posted 26 days ago on techdirt
I try not to go for conspiracy theories generally, but this ongoing IRS nonsense involving conveniently disappearing emails potentially pertaining to the scandal involving targeting certain groups is making my skeptics beacon go off. The official story essentially involves a computer (server?) crash that obliterated the email data of several email accounts that would otherwise be of great interest to those trying to figure out who in the Obama administration knew what about how the IRS was operating. That crash somehow also involves the destruction of any local backups these IRS folks are required to keep as part of their job. But what I imagine pretty much everyone that has even a modicum of interest in office technology is asking is what about the kind of backups that are typically run for disaster recovery and offsite purposes. You know, like tape drives (blech), D2D backups, or remote storage. It's difficult to believe that all copies of the data for those email accounts had somehow been disappeared by accident. Or, really, disappeared entirely at all. As it turns out, there is backup data for those email accounts, but if you're thinking that we're finally going to get to the bottom of this nonsense, you're a silly naive person that hasn't witnessed our glorious government at work. “A Department of Justice attorney told a Judicial Watch attorney on Friday that it turns out the federal government backs up all computer records in case something terrible happens in Washington and there’s a catastrophe, so the government can continue operating,” Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton told Fox News’s Shannon Bream. “But it would be too hard to go get Lois Lerner’s e-mails from that backup system." Now, I know, Fox News and blah blah blah, but this is a claim worth paying attention to mostly because it only makes sense to begin with. Well, the part about there being backups, I mean. The suggestion that such backups are so difficult to parse and recover that the administration isn't going to get them for review makes zero sense because that's what damned backups are for. Think about the logic here for a moment. The reason the federal government has backups of data in place is because there's a great deal of horrible crap that could happen to their facilities. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, hallmark-level incompetence, Area 51 aliens going Rambo on the computers. These are the things they have to prepare for and they need the ability to restore data from a remote location should one of their facilities fall to our alien overlords. To say that restoring that data is too hard to do when requested is to say that they're ill-prepared for a disaster. The suggestion that the government can't retrieve emails for court or congressional review is to say that they wouldn't even meet FINRA compliance, something that itsy-bitsy little trading firms are required to meet. Fitton said his group plans to ask a federal judge to order the IRS to hand over the e-mails, which conservative opponents of Lerner want to see in order to determine if there is a link between President Obama’s team and the IRS’s targeting of tea-party groups. “If this backup system is working, Lois Lerner’s e-mails are there,” Fitton said. And if the backup system isn't working, then fire everyone everywhere because this kind of thing is no joke. I'd say it'd be a bigger scandal to have any portion of the federal government not have basic backup and DR systems in place than to find out that any portion of the Executive administration was encouraging the IRS to target certain special interest groups. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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About a month ago I wrote about James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins of the Center of the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School releasing a free download of an Intellectual Property Statutory Supplement (which normally big publishers try to sell for around $50). As noted, this was a kickoff for an even bigger project, an open coursebook in intellectual property. That Open Intellectual Property Casebook is now available. You can download the whole thing for free. If you want a nice printed copy, it'll currently run about $24 on Amazon -- which is about $135 less than other IP case books. The entire book weighs in at nearly 800 pages, so there's a lot in there if you felt like delving into a variety of topics around copyright, trademark and patent law -- including specific efforts by Congress around those laws and the way that the courts have interpreted them. As mentioned in our last post, Boyle and Jenkins are doing this, in part, because they recognize the insane prices that academic publishers have been getting away with charging for their books: Partly, we do it because we think the price of legal casebooks and materials is obscene. Law students, who are already facing large debt burdens, are required to buy casebooks that cost $150–$200, and “statutory supplements” that consist mainly of unedited, public domain, Federal statutes for $40 or $50. The total textbook bill for a year can be over $1500. This is not a criticism of casebook authors, but rather of the casebook publishing system. We know well that putting together a casebook is a lot of work and can represent considerable scholarship and pedagogic innovation. We just put together this one and we are proud of it. But we think that the cost is disproportionate and that the benefit flows disproportionately to conventional legal publishers. Some of those costs might have been more justifiable when we did not have mechanisms for free worldwide and almost costless distribution. Some might have been justifiable when we did not have fast, cheap and accurate print on demand services. Now we have both. Legal education is already expensive; we want to play a small part in diminishing the costs of the materials involved. However, they also note that it's not just about making the books cheaper, but better and more useful: Our point is not only that the current casebook is vastly too expensive, it is also awkward, inflexible, lacking visual stimulus, incapable of customization and hard to preview and search on the open web. Casebooks do not respond well to the different needs of different professors. Students cannot easily be given free, searchable digital access to all the materials, on all their devices, anywhere, access that does not go away when the course—or the publisher—ends. We can do that. There are also lots of people outside of law school, or outside this country, who would like to know more about American law—just as there are people outside of computer science who want to know about artificial intelligence. Free is a good price-point for them. Customizable is a good form. This book is merely a beta-test version, but it is an example of what can be done. In case you're wondering, while the statutory supplement was available on a CC: BY license (requires just attribution), this casebook is under a CC: BY-NC-SA license. The key differences: the former can be resold commercially while the latter has a block on commercial uses. It also has a "share alike" requirement. While I'm a huge fan of Creative Commons, I've been critical of its licenses that include the non-commercial restriction and believe there are strong reasons to remove them, in part because of a perception and branding problem that people have, which potentially do more harm than good to the Creative Commons brand. Many people believe that all CC licenses are "non-commercial" which has actually limited those who wish to use them to encourage commercial use. Separately, the definition of "non-commercial" can be pretty vague (though, to its credit, Creative Commons has worked hard to clarify). While Boyle and Jenkins are using an NC license with the casebook, I'm happy that they at least put in a note defining their interpretation of commercial use: Editor’s note: we interpret this to mean “providing the material above cost.” Digital cost is zero. You are free to reproduce the material in paper form and charge a fee to cover copying costs, but nothing more. This applies both to commercial and non commercial entities. I still think it would have been fine if they'd skipped the "NC" altogether, but it does not appear to be a huge issue here. On the whole this is great news for folks who want to learn more about copyright, patents and trademark law -- whether you're a law student or just an interested bystander...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 26 days ago on techdirt
For those of you who have just woken up from a two-week coma, there are a couple of things you should know. People in Missouri are really pissed off. Iraq is being Iraq. ISIS isn't a fictional spy agency on Archer any longer. And, finally, there's this thing going around where people are pouring buckets of ice water over their heads in order to raise money for ALS, which it has successfully done to the tune of millions of dollars. Which brings us to Jesean Morris of Omaha, who, while having an active warrant for his arrest, decided to accept the ice bucket challenge from a friend and posted his video online. Shortly after, the most obvious thing ever happened. Officer Kevin Wiese says a tipster who knew Morris had an outstanding warrant called police after seeing the video. The person reporting the tip was able to identify the house where Morris shot the video. The thing about hiding out somewhere while you're on the run from police is that you typically shouldn't then broadcast that location to the population of the internet, which includes roughly everyone. They call it hiding for a reason. You wouldn't, say, take a video of all the places you hid easter eggs the night before and then give that video to the children doing the hunting, right? But, hey, I'm sure someone who did something this stupid was totally benign upon arrest. I mean, it's not like you'd want to get in more trouble, right? Police say when they approached Morris Friday, he gave a false name and spit in an officer's face. When you've broadcasted your location publicly, you don't then get to try to put the toothpaste back in the tube by giving a false name. That should ramp the charges against Morris up exponentially, because that kind of stupid is criminal. The real question is whether or not this ice bucket challenge thing is now the most successful human endeavor of the year, given that it is not only raising millions of dollars to fight a horrific disesase, but it's now also helping put criminals in handcuffs.