posted 22 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at some crowdfunded technology that stays put in your house and makes life a little easier. SnapPower Charger In-wall USB power outlets are one of those little details that everyone would love to have but rarely seem worth the effort to actually make happen. The SnapPower Charger aims to make them a little more accessible by taking the "hard" out of hard-wired: rather than requiring the installation of a whole new specialized outlet, the SnapPower is simply a faceplate with a clever USB extension that draws its power from the screws on a regular wall outlet. Unfortunately, it's currently limited to a 1A current for charging regular smartphones but not high-power tablets, phablets and the like — but the creators are looking into creating a 2.1A model in the future. Wakē There have been lots of attempts to redesign the alarm clock over the years, with any number of products promising the most peaceful and/or un-ignorable wakeup call possible. I can't speak to the success of those, or of this, but the Wakē does offer something novel: a solution for the problem, in shared beds, of being woken up by your partner's alarm. Mounted to the wall above the bed and controlled by smartphone, this two-person alarm clock uses an infrared body heat sensor and a parametric speaker to locate one of two users and direct its stream of music and lights towards them and them alone. Neobase One thing that bothers me about a lot of cool modern tech, including a lot of fledgling projects on Kickstarter, is a near-total reliance on remote servers and web services for storage, processing and control, even when it's not clear that this approach is at all necessary for the task at hand. So it's nice to see something like the Neobase, which is all about doing the exact opposite. It's a compact, all-in-one server and network drive that runs its own custom-built Facebook-like software, so you can set up your own completely private social network. It's entirely self-contained and doesn't store anything on any third-party servers, but you can access it from anywhere via encrypted connections. There are some limitations to this, certainly, both by design and by virtue (or curse) of reliable broadband availability, but I'm excited to see such devices move beyond the generic "personal cloud" offerings and into more specialized and powerful out-of-the-box solutions like this. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
As you know, last year the Supreme Court made a very important ruling in the Alice v. CLS Bank case, in which it basically said that merely doing something on a general purpose computer didn't automatically make it patentable. This has resulted in many courts rejecting patents and the USPTO being less willing to issue patents, based on that guidance. The USPTO sought to push out new "guidance" to its examiners taking the ruling into account. Soon after the Alice ruling, it issued some "Preliminary Examination Instructions." However, it then issued the so-called 2014 Interim Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility and sought public comment through March 16 of this year. Plenty of folks did comment, including the EFF. However, the USPTO apparently was offended at parts of the EFF's comment submission, claiming that it was an "improper protest." In response, the EFF refiled the comment, but redacted the part that the USPTO didn't like. Here's what page 5 of the document on the USPTO site looks like: However, EFF also added the following footnote (footnote 8) on page 6: On April 2, 2015, the PTO contacted EFF to request that we remove a portion of these comments on the basis that they constituted an improper “protest.” We respectfully disagree that our comments were a protest under 35 U.S.C. § 122(c). Rather, our comments discussed a specific application to illustrate our broader points about the importance of applying Alice. Nevertheless, to ensure these comments are considered by the Office, we have redacted the relevant discussion in this revised version of our comments. Our original comments remain available to the public at: https://www.eff.org/files/2015/03/18/eff_comments_regarding_ interim_eligibility_guidance.pdf. And, of course, if you go to that link, you get the full, unredacted version of the EFF's filing. As you can see by the full filing, the EFF filing isn't some sort of improper protest. Rather it is a clear demonstration of how the USPTO does not appear to be living up to what the courts are saying in the wake of the Alice ruling. It is difficult to see what the USPTO was thinking in trying to silence the EFF's comment. It is beyond ludicrous on multiple levels. First, it suggests a skin so thin at the USPTO that you can see right through it. Second, it suggests that the USPTO doesn't want people to recognize that its guidance is problematic in light of what actual federal courts are saying. And, finally, it suggests (still) a complete lack of understanding of how the internet and freedom of expression works, thereby guaranteeing that the EFF's complete dismantling of the USPTO's guidelines will now get that much more attention... Has anyone patented a method and system for self-inflicted shaming for being overly sensitive to someone pointing out your flaws?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over the past few years we've followed the saga of TrueCrypt. The popular and widely used full disk encryption system got some attention soon after the initial Snowden leaks when people started realizing that no one really knew who was behind TrueCrypt, and that the software had not been fully audited. Cryptographer Matthew Green decided to lead an effort to audit TrueCrypt. A year ago, the team released the first phase, finding a few small vulnerabilities, but no backdoors and nothing too serious. This week the full audit was completed and again finds no evidence of any backdoors planted in the code. Matthew Green's blog post on the report provides the key details, which notes a few small issues that should be fixed, but nothing too serious: The TL;DR is that based on this audit, Truecrypt appears to be a relatively well-designed piece of crypto software. The NCC audit found no evidence of deliberate backdoors, or any severe design flaws that will make the software insecure in most instances. That doesn't mean Truecrypt is perfect. The auditors did find a few glitches and some incautious programming -- leading to a couple of issues that could, in the right circumstances, cause Truecrypt to give less assurance than we'd like it to. For example: the most significant issue in the Truecrypt report is a finding related to the Windows version of Truecrypt's random number generator (RNG), which is responsible for generating the keys that encrypt Truecrypt volumes. This is an important piece of code, since a predictable RNG can spell disaster for the security of everything else in the system. However, as Green notes, the problem with the way its implemented in TrueCrypt would only be a problem in "extremely" rare circumstances that wouldn't impact most users. But it's still something that could be fixed. But that's where the problem lies. As you may recall, in the midst of all of this, the still anonymous developers behind TrueCrypt suddenly announced that it wasn't secure and that all development had ceased. There have been some efforts to fork and rescue TrueCrypt, but that's come with some skepticism as people feared what might be hidden in the code (and also some concerns about the TrueCrypt license. Hopefully this new audit puts at least some of those concerns to rest (though it's always good to be paranoid when building security software) and people do really put an effort developing an updated version of TrueCrypt. For what it's worth, I've seen a bunch of articles claiming the audit shows that TrueCrypt is safe. That's not quite true. It's just saying they didn't find anything -- which should be very re-assuring, but you can never say with 100% certainty that the code is safe. Either way, what's needed now is more development moving forward.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Plenty of folks like chocolate, so it makes some sense to try to make chocolate ever so slightly more healthy (as long as the taste isn't horribly affected). If you're going to binge on chocolate in the near future, you might want to check out a few of these links to help rationalize your chocolate consumption. Scientists have figured out some simple processing steps that help maximize the naturally-occurring antioxidants in chocolate. Storing cacao pods for a week and roasting them at lower temperatures seem to help make slightly healthier chocolate -- as if anyone needed another excuse to eat chocolate. [url] Watch how 12 pounds of chocolate is formed into an enormous Easter egg. Then watch some cacao farmers from the Ivory Coast eat chocolate for the first time. [url] The global demand for chocolate is increasing, but the supply hasn't caught up. The price of chocolate might be going up unless farmers figure out how to grow more cacao to feed the world's hunger for delicious chocolate bars. [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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If you cover enough intellectual property dispute stories, you tend to hear some of the same arguments over and over again. Even if the claims are specious at best, you get used to covering tenuous arguments for customer confusion, to pointing out the problem of non-competition and differentiating markets, and even to discussing just how similar two obviously different logos/names/whatever might be. But every once in a while, you come across a claim that's new and inventive in the most hilariously wrong ways and that, my friends, is a special moment. Please allow me to