list for yourself, since it’s far too long to include here. For people who did want to submit their entire YouTube channels to Nintendo, the company is now saying that it will have to turn down your application if you have any uploads featuring games not on the whitelist. That includes non-Nintendo games. “If a video within your channel contains game titles outside of the list of supported games, please remove it from the channel before registering,” reads the website. “If you are unable to remove the video from your channel, please register each video that contains game titles on the list of supported games individually.” Except, as Nintendo also noted, the company is first completing registrations or entire channels, while the wait time for registering individual videos has ballooned. What does this mean? Well, if you actually want to get this stuff rolling, you register your entire channel. And if you do that, you have to delete any videos that aren't on Nintendo's happy-happy approved list. That's about as clear-cut an example of using a bureaucracy to shape a message through complicit media as it gets, and it should be a warning to anyone who was thinking about getting into bed with Nintendo on this YouTuber thing but hasn't yet. Because, and this is important, this is the beginning. If Nintendo is attempting to control video producers' content this way at the beginning, imagine what they have planned once they've convinced enough producers to sign up. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
California judge Paul Grewal continues to hold up his end of the "Magistrates' Revolt." Grewal was the magistrate who shot down the government's open-ended request to grab every email in a person's Gmail account and sort through them at its leisure. He was actually the second magistrate to shoot down this request. The government went "judge shopping" after Judge John Facciola told it the scope of the request needed to be narrowed considerably before he would even think about granting it. The government decided it still wanted all the email and traveled across the country to see Judge Grewal… who told them to GTFO without even giving the feds the option to rewrite the request. Grewal is once again siding with the public and acting as a check against government overreach. Law enforcement cannot indefinitely forbid Yahoo Inc from revealing a grand jury subpoena that seeks subscriber account information, a U.S. judge ruled, because doing so would violate the company’s free speech rights. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose, California on Thursday wrote that the government’s request would prohibit Yahoo from disclosing the subpoena, even years after the grand jury concluded its probe. The court order does not disclose the target of the federal investigation. “In an era of increasing public demand for transparency about the extent of government demands for data from providers like Yahoo!, this cannot stand,” Grewal wrote. Yahoo has had its fill of government secrecy. It spent a long time fighting both broad subscriber data requests from the NSA and their accompanying 25-year gag orders. Its ardent defense of its subscribers against broad government requests would still be under seal, but thanks to recently declassified documents, it has been able to address the subject publicly -- nearly 18 years before the gag order would have "aged off." The DOJ again wants to maintain its subpoena secrecy, hoping to keep internet platforms like Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook from discussing grand jury subpoenas until… well, it's not entirely clear there's really an ending date. Instead of asking that Yahoo be gagged for 60 or 90 days, the government asked that the company be gagged until further order of the court. Grewal's rejection points out that the government feels entitled to indefinite gag orders, but has yet to offer any reasons why it should have its wishes granted. The government did not demonstrate why such an indefinite request was necessary, Grewal wrote. Judge Grewal has sent the government back to perform a rewrite -- either providing justification for its ridiculous demands, or to request something less illogical, like a finite gag order. The government has availed itself of many judicial rubber stamps over the years, but it looks like it's still running into resistance on both coasts: Paul Grewal in California and John Facciola in Washington D.C. The ACLU has also been engaged in this fight against government secrecy since early last year, bringing more attention and legal expertise to an issue that hasn't achieved the terminal velocity of mainstream media attention. It's a bit more trench warfare, pitting magistrate judges and amicus briefs against the DOJ's assumption that it should have whatever it asks for, because terrorism, drugs, grand juries or whatever.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Did you think Katy Perry's lawyers sending a questionable cease & desist letter over 3d printable plans for "the left shark" backup dancer in Katy Perry's Superbowl Halftime routine would be the end of that story? It turns out that the guy who originally created the 3d printed figurine, Fernando Sosa, has now gone out and retained law professor/lawyer Chris Sprigman (the same Chris Sprigman we quoted in our original article detailing why a costume is a "useful article" and thus not copyrightable) to send a response to Perry's lawyers explaining copyright 101 to them. Mr. Sosa is not especially eager to be fighting over copyright, but the legal merits of your claim seem very weak. (We also wonder what Katy Perry could possibly stand to gain from declaring war on an Internet meme, but that's her business.) Mr. Sosa has a few questions that he wants answered before he will remove Left Shark from the other online stores in which it is available. First, can you tell me why you believe the costume of a shark that you claim Katy Perry owns is copyrightable? As you likely know, federal courts and the United States Copyright Office have made clear that costumes are generally not copyrightable. Please tell me why you think the Left Shark costume should be treated differently. Second, what is the basis for your claim that Katy Perry, and not some other person, owns the copyright? Did Katy Perry design the Left Shark costume? If so, when? If not, who did? Did that person transfer any copyright interest he or she might have (in reality, very likely none) to Katy Perry? If so, when? We ask about ownership not least because Katy Perry herself suggested that she didn't have control over the content of her halftime show, but rather the NFL did. See, for example, her recent interview with Ell magazine: "In my show, I am boss daddy. I am bossy mommy. They call me Boss. Everything goes through my eyes; I call all the shots, 100 percent of it. With the NFL, I have to be accountable to several levels of red tape. There are many committees I have to go through for my costumes, the budgets of my show, every interview--everything, I have to report to somebody. So I am no longer the boss; I have to relinquish that control." At the very least, Katy Perry's own account raises questions about what, if anything, she owns. If she wasn't the boss of her halftime show, she's also unlikely to be the copyright owner. Sprigman also ends his letter with some quite sane advice: perhaps Katy Perry's lawyers should just drop this: I'll end my letter with a simple request: Just drop this thing. My client wants to get back to his business, and he (and I'd wager pretty much everyone else) would be grateful if you'd just back off. Going ahead with these very dubious copyright claims will not benefit Katy Perry. But if you're determined to press on, please do respond to my legal questions, and we can try to work it out from there. This may be some of the best advice given to opposing lawyers. Now the question is whether or not Perry's lawyers will take it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Marcy Wheeler has picked up on an interesting claim made in the CIA's "We Did Nothing Wrong" report. This report -- an in-house investigation of the CIA's snooping on/hacking Senate staffers during the compilation of the Torture Report -- tossed out the Inspector General's findings and cleared the agency of any misconduct. It then went on to disingenuously claim that it was the Senate, not the CIA, that broke the rules. According to the CIA's investigators, Senate staffers accessed documents they weren't supposed to see, apparently by "abusing" the shared network set up explicitly for the Torture Report compilation. What Wheeler spotted -- in a very thorough fisking of the CIA investigative report by Katherine Hawkins of Just Security -- is the attempted criminalization of Google searches. As Hawkins summarizes, the crime report was based off a flaw in the Google search that CIA’s own contractor had built into the system. "On February 7, 2014, the CIA’s Acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger (whose name is redacted from the OIG report) filed a crimes report against Senate staff with the Department of Justice. The OIG report found that the crimes report “was unfounded,” in part because Eatinger “had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based.” In