posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Technology has made some impressive advances over the last few decades. We don't have strong AI just yet -- nor flying cars -- but there are some pretty cool gadgets all around us. Kids are walking around with supercomputers (by 1960s standards). Some forms of cancer actually have reliable treatments. (Unfortunately, there are over 100 types of cancer, and many of them are still incurable.) Let's appreciate some of the awesome stuff that didn't exist just a few years ago. Here are a few more nifty things that kids will take for granted soon. Flying cars might not be driving around anywhere anytime soon, but a hoverbike could be zooming around remote locations (if you're brave enough to try to pilot it). A rider sits on this hoverbike as a passenger on this quadcopter-like mode of transportation... and it looks like a very noisy way to get from point A to B. [url] A superconducting power cable is going to be laid underground in Chicago, and it will be able to carry an order of magnitude more power than conventional copper cables. This new cable is designed to prevent power outages by re-routing electricity in the event a power substation fails, reducing the likelihood of a cascade failure of substations that could knock out power to a significant portion of the city. [url] Forget smartwatches. Don't you want to wear an atomic clock on your wrist? A wristwatch using cesium-133 is accurate on the order of one second in a thousand years, and each watch will cost about $12,000 in a limited edition run. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
There's been some attention paid to a recent Forbes article that confirms what pretty much everyone has always said: Congress won't move forward with reforming the CFAA. There's nothing particularly new in the article. It's just rehashing things that were hashed out over the past few years: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a very out-of-date law concerning hacking, has been abused mightily for decades, well beyond its intended purpose. It got lots of attention as the law being used against Aaron Swartz, but the abuses started long before that. However, many tech companies, led by Oracle, have fought against reform (in part because they use the threat of the law to keep employees from running off with trade secrets, even though there are other laws for that). At the same time, the DOJ would actually like to make the law even worse. And, in the simplistic minds of many in Congress, if the big industry associated with the issue and the government don't want the necessary reforms -- even if the public is interested in such reforms -- it's just not worth doing. This doesn't necessarily mean that CFAA reform won't eventually happen, but like ECPA reform, patent reform and other related issues, very little can actually get through Congress these days. So in many cases, in the minds of certain folks in Congress, it's just not worth trying, even if it's the right thing to do.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Back in April, we wrote about claims that Google was considering giving a boost in its search rankings to sites that are encrypted. Today, it officially announced the policy, noting that the company has been testing it for a little while and thinks that it works well. The weighting is very tiny, but the company makes it clear that it will likely increase that over time, and the current low ranking is more of a "grace period" to encourage more sites to encrypt. Google also makes clear that its reason for doing this is to encourage greater encryption to make the entire web more safe and secure: For these reasons, over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it's only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web. When we wrote about it back in April, I found it a bit surprising that Google would do this, given that, historically, it has always said its search rankings were entirely focused on quality. You could, perhaps, make an argument that a site that uses SSL is more likely to be a high quality site, but Google doesn't even appear to be making that argument. As a site that has already strongly moved to SSL, this might (marginally) help our Google rankings (not that we actually get much traffic from Google in the first place), and getting much more of the web encrypted is a good thing in general. It still seems, though, that for all the good this does, others will now make use of this as an argument for other kinds of "nudging" behavior by Google. For years, the legacy entertainment industry has pushed Google to better rank "good" sites and to downrank "pirate" sites -- which the industry still seems to think is a simple black and white calculation (it's not). Google can point out that SSL v. non-SSL is obvious, but I fully expect those who seem to think Google should be designed in their own interests, as opposed to those of Google's users, to jump on this as proof that Google can solve other problems. This still is a good move, though. Encouraging more encryption on the web is always the right move. I'm just still a bit surprised that Google would take this step, and wonder how others will react to it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this week, Tim Cushing wrote about The Intercept's latest scoop, concerning the makeup of the US government's federal terrorist watchlist, and the fact that a large chunk of it isn't affiliated with any terrorist groups. While most of the article focused on that point, he made two other notes in passing -- the first was that it was obvious that this release was from a second leaker, not Snowden, and the second was about how the government "leaked" the story in a "friendlier" manner to the AP in order to beat The Intercept. We thought both of these asides were interesting, but they've both turned into big stories on their own. CNN later confirmed that US government officials are now searching for the second leaker (though "second" may not be accurate either...), more or less confirming what many people had been suspecting. Meanwhile, the "scoop spoiling" by the federal government actually resulted in a semi-apology from the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) who gave the scoop to the AP. The NCTC claimed it had been working with the AP on a story for a while, and after seeing what The Intercept was doing, felt it needed to give them the heads up, though it also says it could have handled the situation better. Of course, this also makes it more likely that The Intercept won't bother giving the government much time (if any) to respond on future stories. Why risk the chance of having the government spoil the scoop again? However, with all this concern about the "second leaker," Chris Soghoian asks a very good question. If the Justice Department is going to go hunting for whoever leaked the information to The Intercept, will it similarly go after whoever at NCTC was apparently providing the same basic information to the Associated Press? Or how about the person who told CNN that the US government believes there's a "second leaker"? Because that information is also a leak, and potentially a big one, given that it will alert the leaker that the government is searching for him or her. Somehow, we don't think the DOJ will be too concerned about those leaks. "Official" leaks happen all the time and no one cares. It's just the leaks that make the government look bad that somehow are seen as criminal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