introduce you to Del Taco, a large restaurant group operating mostly on the West Coast. All the way back in the late 80's, Del Taco merged with another West Coast taco chain called Naugles. Naugles had a certain beloved reputation with its fans and since Del Taco shut down the last Naugles-name-bearing restaurant in 1995, one particular fan decided to try to bring the name and the menu back, resurrecting it from non-use. Since 2010, Christian Ziebarth, a Huntington Beach resident, has been fighting for the Naugles trademark, a brand that merged with Del Taco in 1988. In a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark agency, Ziebarth argued Del Taco abandoned the brand years ago, legally allowing him to make a claim. The Lake Forest-based company has been fighting him ever since. On Tuesday, a federal panel said Del Taco was unable to prove they had kept the trademark alive since closing the last restaurant in 1995. “The record unequivocally shows that respondent (Del Taco) ceased operating the last restaurant bearing the Naugles name on October 25, 1995,” the panel stated in an order filed Tuesday. As a result, the panel granted Ziebarth’s “claim of abandonment.” Sure they did, and it's a very nice end to a trademark story, one which will allow the Naugles name and menu to be brought back from the dead and made available to interested customers once more. We could simply leave things there, except the summary begs the obvious question: if Del Taco stopped using the Naugles name in 1995, what in the world was its argument for non-abandonment? The answer, as it turns out, is a secret, but not the kind of secret I can't share with you. In court documents and previous statements to the Register, Del Taco has argued that Naugles is part of the company’s heritage, and it has kept the brand alive by consistently offering a secret Naugles menu at its restaurants. Ah, yes, the old double-secret hidden menu line of reasoning! As far as I can tell, this is a wonderfully new and equally funny legal theory to put forth, one which argues that a trademark, used as a distinguishing indication of a brand for customers, is chiefly utilized via a "secret menu", ostensibly kept "secret" from those same customers, unless you know some kind of special handshake or something. To put this forth is to misunderstand the most basic concepts behind trademark law entirely. As noted above, the court apparently paused its collective laughing long enough to rule in favor of Ziebarth. And so Naugles returns, assuming Del Taco doesn't have any other creative legal theories based on subterfuge to offer up. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here's something you don't see every day: a copyright case in which fair use prevails. David Adjmi produced a play entitled 3C, a parody-take on the classic sitcom Three's Company, the copyright of which is held by DLT Entertainment. After 2 months of off-Broadway production and just before Adjmi wanted to translate the play for literary release, DLT fired off a cease and desist letter. Rather than retreating, Adjmi, with the support of the Dramatists Guild of America, went to court to get his work affirmed as non-infringing, arguing that it is both parody and transformative. U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled in agreement in a whopper of a ruling (you can read the full ruling here or embedded below). Her comments within the ruling demonstrate a textbook understanding of both copyright and fair use. She writes that the body of copyright law “is designed to foster creativity. It does so by, in effect, managing monopolies in knowledge: granting one in original work to reward its creator, but ensuring it is limited, temporary, and does not operate as a moratorium on certain ideas. The law is agnostic between creators and infringers, favoring only creativity and the harvest of knowledge. Here, ‘further protection against parody does little to promote creativity, but it places substantial inhibition upon the creativity of authors adept at using parody.' ” In addition to finding that 3C is clearly a transformative work, as opposed to anything resembling blatant copying, this ruling reads like a best-case scenario for those of us that believe all kinds of transformative works building off of existing works are protected, useful, creative and necessary. Adjmi had a message to send and, while the original Three's Company might serve as the starting line for his creative vehicle, the finish line is somewhere far different than that of the original sitcom. Nobody attending the play lacked the understanding that this was something new, something different from the original show, the original show's message, or that the play was anything other than social commentary using a trope-ladened show from the 70's. According to Adjmi, his 3C was a comment on the "ways the television show presented and reinforced stereotypes about gender, age and sexual orientation" as well as "the times in which the show flourished -- when sexual liberation had begun to reshape American society, and dominant cultural forces like television attempted to channel it in commercially profitable directions, while many forms of sexual oppression continued." That kind of commentary is important and, even if you disagree with the message, or think that platforming the commentary on a show as silly as Three's Company is misguided, those aren't questions of copyright law. Once the work becomes parody, never mind transformative, there ends the copyright argument. Judge Preska delved into the four-factor analysis of the claim, finding that DLT's claim of direct copying of characters, settings and themes to be baseless. “Despite the many similarities between the two, 3C is clearly a transformative use of Three’s Company,” she writes. “3C conjures up Three’s Company by way of familiar character elements, settings and plot themes, and uses them to turn Three’s Company’s sunny 1970s Santa Monica into an upside-down, dark version of itself. DLT might not like the transformation, but it is a transformation nonetheless.” More likely, the more correct assertion would be that DLT might really like money, but they can't get any out of Adjmi just because some elements of Three's Company appear in his parody and transformative play.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Back in 2010, AT&T eliminated the company's unlimited data plans and began offering users only plans with usage caps and overage fees. While AT&T did "grandfather" existing unlimited wireless users at the time, it has been waging a not-so-subtle war on those users ever since in the attempt to get them to switch to more expensive plans. That has included at one point blocking video services from working unless users switched to metered plans (one of several examples worth remembering the next time someone tells you net neutrality is a "solution in search of a problem"). AT&T also switched some unlimited users to its metered plans without user consent, something the carrier received a whopping $700,000 FCC fine for in 2012. But the telco's primary weapon against these users has been to throttle these users to speeds of 128 to 528 kilobytes per second should they use more than a few gigabytes of data in the hopes they'd switch to metered but unthrottled plans. AT&T was sued for the practice by the FTC in October of last year, the agency claiming AT&T violated the FTC Act by changing the terms of customers’ unlimited data plans while those customers were still under contract, and by "failing to adequately disclose the nature of the throttling program to consumers who renewed their unlimited data plans." As we noted previously, AT&T tried a rather amusing defense to try and tap dance away from the lawsuit. It claimed that because the FCC was now classifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II, the FTC no longer had the authority to police AT&T actions under the FTC Act. In other words, AT&T hates Title II -- except when it allows them to skirt lawsuits for bad behavior. In a twenty-three page ruling (pdf), Judge Edward Chen says the law is "unambiguously clear" that only AT&T wireless voice, not wireless data, was classified as common carrier when the lawsuit was filed last fall:"Contrary to what AT&T argues, the common carrier exception applies only where the entity has the status of common carrier and is actually engaging in common carrier activity."In other words, no, AT&T can't have its cake (claim to loathe Title II with every shred of its being) and eat it too (run to Title II and common carrier protections when it suits it).Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
