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A year and a half ago, we wrote about the copyright questions related to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recording an astounding cover version of the David Bowie classic "Space Oddity" while actually in space on the International Space Station. We noted the specific copyright issues were mostly unimportant, since Bowie had signed off on the project. Then, back in May of this year, we were taken by surprise when we found out that the video was coming down because the agreement with Bowie was only for a one-year license (Bowie, by the way, in 2002 predicted that copyright would "no longer exist" by 2012). Today, Hadfield announced that Bowie has once again agreed to allow the video to return to its official YouTube spot (unofficial copies were all over the place). Hadfield actually discusses some of the copyright issues, and notes that getting the rights to put it back took quite a bit of time. Thus it was with some regret that we took the Space Oddity video off YouTube last May. David Bowie and his publisher had been very gracious. They had allowed his work, his intellectual property, to be made freely available to everyone for a year, and had in fact worked with us and the Canadian Space Agency to make it happen. There was no rancour, and we removed it from YouTube to honour that agreement. This sequence wasn’t anyone’s fault. The day we took the video down we started to work again to get permission to get it re-posted. But the legal process is careful and exacting, and thus takes time. Despite countless on-line expressions of frustration and desire, it wasn’t anyone’s ill-will or jealousy that kept this version of Oddity off YouTube. It was merely the natural consequence of due process. This time around, Bowie and his publishers have agreed to a two-year license, meaning we may be going through this ridiculous process again in 2016: And now, we are so happy to be able to announce that my on-orbit cover of Space Oddity is back up on YouTube. This time we have a new 2-year agreement, and it is there, for free, for everyone. We’re proud to have helped bring Bowie’s genius from 1969 into space itself in 2013, and now ever-forward. Special thanks to Onward Music Ltd, to the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, to musicians Emm Gryner and Joe Corcoran, to videographer Andrew Tidby, to my son Evan, and mostly to Mr. David Bowie himself. Once again, this process seems silly and unnecessary. If everyone is so happy about this -- and it's reinvigorated the song and attracted plenty of new interest in it -- why not grant a perpetual license? What possible harm is done in granting a perpetual license so that this process doesn't have to be replicated every few years -- other than to the billable hours of the various lawyers who have to negotiate such a silly thing? Copyright defenders often point to the need for copyright to enable agreements like this, but it seems to be enabling a ridiculously inefficient process, rather than making things easier. In the meantime, here you go... for at least two more years: Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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By now you've probably noticed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political compatriots aren't particularly enlightened fellows, whether it's their hypocrisy on surveillance or the country's increasingly abysmal record when it comes to free speech. This narrow-mindedness was made even more painfully evident when in 2013 Putin and friends supported the passage of the country's national "LGBT propaganda" law, designed to protect minors from the terrifying menace presented by "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" while upholding "family values" through discrimination. Since then, interpretation of what constitutes an erosion of said family values has been hysterically and disturbingly broad, and the law in some cases has been used to justify violent, vigilante behavior against the country's LGBT community. Taking interpretation of that law to an entirely new level of ridiculousness, the Russian government this week dismantled a cell-phone-shaped Steve Jobs memorial constructed in 2013 by a coalition of companies in downtown St. Petersburg. Why? Apparently the government was concerned that passers by might contract homosexuality from a statue paying homage to one of the world's most significant technology visionaries:"In Russia, gay propaganda and other sexual perversions among minors are prohibited by law," ZEFS said, noting the memorial had been "in an area of direct access for young students and scholars". "After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly called for sodomy, the monument was taken down to abide to the Russian federal law protecting children from information promoting denial of traditional family values."Of course Cook also said nothing of the sort in his recent Bloomberg piece, only stating he's "proud to be gay" and that the struggles he's faced over the course of his lifetime have made him both tougher and more empathetic. That's a message apparently missed by St. Petersburg City Councilman Vitaly Milonov, who not-so-gracefully stated he'd like to see the CEO of one of the world's most successful technology companies banned from entering the country:"Shortly after Cook’s announcement, conservative St. Petersburg City Councilman Vitaly Milonov called for Cook to be banned from entering the country because of his sexual orientation. "What could he bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea?" Milonov said during an interview with the website FlashNord."As it stands, Milonov might want to be less concerned with students catching homosexuality from slabs of steel and concrete, and a little more concerned with them catching a severe and incurable case of the stupid.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We just wrote about famed pianist Dejan Lazic's rather misguided attempt to make use of Europe's new focus on "the right to be forgotten" to cajole the Washington Post into removing a 2010 review of one of his performances, written by Anne Midgette. The story has gotten lots of attention, and Lazic has posted a response on his website (as far as I can tell, there's no way to permalink just to the response). In his response, he insists that many of his quotes were taken out of context, and notes (correctly) that the Washington Post did not post his entire initial request or response. However, his attempt to explain himself doesn't come off much better. He points out that he knew that the recent court ruling (not a "law" as he claims) was only about search engines in Europe and not publishers in the US -- and says he only made mention of it to explain a larger point he was making. That larger point? Anne Midgette is really mean, and lots of musicians don't like the reviews she writes about them. Yes, as far as I can tell, that's the extent of the larger "truth." Midgette is mean and it would be good to shut her up. Since Lazic felt his previous words were taken out of context, I'm going to post a big chunk of text here, all of which seems to sum up "Midgette writes a lot of mean reviews, and that's just not right!" In my case, I was inspired and encouraged by the dispute maestro Placido Domingo had to endure in 2011 with the same reviewer: www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/classical-beat/post/placido-domingo-and-questions-of-bias/2011/10/01/gIQAbJwhCL_blog.html Therefore, I am not only speaking for myself here but also for many colleagues I dearly respect and/or I have made music and shared same stage with, all of which this particular reviewer criticised on so many occasions so harshly and unfairly, in a manner that is - in comparison with all the other reviews they have ever received (good, tepid, and bad) during their long and highly successful careers (in maestro Placido Domingo's case: 50 years) - simply over the top in sheer negativity and toxicity. That simply does not comply with the principle of fairness in journalism. Judging from numerous readers' comments from the past, I know this is a fact that so many Washington, D.C. area concert goers couldn't agree with more!Can it really be that all these artists performed so often so badly, and that predominantly in Washington, D.C. in presence of this particular reviewer!? So, when can an individual, in this case a creative artist, simply say enough is enough, this journalist has crossed the line?How powerful and successful can an individual actually be in a dispute with mass media or say, a major corporation?Only after a scandal, or after his or her naked pictures have been shown in the newspapers or on the internet, or is there such a thing as intellectual harassment and bullying as well? After how many years would such an article become irrelevant for the society and taken as simply outdated, perhaps downgraded from the top page on Google searches, and when can it be classified as libellous and defamatory? And what do newspaper editors expect from reviewers? Putting all these issues back into the context, it is evident that this case is not simply about retracting a single 'bad review' from the internet for the sake of one's own ego. We have to be able to distinguish carefully between this and the bigger, broader picture of the whole issue and raise important questions for our interconnected society: how much can such regular, frequently horrific and highly destructive reviews by one single reviewer that has been given a chance to write for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the US affect entire generation of young, new potential concert goers, loyal longtime subscribers, sponsors, donors, art lovers and supporters in general, not