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Computers have undoubtedly changed how people live, and as computers get smaller and wearable, they'll only become more and more intertwined with our lives. And it appears that we can't leave our animal friends behind in this technological evolution. Here are just a few projects for getting other creatures addicted to gadgets. Second Livestock is a virtual reality environment designed for farm animals, specifically chickens. Imagine a chicken computer interface -- like an Oculus Rift for chickens -- that tricked the birds into thinking they were actually free-range animals when, in fact, they were still caged on an omnidirectional treadmill with a Matrix-like virtual world fed into their brains. There is no spoon, chicks. (And this Second Life adaptation is only a suggestion.) [url] Maybe we can start talking to dolphins with technology developed by one of the inventors of Google Glass. Researchers are just starting to hear dolphins "talk" in computer-recognizable whistles, so maybe we'll hear they say, "So long and thanks for all the fish" someday. [url] Bonobos controlling a robot sounds like a cool idea, but apparently not $20,000 on Kickstarter cool. Perhaps we're lucky that crowdfunders didn't kickstart a planet of the apes.... [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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Ryan Seacrest's Typo (because it is never to be referred to simply as "Typo" in headlines or opening paragraphs), maker of physical keyboard accessories for iPhones, was sued by RIM (maker of formerly-popular Blackberry phones) for patent infringement earlier this year. The ailing phone manufacturer took issue with the keyboards made by Ryan Seacrest's Typo, which it felt veered a bit too close to "looking damn near like a Blackberry keyboard." The fact that most keyboards look like other keyboards notwithstanding (although the Ryan Seacrest's Typo keyboard did seem to cop a lot of the "look," if not the "feel" of Blackberry's vertically-aligned and contoured keys), the judge found RIM's claims substantial enough to grant a preliminary injunction barring the sale of keyboards. Ryan Seacrest's Typo apparently thought an injunction was nothing more than a fancy way of saying, "do whatever the hell you want to." (Court order PDF) On Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick agreed to let BlackBerry proceed with contempt of court proceedings after the Canadian phone maker showed that Typo has been selling keyboards in violation of the earlier order. “I am very concerned with what appears to be deliberate contempt of the preliminary injunction by Typo,” wrote Orrick, pointing out that the company shipped around 15,000 keyboards despite the ban. The court order touches on a lot of seeming wrongdoing by Seacrest's Typo, including multiple shipments being sent to Canada, the Middle East and Asia (Typo claimed these foreign sales weren't bound by the injunction) and a large sale to a reseller (4,000 keyboards to SMI Investments -- a company that Typo seems to be intertwined with) that occurred after the injunction was ordered but before it went into effect. Seacrest's keyboard company also went out of turn by asking the court to find that its modified keyboard does not infringe on RIM's patents. According to [Judge] Orrick, the existence of a “supposedly non-infringing design” was not relevant to the existing injunction. The judge added that Typo would have to bring a separate court proceeding to get an order related to the new designs. Whether or not you agree that RIM's patent infringement case has merit, Typo seems to have completely botched its response. Sure, all the cool kids and their acts of civil disobedience have netted them contempt charges over the years, but blowing off a preliminary injunction in this sort of case is hardly sticking it to The Man. As for RIM, this lawsuit may be going its way, but it doesn't really change the fact that a competitor saw a market niche and filled it. People still like physical keyboards, but they don't seem to care much for Blackberries. If RIM wasn't so stuck on the "you only get the keyboard if you buy the phone" strategy, it might have been able to capture this market before anyone else got to it, rather than just play spoiler by suing anyone veering too close to its look-and-feel.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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TorrentFreak has a fun, if ridiculous, post about the near total failure of a digital music distribution company named Total Wipes to "wipe out" certain content via entirely bogus DMCA notices. In what appears to be one of the more egregious attempts out there to issue automated DMCA takedowns without anyone bothering to look at the sites in question, Total Wipes tried to remove all sorts of websites in trying to "protect" a track called "Rock the Base & Bad Format." It appears that, as a part of that, any site that its automated systems turned up that had both "rock" and "base" on it was targeted for takedown. That was especially problematic for news stories about the death of DJ E-Z Rock, whose most famous track was "It Takes Two," done in partnership with Rob Base. Note the problem: Base and Rock. That meant that Total Wipes targeted news stories about Rock's death. It also targeted stories about rock climbing and a "rock" music festival on a military "base." The TorrentFreak story has more examples, including a broad takedown attempt against sites with the word "coffee" in their URL, including: Cariboucoffee, cartelcoffeelab, clivecoffee, coavacoffee, coffee.org, coffeeandtealtd, coffeebean and coffeegeek. Google, thankfully, rejected each and every one of those requests, and hopefully that puts Total Wipes into some sort of DMCA notice holding cell, requiring any of its takedowns to get extra scrutiny. But, of course, as always there is no real punishment for filing false notices, which is why there are so many stories about these kinds of takedowns.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in June we wrote about the ridiculous and cynical attempt by a number of big German newspaper publishers, in the form of the industry group VG Media, to demand 11% of Google's gross worldwide revenue on any search that results in Google showing a snippet of their content. We noted the hypocrisy of these publishers seeking to do this while at the same time having done nothing to remove themselves from Google's search -- and, in fact, using Google's tools to help them rank higher in search results. In other words, these publishers know that ranking high helps them... and yet then still demanded cash on top of that. VG Media had specifically filed an arbitration request with the German government, but it has now been rejected. And, while German regulators didn't go so far as to say they found the claim laughable, they did the regulator-speak equivalent: “Sufficient suspicion is always necessary to initiate an abuse procedure. The complaint from VG Media did not establish this,” Andreas Mundt, president of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, said in a statement on Friday. Those poor, poor newspapers will just have to go back to accepting free traffic from Google, via Google News (a site that doesn't have ads in Germany). Whatever will they do now?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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TiVo has released a new product called "Roamio" which looks suspiciously like the recently-declared-infringing Aereo. Roamio lets users "record, store and playback" over the air programming. Just like Aereo. There's just one distinction -- and it apparently makes all the difference in the world: Roamio's cable length is a lot shorter. As David Post notes, while Aereo and Roamio's services are nearly identical, the length of the cable changes the legal dynamic: I’m pretty confident that the new TiVo box steers clear of any copyright problems — not the first time, and probably not the last time, that our too-complex and illogical copyright law draws opposite conclusions when applied to functionally equivalent technology. The new Roamio is the precise analogue of the Sony Betamax – just a box allowing customers to record that to which they already had free access, and to play those recordings back to themselves — the distribution of which, the Court declared way back in 1984 in the seminal Sony v. Universal case, did not constitute copyright infringement. Aereo tried to make this argument (that it was just a Betamax dressed up in new technological garb) but failed – in part because it was supplying not only the recording/playback capability, but the antenna itself, to customers. This seemed to be important to the Court, because it made it more difficult for Aereo to argue that it was just recording material the customer already “owned”; no, the Court said, Aereo was actually going out and getting this content for the customer, and then recording it, which took it out from under the Sony no-infringement umbrella. More importantly, but sticking a separate box in each user’s home, TiVo avoids the charge that was fatal to Aereo, with its centralized facility: that it is “publicly performing” the copyrighted programs in the OTA broadcasts. It’s close to impossible to argue that TiVo is somehow publicly performing copyrighted works by selling these boxes – whatever “performances” take place inside users’ home are pretty clearly non-infringing “private” performances. In short -- just as we've pointed out from the beginning -- the only basis on which Aereo might be infringing is that the copyright law is different if you have a short cable between the antenna and your screen (TiVo) or a long cable (Aereo). It seems somewhat ridiculous that the length of the cable could possibly change the analysis of a copyright case, but welcome to today's nonsensical copyright regime. Of course, Post notes that the broadcasters still might try to sue anyway, and that does seem likely. Remember, they're already suing DISH over its advanced DVR technologies. And the networks actually are trying to claim that the Aereo ruling helps them in that case (though it's a very weak argument). So there's a half decent chance they'll sue Tivo over Roamio as well. It seems fairly clear at this point: the broadcasters have decided that any innovation that lets the public watch TV in a better way must be an existential threat that should be sued out of existence. It's felony interference with a business model, and tragically, copyright law seems to be the most popular and distorted tool for those claims.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Nearly three years ago, Fight Copyright Trolls had an interesting post about a copyright lawyer named Mike Meier who "flipped sides" from defending people who had been hit with copyright troll demands to becoming something of a troll himself. It featured two screenshots, showing how Meier's website quickly flipped from looking to help people who'd received a demand letter to a site that looked similar... but was clearly on the other side. Here was the original: There he calls himself a "copyright defense lawyer." It asks if you've received a letter from your ISP or a letter demanding you pay $2,500 or more, saying "we can help." Elsewhere Meier called trolling extortion, saying: "In my opinion, they are bill collectors for the movie industry," he said. "They're basically extorting money. He was even listed on the EFF's page for defense attorneys who could help out people hit by copyright trolling demands, and helped highlight how bad IP addresses were at identifying individuals. And then, very soon after that, the website changed to this: That is, rather than helping people, Meier's website was suddenly a landing page for people who had received such letters sent by his law firm, providing them "ways to resolve allegations" (i.e., pay up!). It also has some funny text about folks struggling to make money in Hollywood because of you and your piratey ways. For what it's worth, John Steele appears to have claimed credit for "flipping" Meier. Either way, it appears that last week, Meier decided he no longer wanted this information online. He ridiculously decided to send a very questionable DMCA notice to Fight Copyright Trolls' registrar (not to Fight Copyright Trolls itself or to its hosting company, but the domain registrar). Oh yeah, and he sent a similar letter to ExtortionLetterInfo.com's registrar despite ELI focusing more on Getty Images trolling, rather than Steele/Meier-style trolling. ELI had, however, highlighted some of Meier's copyright trolling practices. Meier's attempt to memory hole the stories about him are somewhat laughable. There are no reasonable DMCA claims here. The only possible copyright claims are in the screenshots, and those are clearly not infringing via fair use -- he further fails to show what content is actually infringing. If Meier actually wanted to pursue a DMCA claim he would quickly find himself up against the DMCA's 512(f) for misrepresentation. With the ELI letter it's even worse, since there were no screenshots at all, and thus the claim is even more frivolous. In both letters, Meier also claims that the information is libelous and defamatory, though (of course) he fails to state which content is defamatory and why it's false. That's because he can't. Not only is he beyond the statute of limitations for bringing a defamation claim, as far as I can tell, the statements made about him are either opinion (not defamatory) or based in fact (not defamatory). Meier's letter also exaggerates what these registrars "need" to do. In both letters, he claims that they "need" to remove the content, saying that the law "requires" the registrars to do this. Except that's not what the law says. Service providers can remove or disable access to the content if they wish to keep the DMCA's safe harbor protections, but there is no requirement that they do so, and especially in cases of bogus demands they have absolutely no reason to do so. In the end, it seems clear that Meier is yet another in a long line of folks trying to abuse the law to silence critics. Making questionable copyright and defamation claims may work against people who don't know the law very well (perhaps why he targeted registrars who were a couple steps removed from the sites in question). It appears to have backfired spectacularly, and some stories that had long since faded into history are now back on the front page. As are discussions of how Meier was once sanctioned in a ruling that makes for some entertaining reading, calling out Meier's efforts as "absurd," "ridiculous and nonsensical" "baseless claims and frivolous arguments" and "needlessly, unreasonably, and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings in bad faith" (and that's all in just one paragraph). Later the judge mocks Meier by noting that "any competent attorney" wouldn't have filed the claim and calls him out for "unacceptable, reckless misinterpretation and misunderstanding or on blatant and knowing misrepresentations." I also like the court's response to Meier's motion in that same filing: "No. The Court is unsure what more it need say." Of course, none of that would be drawing attention these days if Meier wasn't trying to abuse the DMCA process to remove earlier criticism of himself.