As we wrote yesterday, the infamous monkey selfie has returned to the news, thanks mostly to Wikimedia's new transparency report, which discusses the supposed copyright claim over the following monkey selfie: Unfortunately, as we noted, the original story in The Telegraph claimed that Wikipedia "editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright." As we explained in great detail three years ago, this was false. The monkey doesn't hold the copyright: no one does. It's in the public domain. In fact, if the reporter had been careful, he would have noted that even Wikipedia properly notes that the image is in the public domain. It did not claim that the monkey owns the copyright. However, since a major newspaper (falsely) wrote that Wikipedia had decided the monkey holds the copyright, the whole thing went viral all over again. All over Twitter I saw people claiming that the monkey held the copyright. Unfortunately, this is somewhat pernicious, starting with the Telegraph reporter, Matthew Sparkes, who made the false claim. As Sherwin Siy notes in a very good post, it's very troubling that people now come to automatically believe that someone has to hold the copyright on a photograph. That's just not true: The claim isn’t that monkeys have IP rights—it’s that no one owns the copyright in the photo. A lot of people seem to take issue with this, insisting that, if the monkey doesn’t own the copyright, the photographer must—that someone has to own a copyright in the photo. But that just isn’t true. This is the definition of the public domain—things that are not protected by copyright. We’re used to thinking of the public domain as consisting of things that were in copyright and then aged out of it after a length of time, but that’s just a part of it. There’s also works created by the federal government, and things that simply can’t be protected—like ideas, methods of operation, or discoveries. I think a big part of the problem here is that we've been trained incorrectly to believe that everything new must be covered by copyright. This is part of the most pernicious aspects of copyright maximalism today -- the idea that everything is covered by copyright. Only a few decades ago, nearly all created works were not covered by copyright and were public domain, free to be shared. It was only with the 1976 Copyright Act that the US switched from an "opt-in" policy to a "nearly everything is covered" policy, leading many people to (wrongly) believe that with any photo someone must hold the copyright. That's a dangerous assumption for culture, highlighted by the fact that so many people default to insisting that someone must hold the copyright over this photo. Meanwhile, for an even more amusing take on all of this, don't miss Sarah Jeong's defense of monkey copyrights satirical post: It’s hard enough to eke out a living as an artist without the Copyright Office butting in and claiming it is literally impossible for you to own copyrights, just because you’re a monkey. What on earth is this “Copyright Office”, anyways? What right do they have to say whether a monkey’s work is worthy of copyright or not? According to Slater’s own account, the Indonesian macaques were “already posing for the camera” when one of them started taking photos. Not all of them were good – as it turns out, some monkeys are much better photographers than other monkeys. The “monkey selfie” in question is a diamond in the mud: a truly remarkable portrait, perfectly focused and strategically positioned to capture a mischievous yet vulnerable smile. If that macaque had an Instagram account she’d have, like, a million followers. But she doesn’t, and the sorry state of our copyright law – as interpreted by the Copyright Office and exploited by Wikipedia – is to blame. Due to the backwards treatment of animal creators everywhere, monkey art (and monkey photography in particular) continues to languish. How is an aspiring monkey photographer supposed to make it if she can’t stop the rampant internet piracy of monkey works? That's only a snippet. The whole thing is well worth a read.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
As you may have heard, there's been a somewhat scary Ebola outbreak in western Africa. You may have also heard about what some are calling a "secret miracle serum" that effectively stops the impact of the virus for those who catch it. It's an experimental drug that hasn't undergone human clinical trials yet, but it was apparently given to a couple of Americans and appears to be working. There's some indication that it would take a couple months to produce a larger number of doses -- though, again, the lack of testing here means that people really aren't sure if it will work (or if there are serious side effects). That said, as one article notes, a big reason that there hasn't been much testing on this is because treating poor people in Africa just isn't very profitable for the drug companies: “These outbreaks affect the poorest communities on the planet. Although they do create incredible upheaval, they are relatively rare events,” said Daniel Bausch, a medical researcher in the US who works on Ebola and other infectious diseases. “So if you look at the interest of pharmaceutical companies, there is not huge enthusiasm to take an Ebola drug through phase one, two, and three of a trial and make an Ebola vaccine that maybe a few tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people will use.” While some may question whether or not Bausch's statement is just from frustration from where he is, Big Pharma execs more or less confirm his claims. Remember that it was just a few months ago that we wrote about Bayer's CEO claiming directly that they make drugs for rich people who can afford it: Bayer Chief Executive Officer Marijn Dekkers called the compulsory license "essentially theft." "We did not develop this medicine for Indians," Dekkers said Dec. 3. "We developed it for western patients who can afford it." As we noted at the time, it's worth comparing that statement to what George Merck, the former President of Merck said many decades ago concerning the pharma industry: We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been. It seems that we've come a long way from those days.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
As the fight over the redactions on the CIA torture report continue, it's worth reminding folks how you can totally change the story with just a few well placed redactions. Director of National Intelligence has insisted that just 15% was redacted -- though, as Marcy Wheeler points out, the part that's being declassified is just the exec summary, which was written specifically to get around the redactor's ink, since the details are buried in the full report, which will likely remain classified for a while. In other words, the vast, vast majority of the report is still "redacted." Still, even a 15% redaction can do a lot of damage and hide a lot of facts. Senator Mark Udall has made it clear that the existing redactions make parts of the report "incomprehensible" in an effort to hide embarrassing information from the public. Reed Richardson decided to do a fairly simple demonstration to show just how much a 15% redaction can bury key points. He took President Obama's statement about how "we tortured some folks" and redacted "just 15%" of it (though such that if you look closely, you can see what's covered). Notice how the key elements -- the admission of torture -- simply fade away... Richardson told me the whole exercise took less than 10 minutes, demonstrating just how easy it is to distort a report based on a few strategic redactions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
We've been covering the extreme and misinformed attempts by the City of London Police to become Hollywood's personal police force online (despite only having jurisdiction for the one square mile known as the City of London). As we've noted, the City of London Police don't seem to understand internet technology at all, nor do they have any jurisdiction to pull down websites. Yet, despite the total lack of a court order, many clueless registrars see letterhead from a police department and assume everything must be legit, even though this completely violates ICANN policy for domain registrars. Much of this is done in "partnership" with legacy players from the industry, who the police seem to listen to without any skepticism at all. It would be like the NYPD giving control of banking fraud investigations to Goldman Sachs. As we were just pointing out, while the City of London Police seem to think it's "obvious" what is and what is not a "pirate site", oftentimes it's not at all easy to figure that out. That was made clear last week when the organization helping the City of London Police reposted an entire BBC article about their cooperation (soon after our post went up, that company's post disappeared quietly with no notice). And now, TorrentFreak is reporting the City of London Police have "seized" an open proxy service called Immunicity, that was set up as an anti-censorship tool. Not only that, but they've also arrested the operator. The site itself is engaged in no copyright infringement at all. But its entire website has been replaced thanks to a bogus claim by the City of London Police. The police even seem to brag that they're in the bag for the legacy entertainment companies: According to Chief Inspector Andy Fyfe, the arrest is a prime example of a successful partnership between the copyright industry and local law enforcement. “This week’s operation highlights how PIPCU, working in partnership with the creative and advertising industries is targeting every aspect of how copyrighting material is