posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Russian regulators in charge of the company's absurdly aggressive Internet filters have threatened to ban Reddit if the website doesn't remove a single, unspecified thread from the website. In an announcement posted to Russian social networking website VKontakte, Russian regulator Roskomnadzor (the Kremlin's "Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom Information Technologies and Mass Communications") proclaims that they've tried to reach Reddit administrators about the thread, but found them unresponsive to complaints during the "relaxed" summer months. This sort of behavior isn't new for Russia, which passed a new law back in 2012 to "protect children" from the menace of a healthy, uncensored Internet. The law has since been used to block Live Journal, censor Wikipedia entries on "smoking cannabis," quash criticism of the Putin Administration, censor journalists, and most recently block all access to the Wayback Machine. In this latest scuff up, Roskomnadzor proclaims that because a single thread discussing the "cultivation of narcotic plants" caught the eye of the Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, the entire site will simply have to be blocked (Google translate):"Notifications to the requirement to remove the information sent to multiple addresses resource, but no response is still not forthcoming, although earlier treatment from us in the administration treated full. We assume that during the August holidays someone is too relaxed, but this should not be a reason to venture readership. Those who have contacts with the administration - ask them to check their mail for letters from Roskomnadzor otherwise due the technical features of a number of operators may block the entire site."The post is also accompanied by this graphic in the apparent hopes of making censorship quirky and fun!Just so it's clear, the Russian government can staff warehouses full of professional disinformation and propaganda employees who'll fill the Internet with bullshit twenty four hours a day, but talking about marijuana is just taking things too damn far!Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in May, we wrote about the European Commission's attempt to put lipstick on the corporate sovereignty pig. Its attempt to "reform" the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system was largely driven by the massive rejection of the whole approach by respondents to the Commission's consultation on the subject last year. Of the 150,000 people who took the trouble to respond, 145,000 said they did not want corporate sovereignty provisions of any kind. Even the European Commission could not spin that as a mandate for business as usual, and so it came up with what it called a "path for reform" (pdf). By promising to solve the all-too evident "problems" of corporate sovereignty by coming up with something it claimed was better, its evident plan was to include this re-branded ISDS as part of the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations with the US. The "path for reform" starts from some tinkering with a few elements of the basic ISDS approach that leaves the basic idea untouched, and moves towards something slightly more radical -- a permanent court for settling investor-state disputes: The EU should pursue the creation of one permanent court. This court would apply to multiple agreements and between different trading partners, also on the basis of an opt-in system. The objective would be to multilateralise the court either as a self-standing international body or by embedding it into an existing multilateral organization. Work has already begun on how to start this process, in particular on aspects such as architecture, organisation, costs and participation of other partners. The European Commission probably thought this was a pretty clever move: head off objections to ISDS and its ad-hoc tribunals by recasting it as a permanent court of a more traditional kind. There's just one slight problem with this idea: according to the respected German newspaper Die Welt, the US rejects it completely (original in German): There's no question of such a [judicial] authority. The US will not tolerate interference in its national sovereignty. That's a rather ironic viewpoint, given that ISDS already interferes with national sovereignty. Assuming that Die Welt's source is trustworthy, the US attitude may well arise from the fact that it has never lost an ISDS case, and perhaps believes, somewhat naively, that it never will. That seems unlikely: if TAFTA/TTIP includes corporate sovereignty, more than 3,400 parent corporations in EU nations, owning more than 24,200 subsidiaries in the US, will suddenly gain the right to sue the US government using the mechanism, in connection with any of their past, present or future investments there. Whatever its reasoning, a refusal by the US to countenance the creation of a new permanent court dealing with investment disputes leaves the European Commission's TTIP strategy on this point in tatters. It will be interesting to see whether it now begins to row back from the idea of creating a completely new court, and starts extolling the virtues of a slightly "reformed" ISDS instead. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The past year has been pretty rough for security -- with Heartbleed, Superfish, remotely hacked cars and all sorts of personal information getting into the wrong hands. Encryption and security are quickly becoming mainstream topics, as it's harder and harder to keep your head in the sand about technology risks. However, perfect security doesn't really exist, but I'm sure we'll have some folks demanding it soon. It turns out that Apple firmware isn't immune from worm malware (known as Thunderstrike 2), delivered via Thunderbolt peripherals. PCs have been vulnerable to this kind of attack, but some PC makers have taken steps to address it. Apple has a fix, but Apple isn't special when it comes to security. [url] Has an Israeli security startup called Morphisec created a version of Windows without zero-day exploits? Probably not, but it has likely put a giant bull's eye on its software... whenever it launches. [url] Apple keeps patching security flaws in its iPhones, but evidence of attacks are being discovered in the wild. If you get a prompt to download an app outside the App Store, don't do it. [url] Android devices have been vulnerable to an attack called Stagefright, but Google is trying to release a fix. The challenge is getting the update to nearly a billion devices -- with manufacturers and carriers cooperation. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last month, we wrote about how German officials were investigating the German news site Netzpolitik (which covers a lot of the same things that Techdirt covers) for treason. That was because of a few stories on Netzpolitik that published whistleblowing documents on plans to expand Germany's internet surveillance powers. The investigation resulted in widespread protests by people concerned about the chilling effects created by investigating reporters for possible treason for merely reporting on the news. There was also plenty of disagreement within the government itself, with the German Justice Minister expressing his disapproval of the investigation and eventually firing the prosecutor after that prosecutor accused the Justice Minister of "encroaching" on his independence. Now, a week later, German prosecutors have officially dropped the investigation, though it still raises questions about why it was started in the first place. On Monday the federal prosecutor’s office said it was closing the case because it believed the leaked documents on which the website’s reports were based were not a “state secret”, and that other conditions for treason charges had not been met. Thankfully, Markus Beckedahl, the editor-in-chief of Netzpolitik, does not want the matter to end there either. He wants to know why the investigation began in the first place: Beckedahl suggested the decision to drop the inquiry was not enough. “We want to know precisely whether we were subject to surveillance measures during the almost three-month investigation,” he said. Beckedahl said he hoped the case would motivate authorities to improve protection for whistleblowers in Germany. Hopefully, this does lead to much better protection for both journalists and whistleblowers.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It appears that the courts are now just piling on when it comes to Prenda Law. In the case of Lightspeed v. Anthony Smith, the court that was one of the first to call out team Prenda for "flat-out lies" and then blasted their weak attempt to plead poverty -- leading, instead, to holding Team Prenda in contempt -- has struck again. Having lost badly on appeal, the district court slammed the lawyers again, arguing that Team Prenda lied to the court and obstructed the discovery process concerning where they hid their money. It ordered sanctions of $65,263 and asked Smith's lawyers at Booth Sweet to submit their costs to be added on to the total. Those costs came out to $94,343.51 -- and Prenda lawyers John Steele and Paul Duffy complained that the number was unfair. Not surprisingly, the court is not buying what Steele and Duffy are selling: Steele objects to the submitted expenses.... Steele’s objections are not well taken. As is customary for Steele, his objections minimize his misconduct and distort the facts of the case. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court finds that all of the submitted expenses are reasonable and recoverable. The Court awards sanctions against Steele and Duffy in the amount of $94,343.51, apportioned equally between Steele and Duffy. The sanctions shall be paid on or before August 10, 2015. Note that this filing came out on August 10th. So the judge, David Herndon, basically said pay up now. This litigation has been entirely frivolous. Moreover, Lightspeed’s counsel’s falsehoods and obstructionist tactics have created significant costs for Smith. The Court agrees that the submitted expenses, costs and fees are eminently reasonable given the history of this litigation and the more than a year Smith spent defending against obstructionist tactics and engaging in extensive discovery to obtain proof of Duffy and Steele’s misconduct. Of course, with more and more of these types of rulings piling up, it still raises questions as to how the lawyers of Team Prenda are still allowed to practice law -- with both Steele and Paul Hansmeier having moved on to a very similar scam in shaking down small businesses over seemingly trivial ADA violations.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A bunch of folks I know who are focused on the problems of the patent system and who are pushing for patent reform have been eagerly sharing a recent Economist article discussing the problems of the patent system and how they're hindering innovation and doing real harm. No doubt, it's a good article that gets to the heart of many of the problems with the system. Some snippets: Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. An early study found that newcomers to the semiconductor business had to buy licences from incumbents for as much as $200m. Patents should spur bursts of innovation; instead, they are used to lock in incumbents’ advantages. [....] One aim should be to rout the trolls and the blockers. Studies have found that 40-90% of patents are never exploited or licensed out by their owners. Patents should come with a blunt “use it or lose it” rule, so that they expire if the invention is not brought to market. Patents should also be easier to challenge without the expense of a full-blown court case. The burden of proof for overturning a patent in court should be lowered. Patents should reward those who work hard on big, fresh ideas, rather than those who file the paperwork on a tiddler. The requirement for ideas to be “non-obvious” must be strengthened. Apple should not be granted patents on rectangular tablets with rounded corners; Twitter does not deserve a patent on its pull-to-refresh feed. Patents also last too long. Protection for 20 years might make sense in the pharmaceutical industry, because to test a drug and bring it to market can take more than a decade. But in industries like information technology, the time from brain wave to production line, or line of code, is much shorter. When patents lag behind the pace of innovation, firms end up with monopolies on the building-blocks of an industry. Google, for instance, has a patent from 1998 on ranking websites in search results by the number of other sites linking to them. Here some additional complexity is inevitable: in fast-moving industries, governments should gradually reduce the length of patents. Even pharmaceutical firms could live with shorter patents if the regulatory regime allowed them to bring treatments to market sooner and for less upfront cost. Good stuff for the most part. Amazingly, the article even tosses out the idea that perhaps patents should be ditched entirely -- and notes that back in the 19th century, the Economist itself argued against any patent system at all. However, it walks itself back from that edge pretty quickly: One radical answer would be to abolish patents altogether—indeed, in 19th-century Britain, that was this newspaper’s preference. But abolition flies in the face of the intuition that if you create a drug or invent a machine, you have a claim on your work just as you would if you had built a house. Should someone move into your living room uninvited, you would feel justifiably aggrieved. So do those who have their ideas stolen. That's a weird way to reject its own idea, because patents aren't about "feelings," and the analogy of someone moving into your living room makes no sense, given the difference between rivalrous things (your living room) and non-rivalrous things (your ideas). And, indeed, the article defaults into the worst kind of patent support: the idea that patents are used to stop people from "copying" ideas, when that's almost never the case (it's almost always independent invention). But the really odd thing about this is that the Economist actually seems to keep changing its position on patents. Back in 2010, it had a similar article arguing that the patent system was holding back innovation and that it needed serious reform to get rid of "frivolous" patents -- including those for business methods and software. But then, oddly, in 2011, the very same Economist... argued we needed more patents and that they should be approved faster. That article bizarrely argued that approving more patents would undoubtedly lead to more jobs... based on absolutely nothing. And then... just months later, the Economist, once again, argued they were hindering prosperity. So, yes, it's great that the Economist is taking on this issue, but seeing as the magazine (which calls itself a newspaper) has a history of bizarrely flip flopping on the issue, it's still a little difficult to take it seriously.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When people talk about today's most innovative technology and media companies, the discussion tends to orbit the usual suspects: Apple, Google, Facebook et al. But there's one small company that we've long believed deserves far, far more attention for its multitude of smart innovations: Humble Bundle. This week, we discuss the many subtle but extremely meaningful choices that have grown the Humble Bundle from a simple experiment into a revolutionary form of distribution, and wonder why the company doesn't get more credit as an innovator. This week we're also unveiling our brand new podcast theme song written, produced and recorded by long-time Techdirt friend Dan Bull. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Donald Sterling, the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, became the former owner last year after a tape of him scolding his girlfriend about appearing in public with "black people" became public. The controversy over his racist statements eventually resulted in him being fined and banned by the NBA, and forced to sell the team (which resulted in another dispute with his wife). Last week, Sterling and his wife finally filed for divorce, but Sterling has also now sued TMZ for originally publishing the audio of his conversation. He has also sued the girlfriend who recorded the tape, V. Stiviano. The lawsuit against Stiviano may actually have some basis in reality, given that California is (quite ridiculously) a "two party consent" state, whereby if you record audio of someone, they need to be aware that you're doing so. This is problematic for all sorts of reasons, and it would be great if that law were struck down or changed, but at the very least it gives some basis for the lawsuit. The lawsuit against TMZ, on the other hand, is completely crazy. Even if the original recording broke the law, that would have no impact whatsoever on TMZ's legal right to then publish the recording -- which was clearly newsworthy. It seems quite likely, in fact, that Sterling is about to learn the power of California's anti-SLAPP law, as this lawsuit is pretty clearly a SLAPP attempt. And since Sterling filed his lawsuit in California, it would be shocking if TMZ doesn't quickly go for the anti-SLAPP, which would get the case thrown out and potentially make Sterling pay the legal fees. There's a decent chance that Stiviano might also be able to make use of the anti-SLAPP claim as well. Either way, if the lawsuit does actually get anywhere (again, doubtful), it will undoubtedly be entertaining. Sterling has a history of making outlanddish and incredible statements in court, including this rather famous exchange from a 2003 deposition: Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's back to school season. Why not join the others and finally learn how to code. For $49, the Coding 101 Bundle gets you access to 8 courses and over 30 hours of instruction. You'll learn JQuery, HTML5, C Programming, Python and more from the comfort of your couch. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Last year, Larry Lessig got plenty of attention for his MAYDAY PAC, which was an attempt to raise a bunch of money to back candidates who promised to reform campaign finance laws. The 2014 campaign was supposed to be a "test" to raise around $12 million to see what could be done, with an eventual goal of raising a lot more for the 2016 campaign. Even the 2014 campaign was somewhat audacious (and somewhat misunderstood). And after the 2014 election, many argued that MAYDAY was a failure in that it really failed to have much, if any, impact in the campaigns that it took part in. To me, it seemed a bit premature to make that argument, as the whole point of experimenting and testing is to learn, but in politics everything is a horse race, and there is little in the way of long term thinking or strategy. Either way, just a few weeks ago Lessig announced that he was handing MAYDAY over to Zephyr Teachout, a well-known professor who used to be director of the Sunlight Foundation -- and who caused a political stir last year by doing surprisingly well in running against Andrew Cuomo for governor of NYC. Teachout taking over MAYDAY seemed like a natural fit. But what of Lessig? His own post mortem on MAYDAY suggested he wasn't ready to give up the fight, and it appears that the results of the first round of the MAYDAY experiment didn't scare him off from taking chances on making incredibly big bets. Crazy bets. Because now he's basically running for President. Sort of. Maybe. You kind of have to watch this video to understand: In short, he wants someone to run as a "referendum candidate" -- someone who will run entirely on this issue of fixing corruption in politics, with the promise that once in office, they will focus on solving that one issue and then resigning immediately, and handing over the job to the Vice President. In this case, the way he'd pursue fixing corruption is to pass The Citizen Equality Act -- a bundle of election reforms that Lessig has been arguing would make a real difference in getting money out of politics. Lessig claims he's been looking for someone else to stand in as that candidate, and will happily focus on someone else if the right candidate emerges -- but, if no one else is able to do it, he'll be that candidate himself. For now, Lessig is trying to raise $1 million by Labor Day to see if this is possible. If he doesn't raise that much, the plan will be shut down (and no one's money will be taken). I'm not sure what to make of all of this, frankly. Lessig has been trying for a bunch of moonshot ideas over the past few years -- including holding a new Constitutional Convention, among other ideas like MAYDAY and campaign finance reform. You can't say he isn't being bold and trying some crazy big strategies in trying to make these things an issue. And I really appreciate and respect Lessig and his way of thinking about all of this. But... something about this latest move feels almost too gimmicky. Yes, to get people to actually take on this issue, perhaps a gimmick is needed. And maybe Lessig is right to keep trying ever more audacious gimmicks until he finds the one that clicks. I'm glad he's trying and I hope he succeeds -- and chances are I'll donate to this campaign. But it still feels like a gimmick, and it bugs me that we need gimmicks to fix our political system. I'm guessing that Lessig might actually agree with that statement, but argue that there's no way around this unfortunate fact, so he's going to play the game. I just wish it didn't need to happen that way.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Just about a month ago, we noted that prosecutors in St. Louis County were, somewhat ridiculously, still considering charging two reporters, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, with "trespassing" charges for their coverage of the Ferguson protests. As you may recall, we also wrote about when they were first arrested, as they were gathering up their things in the local McDonald's after the police ordered them to leave. Here were their tweets at the time -- along with the tweets of a few other reporters on the scene, including one in which police admitted the arrest was a mistake: Another reporter, Matt Pearce from the LA Times, reached out to the police, who seemed to indicate that the arrests had been a mistake (and from the descriptions offered by Reilly and Lowery, that sounds about right). Lowery and Reilly were then released and told that no charges would be filed against reporters. And yet... prosecutors have decided to move forward with the lawsuit, charging at least Lowery with trespassing (Reilly has not officially yet been informed that he's been sued too, but he expects to be shortly -- and a reporter has confirmed from the county that Reilly faces similar charges). A court summons dated Aug. 6 — just under a year after Lowery’s arrest — was sent to Lowery, 25, ordering him to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on Aug. 24. The summons notes that he could be arrested if he does not appear. “Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous,” Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, said in a statement Monday. “You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority. Meanwhile, it seems noteworthy that this comes just days after St. Louis County "settled" a lawsuit filed against it by another journalist, Trey Yingst, who had been arrested while covering protests in Ferguson in November. In that case, the county agreed to pay Yingst $8,500 and drop all charges... and evidence showed that the police flat-out lied about why they had detained Yingst -- using the same excuse they had used against Lowery and Reilly. A Reason magazine reporter, along with other witnesses, also supported Yingst’s account. And video of the incident, posted that night on Twitter, shows police in skirmish formation approaching Yingst on the sidewalk.  The St. Louis County Police Department, however, tweeted after the incident that Yingst was detained for “failure to disperse” and had “refused” orders from commanding officers to leave the street. A police report echoes the description of events in that tweet. In the police department’s account, Yingst was standing in the street with protesters and impeding the flow of traffic when ordered to move to the sidewalk. It was then that Vollmer ordered Yingst -- three times, by his account -- to return to the sidewalk. But Yingst refused to do so, according to the report, and only “slowly walked backwards onto the sidewalk” as the police formation approached.  “The whole police report was basically made up,” Yingst said. Given that, you would think that prosecutors would shy away from immediately going after journalists where there was pretty strong evidence that they, too, were detained for bogus reasons, but apparently "reason" doesn't exist in the prosecutor's office in St. Louis County. I would imagine that both Lowery and Reilly will have pretty strong defenses, and that St. Louis County may end up handing over more taxpayer funds to both of them before this is over. Also, Reilly says he's spent the last year trying to find out the name of the St. Louis County police officer who slammed his head into the wall -- and figures that now that he's being charged, he might actually be able to find out who it was.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Most of the cable and broadcast industry's cord cutting denial is aimed at investors, who -- if you've yet to realize -- may not always have the firmest understanding of the technology they're investing in. While many investors have been buying the cable industry's argument that cord cutting either doesn't exist or is only something done by losers and nobodies, the recent sharp decline in ESPN viewership appears to have finally woken the investment community from its adorable slumber. As we recently noted, ESPN has lost 7.2 million viewers in the last four years, and a little more than three million in the last year. Since ESPN is annoyingly force-bundled with most basic cable subscriptions a lot of these users are cord cutters. Many more are being lured away by the new realm of "skinny" cable options that may not include ESPN -- options ESPN has been suing to stop to "protect innovation." ESPN is stuck in legacy industry purgatory: offer a standalone streaming service and accelerate cord cutting -- or refuse to offer a standalone streaming service -- and accelerate cord cutting. Either way, the train has left the station. When Disney earnings last week indicated ESPN's fortunes are getting worse, investors in all of the major cable and broadcast companies suddenly became notably nervous as they collectively realized ESPN is no longer the untouchable television juggernaut it wanted everyone to believe it is:"In the old days — basically, up until a month ago — most people in the video world assumed ESPN was untouchable. It commanded the biggest subscriber fees from traditional pay TV providers, and even if you imagined that one day people would start buying TV over the Internet from people like Apple, it seemed as though it would do just fine in that scenario, too."And ESPN's been one of the more solid performers. Children's programming has been absolutely demolished by services like Netflix. Investors and cable executives have tried to argue that they can make up for cord cutters and ratings drops by endlessly raising subscriber TV rates, though they'd quietly been warned for years that this wasn't a winning long-term strategy. The ugly truth is that cable and broadcast is going to have to compete on price if it wants to adapt to the internet video revolution, and that's a message that's hard to hear when your head is planted squarely in the sand. Just wait until Wall Street realizes (perhaps in 2018?) that there are tens of millions of young Americans who've never signed up for a cable subscription and have no intention of ever doing so.