posted 20 days ago on techdirt
You may recall past stories here covering Texas A&M and their aggressive protection of their trademarked phrase, "The 12th Man." That phrase refers to the crowd within football games cheering and/or booing loudly enough to have an effect on what happens on the field of play. Even in situations where the target of A&M's ire isn't actually competing against the school for anything commercial, the cease and desist letters are still sent. We've also discussed how organizations could protect their trademarks by offering $1 licensing rights to the phrase, thereby maintaining their mark while engendering some good will. Well, boy, you'd think that such a scheme might be best used when a double-amputee cancer-survivor starts a website in Buffalo, NY called 12themanthunder.com, dedicated to keeping the Bills in Buffalo. But, nope, A&M still went legal on him. Charles Sonntag co-founded 12thManThunder.com, a website for people who wanted to keep the Bills in Buffalo. The Aggies are threatening to sue Sonntag for infringing on the "12th Man." Legally, it's an open question as to whether Sonntag's website actually infringes on A&M's mark. There's almost no likelihood of confusion between 12thManThunder in Buffalo and the College Station fan base. The Buffalo Bills — the actual NFL football team — ALSO have a deal with A&M to use the phrase. So it's not like A&M objects in principle to other people in far off places using the 12th Man. It's that they object to people using it without paying them a pound of flesh. However, Charles Sonntag just happens to be a double amputee, cancer survivor who suffers from Albright's disease. He can't afford attorneys who can litigate this case — and he does have some kind of defense that his use does not infringe on A&M's mark — and he can't afford to pay A&M whatever it wants in "leave me alone" money. Damn, I forgot about the Albright's disease, which presents as a skin and bone deformity in the legs, arms and skull. But, hey, I guess with old Chuck missing an arm and a leg, we shouldn't fully credit any sympathetic status for the Albright's, right Texas A&M? I mean, he's already chock full of PR-nightmare-fluid with the whole cancer and amputee thing. Yet, not only did the Aggies go after him, they pressed the issue when they felt he wasn't complying fast enough. Texas A&M spokesman Shane Hinckley said the website's owners have been too slow to respond. A&M wants all the 12thManThunder posters taken down (some are posted at area bars), and they want the Facebook group named changed. Did I mention that Sonntag is a double amputee? HE HAS ONE ARM AND ONE LEG! Could we give him a minute to deal with all of this? Forget the damned minute and work out a micro-cost licensing agreement with him. Hell, can we get a more clear-cut case of trademark bullying than this? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over the years we've written a few times about lawyers trying to sue Westlaw, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters for aggregating public court legal filings, and then reselling them. As we've noted in the past, rulings by the court (or filings by the government) are in the public domain, but filings by lawyers representing other parties likely have some level of copyright protection over them. However, there is an exceptionally strong fair use claim to being able to make use of such public filings. Earlier lawsuits, such as ones we wrote about in 2009 and 2010 appeared to fizzle out, but the one we wrote about in 2012 actually went to a federal court in New York. A little over a year ago, we wrote about how the case was easily dismissed on summary judgment, with a promise to issue a full ruling at a later date. It took nearly a year and a half, but Judge Jed Rakoff has finally gotten around to explaining fair use to the lawyers in question, Edward White and Kenneth Elan. The judge goes through the standard four-factor fair use analysis, finding three of the four factors favor fair use, while the one remaining one (the amount of the work used) is neutral, because the defendants copied the amount necessary for their transformative use. And, yes, the court is clear that aggregating these works (in whole) and reselling them is transformative: The Court finds that West and Lexis's use of the briefs was transformative for two reasons. First, while White created the briefs solely for the purpose of providing legal services to his clients and securing specific legal outcomes in the Beer litigation, the defendants used the brief toward the end of creating an interactive legal research tool.... Second, West and Lexis's processes of reviewing, selecting, converting, coding, linking, and identifying the documents "add[] something new, with a further purpose or different character" than the original briefs.... While, to be sure, the transformation was done for a commercial purpose, "the more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use.".... Thus, on net, the first factor weighs in favor of a finding of fair use. The "nature of the work" is easily a fair use win, given that the documents are publicly filed court filings. And then on the fourth factor, concerning the impact on the commercial market, the court rightly notes that it's unlikely that these collections act as any sort of substitute for the original legal work. In this instance, West's and Lexis's usage of the briefs is in no way economically a substitute for the use of the briefs in their original market: the provision of legal advice for an attorney's clients. White himself admits that he lost no clients as a result of West's and Lexis's usage.... Furthermore, no secondary market exists in which White could license or sell the briefs to other attorneys, as no one has offered to license any of White's motions, nor has White sought to license or sell them. The court makes one other important point on this factor. Often, we hear people claim that even if there has been no attempt at licensing, the use might preclude a future licensing market. But here, the judge rejects that idea as well: Although White argues that Lexis and West impede a market for licensing briefs, the Court finds that no potential market exists because the transactions costs in licensing attorney works would be prohibitively high. This is just a district court ruling, so it doesn't bind anyone else, and it's unclear if the lawyers will appeal. But it's always nice to see a nice win for fair use.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It seems like a bunch of folks collectively rolled their eyes at the news that superstar singer Taylor Swift (or the people she hires to do these kinds of things) had penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the "future of music." Of course, there are few artists out there that inspire rolling eyes like Swift does these days -- and there are some nutty claims in her opinion piece (and the writing is... stilted, at best). The main problem with the article is highlighted nicely by Nilay Patel over at Vox, who points out that she doesn't understand basic economics. And that's clear from this bit: In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently. In recent years, you've probably read the articles about major recording artists who have decided to practically give their music away, for this promotion or that exclusive deal. My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet…is that they all realize their worth and ask for it. Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is. I hope they don't underestimate themselves or undervalue their art. This is, as Patel notes (and I've been discussing for over a decade), a very, very naive view of economics. Based on this, the more you spend putting into the album, the higher you should price it, and the world should reward you for that. That, of course, is not even close to how the world works. You don't get rewarded based on effort. You get rewarded by providing a product that people want at a price they're willing to pay. Sometimes, perhaps, pouring more "heart an soul" into the product may help, but plenty of artists put their heart and soul into lots of works and get basically nothing for it. Sometimes it's because that heart and soul isn't enough and the product sucks. Sometimes it's because no one hears the music. Swift is lucky that she has the core of the traditional recording industry and all its marketing muscle behind her. I would imagine that the singer sitting at home in his or her garage pouring their heart and soul into a new recording and hoping to have it heard might find that they'd actually do much better giving the work away for free to get some attention for it. That said, most of the rest of Swift's piece is actually a pretty good look into where the music world is these days, in which the focus needs to be on connecting with fans and giving them a unique experience that isn't easily copied. On connecting with fans, she notes: There are always going to be those artists who break through on an emotional level and end up in people's lives forever. The way I see it, fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling (the ones they dance to at clubs and parties for a month while the song is a huge radio hit, that they will soon forget they ever danced to). Some songs and albums represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past. However, some artists will be like finding "the one." We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren. As an artist, this is the dream bond we hope to establish with our fans. I think the future still holds the possibility for this kind of bond, the one my father has with the Beach Boys and the one my mother has with Carly Simon. This is like Kevin Kelly's concept of "true fans." Of course, it's weird that Swift would mock the idea of giving away works for free -- when it's possible that giving away such works might actually help artists build those bonds, enabling those true fans to look for ways to support them later. From there, Swift discusses how giving unique experiences are key to the future of music: I think forming a bond with fans in the future will come in the form of constantly providing them with the element of surprise. No, I did not say "shock"; I said "surprise." I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to surprise each other, so why can't this love affair exist between an artist and their fans? In the YouTube generation we live in, I walked out onstage every night of my stadium tour last year knowing almost every fan had already seen the show online. To continue to show them something they had never seen before, I brought out dozens of special guest performers to sing their hits with me. My generation was raised being able to flip channels if we got bored, and we read the last page of the book when we got impatient. We want to be caught off guard, delighted, left in awe. I hope the next generation's artists will continue to think of inventive ways of keeping their audiences on their toes, as challenging as that might be. Exactly. There, she's recognizing the value of a unique experience that can't be copied or "pirated," and which people have to pay to experience. And, once again, it seems odd that she'd knock the concept of free music, when that very same free music can help drive a lot more fans to want to go to these unique and special shows in which she "surprises" her fans. The op-ed comes off a little silly in places, but the overall view of where the future of music is actually is pretty much spot on. Connecting with fans and giving them a unique and valuable experience. It's almost like something some of us have been saying for many years now. Yeah, the part about free music is a bit off, but the overall vision seems very much in line with reality.