posted 19 days ago on techdirt
There's no accounting for taste -- unless of course you have to quantify it with sensory panels and professional tasters. It's not quite an exact science which is sorta why you can never get 4 out of 5 dentists to agree on anything, but researchers are still trying their best to learn about how we perceive different tastes. If you're a serious foodie or just curious, check out some of these links on flavors and how we sense them. One hypothesis for why people have bitter receptors is that early humans needed to avoid poisonous plants, but that explanation hasn't been supported by much evidence. It's a mystery why we can perceive bitter as a taste because the ability doesn't seem to correlate at all with diet and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. [url] Red pandas apparently like the taste of aspartame (and other artificial sweeteners), and these bears are the first non-primate mammals known to have such a preference. The researchers who made this discovery placed a sweet solution and a control of plain water in front of animals in a zoo for a day, and a preference was observed if the animals drank more of the sweet solution rather than plain water. Recently, giant pandas were also found to like sugar, even though they typically eat mostly bamboo. [url] Maybe you remember learning about a tongue map where sweet receptors are on the tip of your tongue and bitter receptors are on the back? Sorry, but researchers say that map is wrong. The ability to taste bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami can be found all over the tongue, in the same areas. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Opinion Corporation runs the site PissedConsumer.com -- which, if you're not already familiar with it, does pretty much what you'd expect: allows angry consumers to call out companies that have done them wrong. One of those companies, apparently, is Nevada Corporate Headquarters which has some negative reviews on PissedConsumer. There appear to be similar negative reviews on other sites, including Ripoff Report and Scambook. Last spring, Nevada Corporate Headquarters did the exact, wrong thing in response to the reviews on Ripoff Report: filed a lawsuit against the company. It lost. The court found, rightly, that Ripoff Report was protected by Section 230 of the CDA, and dismissed the initial lawsuit with prejudice. You would think that Nevada Corporate Headquarters and its lawyers might take the time to understand Section 230 and the nature of the internet. They, apparently, did not. Instead, a few months later, they filed a nearly identical lawsuit, in small claims court, against Opinion Corporation. Back in January, the court similarly dismissed that lawsuit, again pointing to Section 230 of the CDA which grants immunity to service providers from the content their users post. Opinion Corporation sought legal fees in response to this, but was denied, since legal fees are not recoverable in small claims court. Now, in an interesting move, Opinion Corporation, represented by Marc Randazza, haves filed an anti-SLAPP lawsuit in a Nevada state court, under Nevada's Anti-SLAPP law, which does give attorney's fees to those who have been slapped down by bogus lawsuits trying to silence public discussion. It's an interesting legal move, as Opinion Corp. is basically arguing that since it was clearly SLAPP'd, even though via a small claims court, in can now file for attorneys' fees in state court under the state's anti-SLAPP law. The company argues, somewhat convincingly, that without this, Nevada Corporate Headquarters would be free to continue SLAPPing other sites in small claims court, knowing that there's no real downside to doing so. Furthermore, the fact that NVCHQ had already lost its case against Ripoff Report demonstrates that it clearly knew the SLAPP suit was nothing but a SLAPP in the first place, making the action even more egregious. Defendant deliberately brought an action against Plaintiff it knew to be groundless and in violation of N.R.S. 41.660, as evidenced by the dismissal of its earlier identical action against Ripoff Report. Even if the Defendant had not received virtually identical orders in the past, any reasonable party would know, or should have known, that Opinion Corp. was immune from liability. The Defendant implicitly acknowledged that the claims were legally baseless by submitting an opposition to the motion that was devoid of even a singe citation to any authority. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
It's been a little while since we had a Team Prenda update, but suffice it to say, judges still don't seem to be buying their brand of bullshit, even as they get more and more desperate. The latest is the followup in the Lightspeed case in which Team Prenda made the incredibly poorly thought-out move of dragging Comcast and AT&T into the proceedings. Not only did Judge Patrick Murphy find that Team Prenda flat out lied to the court, he hit them with an order to pay $261,025.11 in attorneys' fees for wasting everyone's time. Team Prenda has been avoiding paying that ever since. There was an amusing hearing back in February in which they weakly sought to justify the non-payment, first quibbling with Judge David Herndon that the original order to pay up was a "money judgment" rather than an order, in the belief that this would give them more flexibility in paying. That ridiculous argument was more or less dismissed out of hand by Judge Herndon quickly. Following that, John Steele and Paul Hansmeier specifically tried to plead poverty, arguing that they simply couldn't pay the amount. Judge Herndon said, effectively, okay: prove it. And while they filed documents that attempt to prove that, Judge Herndon is not buying it at all. In a ruling earlier this week finding Paul Duffy, John Steele and Paul Hansmeier in contempt, Herndon noted that even in filing financial statements, it appeared they were trying to deceive the court: In the case where there has been no attempt to comply with the Court’’s order, plaintiff’’s counsel must show a “"complete inability to pay.”" ... Plaintiff’’s counsel, “"stated differently, . . . [has] the burden of establishing clearly, plainly, and unmistakably that compliance is impossible." .... The Court finds that plaintiff’’s counsel has not met its burden. They submitted incomplete, and to say the least suspicious, statements of financial condition. Attached to each statement was a letter from their certified public accountant (““CPA””). In these letters, the CPA indicates a departure from generally accepted accounting principles. He further notes that plaintiff’’s counsel elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required by generally accepted accounting principles. The Court finds these statements insufficient to establish plaintiff’’s counsel’’s inability to pay. Given all that, he notes that Team Prenda "significantly violated an unambiguous order of the Court" and has tacked on an additional 10% to the original order, giving them until March 31st to pay up... or the amount will keep going up at $500 per attorney per day (so $1,500 more per day). After another 30 days, the amount will increase to $1,000 per attorney per day. Hansmeier is already begging for a reconsideration, but given how many times these guys have been called out for attempted deceptions in court, it seems unlikely he's going to have much luck.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Last week, we wrote about Microsoft's ridiculous decision to search through a reporter's Hotmail email account after realizing that reporter had an unauthorized copy of Windows 8. The whole thing seemed like a huge overreaction by the company -- in trying to track down an almost meaningless leak that was unlikely to have any real impact on anything, the company effectively alerted the world that you had no real privacy in your email. The move was even more ridiculous since Microsoft has more or less bet its email farm on a marketing campaign about how it respects your privacy more than others. Microsoft's first response to this was exceptionally weak. While it announced a "change" in policies, it was still the same basic policy, that effectively (and misleadingly) claimed that it could and would continue to search anyone's email if the company had evidence that you might reveal a leaker. Apparently -- and somewhat surprisingly -- it appears that Microsoft and its legal team took the criticism seriously. Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith has now put out a new blog post announcing a complete change in policy, promising that it will not unilaterally look through any Microsoft user's content in search of "stolen" intellectual property: Effective immediately, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property from Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves. Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required. Furthermore, the company will officially change its terms of service to reflect that change in policy. On top of that, it is starting a (somewhat undefined) project with EFF and CDT to work on "best practices" concerning privacy. Smith's apology is quite heartfelt, which is also rare from a big company: It’s always uncomfortable to listen to criticism. But if one can step back a bit, it’s often thought-provoking and even helpful. That was definitely the case for us over the past week. Although our terms of service, like those of others in our industry, allowed us to access lawfully the account in this case, the circumstances raised legitimate questions about the privacy interests of our customers. In part we have thought more about this in the context of other privacy issues that have been so topical during the past year. We’ve entered a “post-Snowden era” in which people rightly focus on the ways others use their personal information. As a company we’ve participated actively in the public discussions about the proper balance between the privacy rights of citizens and the powers of government. We’ve advocated that governments should rely on formal legal processes and the rule of law for surveillance activities. While our own search was clearly within our legal rights, it seems apparent that we should apply a similar principle and rely on formal legal processes for our own investigations involving people who we suspect are stealing from us. Therefore, rather than inspect the private content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures. Personally, I wish the announcement and policy change went a bit further -- beyond just "intellectual or physical property," but making it clear across the board that, absent a reasonable warrant signed by a judge, Microsoft will not allow anyone to access anyone's content. But, perhaps we'll get there some day. In the meantime, Microsoft does deserve some kudos for changing positions. Most large companies would try to just let this issue fade away rather than proactively address it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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So, earlier this week, the MPAA came out with its annual report that shows that once again, its box office take hit new record highs. This same thing happens basically every year, so we almost didn't cover it at all this year. It's kind of old news. But people keep submitting it, and so we'll oblige, but mainly for the chance to repeat BoingBoing's awesome title on its story over this: Motion picture industry continues to stagger under piracy with mere record-breaking income. You can read the MPAA's full PDF right here, though for reasons that make no sense at all, they will block you from reading the PDF if you have javascript or cookies disabled. For a PDF? Really guys? There is no reason at all that anyone ever needs cookies or javascript to read a PDF file. The report further notes that ticket prices have continued to rise pretty consistently over the past decade from a $6.21 average price in 2004 to $8.13 last year. For an industry supposedly being destroyed, you'd think they wouldn't be able to get away with raising prices... but, apparently (as we've been pointing out for nearly two decades) going to the movies is a different experience than downloading a film and people are paying for that experience. And, yes, just to cut off the line of criticism: this only applies to theatrical revenue, and not home viewership. But that's somewhat a red herring, given that, if left to the movie industry, there basically would be no home video market to speak of at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
As TorrentFreak is noting, the UK is finally modernizing basic user rights concerning copyright (what they call "fair dealing") to officially make it "legal" to make personal copies of legally acquired copies of digital content. In short, due to restrictive copyright law, it has always been technically infringement in the UK to rip a CD or DVD, but as of June that will change. This was one of the key suggestions in the Hargreaves report from three years ago, so it's good to see it finally being put into action. That said, this is hardly perfect. It appears that the fair dealing rules still won't let you circumvent DRM in order to make those private copies. In the FAQ the UK government is distributing, we see the following: As that notes, if the media includes DRM, you're basically out of luck: Media such as DVDs are often protected by anti-copying technology to guard against copyright piracy, and this is protected by law. Copyright owners will still be able to apply this protection. However, if copy protection is too restrictive, you may raise a complaint with the Secretary of State. Right, so in order to rip a personal copy of a movie so you might, for example, watch it on your tablet, rather than in a DVD player, you first have to "raise a complaint with the Secretary of State" and hope they do something about it? That basically eliminates this new effort entirely. And that's always been the problem with DRM and anti-circumvention rules. They basically give content middlemen the ability to put a veto on user rights, blocking them from doing things that are perfectly legal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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I am (TSA Behavioral Detection Officer) Jack's self-delusion. Like the rest of us, airport security screeners like to think they can read body language. TheTransportation Security Administration has spent some $1 billion training thousands of “behavior detection officers” to look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists. But critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist or accomplished much beyond inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers a year. The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies. $1 billion in taxpayer funds spent, and nothing's safer. The only "positive" seems to be that TSA's officials have improved their own morale. The T.S.A.’s administrator, John S. Pistole, defended its behavior-detection program last year by saying it identified “high-risk passengers at a significantly higher rate than random screening.” Pistole likely believes this to be true because the human brain is will betray its owner to make it happy. People generally tend to believe they're smarter than other people and that their skills are more finely honed -- whether or not the skills they claim have in fact been honed or are even possible. The GAO (Government Accountability Office) came to an entirely different conclusion when it applied science, rather than belief, to the TSA's expensive Behavioral Detection program. Peer-reviewed, published research does not support whether the use of nonverbal behavioral indicators by human observers can accurately identify deception. Our review of meta-analyses and other studies related to detecting deception conducted over the past 60 years, and interviews with experts in the field, question the use of behavior observation techniques, that is, human observation unaided by technology, as a means for reliably detecting deception. The meta-analyses, or reviews that synthesize the findings of other studies, we reviewed collectively included research from more than 400 separate studies on detecting deception, and found that the ability of human observers to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral cues or indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance (54 percent). $1 billion thrown at something as useful as a coinflip to apprehending terroists. Or rather, would be as useful as a coin flip, if it only came up heads once in one hundred coin tosses. It noted that fewer than 1 percent of the more than 30,000 passengers a year who are identified as suspicious end up being arrested, and that the offenses (like carrying drugs or undeclared currency) have not been linked to terrorist plots. Pistole still believes in the program, though, and there won't be much that can convince him otherwise. For one thing, there's a whole lot of money riding on it. For another, there's the natural biases of the human brain. Of course, it's protected by the DHS, the same government entity that feels so confident in its employees' imaginary "abilities" that it argued CBP agents' "hunches" should supersede the "reasonable suspicion" demands of the Fourth Amendment. And, as if the human's innate ability to convince itself it possesses skills it can't scientifically have isn't bad enough, the millions of dollars being poured into behavioral detection training is only making things worse. (While there were numerous sources for this information, I feel it's most enjoyably explained by Cracked.) [P]olice officers have to go through rigorous training to make sure they pick up on the common tells people exhibit when they lie, but all of that training is actually worse for them than no training at all. The problem is that the training focuses on signs of nervousness, like twitching and discomfort, when twitching and discomfort are also known side effects of an innocent person sitting in an interrogation room. So as you can imagine, there are a lot of false positives. There are also countless other factors that determine how much someone squirms -- like their cultural background, what kind of lie they're telling, and whether the suspect is generally a noddy, hand-and-feet-movey kind of person (how many of you reading this are fidgeting at a desk right now, tapping your foot or bouncing your knee?) A grizzled old police officer might say, "Yeah, that training is BS! I can spot a lie thanks to my 20 years on the streets." Nope, sorry. They did a study on officers who'd been on the force for anywhere between three and 26 years and found that, incredibly, the longer someone's been an officer, the worse he or she is at telling when someone's lying. When you base an entire program on a delusion that only gets worse with experience and training, you've got a nightmare on your hands. The TSA detained 30,000 people, found no terrorists, nailed a few people on ancillary charges, and when asked about it, claimed it was an amazing success. There's no magic ability to detect liars and the cursory conversations deployed by TSA agents to sniff out would-be terrorists aren't nearly enough to qualify as "behavioral detection." Some things can be learned by observing people, but there's always going to be a ton of false positives to sift through. Not only that, but no one wants to participate in faux-small talk with a person who wields an inordinate amount of power. Their recalcitrance can easily be "hunched" into "reasonable suspicion" by a BDO. Nearly everyone caught in these little "behavioral detection" chats is going to be nervous, because they know one simple misplaced word or action is the difference between them boarding their flight unmolested or potentially spending a few hours attempting to prove a negative to a bunch of TSA agents suffering from the delusion that they can determine suspicious behavior "just by looking." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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We were bothered a few years ago to see the usually insightful Tim Wu suddenly arguing that search engine results had no First Amendment protections. The idea seemed ludicrous. Search engine results are opinions from that search engine about what is the most appropriate response to a query. It is clearly a form of speech and thus should be protected. The specific question, however, has barely been tested in court. However, a new ruling makes it quite clear that search engine results are protected by the First Amendment. Of course, it's in a case where this may feel somewhat ironic: some activists had sued Chinese search engine Baidu for refusing to show results pointing to their own pro-Chinese democracy writings. They argued that this violated New York's "public accommodations law." And while it may seem funny to think that a website that is clearly trying to block access to certain content is standing up for the First Amendment, the ruling gets it exactly right, in noting that search engines have every right, under the First Amendment, to make editorial decisions about what to include and what not to include: In short, Plaintiffs’ efforts to hold Baidu accountable in a court of law for its editorial judgments about what political ideas to promote cannot be squared with the First Amendment. There is no irony in holding that Baidu’s alleged decision to disfavor speech concerning democracy is itself protected by the democratic ideal of free speech. As the Supreme Court has explained, “[t]he First Amendment does not guarantee that . . . concepts virtually sacred to our Nation as a whole . . . will go unquestioned in the marketplace of ideas.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 418 (1989). For that reason, the First Amendment protects Baidu’s right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects Plaintiffs’ rights to advocate for democracy. Indeed, “[i]f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Id. at 414 (citing cases). Thus, the Court’s decision — that Baidu’s choice not to feature “pro-democracy political speech” is protected by the First Amendment — is itself “a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that [democracy] best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism . . . is a sign and source of our strength.” My first thought on hearing about the case was that there clearly should be no issue here at all, since Baidu is a private corporation, not a government actor. But the real issue is over NY's public accommodations law -- and whether or not that compels Baidu to "speak" in a certain way by changing its algorithms and results. It's that point that the judge is making. The public accommodations law cannot be used to compel speech in this manner, which leads him to properly note that Baidu's choices are a form of protected expression. The judge highlights a number of similarly applicable cases, first comparing Baidu to a newspaper, in which editorial decisions are considered protected speech. Then it compares it more directly to a different, though in some ways similar, case -- Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, in which the courts said that private parade organizers can't be forced to include groups they disagree with: The question in Hurley was whether Massachusetts could “require private citizens who organize a parade to include among the marchers a group imparting a message the organizers do not wish to convey.” Id. at 559. The Court held that allowing the state to do so would “violate[] the fundamental rule of protection under the First Amendment, that a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message.” Id. at 573; see also, e.g., Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. Pub. Util. Comm’n of Cal., 475 U.S. 1 (1986) (plurality opinion) (relying on Tornillo to invalidate a rule requiring a privately owned utility to include with its bills an editorial newsletter published by a consumer group critical of the utility’s ratemaking practices). “‘Since all speech inherently involves choices of what to say and what to leave unsaid,’” the Court explained, “one important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide ‘what not to say.’” Hurley, 515 U.S. at 573 (quoting Pac. Gas & Elec. Co., 475 U.S. at 11, 16 (plurality opinion)). Notably, the Court found that principle applied even though the parade organizers did not themselves create the floats and other displays that formed the parade and were “rather lenient in admitting participants.” Id. at 569. “[A] private speaker,” the Court stated, “does not forfeit constitutional protection simply by combining multifarious voices, or by failing to edit their themes to isolate an exact message as the exclusive subject matter of the speech. Nor . . . does First Amendment protection require a speaker to generate, as an original matter, each item featured in the communication.” In both of these cases, I would personally disagree with the choices made. I think it's awful that a Chinese search engine regularly attempts to block access to pro-democracy writings and I equally think it's ridiculous that various St. Patrick's Day parades actively seek to block gay, lesbian and bisexual groups from participating. Yet, in both cases, as private organizations, they have the right to decide what to include and not include. Just as everyone who finds those decisions despicable has the right to speak out against them. This ruling may feel ironic in that it appears to further the cause of Chinese government censorship in the name of the First Amendment, but as Judge Jesse Furman notes, there's really nothing ironic at all in protecting the right of private parties to make their own editorial decisions, no matter how offensive they might seem.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
There has never been effective oversight of the NSA's bulk collections programs, or indeed, intelligence agencies in general. There's been a lot of noise made about this vaunted oversight in defense of programs revealed by leaked documents, but this is nothing more than a talking point. The NSA (along with the CIA) has no interest in real oversight or accountability, not even to the final arbiter of its domestic surveillance, the FISA court. Judge Walton threatened to end the Section 215 collection back in 2008 after uncovering widespread abuse of the collections and the NSA's constant misrepresentation of how it was handling the data it collected. Over the last several months, it's become apparent that the committees charged with oversight have withheld documents from their colleagues, and the agencies themselves have avoided answering specific questions about their tactics, turning oversight hearings into games of "20 questions." But one would think the intelligence committees themselves would be on the inside track, considering chairpersons and ranking members are some of the most fervent defenders of domestic surveillance. That assumption would be wrong as well. At The Big Picture, a clip of Sen. John D. Rockefeller (then Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) discussing how oversight actually works has been posted. It's from an interview given in 2007, about the time the FISA Amendments Act was being put together to replace the expiring Protect America Act. The amendments act, among other things, extended the length of warrantless surveillance and gave telecoms retroactive immunity for their participation in the NSA's bulk collections. Here's Rockefeller explaining why, even back in 2007, intelligence oversight was a joke. The clip only contains Rockefeller's response to the question (in bold below). Here's the answer in context. DAVIS: Reports quote administration officials as saying this is going on and it’s being done in a way to avoid oversight of the Intelligence Committee. Is there any way— ROCKEFELLER: They’ll go to any lengths to do that, as we’ve seen in the last two days [during hearings on FISA]. DAVIS: Is there anything you could do in your position as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee to find answers about this, if it is in fact going on? ROCKEFELLER: Don’t you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I’m Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say I want it, and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. ALL of it. ALL THE TIME. I only get - and my committee only gets - what they WANT to give me. It goes all the way back, as The Big Picture points out. The NSA was created by President Truman in 1952 with a secret memo. The FBI -- the name under which bulk telephone records are collected -- was similarly crafted without Congressional consent. The Bureau of Investigation (BOI) was created on July 26, 1908, after Congress had adjourned for the summer. Attorney General Bonaparte, using Department of Justice expense funds, hired thirty-four people, including some veterans of the Secret Service, to work for a new investigative agency. Its first chief (the title is now known as director) was Stanley Finch. Bonaparte notified Congress of these actions in December, 1908. If the agency was created without Congressional consent, it stands to reason those in it feel legislative oversight is both unwelcome and unnecessary. There's a lot more oversight happening now, but that's mainly because the NSA can't withhold leaked information from the committees. It's all out in the open. So, when defenders of the agency start talking about oversight and legality, be sure to remind them that neither of these aspects are particularly strong. The agency operated in darkness for many, many years and the programs that skirted the Constitution were only made legal by dubious, reactionary legislation and secret interpretations of existing laws. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