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, we wrote that among the final obstacles to completing the TPP agreement was the issue of enhanced protection for drugs. More specifically, the fight is over an important new class of medicines called "biologics," which are produced from living organisms, and tend to be more complex and expensive to devise. The Conversation has a good feature looking at this issue in more detail. The central problem with biologics in TPP is "data exclusivity," which the article explains as follows: Data exclusivity refers to the protection of clinical trial data submitted to regulatory agencies from use by competitors. It's a different type of monopoly protection to patents. While a product is covered by data exclusivity, manufacturers of cheaper follow-on versions of the product can't rely on the clinical trial data produced by the originator of the drug to support the marketing approval of their product. Section 25a of Australia's Therapeutic Goods Act provides for five years of data exclusivity for all medicines. It makes no distinction between biologics and other drugs. Data exclusivity provides an absolute monopoly that, unlike a patent, can't be revoked or challenged in court. As that makes clear, data exclusivity is a kind of super-patent in that it can't be challenged or revoked: if a drug company has run clinical trials to establish the safety of its new drug, it has an absolute and irrevocable monopoly on the use of that data -- for five years in the case of Australia, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand. This is obviously an incredibly powerful form of monopoly, so perhaps it's no surprise that US pharmaceutical companies want TPP to require signatories to grant an even longer period -- 12 years of data exclusivity -- for biologics. That's useful for them, because even after drug patents have expired, and generic manufacturers can theoretically offer the same products without paying licensing fees, there remains the barrier of clinical testing. If the generic manufacturers can't point to the original clinical trials as proof that the drug is safe, they will need to carry out their own, which will take time and cost money. In practice, they are more likely to wait until the period of data exclusivity is over, effectively extending the original manufacturer's monopoly beyond that provided by patents alone. So what? You might ask. Surely it's only fair that generic manufacturers cannot piggy-back on the work of the original drug companies? Although that argument sounds plausible, it overlooks the fact that what clinical trials produce is safety data about a drug, which is simply a certain kind of scientific fact concerning a particular complex compound, as unchanging as all its other features. It is not something that depends on the ingenuity of the person measuring it, because it represents intrinsic information about a substance. Granting data exclusivity is thus nothing less than giving a monopoly on knowledge itself, since it forbids any other company from being able to use that newly-established scientific fact. That is a profoundly retrogressive step. Although dressed up in terms of fairness and recouping investments, the very notion of data exclusivity is an attack on the key idea that no one can own a scientific fact, and that science advances by building on existing knowledge. Arguments about whether the length of that monopoly should be five, eight or even twelve years, are not just pointless, they are pernicious, because any of them would lock the TPP countries into a system that allows basic facts to be owned, and would forbid them from exiting from it. The only acceptable length for data exclusivity is zero years; anything longer turns TPP into an attack on science itself. 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
Some people are astonishingly lucky, but it depends on your point of view whether that luck is good or bad. Surviving after falling out of a plane without a parachute has happened to a surprising number of people, but not all of them have fully recovered. Some folks win extraordinary jackpots from the lottery, and then file for bankruptcy shortly afterwards. Maybe it's easier to survive an asteroid field if you don't know the odds. Ann Hodges is the only person in history confirmed to have been hit by a meteorite. In 1954, a softball-sized rock crashed through the ceiling, bounced off a radio and hit Hodges. She survived the impact, sued to keep the meteorite, but didn't quite thrive after her fifteen minutes of fame. [url] Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived the first nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima, and then he made his way back to his hometown of Nagasaki -- and survived another nuclear detonation. About 150 people were unlucky enough to watch both nuclear bombs, and only a handful experienced both events within the 1.5 mile blast zone of intense radiation. [url] Roy Sullivan, aka 'Lightning Man' or the 'Spark Ranger', was a ranger at Shenandoah National Park famous for being struck by lightning SEVEN TIMES (not in a row). He's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, but no one is encouraging anyone else to try to get struck by lightning, so Sullivan will probably be the only record holder for this category. The odds of being struck 7 times is estimated to be 4.15 in 10^32 -- but if you've been struck just once, there's actually a support group for survivors. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
For years, there have been efforts by various competitors and governments to try to break up Google. But now the company appears to have done it itself. Sort of. Taking basically everyone by surprise, Google announced that it has formed a new "holding company" called Alphabet, and made Google a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet, while at the same time carving out other businesses from Google and making them separate from Google, but still under the purview of Alphabet. The whole thing is... weird. There's lots of speculation going on as to why, and no one seems to agree. Larry Page's letter suggests it's to allow the overall company to be more innovative -- which actually is a legitimate possibility. Just this morning we noted that Google's failure with Google+ shows how the company can sometimes lumber around things while startups are much more nimble. Splitting the company into totally separate entities (even if owned by the same holding company) at the very least has the possibility of forcing the separate units to focus on executing on their own businesses, without worrying about stepping on the toes of other businesses. But... it also loses the ability to cross-subsidize parts of the business. Others have speculated that this was also a way to "reward" top execs like Sundar Pichai, who is now Google's CEO -- while Larry Page becomes CEO of Alphabet (and Sergey Brin is President of Google). Even if he's still reporting to Larry, having "Google CEO" on the business card has to be seen as a promotion. The only other thing that came to my mind was that this was some sort of reaction to all those lawsuits and investigations into possible anti-trust. Not that reorganizing the company is going to "fool" any regulator, but at the very least, it perhaps sets things up in a manner that if regulators try to break up Google, there are preset "fissures" that allow Google to "direct" the cuts more strategically. Frankly, the whole thing seems to be leaving a lot of people scratching their heads (myself included). It may turn out to be nothing beyond just a different take on a corporate restructuring -- or it may be a prelude to the company doing something much bigger that would fit much more readily into this holding company structure. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the company (for now at least) has taken the URL abc.xyz and it includes a weird little Easter egg, giving tribute to the fictional Google-like company in HBO's Silicon Valley, Hooli.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
The NYPD's long-resisted body camera program has been instituted on a limited basis. The NYPD's Office of the Inspector General has released a report detailing the first several months of a voluntary pilot program by the NYPD, which went into effect ahead of the camera program ordered by Judge Scheindlin after declaring portions of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional. In an effort to limit possible privacy violations, the NYPD instructed officers to use cameras in every encounter involving reasonable suspicion and their personal discretion in other cases. Unfortunately, this reliance on officer discretion led to many officers interpreting the somewhat-vague instructions as "reasonable suspicion only." Because of this, many situations warranting recorded footage went without. Ultimately, OIG-NYPD has found that NYPD’s reliance on a “reasonable suspicion” standard for when activation of BWC’s [body-worn camera] is mandatory is too restrictive to fully capture the wide range of police-community encounters. Reasonable suspicion may also be an impractical threshold given the dynamic nature of law enforcement-related situations. Critical events often transpire before an encounter rises to the level of reasonable suspicion, and an officer may find it difficult to initiate a recording while an event is unfolding. To that end, the OIG recommends a two-pronged approach to recording encounters, broadening on one end and