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's good intentions behind it, but the implications are worrying. For years now, dogs have been trained to sniff out drugs by law enforcement agencies. (Well, in most cases, trained by third-party specialists before being turned over to law enforcement agencies.) The problem is that these dogs now ride around in cruisers and give the police "probable cause" to perform vehicle searches and, believe it or not, hours of rectal/vaginal searches, simply by "alerting" to an odor. Dogs aren't infallible, but law enforcement would prefer us to believe they are. They are animals which are rewarded for performing certain actions. Drug-sniffing dogs have been known to react more to handler cues than actual odors. When this happens, police officers are in essence generating their own justification for a full-blown search. As Jacob Sullum at Reason memorably put it: "Drug Warriors Kidnap and Sexually Assault a Woman After Getting Permission From a Dog." So, if the targeted criminals are indisputably awful people, why does this news seem like another bad idea? (via slashdot) The recent arrival of golden Labrador Thoreau makes Rhode Island the second state in the nation to have a police dog trained to sniff out hard drives, thumb drives and other technological gadgets that could contain child pornography. Thoreau received 22 weeks of training in how to detect devices in exchange for food at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy. The plus side is that, at least to this point, the dogs are only being used to assist with search warrants, rather than riding along with patrolmen and nosing around vehicles of drivers deemed too nervous to be guilty of nothing more than a traffic infraction. But like drug dogs, the urge to generate positives is indulged. Houston demonstrated the dog's skills last month. Houston walked the dog through a room in which he had hidden devices. A second pass went more slowly, with Houston coaxing the dog. "Show me. Show me." Thoreau furiously sniffed shelves, desks, cabinets. The dog located a hard drive inside a Ziploc bag in the upper shelf of a desk. A flash drive and thumb drive were also found, with the dog zeroing in on their location down to the exact drawer. In exchange, Thoreau got food. "This is how he eats every day," says Houston, who cares for the dog around the clock. The stakes get higher when the dogs are deployed in the hunt for child pornography/pornographers. Training a dog to alert on devices makes any device it detects instantly suspect. And when it fails to find anything, the presumption will be adjusted to fit the lack of evidence. Rather than this being a sign of innocence, it will be an excuse to tear everything apart or collect additional warrants to search other locations. Because if the police have decided you're a suspect -- especially a possible child molester -- the searching won't stop until something is uncovered. Starting this chain of events by asking an animal inclined to please its handlers just makes the chain of unfortunate events unfold faster. Beyond the question of whether police dogs should expand their range from drugs to electronics, there's the hysteria being irresponsibly delivered by law enforcement officials (and reprinted willingly and credulously by the local press -- because who would question someone who's arresting child molesters?) I sincerely hope the Rhode Island police are working with a more specific dataset than this: Most child pornography offenders are white men with an average age of 41, U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics show. The majority graduated from high school and hold jobs. No shit. Most men have graduated high school and are now employed. Quite frequently they reach the age of 41, often exceeding it by 30+ years before dying. Dumping an assertion like this into the public domain will only increase the number of people who view any man a certain distance away from children as suspicious. This doesn't help the public better discern who might be a concern while simultaneously expanding the pool of possible suspects to include all white males. "These folks are out there trolling the Internet, trolling the streets, taking photos at the beach," [former DHS agent Eric] Caron says. Now, the suspect pool expands to include males who go anywhere near the internet, beach or public streets. Anyone with a camera spotted in these areas is doubly suspect. The DHS has always been suspicious of photographers, and this statement turns any male with a camera (or cell phone) into one of two things: a terrorist or a child molester. Spreading hysteria isn't going to make the job any easier. It's just going to increase the number of dead end "leads" police officers will be forced to run down. Adding dogs to the mix may make search warrants more productive, but it does carry with it the added baggage of pretending animals are impartial witnesses, rather than entities whose motivations roughly align with law enforcement's. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Los Angeles Police Department has obtained tons of data over the past several years and that amount of data increases exponentially every year. In addition to its criminal databases, it also collects thousands of license plate time-and-location data points every day and has deployed other forms of surveillance (like Stingray devices), gathering even more data surreptitiously. Of course, the LAPD feels it can be trusted with all of this data. It claims to have controls in place to prevent unauthorized access to information related to non-criminal Los Angeles citizens. Working with Palantir, the LAPD has instant access to a vast amount of gathered data -- a database so impressive it spent a bit of time bragging about it to a CNN reporter. (via Lowering the Bar) The CNN video shows LAPD Sergeant Jason O'Brien using Palantir to search for data on a burglary suspect."After searching over a hundred million datapoints, Palantir displayed an impressive web of information," said CNN reporter Rachel Crane. Palantir's interface resembles a web search engine with datasets labeled People, Vehicles, Locations, Crime, Arrests, FIs (Field Interview Reports), Citations, Bulletins, Tips, and Everything (view screenshot). The video also shows Sergeant O'Brien accessing the LAPD's automatic license plate reader database to map the past locations of the burglary suspect, which go back as far as March 2011. With all this information comes strict controls, or so the LAPD would like you to believe. Captain Romero told CNN that the LAPD "cannot just go searching for you or anyone else without a reason because we have a lot of data for people who have done nothing." And yet, during this same CNN taping, the LAPD shows just how careless it is about protecting data. Written on a whiteboard for anyone to see is the login and password to its CAMS (Computer Analysis Mapping System) training system. While this may be training access only and wholly separated from the actual system and its hundreds of millions of datapoints, it's still not a good idea to leave logins and passwords publicly displayed. Sure, whoever wrote it probably thought no one but cops undergoing training would ever see it (along with the filepath to the CAMS data), but the person or persons OKing the interview should have made a sweep of anything the camera might see. It's simply lousy operational security and it's the sort of thing you never want to see an entity with access to "hundreds of millions of datapoints" do. Even if additional steps are needed to complete an internet based attack, information on the whiteboard certainly peals [sic] back one layer of security blocking the way to private data. Above all else, the LAPD keeping a password—any password—on an office whiteboard in plain sight is deeply troubling. Haphazardly allowing CNN to film the password for a national news broadcast is more troubling still... [T]he whiteboard depicted in the CNN video casts doubt upon the LAPD's ability to keep its data private. Freedom du Jour points out that the LAPD's negligent attitude towards security has been encountered before. Documents acquired by the EFF and ACLU showed that officers were given the following name and password to log into their ALPR terminals. Name: LAPD Password: [blank] Two years later, the LAPD decided the system might need a password. Name: LAPD Password: LAPD These are the people who claim they can ensure hundreds of millions of datapoints won't be accessed without authorization, thanks to policies and strong statements given to credulous CNN reporters. But this shows that the LAPD's security measures border on nonexistent and its interest in protecting the data of Los Angeles citizens is minimal. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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"Laws are for other people." - Too many legislators to count It's common knowledge that insider trading is illegal. In fact, we have an entire government agency in place to regulate trading and to investigate insider trading allegations. Executives have been sentenced to months (sometimes even years) in plush, well-appointed hellholes for participating in insider trading. Members of Congress, however, were exempt from insider trading rules until 2012. An 2011 expose by 60 Minutes let millions of Americans know that members of Congress had plenty of access to market-changing information and were acting on it. In a rare (ha!) show of self-preservation, a united House full of Congresspersons facing reelection battles passed the STOCK Act, which basically made Congress and its staffers play by the same trading rules as every other American. In 2013, with Congressional members safely re-elected, the House decided to roll back its previous legislative effort in order to get back into the insider trading business. It tore out the stipulation demanding disclosure of trading activity -- the one thing citizens could use to verify adherence to the "no insider trading" rule -- stating that these disclosures were a "security risk." This sailed through with unanimous consent late on a Thursday afternoon (the end of the Congressional work week) and was signed by the President the following Monday. Now, Congress is again claiming it doesn't need to submit to laws that govern US citizens and, again, it's doing this to avoid any transparency or accountability being applied to its trading activities. The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and a top staff member say the panel and its employees are "absolutely immune" from having to comply with subpoenas from a federal regulator in an insider-trading probe. The committee yesterday responded to U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe's order to explain why it hadn't complied with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's requests for documents, phone records and testimony of aide Brian Sutter for more than a year. The SEC is investigating a suspicious spike in health insurer trading volumes and prices ahead of a report that announced government payments to insurers would be increased, rather than decreased. This investigation claims that a Green Taureg LLC lobbyist sent the information to a Height Securities LLC analyst ahead of the official government announcement and that House Ways and Means staff director Brian Sutter may have been the originating source. The Committee's legal rep has responded by claiming Congress is above the law or, if not above, very definitely adjacent to it, but certainly not within in and subject to federal subpoenas. Kerry W. Kircher, the top lawyer for the House, said the SEC's request should be dismissed because the information it seeks concerns legislative activities protected by the Constitution, which can't be reviewed by federal judges. Kircher also stated that his client does not and will not (EVER) have time for the SEC's "apply the insider trading rules to everyone" bullshit. Sutter's connection to the investigation is "tangential" Kircher said, and would also interfere with his work because his schedule is "heavily, and nearly permanently, booked." So, if anyone thought an SEC insider trading probe would bring more accountability to the House, those thoughts may now be dismissed to make room for more cynicism. There's a slim possibility the SEC may extract damning evidence, but it will have to fight its way through a House full of people with no conceivable reason to be compliant. Insider trading was a great Congressional job perk and its uncontested run helped pad the wallets of future lobbyists, board members and consultants. No one really wants to completely end it, but they'd certainly like people to stop talking about it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Stewart Baker, once again defending the poor, downtrodden NSA from the latest leak, has given us reason to add another post to the long list of "Stuff Stewart Would Like Google To Forget." Baker addresses the latest leak -- the one published by the Washington Post that shows the NSA is harvesting communications from non-targets at a 9-to-1 ratio to actual targets. According to Baker, this is all no big deal because any fishing expedition targeted NSA collection is going to necessarily collect tons of irrelevant information. The story* is built around the implied claim that 90% of NSA intercept data is about innocent people. I think the statistic is a phony. Especially in an article that later holds up US law enforcement practice as a superior model. *I've add a link to the actual story Baker's complaining about because he clearly can't be arsed. Apparently, this is how certain bloggers subtweet. In his explanation of how Sturgeon's Law relates to the NSA's national security aims, Baker gives the example of an unnamed law enforcement agency poking into his email account during an investigation. Suppose I become the target of a government investigation. The government gets a warrant [ed. note: lol] and seizes a year’s worth of my email. Looking at my email patterns, that’s about 3500 messages. About twenty percent – say 750 –are one-off messages that I can handle with a short reply (or by ignoring the message). Either way, I’ll never hear from that person again. And maybe a quarter are from about 50 people I hear from at least once a week. The remainder are a mix — people