to mention countless artists, orchestras and opera companies? How much image damaging for the classical music in general can it potentially generate? Can such common, abundant, frequent 'reviews' actually inspire anyone to come and listen for the first time Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, visit the Washington National Opera, hear one of the guest artists, or even encourage somebody to learn to play an instrument at any given age and thus become a richer human being and a potential concert goer? When is such a thing no longer fair journalism rooted in the concept of freedom of speech, and can there still be in the 21st century such a thing as a witch hunt? Can we like this breed new generation of potential music lovers, concert and opera subscribers for many already troubled and financially fragile classical music institutions on a global scale? I don't think so. He does include a lot more before he gets to that point, but as far as I can tell, the issue to him here is that Midgette is really, really critical and some musicians don't like it, and thus it's no longer defamation and somehow... slander? Also, apparently, this one reviewer is helping to kill classical music? Something to that effect, and none of this makes Lazic comes off any better. Yes, there are reviewers out there who tend to be overly critical (and I have no idea if that's the case for Midgette one way or the other), but that's hardly a reason to shut them up. Besides, the idea that one overly critical reviewer is somehow leading to the death of classical music is kind of hilarious. Either way, go back and re-read the original in which Midgette is doing what a real critic should be doing. She highlights Lazic's great talent, and basically just notes that she was disappointed with some of his recent choices. That seems like perfectly valid criticism, and nowhere near anything that resembles defamation or even being uncharitably mean. Look, people say mean stuff online all the time. Some of it is fair. Some of it isn't. Assuming that the stuff that you and your friends don't like deserves to be deleted because it's so mean, is simply ridiculous. There's no defense for that.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Let's pretend for a moment that for-some-reason-a-celebrity Kim Kardashian reads Techdirt. Someone needs to let her know that lawsuits and lawyers are not for temper tantrums over threats to your own celebrity. I'd have thought she'd have previously learned this lesson after Old Navy staved off the lawsuit she filed because the clothing company had the gall to hire a brunette woman for one of their commercials. It would appear not, now that she's reportedly investigating whether or not she can sue a woman named Jen Selter for "copying" Kim's poses (bwah?) and having a big ass. Selter has been posting photographs of her large buttocks on Instagram, an activity Kardashian apparently feels is an unacceptable infringement upon her very raison d’etre: one of the gangplanks of Kim Kardashian’s global celebrity being her nonpareil ability to take photographs of her own large buttocks with a cameraphone. “Kim thinks Jen copies all her poses … she is fuming as she feels her curvy bum is one of her most unique selling points and feels that Jen is just trying to cash in.” After, ahem, extensive research, I can assure you that there is very little in these poses that is either unique or identifiable as being Kardashian-esque, beyond the camera's fixation on the subject's posterior. This isn't a "Blue Steel" Zoolander thing, it's a series of pictures that feature an attractive woman with a particular physical asset. What appears to be upsetting Kardashian, according to the post, is that Selter has been winning modeling and endorsement gigs. “Insiders say Kim has sought legal advice to see if they can stop Jen,” it read, raising the very real possibility that, somewhere in California, a crack team of lawyers may at this very moment be working around the clock to copyright buttocks on behalf of Kim Kardashian. It likely wouldn't be copyright that would come into play, but possibly some combination of publicity rights and/or trademark (trying to think like a really bad lawyer would is not that easy). But so what? It isn't a violation of trademark or publicity rights to simply naturally look in some way similar to another person, and there is absolutely no attempt in these pictures at a depiction of anything to do with any Kardashian anywhere. This reeks of the Old Navy case all over again, except the "look alike" looks even less "alike," and you can expect any legal action from Kardashian to be similarly fruitless.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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New York's Southern District Court -- which has been hosting (along with the Second Circuit Appeals Court) the ACLU and New York Times' long-running, concurrent FOIA lawsuits against the government over its drone killing memos -- has reached a partial decision on some of the embattled documents. The court's decision was actually delivered on Sept. 30th, but its conclusion and order have spent the last month under seal while the government applied its redactions. An accompanying memo from the presiding judge [pdf link] notes that the court isn't buying all the government's redaction arguments. I disagree with the Government's redaction of the bulk of the first full paragraph and the second and third paragraphs on page 9, which as drafted by this court contain not a whit of classified material (the Government does not suggest otherwise), and which I do not believe would tend to reveal any classified information. In order to preserve that issue for appellate review, I will release on the public docket the opinion with all the Government's proposed redactions today, along with this cover note indicating my conclusion about this material. Should the Second Circuit agree with the Government that the material was properly redacted, nothing will be lost; should it agree with my view that nothing the Government has redacted on page 9 should be redacted, it will so indicate. Indeed, page 9 of the order [pdf link] leaves almost everything to the imagination, retaining only a single sentence that really makes you wish the court hadn't deferred to the government's judgement. The issue raised by the Government's objection to disclosure is potentially fascinating and incredibly complicated. The rest of the document is the government's proprietary blend of abysmal scanning and heavy redactions. After some discussion about documents the government has already released and information revealed by government officials' own statements, the court drills deeper into the DOJ's redaction justifications. Of course, we can't actually read the government's reasoning or the court's reactions because the government has final cut approval. The DOJ's broad redactions remove a majority of the last 14 pages, leaving behind tantalizing sentences like: The Government's blithe assertion to the contrary, these waiver issues are not so easily resolved and: if that be true, I see no reason why I am even going through this exercise. The court orders the government to release the contested documents (legal opinions from the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel) discussed in the order (the remaining documents related to the FOIA requests will likely be discussed next year), noting there is "no just reason for delay" considering both the public's interest in these memos, as well as the fact that it has been more than three years since the documents were requested. So, another long-running FOIA lawsuit is showing a little return on investment. Unfortunately, the government's lengthy redactions prevent the public from seeing what arguments it's using in defense of its FOIA stiffarm, as well as keeping it from drawing any legal insight from the court's response.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So, we weren't too impressed with previous GCHQ (the UK equivalent of the NSA) boss, Sir Iain Lobban, who insisted that GCHQ didn't do "mass surveillance" so long as you defined "mass" and "surveillance" the way he does (and not the way the English language does). This statement was made just days before it was revealed that the GCHQ (contrary to its own claims) gets access to NSA data without a warrant. New GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan has taken to the potentially pay-walled pages of the Financial Times to convince the world that he's a complete nutjob in charge of one of the most powerful spy agencies in the world. His message: basically "terrorists use technology, and because you hate terrorists, we should all be happy to have tech companies share all your private data with us to catch terrorists." Or something like that. Hannigan honestly seems to believe that the public is really on the government's side against the tech companies they use every day. That seems like rather large miscalculation of his audience. Hannigan's pitch relies on (of course) spreading as much FUD as possible, starting with ISIS: Terrorists have long made use of the internet. But Isis’s approach is different in two important areas. Where al-Qaeda and its affiliates saw the internet as a place to disseminate material anonymously or meet in “dark spaces”, Isis has embraced the web as a noisy channel in which to promote itself, intimidate people, and radicalise new recruits. The extremists of Isis use messaging and social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and a language their peers understand. The videos they post of themselves attacking towns, firing weapons or detonating explosives have a self-conscious online gaming quality. Their use of the World Cup and Ebola hashtags to