particular, the OIG wrote: [T]he crimes report stated that SSCI staffers might have exploited a software vulnerability on RDINet to obtain access to the [Panetta Review documents], in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act … The report was solely based on inaccurate information provided by the two [Office of the General Counsel] attorneys [to the Office of Security]. The OIG report found that there was indeed “a vulnerability” with the Google search tool that the CIA provided to the committee, which was “not configured to enforce access rights or search permissions within RDINet and its holdings” from 2009 to April 2013. But contrary to the CIA lawyer’s memorandum and the crimes report to DOJ, OIG found no evidence that Senate staff had deliberately “exploited” this flaw until CIA personnel “confronted them” with inappropriately accessed documents. Rather, it was SSCI staff who brought the vulnerability to the CIA’s attention. On November 1, 2012, a SSCI staff member alerted CIA staff that the search tool “was indexing the Majority staff work product on a shared drive,” and asked them to make it stop. The CIA did not act on this request for months. Then in 2013, a SSCI staff member requested “a number of detainee videos not provided to the SSCI by the CIA,” based on a spreadsheet that a CIA employee recognized as being from the Panetta Review. After this incident, in April 2013, CIA IT staff finally discovered and repaired the flaw with the Google search tool." So, the CIA deployed an insecure system, was warned about it, but never bothered to do anything about it until it came across documents the Senate supposedly wasn't allowed to have. As Hawkins points out in her Just Security post, the ongoing accusation that the Senate "hacked" the CIA's servers is pure BS. None other than Senator Feinstein addressed this bogus claim on the Senate floor in March of 2014: [C]ommittee staff did not “hack” into CIA computers to obtain these documents as has been suggested in the press. The documents were identified using the search tool provided by the CIA to search the documents provided to the committee. It was no hack, but the CIA attempted to hurl a Senate staffer into the jaws of the CFAA -- a law that magically turns those who discover security flaws into felons. In its February 2014 letter to Eric Holder, the CIA's counsel describes the alleged hacking as nefarious exploitation of its (admittedly insecure) search function. The information made available to me indicates that in the November 2010 timeframe, the non-employee conducted a search that appeared intended to reach into part of the computer system to which the non-employee did not have authorized access. In such a circumstance, the system was designed to bring up on the workstation screen a page that advised the non-employee was not authorized to access that document. This page, however, had the security vulnerability that has since been discovered and remedied. The security vulnerability was that the page also contained a "URL" that indicated where the document was located on the system and if an individual copied the URL and pasted it into the browser's address bar, the individual could gain access to the document, copy it, bring that copy across the firewall, and paste it into a folder on his or her side of the firewall. The information made available to me indicates the non-employee copied the URL, pasted it directly into the browser's bar, and accessed the document. That's incredibly poor security for a bunch of documents the CIA clearly didn't want the Senate to access. And it wasn't cheap, either. This custom Google search and server set-up was apparently a large portion of the $40 million spent to compile the Torture Report. And let's not forget that this vulnerability was undiscovered for over two years and not immediately patched when it eventually was discovered. A staffer finding a flaw in a system isn't hacking, no matter how much the CIA wants it to be. But the CFAA allows the government to use the law's most charitable readings when prosecuting "hackers." The CIA finds wrongdoing everywhere but never in its own backyard. Its management, employees and contractors who presided over its illegal torture program will not be held accountable for their actions. But the CIA wanted the Senate to be held accountable for… holding the CIA accountable. Hawkins again: I know some of the staffers who wrote the torture report, including the probable subject of the crimes report to the DOJ. They do not leak and have never been credibly been accused of leaking. They do not confirm or deny information that is officially classified, no matter how obvious it is or how many years it has been in the public domain. They scrupulously continue to follow the classification restrictions that the CIA and the committee placed on them, no matter how absurd those restrictions are or how severe the crimes they conceal. Nevertheless, the CIA searched their computer drives and their emails, and referred them to the DOJ for prosecution. Why? Because, in the course of an official Senate investigation into the torture program, they used a CIA-installed Google search tool to find CIA documents about the torture program. They read the documents, despite the fact that they contained a questionable stamp of “privilege,” and preserved them when they thought they were in danger of destruction. The staffers’ actions were not crimes or a security breach justifying a search of Senate computers. Their actions were oversight of an agency in sore need of it. The CIA is a rogue agency, much like its counterparts, the FBI and NSA. It may be publicly embarrassed or wince at the criticism and condemnation thrown its way, but it ultimately answers to no one -- not even after its worst behavior has been exposed. It walks away from a damning report pretty much intact and has the gall to suggest Senate staffers be punished for walking in and out of its firesieve with damaging documents in their hands.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
The EFF recently kicked off a contest for the "most outrageous response to a Freedom of Information Act request" and we already have a frontrunner for the first inaugural "Foilie." MuckRock's loose confederation of FOIA rabblerousers has been hit with a $1.4 million price tag for John Dyer's request for documents related to the "localization and capture" of Mexican drug lord "El Chapo." (Or Joaquin Guzman, as he was presumably known to his mom.) The price tag for the requested documents is almost absurdly high. Almost. There are some mitigating factors that might keep this request from snagging the coveted "Foilie." For one, there's a whole lot of responsive documents. In fairness, the request is quite broad in scope, and the estimated 13,051 case files would create considerable workload. But on the other hand, the estimate seems to have been pulled out of thin air, rather than based on any actual calculations. But assuming that $200,000 of that fee came from photocopying (which would put the total number of pages at two million), that would put the time estimate at over 40,000 hours, or 1785 days. That's almost five years of constant work without breaks. And while $1.4 million may be pocket change for an agency with a budget in the low billions, it's a much bigger number than MuckRock's system is built to handle. Attempting to punch this estimated total into the "Cost" field returned a "What is this? A phone number??!?" error. Naturally, the DEA has denied MuckRock's requested fee waiver, citing a whole page worth of reasons, but really mainly because there's no way it would kick 13,000 documents loose without collecting a substantial amount from the requester. On the other hand, this sky-high fee runs counter to the intended purpose of the Freedom of Information laws: to "free information." That doesn't mean it should necessarily be "free," but it does mean that agencies are supposed to do their best to ensure the public isn't priced out of accessing information. This request will have to be narrowed considerably if MuckRock hopes to obtain anything on this subject from the DEA. While it does have crowdfunding options, the chances of donors putting together over a million dollars seems unlikely. And the DEA itself could use some guidance on putting together fee estimates, seeing as some simple math exposes how its $1.4 million quote is completely unmoored from reality. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