illegally being made available to internet users,” Fyfe says. So, yes, it's the police "partnering" with a legacy industry that has a long and demonstrated history of bogus attacks on new technologies that challenge its business model. And rather than actually view such claims with skepticism, the police lap it up and take down websites without anything even approaching a court order. And to show just how confused they are, the main "industry" representative helping the police here basically admits to the belief that any proxy service must be illegal, because the industry doesn't like it: Commenting on the arrest, FACT Director Kieron Sharp argues that these proxy sites and services are just as illegal as the blocked sites themselves. “Internet users have sought ways to continue to access the sites by getting round the blocking put in place by the ISPs. One of the ways to do this is to use proxy servers. This operation is a major step in tackling those providing such services,” Sharp notes. Of course, based on that reasoning, the very same VPNs that many of us use to protect our internet surfing from surveillance would be equally considered "illegal." Basically anything that challenges the business model of these legacy companies must be illegal and the City of London Police seem to think they can arrest those associated with them. Talk about going way overboard and creating massive chilling effects...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
As a whole bunch of people on my Twitter feed are letting me know, video game streaming company Twitch* (read disclosure below!) has announced that it has turned on Audible Magic to begin silencing "Video on Demand" videos that make use of copyright-covered music -- including in-game music. This only covers the video on demand (stored) videos, rather than the live streams that Twitch is probably most well known for. As Twitch's General Counsel Boo Baker explains: We’ve partnered with Audible Magic, which works closely with the recorded music industry, to scan past and future VODs for music owned or controlled by clients of Audible Magic. This includes in-game and ambient music. When music in the Audible Magic database is detected (“Flagged Content”), the affected portion of the VOD will be muted and volume controls for that VOD will be turned off. Additionally, past broadcasts and highlights with Flagged Content are exportable but will remain muted. The Audible Magic technology will scan for third party music in 30 minute blocks — if Audible Magic does not detect its clients’ music, that portion of the VOD will not be muted. If third party audio is detected anywhere in the 30-minute scanned block, the entire 30 minutes will be muted. This, quite reasonably, has many folks up in arms -- with Felicia Day making the point in the most humorous of ways: "So Twitch has become a silent movie company now?" That's because pretty much every video game has some music, and it's unlikely (at best) that users of Twitch cleared that music. In the past, we've seen some similar issues with YouTube's ContentID system flagging similar "Let's Play" videos on that site. Really, what this seems to demonstrate is the failure of the "one-size filter fits all" world that the legacy content industry lives in. The music and movie industries have long demanded such filters, sometimes arguing (though failing) that the current DMCA requires filters like Audible Magic or Content ID. US copyright law currently does not require such a thing, though you know that the industry is pushing hard to get that into any copyright reform bill. And, for all the problems of ContentID (and there are many), it's the kind of solution that you can see often does make sense in a YouTube world (though it has way too many false positives). However, when it comes to Twitch, this kind of solution seems to make no sense at all. People are not going to Twitch to hear music. They're going to see video games. In fact, this kind of solution on Twitch seems inherently counterproductive for just about everyone. These days musicians want their music in video games because it's fantastic for those musicians, both making them money and giving them a ridiculous amount of exposure. There are even entire discussions for indie musicians about how to get their music into video games because it's such an important promotional avenue. Those musicians aren't hurt by Twitch videos. They're hurt by silent Twitch videos, meaning fewer people hear the music. A fairly strong case can be made that in-game and ambient video game music on Twitch is fair use. It seems to be clearly transformative in the same sense that scanning whole books to create a searchable index is transformative fair use or that a book of magazine covers of movie monsters is transformative fair use, or that a book of concert posters is transformative fair use. In each case, while the entire work is used, and the original may have been licensed, the use here is for an entirely different purpose. And yet, with this move, Twitch seems to be inherently stating that fair use for the audio is an afterthought, rather than a key component to what it's doing. Given the various lawsuits against other video sites, it's quite likely that Twitch was facing serious legal pressure to make this move. As we've noted, the music industry has repeatedly made arguments in other lawsuits that such filtering was necessary. Just recently, video site Vimeo announced it, too, was using Audible Magic. And, for years, legacy content players have insisted that using such a tool was required. But it's not. There's nothing in the law that requires a site to do this. And even if you can make the case that it makes sense for general interest user-generated video sites, that's simply not the case with Twitch, whose whole purpose is to stream video from video games. It's yet another case of taking a broad maxim ("video sites should use automated filtering to silence or take down "copyrighted" material") to extreme and ridiculous ends where it doesn't make sense at all. In other words, it's another example of the pressures and risks of today's copyright laws getting in the way of a useful innovation, leading to a result that is actually worse for everyone. From a pure "avoiding liability" position, you could see why Twitch would make this decision. Assuming that some recording industry lawyers were pressuring the company, arguing that continuing to allow those videos without a fingerprinting solution put it at risk of losing its DMCA safe harbors. Because that's the kind of argument an RIAA or an ASCAP might make. And this is really a big part of the problem with copyright law today (and especially statutory damages). Even if Twitch believes that not having such a tool is okay, it might still get taken to court and could face a massive judgment if a court decides the other way. Thus, all of the ridiculous incentives of copyright law today push Twitch to make use of this solution that, without any question, makes everyone worse off. It harms musicians. It harms Twitch. It harms video game fans. It harms Twitch's users. It harms video games. Who does it benefit besides Audible Magic and maybe some lawyers? Copyright remains totally broken. * Disclosure: As you may know, just a couple of weeks ago, Twitch announced that they were providing matching donations for our net neutrality crowdfunding campaign, something we are quite thankful for. That said, the company's support of that effort doesn't change our views at all on this being a dumb move that harms everyone.