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Over at Popehat, there's a fascinating story about the depths to which patent trolls will go to "protect" their business models. The story involves Landmark Technologies, a troll we wrote about earlier this year for its rather aggressive take on patent trolling. Landmark holds patent 6,289,319: 'Automatic Business and Financial Transaction Processing System.' Or, as the EFF puts it more succinctly: paying with a credit card online. eBay recognized that Landmark's trolling was bad news, and filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a re-exam of three patents. The USPTO initially recognized eBay's request, noting that there were "substantial" questions about the patentability in those patents. While it eventually left two of the patents alone, it dumped many of the claims in a third patent. In May, however, Landmark sued eBay and its lawyer individually for daring to challenge its patents. Landmark claimed abuse of process, malicious prosecution, tortious interference with prospective business relations, negligent interference with prospective business relations and negligence against eBay and its lawyers... all for using the process allowed by the USPTO to request a re-exam. Landmark (really one guy: Lawrence Lockwood) and his lawyers are asking for $5 million for eBay daring to ask the USPTO to review his patents. This is all happening in (of course) East Texas, the favorite venue for patent trolls over the past decade. Of course, there's one, new issue with filing such a lawsuit in East Texas, and that's that Texas recently put in place one of the best anti-SLAPP laws around, letting people hit back at baseless lawsuits that try to stifle free speech (SLAPP = Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). And that brings us to the latest, which is that eBay is claiming that Landmark's lawsuit is a clear SLAPP case, in which Lockwood is trying to block eBay from petitioning the USPTO in a perfectly legal manner. This is not the first time that a bogus patent-related lawsuit has met with an anti-SLAPP, but it's worth seeing how this one plays out. Ebay's filing is worth reading. Here's a snippet: Each of Landmark’s claims against eBay is subject to dismissal under the anti-SLAPP statute because it is clear on the face of the Complaint that each of those claims is based on, relates to, and is in response to eBay’s exercise of its right to petition and right of free speech. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 27.003(a). Specifically, each claim is based entirely on eBay’s petitioning of the PTO to review the validity of the Patents through the ex parte reexamination procedure, and eBay’s statements to the PTO in connection with those petitions. For example, Landmark’s abuse of process claim is based on the allegation that “Defendants made an illegal, improper, or perverted use of process before the USPTO in submitting erroneous and misleading Requests for reexamination of Plaintiff’s Patents in violation of federal law[.]” .... The filing of a request for reexamination with the PTO plainly constitutes an exercise of eBay’s right to petition shielded by the anti-SLAPP statute. The statute defines the “exercise of the right to petition” to include “a communication in or pertaining to an executive or other proceeding before a department of the…federal government or a subdivision of the…federal government.” .... The PTO is a federal agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce that performs adjudicatory functions.... Patent reexamination proceedings before the PTO are official proceedings established by federal law.... Thus, eBay’s reexamination requests constitute communications made in or pertaining to an executive proceeding before a department of the federal government, and fall within the protection of the right to petition under the anti-SLAPP statute Popehat notes that Larry Lockwood has actually tried this before, suing a different law firm using the same theories and was laughed out of court (and that was back before the Texas anti-SLAPP law was in place). Thanks to that anti-SLAPP law, Lockwood may be on the hook for eBay's attorneys' fees. Perhaps he'll "pay them with a credit card online."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Technology saves time and labor, but is as ultimately fallible as the humans it displaces. Thanks to the efficiencies of technology, mistakes can now be made faster than ever. Municipalities which have turned over traffic enforcement to cameras probably hoped to generate funds much faster than it could with an un-augmented police force. Instead, they're finding themselves issuing refunds, deactivating faulty cameras, fighting with contractors and investigating corruption. Not much of a payoff. Two more stories have appeared (nearly simultaneously) showing the incredible number of tickets a set of cameras can rack up in a short period… and the amount of funds generated that no one will ever be able to claim. The first comes from Nassau County, New York, where overenthusiastic speed cameras enforced school zone speed limits while school wasn't even in session. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has dismissed $2.4 million in speed camera tickets issued over the past month, amid outrage from residents who received thousands of tickets from cameras at six school locations. Mangano said cameras at five locations malfunctioned, spitting out tickets on days when school was not in session. Cameras at a sixth location -- in Elmont -- went operational prematurely. Mangano went even further than this, declaring amnesty on all tickets issued this summer. Anyone who paid a ticket will be issued a refund and any unpaid tickets will be forgiven. Nassau County has contacted the contractor -- the infamous American Traffic Solutions -- presumably to ask it why its cameras can't be calibrated to issue school zone tickets only when school zone speed limits are actually active. The county officials declined to say whether they'd be asking ATS to refund its share of the "lost" revenue, which is 38% of every fine collected. Of the $2.4 million the county will be refunding, only about $800,000 of it is for tickets issued while school wasn't in session. The other two-thirds is a good faith writeoff to help the county push through its installation of even more cameras. In April, state lawmakers approved legislation allowing Nassau and Suffolk to install one speed camera in each of their school districts. Nassau will install cameras at 56 locations. Suffolk, which plans to roll out its program in mid-2015, will have 69 sites. Motorists that travel more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit receive an $80 ticket. Not only will more static cameras be installed, but the county is also planning to send roving traffic enforcement cameras out on a tour of area schools. Officials could not say how many districts will have mobile units, which can be moved to schools throughout the district at the county's discretion. The mobile units consist of an unmarked van with two cameras and a radar machine. Nassau residents don't seem nearly as pleased with this expansion, especially not after having their mailboxes filled with bogus tickets. But I doubt the complaints of the citizens will be able to overcome the dollar signs in their representatives' eyes. The speed camera program is expected to generate $25 million or more annually for [Nassau County]... Suffolk expects to generate $6.8 million from the 46 cameras in Western Suffolk, where the county provides police service, said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. Those are some pretty large numbers, provided the county isn't periodically forced to issue a ton of refunds. Given American Traffic Solutions' track record, it would behoove these county officials to cease counting their revenue before it's extracted by traffic robocops. Meanwhile, over in New Jersey, malfunctioning systems installed and maintained by -- yes, you guessed it -- American Traffic Solutions have forced the state government to ask courts to throw out 17,000 tickets because drivers were never informed of their alleged infractions. (h/t to Techdirt reader Vidiot) The state lawmaker who today brought the issue to the public’s attention — Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon —said it's is just the latest example of why New Jersey’s red light camera should not be renewed when it reaches its December expiration date. “This wasn't 5 or 10 or even a couple of hundred instances - this total breakdown affected almost 17,000 motorists,” O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said in a statement. "These companies incessantly tout the supposed accuracy and consistency of their systems - when the only thing consistent about the camera company representatives is their blatant misrepresentation of what the equipment does and how accurately it does it." Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for the state Judiciary, said that the issue was brought to its attention by the company — American Traffic Solutions (ATS) — on Aug. 10. Under New Jersey law, Comfort said, drivers must receive notices of the infractions within 90 days. Once again, the screwup is all ATS. Apparently, a "server configuration change" resulted in ATS sending out no violation notices from May 28 to June 30, turning 17,000 potential moneymakers into 17,000 potential dismissals, thanks to exceeding the 90-day notification window. An ATS spokesman spun this as a "technical issue" that only "impacted" a small percentage of issued tickets. (Oh, and the automated revenue generator is apparently called a "red-light safety camera" in ATS jargon.) Two things: if 17,000 tickets is only a small percentage of tickets issued, then ATS is definitely firing off way too many tickets. Thing, the second: it's only ATS having problems with its servers. Automated Traffic Solutions operates traffic cameras at about half of New Jersey's 76 intersections that are equipped with them. The other company, Redflex, did not have the same problem. Of course, Redflex bribes local politicians to secure contracts, so it's not as if this company doesn't have its own issues -- ones that also negatively affect the citizens being policed by unreliable camera systems. As noted above, Assemblyman Scanlon indicated he'd rather not renew the state's contract with ATS. Given Redflex's moral turpitude, it might be prudent not to renew its contract either. But this would leave the state with very few options for low-cost revenue generation -- and once localities become hooked on a source of income, there's very little chance they'll give it up readily, no matter how corrupt/incompetent/terrible it is. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