narrowing it on the other. Because the “reasonable suspicion” standard for BWC activation presents multiple challenges, NYPD should broaden the situations where BWCs should be activated, including all street encounters or all investigative contacts. But… Prior to any expansion of the BWC program, NYPD should work with New York City’s five District Attorney’s Offices to consider general prohibitions and restrictions on recording when officers become aware they are interacting with certain classes of individuals. These may include victims of sex crimes, abused children, undercover officers, confidential or citizen informants, and witnesses. The OIG suggests notifying citizens an interaction is being recorded, but also warns this directive cannot be the final word on the subject as many encounters will make this notification either unnecessary or impractical. The report also dives into the issues presented by the footage itself -- who controls it, when it can be released, and who gets to view it and when. First, it advocates for open access to the footage by supervisors, but not solely for misconduct-trolling operations. Supervisors should have general access to footage for emergent investigative and quality assurance purposes. However, NYPD should make it a clear violation of policy for any supervisor to arbitrarily review footage solely to uncover violations or to use BWC videos to selectively discipline officers for minor infractions. The report also recommends something that's highly unlikely to be adopted by the police union, which has fought body cameras since day one. NYPD should prohibit pre-statement review of BWC recordings for internal or external investigations regarding officer misconduct. Officers should be restricted from viewing footage of an incident when they are a subject or a witness in an internal or external investigation until after the officer has provided an official statement. This directly clashes with most police union contracts/officers' "bill of rights" which generally give officers involved in certain incidents (mainly shootings) access to all evidence (which would include their own recordings) and a "cooling off" period of two or three days before answering questions about the incident. This recommendation would disrupt any "rights" currently in place for NYPD officers. If this manages to survive a challenge from the union, it would be a large step towards preventing narratives from morphing to fit captured footage. The report points out that the objections raised by the New York police union (Policemen's Benevolent Association) prior to the institution of the program haven't been echoed by the police officers themselves. In response to OIG-NYPD’s inquiry, the PBA has argued that any requirement for officers to activate their BWC’s will place them in danger by forcing them to manage more tasks than they are accustomed to undertaking during dynamic enforcement encounters, and causing them to hesitate while activating their BWCs. They also contend that the BWCs themselves may be the targets of theft or increased violence by perpetrators. NYPD officers surveyed by OIG-NYPD, however, denied the claims raised by the PBA, noting the ease with which the cameras can be activated either by tapping a large button or sliding a panel on the front of the camera. While they expressed some concerns about newer officers’ ability to police effectively while making decisions regarding when BWCs should be activated, they stated that their experience allows them to focus on citizen encounters without hesitation, while integrating the task of activating their BWCs whenever possible. The baselessness of the "increased violence by perpetrators" claim is further illuminated later in the report while discussing officers' announcements to suspects and citizens that a recording is in progress. Several of the officers participating in the Volunteer BWC Pilot Program who were surveyed by OIG-NYPD stated not only that they regularly, if not always, issue notifications to members of the public that a BWC is in use, but that such notifications were successful in quickly calming tense encounters, in particular traffic stops, and deterring verbal abuse against officers. Indeed, no officer surveyed recalled an instance in which a citizen’s knowledge that a BWC was in use further angered the person or escalated the encounter. Also, unlike the PBA, which has regularly pushed for officers to have access to all information (recorded or otherwise) on hand before answering questions about alleged misconduct, the NYPD officers involved in this voluntary pilot program felt no need to have access to body camera recordings. NYPD officers interviewed by OIG-NYPD did not themselves appear particularly concerned about having the ability to review their recordings in any context. Only one officer reported reviewing footage after capturing it, with the majority stating that their experience with policing and their personal knowledge of incidents they handled obviated the need to review their BWC video. For what it's worth, the suggestions resulting from this trial period point towards greater transparency and accountability. The results also show police officers are far less concerned about the issues raised by the PBA than the union would have city officials believe. This indicates the police union doesn't really represent a majority of NYPD officers. It really only represents the worst of them -- the officers who benefit the most from decreased transparency and accountability. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
I was going to start off this post by noting that, over the weekend, Andy at TorrentFreak had the story of how Columbia Pictures appears to have hired the "worst anti-piracy group" around to issue DMCA takedowns, but that's wrong. This kind of thing is all too common. Columbia Pictures appears to have hired basically your standard clueless "anti-piracy" group, and it's resulted in a DMCA takedown letter that took down basically every video on Vimeo with the word "Pixels" in the title, all because of Columbia's mega flop Pixels, an Adam Sandler film that is being called "one of the worst movies of the year." The DMCA notice sent by Entura International on behalf of Columbia Pictures, is so bad that whoever the genius was at Entura who put it together even notes in the "description" the full names of the videos it's taking down -- which should have been an indication that perhaps these were not the same videos as the Adam Sandler film. One of them is even clearly labeled as "the official trailer" of the Adam Sandler film. Also, as some have noted, this takedown effort includes the critically acclaimed film that inspired the Adam Sandler film. Columbia Pictures bought the rights to Patrick Jean's video in order to make its own film, but those "rights" did not include being able to DMCA the original. It also took down other completely unrelated projects as one created by a Cypriot filmmaker for a non-profit NGO, a Hungarian student's final project for his degree, and a personal project involving Pantone paint swatches. The TorrentFreak article notes that the NGO, named NeMe, has protested the takedown, pointing out that this is ridiculous and asking for help -- only to have Vimeo staff say that the only way to deal with it is to file a counternotice: And while that is the official process, counternotices often scare people off, because if the other side disagrees, the next step in the DMCA is for the other side to file a lawsuit -- and many don't even want to take that chance. And, yes, obviously, much of the blame for this ridiculous set of circumstances should fall on Entura International for being terrible at its own job in issuing bogus takedowns. And some of the blame should fall on Columbia Pictures for hiring Entura -- a company that clearly has no business sending out DMCA takedowns. But, also, much of it should fall on Vimeo for simply giving in and accepting the obviously bogus takedown requests. Just recently, we noted that Automattic (the company that makes WordPress) had published in its transparency report that it had rejected 43% of the DMCA takedown notices it had received -- and we suggested other companies start paying attention. Google also is known for rejecting bad DMCA takedowns. However, it appears that Vimeo doesn't bother. Send a takedown, no matter how ridiculous, and apparently the company will comply and take it down -- and if you complain to support staff, the company tells you that you need to go through the legal process of sending a counternotice, rather than reevaluate its own faulty review process. Of course, if the story of bogus takedowns gets enough press attention then Vimeo might act and and ask Entura for an explanation leading the company to withdraw the takedowns and try to wait out the ridicule. But, really, that's ridiculous. Vimeo should be standing up for its users' rights and it did not. Vimeo failed. Yes, we can argue that it's ridiculous the way the DMCA safe harbor process creates incentives for Vimeo to do exactly what it did here (in that it grants full liability protection for taking down any work if you receive a valid notice), but more and more companies are at least doing cursory reviews. Vimeo has clearly chosen not to do so, which, at the very least, should raise questions among users about if that's the right platform for them to use, when the company doesn't seem even remotely interested in making sure its own works are protected against bogus takedowns.