insert the Isis message into a wider news feed, and their ability to send 40,000 tweets a day during the advance on Mosul without triggering spam controls, illustrates their ease with new media. There is no need for today’s would-be jihadis to seek out restricted websites with secret passwords: they can follow other young people posting their adventures in Syria as they would anywhere else. Got it? Terrorists use the same services you and I do, and they're really, really mean. So, why is the public so upset that GCHQ wants to snoop on what everyone's doing on those services? For bonus points, he also tosses in some child porn fears as well. GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web. I understand why they have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics. But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism. However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us. If they are to meet this challenge, it means coming up with better arrangements for facilitating lawful investigation by security and law enforcement agencies than we have now. Then, finally, he blames the tech companies for not recognizing that by spying on everyone, GCHQ is just trying to protect the free and open society we all love, and assumes that the public is really on his side: To those of us who have to tackle the depressing end of human behaviour on the internet, it can seem that some technology companies are in denial about its misuse. I suspect most ordinary users of the internet are ahead of them: they have strong views on the ethics of companies, whether on taxation, child protection or privacy; they do not want the media platforms they use with their friends and families to facilitate murder or child abuse. They know the internet grew out of the values of western democracy, not vice versa. I think those customers would be comfortable with a better, more sustainable relationship between the agencies and the technology companies. There are lots of things that facilitate murder and child abuse that plenty of people are still fine using. I drive a car. Cars kill lots of people. I use a camera. Cameras are often key to child porn. Phones are frequently used in crimes. Yet, I'm not so ridiculous as to blame any of these tools for the scummy people who use them for bad purposes. And it bothers me that the head of the UK's technology spying effort doesn't seem to understand that distinction. Actually, it doesn't just bother me, it frightens me. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens. It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence. Note what Hannigan left out: what's wrong with the existing deal? What's wrong with making a specific case for why you need specific information to a court and then getting a warrant? Why do we need a "new deal" that involves giving a government increasingly broad access to all that data -- especially when the very same intelligence community that has that data has a rather long history of abusing it, violating human rights, stifling free speech and criticism and harassing those who oppose it? In a companion article, the Financial Times notes that, with US tech companies hardening their networks against the intelligence community, the UK has been locked out from the easy access it used to have, which explains some of Hannigan's exasperation. I'm sure it must suck when you used to be able to sift broadly through a variety of private information without everyone realizing it. And having that treasure trove of private data ripped away must not be much fun. But privacy is, in fact, a democratic ideal, contrary to Hannigan's belief that the public is willing to give it up just to stave off some bad guys thousands of miles away. Besides, as the article notes, when the UK government demands access, where should US companies draw the line: One senior executive at a US tech group said any agreement to circumvent the current process, which requires law-enforcement groups to seek a court order before a company hands over data, would be “eliminating due process and that could be a dangerous situation”. “What should we do if the Saudi or Russian government also demanded information be handed over on the spot?” he said. It seems that the intelligence community and the surveillance state has gotten somewhat fat and lazy in the last few years, with so much access to so much data. Back in the old days, they had other ways to get what they needed without violating everyone else's privacy. It's time they learned how to get back to that sort of system that fits much better with our basic ideals of democracy and freedom than this desire to have access to absolutely everything does.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this year, there was a lot of hype and uproar about the revelation that, back in 2012, Facebook had run an experiment on news feeds to see if it could make people happy or sad. While I really don't think the experiment was so crazy, others disagreed. Of course, that was hardly the only experiment that Facebook has run on its users, and over at Mother Jones, Micah Sifry last week revealed the details of another Facebook newsfeed experiment from 2012: one that influenced how and if people voted: For one such experiment, conducted in the three months prior to Election Day in 2012, Facebook increased the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feeds of 1.9 million users. According to one Facebook data scientist, that change—which users were not alerted to—measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout. As the article notes, Facebook had experimented with "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter" buttons on its site to see if that would encourage friends to vote, but its civic engagement tactics have gone much further than that. Still, even all the way back in 2010, Facebook had realized that just using those "voter" buttons likely increased voting: After the election, the study's authors examined voter records and concluded that Facebook's nudging had increased voter turnout by at least 340,000. As the study noted, that's about 0.14 percent of the total voting-age population in 2010. Considering that overall turnout rose from 37.2 percent in 2006 to 37.8 percent in 2010—both off-year, nonpresidential elections—the Facebook scientists maintained that the voter megaphone impact in 2010 was substantial. "It is possible," the Facebook team wrote in Nature, "that more of the 0.6 percent growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook." Now, for the 2012 experiment, which Facebook doesn't seem to want to talk about very much (and, in fact, it pulled a video about it, after Sifry started poking around, asking questions): In the fall of 2012, according to two public talks given by Facebook data scientist Lada Adamic, a colleague at the company, Solomon Messing, experimented on the news feeds of 1.9 million random users. According to Adamic, Messing "tweaked" the feeds of those users so that "instead of seeing your regular news feed, if any of your friends had shared a news story, [Messing] would boost that news story so that it was up top [on your page] and you were much more likely to see it." Normally, most users will see something more personal at the top of the page, like a wedding announcement or baby pictures. Messing's "tweak" had an effect, most strongly among occasional Facebook users. After the election, he surveyed that group and found a statistically significant increase in how much attention users said they paid to government. And, as the below chart used by Adamic in a lecture last year suggests, turnout among that group rose from a self-reported 64 percent to more than 67 percent. This means Messing's unseen intervention boosted voter turnout by 3 percent. That's a major uptick (though based only on user self-reporting). There were also other experiments to see what types of messages (i.e., "I'm a Voter" vs. "I'm Voting") were more effective. I'm sure that these kinds of efforts will concern some -- and there are already some people talking about "manipulating the election," but to some extent that's silly. The same is true of just about any political campaigning or "get out the vote" effort. Could there be some concern that Facebook has disproportionate power or (as the article suggests) really only helps one party (more Facebook users are Democrats)? Perhaps, but that's the nature of a (mostly) free and open society where we have democratic elections. Some percentage of the public votes, and lots of people are pushing to either get them to vote or to vote in certain ways. Facebook being a part of that seems interesting to note and to follow, but it's not necessarily a problem or something to be concerned about.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This isn't a huge surprise, but the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case concerning whether or not Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. As many news sites are reporting, this more or less means that the character of Sherlock Holmes is considered public domain. It's not quite that simple, of course. Technically, all but the last book of Sherlock Holmes works (covering a few stories) is in the public domain according to the 7th Circuit appeals court. That means the character attributes that are new in those last works are not in the public domain. Also, conceivably, a similar challenge in another circuit could lead to a different conclusion, which might lead the Supreme Court to eventually weigh in another time. But, for now, it's mostly safe to assume that the basic character is in the public domain. So, now, who's going to create some awesome new Sherlock Holmes stories?