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind behind The Silk Road dark marketplace, has been trying (and failing) with some creative legal theories. The latest is that his lawyers are basically arguing that almost all of the evidence was collected in ways that violate the 4th Amendment. We're certainly big proponents of the 4th Amendment around these parts, and frequently lament the way the courts and law enforcement have chipped away at it (sometimes with dynamite). However, the arguments here seem like a massive longshot. The key to the argument is that it's somewhat murky how law enforcement found the Silk Road servers, and so Ulbricht is arguing that there was likely a 4th Amendment violation there, spoiling much of the rest of the evidence against him. However, that event – location of the Silk Road Servers – is shrouded in mystery, as the means and manner in which that discovery was accomplished has not been disclosed – indeed, it was not disclosed in any of the applications for warrants or other orders to search and seize ESI and other material in this case. That presents a threshold issue: whether locating the Silk Road Servers was the result of legitimate investigative technique(s), or the product of some unlawful intrusion, digital or otherwise. It also presents the issue whether the magistrate judges who approved the searches and seizures were remiss in not at least satisfying themselves that the information upon which the warrant was based was lawfully obtained and/or reliable. The more specific claims make some interesting points, but are likely to fall flat: In addition, many of the warrants – in particular, those directed at Mr. Ulbricht’s laptop, and his gmail and Facebook accounts – constitute the general warrants abhorred by the Framers, and which led directly to the Fourth Amendment. The wholesale collection and study of Mr. Ulbricht’s entire digital history without limitation – expressly sought in the warrants and granted – represent the very type of indiscriminate rummaging that caused the American colonists so much consternation. The argument, not surprisingly, is relying on the new Supreme Court ruling in the Riley / Wurie cases, about the need for a warrant to search mobile phones. That is an important ruling bringing back certain 4th Amendment protections, but Ulbricht's lawyers are really trying to stretch it to argue that it applies to the warrants issued against him. There may be some real issues in how the feds got access to the Silk Road servers, but to claim that other searches (and even actual warrants) were unconstitutional in light of Riley would require an almost ridiculously broad reading of the Riley ruling. That case involved searches of mobile phones that were on someone's person -- not a coordinated effort to track down someone they believed to be a criminal. I do think there are some real issues with the case against Ulbricht, mainly focused on his liability for the actions done by users of Silk Road, but these kinds of broad attempts to throw anything at the wall are likely to be rejected, and can actually piss off judges who feel that lawyers are just trying to throw up a smoke screen. There are important cases to be had in challenging various digital searches and how the 4th Amendment applies to them, but it's doubtful that this is a particularly good test case.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Keyboards are one of the fastest and most accurate ways to input text into a digital device. Sure, you could argue that speech recognition has beaten a txting champion (Ben Cook in 2006), but the more common experience with speech recognition is far from perfect dictation results. Early keyboards used some relatively complex mechanical designs to achieve a nice tactile feel and accurate input -- replaced by various iterations of keyboard improvements to become thinner and lighter and more (or less) clicky-sounding. Here are just a few more attempts to make better keyboards. Designing a keyboard isn't as easy as you might think. Okay, maybe it's just as hard as you think it is.... [url] It might be neat to have a camera sensor track your hand movements so that any surface could become a keyboard or multi-touch input device. But if it's really that great, why aren't there more of these kinds of camera-based keyboards? [url] Touchscreens are lacking in the tactile feedback department, but there's an accessory that features shape-shifting buttons that make raised bumps on a glass surface appear and disappear as needed. Presumably, these shape-shifting bumps don't make clicky noises when you touch them, and making a touchscreen even more complex doesn't sound like a better option than just adding a detachable keyboard for a tablet. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Wikimedia's new Transparency Report has been getting some attention, in part because it brought attention back to the whole monkey selfie copyright debacle. However, the rest of the transparency report itself is rather interesting, starting with the fact that it appears that Wikimedia rejected every request to pull down information (unrelated to copyright, which we'll get to in a second). In most transparency reports, this involves government and law enforcement requests to censor content, along with the occasional claims of defamation and whatnot. Either way, Wikimedia felt a grand total of none of them were legit: Admittedly, takedown requests to Wikimedia are a bit different than many other sites since anyone can just go in and edit the page themselves, but such changes will often be reverted, so it's less permanent. On the copyright front, Wikimedia did agree to abide by some DMCA requests, but it does seem notable that it's well less than half of all such requests: These days, with so many sites immediately rolling over when someone complains, it's good to see Wikimedia being willing to stand up against censorship attempts.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Following one Comcast customer-retention rep's brave attempt to set the record for the most annoying cancellation call, The Verge put out a call for past and current Comcast employees to weigh in on just how rare or frowned-upon this sort of thing is. As the initial submissions noted, this sort of thing isn't so much frowned-upon as it is, oh, let's call it super-actively encouraged. So much so, in fact, that the latest confession dump on The Verge includes Comcast's employee handbook for customer retention reps, and it's exactly as infuriating as you think it is. A current employee at Comcast who participated in the Comcast Confessions series provided The Verge with a copy of the 20-page guidelines the company uses for evaluating retention specialists. The guidelines are divided into 13 sections: 1. Greet customer clearly 2. Clarify reason for call 3. Relate and empathize 4. Take control 5. Set the agenda 6. Ask targeted questions 7. Consider unstated needs / active listening 8. Take ownership / make offer 9. Overcome objections 10. Close the save 11. Confirm details 12. End on a positive note 13. Documentation It has all the hallmarks of a playbook designed to piss off and annoy someone who wants to cancel service. Legislated courtesy followed by manufactured empathy that devolves into the assertion of the rep's dominance on the call, all leading to a close of the "save." If you're not in some kind of sales role, this list probably doesn't look familiar to you. I've been in sales all of my life, however, and this is the kind of playbook you get in a sales role at a faceless mega-corporation. Trust me, it's as frustrating for the sales person as it is for the customer. But you know what this isn't? Customer service for someone looking to cancel their damned account. But the handbook does offer indirect advice on how to get past these Comcast retention people in the form of what "objections" cannot be resolved with some contrived buddy-talk and a "special" offer. Save Attempt is Not Applicable in the Following Scenarios -Customer is moving in with an existing Comcast customer (CAE must verify Comcast services active at new address) -Customer is moving to a non-Comcast area (CAE must verify by looking up zip code) -Account holder is deceased / incapacitated -Temporary / seasonal disconnect and Seasonal Suspend Plan is not available in their area -Natural disaster -Customer doesn't know what address they're moving to So, if you're a Comcast customer looking to cancel your service, your playbook is quite clear. Once you are transferred to customer retention, you say the following: "I am cancelling my service because my home was hit by a tornado, flinging me out of the window and into an unknown address that I'll be sharing with someone who already has Comcast service. Also I'm dead." Happy cancelling, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Another day, another abuse of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions to stop things that have nothing whatsoever to do with copyright. As pointed out by Slashdot, the Hackaday site recently had a post about how to clone some Tektronix application modules for its MSO2000 line of oscilloscopes. The post explained a simple hack to enable the application module to do a lot more. And... in response, Tektronix sent a DMCA takedown notice demanding the entire post be taken down. I am the Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at Test & Measurement group of companies including Tektronix, Inc. I have been notified of a posting on the “Hack A Day” website concerning hacking of Tektronix’ copyrighted modules for use in oscilloscopes. Hacking those modules permits unauthorized access to and use of Tektronix’ copyrighted