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Be one of the first to get your hands on the SKEYE Mini Drone by pre-ordering it in the Techdirt Deals store for only $65 (34% off of retail). This palm sized drone comes with a 6-axis gyro for enhanced stability and an HD camera (2 GB microSD card included) to record your exploits. Beginner and advanced flight modes are pre-programmed so you can start mastering the basics out of the box before graduating to more difficult flips, banks and barrel rolls. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Joe Patrice at Above the Law has snagged a rather humorous opinion issued by Judge Charles Breyer. Breyer had the [mis]fortune of presiding over a long-running dispute between Hewlett-Packard and its shareholders. Running almost three years and involving more than 400 filings, a settlement had finally been reached and it looked as though Breyer could put this one in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately for him, Hewlett-Packard still had some unfinished business. It wanted to have a number of documents sealed, despite the fact that the documents in question were already heavily-redacted and likely contained very little of use to anyone other than the parties involved in this case. Eight motions in total were filed by HP during the waning days of the legal battle. All eight have been denied by Judge Breyers… because [REDACTED]. The order, which looks more like an FBI FOIA response than an entry on a district court docket, doesn't completely prevent HP from requesting the sealing of documents, even if the explanation for Breyer's refusal leaves almost everything to its lawyers' imaginations. There's a footnote on the final page that provides a few curt instructions for HP to follow if it wishes to have any documents locked away from the public's eye. No motion for reconsideration will be entertained unless HP identifies within three days "a limited amount of exceptionally sensitive information that truly deserves protection" under the "compelling reasons" standard of Kamakana v. City and Cty. of Honolulu [...] outlined by page and line number and including "specific factual findings" for each. See O'Connor v. Uber Technologies, Inc. In light of the "public interest in understanding the judicial process" as it relates to the settlement of these claims, the Court will not countenance arguments that public filing would put HP at a competitive or legal disadvantage. HP seems to like its black ink. Judge Breyer just gave them a taste of their own redaction. This certainly won't stop HP from making another attempt to seal submitted exhibits, but at least it gives the company a succinct depiction of Breyer's thoughts on its multiple motions. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
As we've covered at length, the United States' 2010 National Broadband Plan was a bit of a dud. It paid a lot of lip service to improving broadband competition but was hollow to its core, using politically-safe rhetoric and easily-obtainable goals to help pretend the government had a plan to fix the nation's uncompetitive broadband duopoly. But while the NBP was a show pony, the companion plan to use $7.5 billion of the Recovery Act stimulus fund to shore up last and middle mile networks was supposed to have been notably more productive. Or not. Of that $7.5 billion (out of the Act's $840 billion total), $3.5 billion was set aside to help improve broadband connectivity in the nation's harder to reach areas. The funds were managed by the USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), who then doled out the funds as needed to those who applied with sensible business models. But a recent report by Politico suggests that the program has what you might call a spotty success record: "A POLITICO investigation has found that roughly half of the nearly 300 projects RUS approved as part of the 2009 Recovery Act have not yet drawn down the full amounts they were awarded. All RUS-funded infrastructure projects were supposed to have completed construction by the end of June, but the agency has declined to say whether these rural networks have been completed. More than 40 of the projects RUS initially approved never got started at all, raising questions about how RUS screened its applicants and made its decisions in the first place." If these programs don't pull their full awarded amount by September, the awards are forfeited, and can't be used by areas that would have otherwise benefited. Of course if you've followed the broadband industry at all over the years, you might recall that these broadband gaps aren't supposed to exist in the first place. We've thrown billions upon billions in tax cuts and subsidies at incumbent companies like AT&T and Verizon over a generation, and the result has fairly consistently been broken promises, zero accountability, and a government that repeatedly makes it clear they're ok with that. And just like these programs of old, the RUS broadband effort threw money around without actually knowing where it was going: "We are left with a program that spent $3 billion,” Mark Goldstein, an investigator at the Government Accountability Office, told POLITICO, “and we really don’t know what became of it." And here's the kicker: the Politico report doesn't even highlight some of the worst fraud seen in the program. Earlier this year we noted how West Virginia was the poster child for this program's dysfunction, with Verizon, Cisco and Frontier convincing the state to spend millions in broadband subsidies on over-powered, unused routers, redundant, useless consultants, and "upgrades" that appear to have benefited nobody. The state then buried a consultant's report highlighting how companies and state leaders engaged in systemic, statewide fraud on the taxpayer dime. Nothing much has happened since. While the continued failures of broadband subsidies will be used as an example that broadband subsidies don't work, they're more an example of how we're utterly unwilling to fix campaign finance reform. Spending and tracking this money shouldn't have been all that hard; we just aren't willing to clean up a political system beholden to unaccountable giants before throwing billions of dollars into its angry maw. Meanwhile, when you have armies of politicians consistently and proudly running on the platform that government can never work, the fruit of this labor can't be all that much of a surprise.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
The US hasn't officially adopted its proposed rewrite of the Wassenaar Arrangement, but it looks as though its plan to regulate certain software like guns and bombs is already pushing some businesses to start treating potential users like enemies of national security. John Leyden at The Register is reporting that one of the site's readers has been denied permission to download Sophos' free antivirus software, apparently because the name "Hasan Ali" is setting off "terrorist" alarms at the software maker's headquarters. Ali brought the issue to our attention, complaining that Sophos had applied an "anti-Muslim name filter” that places hurdles in the way of his attempts to download the security software firm’s freebie Mac malware detection tool. A screenshot of the attempted download shows Sophos asking Ali to jump through a bunch of additional hoops to gain access to the free AV software. According to the text displayed, Sophos "must" conduct further "compliance checks" (which include asking Ali for additional personal information) before allowing him to download the software. Sophos has confirmed that it does, indeed, block certain users from downloading its software. We are sorry Mr Ali has had difficulty downloading our free Mac Antivirus software. Like many companies operating on a global scale, Sophos is required to adhere to the export laws and regulations of the United States, European Union, and every country in which it conducts business. As such, we screen all requests for software downloads in accordance with a number of export lists, such as the US Export Administration Regulations, which affects all companies trading in the US and includes the requirement to ensure that the requester is not included on any US government denied persons list. Like many companies, we used a third party to check all requests. Because this particular request only included the requester’s name, which matched with a number of names and aliases on the denied persons list, it was flagged as something we needed to check. Our policy, in accordance with the US Export Regulations and other similar EU and UK regulations, is to ask for additional information to check if it is a true match or if it is, as in almost all cases, a ‘false positive’ match. At that point we can clear the requester to be able to access the software. Sophos claims that less than 0.05% of potential users are subjected to these compliance checks, so it's really kind of a non-issue. Not so, claims Ali, who points out his name is extremely common, as would be any number of other "foreign-sounding" names. Running a verification process that starts with only a name is a terribly inefficient way to run a verification process. For that matter, consumer-grade antivirus software really isn't subject to the majority of export restrictions. On top of