The City of London Police (notably, not the London Metropolitan Police and you will rue the day you ever make that mistake) have been both a law unto themselves and the UK's foremost copyright cops… which would make them a copyright law unto themselves… or something. Name another law enforcement agency that has single-handedly done more to pursue the Pirate Bays of the world. I follow this sort of stuff pretty closely and no one else even comes close. Here's a very brief rundown of the City of London's efforts in the service of King Copyright. - Ordered registrars to shut down websites (without a court order) and threatened to strip registrars' accreditation if they didn't comply - Created a secret "pirate site blacklist" for advertisers - Inserted banner ads on "pirate" websites stating the sites had been forwarded to the police for "review," all without any legal basis to do so - Arrested the creator of an anti-censorship proxy service, basically because Hollywood told it to - Claimed Tor is "90% of the internet" and a "risk to society." Also: "bitnet." Torrentfreak (which follows this sort of stuff extremely closely) sent a FOIA request to the City of London police seeking correspondence with "representatives of the creative industry regarding the pirate bay also known as TPB, thepiratebay.se, thepiratebay.sx, thepiratebay.org, or Pirate Bay." Forget all the nice things I said about the UK's more relaxed attitude towards Freedom of Information requests. (Well, not all of them. This is a police force that serves the copyright industry, not the UK government itself.) The response to Torrentfreak basically says that it would require making an expenditure of time and as such, falls outside the expense guidelines for FOIA responses. “In order to establish the existence of any correspondence of this kind it would be necessary to examine all mail systems, all call logs and all files/documents held by the force,” the reply read. “The cost of completing this work would exceed the limit prescribed by the Secretary of State in accordance with powers contained in Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act. The limit is currently set at £450 and the hourly rate is set at £25.” If so, then any request that might require 18 hours of work will automatically be tossed out. On one hand, this almost seems like an admission that the City of London Police communicate frequently with representatives of creative industries. On the other, it seems like an easy way to blow off a request for information it's in no hurry to release. This sends Torrentfreak back to the drawing board and raises serious questions about the City of London's computer system. (Then again, the assertions about "bitnet" and "the internet is 90% Tor" raise a few technology-related questions of their own…) Any correspondence system utilized by governments should be searchable, including anything archived. It's not as though this sort of technology is obscure and limited to entities with unlimited budgets. It's fairly basic stuff. But the City of London police maintains it's a job that would exceed the time budget and, therefore, Torrentfreak gets nothing. Torrentfreak will be revising its requests in hopes of finding something that's not too time-consuming for the City of London police to tackle. If and when these are released, I'm sure they'll make for entertaining and enlightening reading, provided they aren't redacted into complete uselessness. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
KlearGear is on the move! Not content to simply dodge judgments against it by pretending to be a French corporation rather than the variety of remailers it appears to be, KlearGear has revamped its website and given itself a brand new address. Gone are the legal threats claiming it has the "right" to charge customers $3,500 for bad reviews. Also gone are the claims that it will fight every chargeback to the death with a variety of tactics including reporting unhappy customers to a scam site shut down by the Federal Trade Commission and an ever-escalating number of punitive charges. KlearGear's subtly updated site now shows the following as its new address. 427 North Tatnall Street Wilmington, Delaware 19801-2230 KlearGear used to be "located" at a strip of nondescript warehouses in Grandville, Michigan. But that's all in the past now. The new KlearGear is nominally a Delaware corporation, one that shares its address with yet another scammy business, penny auction site Zbiddy, which boasts an absolutely gaudy 424 customer complaints over the last three years. Zbiddy seems to have nearly as many pissed-off customers as KlearGear. Winning bidders report their items never arrived. Many more complaints call out the company for charging their credit cards $60-99 immediately after registration, without them ever placing a bid or winning an auction. Like other equally abysmal auction sites, Zbiddy lures people in with the chance to obtain stuff for low, low prices. And like other auction sites, it requires a credit card before a potential bidder can do anything. And (again) like equally shady sites, Zbiddy sells packages of bids, without which bidders can't even participate in auctions. And, like KlearGear, customer service is nearly nonexistent and many, many people have complained about spending money but receiving nothing in return. At this point, Zbiddy's reputation is so thoroughly trashed that it has sought to hide its name behind a slightly less sketchy penny auction site, BeezId. It appears that whoever actually runs KlearGear (whether it's Havaco Direct, Chenal Media or French company Descoteaux Boutiques) may have a fistful of scammy companies under his purview -- or at least has the dubious fortune of choosing the same remailer address as Zbiddy. KlearGear may be completely unrelated to Zbiddy, but customers of both suffer from the same form of abuse: not receiving the products they've paid for. Various attempts have been made to scrub KlearGear's reputation since news of its $3,500 bad review fee surfaced. A very thorough expose of KlearGear's many corporate figureheads posted at RipOff Report notes that someone using the account "Havaco Direct" attempted to hire a freelancer to crank out 10 glowing reviews (all from separate email/IP addresses) and post them at ResellerRatings.com. (A 2011 request from Havaco Direct asks for the generation of 240 unique email addresses created by 240 unique IP addresses -- itself more than a little shady.) A quick scan of ResellerRating reviews pre-dating 2013's Streisanding shows KlearGear's inability to fulfill orders has been a problem (or not, if you're just running a scam) since day one. Also of interest are recent DMCA takedown notices sent by a supposed representative of KlearGear with the made-up-on-the-spot name of "Consumer Guardian." Since the beginning of this month, it has sent out three notices to Google asking for the delisting of the expansive Ripoff Report noted above, further research into the company's inner workings by a blogger at Blagnet and Ken White's post at Popehat. So far, every request has been turned down. Searching for "Consumer Guardian" gets you the metaphoric phone book, which is presumably the impetus behind the bland name currently abusing the DMCA system. Other findings: 1. The supposed address of Descoteaux Boutiques is also found on KlearGear's website. However, that address links back to an outsourcing firm (7-Conseil), one that also seems incredibly light on verifiable details. Who's behind it isn't exactly clear, but nowhere in the details will you find Vic Mathieu or the supposed company he claims owns KlearGear. 2. Placing an order with KlearGear now routes you through Yahoo!. On the shopping cart pages, one of KlearGear's lies resurfaces. KlearGear very definitely does not have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau "as of 8/23/14." (This is a very recent update. The sitemap xml shows every page was last updated on 8/22.) Western Michigan's BBB notes that KlearGear isn't even accredited, thanks to its earlier false claims about its BBB rating. San Antonio's BBB (dating back to when KlearGear pretended to be located there) has very generously given KlearGear a "no rating." Delaware's BBB doesn't even have KlearGear listed at its fake local address. So, once again, KlearGear is lying about its rating, but it's hiding it from its critics and using it during the ordering process to give potential customers the completely false assurance that it's a trustworthy company. 3. KlearGear is hiring. And the email address to contact is wow@kleargear.com, which also doubles as its "Customer Care Center" email address, so don't expect to hear back on your application any time soon. KlearGear -- whoever's actually behind it -- still owes the couple, whose credit it wrecked, over $300,000. But it appears it's well-practiced in the art of hiding behind meaningless names, nonexistent media contact people and a host of shell companies that exist solely as mailboxes. 7-Conseils, the French company that is actually registered at the address listed on KlearGear's site, has been in existence since 2008, but its website still claims to be under construction. The longer-running Chenal name also has a bare-bones website and a bogus address. Vic Mathieu's grandstanding at Ars Technica did little more than show that whoever are running the shop (and whatever their actual names are), have nothing but contempt for every person they've screwed. KlearGear may not be associated with the scammy Zbiddy, but both entities deploy the same tactics (bogus charges, confrontational response to criticism) and have the same abysmal customer service record. What may look like nothing but a coincidence may actually be just another shady operation by the crooked braintrust behind KlearGear. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Quantum computers are starting to become a commercial reality as multiple companies start to take advantage of the strange laws of quantum physics to solve complex mathematical problems. The hardware is difficult enough to build, but assuming the hardware actually exists, programmers now have to figure out how to write software for qubits. Here are just a few links on these new computers that aren't quite ready to replace desktop PCs. Lockheed Martin bought a D-Wave Systems quantum computer in 2011, and there are a few other customers and partners trying to develop for this particular computer. NASA, Google, and Aerospace Concepts are testing out these new-fangled machines to solve optimization problems and machine learning, among other things quantum information can tackle. [url] The availability of ultra-pure silicon could make it a bit easier to build quantum computers, and now a straightforward process for obtaining 99.9999% pure silicon is practical. Pure silicon is a good substrate for holding a qubit, as substrate impurities negatively affect the performance of quantum manipulations. [url] Google has played around with D-Wave quantum computers to study computer vision problems with a few qubits. In 2007, D-Wave had a 16-qubit system, and now it has a 512-qubit computer. It's improving with time, but it's not entirely clear when this system is better than a traditional x86 processor. [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 27 days ago on techdirt