YouTube's ContentID system is again being abused to take videos out of the control of the uploaders. The latest wave of bogus ContentID claims comes from (possibly) Japan's eLicense, which is seemingly staking a claim to as many Sega-related videos as possible in order to siphon ad money away from the account holders. (via GamePolitics) One YouTube account holder was hit with over 100 ContentID claims alone, while others have had some hits and some misses. Nowhere on eLicense's site does it say the company is authorized to make ContentID claims on behalf of Sega. Sega America has since responded to the uproar, denying having anything to do with the hundreds of filed claims. Regarding eLicense, this company is not working on behalf of SEGA in any capacity. We are issuing a Cease & Desist to eLicense and reaching out to YouTube directly to work on resolving this problem. eLicense is acting independently and Sega intends to take the necessary action to prevent this from happening again. Please help us in spreading the word wherever you see it online, feel free to link back to this post. Thanks all for reporting and documenting this issue! Now, there are a couple of confusing factors. eLicense is a Japanese company and it could be possible that Sega Japan has retained its services. If so, the American arm of Sega doesn't seem to be aware of this. Among the evidence in favor of pointing the finger at this eLicense is this tantalizing headline from its website touting its move into ContentID management. But it could be that Japan's eLicense (which actually spells its name "e-License" on its site) has nothing to do with this debacle. It could be a nearly-identically named American company whose official spelling ("eLicense") matches up with the name listed in Sega's statement. However, this eLicense -- while apparently in the business of protecting game developers from infringement (its [unarguably lousy looking] client page contains logos for EA, Out of the Park, Pogo and Sports Interactive) -- doesn't have Sega listed as a client either. No matter which eLicense it is, the claims are bogus. And some gamers/YouTube account holders aren't too happy with the fact that challenging bogus claims puts their accounts at risk. If a challenged claim fails, it's a strike against their account. So, many have just taken the hit and allowed another company to start monetizing their personal uploads. The good news is that Sega has been very responsive. Many of those affected by these bogus claims have reported that these have been removed. Others are still waiting to have the claims lifted, but it's obvious an effort is being made by Sega to clean up this mess. Back to the bad news: this is yet another failing of the ContentID system and YouTube's general approach to copyright claims. Nearly any entity can make a claim on someone else's uploaded videos and the burden of proof is passed along almost entirely to the accused. With ContentID, this process is nearly automatic. We've seen multiple cases of abuse in this system by bad actors who have used content that isn't theirs to make bogus claims on hundreds of gameplay videos solely for the purpose of grabbing ad revenue without actually having to earn it. Sega's past efforts in the IP enforcement field haven't always been on the side of its fans and customers, but it is heartening to see it has made a proactive effort to retract eLicense's unauthorized claims. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Guess who's eavesdropping on you now? It's not some nefarious government agency (although, rest assured, there has been no downturn in surveillance). Nope, it's that smart TV you paid good money for and invited into your home. The "now" is misleading. Smart TVs have been doing this ever since manufacturers decided customers preferred to order their electronics around orally, rather than using the remote they can never find. And that's just the "eavesdropping" part. Most smart TVs are harvesting plenty of data on top of that, including viewing habits, search terms, browsing history… pretty much anything that makes a TV "smart" is collected and transmitted not just to the manufacturer, but to plenty of unknown third parties. Usually, this information is used to send "relevant ads" to TV owners, as if the several hundred dollars spent on the device wasn't enough of a revenue stream. Samsung -- which is currently catching a lot of internet heat for its so-called "Privacy Policy" -- is no exception. It's the wording used that's making it the target du jour, turning other recent privacy policy villains (LG: "agree to share damn near everything or enjoy your super-expensive 'stupid' TV"; Microsoft: 'why don't we just treat your living room like a movie theater and use our camera technology to count heads and charge increased VOD 'admission'") into distant memories. Under "Voice recognition," Samsung's privacy policy says this: To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. 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 through your use of Voice Recognition. Obviously, some very temporary "collection" and "transmission" needs to take place to allow a third party service to "recognize" the user's voice and ensure the smart TV does what it's told. But Samsung also collects and captures these communications... and it doesn't really say how, where or for how long these are stored. The EFF's Parker Higgins noted that Samsung's voice recognition policy sounds eerily like the description of "telescreens" from George Orwell's really-not-supposed-to-be-a-blueprint-for-the-future 1984. Left: Samsung SmartTV privacy policy, warning users not to discuss personal info in front of their TV Right: 1984 pic.twitter.com/osywjYKV3W — Parker Higgins (@xor) February 8, 2015 Compare Samsung's wording... 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 through your use of Voice Recognition. with Orwell's: The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment… You had to live--did live, from habit that became instinct--in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. Fun stuff. The only thing missing from the scenario is a government intermediary. But it's not much a stretch to insert one. It could certainly be construed that any personal communications collected and stored by Samsung would fall under the Third Party Doctrine. If a government agency (local law enforcement, FBI, etc.) wishes to acquire these, they wouldn't face much of a challenge because of the lowered expectation of privacy. If Suspect X is viewed carrying a Samsung smart TV into his home, law enforcement could issue a subpoena to Samsung to acquire any voice recordings it had collected from that device. Eavesdropping by proxy. Discuss a drug deal in front of the TV? Here come the cops. No warrants or wiretaps needed. This hypothetical would require law enforcement to know the device's ID number, something that would be hard to obtain without an actual search warrant. In the most likely scenario, the voice recognition data would be collected after a regular search had been completed. Now, previous conversations people thought no one heard could be introduced as evidence against them, thanks to the widescreen narc installed on the premises. Here's a hypothetical that's even more "fun" to consider: a law enforcement agency is aware certain smart TVs collect and store voice recordings (along with viewing habits, internet browsing history, search terms, etc.) So, officers kick off a gun amnesty program where unregistered weapons can be turned in for free big screen TVs. Now, this law enforcement agency has a small army of hi-def confidential informants installed in numerous homes. All data can be collected at the agency's convenience, using little more than the "unregistered guns must belong solely to criminals" rationale. But Samsung isn't the only device manufacturer collecting, storing and transmitting its customers' everyday conversations. Others do it, too. Some just hide it better. In LG's 50+ pages of smart TV fine print, it says the following about voice recognition: I agree that LG Electronics Inc. ("LGE") may process Voice Information in the manner set out in the Privacy Policy and below. Voice Information refers to the recording of voice commands and associated data, such as information about the input device that is used to record commands (e.g., Magic Remote or built-in microphone), OS information, TV model information, content provider, channel information and service results. I understand and agree that Voice Information may be use for the purpose of powering the voice activation feature when used to control, receive, and improve LG Smart TV Services and as described in the Privacy Policy. I further understand and agree that LGE may share Voice Information with third parties, including providers of voice analytics. I understand and agree that Voice Information may be transferred to, and used by, third party service providers on LGE's behalf in various countries around the world (including Korea), some of which may not offer the same level of data protection, for the purposes set out in the Privacy Policy. And there's your Third Party Doctrine. All anyone arguing for the right to subpoena voice information has to do is point to the User Agreement as clear evidence that the person in question is voluntarily turning over voice recordings to a third party. And away goes the expectation of privacy. We don't expect our devices to send overheard conversations to anyone other than the voice recognition technology provider. But they do. And they send it (and store it) without providing any specifics about the unnamed third parties, where they're located, how secure these transmissions are (to protect them from criminals -- the other unwanted "third parties") or how long the manufacturer itself retains this data. The transparency level of these manufacturers rivals that of the government. And that not a good thing, because it makes it far too easy for them to become willing partners with agencies who thrive on the abuse of the Third Party Doctrine. Samsung -- and manufacturers like it -- need to provide more than vague assurances. They need to explicitly explain what's happening to all the data they're collecting, especially when the collection involves entertainment devices listening in on private conversations... and calling it a "feature." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
