posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Dennis Toeppen is at it again. The owner of Suburban Express, Midwestern bussing company that works the university circuit, is best known for filing ridiculous lawsuits against its own customers and online critics, and for running away whenever any serious media attention is paid to its actions, only to re-file those same suits later. Toeppen himself is also known to be someone who harasses those same online critics personally and also occasionally does his best stalker impression for them. Now, according to Champaign-native Kionae, Toeppen is back at it again, choosing to re-re-file those same lawsuits a third time. Toeppen was arrested in Champaign County last month after a former customer complained that Toeppen had posted rude comments regarding him and another customer on Reddit. He appeared in Lake County Court Aug. 8 for his arraignment, pleading not guilty. Shortly after his arrest, Suburban Express re-filed five of its 126 tort or contract damage lawsuits on July 17 in Cook County. These lawsuits were originally filed in Ford County and dismissed by Judge Steve Pacey in July 2013. Jeremy Leval, the Redditor who got this whole saga started after being sued and harrassed by Toeppen simply for sticking up for a foreign exchange student who a bus driver was mocking, is of course among those Toeppen is re-re-filing against. One begins to get the impression that Toeppen and Suburban Express are masochistic, getting some kind of perverse joy out of getting blasted in the media and online. I'm at a loss as to what other forces could be at work here. Though, judging by some of the other customers' stories from those being attacked legally by Suburban Express, the simple answer may be that Toeppen is simply a jerk. A case has also been re-filed against Manfred Kubler, junior in LAS, and his mother, Laurie Casas, for delaying a bus on Jan. 13, 2013. Kubler said he needed to retrieve a backpack, which contained an EpiPen, from his mother’s car after he had boarded his bus. After retrieving the bag, Toeppen asked Kubler to board another bus at the stop after he had sat down. He complied, but after learning that the second bus arrived in Champaign an hour later than the first bus, Kubler was concerned he would not be able to retrieve his luggage, which he said contained his nebulizer and other important medicines, on arrival. He said the first bus began to roll earlier than its planned departure time, but the driver stopped as Kubler walked toward it, inviting him to re-board. Following an altercation between Toeppen, Casas and Kubler after re-boarding, Kubler said Toeppen retrieved his luggage from the first bus’ undercarriage, hitting his mother with the door, and called the police on the two of them. Delightful. What's insane about all of this is that the re-re-filings come the day after Toeppen was arrested for harassment, indicating that it will take more than the justice system to slow down his brand of insanity. I imagine being sanctioned out of existence by some anti-SLAPP legislation that has actual teeth might do the job far better, reminding us again what a shame it is that the US doesn't have such a thing. In the meantime, it might seem reasonable for whichever judge picks up these cases to lay a little lumber to Mr. Toeppen and his clear abuse of the legal system. That and pushing stories about his underhanded behavior up the search engine rankings, as well. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Over the last week, we've been debunking a bizarre "series" of stories over at Huffington Post, which is claiming to be about "the history of email" but is not. It's about a guy, Shiva Ayyadurai, who may have written an implementation of email in the late 1970s, but which was clearly well after email was in widespread use. Ayyadurai's actual program (and as far as I can tell, he has not released any screenshots of what the program actually looked like) may have worked well for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) where he wrote it as a 14-year-old, but it contributed nothing to the future of email. Beyond email existing in various forms long before that, nothing that happened later in the email space appears to have happened because of Ayyadurai's program. Each of the advancements in email came from elsewhere, with no indication that anyone anywhere was even aware of what Ayyadurai had done in New Jersey. Ayyadurai has waged an incredibly bizarre public relations campaign, and the more you look at it, the more bizarre it becomes. However, anyone who looks over any of the primary documentation (much of which we've linked to in our previous posts) can only conclude that while Ayyadurai may have independently come up with some ideas, he most certainly did not invent email. It was widely in use. The key arguments in his claim are obviously false, and prey on (1) a misunderstanding or misrepresetation of copyright law and (2) an almost fraudulent misquoting of Dave Crocker, a guy who really was heavily involved in early email efforts. Again, all of that is discussed in the earlier posts. What I still cannot fathom is how the Huffington Post can stand behind this "reporting." I've now heard from three different HuffPost reporters on the news side who all say that they're horrified that no one at the company has done anything about this. The only official response I got stood by the stories, but actual reporters at the company recognize that their own credibility has been absolutely destroyed by this. It's been pointed out that the five part series is on HuffPo's "blogging" side -- which gives a platform to PR folks with no editorial oversight. But, because HuffPo does little to separate out its "news" division from those open "blogs," the blogs get filed with all sorts of clearly bogus crap. Much of it gets totally