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Walking upright may seem like the most natural thing to do for most people, but it's not that easy if you get injured. Thankfully, there's some technology that can help that isn't as limiting as a wheelchair or a pair of under-arm crutches. And if you want to get some super-human abilities, some gadgets out there can help anyone run faster (with some awkward-looking stilts). Bionic boots could help people run a lot faster without much more effort. There have been other devices like Bionic Boot, so maybe in the future we'll all be able to run a marathon in about an hour with the right equipment. [url] Oscar Pistorius may be more famous for homicide now, but his prosthetic leg technology allowed him to keep up with Olympic sprinters. The spikes on the bottom of his carbon fiber prostheses were extensively tested to ensure consistency in traction and shock absorption, and the technology might re-appear on other athletes. [url] The James Dyson Foundation is considering a Dyson Award for an improved crutch design that keeps a user's hands and arms free (unlike under-arm crutches). This device also allows the wearer to sit without taking it off. No running or jumping with this crutch, though, but then the wearer is likely injured and shouldn't be doing those activities anyway. (N.B. it only works with lower leg injuries.) [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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Last week, we noted that Attorney General Eric Holder was hinting that the DOJ was near "a resolution" with reporter James Risen -- the NY Times reporter who the DOJ has been harassing and trying to force to give up sources. In a recent interview, Risen makes the rather compelling case, that this effort by the DOJ was never about actually solving any sort of crime (the DOJ knows who did the leak), but rather about totally discrediting and/or punishing Risen for some of his other investigative reports. If the DOJ can undermine the ability of Risen to protect sources, he loses many sources. Still, at about the same time that Holder was (again) insisting that no journalists would go to jail under his watch and that they were close to a resolution with Risen, the DOJ was exploring the possibility of issuing yet another subpoena on Risen to try (again) to force him to reveal his sources: Federal prosecutors obtained 100 blank subpoenas last week for use in the upcoming trial of a CIA officer accused of leaking top-secret information to New York Times reporter James Risen. The move clears the way for the Justice Department to proceed with a new review of whether Risen should be subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, the CIA employee accused of disclosing details of a CIA effort to set back Iran's nuclear program. Some of this is procedural. The DOJ put some new rules in place since the last subpoena, and so there's an argument that in order to review the possibility of a new Risen subpoena, the DOJ basically has to do all the initial legwork, and then the DOJ (and Holder in particular) will "review" under the new rules before determining whether to try this silly process again or to back down. Of course, that seems silly. It seems much more viable to just come out and say that they won't subpoena reporters like this and make that a clear and stated rule. But the DOJ seems unwilling to give up this harassment and intimidation tool. In the end, it seems likely that Holder will fold, but this game of chicken, putting the threat of jail time on Risen to see who blinks first, is really quite disgraceful by the DOJ. So far, Risen has given no indication he intends to comply -- and has held to the same story all along, that he will not give up his sources under any circumstance. Holder, on the other hand, has promised not to put a reporter doing his job in jail. If both men live up to their word, Holder is the one who needs to blink, and it's pretty stupid to go through this whole charade in the meantime.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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All too often it seems as though companies take themselves entirely too seriously these days. With branding being seen as all important, too often the concept of actually behaving in a human and awesome way is lost, leading to a total lack of personality. Chevy, on the other hand, showed everyone else exactly how to handle the internet's cruel mockery. If you're even a casual baseball fan, you probably watched some part of the game 7 World Series final the other night. If you stuck around for the presentation of the MVP trophy to pitcher Madison Bamgarner, you witnessed local Chevy guy, Rikk Wilde, attempt to give the sponsored trophy away. It did not go well. While it is certainly understandable how a local guy with probably limited experience with speaking publicly before a national audience might fall victim to nerves in this scenario, the internet is a cruel observer and it went nuts with this video. In particular, Wilde's attempt to sell the world on the sweetness of Chevy vehicles due to the inclusion of "technology...and stuff" was instantly transformed into the meme du jour. Twitter blew up with #technologyandstuff tags, and some enterprising memesters came up with stuff like this. All this was inevitable of course, because the internet loves to take a mistake and multiply it into a cultural thing for poops and giggles. It can't help itself. And, of course, Chevy just wouldn't be able to help from completely freaking out that what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated sponsorship marketing opportunity had turned into a massive joke. They'd simply have to go into damage control. Except they didn't. Nope, not even a little bit. Truck yeah the 2015 #ChevyColorado has awesome #TechnologyAndStuff! You know you want a truck: http://t.co/0NcEoDRSUZ pic.twitter.com/RMiRic8ATF — Chevy Trucks (@ChevyTrucks) October 30, 2014 That's right. Instead of freaking out, Chevy decided to full on embrace the whole thing. Many commentators have suggested that Chevy should be thanking Wilde for his less-than-perfect pitch of the Chevy line and it seems that the company agrees. Chevrolet spokesman Mike Albano, in an email, confirmed that Brian Sweeney, U.S. vice president of sales and service for Chevrolet, called Wilde on Thursday to tell him the Chevy team was behind him. Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristi Vazquez said the company saw a "large spike in hits" at Chevrolet.com on Wednesday night, with visits seven times higher than normal. No kidding. Embracing the meme, even as it mocked the company, was exactly the right thing to do. That said, it isn't always the easiest move to make. Good on Chevy for embracing the meme to its own advantage when using technology and stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The US intelligence community's $600 million cloud computing deal with Amazon was finalized roughly a year ago, but recent revelations about the CIA's behavior in shared virtual spaces is raising questions about the government's move to virtual computing. Two organizations -- RootsAction.org and ExposeFacts.org -- have just planted the following billboard at the doorstep of Amazon's Seattle headquarters. While there are 17 total intelligence agencies being connected through Amazon's services, the CIA is the one generating the most concern at the moment. Marcy Wheeler (of emptywheel) asks some perfectly valid questions. Marcy Wheeler — who writes widely on the legal aspects of the “war on terror” and its effects on civil liberties including her “Right to Know” column for ExposeFacts.org — said Wednesday that Amazon should answer a number of key questions before its customers and the general public can be assured that personal information from the company’s commercial operations is not finding its way into the CIA’s hands. For instance, she said, Bezos and Amazon should answer the question: “Will there be any overlap between the physical hardware serving Amazon’s commercial cloud service and what is provided to the CIA?” Referring to the CIA’s machinations over the still-unreleased Senate torture report, she added that Bezos should also be asked: “The CIA has admitted accessing documents made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee on shared space — what provisions have you made to prevent similar spying on Amazon’s commercial customers?” If you'll recall, accusations that the CIA "impersonated" Senate personnel in order to access Torture Report-related documents came to light late last month. Unnamed sources close to the action presented the CIA's moves as the misuse of Senate staffer credentials to obtain in-progress documents related to the still-unreleased Torture Report. Another unnamed source closer to the intelligence side of things spun the agency's alleged impersonation this way: “CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said. Peering back "in" using borrowed credentials is a good way to check for leaks, but it also allows the agency to look "out" at anything else stored on shared drives. It's a very handy excuse, and one Marcy Wheeler thinks the agency might be tempted to deploy again within Amazon's cloud service. How thick is the wall separating the intelligence community and private businesses? Does this wall even exist outside of virtual barriers? Intelligence officials seem to be sold on Amazon's ability to protect its assets from outsiders, but don't appear to be nearly as concerned about internal compartmentalization. Will the IC's servers be physically or virtually shared with the general public? Amazon's not saying. And quite obviously, neither are intelligence officials. Adding to the opacity is the fact that Amazon is one of the few tech companies not issuing periodic transparency reports detailing the frequency and number of requests for customer data by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Amazon continues to seek more government contracts, which will result in even more potential intermingling of public and private data in shared virtual spaces. The company hasn't exactly been forthcoming on these government deals, and its ongoing lack of a transparency report isn't much of a confidence builder.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