So we just had a story about the FBI uncovering yet another of its own plots for some hapless Americans talking about plans to commit terrorism with the support of an FBI agent. This morning, the DOJ announced the arrest of a Philadelphia woman, Keonna Thomas, who also went by Fatayat Al Khilafah and "YoungLioness." This one doesn't appear to involve an FBI informant, but rather Thomas's own willingness to reveal her support for ISIS on Twitter, which (unsurprisingly) got the Justice Department to take a closer look at her private messages, in which she communicated more directly with someone claiming to be an ISIS member, who told Thomas he could help her become a martyr. The evidence of those communications and her apparent plan to travel to Europe and on to Turkey seem like they could be more damning, but what's striking about the full complaint against Thomas is that nearly all of it is about random stuff she posted on Twitter in support of ISIS -- much of which appears to just be retweets. Here are just a few examples, but there are many more in the complaint: On or about August 18, 2013, KEONNA THOMAS. a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," re-posted on Twitter a photograph of a young male child wearing firearm magazine pouches and camouflage attire, with the following caption: "Ask yourselves, while this young man is holding magazines for the Islamic state, what are you doing for it? #1S1S." On or about October 16, 2013, KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," posted on Twitter a picture of U.S. Currency, with the following captions; "US Dollar notes donated by Kuwait nationals to the ISIS brothers;" and "Allahu Akbar [God is great]!! Support the Muslims by giving sadaqah [charity]." [....] On or about December 17, 2013, KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," re-posted on Twitter the following statement by another Twitter user; "'Happiness is the day of my martyrdom' -- Sheikh Khalid al Husainan." On or about December 23, 2013. KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," re-posted on Twitter a video along with text advising that the video constitutes "a message to #muslims in the west from a British brother with #ISIS #Mujahideen [violent jihadi fighter] #Syria." The video is titled, "A message from a mujahid," and is accompanied by the following description: "ISIS mujahid gives some advice. Rayat al Tawheed. Official Media of the mujahideen." On or about January I, 2014, KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," posted on Twitter the following statement: "I see why the mujahideen [violent jihadi fighters] Sacrifice Dunya [life on earth] for Akhirah [the afterlife] there's no comparison." On or about January 4, 2014, KEONNA a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," posted on Twitter the following statement: "Only thing I'm jealous of is when I see the smiles of shuhadaa [martyrs]" On or about January 15, 2014, KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," posted on Twitter the following statement: "I want these to be my last words." Accompanying this statement was a photograph of the following text: "By the Lord of the Kaaba [a shrine in Mecca] I have succeeded." On or about January 30, 2014, KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," re-posted on Twitter a photograph of an individual carrying an AK-47 weapon, with the following text: "Sponsor a Mujahid [violent jihadi fighter]." Accompanying the photograph, THOMAS re-posted the following statement by another Twitter user; "Did you know... For as little as $100 you can provide a #Mujahid with his basic necessities for 1 month?" On or about April 10, 2014, KEONNA THOMAS, a/k/a "Fatayat Al Khilafah," a/k/a "YoungLioness," posted on Twitter the following statement, followed by images of a skull, flames, and a gun: "I need a permanent vacation that can only mean one thing." In response, another user of Twitter posted the following statement: "istishhaadi [martyrdom]" There's a lot more like that. No doubt, Thomas was clearly publicly expressing her views in support of ISIS and other such things. It should be no surprise that such speech resulted in a further investigation. And the other stuff -- concerning her communication with someone in ISIS, her booking a flight to Barcelona and even getting a visa (in her own name) to Turkey would trip some alarms leading to these charges of "providing material support." In fact, such charges may be perfectly reasonable given those other actions -- though, it's unclear what "material support" was actually provided. It really does seem concerning how much of the evidence is based on tweets and retweets. We already noted that some in the DOJ consider retweeting ISIS tweets to be material support of ISIS. The charges against Thomas may be perfectly reasonable because of the other issues and her actually planning to travel overseas (and, if she truly did intend to join ISIS and become a martyr as implied by some of the tweets, she sure didn't consider that announcing her intentions publicly might not have been the smartest of moves). But it does seem somewhat worrisome that so much of the evidence is based on her tweets and retweets, given the possible First Amendment implications. Actually sending money to terrorist groups is one thing. But retweeting idiotic sayings in support of crazy terrorist groups? Should that really be illegal?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
DIYers and tinkerers of all types might like today's Daily Deal -- 40% off of the iFixit Pro Tool Kit and Magnetic Project Mat . Folded up in a neat carrying case, the kit comes with a 54 bit driver kit, ESD-safe precision tweezers, 2 plastic opening tools, spudgers, an anti-static wrist strap and more. You'll be able to fix anything from phones and laptops to eyeglasses and doorknobs. The tool kit comes bundled with a magnetic project mat which is perfect for holding onto all of those little metal screws for you while you're working away. There's even a dry erase marker to help you label the bits and pieces so you can keep track of it all. Use the code TECHDIRT10 and receive an extra 10% off of your first purchase. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If there's one thing Prince has made clear over the years, it's this: don't mess with Prince's intellectual property. This holds true even if: it's only links to bootleg concert recordings. it's only a 6-second Vine captured at a Prince concert it's Prince's cover of someone else's song he's now claiming to "own" it's only your toddler dancing to a Prince song for all of 29 recorded seconds it's just a cover version of a Prince song, which as Prince so wisely noted, completely destroys the original and removes it from everyone's consciousness/internet FOREVER it's a puppet likeness of him it's any photo of him or his album covers Don't mess with the Prince of IP unless you're an intellectual property lawyer or have several on retainer. This is what Prince has taught us. Now, he's teaching us to do as he says, not as he does. Prince handed out someone else's music for free, which would normally be considered copyright infringement. But the lawsuit against him, brought by the manager of the artist whose music was given away, doesn't make that assertion. Instead, it alleges intentional interference with a pre-existing contract -- namely the one signed by the plaintiff (talent scout Jolene Cherry) and Prince's partner in free album giveaways, Judith Hill. According to the complaint filed in L.A. Superior Court on Friday, Hill signed an exclusive recording agreement with a joint venture between Sony and The Cherry Party after appearing on The Voice in 2013. Cherry, a talent scout who takes credit for discovering Lady Gaga, says her relationship with Sony was later restructured and that The Cherry Party became a successor-in-interest to rights under the recording agreement. Hill signed a contract with Cherry, then asked if she could make an album with Prince. Cherry rejected the request and followed up with a warning to Hill that working with Prince would violate their contract -- a warning Hill ignored. Prince and Hill collaborated on an album and proceeded to give it all away. Included in this gratis album are songs allegedly written by Hill's co-writers and previously recorded for The Cherry Group. The lawsuit claims Prince's actions have basically made Hill's Cherry Group/Sony Records debut album all but unreleasable. Despite Hill's willing participation in both the recording and the free giveaway, she is not named as a co-defendant. In very closely related news, Hill is currently suing Cherry for allegedly botching a contract with Sony Records, as well as for harming the singer's reputation by altering a previously-recorded track to make it sound like a love song to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. (That last half of the previous sentence is most assuredly not made up.) Underneath everything else, there's the simple fact that Prince's IP-protectionism is apparently applied on a case-by-case basis. If it's even tangentially related to him, it's off limits. If it's someone else's (Hill's co-writers, Cherry Party), it can be given away freely. If nothing else, this situation will hopefully result in "purple with hypocrisy" joining "green with envy" in the annals of American idioms. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Now that the completely disproportionate data retention law has been rushed through the Australian Parliament, politicians are suddenly realizing that their metadata will be collected too. And so, as was perhaps inevitable, they have asked for an exemption, as reported here by Crikey: An in-camera meeting of the high-powered Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security last week agreed to task the Department of Defence's signals intelligence arm, the Australian Signals Directorate, and the new Australian Cyber Security Centre with ensuring politicians' metadata is not captured by the government's new data retention regime while they are at work in [the Australian capital] Canberra. The argument was that: given Parliament House is supposed to be the centre of Australian democracy, they shouldn't be, you know, tracked while at work there Well, many people would argue that they shouldn't be tracked either, but obviously politicians are special. It seems that there were two options for achieving this carve-out. One required officials personally identifying and deleting the metadata of politicians, staffers and senior public servants -- a manual process aptly dubbed "handwashing". The other, cheaper, approach -- the one chosen -- was simply to remove metadata from all communications generated within Australia's Parliament House. Problem solved -- except that some 680,000 visitors enter the building annually, and while they are there, their metadata will not be collected either. Ironically, then, the new exemption for politicians from a scheme allegedly to help the fight against terrorism and crime will turn Parliament House into the perfect location for plotting precisely those things in relative safety. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Have fun with this hypothetical. A shared computer is found to contain child porn. What do you do? Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett considered this hypothetical from a defense lawyer's standpoint. At this point, there is (possibly) no investigation already in progress (at least none the client or lawyer are aware of) and there's no way to say definitively who's responsible for the images. What do you tell your client? It's illegal for him to continue possessing the images. So you can't advise him to do nothing (and keep breaking the law). The smart thing for him to do would be to destroy the hard drive (if I could, I would recommend swisscheesing it with a drill press). But tampering with evidence is illegal under both Texas and federal law. Is it a crime to destroy the hard drive? To advise the client to do so? This isn't entirely a hypothetical situation. Scott Greenfield's blog details a 2007 case involving exactly this sort of situation. [Connecticut attorney Philip] Russell’s client, the Greenwich Christ Church (not a bad client, I would say), did what any self-respecting church would do when it found child pornography on its church computer: It turned to its lawyer for help. No fed was knocking on the church door. There was no hint of an investigation. There was no reason to believe that anyone would ever know that some sick, disgusting human being using this computer purchased with monies from the tithing of its congregants (I’m making this part up, since I have no idea where the money came from to buy the computer and in Greenwich, they could just as easily live off the interest from the Church’s trust fund), would download photographs that would sicken any normal human being. So Russell finds himself in the position of having to decide what to do with this computer. The Church no doubt wants its computer back, since it wouldn’t have gotten the computer if it didn’t have any need for it, But the Church does not want this pics on it. Russell, in the meantime, knows of the photos as a result of confidential communications (no argument from any source about whether this was as confidential as it comes) and has to decide what to do about it. He can’t keep the kiddie porn pics, for then he would be violating the law. So Philip Russell does the only reasonable thing possible. He deletes the horrific photos. BAM, he’s indicted for obstruction, having destroyed evidence. Back to Bennett, who notes that under Texas law, this is a felony only if the destruction of evidence is done with knowledge of a "pending or in progress" investigation. The problem is that -- in cases involving child porn -- federal law prevails. But not a federal law dealing with child porn possession (which would apply if the offending files remained intact) but rather a law crafted to deal with companies' financial impropriety: Sarbanes-Oxley. This law says that destruction of evidence -- with or without knowledge of a pending/ongoing investigation -- is a federal crime. Damned if you do. Damned if you don't. The only stipulation is that an investigation is "foreseeable." And child porn on a hard drive pretty much makes an investigation "foreseeable." Turn it in to the cops, and you can guarantee an investigation will start immediately. Depending on how the files were obtained, it's entirely possible that the IP address is already on investigators' radar. Throwing the computer into the nearest dump or off a bridge just to rid yourself of someone else's wrongdoing makes you a felon. Now, whether the child porn is the client's own, or something he/she discovered (purchased a second-hand computer/shared one with with other household residents), the client needs help. But what help can any lawyer provide? There's no answer that allows for the avoidance of felony charges. This tainted hard drive is, in and of itself, lawbreaking. So is the deletion of the files. So is simply removing it from your possession. A lawyer really has only one course of action, thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley. You could, of course, instruct your client on certain aspects of the law: possession of child pornography is a crime; tampering with evidence is a crime; without the hard drive the government is likely to have a hard time proving that you tampered with evidence or that you possessed child pornography; if the government gets its hands on the hard drive they won't have a hard time proving that you possessed child pornography, which will certainly land you in prison; don't talk to anyone about the contents of the hard drive. There will be those that argue that anything involving child porn shouldn't have an easy out, even if it's a law supposedly targeting financial wrongdoing that's running around locking down all of the escape routes. But there are situations in which an innocent person could find themselves in this position and have no option but to choose the least personally destructive outcome. And because the theoretical involves child porn (instead of less universally-reviled subject matter), there will always be other "easy" solutions presented. Some will respond to this dilemma with the facile, “so don’t download porn and you won’t have this problem.” Aside from the fact that this isn’t just a porn problem, people are allowed to enjoy porn. Just not kiddie porn. Plus, people make mistakes, sometimes inadvertent, without any evil intent. Plus, people do stuff with evil intent, which they thereupon regret and seek to undo. Is it not societally beneficial for people who make a mistake to foster regret and the chance to make things right? There is no "out." The government makes every investigation "foreseeable." The inadvertent discovery of illegal images doesn't take away this possibility. A lawyer can't (or shouldn't) encourage someone to break the law, but in cases like this, the only option is to mitigate the damage. The safest bet for anyone -- innocent or not -- is to destroy the evidence. But what sucks is that the innocent face charges for possessing something they never wanted and will often resort to destroying it in hopes of not being branded sexual offenders for the rest of their lives. And it doesn't have to be child porn. It could be anything illegal. The government isn't here to help, much less not indulge in messenger-shooting. Case in point, the Iowa man who called the cops about a backpack he found containing drug paraphernalia. Just keeping it meant being in possession of illegal items. Throwing it out (which never occurred to the finder) would destroy evidence. And calling the cops did nothing more for him than turn his house into a meth lab in the eyes of the DEA. The police repaid his good deed by listing his house on the National Clandestine Laboratory Register. Being a good citizen meant virtual condemnation of his home because drug paraphernalia had been "found" on the premises. In light of this, it would appear that the government prefers people destroy evidence of other people's crimes, rather than be upstanding citizens. That route leads to lighter sentences and less horrendous outcomes. Sure, we need laws in place to prevent the destruction of evidence, but more than that, we need to offer better protections for those who voluntarily hand over evidence of criminal activity. But there's nothing there to delineate between preserving evidence prior to contacting authorities and a possession charge. The government plays it safe and treats both equally, just to avoid the possibility of being duped by actual criminals. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
As you may have heard, yesterday the FBI "uncovered" yet another of its own terrorist plots, the latest in a very long line of "terrorist plots" the FBI has "uncovered" -- in which the details always show that it was an undercover FBI "informant" (often doing this to get off leniently for some other issue), who more or less goads hapless, naive people, into a "plot" that had no real chance of ever happening. This appears to be the same sort of thing. Still, politicians never leave an opportunity like this unexploited, and so in jumps Senator Dianne Feinstein, arguing that the only proper way to deal with this is to, of course... censor the internet: I am particularly struck that the alleged bombers made use of online bombmaking guides like the Anarchist Cookbook and Inspire Magazine. These documents are not, in my view, protected by the First Amendment and should be removed from the Internet. For what it's worth, Dianne Feinstein's "view" is wrong. The Anarchist Cookbook is very much protected by the First Amendment. While the book is banned in other countries, who don't have the equivalent of the First Amendment, it's perfectly legal in the US. The FBI/DOJ has extensively investigated the Anarchist's Cookbook in particular over the years, and as far back as 1997 directly told Senator Feinstein that she could not ban it. This is from the DOJ back in 1997: Senator Feinstein introduced legislation during the last Congress in an attempt to fill this gap. The Department of Justice agrees that it would be appropriate and beneficial to adopt further legislation to address this problem directly, if that can be accomplished in a manner that does not impermissibly restrict the wholly legitimate publication and teaching of such information, or otherwise violate the First Amendment. The First Amendment would impose substantial constraints on any attempt to proscribe indiscriminately the dissemination of bombmaking information. The government generally may not, except in rare circumstances, punish persons either for advocating lawless action or for disseminating truthful information -- including information