software by means of copying of Tektronix’ copyrighted code in those modules. http://hackaday.com/2014/07/28/cloning-tektronix-application-modules/ A copy of the offending posting is attached for your reference. The posting includes instructions for how to hack our modules and thereby violate Tektronix’ copyrights. Tektronix has a good faith belief that there is no legal basis for this individual to provide such instructions to anyone, much less on a public forum. I hereby submit that the above statements are true and accurate, and under penalty of perjury state that I am authorized to act on Tektronix’ behalf. In view of the above, Tektronix demands that the posting identified above be expeditiously removed from the website. Very Truly Yours, Hackaday didn't remove the entire post, but did basically remove all of the details. While the takedown doesn't say so, it appears that Tektronix is likely relying on a distorted reading of the DMCA's Section 1201, which is the anti-circumvention clause. Of course, court rulings have not been kind to hardware companies looking to use Section 1201 in a similar manner, but it's doubtful that a site like Hackaday feels like getting in a legal fight with Tektronix. And, of course, that's why the DMCA is such a dangerous and overly broad tool. It allows bullies like Tektronix to take down useful information that actually makes its own devices more useful, all because of misguided beliefs about the importance of "protecting" your "intellectual property," rather than making your products more useful and valuable to a wider audience.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Three years ago, we wrote about the bizarre case of a monkey who apparently grabbed a photographer's camera in a national park in Indonesia and snapped a selfie (that was back before "selfie" was so common a term -- and we just called it a "self-portrait"). There were a few different shots, but the one that clearly got the most attention is this one: As we noted when we wrote about it, it seems fairly clear that the work is in the public domain. We were idly curious about how a news licensing agency (Caters New Agency) could claim the rights to the photograph. A few days later Caters itself demanded that we take down the photo, claiming that the copyright was held by the owner of the camera, David Slater. Slater himself insisted the copyright was his. However, as we explained in fairly great detail, looking at the laws of the US, the UK (where Slater is from) and Indonesia (where the picture was taken) the image is almost certainly in the public domain, no matter how you look at it. Under all three laws, the rules say that the work needs to be done by a person, and a monkey doesn't count. Slater, however, claims that because the camera is his, it's still his copyright. While that's what many people think copyright law says, it's not actually what copyright law says at all. The latest is that Slater is apparently still considering legal action against Wikimedia for refusing to take down the image from Wikimedia Commons. The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained To Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button. Mr Slater now faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court. First, I should note that if someone thinks the monkey holds the copyright, that's incorrect as well. While it's true that, in most cases, the person who takes the pictures gets the copyright, as noted above, the laws say it needs to be a person, so monkeys don't count. The image is public domain. The "monkey holds the copyright" claim appears to be a mistake by the author of the Telegraph piece. The guy who uploaded it has directly stated that he said there was no copyright (i.e., public domain) because there was no human author. From here, Slater tries to flip the burden of proof, and claims that the copyright is his until proven otherwise in court: “If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that,” he said. While it's true that a court would decide the final result, the burden is actually on the copyright holder. To bring a copyright claim, you first have to prove that you hold the copyright. It's not the other way around. As Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge notes, a system in which you needed a court to assert an affirmative defense would mean that no one could ever claim self-defense. That's just not how it works. Slater also seems to believe in an odd "sweat of the brow" concept of copyright that simply isn't relevant: “That trip cost me about £2,000 for that monkey shot. Not to mention the £5,000 of equipment I carried, the insurance, the computer stuff I used to process the images. Photography is an expensive profession that’s being encroached upon. They’re taking our livelihoods away,” he said. The amount that the trip cost is meaningless on the copyright status of the photo. Photography is an expensive profession, but sometimes, apparently, it's so simple that... well... even a monkey can do it. That said, the whole "jeopardizing his income" and "taking livelihoods away" lines are pretty extreme and ridiculous. This photo got Slater a tremendous amount of fame, and a chance to capitalize on that. If he wasn't so focused on a misguided legal fight against Wikimedia, why not use the photo as a calling card to get hired to do all sorts of other wildlife shots? So why is this even an issue again at all? Well, that's partly Wikimedia's fault. It just released a transparency report, which discusses the whole monkey situation in a case study.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Last month, we wrote about how the New Zealand ISP Slingshot had started offering what it called "Global Mode" as a standard feature. The ISP realized the simple ridiculousness of geoblocking content, especially since so much content is deemed "unavailable" in New Zealand. So, in response, it basically set its services up so that it disguised where the user was coming from (not unlike many VPN services). This seemed like smart customer service. But, obviously, not everyone is thrilled with it. The local SkyTV is apparently banning ads from Slingshot if they mention Global Mode. Watch SkyTV's spokesperson totally fail to understand the issue: Sky TV spokeswoman Kirsty Way confirmed the advertisements had been rejected because of their references to Global Mode. "We are a business that pays people who create television so we are against any form of piracy or the undermining of intellectual property rights," she said. Except that Global Mode is not piracy, nor does it "undermine intellectual property rights." It merely lets people use the internet in ways to access and pay for authorized content. It actually lets folks in New Zealand do things like pay for Netflix or Hulu -- which they can't do today. Slingshot's General Manager Taryn Hamilton rightly calls this situation ridiculous, noting that rejecting the ads is "unjustified and petty." It's also fairly counterproductive, given that now Slingshot gets probably more publicity for the service without having to pay the foolish and small-minded folks at SkyTV for the pleasure.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
The fight over the redactions of the CIA's torture report continue. Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that she and her staff were somewhat taken aback by the amount of redacted information when they received back the black ink-drenched copy of the executive summary to the $40 million, 6,300 page "devastating" report on the CIA's torture program prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee. In response, James Clapper shot back that the redactions were "minimal" and over 85% of the document was free from black ink (it's not clear if he was counting the margins as well...). Of course, as Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, this is just about the executive summary of the report -- which was specifically written to be published. In other words, the really "secret" stuff is in the rest of the report, but the 408 page exec summary was written with public disclosure in mind -- meaning that the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers certainly wrote it with the expectation that it would need few, if any, redactions. So the fact that large chunks of it were redacted immediately set off some alarms. On Tuesday, multiple Senators on the Intelligence Committee spoke out angrily about the redactions. It kicked off with Feinstein who noted that the review her staff went through of the redactions shows that the censors are trying to hide information that should be public: “After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions. Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public. “I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith. This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate. “The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to make public our thorough documentary history of the CIA’s program. That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.” Senator Carl Levin then came out with a much more strongly worded condemnation of the redactions suggesting that they were clearly designed to hide embarrassing information, which is not a legitimate reason for redactions: “The redactions that CIA has proposed to the Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogations are totally unacceptable. Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information. But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009. The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.” Senator Mark Udall issued a statement in which he notes that the "strategic" redactions are used to distort the nature of what's in the report: "While Director Clapper may be technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible and can certainly make it more difficult to understand the basis for the findings and conclusions reached in the report. I agree wholeheartedly that redactions are necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods, but the White House must work closely with this committee to reach this goal in a way that makes it possible for the public to understand what happened. "I am committed to working with Chairman Feinstein to declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee's study to the fullest extent possible, correct the record on the CIA's brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program, and ensure the CIA learns from its past mistakes. And in light of the importance of the work the Senate Intelligence Committee has undertaken, I believe that the chairman should take all necessary time to ensure that the redactions to the executive summary are appropriate — not merely made to cover up acts that could embarrass the agency. "The CIA should not face its past with a redaction pen, and the White House must not allow it to do so." All three of those Senators are well aware of what's in the report, and it appears they recognize that the black ink was being used not to protect national security or "sources and methods" but rather to hide or distort the facts of the CIA's torture program.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
In some comments at the US Africa Leaders Summit in DC yesterday, President Obama claimed that he's absolutely against fast lanes and slow lanes on the internet -- which is pretty interesting given that his own FCC appears to be poised to allow exactly that: Net neutrality in the United States -- one of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That's the big controversy here. You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more and also charge more for spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster. I personally, the position of my administration, as well as a lot of the companies here, is that you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed Again, the current proposal from the FCC would actually allow just that. Of course, prepared remarks like these are carefully scoured by White House staff, so this isn't an offhand remark. As with Harry Reid's recent statements, it's entirely possible that this statement is a public nod towards Title II reclassification -- something that Wheeler has previously suggested there wasn't enough political support for. But if powerful Senators and the President are standing behind blocking fast and slow lanes, it certainly seems like the "there isn't political support" argument is quickly disappearing. This certainly doesn't make it a done deal by any stretch of the imagination, but there is reason to believe that Wheeler has been using this comment period to see if there really would be political support for recassification. It's increasingly looking like there is -- and it's going to be up to Wheeler to see if he's willing to be a true leader and make the right call for how to protect an open and free internet, rather than the "easy" call.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
As you may or may not be aware, Thailand changes governments like we change the oil in our cars: every couple of months or three to five thousand miles, whichever comes first. As we previously covered, the latest in Thai military juntas are (surprise!) huge fans of censoring the internet while claiming they don't and taking down social media sites while claiming that they don't. The picture being drawn for the rest of the world is one of an unsteady military government whose primary unifying factor is that it really likes censoring stuff. But I didn't realize just how insecure these folks also are. That insecurity appears to be on display as the Thai dictatorial government has banned a video game about running a dictatorial government. Thailand, which has been ruled by a military dictatorship for the past few months, has banned the video game Tropico 5 from appearing in stores, saying "some contents of the game are not appropriate for the current situation," according to publisher Kalypso Media. Tropico 5, of course, is a video game in which you can play as a military dictator, building and running your very own country in as sadistic a fashion as you'd like. And, as we all know, subjugating millions of citizens as you laugh maniacally is for real life, not video games. The game, it would appear, hits a little too close to home for the Thai junta. After all, if citizens are allowed to play out what is essentially their government's own role, they may come to see how horrifically they're being treated and rebel. You don't want to remind those under your rule that they're under your rule, I guess. The irony is not lost on Kalypso, the company that makes the Tropico series. And here's Kalypso's Stefan Marcinek, also via press release: "Our distributor has been working hard to gain approval for the release, but it seems that the Board of Film and Video Censors deem some of the content too controversial for their consumers. This does sound like it could have come from one of El Presidente's own edicts from the game." You have to think that a game mechanic was just born for Tropico 6, in which your dictatorial rule is furthered by banning video games. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
It would be easy to assume that the European Patent Office (EPO) stands in the same relationship to the European Union as the USPTO does to the United States, but that's actually wide of the mark. The EPO is a very strange beast indeed, as its Wikipedia entry makes clear: The premises of the European Patent Office enjoy a form of extraterritoriality. In accordance with the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities, which forms an integral part of the European Patent Convention under Article 164(1) EPC, the premises of the European Patent Organisation, and therefore those of the European Patent Office, are inviolable. The authorities of the States in which the Organisation has its premises are not authorized to enter those premises, except with the consent of the President of the European Patent Office. Far from being some boring government office like any other, the EPO is like a mini nation-state. This curious fact has been taken as the starting point for a witty post on the IPKat blog about a little-known country, Eponia: a small landlocked state mainly based in Munich, though it has established colonies in The Hague, Berlin, Vienna and Brussels. Few people are born in Eponia (though it is rumoured that quite a few have been conceived there); most are settlers -- though they prefer to call themselves by a less provocative term, Examiners. Here are some details about its financial operation: One of the most buoyant economies in Europe, Eponia enjoys a unique and apparently inexhaustible source of income: patent tourism. Pilgrims come from far and wide to place their supplications before the local sages, or Boards of Appeal. Well-wishers also ply Eponia with money in order to obtain patents, cancel patents, amend patents or sometimes just to accelerate or retard the rate at which these much-desired services are delivered. Those whose petitions for a patent are successful often find that they are blessed with plenty, and that their influence extends from one end of Europe to the other. Some say that this good fortune