I've discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute "thing" rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it's a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren't clear. What you're giving up and what you're getting back aren't always done transparently, and that's where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don't fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that's when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened. And, unfortunately, it often seems like people are increasingly being pressured into deals they don't fully understand and don't have full control over. Michael Price, over at the Brennan Center for Justice, took the time to actually read through the "privacy policy" on his new "smart" TV and it's terrified him. Just the fact that a TV even has a privacy policy seems oddly terrifying, but it makes sense, given that at least some information goes outbound as part of the "smarts." But how much? Potentially a lot more than people would expect: The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy. To some extent, that's not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier: It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine. More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV. You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening. Now, yes, some of that certainly can be useful in creating interesting features and services. And, frankly, almost all of the same things can be said about the smartphone in your pocket with Siri or Google Now listening in to anything you say at any moment's notice. But at the very least, with those smartphone systems people tend to see and understand the immediate benefits: they use those tools to get information and they're fairly easy to turn off without creating other problems. With the TV, it seems to be more of the promise of potentially providing some future service -- but it's still willing and ready to listen in the meantime. This is certainly not to argue that the technology is bad, but that these sorts of things shouldn't be hidden in a 46-page privacy policy that no one is going to read. People should be fully aware of what the deal is, and they should have control over how it's used, with some granular controls: maybe let people set the times in which the TV's "ears" are on -- so that maybe it only works during prime time when you're likely to use the TV. Or let people have access to the logs and data that it's snarfing up so they can view for themselves how it's being used. Make sure that the people using it have both transparency and control, and suddenly this becomes somewhat less scary (well, until the NSA goes to the FISA court to use Section 215 to get all the "metadata" from all your smart TVs.) And, of course, just as I was finishing up with that article, I came across a report of a patent from Sony from a few years ago. It actually got some attention back in 2012 for describing a system in which your TV may ask you to say the advertiser's name to end a commercial. This figure in the patent is the one that quite reasonably got plenty of attention. Perhaps it's no surprise that some companies are considering something like this. In fact, some of the underlying ideas aren't totally crazy. We've long argued that good advertising is about making it good content, and making ads that are interactive and fun is one way to do that. Of course, I don't quite see how the above scenario is very much fun. To me, it sounds horrifying, but others may disagree. Either way, it's become quite clear that while the world is becoming more connected -- between our computers, our phones, our TVs and much more, people are increasingly going to run into challenges around privacy. And, while some are going to jump to the conclusion that any information gathering and sharing is automatically bad and dangerous (or just crazy), it's going to be important to recognize the trade-offs inherent in these new devices and services. If companies don't want the public to totally freak out, they'd do well to make these processes much more transparent, clear and controllable by the users themselves. Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet. The focus is still on hiding these things out of a fear that no one would use them if they knew what they were giving up. That seems like a recipe doomed to create privacy panics, rather than one that actually enables innovation to advance and which lets the public be comfortable with the choices they're making.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
A bunch of libraries in the UK are protesting ridiculous copyright terms by displaying empty cases where they say letters written during World War I should go, but won't, because figuring out how to properly license the work under copyright law is impossible. If you can't read the sign, it says: There would have been a letter from a First World War soldier in this display But because of current copyright laws, we cannot display the original in this instance. Join the campaign to free our history. Many unpublished works remain in copyright until 2039, whatever their age. Tweet a picture of this display with the hashtag #Catch2039 For information on the campaign visit www.cilip.org.uk/freeourhistory The #Catch2039 hashtag is full of similar images. Here are a few: This case should contain a #WW1 soldier's letter. B/c of UK copyright laws the letter cannot be displayed #catch2039 pic.twitter.com/U2L6I3SkAv — Imperial War Museums (@I_W_M) October 29, 2014 Free our history reform #copyright #catch2039. Sign the petition http://t.co/5WuIxQU6SM pic.twitter.com/KZpKjkHXl3 — NKorn (@NKorn) October 29, 2014 Want to see this letter before 2039? Support our campaign to reform #copyright http://t.co/i14a2hZxE7 #catch2039 pic.twitter.com/HB0uQLAflt — LUL Digital Library (@LULDigital) October 30, 2014 As the Director General of the Imperial War Museum, Diane Lees, notes: “During the First World War Centenary commemorations, many organisations want to make original unpublished works such as diaries and letters accessible to the public. Because they are still under copyright protection, they cannot do so without seeking permission from the rights holder. This is even more problematic if the rights holders are untraceable. We are asking everyone who cares about our history, everyone who cares about telling our collective story without restrictions, to join the campaign.” Because, obviously, without the protections that copyrights grant, why would those soldiers ever have written letters in the first place, right? It's stories like this that highlight why we find copyright law so problematic. Copyright law creates all sorts of these nonsensical restrictions that no one in their right mind thinks is appropriate. But because the law looks to protect such works for so long, you end up with results like this. A system that didn't automatically protect every work created, but rather required registration and formalities would go a long way towards solving basic problems like this -- and it's absolutely ridiculous that many consider that option to be a non-starter in any discussion of copyright reform.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Reports are coming out that Congress is looking to push forward with bad cybersecurity legislation after the election, but before the new Congress takes over in January. We've discussed the bill in question, CISA, before. The main idea behind it is to immunize companies from liability if they share certain information with the government. Supporters of the bill note that the information sharing is entirely voluntary, but by taking away the liability it also makes it a lot more likely that companies will choose to give information to the government, and it's not yet clear why the government really needs that information. But the FUD levels are high, with Senator Saxby Chambliss actually suggesting the entire economy is at stake here: "If we wait another year, we are really risking the economy of the United States." Oh, come on. People have been saying this for years -- along with the whole "cyber pearl harbor" claims -- but have failed to present any explanation or details of how (1) there's a real risk to the economy or (2) how current laws block necessary solutions. On top of that, no one seems willing to explain how further information sharing will actually help stop online attacks. Remember, this is the same federal government that didn't even notice that the White House's own network had been breached until some other country told us about it. And yet, we now believe that if only US companies were feeding more information to the NSA that they'd magically be able to stop attacks (and save the economy?). That seems unlikely. It also sounds like there may be some sort of potential trade-off, in which Congress will try to lump this bill with the USA Freedom Act, as the White House is said to be focused on surveillance reform over the cybersecurity bill. But, the reality is that the two are in many ways attached. And there are increasing worries that the final result on the USA Freedom Act will, in some ways, actually (yet again) enhance the NSA, rather than hold it back. Combine that with a cybersecurity bill that will give the NSA even more ways to get our data, and the end result could be the surveillance state increasing, rather than shrinking, with no actual benefit to the American public. There would be fewer privacy protections and just some arm waving about saving the US economy.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