that would be dangerous if used -- that such persons have obtained lawfully. And yet, Feinstein's first response to the FBI uncovering yet another of its own plots is to go back to trying to censoring the internet in direct violation of the First Amendment? Yikes. Oh, and even worse... in keeping with the fact that this plot was actually created by the FBI itself, guess where the two "terrorist wannabes" got the Anarchist Cookbook? From the undercover FBI agent! From the criminal complaint itself [pdf]: On or about Novermber 2, 2014, the UC [Undercover Officer] met with VELNTZAS and SIDDIQUI. When VELENTZAS was reading a book called "Chemistry: The Central Science," the UC asked how this book was going to benefit them. VELENTZAS stated that they could practice at her house, but could not leave any residue. The UC stated that practicing at the house was not a good idea because the people living in the apartment below VELENTZAS might hear loud noises, referring to noises from explosions. VELENTZAS said she could always tell her neighbors that she dropped some bookshelves. The UC and VELENTZAS then discussed the fact that the UC had downloaded The Anarchist Cookbook. VELENTZAS suggested the UC print out the parts of the book that they would need. During the conversation, the UC stated, "We read chemistry books with breakfast. Like, who does that?" VELENTZAS responded, "People who want to make history." The complaint also lists many other books and magazines and web pages that the various people read throughout, and later has one of the wannabe terrorists thanking the undercover agent for introducing The Anarchist's Cookbook to her. As for the other document that Feinstein wants to censor, Inspire, is Al Qaeda's magazine. And, again, reading through the complaint you see that it was actually the undercover agent who brought the magazine. The wannabe terrorist did ask the undercover agent to get it, and eventually it was the undercover agent who actually got it. Velentzas keeps asking the undercover agent to find a copy of Inspire, over and over again in the complaint until eventually the agent complies: On or about December 24, 2014, the UC visited VELENTZAS and brought the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire magazine, as previously requested by VELENTZAS. In other words, in neither case did the would be terrorists get the "bad" material from the internet. In both cases it came from the undercover FBI agent. Meanwhile, it seems like the only real result of this ridiculous statement will be for Feinstein to drive ever more awareness to the old Anarchist's Cookbook, so yet another generation of teenagers can discover it and think they've found something totally cool online.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
North Korea has become a by-word for oppressive tyranny and technological backwardness. But Reuters reports on an interesting development that may begin to chip away at both: A $50 portable media player is providing many North Koreans a window to the outside world despite the government's efforts to keep its people isolated -- a symbol of change in one of the world's most repressed societies. By some estimates, up to half of all urban North Korean households have an easily concealed "notel", a small portable media player used to watch DVDs or content stored on USB sticks that can be easily smuggled into the country and passed hand to hand. People are exchanging South Korean soaps, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs, all of which are expressly prohibited by the Pyongyang regime, according to North Korean defectors, activists and recent visitors to the isolated country. The Reuters story reports that the device has become so popular that the North Korean government felt obliged to legalize the "notel" -- but with the requirement that they had to be registered. These versions must be fixed to official state television and radio channels, but the smuggled models are more versatile: The low-voltage notel differs from the portable DVD players of the late 1990s in that they have USB and SD card ports, and a built-in TV and radio tuner. They can also be charged with a car battery -- an essential piece of household equipment in electricity-scarce North Korea. The dual media capability means a North Korean DVD can be inserted while watching smuggled, forbidden content from South Korea on a USB stick, which can be quickly removed if the authorities turn up to conduct a check on a household. A key factor driving the uptake of these new devices is Moore's Law. This has pushed down the price of the components used in the notel box to the point where even North Koreans, with their rising, but still very limited disposable incomes, can afford them. It has increased the capacities of USBs and SD cards such that several film-length videos can be stored on devices that are very easy to hide at short notice. That means it only requires one copy of a South Korean film -- or other, even more subversive material -- to enter North Korea, and it can be copied and passed around on a scale that makes stopping it almost impossible for the authorities. It will be fascinating to watch the social and political ramifications of this silent struggle between tyranny and technology. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Moore's Law has held up for a surprisingly long time, but we can see the horizon now where current semiconductor technology won't be able to keep up with the exponential improvement. It won't be the end of the (tech) world if computers stop getting faster and faster at the same rate, but the shift might change several large industries. There are a few technological alternatives that could provide alternatives to our current computational standards. Quantum computers have promised a significant advance -- if they can be built. Diamonds could be useful as a new semiconductor material, but it could also be used for quantum computing. Arrays of diamond crystal vacancies can be modified with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques and observed with standard optical methods in order to create quantum computers. [url] Quantum computers are still custom and "hand made" machines, even after decades of development. It's still quite difficult to build a general-purpose quantum computer. Fortunately, there have been some advancements in detecting qubit error rates, and scaling up the size of quantum computers is becoming more and more practical. [url] Physicists have discovered evidence that properties of samarium hexaboride might be useful for quantum computers. More and more materials have been found that exhibit Dirac electrons at super cold temperatures, so maybe we're getting closer to building sizable quantum computers. [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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Police misconduct has never been more visible, thanks to the internet and advancements in cell phone technology. Between this and increased use of public records requests, there's a wealth of information surfacing daily on the misdeeds of law enforcement personnel. In theory, this should be raising the level of accountability. In practice, however, it's a different story. This transparency and accountability -- what there is of it -- has been forced onto unreceptive law enforcement agencies by the public, rather than led by government officials. While there have been some encouraging signs that legislators and courts aren't as willing to cut misbehaving officers the generous amount of slack they're used to, there are still several striving to shield abusive cops from public accountability. This isn't surprising. Government bodies almost always tend towards self-preservation and increased opacity. Proposing bills that further distance police officers from public accountability serves both purposes. What is surprising is who's pushing back against these legislative efforts. In Arizona, legislators are pushing a bill that would prevent the release of information on officers involved in shootings for sixty days. According to a hyperbolic Sen. John Kavanaugh, increased opacity is the only way to keep officers safe. "The simple fact remains that we live in a world where misinformation can put everybody in jeopardy, especially police officers," state Sen. John Kavanagh said this week. "And until we get those facts straight, we need to shield those cops and their families from being assassinated by lunatics or political zealots." Kavanaugh's rationale explicitly states that it's ok for officers to "assassinate" members of the public and hide behind this legal shield for two months -- until everyone gets their stories (a.k.a. "facts") "straight." Not that suspects in shootings of officers would receive the same courtesy, even if the reported "facts" turn out to be just "misinformation." The local police union, of course, stands with Kavanaugh. Police unions support the measure that is on Gov. Doug Ducey's desk, calling it a common-sense idea based strictly on safety. The bill does not preclude "the community's right and desire to know what their police department is doing," said Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. Well, except for the part where the community is "precluded" from knowing anything about officers involved in shootings for sixty days… on top of whatever obfuscation is already standard operating procedure. The union may claim to speak for Arizona cops, but top Arizona cops are very much opposed to the legislation the union supports. [P]olice chiefs say the proposal would serve only to hamper their ability to manage complex police-community relations, and they are asking the governor to veto the measure… Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor wrote to Gov. Doug Ducey in his role as