The anti-net-neutrality crowd was out in full force this week, bringing us both of our most insightful comments. First, after Verizon said that regulating the internet for the first time is "unnecessary and counterproductive", DannyB offered his curiously unsigned thoughts on the matter: Heavily regulating the Internet for the first time would be unnecessary if you were doing your job. Your Job: to route packets closer to their destination. Not Your Job: inspecting them, 'prioritizing' them, mis-routing them, playing games with DNS, being the copyright cops for a private industry that has it's head so far . . . well, let's just say it's not your job to do anything but route packets. As for your lawsuit. Boo Hoo. You brought all of this on yourself. Sincerely, Next, after an astroturfing group made a attempt to discredit net neutrality with media campaigns ranging from the stupid to the bizarre (including a porno parody video), John Fenderson decided that in that case, hey, fair's fair: As long as they're going to make stupid, wrong arguments We can reply with our own stupid, wrong argument: if these nefarious, greedy companies hate the idea this much, then it must be a great idea. Of course, net neutrality wasn't the only issue being grossly misrepresented this week. We also saw the MPAA once again insisting that films and TV shows are easily available to buy or rent online, and as such the only motivation for piracy must be a refusal to pay. Unsurprisingly, this claim was quickly debunked, leading to our first editor's choice comment for insightful in which an anonymous commenter reiterates just how stupid the idea of format release windows are to begin with: Not even like books and music... The movie industry pretends that they can limit how and when you see their creative works when they're first released to the public - through a movie theater... When a musician produces a new album or song, does he force you to see it live in concert before you can buy it and listen to it yourself? When an author releases a new book, do they force you to come listen to someone read it to you (or watch the words roll by on a screen that they control) before you can obtain it and read it at your own pace? This idea that they can control your "viewing experience" is rather bullshit IMO. I don't want to go to a movie theater - I want to obtain a copy of the movie that I can watch at my leisure, pausing and playing as needed, rewinding and watching again to see the parts I didn't understand or wasn't paying attention to, while eating my own food on my own couch in front of my own TV (or sitting on a plane during a business trip). The idea that I must wait weeks or months for this opportunity is strange and old-fashioned... and by the time the movie is released on disc (or streaming), it's already lost a lot of it's luster and interest. They're excluding a huge audience here. Next, we've got a comment from jameshogg in response to the latest developments in the copyright lawsuit over Blurred Lines and its Marvin Gaye influences, in which he elegantly explains just how quickly the supposed idea-expression dichotomy, or at least the way it's currently handled, falls apart under scrutiny: "Copyright doesn't protect the notes, it protects the symphonies!" A word is a symphony of letters. A sentence is a symphony of words. A line is a symphony of dots. A square is a symphony of lines. A cube is a symphony of squares. A blended colour is a symphony of primary colours. Only when you point these things out do you then hear the cries of "well we're still going to just set the limits here, here and here anyway because we JUST ARE" when their logic of "symphonies, not notes" falls apart, sometimes it's "but those things you mentioned are too foundational to meet the limits" one time and "three black circles DOES count for Disney!!" another: they fall back onto "we decide" as the basis of their argument, which is way too slippery a standard to pass any elementary freedom of expression test. When you cut through all the jargon and crap, copyright believers make the same claim as all censors: they consider themselves capable of drawing lines without falling into corruption. Over on the funny side, truly the funniest comment of the week isn't from Techdirt at all — it's from the Bob Litt, the top intelligence community lawyer who endorsed magical security backdoors while stating "I’m not a cryptographer, but I am an optimist". As for our comments, first place for funny comes in anonymously from someone who saw a better choice of phrasing: Damn it, Jim! I'm an optimist, not a cryptographer! In second place for funny, we've got a response to the big net neutrality news of the week: Tom Wheeler officially throwing his support behind Title II. Unsurprisingly, a member of the "I automatically hate anything with the word 'regulation' in it" crowd mocked the idea in our comments, leading Baron von Robber to follow the train of thought: Yea, you dummies! Just look at other countries that have regulated the Internet as a utilities. They have multiple ISPs to choose from, higher speeds and lower prices in their regulated states! Suckers! Wait a tick........ For editor's choice on the funny side, we've got a theme of food, because why not? First, after the French government made some much-derided warnings about the dangers of people who stop eating baguettes and thus might be terrorists, one anonymous commenter took it as proof of a pet theory: Atkin's Diet = Terrorism. I always suspected that. Finally, after one commenter went on a bit of an overboard rant about the trials of ordering pizza online (something I personally love and do far too often), and pined for the good ol' days of a simple direct phone call (which are also the good now days, since independent pizza places aren't exactly extinct), jupiterkansas took the theme one gloriously absurd step further: I remember when you had to walk to the pizza place to get a pizza because there were no telephones. Of course, they didn't have pizza then either, so you just came home with a rutabaga. And you liked it. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago Before the Hachette fight, Amazon got in a conflict with Macmillan over ebook prices this week in 2010. Authors were mad at Amazon, but some in the industry were beginning to realize that change can be turbulent, but still good. Heck, even Rupert Murdoch's daughter acknowledged that piracy can be good. This is in stark contrast to the music duo that claimed it would stop selling CDs until all piracy is stopped (though that might have been a joke). Billboard Magazine took a shot at Techdirt directly, decrying our ideas about CwF+RtB, leading us to explain how it still takes effort and commitment. Definitely not a joke, however, was the Citizens United ruling, which had just come out, leading us to wonder if a corporation could run for public office. Later in the week, a PR company took that idea a step further. In Australia, iiNet won its lawsuit against movie studios claiming it was responsible for user infringement, and the ruling offered a great explanation of why ISP's can't be copyright cops. The industry responded by immediately asking for a government bailout and, of course, this story and this fight were far from over. On the flipside, an Australian court this week also decided that Men At Work's Down Under did indeed infringe on a decades-old folk song. Ten Years Ago Long before Bing, Microsoft made its first attempt at breaching the world of search this week in 2005 with MSN Search. Unlike some other things launched the same week — like Amazon Prime and OnStar as a standard GM feature — it didn't stick around. The term "PDA" was in its dying days, with only a handful of people still distinguishing them from smartphones (which some were worried would wear down our thumbs). Video games were exploding beyond the central industry, with fan-made games and mashups getting attention (including attention of the legal variety). Despite regulation, spam didn't seem to be going anywhere soon, perhaps because it was still effective on a shockingly high number of people. And the latest trendy foray into culinary madness was high-tech food. Also in 2005 this week: the RIAA sued a dead woman with no computer for sharing 700 songs, Google lost a trademark lawsuit over AdWords in France, an accidental button-push almost evacuated Connecticut, and some students cast the future of RFID into question by cracking a bunch of secure chips. Fifteen Years Ago There were lots of predictions flying around this week in 2000. The wireless, mobile future was becoming more apparent, and the potential for commerce therein becoming more exciting. That much came true, but so many of the details are off — like how credit cards stick around despite fifteen years of calls for alternatives. Kinda like Usenet, which is anything but mainstream, but also far from dead despite repeated predictions of its doom. And while gaming consoles have indeed evolved into more robust multimedia devices, they haven't replaced PCs the way some expected. Also this week in 2000: BMG Germany's attempt at CD DRM was a disaster, email marketing was going legitimate, Motorola turned its sights on next-generation devices, and Techdirt saw an unexpected and unexplained traffic bump. Three-Hundred And Seventy-Eight Years Ago If you've studied economics, even casually or in passing, you've probably heard of tulip mania — a period of Dutch history in which tulip prices exploded then collapsed. It's generally presented as the first recorded economic bubble in history, and its lessons are still relevant to economics nearly 400 years later. This week marks the critical days in 1637 when the bubble began to pop — on February 3rd, tulip prices hit their peak, and by the 5th they were on the downturn. Spotty record keeping left a gap in the numbers after the 9th, but by May 1st the market had bottomed out. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at some new tools and/or toys for anyone who likes to design, build and tinker with their own technology. Piezo Film Technology Polyvinylidene fluoride piezoelectric film is a thin, transparent material that can be used to generate sound. Yes: that means you can make speakers out of it. This Kickstarter project is all about getting this interesting material into the hands of makers and developers, so they can start exploring the possibilities of what it can do. Two of the suggestions — paper headphones, and business cards that play sound — are pretty cool by themselves, but the creator is betting (correctly, I suspect) that people can come up with all sorts of cool ideas of their own. The Element The significance of 3D printing has been clear for some time now, but the sea change it promises to usher in has always felt "on the horizon". Everyone's waiting for that tipping point that will make it one of the most disruptive, revolutionary technologies in modern history — and The Element is one more step in that direction. It's a small, go-between USB device that promises to take a lot of the technical hassle out of 3D printing. It makes it easier to find and create designs, and (critically) easier to get them properly formatted and sliced for printing without the huge hassle of trial-and-error, plus it adds handy features like queuing and remote monitoring. If it brings 3D printing a step closer to "it just works" status, then it's done its job. DuinoKit Jr. When I was a kid, my parents bought me one of those electronic "labs" from Radio Shack. It was a massive board covered in resistors, capacitors, transistors, diodes, switches and other components, each with little protruding springs allowing you to quickly connect them with lengths of wire. Well, the DuinoKit Jr. is that lab on steroids for the modern age. It's the same basic idea, but with components I only dreamed of like a backlit LCD display, an RGB LED and, critically, an Arduino-compatible processor at the core. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
We've been talking a lot lately about how the new school of website design (with ReCode, Bloomberg, and Vox at the vanguard) has involved a misguided war on the traditional comment section. Websites are gleefully eliminating the primary engagement mechanism with their community and then adding insult to injury by pretending it's because they really, really love "conversation." Of course the truth is many sites just don't want to pay moderators, don't think their community offers any valuable insight, or don't like how it "looks" when thirty people simultaneously tell their writers they've got story facts completely and painfully wrong. Many sites justify the move by claiming comments sections are just so packed with pile that they're beyond redemption, though studies show it doesn't actually take much work to raise the discourse bar and reclaim your comment section from the troll jungle if you just give half a damn (as in, just simple community engagement can change comment tone dramatically). Case in point is Salon, which decided to repair its awful comment section by hiring a full time moderator, rewarding good community involvement, and treating commenters like actual human beings:"You can measure engagement by raw number of comments or commenters. Using Google Analytics, Livefyre and Adobe, Salon looks at metrics like the number of replies they make as a share of overall comments, how frequently they share Salon articles, and how many pageviews they log per visit. (Users who log in, which is required if you want to comment, view seven pages per session on average, while non-registered users make it to only 1.7, according to Dooling.) After it identified these top commenters, Salon has solicited their feedback and invited them to lead discussions on posts and even help moderate threads. ..."Comments aren’t awful,” (said Salon community advisor Annemarie Dooling). “It’s just the way we position them. The whole idea is not to give up on debate."That news is now a conversation and a community is something traditional news outlets have struggled to understand, so it's ironic that a major wave of websites proclaiming to be the next great iteration of media can't seem to figure this out either. For example Verge co-founder Josh Topolsky, spearheading the freshly-redesigned Bloomberg, recently argued that disabling comments is ok because editors are still "listening" to reader feedback by watching analytics and the viewer response to wacky font changes. But that's not the same as engagement or facilitating engagement. Similarly, Reuters and ReCode editors have tried to argue that Facebook and Twitter are good enough substitutes for comments -- ignoring that outsourcing engagement to Facebook dulls and homogenizes your brand. Former managing editor for digital strategy at the New York Times Aron Pilhofer, now at The Guardian, seems to understand this point:"I feel very strongly that digital journalism needs to be a conversation with readers. This is one, if not the most important area of emphasis that traditional newsrooms are actually ignoring. You see site after site killing comments and moving away from community – that’s a monumental mistake. Any site that moves away from comments is a plus for sites like ours. Readers need and deserve a voice. They should be a core part of your journalism."Now -- can you quantify and prove that money spent on community engagement will come back to you in clear equal measure as cold, hard cash? Of course not. But all the same, it's not really a choice. We're well beyond the Walter Cronkite era of journalism where a talking head speaks at the audience from a bully pulpit. We're supposed to have realized by now that news really is a malleable, fluid, conversational organism. Under this new paradigm, reporters talk to (and correct) other reporters, blogs and websites talk to (and correct) other blogs and websites, and readers talk to (and correct) the writers and news outlets. You're swimming against the current if your website design culminates in little more than a stylish uni-directional bullhorn.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
There's no bigger business in the entertainment field than video games. Plaintiffs and lawyers seeking large payouts tend to head to where the money is, which explains the spate of highly-dubious "publicity rights" suits filed by former athletes and the occasional deposed dictator. Publicity rights are highly dubious themselves, with only a few states even recognizing that this supposed "right" exists. This has led to particularly lucrative estates "moving" dead celebrities to new "hometowns" in order to exploit local laws. But there's money in video gaming, and a whole bunch of former players have filed cash grabs in courts in hopes of securing what's never been rightfully theirs. Electronic Arts -- being the wealthiest video game producer in the world -- is a frequent target of these lawsuits. EA secures these "rights" by signing contracts with players' representatives: various players associations and entities like the NCAA -- who in turn have secured signed contracts from those they represent. These suits claim the contracts don't allow for the ongoing "exploitation" of their likenesses in recreations of historical teams But it's not as though they never had the option to not sign a contract with the NFLPA or NCAA or whoever. Various superstars have opted out of these contracts over the years. Many, many basketball video games were produced with an indescript #23 (or no one at all) standing in for Michael Jordan. Bill Belichick, the Patriots' head coach, has recused himself from EA's pro football offerings. Players of those games see nothing more than a sweatshirted dude known as "NE Coach" when controlling the current Super Bowl champions. So, there are -- and were -- options. But those options were ignored and years later, the cry of "GIVE ME MONEY" is now heard in courtrooms around America. The Ninth Circuit Court arrived at a truly troubling conclusion in Keller v. Electronic Arts, which featured eight plaintiffs arguing that the video game giant violated their publicity rights by using their likenesses. The opinion starts out promisingly enough, stating