I trade emails with for a while and then stop, or infrequent correspondents that can show up any time. Conservatively, let’s say that about 200 people are responsible for the portion of my annual correspondence that falls into that category. In sum, the total number of correspondents in my stored email is 750+200+50 = 1000. So the criminal investigators who seized and stored my messages from me, their investigative target, and 1000 people who aren’t targets. So, in this example 99.9% of everything was irrelevant, but the agency doesn't know that until it's looked through all of it. Fair enough. But what does law enforcement do with the irrelevant information? (Don't answer that.) In a perfect world, the government/law enforcement agency disposes of the irrelevant data. That's what the laws governing search warrants and the minimization provisions governing the NSA's collections direct these agencies to do. But what does the NSA actually do with this 90% irrelevant information? Back to Gellman's article: Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless. [...] The NSA treats all content intercepted incidentally from third parties as permissible to retain, store, search and distribute to its government customers. Raj De, the agency’s general counsel, has testified that the NSA does not generally attempt to remove irrelevant personal content, because it is difficult for one analyst to know what might become relevant to another. Even the "searching my email" analogy doesn't hold up. The NSA searches a ton of proverbial email inboxes -- without a warrant -- simultaneously. If a target entered an online chat room, the NSA collected the words and identities of every person who posted there, regardless of subject, as well as every person who simply “lurked,” reading passively what other people wrote. “1 target, 38 others on there,” one analyst wrote. She collected data on them all. In other cases, the NSA designated as its target the Internet protocol, or IP, address of a computer server used by hundreds of people. And, unlike the targeted search Baker alludes to, nothing is regarded as irrelevant because the agency can't even determine what might or might not be worth keeping. In a targeted, warranted search, law enforcement generally has an idea of what it's looking for. With the NSA, it's "collect it all" because something might prove to be relevant later and besides, look at our shiny new storage space! The NSA's deliberate collection of non-targeted communications is more analogous to law enforcement grabbing Baker's friends' and family's email as well --- even though they're not listed on the warrant -- simply because these all intersect with his account at some point -- and then holding onto it for x number of years simply because one analyst says it might be relevant to the investigation at some undetermined point. The government can actually get in trouble for doing exactly the thing Baker claims is no big deal (and built on "phony statistics"). Just last month, the Second Circuit Court ruled that the feds held onto data unrelated to their stated investigation for too long, violating the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. When the NSA does this to American citizens not currently targeted by counterterrorism investigations, it's doing the same thing. Only in the NSA's case, it does this on a massive scale, unimpeded by the limitations of specific warrants. One order nets the NSA nearly 90,000 targets and, apparently, the communications of nearly 800,000 others, if the ratio holds. Baker's analogy doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny, and he willfully ignores the NSA's long-term storage of irrelevant communications to make his point. He claims Barton Gellman's being dishonest, but who's really applying the most spin here?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
One of the many important lessons from Edward Snowden's leaks is that centralized services are particularly vulnerable to surveillance, because they offer a single point of weakness. The solution is obvious, in theory at least: move to decentralized systems where subversion of one node poses little or no threat to the others. Of course, putting this into practice is not so straightforward. That's especially true for search engines: creating distributed systems that are nonetheless capable of scaling so that they can index most of the Web is hard. Despite that challenge, distributed search engines do already exist, albeit in a fairly rudimentary state. Perhaps the best-known is YaCy: YaCy is a free search engine that anyone can use to build a search portal for their intranet or to help search the public internet. When contributing to the world-wide peer network, the scale of YaCy is limited only by the number of users in the world and can index billions of web pages. It is fully decentralized, all users of the search engine network are equal, the network does not store user search requests and it is not possible for anyone to censor the content of the shared index. We want to achieve freedom of information through a free, distributed web search which is powered by the world's users. ... The resulting decentralized web search currently has about 1.4 billion documents in its index (and growing -- download and install YaCy to help out!) and more than 600 peer operators contribute each month. About 130,000 search queries are performed with this network each day. Another is Faroo, which has an interesting FAQ that includes this section explaining why even privacy-conscious non-distributed search engines are problematic: Some search engines promise privacy, and while they look like real search engines, they are just proxies. Their results don't come from their own index, but from the big incumbents (Google, Bing, Yahoo) instead (the query is forwarded to the incumbent, and the results from incumbent are relayed back to the user). Not collecting logfiles (of your ip address and query) and using HTTPS encryption at the proxy search engine doesn't help if the search is forwarded to the incumbent. As revealed by Edward Snowden the NSA has access to the US based incumbents via PRISM. If the search is routed over a proxy (aka "search engine") the IP address logged at the incumbent is that from the proxy and not from the user. So the incumbent doesn't have the users IP address, and the search engine proxy promises not to log/reveal the user IP, while HTTPS prevents eavesdropping on the way from the user to the search engine proxy. Sounds good? By observing the traffic between user and search engine proxy (IP and time and size are not protected by HTTPS) via PRISM, Tempora (GCHQ taps world's communications) et al. and combining that with the traffic between search engine proxy and the incumbent (query, time, size are accessible by PRISM), all those seemingly private and protected information can be revealed. This is a common method know as Traffic analysis. The NSA system XKeyscore allows to recover search engine keywords and other communication just by observing connection data (meta data) and combining them with the backend data sourced from the the incumbents. The system is also used by the German intelligence services BND and BfS. Neither the encryption with HTTPS, nor the use of proxies, nor restricting the observation to meta data is protecting your search queries or other communication content. Unfortunately, unlike YaCy, Faroo is not open source, which means that its code can't be audited -- an essential pre-requisite in the post-Snowden world. Another distributed search engine that is fully open source is Scholar Ninja, a new project from Jure Triglav: I’ve started building a distributed search engine for scholarly literature, which is completely contained within a browser extension: install it from the Chrome Web Store. It uses WebRTC and magic, and is currently, like, right now, used by 42 people. It’s you who can be number 43. This project is 20 days old and early alpha software; it may not work at all. As that indicates, Scholar Ninja is domain-specific at the moment, although presumably once the technology is more mature it could be adapted for other uses. It's also very new -- barely a month old at the time of writing -- and very small-scale, which shows that distributed search has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream. Given the serious vulnerabilities of traditional search engines, that's a pity. Let's hope more people wake up to the need for a completely new approach, and start to help create it. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Because I was once just a lowly Techdirt reader before Mike had the brilliant idea of giving my brand of insanity a share of his platform, I know what most of you think it's like to write for the site. But, despite what you surely think, it isn't all high-priced call-girls and expensive narcotics broken up by occasionally typing up a four hundred word rant about copyright. There's actual research involved, gathering story ideas, discussing them with the other writers, and then putting thoughts to virtual paper. Occasionally, the actions of others make our jobs a little bit tougher than they should be. For instance, I recently informed you all about Dov Siedman, a guy who essentially does the corporate speaking circuit, who also is battling Chobani, a maker of Greek yogurt, over the word "how", which Siedman insists is his and his alone. I linked to a New York Daily News post for that article and pulled several block quotes from it to round out the post. What you may not realize is that I had originaly found the story on a site called Food Navigator USA, a site dedicated to news about the food and beverage industry. It was actually, in my opinion, a superior article and I had wanted to use it for the post. The problem arose when I attempted to copy/paste a small section for the first block quote of the article and received this popup. THIS CONTENT IS COPYRIGHT PROTECTED However, if you would like to share the information in this article, you may use the headline, summary and link below: How Matters: Chobani ‘disappointed’ by ‘baseless’ trademark infringement lawsuit from Dov Seidman By Elaine Watson+, 05-Jun-2014 A lawsuit filed by bestselling author and corporate ethics consultant Dov Seidman accusing Chobani of infringing his trademarks with its 'How Matters' campaign is "baseless and without merit", says the Greek yogurt maker. http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Manufacturers/Dov-Seidman-sues-Chobani-for-trademark-infringement-over-How-Matters Are you, the educated Techdirt reader, done vomiting yet? Good, because now we can all have a discussion about how both misleading and self-destructive this kind fo notification is. Let's deal with the headline of the popup first: THIS CONTENT IS COPYRIGHT PROTECTED. When produced for attempting to simply copy and paste a tiny section of an article, with zero attempt made to discern what the intention of the copying is, the message being sent is that such an attempt to copy the text is a violation of copyright on the article. This, of course, is absolute nonsense. It ignores entirely the concept of Fair Use and I damn well could have pulled the quotes I wanted, posted the article I'd originally intended to write, and gone on the rest of my life feeling secure knowing that there is nothing the assuredly esteemed plethora of lawyers on the Food Navigator USA dole could do about it. I'm protected. Now, the insistence that only the entire article could be shared with the headline intact is an obvious attempt to get more people to the site in order to generate more readership, ad revenue, etc. Which completely backfired because I'll be damned if I'm going to include a site that uses this kind of heavy-handed, nuance-less mind-boning in one of my posts, unless it's to discuss how completely stupid and backward it is. The funny part of all this is that, after being confronted with this popup, I found roughly a trillion other sites that had this same story and which didn't bash me over the head for pulling block quotes. We at Techdirt, of course, always link back to the original posts when we discuss a story, and our block quotes don't encompass the entire articles. The idea is that the sources we pull from get traffic via our links and, wouldn't you know it, that happens even though we aren't simply reposting all of their content with their headline and bylines intact. Am I saying this is a problem that is insurmountable? No, of course not, since I found another post from which to pull quotes. Am I saying this is a heavy hardship on me, the Techdirt writer? No, for the same reason stated previously. But in the end, it creates a little extra work for us writers and generates nothing positive for the site with the silly popups. So how about not doing that crap any longer? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Science fiction has popularized a few clothing ideas that haven't quite become a reality. (For instance, fabrics made of a spider-silk-like fiber that are super tough but light.) Sometimes the laws of physics doesn't quite allow for magical fabrics that can make things invisible/impenetrable/etc. Real advanced fabric technologies are improving all the time, though, and making some pretty cool clothes -- even if they're not economically practical. Here are just a few examples. Body armor tough enough to withstand a knife could be 3D printed from a single strand of yarn. The yarn is bound together with a silicone material that gives the 3D structure some impact-resistant crumple volume. The prototypes don't look too comfy to wear, but presumably, more refined materials and designs could produce some useful and wearable body armor. [url] Lab-grown leather from bioengineered tissues (3D printed on demand, no less) could make "animal-friendly" clothing in the future. Lab-made skin (properly engineered) won't need to be processed to remove hair follicles and could be more environmentally green in some ways, but it might still be ethically questionable to grow certain kinds of skin. (eg. it puts the lotion in the basket..) [url] Many fire-resistant textiles have typically contained some nasty chemicals, but some specialty materials like CarbonX don't... (because it's made of partially-charred acrylic fibers). There's also Nomex, but neither of these specialty textiles is really suited for toddler pajamas (yet?). [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