For years, we've talked about the many problems with PACER, the horribly designed and managed electronic court records system that the federal court system uses here in the US. Beyond being clunky, buggy, horribly designed and slow -- it's also expensive. With some exceptions, it's 10 cents per page you download, and also 10 cents per search. As many have noted, this almost certainly violates the law concerning PACER, which says that the Judicial Conference can only "prescribe reasonable fees… to reimburse expenses incurred in providing these services." And yet the fees go way, way beyond what's needed to maintain the (again, horrible) system which they refuse to update. Instead, it's used for lots of other things. And, as many people note, it's something of a travesty that all of these public records are locked up, rather than being made available. Even more ridiculous is that when people hack around this system, such as with the open RECAP project to free up PACER documents, courts freak out. Or, when people like Aaron Swartz try to use free access to PACER to free up its documents, they end up being the subject of an FBI investigation for computer hacking. Aaron Greenspan, who runs an open court records site called Plainsite (and who is currently engaged in an unlikely-to-succeed lawsuit arguing that PACER should be free), has noticed that PACER is also shoving old cases down the memory hole so they will no longer be available. In a brief announcement on August 10th, PACER's website announced that a bunch of cases would "no longer be available." Now, there have always been some cases not on PACER, but to actively start removing a bunch of cases, including many that are fairly recent (CAFC cases from just two years ago?!?) seems ridiculous and excessive. Yes, PACER is horribly designed and managed, but it's not like the storage costs for some old PDFs is that high. Especially as storage keeps getting cheaper and cheaper. Does someone down at the Administrative Office of the US Courts want me to send them an external 2 TB hard drive? They run about $100 these days...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Prompted by the fatal shooting of Ferguson resident Mike Brown, a We the People petition asking the federal government to require body cameras for all law enforcement officers has roared past the 100,000 signature threshold required for a White House response. (Theoretically.) The petition asks for the creation of the "Mike Brown Law," which would mandate the use of body cameras and ensure agencies are supplied with funding needed to comply. The usual caveat about bad laws being named after deceased persons aside, the use of body cameras by police officers is nearing inevitability, what with police misconduct now being a mainstream media topic. It's not a complete solution, but it is a very valuable addition. Dash cams, which have been in use for years, only capture a small percentage of interactions with civilians. While the use of body cameras will prompt new privacy concerns, the presence of the unblinking eye has been shown to make both police and the public behave better. The problems with body cameras are both human and technological. Currently, almost every camera system is controlled by police officers. Guidance on what does and doesn't need to be recorded isn't always clear. What may seem to be a deliberate effort to conceal something may just be an actual malfunction. And, like any other system meant to create greater accountability, it can be gamed. In New Orleans, Armand Bennet, 26, was shot in the forehead during a traffic stop by New Orleans police officer Lisa Lewis. However, the police department did not reveal until much later that Lewis turned off her body camera just before shooting Bennett. Bennett survived and has now been charged under prior warrants for his arrest. It also reviewed that Lewis had had a prior run in with Bennet who escaped about a week earlier. At first glance, it has all the appearance of a deliberate coverup. But there could be dozens of legitimate reasons this encounter wasn't recorded. The obvious reaction is that she turned it off to conceal the fact that she was about to plug Bennet in the forehead in a moment, and had the presence to do so without creating a conclusive record. But we easily see that because of what happened afterward. Post hoc rationalizations are easily deconstructed. Perhaps she turned it off when she thought the confrontation was over. Perhaps she turned it off by accident. Perhaps she desperately wishes now she had kept it on, to prove Bennet took some action to justify her shooting him in the forehead. Or, as appears most likely, perhaps she turned it off so that there would be no video of what she was about to do. This solution won't -- and can't -- solve everything. Beyond the actions of police officers, there's the technology itself, which is far from perfect. Unfortunately, efforts to improve are being hamstrung by those most resistant to police officers being watched. When an officer presses record, the camera saves the 30 seconds of images that led up to that moment, but not the audio. The manufacturer designed the buffer to protect the privacy of police officers — and to appeal to resistant police unions — but it also means the cameras may miss crucial noises or words that trigger an incident. Even a more-complete version of the events (compared to gathering eyewitness statements and weighing those against police reports) may still be missing crucial evidence, thanks to the efforts of police unions. As we've noted here earlier, legislators and government officials are becoming more receptive to the use of body cameras. Those raising the loudest objections are the erstwhile mouthpieces of the officers themselves. The mayor of Miami-Dade sees the potential benefits of body cameras. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez is calling for hundreds of the county's police officers to be equipped with video cameras, weeks after after a police involved shooting in the Midwest triggered days of violence. As national outrage about alleged police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo. continues, Giménez is pushing to make body cameras mandatory for all county patrol officers. His proposed budget is calling for 500 cameras, which would cover about half of Miami-Dade's patrol force. "The body cam is a way to assure that there's confidence in the police department, that if they had been wearing a body cam, say, in the incident that happened in Missouri, there would be no debate as to what exactly happened," said Giménez... Next year's Miami-Dade County budget calls for $1 million for the body cameras, with an additional $400,000 in operating cost and for the data storage required. But Miami-Dade's police union wants none of it. In a written grievance filed with the county’s police chief, a union lawyer wrote that wearing the cameras “will distract officers from their duties, and hamper their ability to act and react in dangerous situations …” The one-button operation of most cameras would seem to be something most officers will swiftly become accustomed to, rather than the huge impediment the police union portrays it as. But according to the union, nearly anything at all -- even a quick tap of the "RECORD" button -- could mean the difference between life and death (of police officers, that is…). [T]he Miami-Dade police union [also] cited the distraction caused by officers having to activate the camera before approaching a traffic stop or potential arrest. “As anyone with knowledge of police training and tactics knows, if an officer hesitates for even a second in a life threatening situation, it can cost that officer his or her life, and/or put the lives of others at risk,” the complaint reads. I don't think anyone believes this hyperbole, not even the unions themselves. The only reason they're against body cameras is because they firmly believe police officers shouldn't be held accountable for their misconduct. They completely ignore the results shown by law enforcement agencies that have put body cameras into use -- that they reduce both the use of excessive force and allegations of police misconduct. Body cameras aren't a cure-all, but they're much more beneficial than resistant police officers and unions give them credit for. It's the direction our nation's law enforcement agencies need to be headed. It's ridiculous that we're still almost wholly reliant on something as malleable as police statements and eyewitness interviews. A camera isn't completely neutral, but it's a hell of a lot better than what we're normally given to work with.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Tell people that fan fiction is an important form of political speech that deserves protection, and they'll roll their eyes. The stereotypical fanfic writer is a teenage girl who writes misspelled stories about vampire love—is that kind of work really worth anything? Maybe there used to be folks like Shakespeare, Dante and Virgil who wrote stories about characters someone else invented, and yes, those stories changed the world, but let's face it: Vampire love. There's just no living that down. Which makes it all the more mind-bending to learn that a man we respect, James Madison, Father of the Constitution and fourth President of the United States, wrote a story about a character he didn't create. Yes, the same man who wrote the Bill of Rights also wrote a fanfic. Vampires. John Bull, the character Madison appropriated for his story, was created in 1712 by John Arbuthnot. Though forgotten today, Arbuthnot's satirical allegory about the War of the Spanish Succession, The Law is a Bottomless Pit, was very popular in its time. John Bull represented England, while other characters represented the rest of the nations involved in the war. There was no fanfiction.net in Arbuthnot's time, but that didn't stop his readers from spinning off their own stories and comics which also used John Bull as a characterization of England. Over the course of a century, John Bull transcended his origins and became Britain's version of Uncle Sam. To the British he was a hero; to the American colonists, a villain. Enter James Madison. The retired president was concerned over the growing rift between the North and the South. To give voice to his opinions on how the matter could be resolved peacefully, he wrote a short allegorical story, Jonathan Bull and Mary Bull, wherein a character named "Old Bull" represents England, and his descendants "Jonathan Bull" and "Mary Bull" represent the North and South respectively. From a modern perspective the story is nothing much to read, but it does raise a rather intriguing question. Why fanfic? What made Madison decide to use existing characters to make his point rather than inventing his own characters like John Arbuthnot did for his own political allegory? And isn't using other people's characters without permission copyright infringement? The easiest way to tackle these questions is to tell you an allegorical story. There once was a comic artist, "Jim M.," who wanted to comment upon the important issue of CIA torture. To make his point, he drew a three panel comic strip. In the first panel, Captain American is taking down a fanatical Nazi commander who tortured prisoners of war for the good of the Fatherland. "You will be tried for your crimes," he promises. In the second panel, Jim M. draws Captain America standing next to President Obama, who is casually observing that although the CIA did "torture some folks," the lapse can be excused because the torturers were patriots who loved their country. In the third panel we see Captain America's shadowed face as he walks away from a burning American flag. Suppose Jim M. had created a new character, "Bob the freedom-loving American G.I." to use in place of the copyright and trademark-protected Captain America? It wouldn't have had half the impact, would it? Captain America's strong connection to American patiotrism and historic stand against the oppressive Nazi regime makes him an ideal character for Jim M.'s purposes. As for Bob the American G.I., the audience knows nothing about him. Even if Jim M. did try to provide Bob with a heroic backstory, readers would have to wade through 200 pages of unrelated material before they even got to the part about the CIA torture. Without the use of Captain America, Jim M. wouldn't be able to get his point across. For Jim M., effective political speech requires the use of a popular icon, not an unknown