that video games -- like movies, books and plays -- are likewise protected by the First Amendment. But then the judges proceeded to qualify that seemingly crystal clear statement. In this case, we must balance the right of publicity of a former college football player against the asserted First Amendment right of a video game developer to use his likeness in its expressive works. Weighing EA's "expressive" use of players' likenesses against California's expansive publicity rights law, the court found in favor of the plaintiffs. Under California's transformative use defense, EA's use of the likenesses of college athletes like Samuel Keller in its video games is not, as a matter of law, protected by the First Amendment. We reject EA's suggestion to import the Rogers test into the right-of-publicity arena, and conclude that state law defenses for the reporting of information do not protect EA's use. Another publicity rights case, again involving EA Sports and a handful of former athletes, is in front of the same court. Eugene Volokh (of the recently-paywalled, WaPo-relocated Volokh Conspiracy) has submitted an amicus brief on behalf of EA, along with a long list of big names in the IP-meets-free-speech field, including Rebecca Tushnet (Georgetown prof and the author of the excellent 43(b) blog), Geoffrey Stone (PCLOB member and fearless free speech defender), Eric Goldman (Santa Clara Univ. prof and an excellent blogger himself), and Lawrence Lessig, who really should need no introduction at this point. The amicus brief [pdf link] not only lays out the case for EA's protected use of players' likenesses, but also invites the court to reexamine its flawed decision in Keller v. Electronic Arts. Keller’s conclusion that references to real players in fantasy sports video games are not protected by the First Amendment is mistaken, and dangerously so. The Keller majority begins with the sentence, “Video games are entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment, … ‘[l]ike the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them[.]’” 724 F.3d at 1270-71 (quoting Brown v. Entm’t Merchs. Ass’n, 131 S. Ct. 2729, 2733 (2011)). It therefore follows that, to the extent video games may infringe the right of publicity for depicting or referring to real people, so may books, plays, songs, and films. Thus, under the logic of Keller, the makers of the recent film Selma might be liable for a host of right of publicity violations unless they got permission from Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, and the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and others. The Academy Award-winning Forrest Gump might also have infringed historical figures’ right of publicity unless the filmmakers got permission from the Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Abbie Hoffman estates. Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, which asked “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?,” might have infringed Joe DiMaggio’s right of publicity. The brief points out that the circuit court is under no obligation to defer to California's screwed-up publicity rights law. It should instead defer to the First Amendment. Fortunately, the law does not require such results. The Ninth Circuit is, of course, not bound by a state court’s interpretation of the First Amendment; but even under the California Supreme Court’s “transformative work” test, all these works, including the fantasy football video games involved in Keller and in this case, are constitutionally protected. [...] The conclusion that the First Amendment does not protect depictions of real people in expressive works, whether in fictional or non-fictional settings, cannot be right. Yet this is the world that the panel decisions in Davis and Keller risk creating. Whether to preserve, reverse, or modify the circuit law created by Keller thus merits this Court’s en banc attention — especially since this Court is the “Court of Appeals for the Hollywood Circuit,” White v. Samsung Electronics Am., 989 F.2d 1512, 1521 (9th Cir. 1993) (Kozinski, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc), and for the Silicon Valley Circuit as well. Hopefully, the court will be open to examining the earlier decision, which certainly doesn't align with the decision's opening declaration that video games are just as protected by the First Amendment as their predecessors in the entertainment field. To do otherwise is to further open Hollywood's home court to further exploitation by IP ambulance chasers and litigious tourists.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
There are all kinds of cooking shows and recipe books, providing a vast and endless library of ways to make any meal you can think of. With this flood of information, the simplest meals can seem daunting because there are so many different recipes and instructions. There really is no single correct way to do anything, but some instructions are easier to remember than others. Here are just a few examples. Watch this video on how to cook bacon without creating a charred mess. Cooking bacon in a pan of water doesn't seem like a common method, but this seems like a easy enough trick to try. Plus, you get bacon in the end. [url] Martha Stewart claims to have a foolproof way to cook hard-boiled eggs. Except the key tip omitted is that older eggs are easier to peel than fresh eggs. [url] If you make pasta a lot, try this method of boiling dry pasta in a frying pan with a lot less water than usual recipes use. Or you could just continue to stick a foam cup filled with water and curly noodles in a microwave.... [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

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
This was widely expected, but Rep. Goodlatte has now officially re-introduced his patent reform bill, which largely mirrors the one that sailed through the House with ease a little over a year ago (in part because they took out some of the key parts). The Senate bill was a bit stronger and was on the verge of passing until the trial lawyers called up Senator Harry Reid, and had him flat out kill the bill, despite widespread bipartisan support. As we noted at the time, it seemed like the trial lawyers may have miscalculated, because it was already clear that the Republicans were likely to gain control over the Senate in the 2014 elections (as they did), and they were not interested in bowing down to the trial lawyers. Hopefully that means that a decent patent reform bill will actually make it through Congress this time around, but it still seems likely that, while it may help around the edges, the final bill probably won't be strong enough to fully solve the problems. Still, it's a good step forward, and at the very least, in clearing out some of the problems with the current system (often highlighted via trollish behavior) it will shine the light on remaining problems in the system.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
While Nintendo isn't necessarily known for forward-thinking when it comes to its business models, you don't necessarily expect the company to be on full-on denial mode. Coupled with its rather tragic history on treating its customers well, the gaming giant seems to make a habit out of restricting its own revenue in favor of backwards thinking. That mode of business planning appears to be progressing as Nintendo has announced that, rather than making old Nintendo games available legitimately on smart phone app stores, the company is going the other direction and looking to make smart phone games available on its 3DS mobile device. In a recent interview with the Nikkei, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed that Nintendo will be remaking more smartphone games on the Nintendo 3DS. Iwata added that the company will also be remaking old Nintendo games for the handheld. The games will be low-priced, going for a few hundred yen (a couple of bucks). That's right, instead of remaking old Nintendo games for smartphones, which anyone with a smartphone and a brain would love, Nintendo is releasing revamped and remade titles on the 3DS. That sound you here is the collective gaming world's eyebrows raising in unison. While the 3DS product may certainly do things most smart phones cannot, that doesn't really come into play when it comes to Nintendo's back-catalog of games. Imagine, just for a moment, if Nintendo chose to go the opposite direction on this. Imagine if they suddenly made their NES, SNES, and N64 games available for purchase on smart phones, devices that are perfectly suited for running those older games. Piles of money doesn't even begin to describe what Nintendo would make from doing this. Unfortunately, Nintendo is steeped in such a pervasive culture of wanton control that this strategy may not even have occurred to them. But they certainly must be aware that these games are already being played on smart phones, which really just drives home the notion that not making them legitimately available is simply pissing money away. I get that Nintendo makes games for Nintendo hardware. I get it! I also get that some of these smartphone tie-ups could be big money-makers. But there are old games that people are already playing with emulators on smartphones anyway. So why not give these games a proper (and official) release? Because, Nintendo. That's why. Well okay then. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