For years, people have wondered if one of the best tools to prevent ISPs from behaving too badly in breaking net neutrality would just be public shaming. Netflix has long released data on ISP performance, and then got into some hot water last month when it started directly blaming ISPs for network congestion, leading Verizon to send a cease-and-desist letter. Quartz is reporting that YouTube has been doing something similar, though it's not quite as in-your-face as the Netflix example. If the connection is weak, YouTube displays a blue bar beneath the video, with the words "Experiencing Interruptions?" in white: Click on the "Find out why" link and you get taken to Google's "Video Quality Report" which tells you some information about your ISP and how congested the network is (or, at least sometimes -- in my case, it tells me it doesn't have enough information about my provider, which happens to be Sonic.net, to determine any results). Of course, all the public shaming in the world isn't going to matter much if ISPs are free to clog up interconnection points and you have no real competition to go to.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The US Courts system has just released its annual report on wiretap warrants. As you'll recall, warrants are those quaint permission slips that law enforcement officers occasionally seek before performing searches. (Although it looks as though they'll be doing it more frequently from now on…) Not included in this report are outlying actions by agencies whose rogueness has been codified. The US Courts FAQ on the report points out that data from the FISA court is not included. Presumably, the previously illegal warrantless wiretaps deployed by the federal government aren't being tracked either, because if there's no warrant, there's no court. And if there's no court, there's no oversight. Also not included are pen register/trap and trace orders, which are basically given the same amount of scrutiny that subpoenas and NSLs are given: very little, if any. No report to the AO is required for the use of a pen register (a device attached to a telephone line that records or decodes impulses identifying the numbers dialed from that line) unless the pen register is used in conjunction with any wiretap devices whose use must be recorded. No statistics are collected on the number of devices used in conjunction with each order. The US Courts system has handily provided ten years of data on wiretap warrants and everything in it points to one thing -- US law enforcement is almost exclusively focused on fighting the War on Drugs. Of the 22,741 warrants issued since 2003, 21,838 (96%) were issued under the heading of "Narcotics." And the warrants themselves are ridiculously easy to obtain (giving lie to law enforcement's complaints about the complexity of securing a search warrant). To obtain these 22,741 warrants, 22,748 applications were submitted. Only 7 applications have been rejected since 2003, giving law enforcement a batting average of .99969. So, we know drugs are big business for law enforcement. At an average of $41,119 per intercept deployed, expenses for just the drug-related wiretaps in 2013 easily tops the $100,000,000 mark, and that's assuming all of those adhered to that average (the average was taken from 2,069 wiretaps where costs were reported.) The cost per intercept seems to be coming down (it was over $62,000 in 2003) but the number of intercepts has doubled over the same time period. The US Courts' information page also notes that further expenses are often reported after the reporting period has ended. (It points to an additional $62 million in expenses reported in 2013 for wiretaps issued in previous years.) Drugs are not just a multi-billion dollar business for distributors. With this intense focus on one particular form of crime, law enforcement has become just as big a "customer" of the drug business as drug users. That data may not be particularly surprising, but it does reveal just how much attention is being paid to a narrow range of criminals. Nowhere does the report indicate anything has been deployed to combat terrorism, which is often the stated reason for obtaining bigger and better ex-military weapons and vehicles. It could be that wiretaps issued for counterterrorism are hidden under other designations or done without court approval. Or it could be that there's simply not nearly as much domestic terrorism activity as law enforcement officials claim. The more surprising data, especially when coupled with the fact that US courts have only rejected .00031 of the wiretap applications that cross their desks, is the sheer number of people and communications being swept up by single warrants. San Mateo County, California had only one wiretap warrant issued (probably related to the investigation of Sen. Leland Yee), but it was able to put a whole lot of people under surveillance with that single document. Its single intercept gathered communications from 588 people, with a total of 19,477 interceptions… of which only 513 proved to be incriminating. (It should be noted that intercepted communications can also include text messages, a form of communication that can easily cause these numbers to swell to ridiculous proportions.) Likewise, Franklin County, Ohio also sought only one wiretap order, but it, too, had a huge payoff -- 551 people, 9,654 communications with 454 deemed incriminating (most likely related to this drug bust). But with all these large numbers and expenses come massive amounts of arrests and indictments, right? Well, not really. Even accounting for the fact that it can take years before the results of an investigation result in jail time, the percentage of convictions resulting from wiretap-related arrests seems to be hovering right around 45%. And the number of arrests is far smaller than number of people whose communications were intercepted during the course of the investigation. In 2003, 167,272 people had their communications tapped (with 4.3 million communications intercepted) but this has only resulted in (to date) 5,705 arrests and 2,523 convictions. 2004 was even worse, with 215,460 people surveilled (5.1 million communications intercepted). The end result, a decade on? 6,717 arrests and 2,815 convictions. If these patterns hold (and there's no evidence they won't), the hit rate of wiretap deployments will continue to fall, at least in terms of arrests and convictions. The average number of people tapped by an order last year was "only" 97 (the number has hovered between 100-110 over the course of the last decade) but the average number of communications harvested from each wiretap has been increasing over the past several years. Last year, it was 4,558 communications per wiretap (2003/2004 were 3,004/3,017 per) and the number of wiretaps issued has more than doubled in that same period. 2013's numbers are astounding: 346,872 people surveilled with 16,299,408 communications intercepted, with less than 3 million declared "incriminating." Within those numbers is another interesting fact: encryption is rarely used and even when it is, it's rarely effective. The number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered increased from 15 in 2012 to 41 in 2013. In nine of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. Encryption was also reported for 52 state wiretaps that were conducted during previous years, but reported to the AO for the first time in 2013. Officials were able to decipher the plain text of the communications in all 52 intercepts. Contrast this minimal number with the thousands of devices tapped with the claim made by the US government (in the US v. Wurie warrantless cell phone search case) that requiring warrants would put law enforcement at the mercy of tech-savvy criminals. [S]earching an arrestee's cell phone immediately upon arrest is often critical to protecting evidence against concealment in a locked or encrypted phone or remote destruction.The numerous party and amicus briefs in these cases have not seriously undermined that fundamental practical point. Although the briefs identify various techniques to prevent the remote-wiping problem (none of which is close to perfect), they barely address the principal problem that the government identified: automatic passcode-locking and encryption. There is no tech arms race. Encryption was encountered 41 times durings the states' surveillance of over 200,000 people. The encryption "held" only nine times. All fifty-two times the federal government encountered it during its surveillance of millions of people over the last several years, it was able to defeat it. The US Court system has proven indistinguishable from the FISA Court with its approval rate that's only .03% away from 100%. Likewise, the surveillance it approves sweeps up tons of "incidental" communications from completely innocent parties. The end result, however, is possibly more futile than the War on Terror. The Drug War isn't headed for a win, nor will it ever be. It will never even be a tie. This has gone on for 40 years and the only "benefit" has been increased budget lines for law enforcement agencies and the steady militarization of local police forces. Billions of dollars in taxes are being poured into a battle many Americans don't feel is worth fighting, while the system itself remains largely insulated against public opinion. Judges are granting nearly anything as long as the word "drugs" appears on the request and law enforcement agencies know this. If nothing else, this reports shows that law enforcement should never have a problem with seeking a warrant. Even large-scale surveillance efforts (like the sweeping up the communications of 500+ people with a single wiretap request) are flying through the court system without a hitch. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
It would appear that the government's attempts to convince the public that giving up their privacy for the good of national security isn't going so well. The latest numbers from the Pew Research Center show pretty broad consensus that it's not right to diminish privacy rights in order to fight terrorism, and this was true across the political spectrum. Meanwhile, when it comes directly to the question of NSA surveillance, the research shows many on both sides of the traditional political aisle are against the NSA's practices: The various groupings seem a bit suspect to me (and I generally find "left/right" political spectrum analyzing to be a distraction), but it's still interesting. Given the details of how the groups are made up, it seems likely that many steadfast conservatives and the next generation left might flip the positions above if there were a Republican President, but it does seem notable and important that the solid liberals are now against NSA surveillance as well. The partisan nature of views on surveillance has been a bit depressing -- because you see the very same people who hated the NSA's warrantless wiretapping under George W. Bush suddenly change their tune under Barack Obama -- and vice versa (I even had a bizarre Twitter debate with someone who dismissed all facts by saying "Well, I trust Eric Holder," which seemed like the ultimate in pure partisan faith). But it's good to see that plenty of people are ignoring the partisan pull (and whatever attempts there are by the NSA's defenders to "educate" the public) and are flat out recognizing how problematic these programs are.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