We talk a lot about the backlash that inevitably occurs against video games, usually whenever a tragedy takes place, or a new envelope-pushing game comes out. This goes on, despite all the evidence and expert opinion stating that such backlash is completely misguided. For those of us who choose to think with reason rather than emotion, it only adds to the frustration that some of the loudest voices against violence in video games will occasionally turn out to be alleged criminals themselves, yet the next grandstanding politician or advocate faces no carryover scrutiny. It can seem enough to weigh down even the most patient person's faith that eventually sense will prevail and reason will be invoked. So if you're one of the disheartened, gather around, because I want to tell you again the story of how moral panics occur in every generation and are almost always defeated. That link will take you through a brief history of all the things society has crapped its tighty-whities about, including the waltz, comic books, rock and roll, romance novels, the telephone, and movies. What folks my age may remember, however, is when it seemed like half the country was insisting that Dungeons & Dragons was a satanic cult ritual causing children to off themselves in record numbers. Annalee Newitz has a fascinating article about the moral panic that existed around the dice-rolling role-playing game and how its history is now curated by the very people that endured its idiocy. It sounds crazy in our world today, where there are Dungeons & Dragons movies and a rich game industry full of titles inspired by those old paper-and-dice games we played back in the twentieth century. One of the most popular shows on television, Game of Thrones, features plots that my friends and I might have cooked up back on that playground at lunch. Somehow, the popularity of epic fantasy and role playing overcame America's fear of young people making up stories about monsters and gods. Meanwhile, the literature of the anti-D&D crusaders has become so obscure that it's memorialized on websites like The Escapist, where scanned-in pages of heartfelt nonsense are heavily footnoted to remind us of the historical context. As the article says, looking back from the vantage point of a world where entertainment is strewn with the fantasy genre, it's stunning to see the propaganda that had been unleashed. Unsurprisingly, said propaganda has since been eviscerated, with all the common tales of kids killing themselves being shown to be completely unrelated to anything having to do with children's games. Still, this kind of thing propagated like hell-fire. For all the normal, non-Satan-worshipping kids out there that were just trying to have a little fun, it must have seemed like insanity would rule the day. Fortunately, it didn't. And yet the half-elf thieves and evil clerics and dorky kids with dice won at least one melee in this particular culture war. That's abundantly obvious when you consider that the media is dominated by D&D-influenced stories. Meanwhile, the anti-D&D campaigns today have been reduced to items like this shabby little pamphlet, digitized by a gamer who wanted to memorialize a hard time in geek history. It's a clear example of history being written by the winners. Winners who are now all grown up and who have moved on to their next moral panic, be it violent video games, drill gangster rap, or any number of the next thing the younger generations will come up with. The cycle repeats. Every generation was young, became old, and feared the new young again. That's too bad, but for those of us still reveling in our youth, real or imagined, it's nice to know that the moral panic over video games, like all those before it, will eventually subside. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Last year, the US government was adamant that TPP would be finished by the end of 2013. And yet here we are, well into 2014, with no sign that things are anywhere near completion. That slippage is more than just embarrassing: it could have major implications for the treaty. TPP has dragged on for so long there's a new President in Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and she's more doubtful than her predecessor about the value of TPP to her country and its people. Those doubts are starting to make themselves felt. In a recent speech (original in Spanish), Bachelet said that she wanted Chile to regain its role as a promoter of Latin American integration. That would represent a turning away from TPP, which is based on the Pacific Rim, and only includes three other countries from Latin America -- Mexico, Colombia and Peru. In an interview with El Mercurio, Bachelet's new Minister for External Relations, Heraldo Muñoz, echoed this policy shift by emphasizing the importance of improving his country's relations with Brazil and Argentina. He also revealed some of Chile's new thinking on TPP (original in Spanish): "In my meeting with [USTR] Michael Froman, I expressed Chile's position, which is to examine the content of the [TPP] negotiations with care, and to act transparently. We are going to consult with businesses, with civil society, so that these aren't closed negotiations. In addition, I said to Froman that Chile has sensitive areas where we are not prepared to go beyond the FTA [free trade agreement] with the US. There are areas such as intellectual property, the regulation of state-owned companies, or the Central Bank, which are red lines for us." The theme of transparency was picked up in another interview, this time with the new director of Chile's Department of International Economic Relations, Andrés Rebolledo, which appeared in La Segunda (original in Spanish): "We received some criticism (for how the [TPP] negotiations were conducted previously) and it appeared to us that there's an important opening for creating greater transparency with the various stakeholders who are involved and who are interested in the negotiations." Rebolledo aims to do this by creating a new advisory group, which will include not just business interests, but also NGOs and other civil society groups: We will establish a dialog with them and we are going to hand over elements of the negotiations -- those which are on the table, and of interest. For us, as the government, it's beneficial from the perspective that we will obtain inputs that will help us better conduct the negotiations. For TPP, whose negotiations have been some of the most secretive ever, with almost no real transparency, the plans of Chile's new President are not just a breath of fresh air, they are little short of revolutionary. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Relatively cheap fossil fuels allow everyone to enjoy comfortable lifestyles. But every so often, there seem to be horrible stories of environmental damage caused by our continuing addiction to underground hydrocarbons. Pulling oil, coal and gas out of the ground is probably going to be the way we get most of our energy for the foreseeable future, so it's just a bit worrying that we haven't quite figured out how to really mitigate oil spills and other accidents. Fortunately, Mother Nature hasn't taken full revenge (yet?) on us. Recently, Chevron apologized for one of its natural gas wells exploding (and killing one person) by giving away coupons for free pizza to local residents. Some residents accepted the pizza apology as a thoughtful gift, but there are plenty of other people who voiced their opinion that the free pizza vouchers are an insult. [url] About 25 years ago, the Exxon Valdez spilled about 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. Oil from that spill still lingers on the shore, and wildlife hasn't fully recovered yet. [url] The Exxon Valdez's 11 million gallons of spilled oil sounds like a lot, but during the Gulf War in 1991, hundreds of millions of gallons were spilled -- with estimates ranging from 300 to 500 million gallons. The spill was the deliberate action of Saddam Hussein, presumably meant to deter American troops from landing on the shore. [url] While BP is still dealing with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident, it just spilled a bit of crude oil into Lake Michigan, a few miles away from Chicago. Luckily, the cold weather makes it a bit easier to clean up as the oil solidifies into a wax-like