can persist for getting on for 20 years, so long as occasional sacred donations, quaintly termed "renewal fees", are paid. What other country in Europe can offer such attractions? The horseshoe, the four-leaf clover, the leprechaun pale into insignificance in comparison. And let's not forget about more elevated matters: The national religion of Eponia is contained in a document known as the European Patent Convention, whose Articles (far more numerous than the Church of England's mere 39) are held to have been dictated directly into the ear of Blessed Bob van Benthem by a divine voice in the form of a holy hummingbird. While of less mystical origin, the Rules are also greatly revered. Like any sacred text, its superficial meaning is open to misinterpretation, and only specially trained priests are initiated into the deeper meaning of its rites and rituals (enigmatically referred to as "Guidelines"). When sufficiently inspired, those who are closest to achieving spiritual ecstasy can be seen and heard to be "talking in tongues", which embrace English, German and French -- but never Spanish or Italian. It's a great piece, but its gentle humor exposes a serious point about the EPO: it is literally above the law. That could be a problem because of a major change to the European patent landscape: the introduction of the unitary patent: A unitary patent will be a European patent granted by the EPO under the provisions of the European Patent Convention to which unitary effect for the territory of the 25 participating states is given after grant, at the patentee's request. Unitary patents will be granted and administered by the EPO, and will have effect across most of the European Union. However, they will not be directly subject to the European Union. A perceptive paper by Dimitris Xenos, entitled, "The European Unified Patent Court: Assessment and Implications of the Federalisation of the Patent System in Europe", explores some of the problems this could cause once the associated Unified Patent Court (UPC), the sole arbiter of unitary patent disputes, comes into operation : The UPC will operate in relation to an upgraded framework of patents that are granted by the European Patent Office (EPO), with such patents being able to have unitary effect in all participating states (i.e. those which have approved the relevant EU Regulation). By replacing the jurisdiction of the national courts in enforcement and invalidity proceedings of such patents, the UPC will take exclusive competence to determine all disputes relating to patents with unitary effect. The new system has all the main characteristics of a federal court, apart from the name. However, although a federal structure is adopted, important elements are strikingly different. First, the EU states do not form a federation under which benefits are pursued for the common good of one state and second, there is no legislative authority to influence the economic policy which underlies the determination of the legal principles and standards that define patents as objects of property in the UPC system. That emphasizes once more that the unitary patent system has been decoupled from the normal legislative and democratic processes of the European Union, and thus will be under no obligation to take heed of the economic interests of the European citizens. Here's why that is likely to be a problem: There is no precedent in the political history of modern democracies where important property issues affecting the economic sustainability and development of a country, and the proprietary rights and business prospects of its people, were conclusively and exclusively taken by a judicial body at supranational level. A democratic policy-making process for the determination of patents as objects of property exists, of course, in all countries of the world, including the US, whose system the UPC tries to imitate. The difference is that the US unified patent system does not escape democratic control, and the economic policies that it serves are widely debated by legislators, judges, economists, lawyers and industry players, all of whom are residents of the same country. It's still early days for the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court, so it's not yet clear how the new system will work, and how serious the problems will be. The danger is that Eponia might turn out to be not so much a quaint oddity in the European political landscape as a dangerous rogue state with serious negative consequences for the region's businesses and citizens. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
While it had trouble keeping its site up during times of intense commenting, the FCC's IT team is now working to make all the submitted comments on its "open internet" net neutrality proposals available to download in a bunch of XML files: Because of the sheer number of comments and the great public interest in what they say, Chairman Wheeler has asked the FCC IT team to make the comments available to the public today in a series of six XML files, totaling over 1.4 GB of data – approximately two and half times the amount of plain-text data embodied in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The release of the comments as Open Data in this machine-readable format will allow researchers, journalists and others to analyze and create visualizations of the data so that the public and the FCC can discuss and learn from the comments we’ve received. Our hope is that these analyses will contribute to an even more informed and useful reply comment period, which ends on September 10. We will make available additional XML files covering reply comments after that date. While the more cynical among you may see this as more of a statement on the rather weak capabilities of the current FCC's system for handling searching through the submitted comments, it's still nice to see at least a move towards openness and transparency in sharing this data for others to search through. As we've noted, we've been digging into some of the data on the comments, and hopefully this will make the process much easier.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Space travel is filled with all kinds of complex challenges -- microgravity, radiation exposure, fuel constraints, etc. Thankfully, engineers and physicists are coming up with creative solutions to some of these problems, and new propulsion systems are being put through a battery of tests to verify their safety and reliability. Here are just a few cool propulsion designs (that may or may not work at all). NASA can't explain how it works, but there's a propulsion system that seemingly violates conservation of momentum -- and it actually produces a small amount of thrust. There are a few different versions of this propellant-free thruster, called a "Cannae Drive" or EmDrive.. and there's even a Kickstarter project to try to build a similar system. Is it April Fool's day every day? [url] NASA is looking into every possible means to improve space travel, including the very speculative faster-than-light "warp drive" that proposes to bend space-time to get to distant destinations in a matter of weeks instead of decades. Alcubierre drives are purely theoretical, and NASA explicitly states any kind of FTL warp drive is firmly in the speculation realm. [url] Vortex rockets provide a practical solution for reducing the weight of a traditional liquid-fuel rocket. Conventional rockets require some (heavy) complex cooling systems to prevent parts of the rocket itself from melting and/or vaporizing away, but a vortex rocket eliminates the need for cooling by creating a mini-tornado of burning fuel where the hottest temperatures are kept away from rocket structures. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Following the revelation that USAID built a special "Twitter for Cuba" in an effort to foment dissent in that country, it's now come out, via some AP reporting, that USAID also sent a bunch of Latin American youths from other countries to Cuba on a bogus "HIV prevention" campaign, which was really a cover for recruiting young Cubans to be anti-government activists. Of course, remember that a bogus Polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan has resulted in people there no longer trusting such vaccinations and a rapid return of polio. While it's not likely that this campaign will directly lead to people totally ignoring HIV prevention advice, just the fact that the US government seems to be trying to make use of important health campaigns as part of a strategy to undermine others will have significant consequences, making people who need such information a lot less willing to actually pay attention to it. This doesn't seem like a good thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