TL;DR: Support our net neutrality coverage and double your impact right now! » As I'm sure you remember, a few years ago, the biggest story in the technology world was the fight to protect the internet from dangerous copyright legislation in Congress called SOPA/PIPA. Here at Techdirt, we covered that story top to bottom -- even walking the halls of Congress on January 18th, 2012, the day of the big internet blackout. A study done by Harvard following that fight, found that Techdirt became "the single most important professional media site over the entire period, overshadowing the more established media." We've already highlighted how the ongoing fight over net neutrality has some similarities, in that the threat to the future of the internet may be made by folks in Washington DC who don't fully understand what they're doing. And we'd like to do the same level of blanket coverage we gave to the SOPA/PIPA fight. But we need your help to do it. And we need it now. Today we've teamed up with BeaconReader, a startup that is leading the way in crowdfunding journalism, to launch a crowdfunding campaign for Techdirt to cover "The Net Neutrality Battle." You can help by supporting our coverage right now » Here's the exciting part that is different from most crowdfunding campaigns. Beacon has helped bring together additional donors who have promised to match the first $30,000 in funds (with potentially more on the way -- so stay tuned), so if you support our coverage now you'll double your impact. Net neutrality is obviously a big story -- but it's one that simply isn't getting that much coverage. A recent Pew study found that earlier this year, even as the debate heated up, it was all but absent from national television news and most major newspapers. While there was a brief breakthrough moment when John Oliver discussed net neutrality, even that was somewhat limited (HBO), and not the most nuanced of reports. As Oliver himself noted, the reason that this debate is so dangerous is because often it's been designed to seem boring to the average person so that they have no idea what it means and how it will impact them. We aim to change that as much as possible. We want to be able to take the time and break down every angle of this story: including cutting through much of the rhetoric being spewed about what's happening and what it means. Things like Title II, Section 706 and "forbearance" are confusing and very deep in the weeds, but actually understanding these things and how they'll impact you are important. There are many vested interests who know that keeping you bored and confused works to their advantage -- and we're hoping to better educate you, so that you can take part in this debate in an informed manner, calling out bogus claims when you see them, and being able to help others understand the issues as well. Back that Harvard study, which highlighted just how central Techdirt was to that story, noting that there were more in-links to Techdirt than any other source concerning SOPA and PIPA: But here's the part that hasn't been discussed before: covering truly important issues like this, which mostly focus on incumbents trying to stifle upstarts and innovation, is really bad for paying the bills. Our coverage of SOPA/PIPA cost us dearly. While we had some critics insist the only reason we were covering the story was because of the revenue it brought in, the truth is that we lost a very big advertising deal in large part because of our coverage. In the midst of the fight, we actually had an ad partner contact us to ask if we would "tone down" such "political stuff" on the site. That's not how we work, obviously. We cover what we think is important because we think it's important, and not based on what will attract the most advertising dollars. But, there's a big cost to that. In our case, advertising, which almost always comes from large incumbents, dried up significantly, despite the fact that our traffic basically doubled. Thankfully, we have the research and consulting side of our business, which helps fund this site, but the site increasingly runs at a loss if you just view it in terms of advertising and sponsorship. We took another hit on that front last month, when we (basically alone among media sites) agreed to go 100% SSL, to protect your privacy -- which forced us to cut loose a number of ad partners who simply don't want to bother supporting SSL. For years, though, we've reported on crowdfunding campaigns -- and we've had some success with our own Insider Shop, but it's not nearly enough for the kind of coverage we'd like to bring to these and other important issues. So that's where this crowdfunding campaign comes in. Beacon is a fascinating startup that is working hard to combine the best concepts of crowdfunding, but with a 100% focus on making it work for journalism, leading to some unique opportunities. With this campaign, our net neutrality coverage will appear on both Techdirt and Beacon, and supporters will get some specific perks from Beacon as well. Like all crowdfunding campaigns, this is something of an experiment -- meaning that it's also an opportunity for you to tell us how important you think net neutrality is as well. We'll obviously cover the unfolding story no matter what, but if we can meet our goal with this campaign, we'll be able to dedicate a lot more resources to making sure that we can truly cover every angle, including following the story to wherever it leads us: whether that's Washington, DC or elsewhere, and adding more voices and more in-depth coverage on what's really happening and what it really means for you and the future of the internet. The fact that any money pledged now gets immediately doubled by matching donors makes it easy for you to have even more impact right now. We've mentioned ways to supports us in the past, but we've never before made a direct plea to help us out. Today, however, I'm asking if you'll step up and contribute and enable us to bring you more thorough reporting on the net neutrality fight. The fact that BeaconReader will match your dollars, doubling the impact of every dollar you give, will act as added incentive. Thanks for any possible support you can give. Once again: Support our net neutrality coverage and double your impact right now! » Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
It wasn't even whistleblowing, although that too can destroy careers and lives. It was a FOIA request, made by someone who knew exactly which documents he wanted released. His CIA career included assignments in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, but the most perilous posting for Jeffrey Scudder turned out to be a two-year stint in a sleepy office that looks after the agency’s historical files. It was there that Scudder discovered a stack of articles, hundreds of histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public. To get them released, Scudder submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act — a step that any citizen can take, but one that is highly unusual for a CIA employee. Four years later, the CIA has released some of those articles and withheld others. It also has forced Scudder out. "Historical documents of long-dormant conflicts and operations." Scudder dared to ask for these documents, and the CIA cut him loose. It also sent another federal agency after him -- the FBI. On Nov. 27, 2012, a stream of black cars pulled up in front of Scudder’s home in Ashburn, Va., at 6 a.m. FBI agents seized every computer in the house, including a laptop his daughter had brought home from college for Thanksgiving. They took cellphones, storage devices, DVDs, a Nintendo Game Boy and a journal kept by his wife, a physical therapist in the Loudoun County Schools. To date, only his daughter has received her laptop back. Every other computer remains in the hands of the FBI, despite the fact that no charges were ever pressed and despite the fact that many of the documents Scudder asked for have been released by the CIA in the interim. More from his request list are due to be released in the near future. The CIA avails itself of a wide array of FOIA exemptions, but its reluctance to publish historical documents is just baffling -- and is most likely a result of the agency's long-running adversarial relationship with transparency. It's been noted here before that the CIA has used the often-abused b(5) exemption to withhold documents over five decades old (dealing with the Bay of Pigs invasion), claiming that the release of the "sensitive" documents would "confuse the public." Despite Scudder's efforts, the flow of historical CIA documents will only decrease in the future. The office charged with declassifying historical documents has been closed, deemed expendable by the agency in the face of budget cuts. This workload will be routed through the agency's FOIA office, creating even more incentive for the CIA to stonewall requests. Scudder never did anything his superiors thought was wrong until after he attempted to free these historical documents. Everything the agency never took issue with during his previous 18 years of employment -- like personal call infractions and the possession of photos (taken by Scudder in his position as "official CIA photographer") deemed "classified" -- was suddenly yet another reason to force him out. It's been clear for a long time that the government doesn't care much for whistleblowers. It also seems to have something against transparency, even concerning documents of historical interest only. Scudder did nothing criminal. He just did something the agency didn't like. And for that, he lost his job and clearance. So, it's not just whistleblowing that can get you destroyed. It's also holding the government to its own transparency standards -- something that isn't remotely criminal but is apparently completely unforgivable.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
The recent leak of the XKeyscore source code has raised an interesting question. Is there a second leaker? The report written by Jacob Appelbaum and others for DasErste.de detailed the NSA's targeting of Tor users (and even those who just read about Tor) and the harvesting of their communications, but very explicitly did not state that Snowden was the source of this code snippet. Others noticed this lack of attribution and commented on it. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing apparently received confirmation that this particular leak was not from Snowden's trove of documents. Another expert said that s/he believed that this leak may come from a second source, not Edward Snowden, as s/he had not seen this in the original Snowden docs; and had seen other revelations that also appeared independent of the Snowden materials. Cryptologist and security expert Bruce Schneier (who has seen the documents released to journalists by Snowden) concurred with Doctorow's conclusion. And, since Cory said it, I do not believe that this came from the Snowden documents. I also don't believe the TAO catalog came from the Snowden documents. I think there's a second leaker out there. The TAO catalog was originally revealed by Der Spiegel with reporting by (again) Jacob Appelbaum and Greenwald/Snowden partner Laura Poitras. Nothing in the story explicitly states its origin, although the inclusion of Poitras at least suggests the documents can be traced back to Snowden's stash. Glenn Greenwald, however, offered his agreement with Schneier's take here: Seems clear at this point RT @ageis @vruz Bruce Schneier: "I think there's a second [NSA] leaker out there." https://t.co/0iCULZWf0L — Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) July 4, 2014 If so, then that's two people who have seen Snowden's documents, including one with ongoing access, claiming there's a second leaker. And if so, the NSA's problem, instead of gradually disappearing from the public eye, will become more severe. Coupled with the recent leak published by the Washington Post, which shows the agency harvests and stores plenty of unminimized non-terrorist communications with its 702 collections (the same collection the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recently found to be more law-abiding and less Constitutionally unsound than the bulk metadata program), the agency now looks worse than ever. It was completely unprepared for the Snowden revelations, but at least by this point, it has a general feel for the leak release process. Now, it possibly has another leaker offering new data and info to journalists, one which is a totally unknown quantity. At this point, all anyone has is speculation. If there's another leaker, it's doubtful he or she will make his/her identity known any time soon. Snowden revealed himself as a leaker and that hasn't exactly worked out well for him. But there's also some indications that this snippet of code came from Snowden's leaks. Errata Security (the group of bloggers that exposed the fakery behind NBC's pre-Winter Olympics "report" that all visitors to Sochi would be instantly hacked) has done its own fisking of the code snippet and come to the following conclusions. 1. The signatures are old (2011 to 2012), so it fits within the Snowden timeframe, and is unlikely to be a recent leak. 2. The code is weird, as if they are snippets combined from training manuals rather than operational code. That would mean it is “fake”. 