substance. [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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In the ongoing maelstrom known as the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins NFL team name, we've covered before how the trademark they've obtained may soon be under siege. Trademark law has a provision that prohibits marks on disparaging and/or racist terminology, of which the term "redskin" is most assuredly included. This provision is a huge pain in the ass of Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, who, on one hand, insists the team retain their racist name while on the other hand throws around accusations of antisemetism willy-nilly. Building on that worry is the recent case of the USPTO coming out and rejecting another trademark attempt on the word "Redskin" for those very reasons. Well, unfortunately for Snyder, that case isn't a lone example. The USPTO has rejected another such trademark, this for "Washington Redskins Potatoes", in part of the same reason. "Registration is refused because the applied-for mark includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols," the decision, handed down on March 17, says. It concludes: "Given that "REDSKIN" in the mark is a derogatory slang term that refers to, and is considered offensive by, American Indians, registration of the applied-for mark must be refused" under the Trademark Act, a 1946 law that prohibits the trademarking of offensive or derogatory terms. The examining attorney's decision cites dictionary definitions of the word "Redskins" that say it is "usually offensive" or "offensive slang," and it also notes that groups like the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation regard the word as a disparaging slur. Now, I know all you staunch libertarians out there are going to get your boxers in a twist over this, issuing all the same proclamations about how it isn't your responsibility to not offend people, how this is an infringement of speech, or how this is a sign of our increasingly politically correct society. Look, I get you. A large portion of the time on this type of question, I agree with you. But in this case, the law is pretty clear, as is the accepted definition of the term "redskin." And if the NFL team's mark was removed, it wouldn't mean Snyder had to change the name of the team, it would just mean that anyone else, were they so inclined, would be able to use the term in football commerce at that point (although, not the logo, or other trademarked identifiers for the team). The point, as it has been since day one, is that the United States government should not be in the business of sanctifying racist language via grants of trademarks. It should be noted that the offensiveness of the term was only partly to blame for the denial of the mark. The USPTO also thought there might be some confusion between the team's existing mark and the potatoes (which might not be entirely crazy given the combination of both "washington" and "redskin" for the potato). Meanwhile, the appeal on the NFL Redskins mark has been heard, and we're all just awaiting their ruling. If the USPTO is anything to go by, Snyder may want to look for a new name -- or at least recognize that the name won't be trademarked any more. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Over at the Wall Street Journal, there's a good article about the DOJ's push for greater powers to use malware and to hack into computers in pursuit of criminals. The key issue, as the DOJ sees it, is that it normally needs a warrant from a local judge in order to make use of a malware exploit -- and when you're talking about networked computers, it's not always clear what's local. Thus, at least one warrant request for installing malware has been rejected over privacy concerns when the physical location of a computer was unknown (other courts, however, have approved such warrants). Given that, the DOJ is seeking to expand the rules making it easier to use malware (and to use it across multiple computers, rather than just a single computer per warrant). The article points to a massive 402 page document to the rule making body of the courts, in which it explains how it has used malware to find criminal suspects. Of course, this is the DOJ that we're talking about, so it's not going to come right out and say "hey, here's the malware we used and how we use it." Instead, as noted by the ACLU's Christopher Soghoian, the DOJ hides its description of malware on page 201 (smack dab in the middle of such a giant document) in a single paragraph using some rather incredible language: In the normal course of operation, websites send content to visitors. A user's computer downloads that content and uses it to display web pages on the user's computer. Under the NIT authorized by this warrant, the website would augment that content with some additional computer instructions. When a computer successfully downloads those instructions from Website A, the instructions are designed to cause the "activating" computer to deliver certain information to a computer controlled by or known to the government. That information is described with particularity on the warrant (in Attachment B of this affidavit), and the warrant authorizes obtaining no other information. The NIT will not deny the user of the "activating" computer access to any data or functionality of that computer. As Soghoian notes, if you blink, you might miss it. The DOJ calls its malware insertion man-in-the-middle attack by describing it as "augmenting" the content sought by the user "with some additional computer instructions." That's certainly one way to look at it, but you have to assume that less than technologically savvy judges aren't likely to understand what this means at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Everyone makes mistakes. There's hardly anyone out there who can claim a misspelling-free existence. And government employees -- even highly-trained analysts and agents charged with protecting national security -- are no different. Mistakes will be made. Let he who is without sin be the pedantic ass casting stones in the comments below, etc. The problem is that when mistakes are made on highly-sensitive forms, the damage is almost irreparable. As we've covered extensively, an agent's failure to fill out paperwork properly put a non-terrorist on the government's "no fly" list for over a decade. To add insult to cock-up, the government spent most of that time trying to bury the challenge with layers and layers of "national security" obfuscation. Confirming or denying anything about terrorist watchlists would somehow lead to terrorists gaming the system. Speaking of terrorist attacks, the Tsarnaev brothers somehow managed to elude those specifically tasked with preventing events like the Boston Marathon bombing. The same lack of inter-agency communication that allowed some 9/11 terrorists to return to the US unnoticed was at play in the recent attack. Unbelievably, these agencies have used both attacks as justification for leaving their surveillance powers intact, arguing that curtailing these programs will somehow prevent them from stopping the next 9/11 or Boston bombing -- despite having been unable to prevent either of those. But these "terrorist watchlists" the government likes to keep are sacrosanct, even if they're populated by people who shouldn't be on there and missing people who should be, thanks to human error. On January 21, 2012 Tsarnaev traveled to JFK airport in New York to board an Aeroflot flight to Moscow. Though an alert was triggered, Tsarnaev was not pulled out for a secondary search or interview. According to sources familiar with the report, there were almost 100 other names on the “Hot List” of individuals traveling through Customs at JFK that day, and Tsarnaev was not considered high priority. Tsarnaev flew to Moscow, and then to Dagestan, where he stayed for six months and received jihad training, according to U.S. authorities. On July 17, 2012, Tsarnaev flew back to the United States, landing at JFK. TECS notes remain in effect for one year. The initial TECS note had expired. The second, more urgent TECS note filed in October 2011 that said he might be armed and dangerous had not. But no alert was triggered when Tsarnaev passed through Customs at JFK, because of the misspelling of his name on the second TECS note. The difference of one letter – Tsarnayev instead of Tsarnaev – meant that he was not detained or questioned despite the warning in his file, according to sources familiar with the report. It's the sort of error anyone can make. But it had serious repercussions. In Tsarnaev's case, this error helped contribute to an attack on American citizens. The government aggressively battles anyone who questions their placement on terrorist watchlists, ignoring the fact that it still employs human beings and that those people -- being human -- will occasionally make mistakes. No one's asserting any sort of maliciousness on the government's behalf in Ibrahim's case, but no one should to be willing to completely excuse its behavior in Tsarnaev's, either. Errors will be made, but it's of utmost importance to correct them. The government needs to stop pretending its watchlists are infallible. It's not as though this is a recent development and possibly the first time these agencies have been made aware of the lists' shortcomings. Back in 2009, the Office of the Inspector General had this to say about the FBI's list. We found that the FBI failed to nominate many subjects in the terrorism investigations that we sampled, did not nominate many others in a timely fashion, and did not update or remove watchlist records as required.... We believe that the FBI's failure to consistently nominate subjects of international and domestic terrorism investigations to the terrorist watchlist could pose a risk to national security. The FBI failed in both directions, failing to add suspected terrorists to the list fast enough and being pretty much unresponsive when it came to removing those not deemed a threat. Add this to the fact that clerical errors will always be present in a certain percentage of records and you have a list whose veracity is highly questionable. But the government doesn't see it that way, and that's the problem. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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A couple of years ago, Tim Cushing wrote up the story of a Minnesota student who was forced to give her social media passwords to a school so they could snoop through her off-campus life and develop a couple of life-lessons for her. Those life lessons appeared to have essentially amounted to recognizing that school administrators too often see themselves as parents and they think students' free speech rights end where an administrator's interest in his/her students' lives begin. Fortunately, a judge disabused them of their misconceptions, stating in no uncertain terms that forcing a student to give up their social media passwords is a violation of the First Amendment. Common sense, how little we see of ye. And now, to bring some closure to this story, the school is coughing up $70,000 in damages and rewriting their policies to prevent further abuse. Minnewaska Area Schools agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and rewrite its policies to limit how intrusive the school can be when searching a student’s e-mails and social media accounts created off school grounds. The federal court settlement comes just after Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn, a 17-year-old honor student and football captain, was suspended for seven weeks for a two-word Internet posting in a case that created a community uproar. “A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” said attorney Wallace Hilke, who helped lead Riley’s case from the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. While it would be quite easy to see the restitution as an "all good" ending to this story, the article unfortunately then goes on to quote Minnewaska school district administrators who still can't seem to wrap their heads around the idea that it isn't their job to police students' off-campus behavior. Chief amongst them is Greg Schmidt, Superintendent, who wasn't in that position when the snooping occurred but did work on the settlement. “Some people think schools go too far and I get that,” Schmidt said. “But we want to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental.” Unfortunately for Mr. Schmidt, the general public doesn't much care that he wants to teach kids all kinds of lessons about their personal lives. That isn't a public school's role, never has been, and never should be. Parents parent and schools...er, school? Regardless, getting involved in students' private lives is a gross misstep. The student's mother agrees. “They never once told me they were going to bring her into the room and demand her Facebook password,” Sandra said. “I’m hoping schools kind of leave these things alone so parents can punish their own kids for things that happen off school grounds.”. Hope? Hope!?! How about demand? While the new rules crafted by the district limit school's from looking into social media exchanges unless there's a "reasonable suspicion" they will find actions or speech that violates school rules, how quickly do you think we'll hear a story about that leeway being abused? It's high time for parents to insist that they be allowed to parent their own children and for schools to focus on teaching academics, rather than life lessons. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Creative Commons licenses have been hugely successful in allowing people to share their creations in ways otherwise impossible using traditional copyright monopolies. But one problem remains unresolved: what exactly does the "non-commercial" license allow you to do? This lack of clarity has led various people to advocate avoiding the use of CC-NC. Back in 2012, Techdirt reported on a call to drop completely both the non-commercial and the no-derivatives licenses. In the same year, a group of German copyright experts released in collaboration with Wikimedia a document entitled "Consequences, Risks, and side-effects of the license module Non-Commercial -- NC", which was made available in an English translation the following year (PDF). Now a German court has weighed in on the subject, with interesting results (original in German.) The case concerned the use of a photo from Flickr, released under a CC-BY-NC license. The photo appeared on the Web site of Deutschlandradio, part of the German public broadcaster -- a non-commercial organization, that is. Alongside the photo, Deutschlandradio's Web site included the name of the artist, the license, and a link to its terms. Despite this, the photographer demanded 310 Euros plus costs on the grounds that Deutschlandradio had used the photo for commercial purposes. The public broadcaster pointed out that there was no charge for its Web site, there was no advertising, and no sponsorship. Nonetheless, the judge agreed it should be treated as a commercial use. In coming to this view, the judge drew on German law, which defined "non-commercial" as purely for personal use, and excluded all commercial use in the "generally accepted sense", and that apparently included radio stations, irrespective of how they were funded. As this underlines, quite what "non-commercial" means is likely to vary from country to country, and possibly even judge to judge. Yet another reason to avoid using CC-BY-NC altogether. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
After President Obama announced his willingness to really end the bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Senator Patrick Leahy pointed out that the easiest way to do that was to simply not ask the FISA Court to renew that authority this Friday when it expired. The NY Times editorial board picked up that ball and ran with it, publishing an editorial saying that if the President wants us to believe he's serious about ending bulk phone surveillance he should end the program on Friday. No such luck. While plenty of people are still waiting for the actual "legislative package" the administration claims it's putting together to accomplish its plan to end bulk phone record collection (but not other bulk collections), the White House has now released a "fact sheet" about its plans that concludes at the bottom by saying that the President has still asked the DOJ to renew the authority: Legislation will be needed to implement the President’s proposal. The Administration has been in consultation with congressional leadership and members of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees on this important issue throughout the last year, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to pass a bill that achieves the goals the President has put forward. Given that this legislation will not be in place by March 28 and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities in question, the President has directed DOJ to seek from the FISC a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, which includes the substantial modifications in effect since February. There are still numerous questions raised by the President's proposal, and it really seems entirely focused on just one problematic aspect of the NSA's surveillance capabilities. Yes, it's the part that has received the most attention, and yes it's the part that also has been shown to have never actually been useful. But this proposal seems a lot more focused on pre-empting much more comprehensive legislation like the USA Freedom Act. Furthermore, the fact that the President still refuses to just kill off the program while waiting for Congress to act suggests this is all for show. Tossing this on Congress is a great way for the President to pretend to do something while knowing nothing will actually happen.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Way back in 2006, we wrote about how the Los Angeles wing of the Boy Scouts of America had started offering an MPAA-supported patch in "respecting copyright," in which "respecting copyright" was actually respecting the MPAA's misleading maximalist view of copyright. It took some time, but it appears that the Girl Scouts are finally catching up. The Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation has helped create a special new "IP patch" for the Girl Scouts. Through earning the patch girls learn about the importance of the intellectual property system to their lives and to local and national economies. “As STEM fields become increasingly popular, it is important that we teach young people about the incentives and protections available to them through the patent system. IPO Education Foundation is excited about the opportunity to work with the GSCNC and the USPTO to bring the patent system to girls through the IP patch," said IPOEF Executive Director Herb Wamsley. Yes, so you have this biased, one-sided organization, whose entire mission statement is to push bogus propaganda, exaggerating the importance of "intellectual property" and intellectual property maximalism, and the Girl Scouts just say "no problem" without thinking that the organization run by corporate lobbyists might be just a little bit misleading? Even worse, is the idea that IP is somehow tied to "STEM" fields. Considering that many in all of those fields believe that intellectual property laws have been stifling efforts towards innovation and education, to pretend that the two are aligned is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous? The US government is now endorsing this sham propaganda campaign. This morning a group of Girl Scouts in Washington, DC will be the first to receive the IP patch. The patch curriculum was developed jointly by IPO Education Foundation (IPOEF), U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and Girl Scout Counsel of the Nation’s Capital (GSCNC). Patches will be presented by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee at a ceremony at the Langdon Education Campus In trying to think of an equivalent, I wondered if the Girl Scouts would offer an "energy conservation" badge designed by an oil company... and then discovered that, well, yes, they do. Apparently, if you have a powerful enough industry, you can push propaganda on kids in the form of "merit badges." Incredible.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