president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police urging the veto… "And the one resounding message that has come out from that is that we need to build and repair the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve," Villasenor said. "Enacting legislation that would hamper that trust by not allowing officers' names to be released is not in my opinion the best way to improve or repair that level of trust." Those actually involved in day-to-day police work seem to know this bill won't "fix" anything. Police union heads -- much less involved in the reality of policing -- either don't know how harmful this legislation is or (far more likely) just don't care. Those who have to deal with the public directly -- police chiefs who issue statements, hold press conferences and are ultimately responsible for their officers' actions -- are all too aware of how this looks to those being locked out by this legislation. Over in Texas, where legislator Jason Villalba is trying to make filming police from anywhere inside a 25-foot "halo" illegal, is also receiving pushback from unexpected opponents: Texas' police unions. Villalba's bill was set to have a hearing Thursday, his 44th birthday, but he withdrew the bill from the committee agenda. That came a day after he heard complaints from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. [Association director Charley] Wilkison, whose group boasts more than 18,500 members, said the proposal is unnecessary and dangerous. Now, he said, Texas' 76,000 licensed peace officers have discretion on where to cordon off a crime scene. Setting limits as Villalba has proposed would be "worse for the rank-and-file," and hard to enforce, Wilkison said, quipping, "so the officer's going to have a tape measure at the scene?" This opposition, however, isn't as interested in the public's rights or officers' relationships with estranged communities as it would first appear. Wilkison calls the legislation "dangerous," but his wording suggests it's the recording of police from close range that's actually problematic, rather than the bill's limits on First Amendment rights. The key word in this statement is "discretion," as Carlos Miller at Photography is Not a Crime points out. [T]he Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, which consists of several police unions throughout the state, making it the largest police union in Texas, realized that the bill could backfire on them by giving citizens a solid argument that they are allowed to record from 25 feet. As it is now, police are under the impression that they could create an arbitrary buffer between themselves and citizens with cameras by ordering them to move down the block where they are unable to record anything. The unexpected opposition is still closely aligned with the interests of law enforcement, rather than the public's. A codified 25-foot filming radius would take away oft-abused charges like obstruction or interference from police officers who would rather not have their actions recorded. The most surprising aspect of the union's public disapproval is that it's willing to risk damaging a relationship with a very LEO-friendly legislator. This indicates that nearly-limitless police "discretion" is far more valuable to the union (and its members) than an easily-steered legislator.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over at NiemanLab, there's a good interview with Tom Standage who runs the Economist's digital efforts, in which he reveals the Economist's general view of how it approaches the internet -- which could be summarized as "deny it exists." Basically, the argument that Standage makes is that people want to feel like they've "completed" something and that they're fully informed, and so the Economist likes to pretend that once you've read it, you're completely informed and you don't have to look elsewhere. This is also why the Economist refuses to link to anyone else, because it would disabuse you of the "illusion" that the Economist provided you everything you needed: ...what we actually sell is what I like to call the feeling of being informed when you get to the very end. So we sell the antidote to information overload — we sell a finite, finishable, very tightly curated bundle of content. And we did that initially as a weekly print product. Then it turns out you can take that same content and deliver it through an app. The “you’ve got to the end and now you’ve got permission to go do something else” is something you never get. You can never finish the Internet, you can never finish Twitter, and you can never really finish The New York Times, to be honest. So at its heart is that we have this very high density of information, and the promise we make to the reader is that if you trust us to filter and distill the news, and if you give us an hour and a half of your time — which is roughly how long people spend reading The Economist each week — then we’ll tell you what matters in the world and what’s going on. And if you only read one thing, we want to be the desert-island magazine. And our readers, that’s what they say. And as for links: Another aspect of it is — and I get all the morning briefings, Sentences, the FT one, and Quartz’s, and the rest of them — is that we don’t do links. The reason that we don’t do links, again, if you want to get links you can get them from other people. You can go on Twitter and get as many as you like. But the idea was everything that you need to know is distilled into this thing that you can get to the end of, and you can get to the end of it without worrying that you should’ve clicked on those links in case there was something interesting. So we’ve clicked on the links already and we’ve decided what’s interesting, and we’ve put it in Espresso. That’s the same that we do in the weekly as well — we’re not big on linking out. And it’s not because we’re luddites, or not because we don’t want to send traffic to other people. It’s that we don’t want to undermine the reassuring impression that if you want to understand Subject X, here’s an Economist article on it — read it and that’s what you need to know. And it’s not covered in links that invite you to go elsewhere. Mathew Ingram rightly calls this view of things selling an illusion. He notes that such an illusion can be very powerful -- and even very satisfying and appealing. But it's still an illusion. To me, it's also a version of denial -- a somewhat hubristic denial that actually says (loudly) that the Economist thinks it's much, much smarter than its readers. That seems like a pretty big mistake in the internet age, where (quite frequently) your readers are much smarter. In many ways, we at Techdirt have always taken the opposite approach. We link aggressively outward to source material, knowing that it will help people explore the subject more deeply. We encourage discussion and conversation in our comments, knowing that many of our readers are more knowledgeable on these subjects than we are. The Economist is obviously super successful, but as we've stated before, the way people consume the news these days is changing. The kind of people who want to just sit down, consume one thing and feel that they're "informed" are going away. That's just not how people consume news these days, and young people especially don't want to consume news that way. They want to explore and dig and share and discuss. The ability to truly interact with the news, research things yourself, share your thoughts and actually be a part of the effort is what's appealing to so many people. Maybe the Economist's view of things works for people who are scared of the internet and don't like the endless firehose of information that's available, but I'm betting that's a population that will be progressively shrinking, rather than growing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You would think, with the DMCA rapidly approaching its 20th anniversary of becoming law, that nearly every idea, word, phrase and concept of the law would have been tested in some court case or another. You'd be wrong. In a new ruling from earlier this week, a district court in Colorado noted that there are no cases that actually examine what is truly meant by the word "user" in the DMCA's safe harbor related to the posting of infringing content. If you're playing along with the home game, we're talking about 512(c), the part of the DMCA that provides safe harbors for service providers that host content. This is the key part of the DMCA safe harbor, and the one that has made it possible for basically all user-generated content platforms possible. And yet, no one has actually challenged the definition of "user" in the law. The specific part of the law reads as follows: (1) In general.