that, Ali and The Register point out that downloading this software directly from Sophos isn't the only way to acquire it. Other services provide copies of the AV software, but without all the "compliance" chicanery. "Sophos also makes its software available on CNET (here), and possibly other download sites without mandating this process," he said. Sophos responded to this seeming disparity with an answer that only raises further questions… mostly about Sophos' strict adherence to regulations that seems more arbitrary than mandatory. In response, the company said: "All our download products go through the same screening process as highlighted in our previous statement. We can’t really comment on why Mr Ali doesn’t experience the same situation with other vendors, or when he downloads our software from third party sites such as CNET. Sophos adheres strictly to US, EU and other jurisdictions' export regulations, and complies with all requirements. Companies can be heavily fined for non-compliance." Ali points out that this verification process -- which asks for information like date of birth and passport numbers -- could be used by third parties as phishing scams. All someone would have to do is host the free software and start asking personal questions via email of the potential downloader. Goodbye, AV protection. Hello, identity theft. If Sophos is being extra-cautious because of the impending Wassenaar Arrangement adoption, it's somewhat understandable. The proposal by the US government looks to outlaw the export of plenty of security-related software and will turn security researchers' work into regulated "weaponry." But clamping down on downloads of consumer-grade AV software isn't going to do much more than push potential customers away. If the entities targeted by these regulations want security-related software, they'll find a way to get it, and they'll find much more potent stuff. Flagging names from a database that likely sees only occasional vetting (like any "terrorist/criminal" database the US maintains) does nothing more than irritate legitimate users. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Back in February, we brought you the delightful news that the Chicago police department was rather broadly known to be operating what was essentially a CIA-style black site within the neighborhood of Homan Square. This facility, located in a rough West Side neighborhood of the city, featured such practices as off-the-books detention, lawyer-less interrogations, and the occasional fatality. This place, where detainees would disappear for hours or days, seemed to be a vacuum of civil liberties and instead operated under the theory that Chicago police were rulers over all, and were owed whatever they demanded. The original Guardian link detailed a number of witness stories from those who had been detained at Homan Square, but very little information was available about exactly how widely the facility was being used. Thanks to the Guardian's FOIA efforts, however, we have some clarity on how much Homan Square is used and how the police detain people there, and, well, it's extremely chilling to anyone with a modicum of interest in civil liberties. At least 3,500 Americans have been detained inside a Chicago police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility, newly uncovered records reveal. Of the thousands held in the facility known as Homan Square over a decade, 82% were black. Only three received documented visits from an attorney, according to a cache of documents obtained when the Guardian sued the police. Despite repeated denials from the Chicago police department that the warehouse is a secretive, off-the-books anomaly, the Homan Square files begin to show how the city’s most vulnerable people get lost in its criminal justice system. I wasn't a math major, but three out of thirty-five hundred detainees receiving visits from counsel is something like not-enough-percent. And before anyone goes off on the dangers of the West Side of Chicago or goes off prospecting for dirt on those detained, a review of the charges against many of those detained at Homan Square are laughably mundane. And that's when charges were filed to begin with. Documents indicate the detainees are a group of disproportionately minority citizens, many accused of low-level drug crimes, faced with incriminating themselves before their arrests appeared in a booking system by which their families and attorneys might find them. The CPD response to this, even after the initial story broke months ago, has been that Homan Square isn't a black site, it's simply an undercover base for Chicago police, which, you know, you say tomato, I say black site. Either way, the city's long-running denial maintains that all those arrested are indeed processed through the booking system and can be found by attorneys and families, except the detainees at Homan Square aren't arrested until they're booked at another station, so that doesn't mean anything at all. The Guardian's review of the records show that most of these detentions have occurred under the watchful gaze of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, most of those eventually charged with a crime were charged with anything from traffic violations to drug possession, and under ten-percent of detainees were white, despite whites making up a third of the city's population. And these records only go back to 2004. Homan Square has been in operation since 1995. After the facts are presented, the article includes the usual quotes from civil rights leaders who lament their own lack of surprise at all of this and who wonder blissfully if anyone will do anything about Homan Square this go around. To hell with that. If you have a brain cell to spare on civil rights for an entire city's population, this ought to both shock you and make you very, very angry. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
This week, we saw yet another example of police trying to get away with flagrant abuse as the deputy who left an unresisting suspect with broken bones and torn ligaments sought immunity, claiming he didn't use excessive force. That One Guy won most insightful comment of the week by pointing out how insane and disturbing this is on every level: If this is how they treat someone who /isn't/ putting up a fight... Broken leg, bruised bloody and battered face, permanent muscle damage, and how does the cop in question and his precinct respond? By claiming that he didn't use excessive force. Just think about what they are claiming here. They're honestly arguing that broken bones and permanent bodily harm is seen by at the very least one precinct as acceptable, for the 'heinous' crime of unintentionally spitting a cigarette in the general direction of an officer. Yet again the police show why you would have to be an utter fool to trust them, or even want them anywhere near you. Meanwhile, Universal Music was employing its own brand of excessive force with a series of anti-piracy ads depicting the severed extremities of artists supposedly destroyed by piracy. With a double-win, we've got That One Guy again, this time comparing the campaign to other famously ineffective attempts to brainwash kids: D.A.R.E. to download a car Funny thing about 'educational' campaigns like this: Kids are actually pretty good at spotting lies and ridiculous hyperbole, and they don't respond well to either. Telling kids that trying drugs(or downloading music) just once is enough to ruin your life(or the career of a musician) works great as a scare tactic... right up until they see someone who has tried drugs and seems to be just fine, or see a musician who is absolutely swimming in money, despite the constant claims about how piracy is 'destroying music'. At that point, most of them are going to realize that they've been lied to, and it won't matter if some of what you told them was in fact true, your credibility is now destroyed, and at best they'll probably ignore anything you have to say from that point onward, whether drug or piracy related. Remember, just because it works on politicians doesn't mean it will work on children, as the latter group is much smarter and and much more able to spot when they're being lied to. The RIAA was waging its own war against piracy, futilely targeting BitTorrent while exposing a total misunderstanding of how the technology works. From there we get our first editor's choice from insightful — an anonymous comment that scored high on the funny side of things as well: Dear Mr Shipbuilder We have noticed that you make schooners. Schooners are sometimes used by pirates. Please add this technology to your schooners that will render them unusable by pirates (and most other users). Next, we head to the insane suggestion from NSA supporters that Apple's encryption could be material support of terrorism based on the fact that they could reasonably foresee the risk of encryption aiding terrorist groups. Chris Brand expertly turned this idea around: "Reasonable and foreseeable risk" So we know that identity theft and the like happen all the time. By this argument, if my iPhone gets hacked and I suffer a loss, I can go after Apple for *not* encrypting the data, because they made it easier for the hackers. For first place on the funny side, we return to Universal's gruesome campaign where Michael found a deeper level of irony: Artists that cut off their ear never amount to