3. The story makes claims about the source that are verifiably false, leading us to believe that they may have falsified the origin of this source code. 4. The code is so domain specific that it probably is, in some fashion, related to real XKeyScore code – if fake, it's not completely so. Errata Security notes some of the oddities of the code, pointing out that it looks more like something pulled from a training exercise or manual rather than directly from XKeyscore itself. More investigation by Errata Security and The Grugq (another security expert) apparently uncovered the fact that the text was pulled from a document (pdf, docx, etc.) rather than an actual source file. But the aspect that seems to indicate this is part of Snowden's stash is the timeline. As this post to the Tor developer mailing list describes, the signatures in the code are old. The earliest date this file can be valid is 2011-08-08, when the Linux journal reported on TAILS. The latest date might be 2012-09-21, just before a new server was added to Tor that isn't in the XKeyScore list. Since this is shortly before Snowden first tried to contact Greenwald, the dates sync up. If the code is unrecognizable by those who've had access to the documents, that's probably due to it being compiled from various pages and mocked up into a short code excerpt. Rob Graham at Errata Security doesn't feel it's necessarily fake, but believes the origin of the quoted source code may have been obscured -- hence, no citation of Snowden's leaks or any acknowledgment of existing NSA files. Of course, this could mean another leaker is simply hiding behind Snowden, and has pulled files roughly in the same date range in order to deliver new leaks in order to remain undetected. If there is another leaker, my guess is he/she will be discovered rather than coming out publicly. New leaker or no, the one-two punch of published leaks by Jacob Appelbaum and Barton Gellman (of the Washington Post) shows that the NSA is doing everything it's been accused of -- namely, hoovering up and holding onto incidental communications (even those originating from "untargeted" American citizens) and viewing anyone with even a passing interest in anonymity or encryption as "suspicious."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
We just wrote about the UK's filtering systems blocking access to 20% of the world's top 100,000 sites, even though only about 4% of those host the porn Prime Minister David Cameron seems so obsessed with blocking. Also noted in that story was the fact that many "pirate sites" are being blocked at ISP level via secret court orders. MPAA head Chris Dodd absolutely loves web filters, proclaiming them to be the best tool the industry can (ab)use to thwart piracy. Speaking recently at the IP Summit in London, Former Senator turned MPAA boss Chris Dodd pronounced his love for forcing ISPs to block and filter websites accused of aiding copyright infringement. Despite the fact filters can be easily bypassed by anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge and often filter legitimate content (a report this week suggests a massive swath of legitimate websites are blocked by UK filters), Dodd believes filters are the "most effective tools anywhere in the world" at fighting piracy. It appears the studios agree as well, going so far as to attempt to equate the act of piracy with the act of distributing child porn. The UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) maintains a blocklist of URLs that point to sexual child abuse and criminally obscene adult content. Over in New Zealand the Department of Internal Affairs maintains DCEFS, the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System. Both are run in cooperation with the countries’ ISPs with the sole aim of keeping the most objectionable material away from public eyes… According to a RadioLIVE report, in order to prevent copyright infringement the studios requested access to the DCEFS child abuse filtering system. After obtaining government permission, Hollywood hoped to add their own list of sites to DCEFS so that by default subscribers to New Zealand’s main ISPs would be prohibited from accessing torrent and other file-sharing type sites. So, in hopes of protecting their business model, studios tried to add file sharing sites to a list of child pornography sites. Not one of them seemed to realize how wrong it was to equate their companies' profitability with the sexual abuse of children. Whatever level of entitlement these companies have risen to in the past, they've vastly exceeded it with this maneuver. Studios may secretly believe copyright infringement is (very subjectively) as damaging as child pornography, but they've never made it this explicitly clear. Fortunately, ISPs and the Kiwi government pushed back, unwilling to be complicit in the studios' most insensitive act of self-preservation yet. Unfortunately for Dodd and his charges, the studios will have to make do with secret court orders and default web filters that still allow end users to flip the "hide file sharing sites" switch to "off." The studios believe they should have root access to government-ordained web blocking. In the interest of not making the situation worse than it already is, this should never be granted. Various governments have already included protection for the copyright industries in some of their web-targeted "for the children" legislation. Giving studios the go-ahead to tamper with child porn blacklists would just stretch the definition of "children" to include major Hollywood studios -- entities full of full-grown adults with enough power and money to protect them from anything.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Another day, another story of ridiculously errant DMCA takedown notices. The latest involves Qualcomm hiring Cyveillance to issue a DMCA notice to Github, demanding the site take down 116 repositories for allegedly violating Qualcomm's copyright. Of course, among those repositories are... Qualcomm's own repository. Because, apparently, like many other companies out there that do DMCA takedown notices, Cyveillance doesn't much care about collateral damage, and issues overly broad takedown notices because it can, and because there's simply no penalty for doing so. The takedown also impacted CyanogenMod developers and Sony's own Xperia dev Github repository. Because if you're going to create collateral damage, why not try to hit everyone? The impetus behind the takedown request is a WiFi config file �“ literally a text file �“ which is taken straight from a Sony firmware release. In this takedown Qualcomm also took down PRIMA mirror which is open source code for Atheros wireless chipsets that they release on the CodeAurora gitweb site. The article at Ausdroid also points out that Qualcomm has been trying to create "better relations with the open-source community for sometime." I would imagine one way to do that would be to not pull down their GitHub repositories with bogus DMCA claims. But, of course, Qualcomm has long been known as a patent and copyright bully, so apparently old habits die hard.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Last week, of course, there was a lot of attention around Google alerting publications that some of their stories had been removed from its index over "right to be forgotten" requests, following a dangerous European Court of Justice ruling. Various publications in the UK complained about some of the removals, and requested if there was any sort of appeals process. The BBC was initially told that there was no such process, though the Guardian claimed it was looking for ways to appeal. It appears that the current "appeals" process is based on how much attention and ridiculousness happen in response to the revelations. Because late last week, Google restored some of the links for the Guardian (mainly the ones where the removals made no sense at all). Either way, this has now created quite a mess, which was easily predictable as soon as the court's ruling came down. How anyone can think a somewhat arbitrary censorship mechanism would function smoothly is beyond me.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
After a dangerous ruling that allowed Microsoft to seize a bunch of domain names without even notifying the owners, there were plenty of problems to be discussed. But, ultimately, most of it boils down to the simple absurdity of such seizures being possible in the first place, as Adrian Lopez pointed out in this week's first-place comment on the insightful side: Yet another example of why in rem seizures need to be done away with altogether. Property has owners. Want to seize the property? Argue against the owner in front of a judge. It's called due process. Our next comment took both the second place spot for insightful and the first place spot for funny. After the IRS denied non-profit status to an open source organization, one anonymous commenter pointed out the ridiculous imbalance between this and another recent bit of news: It has to benefit the poor ... like Massachusetts SWAT who apparently had no problem getting 501(c)(3) status For editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got two excellent responses to common arguments that show up in the comments (and elsewhere). The first is related to Aereo: as we've pointed out many times, saying Aereo is abusing a loophole in the law is a gross mischaracterization of the situation, and I've never seen that as cleanly demonstrated as in this anonymous analogy: The difference is between following the law, and trying to carefully position yourself to get through a loophole in the law, by doing all sorts of obvious contortions that would not normally occur to do it. Sorry. That logic doesn't hold much water. To get through the "loophole" in jaywalking laws I'm "doing all sorts of obvious contortions" by "carefully positioning myself" at the crosswalk, which "would not normally occur" because it's a half a block away. You wording things differently doesn't magically change the legality of things. Next, as we've been pointing people towards Larry Lessig's Mayday PAC, some have argued that it's inherently dumb to try to use money to get money out of politics. I think there's plenty of room for informed debate here, but many people seem to reject the idea out of hand — and JP Jones makes a solid case for why this isn't fair by better illuminating the idea: Politics costs money. Everything costs money in one way or another. To paraphrase one of my college professors: "politics is the method by which human beings decide who gets what." Since we use money as the primary determination for our economy (also "who gets what") that means politics is all about money, or at least economic value. You can't remove money from politics. The money, however, isn't the problem. The problem is the strings attached to the money, the intent behind those who "donate" to the political process. This has a class-based definition: if the rich or affluent do it, it's called "lobbying" and if the poor or middle class do it it's called "bribery." The result is the same; the implication is that the individual receiving the money will behave in a manner that benefits the one giving the money, and if they do not, the money will not be offered. Since money is required to have a successful campaign (and thus get elected) this becomes a major factor in how politians act. The idea behind a crowd funded PAC is that by making the money generic and outside of the control of any political goal or intent you remove the "or else" from the equation. This means politicians are compelled to act in accordance with what their constituents want because now their votes are the primary determining factor in how they represent us, not the money from campaign contributions (which currently have the largest impact on elections). In other words, our representatives are motivated to represent the voters rather than the lobby. Over on the funny side, we've already had our first place comment above, so it's on to second place, where we've got another crossover comment referencing other recent news. After the new NSA boss commented that he'd observed terrorist organizations "making changes" in response to the Snowden revelations, Michael took a guess at the new security advice they might be seeking: Just the other day they were on the phone with someone willing to help them secure their systems for $1m per month... For editor's choice on the funny side, we've got two short scripted scenes that readers dreamed up. First, Rekrul imagined a likely phone call now that SoundCloud has given Universal Music the ability to take down content: Tech Support: SoundCloud tech support, how may I help you? UMG: You know that tool you gave us to take down any content that we deem to be infringing? Tech Support: Yes. UMG: Well, I can't find the "Delete All" button... Finally, Baron von Robber anticipated a coming exchange between the ACLU and the DOJ, which has been ordered to deliver unredacted memos: ACLU: "You were told to give an unredacted memo" DOJ: "It's no redacted" ACLU: "What's all that black stuff blocked out?" DOJ: "Um...new font called "ACLU type" ACLU: "Look, I know redacted when I see and I'm looking at it right now" DOJ: "It's pineing for the feuds." (I think that was supposed to be "fjords", unless there's an additional joke I'm not getting.) That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