— A service provider shall not be liable for monetary relief, or, except as provided in subsection (j), for injunctive or other equitable relief, for infringement of copyright by reason of the storage at the direction of a user of material that resides on a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider, if the service provider— (A) (i) does not have actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system or network is infringing; (ii) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent; or (iii) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material; (B) does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity; and (C) upon notification of claimed infringement as described in paragraph (3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity. Seems straightforward enough, right? A service provider is not liable for things done by a user if they meet certain criteria. And nearly all of the lawsuits to date have been about whether or not those criteria apply (or whether a site qualifies as a "service provider"). But what is a "user"? The case in question involves the content-farm like news site Examiner.com, which famously lets almost anyone pretend to be a reporter and publish articles that look like semi-legit news articles, even if there's basically no vetting at all beyond an initial screening by which the company tries to determine if you can put words together in coherent sentences. Over the years, Examiner.com has been often mocked as a source of absolutely ridiculous articles. But what if an Examiner.com writer infringes on someone's copyright by posting unauthorized photos? That's at the heart of BWP Media v. Clarity Digital Group (owners of Examiner.com). Examiner argues that it should not be held liable, as the infringing content was posted by a user. BWP Media, which operates as Pacific Coast News, and the National Photo Group argued that because Examiner does at least some vetting of people who can post, provides them some instruction about the types of articles they can post and because it compensates them based on traffic to the articles, the people who post on Examiner.com are not "users" under the DMCA, but are really more like employees of the company, which would make the company itself liable. Thankfully, the court disagrees, and notes that there is nothing in the law that supports that interpretation: Plaintiffs argue that the term “user” cannot be interpreted in this way because “[o]wners, employees and agents are typically users of their business’ website” and “courts have already found that owners, employees, agents (and even implied agents) are not ‘users’ within the meaning of the DMCA safe harbor provisions.”.... Therefore, plaintiffs claim that “case law dictates that the word ‘user’ is a legal term of art for purposes of applying the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.” ... There are several problems with this argument. First, plaintiffs assume that the word “user” cannot be given its plain meaning because there is a need to distinguish between storage at the direction of the service provider and storage at the direction of third parties and that such distinction should be made through the interpretation of “user.” However, as other provisions of § 512 demonstrate, Congress knew how to make such a distinction without mentioning “user.” Both §§ 512(a)(1) and 512(b)(1)(A) utilize the phrase “a person other than the service provider” to differentiate between the service provider and other persons. More specifically, § 512(a)(1) uses the phrase “at the direction of a person other than the service provider,” which is analogous to the distinction that plaintiffs urge be made through the definition of “user” in § 512(c)(1). The fact that Congress elsewhere in the statute made the distinction between service providers and third parties with different words cautions against plaintiff’s interpretation. In other words, if Congress meant that no one who gets money or works closely with an organization could be deemed a "user," it could have and would have said so. Thus, someone that closely tied to a company can still be deemed a user under the DMCA. The court looks deeper at the law and notes that the concerns that the copyright holders raise about what would happen if "user" was defined this way don't really make sense, because actions that deeply involve the company itself are already clearly written out of the DMCA's safe harbors in other sections. Overall, this is a good ruling. A ruling in the other direction would have raised serious questions about a number of platforms -- especially those that may provide some form of compensation to users. But just because a site provides compensation shouldn't automatically mean that the site loses safe harbor protections. Doing so would create serious concerns about how these platforms could develop, and would greatly limit the ability to allow user generated content platforms to also help people make money or become "professional" content creators. That would be a ridiculous result that would clearly go against the intention of copyright law.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you pay any attention to web coding these days, you know that Node.js is something you need to know. Everyone's looking for node.js developers, even if Node.js is relatively new. So, learn a useful skill (and maybe increase your employability) by learning to build scalable network apps in Node.js with today's Daily Deal on the Newbie to Node Course Bundle. Get 6 courses with 20 hours of instruction for a whopping 93% off. You'll learn why Node is perfect for data intensive applications that can run across distributed devices and how to make it work for you. Don't forget to use the TECHDIRT10 code for an additional 10% off of your first purchase. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In case you thought the nanny-state arms race was over, it isn't and, also, who were you kidding? The initiation of laws and rules made by governments desperate to protect their own people from themselves is a pastime at this point, one which has previously seen legislative and law-enforcement actions taken against wearing headphones, smoking, and allowing children to find entertainment in the form of electronics. Now, in the UK, one school district is taking matters into its own hands, stating it will report to police parents who allow their children to play video games with an R18 rating. This declaration was made in a letter warning parents of the new policy, authored by head teacher Mary Hennessy Jones, who heads up fifteen primary schools and one secondary school in Cheshire, England. "Several children have reported playing or watching adults play games which are inappropriate for their age and they have described the levels of violence and sexual content they have witnessed: Call Of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Dogs Of War and other similar games are all inappropriate for children and they should not have access to them. If your child is allowed to have inappropriate access to any game or associated product that is designated 18-plus we are advised to contact the police and children’s social care as it is neglectful." The letter sent home to some parents also mentions "inappropriate" social media accounts including Facebook and WhatsApp because it could "make them vulnerable to sexual grooming and explicit images." If this isn't sending a shiver down the spine of any parents out there, it damn well should. The idea that a school district might seek to place itself directly in between a child and a parent when it comes to parenting decisions is somewhat without precedent when it comes to the type of entertainment the child engages in. This leaves aside the question of blatantly illegal content, of course, such as child pornography and/or real-life filmed violence. This is strictly about parents who decide (or choose not to decide) what types of legal entertainment their children are allowed to enjoy. As always, this overstep traverses a bridge built with platitudes about protecting children. Threatening parents with calls to the authorities for a child even witnessing an adult playing an adult-rated video game is bad enough. Suggesting social media access could result in the same action (the letter does not explicitly say Facebook access will lead to a call to the police, but connects "social media sites" to "these games" in the bulleted list of "actions we are advised to take") pushes this whole thing into the realm of the completely ridiculous. While some parents may feel that it makes sense to restrict their kids' access to social media and violent video games, and there is arguably a place for schools to alert parents when the appropriateness of the entertainment content to which children are exposed inside and even outside of school is questionable, implementing a zero-tolerance policy on the choices of parents about their child's entertainment is the nanny state taken to an absurd level. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As many of you may know, AT&T has been responding to Google Fiber with a gigabit broadband deployment of its own, primarily aimed at high-end housing developments where fiber is already in the ground. Dubbed AT&T U-Verse with "Gigapower," the service first appeared in Google Fiber markets like Austin, though AT&T tried to claim this timing was entirely coincidental. As with similar offerings from companies like CenturyLink, it's part of an industry push to at least give the impression that they're keeping pace with Google Fiber and gigabit municipal broadband deployments, even if the announcements often tend to be more impressive than the actual deployments (something I affectionately call "fiber to the press release"). Given this is AT&T, there are of course several caveats. One being that the company's promise to deploy the service to "up to 100 cities" is a bit of a bluff aimed at making the telco appear cutting edge, since it's actually consistently slashing its fixed-line investment budget. The actual deployment is much, much smaller (as in a few housing developments in a dozen markets or so), and AT&T's ambiguous projection numbers tend to ebb and flow depending on what AT&T's trying to get from the government. The other is that users need to pay $40 to $60 more if they want to opt out of AT&T's "Internet Preferences" snoopvertising, which uses deep packet inspection to track online behavior down to the second. In short, yes it's competition -- but it's AT&T's special brand of competition. Still, it highlights the fact that Google Fiber markets very quickly see a much-needed industry response on both speed and price. Case in point: in the markets where Google Fiber is present, AT&T's gigabit offering costs significantly less, whether it's a standalone gigabit line, or a bundle. For example, this is the pricing seen by an AT&T customer in Austin, where Google Fiber is present:Last week, AT&T launched the service in select parts of Cupertino, California where there's no Google Fiber pricing pressure. This is what local Cupertino users see when they try to sign up for service:So yes, it's pretty clear it doesn't take much for pampered duopolists to respond to real price competition. The problem is despite the fact that Google Fiber is nearly five years old, its actual footprint remains fairly small, with only portions of Austin, Provo and Kansas City online so far. And that's a company with billions to spend and a massive lobbying apparatus that can take aim at the sector's regulatory capture. That's why community broadband and public/private partnerships become such an integral part of trying to light a fire under the U.S. broadband industry, as are the attempts to dismantle ISP protectionist state laws aimed at keeping these speeds and real price competition far, far away from most U.S. broadband markets.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