character. Unfortunately, Jim M. has now opened himself up to a potential copyright lawsuit. If he chooses to defend his fair use rights, it will cost thousands of dollars in legal fees. If he loses, the damages could be even more grave. James Madison didn't have to worry about the legality of his political speech because a) John Arbuthnot was Scottish and the U.S. didn't recognize international copyright laws at the time; b) John Bull had already entered the public domain; c) the creation of derivative works (such as fanfiction) had not yet been criminalized. It's that last point that concerns Jim M., because it means that he can no longer be sure that the law will protect his freedom of speech. It may, or it may not; either way, it will cost him thousands of dollars in court to find out. Compare that to the situation in Madison's day: If Madison had wanted to write an allegory where Captain America tries to make peace between the North and South, he could have done so without any fear of repercussions. Before derivative works became illegal, creators had the freedom to make use of the most appropriate character for their commentary without facing any consequences. So what about Janice, who writes a five page long fanfic in which Edward and Bella visit the 9/11 site and wonder about the direction America is heading between passionate vampire kisses? Being born in 1901, Edward lived through WWII, and it turns out that he has some surprisingly insightful thoughts about the state of America today. The story concludes with Edward, who is telepathic, overhearing the hateful thoughts of his fellow visitors toward a man in a turban standing nearby. But Edward reads the man's thoughts, and learns that he is praying for the families of the victims. Could Janice provide the same insightful opinions without using copyright-and trademark-protected Edward as her mouthpiece? Yes, but not as easily. It would be a tough challenge to develop Edward and Bella as rounded characters, then show Edward's unique powers and lifespan, all without shifting the emphasis away from the issues she wants to explore. Instead of writing a story about the impact of 9/11, Janice would end up writing a story about why her character has supernatural abilities. Someone skeptical is saying, "Yeah, but do fanfic writers actually write stories like that?" Yes, absolutely! Fan creators make use of their favorite characters to propound their opinions on issues from racial equality to stopping SOPA. In the introductions to such stories, you will often hear the writer explain, "I thought such-and-such a character would be perfect for dealing with issue X because..." These writers have an innate understanding that the use of popular icons allows for powerful forms of expression that would be difficult to achieve by other means. Yet these same writers would have a very hard time proving that their creations are fair use before a judge. Not that it matters, because such cases almost never go to court. Fair use is too fickle to be relied upon as a defense, and the expense of proving a point is too costly for the average person to bear. What we are left with is a situation where rights holders can basically censor political speech at will. Just imagine if John Arbuthnot had been able to order Madison to take down his story because he disagreed with Madison's political views. The President was deeply in debt at the end of his life, and like most of us, he could hardly afford an expensive loss in court. Of course, some would argue that the ability to censor speech is a good thing. After all, suppose that an anti-Semitic fan wrote a story set in WWII where Edward joins the Hitler Youth? If it weren't for the laws against derivative works, the argument goes, Stephenie Meyer wouldn't have the right to take down the fan writer's objectionable ideas. But it would be a mistake to assume that such censorship powers will always be used for good. Take for example the popular book, "The Education of Little Tree," written by Asa Earl Carter, a now-deceased member of the Klu Klux Klan. Suppose that a fanfic writer decided to have Carter's main character, Little Tree, befriend an African American boy as a way to express support for the idea that all men are brothers? The same power that gives Meyer the right to take down anti-Semitic speech also grants racists like Carter the ability to discriminate against the minorities they despise. Most of us support freedom of speech, but for copyright holders, the right to censor views they disagree with has been all but enshrined as a legal right. What would happen, I wonder, if Jim M.'s Captain America cartoon went viral? Would his work be praised by Marvel, or would they send him a cease and desist letter? Would he crumple quietly, or fight it out in court for years? "Yes," the critics say, "but we could avoid this whole problem if people just wouldn't write fanfics in the first place. Do your social commentary without using other people's IP!" You hear that, James Madison? You'll have to find another way to stop the Civil War. We have lawyers and they don't like how you're expressing your "creativity." Madison cautiously approved of copyright, but I doubt that he suspected it would be used to chill free speech like his story 200 years later. The President clearly knew that derivative works can provide a compelling way to make a point, and as the author of the First Amendment, I'd like to think that he believed that fanfiction should be a protected form of expression. It's a shame that such a valuable means of public discourse has been almost criminalized today. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Another school weapons policy results in another ridiculous outcome. Dinosaurs -- pet dinosaurs -- are involved. As are lawyers, a defensive police captain and a silent set of school administrators. (h/t to Techdirt reader Violynne, who sent this in with the note "Tim's going to love this one: guns and dinosaurs!" And I do. Even though I might be the wrong Tim.) Police were summoned to a high school after a boy wrote a story about using a gun to kill a dinosaur. The boy was searched, suspended from school, and subsequently handcuffed and arrested when he did not handle the interrogation calmly. The boy is 16, so not quite as young as that sentence makes it sound. He also suffers from a unspecified learning disorder and the "story" was written in a resource class that was supposed to aid him with that problem. Here's a few more details about the creative writing project gone stupidly wrong. Alex Stone, 16, said he was assigned to come up with a fictional story for a creative writing assignment at Summerville High School on August 19, 2014. The brief assignment involved writing a few lines that were supposed to mimic a social media post; a “status update” drafted on paper. Stone’s submission discussed himself and a fictitious dinosaur that lived next door to him. He wrote that he used a gun to kill the dinosaur. “I killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur, and, then, in the next status I said I bought the gun to take care of the business,” Stone said to NBC 12. As is the case with most stories involving non-threats being portrayed as threats, those reading Stone's words as a threat removed the context around them. This was quite a feat, considering the teacher who expressed concern to administrators had all the context right in front of her. It's just that she stripped it away when emailing school officials. According to an incident report, a resource teacher identified as Jessica Lewis emailed Assistant Principal Preston Giet on Monday evening to tell him she discovered a reference to a gun while going over students' assignments. "The email stated that the suspect had written in a classroom assignment that he had 'bought a gun to take care of business,'" the report said. A "school resource officer" was summoned (which basically means a moonlighting/specially-assigned police officer was summoned). School officials then passed on the information to the rest of the police department, which arrived to question Stone, search his locker, his book bag and his person. His mother wasn't informed of this until after it happened. In addition, Stone, despite proving to be no threat, was arrested and suspended for the rest of the week. It looks like the police arrested Stone for his supposed gun threat, but the Summerville PD claims that isn't true. "The information that is being reported is grossly incorrect in reference to what led to the juvenile being charged," said Capt. Jon Rogers in a Summerville police statement released on Thursday."The charges do not stem from anything involving a dinosaur or writing assignment, but the student's conduct." OK, then. Here's the extent of Stone's "conduct," according to the police themselves. According to police, when Stone was asked by school officials about the comment written on the assignment, he became "very irate" and said it was a joke. A Summerville Police Department report states that Stone continued to be disruptive and was placed in handcuffs, and was told that he was being detained for disturbing schools. It would appear that Stone was only "disturbing" school officials who seemed intent on finding some evidence of his desire to shoot people and was understandably frustrated that they wouldn't believe it wasn't some sort of threat. Whatever disturbance Stone caused was limited to a single office. There was no reason for anyone to claim, much less believe, that his written assignment, or his behavior inside that office, was "disturbing" his classmates, other classes or anyone else not directly involved. This is the totality of the school's response to the situation. Pat Raynor, spokeswoman for Dorchester District 2, said on Thursday she could not comment on the circumstances surrounding the incident on the advice of the school district's attorney. Good advice, considering the situation has now expanded to include the media and Stone's lawyer, who plans to challenge both the suspension and the legality of the school and police department's actions. More commentary was provided by Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, who trains school administrators in emergency preparedness. "There is a point for discretion in the consequences for what you find in your investigation," Trump said. "That's when you have to factor in age and developmental issues and the context in which the comment or threat was made." Discretion is the better part of valor emergency preparedness, but Trump doesn't actually mean what he says here. What he actually means is discretion is the better part of having your school shot up because you failed to overreact properly. "Comments that were made by children a couple decades ago pre-Columbine, pre 9/11, pre-Sandy Hook would never rise to a suspension expulsion or prosecution," he said. "Parents see this as criminalizing the behavior but the other side of it is security and school officials can't afford to make one mistake and have a credible plot slip through the cracks that leave people killed." Better safe than sorry, no matter how many non-threatening students you have to suspend and/or arrest. And if these students aren't thrilled with being searched and interrogated over written words deliberately robbed of context, you can just toss them to local law enforcement and let them flip through the law books until they find a charge that can be beaten to fit and painted to match. Once again, I'm not saying even questionable incidents like these shouldn't be investigated. But the end result of the investigation shouldn't be a suspension or an arrest when nothing incriminating turns up. And there's certainly no excuse for not contacting parents when something like this happens. Deliberately excluding them is not only dishonest, but it's cowardly. It gives the appearance that the school would rather steamroll students than allow another possibly adversarial viewpoint into the "discussion." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 28 days ago on techdirt