A little less to go through this week in history, as we mostly took July 4th off, but still plenty of news to look back on. Five Years Ago:: An American court banned a book. I still shake my head over this. But, yes, an American court banned an unauthorized "sequel" to Catcher in the Rye, saying that it was copyright infringement... and leading us to wonder if this case put the nail in the coffin of the idea/expression dichotomy concept in copyright law. Meanwhile, a judge was tossing out the dangerous CFAA ruling against Lori Drew (which found her guilty of a crime for "violating" MySpace's terms of service, but was really an attempt to punish her because a girl her daughter had bullied committed suicide), and Jammie Thomas began her appeals process of the RIAA's big win against her (that appeals process eventually failed). The other big story of the week was that the Pirate Bay was supposedly bought by a public company, but as more and more details came out, that story got more and more questionable, eventually leading nowhere. There was plenty of news in the patent trolling world. Intuit paid a $120 million tax to Intellectual Ventures to avoid getting sued, there was a ridiculous interview with Erich Spangenberg, one of the biggest patent trolls out there. And, the guy after whom the term "patent troll" was originally coined, Ray Niro, found that his favorite patent -- which he claimed covered any JPEG image, and which he'd used to sue plenty of businesses who upset him in one way or another -- was smacked down. On the copyright front, five years before the Aereo ruling came out, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal in the Cablevision remote DVR case that may or may not have been overturned with the Aereo ruling. In those lovely days before copyright trolling came to US shores, we were already finding out how lucrative it was overseas. Oh, and the Australian media was bleating on about laughably inaccurate claims about how piracy funds terrorists. It was also a big week for misplaced blame. Craigslist was sued because someone holding the trademark on "call first" thought he could get money out of the company because people used that phrase in posting. L'Oreal was trying to blame eBay for users posting counterfeit goods. Police were -- no joke -- blaming Google Earth for koi thieves. Obviously. And then media execs were blaming content creators who put their work online for free for "insulting" those who paid for cable. Because free is evil. Ten Years Ago:: A judge slapped down an attempt by famed spammer Scott Richter to sue SpamCop for blocking some of his spam. And yet, a study was pointing out that a ton of people were still buying products from spam. I wonder how much that's changed. This past week, Google finally announced that it was shutting down Orkut, one of its first attempts at building a social network, but ten years ago, the company was getting sued for appropriating the code of another company (which Orkut Buyokkokten had founded) in order to build Orkut. The Jack Valenti era of the MPAA ended and Dan Glickman took over, making the MPAA become incredibly dull. Hard to believe that was ten years ago. Former FCC boss Michael Powell told us that "broadband over powerlines" would be the solution to a lack of competition, but as we predicted broadband over powerlines was clearly a joke played on a gullible FCC. Remember micropayment company Peppercoin? No? No one did back then, either. Ten years ago, we were also marveling about the possibility of controlling computers with body gestures. And, in less than ten years, everyone's already bored with Kinect. Fifteen Years Ago:: Right in the middle of the original dot com bubble, we had some crazy IPOs, such as a company trying to go public on revenue of $74,000. For all the worries that we're in another bubble these days, at least we're not seeing stories like that any more. Of course, we also saw that Ask Jeeves had a great IPO leading us to wonder when Google might IPO (yes, seriously, we were wondering that back in 1999). And, of course, the greatest symbol of the dot com bubble was the funding frenzy around pet food/supply dot coms. There were a whole bunch of them, and each raised more money than the next. I even remember one insisting that it's competitive advantage was that it had outraised its competitors, and a day or so later, one of its competitors raised many millions more. Crazy days. It wasn't just IPOs, of course. There were plenty of buyouts going on as well. We covered some buyouts of music tech startups as well as Slashdot being acquired by Andover (remember when that happened?). Of course, buyouts often have a way of going sour, and people were already getting angry about Yahoo's stewardship of GeoCities, while Microsoft couldn't figure out how to keep Hotmail running. Meanwhile, we were wondering if open source was finally going mainstream and we imagined a crazy dark future in which people could get instant messages on their mobile phones. The horror! 48 Years Ago: We weren't publishing, but President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law, and it has since been a useful, if frustratingly ignored by government, tool for journalists, both professional and amateur, ever since.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
Okay, we've written about Larry Lessig's Mayday PAC a bunch of times already, including when it launched, when it hit its first target of $1 million (which was then matched by donors for another $1 million), and again when the second round launched with a goal of raising $5 million (again to be matched with another $5 million) by July 4th. Guess what? Today is July 4th, and the campaign ends today. And you have a chance to help determine if it meets that $5 million goal or not. While there's been a big last minute push from a variety of places, as I write this, the campaign is still significantly short of its target goal. There is a very real chance that it won't reach the $5 million. And that would be unfortunate. So, today is basically a big chance for you to make a statement about trying to limit the impact of money in politics. One note on cynicism: pretty much every time we've written about this, the comments have been filled with people cynically trashing the idea either based on the argument that it's impossible to get rid of the influence of money in politics or because Lessig hasn't taken a specific issue on a particular pet issue (term limits is one that comes up often enough). Personally, I find this disingenuous and disappointing. It seems like people are actively looking for ways to keep the status quo, rather than to represent any real challenge to it at all. This kind of attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy that only keeps things the way they are. No one knows for sure if Lessig's plans will have any real impact, but I know of no one who has put as much time, thought and effort into tackling the problem of the corrupting influence of money in politics. For every simplistic point that someone has for why this plan or that plan won't work, Lessig has a detailed, fact-based or data-based answer. This isn't just some randomly idealistic person with a dream. This is someone who has dedicated a huge chunk of his life and intellectual resources towards really tackling the problem in a realistic and doable way. Even if I don't know all of the details, if there's one person who can actively make a difference, who has thought through the pros and cons of basically every possible approach, it's Larry Lessig. Go ahead and be cynical, if you must. But think about what that cynicism leads to in the end. Even if the MAYDAY PAC fails, isn't it better that they have a chance to succeed, rather than killing it off from the start so you can sound smart about how you knew it wouldn't work?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Just when I thought Amazon Derangement Syndrome couldn't get any more acute, I woke up to this "letter to our readers" spearheaded by bestselling writer Douglas Preston and signed by 69 authors. One day, historians and psychologists might manage to explain how various authors came to fear and revile a company that has sold more books than anyone in history; that pays authors up to nearly six times the royalties of the New York “Big Five” lockstep rate; that single-handedly created the ebook and self-publishing markets; that offers more choice and better prices to more readers than anyone ever has before; and that consistently ranks as one of the world’s most admired companies. But for now, let's see if we can figure it out ourselves... A letter to our readers: Amazon is involved in a commercial dispute with the book publisher Hachette, which owns Little Brown, Grand Central Publishing, and other familiar imprints. Unmentioned is that Hachette is part of the Lagardère Group, a French conglomerate with sales of something like ten billion dollars a year. Not exactly David to Amazon's Goliath. These sorts of disputes happen all the time between companies and they are usually resolved in a corporate back room. Indeed, Amazon and Hachette are just a retailer and a supplier having trouble coming to terms. Something that couldn’t be more common. Unless, unless... But in this case, Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly targeted Hachette’s authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms. This is misleading. Not only has Amazon not "targeted Hachette’s authors," it has offered to compensate them for any damage they suffer by virtue of their publisher's dispute with Amazon. Hachette has refused that offer. Do the authors of this letter not know about Amazon’s offer to help compensate Hachette's authors, and Hachette's refusal? Why don't they mention it? For the past month, Amazon has been: --Boycotting Hachette authors, refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette’s authors’ books, claiming they are “unavailable.” Amazon is not boycotting anyone. All books by all Hachette authors are available in the Amazon store. In the face of this, to claim there’s a “boycott” is either ignorance or propaganda. Not including a preorder button for a tiny percentage of titles isn’t a boycott. It’s a shot across the bow, and a fairly mild one compared to what an actual boycott of all Hachette titles would look like. As for “unavailable,” if a book isn’t published yet and you can’t preorder it, how else should its status be described? --Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette’s authors’ books. The prices of Hachette’s books are set by Hachette. If the authors of this letter think those prices are too high �” and apparently, they do �” it’s bizarre that they’re blaming Amazon. --Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette’s authors’ books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles. When a retailer and supplier can’t come to terms �” something the letter’s writers acknowledge happens “all the time” �” what is the retailer supposed to tell its customers? As writers�”some but not all published by Hachette�”we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. This is a bit rich. My own Amazon-published titles are boycotted by Barnes & Noble and by many indie bookstores. Tens of thousands of Indie-published authors face the same widespread boycott. An actual boycott, as in, outright refusal to stock books written by these authors �” not because of price or other contractual terms, but simply because the retailers in question don't like these authors' way of publishing. Yet this is the first I've heard any of the letter's authors express their strong feelings on bookstores preventing or discouraging customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. What's really weird, when you stop and think about it, is that if customers being able to read the books they want is really an important value for the letter’s authors, you would think they would love Amazon’s business model and find Hachette's suspect. After all, Hachette is a gatekeeper �” their whole business model is predicated on excluding from readers probably 99.99% of manuscripts. Amazon’s model is to let all authors publish and to trust readers make up their own minds. If customer choice is the real value in play here, you can’t coherently support Hachette and decry Amazon. Unless, of course, all that happy talk about customer choice is a canard. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. It wouldn't be right if Amazon were doing it. As explained above, they're not. What I'd like to know is why the letter's authors apparently feel it is right when Barnes & Noble and other booksellers really do single out authors for retaliation? Why are they upset about a fictional Amazon boycott, and sanguine about a real Barnes & Noble one? Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be “Earth's most customer-centric company.” I agree that it's an inconvenience for customers when a retailer and supplier can't come to terms. But it happens, and it's not that hard to understand why a retailer might feel compelled to hold the line in one discrete area to prevent its supplier from forcing it to charge higher prices across the board. Think of it as a "lesser of two evils" dynamic a retailer might face with regard to what's best for its customers. Regardless, I'm not sure why the letter's authors reflexively lay blame for the dispute and its consequences at Amazon's feet while reflexively absolving (and refusing even to question) Hachette. And I don't see Amazon doing anything here that I would characterize as "misleading." All of us supported Amazon from when it was a struggling start-up. We cheered Amazon on. Our books started Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world’s largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner. Under the circumstances, that last line sounds like projection. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. I'm not sure what this means. What does friendship have to do with a retailer and supplier negotiating terms? Are they saying that in a contract dispute, you can't allow your friends to become collateral damage? Okay, but why is that message directed at Amazon and not at Hachette? I know, I know... they really just want to end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy... Bear in mind that no one outside of Amazon and Hachette even knows for sure the details or their discussions. There's been a lot of informed speculation in the blogosphere, and it seems likely that the essence of the dispute is that Hachette wants to return to "agency" pricing, which enables Hachette to keep the prices of ebooks artificially high, while Amazon wants the flexibility to charge less. But in the face of no knowledge, or of the likelihood that Hachette is trying to force Amazon to charge higher prices, the knee-jerk anti-Amazon response isn't easy to understand. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. Well, that made me smile. I’m glad no one is taking sides! In fact, reading their letter, I still have no idea which side the letter’s authors favor… :) But seriously, I have to ask… do these people really not recognize that they're taking sides? Not that I think taking sides is wrong; personally, I think Hachette is a joke and I side with Amazon because I favor lower prices, higher royalties, and more choice. But to write a letter like this and claim you're not taking sides... are they disingenuous? Or are they so psychologically wedded to legacy publishing that they think taking Hachette's side is just being neutral? For some reason it reminds me of the joke: "If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" But anyway... if the value in play here is that a company should "stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business," I'm gobsmacked that these people aren't demanding more from Hachette. Hachette pays its authors 12.5% in digital royalties. It keeps the lion's share of increased ebook profits for itself. It demands life-of-copyright (that is, forever) terms of license. It inhibits its authors' ability to publish other works by insisting on draconian anti-competition clauses. It pays its authors only twice a year. It has innovated precisely nothing, ever, preferring to collude to fix prices with Apple and the other members of the New York "Big Five." That's Hachette's business record... and these authors, who purport to care so much about a company harming the livelihood of authors, have nothing to say about it? I guess that’s what they mean by "not taking sides." None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. Then why aren’t they telling Hachette to set their books free? End agency pricing! Let retailers discount! Don't collude! Free those books! (We’re not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior.) I always mistrust this kind of assertion in the absence of links or other citations �” especially coming from a group that has already made as many misleading claims as this one. But let's assume their claim about overlapping op-eds is true. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal "rarely agree on anything”? This is possibly the most thoughtless (or misleading) claim the letter's authors have made yet. I know it's a bit discursive, but here’s Noam Chomsky on propaganda: "One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there's a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins. Namely, you have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions, and those assumptions turn out to be the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, then you can have a debate." Like the Democratic and Republican branches of America's single political party, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have far, far more in common than they do in dispute. Suggesting their concurrence on a topic is meaningful is exactly like suggesting that because majorities of Democrats and of Republicans voted to invade Iraq, the war was a good idea. We call on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers. I know I’m repeating myself, but... it's fascinating that these people �” who are of course not taking sides! �” are calling on Amazon this way and saying nothing at all to Hachette. You'd think Hachette is a wholly pure and innocent child, lacking any autonomy at all in this business dispute. We respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, c.e.o and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think. He says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all emails from this account. We hope that, writers and readers together, we will be able to change his mind. It’s sad. Imagine the good that might be accomplished if mega-bestselling authors like Child, Patterson, and Turow were even fractionally more inclined to leverage their fame and fortune in calling attention to real injustices in publishing. The pittance the New York "Big Five" (the cartel is right there in the moniker) pay their authors. The industrial-level scamming of newbie writers by Penguin Random House-owned Author Solutions. Harlequin setting up subsidiaries solely to screw writers out of their royalties. Instead, these one-percenters consistently ignore the tremendous good Amazon has done for all authors, and allow misguided self-interest to distort their perceptions and their arguments. They take full-page ads in the New York Times, they give interviews with an adoring press, they publish letters like this one… all to perpetuate a publishing system that is designed to create a one-percent class of winners and to exclude everyone else. You want to know something else the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are going to agree on? They're going to offer a ton of coverage to this "letter to readers" because it was signed by a few superstars. And they're going to ignore a competing petition that in the few hours since it went live is already closing in on a thousand signatures, many of them submitted by the mom-n-pop, small-business, indie authors Amazon has enabled to earn a living from their writing for the first time ever. This imbalance is the way establishments work, and the authors of the "letter to our readers" are nothing if not part of the publishing establishment they seek to perpetuate. It's all right. The establishment has the names. Freedom and choice have the numbers. And the numbers always win in the end. Oh, and that petition? You can add your name here. P.S. Some further suggested reading on this topic. If you love books then you should be rooting for Amazon, not Hachette or the Big Five Authors Behaving Badly and Authors Who Aren’t Amazon Finally Defends Itself Against Accusations That It's A Bully Pushing Around HachettePermalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
The number of zombie apocalypse movies has been growing over the last few years, introducing "fast-moving" zombies and new kinds of swarming behaviors for the undead. The causes of the zombie apocalypse range from viral to supernatural, but the general awareness of biotechnology's ability to create monsters is undeniable. Meanwhile, Mother Nature herself is creating her own deadly diseases (ahem, ebola) and is making them more difficult to eradicate. Here are just a few observations of evolution that we can hopefully learn from and use to prevent an extinction event. Maybe you've heard of a strain of group A Streptococcus because you've had strep throat. Beginning in the 1980s, strep strains have acquired four (just 4!) genetic modifications -- via horizontal gene transfer and regular old mutation -- to become a flesh-eating (necrotizing fasciitis) infection. [url] Researchers are looking at populations of Escherichia coli under various conditions to try to capture snapshots of genetic evolution in progress. There may be constraints on evolution, and mutations might not be as random as they might initially appear. [url] The Permian-Triassic extinction (aka The Great Dying) was an event about 252 million years ago in which the majority of life on our planet was extinguished. The cause is uncertain, but a recent hypothesis suggests that the transfer of two genes from one type of bacteria to one type of archaea resulted in a microbial bloom that disrupted our planet's carbon cycle by pouring an exponentially-growing amount of methane into the atmosphere. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
We've had a great many discussions about how employers react to the social media content of their employees. There have been questions over whether employers should be able to fire staff for Facebook content, whether staff can be perma-banned from using social media sites at all, or even whether or not employees should be required to cough up social media passwords to their employers. These stories tend to focus on an employer doing something that makes the employee uncomfortable. You want to know what's really an uncomfortable result of an employer looking into an employee's social media account? How about losing five million dollars? That's exactly what happened to New Orleans Saints receiving tight end Jimmy Graham. Unable to negotiate a deal, the Saints slapped Jimmy Graham with a franchise tag as a tight end. Graham disagreed, declaring himself a receiver, in order that he be paid like one. The dispute went to arbitration, and today arbitrator Stephen Burbank came down on the Saints' side. The difference is significant. A franchise tag pays a player the average of the five highest-paid players at that position, and WRs—especially the top tier—are paid better than their TE counterparts. A ruling favorable to Graham would have seen him make $12.312 million this season; instead, he'll make $7.035 million. For you non-sports fans out there, the reason for the average price difference is due to the fact that a team's wide receivers are generally more skilled players compared with tight ends. Typically, receivers primarily, you know, receive, as in the ball, typically on pass plays. Tight ends traditionally occasionally catch passes, but are often used as on-the-line blockers as well and aren't considered to have the catching, jumping, and speed skills of a receiver. For you non-Jimmy Graham fans out there, Graham breaks the stereotype completely, having led his team in receptions, caught yards, and receiving touchdowns. His argument that he wasn't really a tight end had a ton of merit. Unfortunately for Jimmy Graham, the arbiter took to the opinion of Jimmy Graham in part when rendering his decision. The arbitrator's decision isn't public, but dribs and drabs of Burbank's reasoning have come out. (Ian Rapaport and Albert Breer are your best sources.) Among Burbank's justifications: -Graham attends TE position meetings. -Graham was drafted by the Saints as a TE. -Graham lists himself as a TE in his Twitter bio. (Yes, the Saints argued this.) Burbank, via Rapaport: "Mr. Graham refers to himself as a tight end in social media that he controls and his agents do so as well." -Graham lined up within four yards of the offensive line on a majority of his snaps last season. Oops. Kind of hard to argue that you're not a tight end when your own Twitter bio calls you a tight end. Now, the article notes that the Twitter bio probably wasn't the key factor in the decision, stating that the arbiter likely instead focused on how close to the offensive linemen Graham started most plays (which is stupid, by the way), but it did serve as a sort of catchy "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" moment against his claim. Either way, before you go telling your bosses what role you play in a company, probably best that you get your story straight with your social media accounts first. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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