A few more details have emerged concerning the Dept. of Homeland Security's daring daylight raid of a Kansas City lingerie shop. Our long, dark national nightmare ended just before Game 1 of the World Series when Peregrine Honig's custom-made Royals-related underwear was seized by gun-toting DHS agents. The crime? Presumably trademark infringement (the government's panty raiders specifically pointed out the joining of the letters K and C as problematic), although everyone involved (including the DHS super troopers) keeps referring to it as a "copyright" issue. But lingerie shop proprietor Peregrine Honig wasn't the only one involved in this criminal attempt to join the letters K and C across the buttocks of perky Kansas Citians. Techdirt reader GMacGuffin points us to this interview with Eric Lindquist, owner (and sole employee) of Lindquist Printing, where Honig's allegedly infringing design was applied to a durable (but breathable) cotton blend. Apparently, the DHS agents first tried a little subterfuge in hopes of catching Lindquist in the act of infringement. “Agents met me on my way to a café next door to Birdies.” (Undercover officers wanted to know if Lindquist printed the panties.) “I said, ‘Yeah, we’ve done a bunch of projects in the past...’ He cut me off and says, ‘Well, I’ve got a project like that. Do you want to meet?’ I said, ‘I’m really busy. I don’t think I can get anything done if it’s Royals related. I’m planning on leaving town tomorrow.’” At this point, the DHS likely felt they had a fleeing felon on its hands. Lindquist, however, didn't put this all together until he saw the lingerie store's Facebook page, which contained a post showing the infringing panties in a DHS evidence bag. The DHS agents again tried to get Lindquist to agree to whip up some printed infringeables for them, but the print shop proprietor headed this off by demanding something rarely found in the possession of law enforcement officers: a warrant. I said, ‘I don’t know what to do at this point. I think I’m supposed to ask for a warrant.’ He took that very poorly, explained I was in serious trouble and faced potential fines up to $250,000 and/or six years in jail. He said I had broken copyright law. " ("Copyright law." Or whatever. I guess the finer nuances of IP enforcement are left to those in the upper reaches of the DHS organizational chart.) The warrant request angered the g-men, as did Lindquist's decision to stop talking to them. Lindquist retreated back into his studio. When he emerged a half-hour later, DHS agents approached him in a more straightforward fashion, with hands resting gently but threateningly on their holstered firearms. “Two agents were in the dumpster, another six in my space, and another two were securing the building out front. They told me it could go one of two ways: I could insist or resist a search by demanding that a warrant be delivered there. If that was the case they would need to confiscate anything related to printing, which is, basically, my business. “I didn’t feel I had much choice. So I did sign a piece of paper saying they had permission to search the premises…" That's what you get for exercising your rights, as they say. Rather than lose his business indefinitely (via the "forfeiture" of his presumed-guilty equipment), Lindquist waived his rights and allowed the ten DHS agents to rifle through his stuff in search of infringing goods. Their efforts were ultimately useless and Lindquist was allowed to return to his violated studio. Bonus points for Lindquist: Because of a recent freelance (with the emphasis on "free") stint in Ferguson, MO, DHS agents searched his studio while surrounded by photos of cops hauling away protesters. Rumors that Lindquist greeted DHS agents clad in one of his Ferguson-inspired creations -- an UNARMED CIVILIAN shirt -- are unconfirmed, but we're certainly free to imagine they're true. Security Through IP Enforcement. That's MY DHS!Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
A few more details have come to light on the police state experiment conducted in Ferguson, MO over the past couple of months. Despite repeated denials that continued all the way up until October 31st, the real reason for the FAA's no-fly zone over Ferguson has been revealed. "They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out," said one FAA manager about the St. Louis County Police in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Associated Press. "But they were a little concerned of, obviously, anything else that could be going on. At another point, a manager at the FAA's Kansas City center said police "did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this TFR (temporary flight restriction) all day long. They didn't want media in there." Law enforcement put FAA staffers in an awkward position with this request. The FAA (obviously) has nothing in the rule books that provides for blocking First Amendment-protected activity. While there would be the heightened danger of collisions if police helicopters were also in the area, it's not like this sort of situation hasn't been handled without incident before. (See also: news coverage of every demonstration/riot/police pursuit to this point.) No, law enforcement simply wanted to keep news coverage to a minimum and control the narrative through the indiscriminate use of tear gas, a ridiculous (and unconstitutional) "five second rule" and the casual detainment of reporters at ground level. St. Louis police claimed over and over and over again that the no-fly zone was for "safety," citing a single incident where a police helicopter was allegedly shot at -- an incident that only existed in the minds of those looking to keep the press from circling overhead. [P]olice officials confirmed there was no damage to their helicopter and were unable to provide an incident report on the shooting. On the tapes, an FAA manager described the helicopter shooting as unconfirmed "rumors." Small concessions were made when law enforcement realized what it was asking for was impractical (and mostly illegal). As one news director pointed out, his crew was eventually told it could fly over Ferguson but only at an altitude above 3,000 feet -- not exactly a height that produces optimal (or even usable) footage. Whatever your stance on the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, the fact remains that nearly everything local law enforcement did in response was poorly thought-out at best, and an outright abuse of power at worst. Officials have lied to the public, paywalled public documents, released information in a purely self-serving fashion (and over the objections of Eric Holder and the Justice Dept.) and approached the citizens they serve as an occupying force, rather than trusted allies.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 26 days ago on techdirt
It was hard not to laugh this week when the MPAA, during the act of banning Google Glass from movie theaters, claimed it had a long history of welcoming technological advances. But despite how funny that was, it actually gave rise to our most insightful comment of the week, from an anonymous commenter pointing out a whole other ridiculous inconsistency in the MPAA's position: So an industry that thinks a blue ray is so much better than a DVD that people will pay money to replace their DVDs with blue rays, also thinks that a cam of a film with enough wobble to cause motions sickness will destroy their sales. Makes perfect sense to me. /s I'll be honest — some of the details of our second most insightful comment of the week flew a little over my head. But the message is clear and interesting: according to sigalrm, there's a significant chance that mobile ISP Cricket's blocking of encrypted emails was the result of a relatively common error, not a nefarious choice: "inspect esmtp" is the default setting for Cisco ASA Firewalls across at least the 7.x, 8.x, and 9.x code trains, and causes exactly this behavior. It's a single line in what is generally a very large config file, buried near to the end of the config, trivial to overlook, and generally a pain in the ass. To make things even better, "inspect esmtp"'s functionality is further obfuscated by the fact that most "inspect xyz" commands on the ASA actually allow for proper handling/operation of protocols that require special treatment - packet manipulation to deal with nat/pat, firewall pinholing, etc. Examples of protocols requiring inspection for proper operation on the ASA platform include, but are not limited to, netbios, sunrpc, sip, h323, etc. Nothing about "inspect esmtp" _or_ it's location in the ASA configuration file implies "break critical esmtp functionality" Unless/until you've been bitten by this, most people firewall administrators don't know to look for it, and the reaction I've seen from most people when they find the solution is along the lines of "damnit cisco..." Frankly, having deployed a fair number of Cisco ASA's myself, this sounds more like a missed configuration setting followed by an "oh crap" moment on a new deployment than a malicious "let's break encrypted email" conspiracy. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with a comment from Rich Kulawiec, responding to Senator Burr's concerns that information in the CIA Torture Report could "potentially cause the losses of life to Americans": Other things that potentially cause the losses [sic] of life to Americans: Interstate highways Cigarettes Guns Furniture [1] Obesity Swimming pools Inadequate medical care Motorcycles Football Flu Police officers and so on. If the criteria for decision-making are that all outcomes which might possibly result in an American death are disallowed, then no possible decisions can be made. Ever. [1] Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism - Micah Zenko - The Atlantic Next, we've got a quick note from silverscarcat on one of this week's DailyDirt posts, reminding us of an important day in the histories of both medicine and intellectual property: Just a FYI to everyone... Today is the day, 100 years ago, Jonas Stalk was born. In 1955, he discovered the cure to Polio, but chose to not patent it, allowing everyone easy access to the cure. Had he patented it, he may have made over 7 billion dollars in his lifetime. Over on the funny side, we start with a response to Eric Holder's apology about the not-so-funny act of lying to a judge, in which he claimed the law made him do it. Vidiot won first place by offering some sympathy for his plight: Hey... it happens I know a guy who was forced to lie to the court, saying he didn't rob that bank... all because of a stupid statute which says you can't rob banks. Totally sympathize with Holder. For second place, we head to the news that the FTC has fined an online dating site for its fake profiles. BentFranklin latched on to the funniest phrase to emerge from the whole ordeal, "Virtual Cupid": There once was a Virtual Cupid Arousing our male members' group id, With bosoms enticing At premium pricing, We truly can say "I'm With Stupid". For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with one more response to the MPAA's hilarious claim about welcoming new technology. Chris-Mouse decided to frame it as a lie of omission: They just forgot to mention that they have a history of welcoming technological advances with torches and pitchforks. And finally, after the somewhat disturbing news that the White House didn't find out it was hacked until another country let them know, Blaine offered some security advice: Maybe the White House should hire an outside expert? I hear there's some Keith Alexander guy that's has some new magic security technology that he came up with all on his own.... but he doesn't come cheap. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago A lot of these history posts have mentioned the lead-up to the GeoCities shutdown, and this week in 2009 it finally happened. Goodbye, GeoCities. It's easy to forget now that Netflix started as a DVD-rental-by-mail service before it became a streaming juggernaut, and for a long time the streaming service was considered an add-on. So it's funny to hear Reed Hastings in 2009, claiming that Americans don't want a streaming-only service. How times change. Also in 2009: UK Business Secretary Peter Mandelson came home from his dinner with David Geffen and promptly introduced an anti-file-sharing plan; the RIAA spoke up about net neutrality, saying they support it as long as it gives them a way to block file sharing; Germany was investigating criminal infringement charges against Google; an Italian politician tried to file charges against nearly 5,000 YouTubers; Amazon was appealing the rejection of its one-click patent in Canada; and, in an appropriate counterpoint to all this negativity, the EFF launched its Takedown Hall of Shame. Ten Years Ago Remember pay phones? They were still a reasonably common fixture in 2004, but their days were clearly numbered. That didn't stop BT from trying to rescue them with a bizarre plan for pay phone music downloads. I guess that's one way to approach device convergence, with another being publishing a bunch of lifestyle magazines about it. Ten years ago, reporters suddenly discovered that celebrities were online, and that a bunch of amateur reporters were too (and doing a pretty good job). Rolex discovered that it was a fixture of online spammers, then proceeded to get confused and send a C&D to a mailing list that had been receiving such spam. Blockbuster realized (to no ultimate avail) that it had to drastically change its business model, and ICANN failed to realize that nobody would care about .travel and .post domains. Also, back in 2004, there was not yet such a thing as Google Earth. In fact, it was this week ten years ago that Google bought Keyhole and laid the groundwork for the insanely comprehensive maps/earth service we enjoy today. Fifteen Years Ago As we approached the year 2000, it became time for the lists of millennium predictions. I suspect many of the predictors are glad the link is now dead. Not that there was no catalyst for panic: the world was full of lab-grown arteries and genetic auctions promising a sci-fi future. Plus, we were gathering rumours about the mysterious X-Box, and who could resist getting excited about that? 1999 was long before anyone talked about the "cloud". In fact, the whole idea of online storage space was new and a little odd, met with doubt by many people including us here at Techdirt. We were also a little dubious about the idea of online retailers opening brick & mortar shops, and we were a little more on the money with that one. Twenty Years Ago Before Techdirt was around, HotWired launched in 1994. It was the first commercial online magazine, and notable for being an entirely distinct entity from the print magazine Wired, even though it was launched by the same company. Of course, HotWired also gave birth to the banner ad as we know it today, selling the first ever display campaign to AT&T. So, mixed blessings all around... Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff, we're doing away with productivity tools and revolutionary ideas and just looking and some crowdfunding projects for things to be played with. Mate: The Wall Hanging Chess Board If I'm being honest, I've long thought chess was a highly overrated game, since it seems to only require actual ingenuity and creativity at the very lowest and very highest levels of play, with years of little more than rote memorization and study in between. Nevertheless, there's no denying that it's a cultural icon, not just as a game but as a physical object and a set of symbols. It has inspired countless pieces of magnificent functional art and craft. It's also fascinating to me for its asynchronous nature: the most interesting chess matches to me aren't rapidfire showdowns with two masters slapping the clock, they are the curious experiments where Kasparov takes on the world, or an avid player engages in ten games-by-mail at once over the course of months and years. The Wall Hanging Chess Board combines both these aspects: a neat piece of home decor that also creates a cool in-home play dynamic, where a long-term game can evolve on the wall as people make their moves whenever they pass by the board. Tactics: Revolutionize The Foosball Table Foosball, on the other hand, is a game I've always thought was highly underrated. It may just be because they had a table in my high school, and I've always sucked at ping-pong and pool — but as far as bar and basement games go, I think foosball takes the cake, and has a surprising amount of depth once you get past the "madly spin the handles" stage. Thus, the idea of Tactics, a foosball table that adds a bunch of new twists like specially-shaped feet on certain players to allow more precise aiming, and adjustable team configurations, is an intriguing one to me. Mineblock: A Small Affordable Minecraft Home Server I'm almost ashamed to say that I've never actually played Minecraft. I strongly suspect that I would consider it neither over or underrated — it seems to be exactly as brilliant and significant as everyone claims. But I also love the idea of any game where people set up many servers in which they build entirely new worlds, then go and visit each others' creations to interact or compete or just tour around. While a big part of the beauty of this is the fact that these worlds can exist anywhere, all connected by the internet, the idea of tying one to a specific physical space with a local server is also fascinating. The Mineblock, an easy-to-set-up home server for hosting a dedicated Minecraft world, could be a lot of fun, and make this sort of home network gaming more accessible to the less technically inclined. It also looks great. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Just a couple months ago, we wrote about how the folks behind Tor were looking for ways to deal with the fact that much of the web treats Tor visitors differently. It's a tough problem to solve, as we noted, because for all the benefits that Tor provides by allowing people to be anonymous, it's also very much a tool that is abused by some for nefarious purposes, including spamming and attacks. For sites that have any sort of heuristic systems in place (including us at Techdirt), it often defaults to treating many, if not all, Tor users as second-class citizens. This isn't an easy problem to solve, by any means. We've done our best to train our systems to minimize the hassle for Tor users, and yet they are still more likely to run into issues than non-Tor users (sometimes because of upstream efforts). We're certainly watching this effort closely, in hopes that we can benefit from it as well. However, it looks like Facebook has taken a rather bold move to help Tor users: setting up its very own Tor hidden service, effectively creating a special "hidden" Tor version of Facebook that is designed for Tor users. Yes, Facebook has joined the dark web. It may not seem as cool as various dark markets and such, but it actually is rather important in helping to validate the use of Tor and the fact that not everything on Tor hidden services are about selling drugs or hiring hitmen, as some reports seem to imply. This is a pretty big move, because Facebook was rather aggressive in treating tor users badly in the past, sometimes accusing them of hacking their own account, kicking them out or just displaying stuff weirdly. Obviously, users logged into Facebook over Tor are identifying themselves to Facebook, but it does provide more security and privacy for others, and works more seamlessly for those who wish to use Tor regularly. As Runa Sandvik also notes, this is the first time that a certificate authority has issued a legitimate SSL certificate for a .onion address (Facebook is at https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/ in case you were wondering). Having both of these things happen at once may, as Andy Greenberg jokes, feel sort of like when your parents joined Facebook, but it also, hopefully, is the beginning of more widespread recognition that the Tor hidden services can be useful -- and not just for questionable enterprises. Hopefully others follow Facebook's lead.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 28 days ago on techdirt