When it comes to criminals, most people agree that those who sexually victimize children are the worst of the worst. What happens when you turn over sensitive cases to a detective who apparently doesn't feel like doing the job? Well, cases fall into the cracks, along with the victims. Sure, even the best detectives and Special Victims Units are going to have a few that "get away." But in the case of Detective Tammy Kilgore Alois, it wasn't just a few that "got away." It was dozens. (via Crooks and Liars) The Coconut Creek police botched dozens of criminal cases involving disturbing reports about children who were raped or abused and seniors who were neglected or exploited. The 82 “special victims” cases from 2010-2012 were the focus of a trio of internal police investigations and part of another, more wide-ranging investigation by the Broward State Attorney’s Office of Coconut Creek Police Chief Michael Mann. The 82 cases investigated were all linked to the same detective: Tammy Alois. Alois failed to interview witnesses and victims and mishandled evidence. She skipped out on writing reports or presenting cases to prosecutors. Some cases were closed by Alois without any apparent investigation occurring. As a result, accused persons walked, if they were ever picked up in the first place. Worse, her neglect of these cases meant victims and their families were approached again in a belated effort to pursue Alois' neglected caseload. This reopened closed wounds. Many of those approached turned down the chance at delayed justice in order to protect the exploited from having to relive the experiences. Alois' actions not only screwed over the victims of abuse, but it did serious damage to the Coconut Creek PD's reputation, as one example pulled from the files obtained by the Florida Bulldog makes perfectly clear. March 15, 2011 – City patrol officers respond to an allegation that an adult male, a former neighbor, had sexually battered a 10-year-old boy on three separate occasions. Alois interviewed the victim on video, but the DVD was not entered into evidence. She filed no report to indicate she’d obtained the statement, nor did she send the case for further review. After Alois’ reassignment, another Coconut Creek detective contacted the boy’s father who became “extremely upset and has refused to answer any more calls.” Now, the PD has a reputation to repair, but its actions following the exposure of Alois' misconduct aren't going to win it any new fans, much less change the opinion of people like the unnamed victim's father. Alois has been fired from the Coconut Creek police department, but not because of her actions as an SVU detective. Rather, she was dismissed for violating a “Last Chance Agreement” the city gave her five months earlier in lieu of termination after she admitted to mishandling “numerous” investigations, and to prescription drug abuse. The violation was for failing to write a report about a burglary after she’d been transferred to road patrol. Alois’ discipline for bungling 82 “high liability” cases: a four-week suspension without pay – the most allowed under restrictions agreed to by the city in its contract with the Broward County Police Benevolent Association. Allowing Alois to bargain herself out of more severe punishment isn't going to ensure future accountability. The PD is obviously hamstrung by its agreement with the police union, something that is going to continue to work against its reputation. Further actions -- or lack thereof -- by entities involved in the investigation only further call into question the government's interest in holding its employees responsible for their misdeeds. Alois pretty much walked away clean from multiple years of failing in every aspect of her job. Those charged with policing the police don't appear to be too concerned with this outcome. The Broward State Attorney’s Office did not investigate Alois for possible criminal misconduct in the matter. Police records contain no indication that department officials who failed to notice or take action about what was happening during the three years that Alois seriously neglected her cases were disciplined, or even investigated. Police chief Michael Mann says Alois' boss, Lt. Scott Tabel, was "basically let go" because of this investigation. Tabel -- now employed as a police officer with the Palm Springs School District-- claims he "retired" after 21 years with the Coconut Creek PD, rather than being forced out due to Alois' actions while under his supervision. In fact, Tabel spins it the other way. He claims Mann was apprised of Alois' lousy work back in 2011, but that the Chief "didn't want to do anything about it." Other statements gathered by The Florida Bulldog back up this assertion. Biondolillo testified that he ordered a full IA investigation, but said it was “countermanded” by Chief Mann. Instead, Mann asked the city’s Human Resources department to handle it administratively, he said. Biondolillo testified that wasn’t the first time Mann had countermanded him regarding the need to investigate Alois. He said that on two previous occasions Drug Enforcement Administration agents had visited him and Mann to inform them of evidence they’d found that Alois was a patient at pain clinics under surveillance as suspected pill mills. Whatever the truth is, it still looks bad for the police department. Alois, apparently abusing drugs during her years as an SVU detective, has been allowed to walk away with her professional reputation pretty much intact. Her record will only show a dismissal for a single failure to write a report -- a burglary report at that, rather than anything linked to her neglect of children abused by adults, or seniors abused by children and assisted living personnel. If she's so inclined, she'll probably be able to secure another position in the law enforcement field, which has proven willing to launder bad cops. As for Chief Mann, he's also been cleared of any wrongdoing in this investigation. As the person ultimately responsible for Alois' failure (and her single count of misconduct), he bears some of this burden… or would if anyone was willing to hold him accountable. But it appears he'll also emerge from this unscathed. The only thing left to salvage is the PD's reputation, but those who are trying to do so appear to be stymied by those higher on the food chain: Chief Mann, the state's attorney and the police union. Because of this, future misconduct will be allowed to continue for far too long and the repercussions will be far too mild to encourage better behavior. And those wondering why good cops don't do something about the bad apples in their midst will have their depressing answer: the system protects its own, especially its worst-behaving insiders. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
There's been plenty of propaganda concerning the net neutrality fight, but with FCC boss Tom Wheeler finally making it official that the FCC is going to move to reclassify broadband, it's kicked into high gear of ridiculousness. An astroturfing front group that's anti-net neutrality is trying to make a "viral" anti-net neutrality video, and it did so in the most bizarre way, by making an attempted parody porno video, based on the classic "cable guy" porno trope. The video is sorta SFW, since the "joke" is that "the government" stops the homeowner from getting naked with the cable guy, but people at work might still question what the hell you're watching: The video makes no sense at all. You get the sense that some not particularly internet savvy (or, really, clever at all) telco wonks got together and said "how do we make a viral video -- I know, let's pretend it's a porn film!" And then tried to shoehorn in some sort of message. But the "message" appears to be that whoever put together the video doesn't know anything about what net neutrality is. Next up, we've got a not quite as bad, but still cringe-worthy attempt by CTIA, the lobbying arm of the mobile operators, which has been arguing that mobile broadband shouldn't be covered by the new net neutrality rules (a fight it appears it has lost), posting a ridiculously poorly acted "shill in the street interview" video, in which really bad actors pretend to be average people answering questions about their mobile service. It's clearly scripted, given the overexaggerated reactions and stilted dialog. The funniest bit comes in the first "interview" where this bad actor (who looks like a DC lobbyist) in a DC lobbyist video claims, "Well, Washington isn't actually known for its next-gen thinking, now is it?" No, "real person," it's not. There's also the second interview, with the woman who shows up pre-shocked, and proceeds to "complain" about the totally fake "new taxes" that are not actually going to show up because of Title II reclassification. And then there's the third guy, who, when prompted to take off his earbuds when the "interviewer" sits next to him and asks what he's listening to, says: "Pandora.... it's free." Because, yes, that's how every "real person" describes what they're listening to. By the price of it. And then, again, unprompted, he explains how great it is that his mobile