The UK's Malicious Communications Act has served the country well in its aim to turn being a jerk into a criminal act. The Act debuted in 1988, in time to catch the internet in its developing period and criminalize behavior that was already covered by existing laws. (Except for the whole "on the internet" thing that makes lawmakers bust out their favorite markup pens.) As it stands now, trolling (for lack of a better, shorter word) is punishable by up to 6 months in prison. For many of those on the receiving end of internet-delivered abuse, this apparently seems like it's too short to be effective. The Register notes that many of the act's proponents felt two particular individuals got off too lightly. Perhaps the most notorious example was the one involving feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. Two people were later found guilty of sending menacing communications after Criado-Perez made a formal statement to police in July 2013 about being harassed online. But the accused ended up only with short stays behind bars. One received 8 weeks in prison and the other 12 weeks, both of which clearly fit under the six-month maximum sentence, but seemingly offered no satisfaction to the victim of their online activities. So, British lawmakers have decided to "fix" this broken law, but not by disassembling it and allowing existing laws to do their jobs. Instead, they've decided to push for longer sentences in hopes of deterring future bad behavior and to prevent others from taking 8-12 week "vacations" at the local lockup. Ms Bray’s plan would give magistrates the ability to send such cases for trial at crown court, where the jail term given could be four times longer and there is more time to bring a case. The change will be discussed by a committee of MPs on Thursday and if approved will be added to laws to be voted on later this year. This law isn't specifically a reaction to Criado-Perez's treatment, but rather an amalgamation of all those who have been wronged and, apparently, contacted their representatives about it. MP Angie Bray is being motivated by a constituent's statement that her daughter was "verbally raped" by an older man who sent thousands of obscene texts. Education Secretary Michael Gove spoke about several deaths attributed to cyberbullying in his support of the change. The law's aim is, of course, noble: to stamp out abusive behavior online. Unfortunately, even the noblest laws have unintended consequences, like the punishment of the merely controversial, rather than true abuse. The law also seeks to exact proxy revenge for those who have been harmed, punishing people whose only crime was mere stupidity. Lot of people say lots of things online, and not all of it is pleasant. Those championing these laws are seeking to guarantee their constituents the "right" to not be offended. But life's often an ugly place, populated by jerks. But being a jerk "on the internet" shouldn't be a criminal offense. The low bar of a communication possibly "causing distress" isn't high enough to prevent the law from being misused. If the activities exceed simply being a jerk and move into something more dangerous, existing laws applying to stalking, harassment and making threats should be used rather than adding another layer of legislation over the top. The court of public opinion often weighs in heavily during outbursts of lousy online behavior, something that moves much faster than any court proceeding. Addressing noxious behavior is fine, but applying a broadly-written law isn't. And expanding the length of imprisonment doesn't fix what's truly wrong with it -- it just makes the law worse. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Well, I'd like to say this is ironic, but it isn't anything of the sort, although it does carry with it a little bit of schadenfreude. Leland Yee, a longtime combatant of free speech (via his attempts to regulate the sales of violent videogames), has been arrested for bribery and corruption charges. California State Senator Leland Yee (D), a driving force behind California's legislative efforts to restrict minors' access to violent video games, has been arrested on charges of bribery and corruption, according to numerous local media reports. Yee, who is running for California Secretary of State, saw his office raided by FBI agents this morning in service of multiple arrest and search warrants, according to San Francisco's KCRA. The raid follows a grand jury indictment of Yee, as reported by San Francisco's ABC7. Sacramento's Fox 40 reports that concurrent, related raids are being conducted on Chinatown locations with possible drug connections. As more new came out, the story got even more ridiculous as the politician who was so against video game violence is also charged with arms trafficking. Fake guns? Ban 'em! Real guns? Let's get down to business! Yee and an intermediary allegedly met repeatedly with an undercover FBI agent, soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for setting up a deal with international arms dealers. At their first face-to-face meeting in January, "Senator Yee explained he has known the arms dealer for a number of years and has developed a close relationship with him," an FBI affidavit says, noting Yee told the agent the arms dealer "has things that you guys want." At this point, all wrongdoing is still alleged (including possible ties to drug dealers) and, it must be noted, this is based on a grand jury indictment, something often entirely unrelated to any actual evidence of wrongdoing. Still, if you're someone who actively strives to regulate the moral choices made by your constituents, you had better make sure your own life is damn near spotless. And let's not forget that Yee spent nearly $2 million in taxpayer funds fighting for the government's "right" to regulate speech. This is its own form of abuse, one that no legislator ever seems to be punished for: riding political hobby horses at the expense of a public that is broadly opposed to the legislation being pursued. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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We first wrote about Brazil's 'Marco Civil' back in October 2011, when we described it as a kind of "anti-ACTA". That's because it was designed to protect online rights, not diminish them, and was the product of a democratic and transparent process, not of secret corporate lobbying. As Global Voices explains: the bill was developed through a uniquely open public process. Over the course of several months in 2009 and 2010, citizens were invited to contribute suggestions and criticism to an early draft of the bill using an open online platform. Nearly 2,000 people participated in the process -- the bill was substantially revised and re-shaped to reflect public concern. As one popular meme (below) put it, the Marco Civil "does not belong to a [political] party. It belongs to Brazilians." Precisely because it was not yet another corporate wishlist, but sought to enshrine fundamental user rights, it was fiercely attacked by an array of industries. In November 2012, it looked like Marco Civil had been killed off by the lobbyists, but in 2013 it showed signs of life again. Now comes the good news that it has finally passed a key vote in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies; significantly, digital activism once more played a crucial role: #EuQueroMarcoCivil – "I want Marco Civil." It was with this hashtag that Brazilians and supporters around the world pushed mightily yesterday for the passage of the Marco Civil da Internet, the unprecedented "Constitution" or "Bill of Rights for the Internet" that has been brought to Brazil's Chamber of Deputies nine times since 2012. Late in evening, the Chamber approved the one-of-kind bill that ensures fundamental rights of free expression and privacy online. Throughout the day, Twitter users touted the bill's many safeguards for fundamental user rights to free expression, privacy, and access to information using the #MarcoCivil and #EuQueroMarcoCivil hashtags. In Brasilia, the nation's capital, supporters voiced their support using signs, t-shirts, and other creative methods. As an article on infojustice.org notes, although not perfect, it's a great result: Considering how terrible some of the proposed