As you may have heard, last week, Google warned about an unauthorized HTTPS certificate being issued via CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center -- which basically manages the Chinese internet, handling domain registration, security certificates and more). CNNIC blamed an Egyptian firm MCS Holdings, saying it had allowed MCS to issue security certificates for domains it had registered, but MCS had abused that power to issue bogus certificates. Late on Wednesday, Google added a somewhat surprising update to its blog post about the matter, announcing that it was cutting off CNNIC certificates going forward: As a result of a joint investigation of the events surrounding this incident by Google and CNNIC, we have decided that the CNNIC Root and EV CAs will no longer be recognized in Google products. This will take effect in a future Chrome update. To assist customers affected by this decision, for a limited time we will allow CNNIC’s existing certificates to continue to be marked as trusted in Chrome, through the use of a publicly disclosed whitelist. While neither we nor CNNIC believe any further unauthorized digital certificates have been issued, nor do we believe the misissued certificates were used outside the limited scope of MCS Holdings’ test network, CNNIC will be working to prevent any future incidents. CNNIC will implement Certificate Transparency for all of their certificates prior to any request for reinclusion. We applaud CNNIC on their proactive steps, and welcome them to reapply once suitable technical and procedural controls are in place. This is a pretty big deal, but the right move for Google to make. It's well known that the whole setup of security certificates is based on how much you trust the issuers of the certificates. If you can't trust the certificate authorities the whole system breaks down. This has long been a problem that is going to require a very different security model in the future. But, while we still have that system, it's of absolute importance that any breach of trust needs to be dealt with severely.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
The US government and European Commission insist that the inclusion of a corporate sovereignty chapter in the TAFTA/TTIP treaty will not in any way diminish the ability of nations to pass laws as they wish. A fascinating case involving an investment in Romania shows why that's just not true. It concerns a state aid scheme instituted by Romania to attract investments in the country, which offered tax breaks or refunds of customs duties on raw materials. The scheme was supposed to remain in place for 10 years. But as part of Romania's accession to the EU, it was required to cancel this scheme, which was regarded by the European Commission as providing unfair state aid. So, obediently, Romania abolished the scheme in 2005, some years earlier than it had promised. That didn't go down too well with investors. Two of them were able to use the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses of a bilateral treaty between Sweden and Romania to sue the latter. Here's what happened next, as described in the European Commission's press release: An arbitral award of December 2013 found that by revoking an investment incentive scheme in 2005, four years prior to its scheduled expiry in 2009, Romania had infringed a bilateral investment treaty between Romania and Sweden. The arbitral tribunal ordered Romania to compensate the claimants, two investors with Swedish citizenship, for not having benefitted in full from the scheme. Just part of the price of joining the European Union, you might think. But the European Commission is unhappy that compensation has been paid: By paying the compensation awarded to the claimants, Romania actually grants them advantages equivalent to those provided for by the abolished aid scheme. The Commission has therefore concluded that this compensation amounts to incompatible state aid and has to be paid back by the beneficiaries. That is, both the original state aid and the subsequent compensation for not providing that aid for the full term of the agreement are regarded as forbidden under EU law. So the European Commission is ordering Romania somehow to pull back from the Swedish investors the compensation awarded by the ISDS tribunal. Leaving aside the difficulty of doing so, even if Romania manages that, it will then be in breach of the corporate sovereignty tribunal ruling, which could leave it open to further legal action, and further awards against it. On the other hand, if it doesn't rescind the compensation, it will be fined by the European Commission. This provides a perfect demonstration of how corporate sovereignty provisions in treaties take away the ability of national governments to act freely. Moreover, in this particular case, whatever Romania chooses to do, its people will suffer financially. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
It's been a unique experience for me as a Techdirt writer, one who does not delve into the net neutrality debates and posts very often, to watch the effect the wider coverage about net neutrality has had on the general public. Without being scientific about it, there are certain markers for story penetration I notice and have noticed specifically when it comes to net neutrality. For instance, a couple of months ago, my father called me up with a simple question: "What should my position be on net neutrality?" The question itself isn't generally useful, but the simple fact that a grandfather is even asking about it means something when it comes to the public consciousness of the topic itself. So too is the appearance of the topic and debates on the Sunday news programs. But maybe the most important indication that net neutrality has become, at the very least, a thing the public is discussing is the topic's appearance in seemingly unrelated venues. Even if the take was wrong, coverage in political cartoons was something cool to see, for instance. But the topic coming up as the theme of a politically-motivated video game is even more exciting. You may or may not be aware of this, but EpicGames awards grants to developers to make games, called the Unreal Dev Grants. This year, one of the award winners is a team made up of students from the University of Utah, who have developed a game with net neutrality as its theme. Epic has given Retro Yeti Games a $13,000 grant for its Unreal Engine 4 powered game, 404Sight. The development team is made up of University of Utah students, who decided to create an endless runner game that makes a statement about net neutrality. According to Epic's description of the game, 404Sight combines elements from games like Mirror’s Edge, Robot Unicorn Attack, and Wipeout. In the game players try to run as fast as they can through levels before they get throttled by the evil Internet service provider (throttling was one of the many nefarious practices used by ISPs that the FCC effectively banned in its new net neutrality rules that were approved in late Feb.). A funny, if politically slanted, little game, right? Well, 404Sight is not only scheduled for a PC release, but it has its own Steam page and site. You can see a trailer for the game below. Again, it might not have the pizzazz of a AAA title, but that isn't the point of political commentary. Likewise, I wouldn't expect the sales and playing-base of the game to hit enormous numbers, but it certainly is a sign of the penetration the net neutrality debate is making for something like this to be produced.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
April Fool's day is fun for some people -- and annoying for others. John Oliver thinks pranks are terrible, and he's gotten some people to make a no-pranks pledge. But for folks who like to waste time and smirk at the discomfort at others, here are a couple videos to watch featuring cars and some crazy driving. Driving instructors probably have more than their share of scary moments in a car, so why not prank them on their first day on the job? Professional driver Leona Chin pretended to be an incompetent driver for a bit, then pulled into a closed parking lot and took the car for a real spin. [url] Here's another prank -- get some guys to go on a blind date, but don't tell them that their date is a professional driver before she starts driving like a maniac. BTW, this prank is supposed to sell more Ford Mustangs, too. [url] Drifting seems like the cool thing for drivers to do nowadays, so there's also an autonomous car that can drift. The robot car cheats a little bit because it needs wet pavement, but do you really want an autonomous car that can drift on any road at any time? Imagine the reactions if cars had an autonomous insane mode for drifting.... [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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