operator doesn't make him pay for data when listening to Pandora (leaving out the fact that this is because his operator has set in place artificially low data caps). The video concludes with the "regular guy" interviewer saying, "There you have it, the vast majority of Americans are against stagnation, against higher fees and against fewer choices." Of course, the video doesn't show that at all. And of course, putting wireless under Title II doesn't mean any of those things. In fact, it could mean more choices and lower fees. But who needs details when you have "real" shills in the street? Finally, we've got an infographic from another front group, called "Mobile Future," whose staffers just happen to include former CTIA and US Telecom Association employees (coincidence, I'm sure). The infographic pretends to show how startups will be hindered by Title II, because now companies can (they claim) take your startup to the FCC to have your service declared unlawful, and you'll have to hire telecom lawyers, and no VC will fund you. Here's a snippet: This is, of course, complete hogwash. Why not take it from a real venture capitalist, like Fred Wilson (early money into Twitter, Tumblr, Soundcloud, Kickstarter, Etsy and many more). He pointed out the real story of what would happen in a world without these net neutrality rules, where it would make life nearly impossible for startups, because they wouldn't be able to afford to pay the big ISPs to get equal treatment to the major players. Who do you trust? A bunch of DC insiders who have never worked in the startup or venture investing world (their staff appears to include entirely DC-based folks who have either worked in the government or lobbying organizations) or one of the most famous venture capitalists around? The simple fact is that net neutrality rules help startups. Startups aren't going to have to hire a lawyer to go to the FCC because these are rules for broadband providers, not the services built on top of the broadband. The infographic is pure FUD from an astroturf group acting like sore losers. I imagine we'll continue to see more of this kind of propaganda, but the laughably bad quality of it all just goes to show how incredibly desperate they've become.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 24 days ago on techdirt
You've all heard of this kind of scam before. Some nefarious person or group gets a hold of someone's email or computer screen, pretends to be someone in some official capacity, and demands a whatever sum of money they can get away with. Some of the time these scammers pretend to be the IRS, or a utility company, or even law enforcement. What these scams tend to mostly have in common is that they go after private citizens en masse, in the hope to entice whatever percentage of the more gullible amongst us to pay up. What you don't expect to hear about is one of the largest corporations in the United States essentially falling for the same thing. The Scoular Co., an employee-owned commodities trader founded 120 years ago, has been taken for $17.2 million in an international email swindle, according to federal court documents. An executive with the 800-employee company wired the money in installments last summer to a bank in China after receiving emails ordering him to do so, says an FBI statement filed last month in U.S. District Court in Omaha. Sort of takes your breath away, doesn't it. One would like to think that it takes more for any company to move millions of dollars around internationally than a simple email string. Whatever else, this seems to indicate a complete failure of process, with the lack of checks against fraud and mistakes occurring on stunning levels. In attempts to explain how this happened, Scoular CEO Chuck Elsea wove a tail of compromised identities (including his) and coincidences that caused all of this to happen. The tale, however, leaves the reader certain that there was still some serious stupid going on here. The gambit involved emails sent to a Scoular executive that purported to be from Elsea and the company’s outside auditing firm. The emails directed the wire transfer of millions of dollars to a Chinese bank. But court documents say the emails were really from impostors using email addresses set up in Germany, France and Israel and computer servers in Moscow. The three wire transfers, the FBI says, happened in June 2014. They were prompted by emails sent to Scoular’s corporate controller, identified in the FBI statement as McMurtry. The emails purported to be from Scoular CEO Elsea, but were sent from an email address that wasn’t his normal company one. Which is precisely where this scam should have died on its scammy vine, wilting under the dry heat of "haha, the boss got his personal email hacked." The idea that millions of dollars can be ordered transferred from an email address not associated with the company is ludicrous. Die, however, the scam did not. The first email on June 26 instructed McMurtry to wire $780,000, which the FBI statement says he did. The next day, McMurtry was told to wire $7 million, which he also did. Three days later, another email was sent to McMurtry, instructing him to wire $9.4 million. McMurtry again complied. The first two emails from the faux CEO contain the swindle’s setup, swearing the recipient to secrecy over a blockbuster international deal. McMurtry has reportedly been cooperating with the FBI and providing them with the reasons he so easily complied with the rogue emails' requests. Those excuses include some of the scam emails looking like they came from the company's outside accounting firm and that Scoular had indeed been in discussions for an expansion into China. Those excuses, though, don't alter the fact that a simple phone call to the parties involved, to Elsea's office (or, hell, at the watercooler or whatever), or to the general office number for the accounting firm would have exposed the scam entirely and saved the company 17 mil-do in the process. How does something like that happen? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 25 days ago on techdirt
I spent this past Sunday spending time with my family and some friends not watching the Super Bowl, so I missed all the commercials and the exciting finish to the game... and the half-time show and the wonder that is the left shark. Still, I heard plenty about it on the internet because apparently the people I follow on Twitter couldn't get enough of the whole shark thing. If you were lucky enough to avoid it entirely, apparently Perry had some shark dancers, and the one on the left appeared to be somewhat... less coordinated than the right one (though Perry's team now claims that the choreography went off exactly as planned). Either way, the left shark has become a thing. And, so, of course, someone had to go make a 3D printable version of it -- and uploaded plans to Shapeways. Well, until Perry's lawyers stepped in and said nuh uh. Her big time lawyers are claiming that the plans violate Perry's copyright and demanded that Shapeways cease and desist, and provide a "full accounting" of any money they made from it. Our client recently has learned that you have been involved in the manufacture, sale, marketing and distribution of merchandise featuring a shark sculpture which embodies and uses the IP, and that you have displayed this product on your website, www.shapeways.com, in connection with such sale and distribution. As you are undoubtedly aware, our client never consented to your use of its copyrighted work and IP, nor did our client consent to the sale of the infringing product. Your unauthorized display and sale of this product infringes our client's exclusive rights in numerous ways, including, but not limited to, infringement of our client's exclusive rights to reproduce, display, and distribute its copyrighted images under the United States Copyright Act as set forth in 17 U.S.C. §106. Your infringing conduct entitles our client to significant legal relief against you, which may include actual damages, statutory damages, and punitive damages, as well as immediate and permanent injunctive relief. Shapeways has apparently consented, but it's worth noting that almost all of the above is a bunch of hogwash. As law profess Chris Sprigman pointed out, a shark costume is almost certainly a "useful article" and thus, is not subject to copyright protection: For purposes of copyright registration, fanciful costumes will be treated as useful articles. Costumes serve a dual purpose of clothing the body and portraying their appearance. Since clothing the body serves as a useful function, costumes fall within the literal defdtion of useful article. In addition. the case law consistently treats I costumes as useful articles, and a Copyright Office decision to differ substantially from these court decisions would appear difficult to justify. But, for now the files have been taken down, because, really is it worth a lawsuit over the left shark? We've been pointing out for years that there are going to be a number of intellectual property questions raised by 3D printing. And while this one isn't particularly deep in terms of raising new issues of law, considering it some bizarre foreshadowing of legal disputes to come.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...