It's a little early in the data to tell for sure, but there are some early indications that ride services like Uber and Lyft decrease cases of drunk driving by making it that much easier for intoxicated people to get somewhere without getting behind the wheel themselves. So it seems notable, if somewhat ridiculous, that California State Senator Ben Hueso was arrested for drunk driving just hours after voting in favor of a taxi-lobby supported bill that would profoundly limit services like Uber and Lyft. The bill was designed to dump a bunch of unnecessary and burdensome regulations on those companies to make it difficult for them to compete or survive in California. Hueso voted in favor of it, and then a few hours later was spotted driving the wrong way down a one way street at 2:24 in the morning. Powell said officers identified the driver as Hueso and said he was alone in the car. Hueso showed “objective signs and symptoms” of being under the influence of alcohol and was given a field sobriety test. He was arrested shortly after, taken in without incident and booked into Sacramento County jail at 3:27 a.m, she said. Jail records show he was booked with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher at 3:27 a.m. Powell said the CHP would not release the precise blood alcohol reading. He was released from jail late Friday morning. Hueso has apologized for the drunk driving, but perhaps he should apologize for his vote... and for not calling an Uber to take him home (or wherever he was headed) that night...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 28 days ago on techdirt
You know something's wrong when the police have become public enemy number one — and this week, that's the story the top comments tell. The most popular target for this week's ire wasn't even a cop from Ferguson, but rather an LAPD officer whose tone-deaf, self-contradictory opinion column spurred Michael to write our most insightful comment of the week: Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. Ladies: do what the rapist tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. Children: do what the molester tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. Journalists: do what the government tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. Jews: do what the Nazi tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. ...I'm not sure his advice is very good... The officer's position was confusing, and he didn't seem to realize that some parts ("I know that some officers engage in unprofessional and arrogant behavior; sometimes they behave like criminals themselves ... And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent") entirely and directly contradicted his overall message that you must always, unquestioningly, do whatever a cop tells you to. In the face of such doublespeak, Digger got frustrated enough to write our second most insightful comment of the week: No police officer has the authority to commit an illegal act. period. No police officer has any authority when they are bullying or harassing people for the fun of it. No police officer has any legal standing when they ignore people's Constitutional rights. No police officer is above the law. So Mr. High and Mighty L.A.P.D. Officer, what I say to you is - shut the fuck up you pathetic little whiner. Do you know why you get cursed at? Yelled at? Called vile names? It's because your brethren, predecessors and hell, possibly even you do all of the above, which makes the people that you work for angry. Guess what happens you piss off your bosses. You get fired, you get demoted, you get thrown out. Since you cops think that just because you wear a badge you have the right to do anything you want, say anything you want, harass anyone you want, you're going to get treated like the scum you are. Act professional. Act within the letter as well as intent of the law. Arrest your fellow officers that do not comply with this. Prevent abuse and harassment by your fellow officers. Take the time to talk to those people who you normally just stare down at from your high horse. Get to know them, they're usually pretty good people who are scared of what you're going to do to them today. People get angry and do stupid shit when scared, so stop scaring them, stop angering them, stop the abuses of the police state. We the people are the law, you the police officers are the ones who were hired, by us, to enforce it. If you cannot or will not do the job correctly, we the people will take action and remove you from the job in whatever way necessary. Does that sound like a threat? It's not - it's just common sense. Something that is sorely lacking in today's police departments and governments. The crux of the defence offered by the police and their supporters is that they face danger and abuse in their job, making their more questionable actions necessary or at least understandable. Our first editor's choice for insightful goes to That One Guy for explaining why cops need to stop playing the victim card, and start being the "bigger man": Working the street, I can’t even count how many times I withstood curses, screaming tantrums, aggressive and menacing encroachments on my safety zone, and outright challenges to my authority. Cops, by the very nature of their job, are going to see people at their worst. They are going to encounter people who've just had something terrible or tragic happen, people who are under intense stress and are looking to lash out, to somehow deal with the situation, to get some measure of 'control' back into their lives. This may take the form of 'curses', it may take the form of 'screaming tantrums', or something similarly drastic or 'confrontational'. Cops also, by the nature of their job and the power and authority vested in that position are quite often seen as a threat. They are people who can, at a whim, make your life miserable, carry, and are allowed to use, such 'delightful' items as batons, tazers, pepper spray, and pistols. People who have few actual limits as to what they can do to a member of the public, but who are protected, extremely so, by the system and their fellow officers from the public. It should go without saying that people that are seen as a threat, generally don't get the warmest welcome. Given the above, the various reasons people aren't going to be on their best around cops, and the fact that none of this should be a surprise to anyone who is, or is looking to become, a cop, if he, or any other officer can't maintain a professional demeanor around this sort of response from the public, if they can't remain civil and polite even if the other person isn't, I've a simple suggestion: Get another job. Because if they can't handle that sort of stuff, then they don't deserve the position and power they have as police. Whining about how 'hard' the job is is just that, whining. They knew how hard the job was before going in(or they should have anyway), and yet they took it anyway, if they can't handle it, get out, and let someone more qualified take their place. For our second editor's choice, we'll take one brief detour from admonishing the police. After a UK man was sentenced to 33 months in jail for filming and uploading a movie, one commenter transparently attempted to derail the discussion by making it all about black-and-white "morals" — a notion jupiterkansas rightly rejected: You can't bring up morality until we've settled on the morality of continuous extensions of copyright length so that that it now lasts two lifetimes and has locked up a whole century of culture. You can't bring up morality until you we've settled on how Hollywood and the music business cooks the books and doesn't pay out royalties they way they should. The laws must command respect and businesses must behave respectably before you can start talking about the morality of what some kid does with a video camera in a movie theatre. If you think he deserves jail, then there's a lot more immoral people that need to be behind bars. The article isn't about whether someone did something wrong or not. It's about the extreme punishment for a minor offence based on lousy laws dictated by a private company. Over on the funny side, we're back to the cops. With the situation in Ferguson continuing to bubble and the cops continuing to threaten reporters, one anonymous commenter took first place by asking a simple question: Why hasn't anybody blamed video games yet? Meanwhile, with more and more people demanding to know why local police forces have been kitted out with military-grade equipment, Squirrels Without Borders gave the only possible satisfactory answer — a bunch of lies: You guys have short memories. That is why you don't realize why this level of force is necessary. What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO beheaded an American journalist? What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO crashed several planes into skyscrapers? What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO hid weapons of mass destruction? What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO tried to capture territory below the 42nd parallel? What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO bombed the pacific fleet? What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO invaded France and Poland? For editor's choice for funny, we start with one more nod to Michael, whose reply to an anonymous commenter's claim of having been stopped 37 times by the cops is some professional-grade satire, though I'm not sure about the choice of "widdling": Careful, you are widdling down your anonymity. We now know that you are in your 20's, black, and live in New York City. Finally, after hearing the news that the National Guard (which is now withdrawing) was moving into Ferguson, another anonymous commenter perfectly expressed our shared hope for a peaceful resolution: I hope the National Guard has better luck at dispersing the police than the protesters have had. That's all for this week, folks! 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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago We were wondering if it would ever be possible to implement an evidence-based approach to copyright law, rather than a faith-based approach, as there is today. It especially didn't seem likely when a top UK politician was wined and dined by entertainment industry's one week, only to propose criminalizing file sharing the next. We were also looking way, way back to the 6th Century for what was arguably the first copyright trial involving Colmcille, who might be described as the very first "book pirate." It involved arguments about whether or not one could own the words in a book and whether or not harm was done in copying it. In more modern times, we were discussing how the courts were trying to figure how to divvy up Superman's copyrights after a big copyright termination fight. Meanwhile, we couldn't understand why everyone was so up in arms about literary homage in which someone wrote a "sequel" to classic works and wondered if it was even possible for their to be a fair trial around file sharing when so much of the language around it was inherently biased. In the world of intellectual property abuse, Reddit was being pressured to censor news of a simple URL hack on the Sears.com website that suggested it sold grills for cooking babies, research giant Gartner was telling reporters they couldn't mention its research without permission, and book publishers were jacking up the price of ebooks, because they could. On the patent front, trolls were swooping in to patent anything and everything related to "clean tech" so they'd later be able to demand payment from the companies who did the actual work. Finally, over in the UK, the IFPI was insisting that the Pirate Part shouldn't even be allowed to express doubts about copyright law. Ten Years Ago: Ten years ago this week Google went public and the long national nightmare of the bursting of the original dot com bubble was officially considered closed. Meanwhile in the big Grokster v. MGM case, Grokster won at the appeals court, agreeing with the district court that, like the Betamax, a file sharing app was just a tool, and shouldn't be blamed for infringement done by users. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court later reversed that decision by making up (out of thin air) the idea of an "inducement" standard for copyright law. Speaking of inducement, Congress was having trouble passing a law to make "inducement" a violation of copyright law (you'd think the Supreme Court would have noticed this...) and proponents of the law had handed it off to the copyright maximalists at the Copyright Office to see if they could come up with a "compromise." That compromise never came, and Congress refused to make inducing copyright infringement a form of infringement. The Supreme Court then ignored Congress and created the inducement standard by itself soon after. There were also a whole lot of bad ideas to ban things going on ten years ago. The US was trying to ban advertisements about gambling websites, Australia was trying to ban access to online porn, the Olympics were trying to ban athletes from talking about their experiences at the Olympics online (?!?) and stores were trying to ban customers from using camera phones lest they make use of them for comparison shopping. That seemed to work out well... Fifteen Years Ago: One of my absolute favorite stories of the absolute insanity that was the dot com boom/bubble was when fish oil company Zapata, which was founded by George H.W. Bush, tried to totally reposition itself as an internet company known as Zap.com. The company just seemed to believe if it bought up enough early websites it could become a dot com giant of its own. 15 years ago this week, it announced plans to buy Echo, then a well known NY-based online community. Meanwhile, it appears fifteen years ago was also the first time we wrote about Elon Musk, except we were so confused we called him Elton. Sorry about that, Elton. Fifteen years ago, we were already concerned about the rise of business method patents. We were also a bit surprised to see AT&T sue Intel over an unpaid $5,000 phone bill. We were talking about the instant gratification economy thanks to the launch of Kozmo.com -- an idea that was apparently 15 years ahead of its time. Meanwhile, we were also quite amazed at this crazy idea of letting people broadcast MP3s from their computers to stereo speakers. The future was apparently on the way... One Hundred And Twenty Six Years Ago None of us were alive, but William Seward Burroughs received a patent on what was considered to be the first working "adding machine," kicking off some of what would eventually become the computer revolution. Burroughs had formed the American Arithmometer Company, which later became Burroughs Adding Machine Company, and then just Burroughs Corporation... before eventually merging with Sperry to form Unisys. Burroughs, of course, was also the grandfather of another William S. Burroughs, known for being one of the most well known beat generation writers... who named one collection of his essays The Adding Machine.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 30 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff of interesting crowdfunding projects, we take a quick dive into solar powered chargers. There are a ton of solar power projects on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms out there -- some more ridiculous than others. Here are four more interesting ones that really just focus on charging up your personal devices. Solarpod Pyxis The Solarpod Pyxis is a decent looking 5,000 mAh battery that charges in the sun. They claim the entire battery charges in 4.5 hours, only slightly slower than charging it directly via USB (also an option if you want it). The battery can then be used to charge your phones and tablets and such. They also tossed in 32GB of memory (and an SD card slot) which is a nice add on. Gidgi Okay, how about the Gidgi, which is really a phone case/wallet that also happens to include some solar cells as well. As they note, this way the phone charges any time it's out of your pocket in the light (which I guess assumes you'll be leaving your phone out somewhere to charge it during the day). Looks a little bulky to me, but might be right for some folks. Solar Socket This is for installing in your home. The Solar Socket is a small solar panel and battery that you install on your home (battery size varies based on which model you get), and then you put in a wall socket that has some USB ports that allow you to charge directly off the solar powered battery. Consider it a simpler way of using solar energy without converting your entire house. The Sun Strap And, finally, we've got the Sun Strap. The problem with some of those other solutions is that you have to be willing to leave the devices out in the sun somewhere for long enough that the charging is actually useful. But how many people sit in direct sunlight for that long? The Sun Strap focuses on getting a solar charge while you're out walking around by putting the solar cells on a strap that goes on your backpack straps. As they note, there are other solar backpacks out there, but putting the panels on the strap just seems... nicer (and a lot less expensive). That's it for this week. Go get some sun.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
As a whole bunch of folks sent in, over in the UK, a guy named Philip Danks has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for camcording Fast and Furious 6 and then uploading it to the internet. As is all too often the case, the UK authorities more or less let the movie industry, in the form of FACT (the Federation Against Copyright Theft) run the entire investigation. FACT employees were involved in all facets, including controlling most of the interview after Danks was detained. If that seems... questionable, you have a point. As TorrentFreak now notes, while 33 months may seem extreme, part of the reason for the long sentence was that Danks didn't seem to take the hint: FACT report that following his arrest in 2013, Danks continued to both sell and distribute illegal copies of movies. He was assisted with uploading by Michael Bell, his sister’s former boyfriend. The Court sentenced Bell to a 12 month community order with 120 hours unpaid work. That does seem particularly shortsighted if you wanted to avoid getting into further trouble. Either way, 33 months still sounds rather extreme. Skimming through UK sentencing guidelines, apparently camcording and uploading Fast & Furious 6 is criminally equivalent to a "series of assaults on children" or "protracted neglect and ill-treatment" of a child. That doesn't seem exactly equivalent. Meanwhile Fast & Furious 6 brought in $789 million worldwide, which makes it in the top 50 movies of all time in terms of revenue. It ranks 31st all time in terms of its opening week's performance. Given all that, I'm curious how much "harm" Danks could really have done to the movie. Sure, it seems clear that he violated copyright law, and so it's legitimate to assume some sort of punishment is reasonable. But 33 months in jail when it's hard to see how any actual harm was done? How does that make any sense at all?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
The ODNI continues to comply with court orders from FOIA lawsuits but its compliance is in letter only. Declassifying documents the way the ODNI does isn't helping further the debate on privacy vs. security or making the government's arguments for surveillance dragnets any more clear. Two more documents were released late Friday, with one of them being more about what it doesn't include than what it does and the other potentially leading to irreversible eye damage. First up, the FBI's report on the maintenance and use of [REDACTED] databases. About the only thing surviving the redaction knife is a few footnotes which indicate this document has something to do with the pen register/trap and trace bastardization that turned a targeted surveillance technique with a low legal barrier to entry into a broad, untargeted dragnet with a low legal barrier to entry. (PDF link.) But this is how most of the "declassified" report looks. Right-margin barely large enough to contain the exemptions. The unexpected use of black in a sea of white redactions. All of the above is in addition to several pages that were withheld in their entirety, without even being given the chance to be redacted into uselessness. What remains is mainly footnotes. One supplies a description of PR/TT surveillance pulled directly from the US code. One references CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act). One footnote points out that the FBI is not allowed to "affirmatively search" content gathered incidentally by this program, unless, of course, (truck-sized loophole ahead) it needs to "prevent harm to national security." In total, the document is of zero value to anyone anywhere. No information was freed, nor will it be -- not if intelligence officials have the final say for redactions. The redactions can be challenged, but that's in EPIC's hands. The second document, a declaration in support of the PR/TT program by CIA director George Tenet, contains more readable info… but just barely. There's a lot of redactions in here as well but the main struggle is reading the remaining text which looks like it was rolled off a myopic, 75-year-old mimeograph. (PDF link.) Most of Tenet's declaration revolves around threats the CIA was tracking, none of which are allowed past the censor, despite it being a decade later. The name Al-Qaeda appears every so often, and there's hints of a discussion revolving around surveillance tactics and government actions related to the 9/11 attacks, but most of this information is withheld as well. Interestingly, Tenet notes that the CIA (and other agencies) have picked up signals that signal a "US strike" in the "next four months," possibly in conjunction with the 2004 elections. It also cautions that being too effective may be accelerating terrorists' attack plans, with detainments and other factors possibly causing terrorism leaders to believe their operations are compromised. Tenet declares all the redacted surveillance programs to have been essential in disrupting terrorists' plans and/or possibly pushing attack timetables forward, noting that the PR/TT has been invaluable in lots of things that are completely redacted. In conclusion, please give the NSA/FBI PR/TT dragnet privileges. So much for transparency. Even a discontinued surveillance program is subject to page after page of complete redaction, including documents discussing threats over a decade old whose attacks and plans were either thwarted or never came to fruition. The word "declassify" generally is taken to mean a release of information previously withheld, but in the ODNI's hands, all it means is the release of as little as possible. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
Butter is an awesome addition to nearly any breakfast food (except for cereal, but who knows, have you tried it on cereal?). One of the only problems with butter is that sometimes it's not as spreadable as you'd like it to be. Sure, you can buy special tubs of butter-like substances that are more spreadable, but sometimes you just want a cold pat of real butter on your toast. Here are a few suggestions that could make your life with butter everything you've ever dreamed. Some folks adamantly recommend that everyone should NOT store their butter in a refrigerator. Room temperature butter is obviously more easily spread, but some people just don't like the idea of butter going rancid slowly on a kitchen table. [url] Which edge of a butter knife have you been using all your life? If you said the serrated edge, try the other side when spreading butter. Maybe there is no wrong way, but there's more than one way to use a butter knife. [url] If you want to buy a butter knife that's specifically designed to spread butter better than any other butter knife, throw some bucks at the Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp knife. It's just a bunch of holes in the knife that act like a grater, so you can scrape off buttery bits, even off a cold stick of butter. [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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