There's an old saying that goes something like: bullies are cowards, and if you fight back, they'll run away. Like most sayings of the kind, it's not nearly as universal as it claims to be, but sometimes the old saying is an old saying for a reason. Take the story of Saks Fifth Avenue deciding to threaten trademark action against the owner of Snaks 5th Avenchew, a small business that provides specialty treats for dogs like mine. "Did you say something about treats?" Upon learning of the clearly threatening company run by one woman to make puppies happy, Saks sent her a sternly-worded letter. It was a typical cease and desist, claiming that Snaks was endangering the Saks brand through dilution. It seems likely that the lawyers for Saks figured Carrie Sarabella, owner of Snaks 5th Avenchew, would be so frightened by the letter as to simply change the name of her business. Those lawyers would be wrong. She got herself a lawyer instead, who sent Saks a letter in reply. But Sarabella, 32, who sells merchandise online and directly to retailers, hired Sam Israel, a copyright lawyer, who fired back with a missive of his own. Israel said he argued the name was acceptable under the so-called fair-use law, which “recognizes that parody marks cause no harm to the established mark.” Israel cited the examples of pet perfume brand Tommy Holedigger and fluffy toys maker Chewy Vuiton — both of which survived federal infringement suits from the companies they spoof, Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton. Pretty funny parody names, right? "Seriously, what's the ETA on these treats?" Anyway, the whole story comes packaged with a happy ending. After her lawyer sent the letter, Saks replied by saying they were dropping the matter entirely. Sarabella gets to go back to running her business, with a little publicity boost thanks to this story, and Saks Fifth Avenue gets a slight publicity black eye and looks like the bully they attempted to be. You have to wonder how many times this story went the opposite direction, however, in which no lawyers for the small business ever acted and the bully won. Not a pleasant thought. "I'm not getting any treats, am I?" Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Some folks just don't like the idea of killing animals for food, but clearly there are plenty of people who don't have a problem with eating meat. Technology might have an answer -- if meat grown in a lab can be considered a humane way to treat living tissues. Here are just a few attempts at making fake meat. Modern Meadow is a biotech startup growing meat and leather in a lab. The company can grow a 1-square-foot, flawless (no scratches or stretch marks) piece of leather in about 6 weeks, and it's made some "steak chips" that will probably need to pass some complex regulatory hurdles before being ready for general human consumption. [url] Impossible Foods is a company that has made a veggie burger that almost bleeds because it contains iron-containing heme compounds similar to those in real red meat. The fake burger apparently tastes like a cross between beef and turkey, with a texture that is nearly like animal tissue (or at least not much like tofu). Still, it costs about $20 per burger patty, so there's a bit more work to be done. [url] Hampton Creek Foods is creating a vegan egg that could replace factory-farmed eggs. Beyond Eggs (and its fellow meat substitute competitors) need to find just the right proteins and emulsifiers that can fool the human palate and also maintain an eco-friendly and sustainable reputation. [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 28 days ago on techdirt
It's well known that CIA's been stalling over the release of the officially declassified 480 page "executive summary" of the 6,300 page CIA torture report, put together by staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee over many years at a cost of $40 million. It's known that the report is somewhat devastating to the CIA and the CIA isn't happy about it (at all). Originally, the CIA suggested redactions that made the report incomprehensible, even as James Clapper said it was "just 15%" that was redacted. Recent reports have focused on the fight over redacting pseudonyms. Apparently the CIA wants all names, including pseudonyms redacted, while the Senate Intelligence Committee thinks that pseudonyms (but not real names) should be left in so that the report accurately reflects if the actions were done by a large number of diverse individuals, or by some particular individuals again and again and again. The CIA, likely employing some sort of "mosaic theory" claim, say that they're worried that even with pseudonyms, identifying the same person in a few different situations will make it easier for some to figure out who they are. In response, Senator Ron Wyden has attacked the CIA's position and noted that it's "unprecedented" and that plenty of other, similar, reports have made use of pseudonyms, without a problem. The CIA’s current opposition to using pseudonyms runs contrary to decades of precedent.  U.S. government agencies have used pseudonyms to protect agents’ identities in public reports going back decades, including: Review of the FBI’s Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq (2008) – Refers to FBI Special Agents involved in detainee interrogations using pseudonyms such as  “Thomas” and “Gibson.”  The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) – Refers to agents involved in hunting Osama Bin Ladin and other sensitive operations using pseudonyms such as “Mike,” “Richard,” “Jeff.” Pages 110, 112, 113, 114, 130, 131, 133, 138, 142, 204. The Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility (2004) – Refers to CIA employees at the Abu Ghraib prison using pseudonyms such as “Other Agency Employee01,” “Other Agency Employee02,” etc. Pages 53, 54, 55, 76 Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board – (1998) – Includes the names of some CIA officers, and notes that “in some cases pseudonyms are used instead of an individual’s true name.” (p. 52)  Also notes that “the Review Board would not agree to CIA’s request for blanket postponements of CIA names.” Page 48. Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair (1987) – refers to a CIA station chief in Central America using the pseudonym “Tomas Castillo. “ Pages pp. 139, 142, 143, 144, 146, 147, 505-510. Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders – (1975) – Report authored by the Church Committee notes that “We believe that the public is entitled to know what instrumentalities of their Government have done,” and that “the Committee, on occasions, resorted, on balance, to the use of an alias or a general description of the individual or his position.” Page 2. So why does the CIA seem to think it's such a problem here? Well, mainly because the CIA is willing to do just about anything to stop this report, perhaps in an effort to run out the clock until some more "CIA friendly" Senators take over. Still, it seems that the more the CIA fights over this, the more and more likely it is that someone is just going to leak the damn report, and it may reveal a lot more than what's currently on the table.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this week, we wrote about widespread demonstrations against a monumentally stupid plan by the Hungarian government to tax internet usage on a per-gigabyte-downloaded plan. The protests caused the government to "modify" the plan and put a cap on how much tax would be charged, but that seemed to do little to stop the complaints -- and thus, the government is shelving the plan entirely, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban announcing that the "tax in its current form cannot be introduced." Of course, that leaves open the possibility of it coming back in "another" form. But perhaps Orban is learning not to take on the internet. An analysis from the BBC talks about why Orban backed down: Viktor Orban does not often back down, but he has done so on this occasion for several reasons. He saw how unpopular the tax was. He managed with one stroke to do something which opposition leaders had tried and failed to do for five years: unify his opponents He took on the best-organised community in the country - internet users - and lost The government's communication methods failed again - as they have with almost every major decision since Fidesz came to power "We are not Communists. We don't go against the will of the people," he said - a sign that growing comparisons between Fidesz and the old Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party are hitting the mark. At the very least, this is yet another example of how the public is not willing to just roll over when politicians attack the internet.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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