anything. For second place, we cycle back round to the story of police violence, where a commenter adopting the moniker Deputy Burgess offered a parody of the sort of defense you so often hear from officers and police apologists: go fuck yourselves hey people, you don't know the stress of my job. For all I know his cigarette might have contained explosives ricin or child porn, or all three. Think of the danger the public could have been in if he had succeeded. His own actions led to my prompt response in protecting the community and had I not succeeded, the result could have been 9/11 times a thousand. So fuck y'all and Bubba lets go out tonight and keep America free. For editor's choice, we start by returning one last time to the Universal campaign, where a joke about pirating eyes and fingers led to a discussion about the fact that people absolutely will do that if medical 3D printing is accessible but the necessary blueprints are locked down by copyright. Just Another Anonymous Troll followed this line of thinking to its inevitable and ironic conclusion: ...and it's still copyrighted, so you're a pirate and the RIAA will kick down your door and rip your 3-D printed eye out of your skull, ironically forcing you to wear an eyepatch. Last but not least, though I never expected a top comment to come from one of our Daily Deals posts, the recent offer of an HDTV antenna led to this Aereo callback that's surely worthy of note: The cable is only 10 ft long. That is great! I don't want to be involved in any law suits for using an antenna with too long of a cable. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2010, we called attention to the Campbell Soup Company's positive 1964 reaction to Andy Warhol's art, and wondered how that same situation might play out today (with the smart bet being "cease and desist"). As it happened, we got plenty of examples of aggressive takedowns and legal attacks that very same week: NAMCO demanded the takedown of a kid's project recreating Pacman in a simple learning language, Pilsbury sent its lawyers after the "My Dough Girl" bakery for its mild similarity to the famous Dough Boy, the FBI claimed Wikipedia can't display its agency logo, the RIAA was going after people for sharing Radiohead's free In Rainbows album, the Beach Boys were making a ridiculous copyright claim over Katy Perry's California Gurls... The list goes on and on. At least one ridiculous threat was squashed by public reaction: George Lucas backed down from his threats against Wicked Lasers for daring to be compared by others to lightsabers. The blocking game was being played at the highest levels around the world, too: while the UAE and Saudi Arabia were moving to ban Blackberries, Australia was grappling with attempts to make ISPs responsible for stopping piracy, and Indonesia was just going ahead and ordering all ISPs to block all porn within two weeks. Ten Years Ago Five years before that, some US Senators were more interested in taxing online porn than banning it — though the bill was clearly, undeniably unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in what's become a long-running tradition, America was using a trade agreement (this time the CAFTA) to export the worst parts of copyright law. The Sprint-Nextel merger was approved while Mozilla was in the process of building its corporate subsidiary; newspapers were still figuring out how to do online news and not always building great websites, while Rupert Murdoch was buying up online media companies. Perhaps the most notable of those purchases was MySpace, a site that was already showing the cracks in its popularity and usefulness. Also this week in 2005: the ringtone bubble was bursting, people were getting stung by phishing schemes and bad bank security (while the fear of identity theft was great news for the document destruction business), Cisco was learning a tough lesson about attempting security through obscurity, and apparently the astrophysics community was learning a security lesson of its own. Fifteen Years Ago The big topic this week in 2000 was e-commerce. Some were questioning whether or not it had any kind of future at all, though others were saying it's doing just fine. The people getting in on the conversation ranged from a small-town mayor who decided e-commerce is evil all the way to the presidential candidates. Mobile devices were causing all the usual upsets in places people hadn't previously considered them, whether that's bugging people on camping sites or causing mistrials in murder cases. Internet-enabled cellphones were selling well, though it wasn't clear that this had much to do with the under-utilized internet capabilities, and some wondered if PC-dominance in the US was holding back adoption of truly revolutionary mobile devices. But hey, these were the days when a 6-gigabyte MP3 player was news. Thirty-Eight Years Ago A couple months ago, we pointed to the release of the Apple II in 1977. Now, hot on its heels, we've got the August 3rd release that same year of the competing TRS-80 Micro Computer System, another major milestone in the history of personal computing. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Remember the early days of wireless routers, when every city street-corner was home to a dozen unsecured WiFi connections? That was hardly an ideal (or safe) state of affairs, but it did feel rather nice and neighbourly at times, and there was a certain sadness in watching all the open networks get locked down over the years. Today we're looking at Meta Mesh, a project that aims to help communities recapture the good parts of those glory days in a fair, secure and superior manner by building their own distributed bandwidth-sharing networks with ease. The Good Mesh networking is a powerful idea, and one that embodies the spirit of distributed design and open interconnection that underpins the internet. The basic idea is that by uniting a community on a shared network with no central access point, you can share the huge amounts of unused and inefficiently allocated bandwidth that gets paid for and wasted every day. ISPs, after all, are not doing a good job (or any kind of job) at this allocation: power users pay exorbitant fees and are viewed by ISPs as a problem, low-income users have few if any options for affordable service, and the average person pays for far more bandwidth than they ever use. Few cities can or will offer municipal wi-fi, and those that try often do a pretty poor job of it. A mesh network lets a community fix all that on its own. The average home or business now has a bunch of powerful wireless networking equipment sitting in a corner to serve a handful of computers and devices — but what if those homes and businesses used that equipment to connect to each other, to turn all their little networks into one big one and extend it throughout the city? The possibilities are huge. If there's one key reason this isn't already happening in most major cities, it's that it isn't necessarily easy to do. That's what Meta Mesh aims to change by offering a complete guide to setting up mesh networks without a lot of technical expertise, and a web store where people can purchase preconfigured equipment. The necessary gear isn't expensive, and hasn't been for a long time — removing the technical barriers to finding and setting up that gear changes mesh networks from complex projects into simple solutions. The Bad Bandwidth sharing is a critical function of mesh networks, and might be their "killer app" as it were — but the possibilities actually extend far beyond that, which is something I wish Meta Mesh was discussing more. Think of all the other things a community could do with its own ad-hoc network: local versions of geographically-linked services from Craigslist to Uber to Tinder; neighbourhood cryptocurrencies and other tools built on a local blockchain ledger; peer-to-peer sharing that never touches the wider internet. Imagine the possibilities when these networks are extendable and bridgeable. Mesh networks won't just revolutionize how we connect to the internet — they are poised to become a powerful and vibrant part of the the global information network in their own right. Meta Mesh is a great first step, but I worry that the pitch's focus on bandwidth-sharing makes this sound exclusively like a charitable endeavour, when in fact it's so much more. The Obstacles Of course, there's little doubt that ISPs will react badly to this. The aforementioned shift from mostly open to mostly locked-down home WiFi networks — though ultimately a good thing for security's sake — didn't happen so rapidly because people started learning about security: it happened because ISPs gave up on their short-lived crusade to stop customers using wireless routers entirely, and started supplying pre-secured ones themselves. You can expect them to be just as crafty in attempting to prevent this kind of bandwidth-sharing too: first by enforcing their anti-sharing terms of service, then if that fails by attempting to take control of the mesh networking world and milk it for every penny (destroying its purpose in the process). It will be a frustrating battle, but one that ISPs are no longer in a position to easily win as more and more people are waking up to the fact that broadband service in this part of the world sucks. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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