The EFF has filed an amicus brief in a case involving a business suing anonymous reviewers for defamation. In 2013, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning took seven anonymous Yelp reviewers to court over allegedly defamatory reviews. It asked the court to unmask the people behind the reviews, claiming that they weren't customers and therefore, their reviews were false and defamatory per se. Yelp, the host of the contested reviews, refused to comply with the subpoena, arguing that it didn't meet the constitutional requirements needed to override First Amendment protections. Unfortunately, the state of Virginia has a much lower bar for plaintiffs to hurdle in unmasking anonymous commenters and reviewers. The Dendrite rules, which have been applied in a number of states, weren't used in this case. Instead of having to prove that these reviewers had definitely broken the law, all Hadeed had to do was show the court that it had a "good faith basis" for believing the reviews were defamatory. Hadeed never contested the content of the reviews, but rather relied on the assumption that these reviews weren't posted by actual customers and, almost solely because of this, were actionable. The EFF notes in that the lower court decisions took this low bar and went even lower, threatening to make Virginia a very dangerous place for anonymous speech, especially if it continues to place its state laws above the First Amendment. Hadeed alleged that the reviewers aren't actually customers, but the lower courts didn't require it to provide proof. Nor did Hadeed show how the reviews were defamatory. Whether or not what Hadeed claimed was enough under Virginia law, the First Amendment requires significantly more evidence of defamation. The brief itself points out that stripping away the protection of anonymity will just encourage further bad behavior from a variety of bad actors, who will be able to use subpoenas to expose their critics and subject them to further harassment. Amicus EFF has witnessed these tactics at work firsthand. By bringing an ultimately frivolous lawsuit, litigants often seek to unmask anonymous speakers in order to humiliate them or discourage their speech. Thankfully, most courts have been aware of the harm that would flow from allowing such baseless subpoenas to issue without first considering the justification for unmasking these individuals… The use of harassing subpoenas is also a favorite tactic in online copyright infringement litigation. In a typical case, the owners of adult movies file mass lawsuits based on single counts of copyright infringement stemming from the downloading of a pornographic film, and improperly lump hundreds of defendants together regardless of where their Internet Protocol addresses indicate they live. The motivation behind these cases appears to be to leverage the risk of embarrassment associated with pornography, as well as the accompanying costs of litigation, to wield as a sword to coerce settlement payments of several thousand dollars from each of these individuals… The brief also argues that while anonymity is not guaranteed and can be removed under certain circumstances, the plaintiff's arguments haven't met these requirements. All parties to this dispute agree that the constitutional privilege to remain anonymous is not absolute. Plaintiffs may properly seek information necessary to pursue reasonable and meritorious litigation. As the Court of Appeals put it, “if the reviews are unlawful in that they are defamatory, then the John Does’ veil of anonymity may be pierced, provided certain procedural safeguards are met.” (“Certain classes of speech, including defamatory and libelous speech, are entitled to no constitutional protection.”). Rather, the dispute is as to the proper standard to apply in deciding whether to uphold the reviewers’ anonymity. The Court of Appeals rejected the guidance of numerous other state courts, including the leading case of Dendrite, and instead held that Virginia Code § 8.01-407.1 provides the sole standard for Virginia courts faced with unmasking anonymous speakers. This conclusion should be reversed because this interpretation of § 8.01-407.1 fails to meet the minimum standards of the First Amendment. And if all of that fails to resonate, the EFF says there's also some jurisdictional questions with further First Amendment implications. Yelp's headquarters are in California and Hadeed should be filing its subpoenas there. Of course, the higher standard in California most likely means they would be rejected. But if the lower court's decision holds, people and companies looking to unmask anonymous commenters and reviewers will be making libel tourism stops in Virginia. The lower court’s departure from standard practice means that Yelp is now subject to Virginia’s subpoena standards, rather than California’s. Under the rule that the lower court has adopted, Virginia’s subpoena jurisprudence can apply across the country. An enterprising plaintiff could file subpoenas in Virginia, knowing that Virginia has adopted a more lenient standard than its fellow courts. Non-parties would have to fight their requests in Virginia courts rather than the courts where the documents were stored, at additional and considerable expense. This is particularly problematic where, as here, the subpoena requests implicate First Amendment interests, which states are obligated to uphold on behalf of their citizens… While there are many people who argue that online anonymity is just a way for people to say whatever they like without consequence, there's much more to it than insults, trolling and 4chan. The protections of anonymous speech date back to the founding principles of this country, predating the internet's rise as the simultaneous best/worst thing to happen to the world. Online anonymity needs more protection than the state of Virginia is willing to afford it. The lower court set the bar for unmasking at toe-stubbing level and, if the state Supreme Court upholds it, will make Virginia the new home for the "tyranny of the majority." Hopefully, the state's top court will realize that it's also protecting the rights of American citizens, not just local businesses whose approach to criticism is to start filing lawsuits. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
FIFA, the soccer/futbol/whatever organization that theoretically runs a sporting operation sure seems to actually be some kind of steroid-taking IP lawyer in practice instead. Much like the method by which the Olympics does their business, FIFA has always gone overboard in enforcing its trademarks. It insists on getting airline ads that don't even mention it pulled down, it goes after breweries, and it generally behaves like a psychopathic rich kid who thinks all the toys in the world are his and his alone. Reader John Katos writes in with the latest head-scratching example of this. Nico Rosberg is big in the world of F1 racing and he wanted to celebrate the German's winning the World Cup with a helmet in an upcoming race. German pride, in other words, because when has that ever gone wrong? Earlier this week, delighted with the national team's world cup victory in Brazil, Mercedes driver Rosberg announced he will wear a "special edition helmet" this weekend in Hockenheim. The 29-year-old German revealed on social media that the livery includes an image of "the FIFA trophy". See that thing on top of the helmet? You know, the one that looks like Cthulu's claw reaching up to grip some kind of golden testicle? Well, that's the World Cup trophy, which, really you guys, come up with something a little better than that for the World freaking Cup. Regardless, the uber-lawyers over at FIFA saw this display of national pride and free FIFA advertising and took a dump on it. We reported earlier that reproducing the image of the trophy falls foul of the world football federation FIFA's strict rules protecting its 'official marks'. The Mercedes driver's public relations manager Georg Nolte confirmed: "There will be an update on Nico's Germany helmet design today. "(It) will be without (the) world cup trophy, but (now) with four stars on it." Yes, rather than working out some kind of way to license the helmet for free so as not to risk the dreaded not-protecting-the-mark penalty that seems to drive so much of this heavy-handed nonsense, FIFA just killed off the free advertising. Quite sporting of them, if you ask absolutely no one. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...