amendments to Marco Civil were, the approved text is largely positive. It is definitely not the ideal version of law. But it is a much better one than expected, and probably the best possible outcome given the existing political limitations. Here's infojustice.org's summary of the Marco Civil's main features: Data retention Brazil was dangerously close to establishing a period of 5 years of mandatory data retention before discussions on Marco Civil began. Unfortunately, the bill still has provisions to that effect, but the period is much shorter for ISPs providing connectivity services (1 year). ... Net neutrality Brazil has taken a major step forward in preserving net neutrality, following the example set by countries such as Chile and the Netherlands. Marco Civil establishes the general principle that net neutrality should be guaranteed, and further regulated by a presidential decree, with inputs from both the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and ANATEL, the national telecommunications agency. Intermediary liability One of the main provisions of Marco Civil deals with the difficult subject of intermediary liability due to content uploaded by third parties. The system in Marco Civil establishes that intermediaries can only be held liable if they do not comply with a court order explicitly demanding content to be removed. This regime, however, is not applicable to copyright infringement, which will be dealt with by the forthcoming copyright reform bill. Privacy After the Snowden leaks, a small number of privacy provisions were included in Marco Civil (the main privacy and data protection bill under development has yet to be sent to Congress). The main proposal was extremely controversial: forcing Internet companies to host data pertaining to Brazilian nations within Brazilian territory. Broadly rejected by civil society, engineers, companies, and several legislators, the proposal was dropped by the government so that voting could take place. Rights and principles Marco Civil establishes a strong, forward-looking assertion of rights and principles for Internet regulation in Brazil: freedom of expression, interoperability, the use of open standards and technology, protection of personal data, accessibility, multistakeholder governance, open government data. Although it must still go to Brazil's Federal Senate for consideration, before returning to the Chamber of Deputies and then being sent to the Brazilian President for her signature, the bill is essentially passed. As the above summary makes clear, the Marco Civil is an extremely wide-ranging law, and arguably the best of its kind anywhere in the world -- an extraordinary achievement given its unusual origins and the lobbying firepower ranged against it. Global Voices comments: In a moment when censorship, surveillance, corporate greed and government corruption seem to dominate the world of digital rights, a victory like this one can bring hope to those working to improve user protections worldwide. The people who made this happen are to be congratulated on the victory, gained thanks to their unstinting hard work over the last few years. If only more of us could look forward to the protections the Marco Civil will provide. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Following last week's decision by a jury that Michael Robertson could be held personally liable for songs that he "sideloaded" into his MP3Tunes music locker via the site's Sideload.com feature, the jury has now issued a verdict so complicated that no one is quite sure how much Robertson is being ordered to pay, but it's believed to be in the range of $41 million. The verdict seems questionable on a variety of levels, not the least of which is that MP3Tunes apparently had, and followed, a clear DMCA takedown policy (which an earlier court ruling had found to be sufficient). Where this case became more complicated was over the question of whether or not the company had "red flag knowledge" of infringement and whether Robertson himself was liable, in that he'd "sideloaded" certain songs that he'd found publicly available elsewhere online into his music locker. The details of the apparently very complex ruling will be important, but anyone who runs a cloud computing service might want to pay attention to this case, as it's going to be a rather important one as it moves through the appeals process.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Predicting the end of the world has been a famously difficult calculation. Population growth trends have not proven to follow a continuously exponential path, so we've easily avoided previous calls of Malthusian catastrophe. However, it's still possible that we've only managed to postpone the sixth major extinction event, and our technological cleverness won't be able to save us next time. Here are just a few modern predictions of doom that could ruin some retirement plans. NASA recently issued a statement clarifying that a study by university researchers was NOT "solicited, directed or reviewed by NASA" because the research was going viral... and predicted the end of our civilization. However, NASA did fund the development of the "Human And Nature DYnamical" (HANDY) model which was used to reach the conclusion that civilization could collapse due to unsustainable resource exploitation and growing inequality in wealth distribution. [url] Global population growth could strain our ability to feed billions of people in the coming decades. We've overcome agricultural challenges before with the Green Revolution, but decreasing biodiversity and increasing genetically modified crops may pose significant problems in the future. [url] Our planet could cross a dangerous threshold in 2036 -- when it's predicted that global temperatures might be 2°C higher than preindustrial times. Maybe we'll be able to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by then, or figure out a way to cost effectively sequester atmospheric CO2... maybe. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
There's a lot of discussion at this site about new business models for artists to combat the tendency of infinite goods (digital files) to bring the market price down to as near zero as possible. Seminal rap act Wu-Tang Clan has gone in the opposite direction. Instead of operating around infinite goods, the group is opting to release its next album in an extremely finite quantity. Somewhere on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault housed beneath the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, there sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box with the potential to spawn a shift in the way music is consumed and monetized. The lustrous container was handcrafted over the course of three months by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, whose works have been commissioned by royal families and business leaders around the world. Soon, it will contain a different sort of art piece: the Wu-Tang Clan’s double-album The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, recorded in secret over the past few years. Like the work of a master Impressionist, it will truly be one-of-a-kind—in lieu of a traditional major label or independent launch, the iconic hip-hop collective will make and sell just one copy of the album. And similar to a Monet or a Degas, the price tag will be a multimillion-dollar figure. Rather than allow the market to decide how much the album is worth, the Wu-Tang Clan has circumvented that process by predetermining its going price (which eliminates a whole lot of the "market"). But it's not a terrible idea, provided it's able to sell this literally one-of-a-kind album. Securing $1 million up front (and without a label) for an unheard album will allow the group to recoup its costs in short order, rather than having to rely on a slower flow of income. It may work for a group that has achieved nearly legendary status over the course of its career, but it obviously isn't the sort of thing that would work for many recording artists. But this isn't the only revenue stream. The Clan has another offering that will put even more money in its pockets, but it's also one that could possibly undermine the million-dollar sale. According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range. Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.” The group says this is an attempt at "reconsidering music as art." That's the kind of statement that punches the right buttons for creators who feel the internet has robbed them of the ability to make a living, but it's ultimately as substance-free as any other justification for charging a steep price for infinite goods. This is the sort of statement you can make when a $1 million payoff assures you of success even without album sales. This won't force a reconsideration of music by the general public. This will only put the new album into the realm of the unattainable, which makes it a luxury good, rather than an artistic statement. But all in all, it's not a terrible plan. If the album leaks beforehand, some well-heeled fan may still pick up the tab to get the only legitimate copy of this album, along with its handcrafted storage case. If, by some miracle, the album is purchased and never leaks, someone out there will own the best-kept musical secret of all time. But chances are, the album will make its way to the internet eventually, even if leaks are prevented. People love sharing art, even if they paid $1 million for it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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