ignored, but some (apparently including PR "guru" Larry Weber and his business partner Shiva Ayyadurai) are willing to exploit the fact that no one recognizes the blogging platform has no editorial review, to pretend that a "reputable source" has "confirmed" the story. Ayyadurai himself keeps pointing to the HuffPo stories as some sort of "vindication" (while hilarious suggesting that I'm being paid off by Raytheon...). He leaves out that these are all blog posts by his friends and partners, put up on the site with no editorial review. Again: every serious look into the history has found that he is not the inventor of email. And that's why it's so damaging to the good reporting that some actual HuffPo reporters do, to find out that the company won't retract and renounce this series as a PR campaign for a series of blatantly fraudulent claims -- obvious to anyone who looks at the documentation. Even worse, however, is the fact that part of the HuffPo journalism side -- HuffPo Live -- picked up on the completely bogus campaign and did a whole fawning interview with Ayyadurai, never once presenting the evidence that he's fraudulently misrepresenting basic facts. And, contrary to the claims from Huffington Post's PR people, the HuffPo Live articles, written by Emily Tess Katz do not have any "clarification" -- bogus or not. I've now asked the author of the HuffPo live stories, Emily Tess Katz, multiple times if she still stands by this story, and she has refused to respond. Journalistic integrity! According to one report, she had said she stood by it, and then deleted the tweet. We've talked in the past about the concept of "he said/she said" journalism -- what Journalism Professor Jay Rosen likes to call "the view from nowhere" -- in which journalists feel (incorrectly) that "being objective" means giving "both sides equal weight and letting the reader decide." That's bad. Journalism should be about the search for truth. The thing that's truly baffling here isn't that HuffPo and HuffPo Live are doing "the view from nowhere," but that they're actually actively promoting a lie. It's the view from Bogustan. Rather than promoting the truth or presenting false balance, Huffington Post is actively claiming that a clearly false story is true -- and when presented with reams of evidence on that front, it appears that the company is simply throwing up its hands and hoping the whole story just blows over. Beyond the reporter, I've emailed Huffington Post PR people, and they, too, are now refusing to comment. Meanwhile, some of the company's very good reporters are hanging their heads in shame. My suggestion: perhaps it's time to start looking for a publication to work for that actually takes journalistic integrity seriously.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Following the horrific actions of ISIS/ISIL, in which the group beheaded American journalist James Foley and plastered the video in online forums like Twitter and YouTube, I argued that it is important that the American Public be given the chance to repudiate the aim of the video: paralyzing us with fear. Adding to that thought, Glenn Greenwald argued that the reason one must fight against censorship in the most egregious of speech cases is that such cases are often where the limitation of speech is legitimized. While this may not be a First Amendment consideration, since those sites are not affiliated with the government, it would be a mistake to suggest that free speech is limited as a concept to that narrow legal definition. Free and open speech is an ideal, one that is codified into law in some places, and one which enjoys a more relaxed but important status within societal norms. I can only assume it's a lack of understanding in both arguments above that has led one Forbes writer to rush to praise YouTube for taking down the latest ISIS/ISIL video. You've almost certainly heard that another American has been beheaded at the hands of civilization's enemy, yet you'll have a much harder time finding the video of Steven Sotloff's death on YouTube this time around. Jeff Bercovici suggests this is a good thing. With 100 hours of new footage uploaded every minute, YouTube says it doesn’t, and couldn’t, prescreen content, relying on users to flag violations. In this case, its monitors were, unfortunately, expecting the Sotloff video to be posted after weeks of threats by his captors and a widely circulated video plea by his mother to spare his life. That readiness allowed them to remove the video and shut down the account that posted it within hours. This is how you get an American public uninformed about the brutality of groups like ISIS/ISIL. It's how you legitimize terror groups who themselves wish to impose limitations on the types of things the people under their rule are allowed to see and do. It's the start of how the American public is refused the opportunity to witness the full story. And that last part is especially egregious in a time and place where images rule the news cycle. Here the public is, inundated with the story of an American journalist being murdered at the hands of a group that considers that public a target for violence, and the public isn't even given the opportunity to see the images at hand. This, of course, isn't to argue that people should be forced to watch the brutality. But, as I argued before, denying the American people the opportunity to disabuse ISIS/ISIL of the notion that they can scare us into inaction is something we shouldn't stand for. YouTube can do this, but they shouldn't, and they certainly shouldn't be praised for it. YouTube, on the other hand, has given itself more latitude to make judgement calls by basing its policies on common sense rather than First Amendment absolutism...For tech companies to embrace the principle of free expression is laudable — but they should also leave themselves the maneuverability to deal with bad actors who care nothing for that or any other civilized value. This misunderstands the most important value of free speech: allowing the evil in the world to identify itself. Once we start down the road of disappearing the speech we deem to not have any value, you open the door for alternative interpretations of the value on a whole host of other speech. Censoring the bad actors doesn't make them go away, it only refuses to shine the public light on them. It keeps people from being able to confront the horrible reality that exists and the group that wants to do us harm. That can't be allowed to continue. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Politico is known as the snarky DC-based publication that seems to thrive on considering itself part of the infamous "church of the savvy," where reporting on the play-by-play of the horse race of politics is more important than exposing the truth. However, it apparently has a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to Glenn Greenwald. A bizarre "profile" of Greenwald by Michael Hirsh tries to make the argument that Greenwald has "peaked" mainly because Politico appears to really, really, really want that to be true. Of course, as Jay Rosen pointed out, this is hardly the first time that Politico has asserted that Glenn Greenwald was over as a story. The site did so back in July of 2013, just a month after the first Snowden revelations, claiming "the new cycle has moved on" and "Greenwald doesn't seem to have any more big revelations up his sleeve." Of course, in the 14 months since that was published, Greenwald has broken numerous huge stories about the intelligence community (many much bigger than the original stories), including how the NSA/GCHQ abused the information they had to destroy reputations, plans to infect millions of computers with malware, how the NSA has an internal blog where an analyst brags about "hunting sysadmins" at powerful companies, how the NSA has recorded every phone call in a couple of countries, and how the FBI spied on prominent Muslim Americans. And much more. Plus he wrote a book. But, you know, no more big revelations. The new piece from Hirsh has this perfectly ridiculous line about Greenwald, which shows the level of misguided "snark" in the article: The rest is history. Or journalism. Or treason. Or something. What is it? Who cares? We're just calling the horse races, and this Greenwald guy is a distraction, apparently. This sort of tone is found throughout the piece, including this bizarre line: Will there be many more Snowdens to come, based on Greenwald’s “model”? Perhaps. But it’s more likely that Greenwald Inc. has already peaked. Of course, this comes just weeks after it was recognized (even by Politico!) that The Intercept is working with a new leaker who is clearly not Snowden, because the terrorism watchlist guidelines that Greenwald's The Intercept published came out after Snowden had already fled. But, why bother with facts when the goal is to smear Greenwald as an also-ran? There are many more problems with the piece, starting with the idea that anyone can even measure whether someone has "peaked" or not. But the whole thing has no facts in it, but just appears to be Politico's wishful thinking that this pesky outsider might just fade away.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Over at The Intercept, there's an article claiming that the AP's national security reporter Ken Dilanian had a too cozy relationship with the CIA while he was at the Tribune Company. It's an interesting read, based on pages upon pages of emails between reporters and the CIA that were released under a FOIA request. However, what caught my attention, more than the full story, was something in all of those emails, spotted by Katherine Hawkins. And it's that, on page 363, it seems clear that the CIA, when releasing these emails, redacted the line "Off the record, no comment." It's rather obvious, because Dilanian immediately repeats that line right back, somewhat angrily at the ridiculousness of it. Rather than using the all purpose b(5) redaction, it appears that the CIA is claiming a b(3) and b(6) reason for this comment being "redacted" (even though they left it in in Dilanian's reply). b(3) is for documents "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute" and b(6) is for documents "personnel and medical and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." I'm curious how "off the record, no comment" qualifies as either. It appears to be redactions for redactions' sake.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Via Parker Higgins we learn that Automattic (better known as the Wordpress people) have added singer Janet Jackson to their "Hall of Shame" for sending totally bogus takedowns. Apparently, her people made the wacky claim that this post on "what would your WWE smackdown name be?" represented trademark infringement. It doesn't. The only place it even mentions Jackson is in showing a picture of Sacha Baron Cohen with the following explanation: Costume and entrance: Picture Sacha Baron Cohen in, what else? his movie The Dictator. Elaborate General’s outfit, hat, etc. He walks in flanked by half a dozen sexy female soldiers inspired by the Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation video. Uh, yeah. That's not trademark infringement. It's not copyright infringement. It's not anything but someone writing. The other takedown is equally problematic. It claims the following image is copyright infringement: As you can clearly see that's using a photo of Jackson's famous "wardrobe malfunction" from the Superbowl many years ago, and applying the Things Tim Howard Could Save meme to it. Marginally funny. But not copyright infringement. Not only does Jackson not hold the copyright on that image, it's obvious fair use for whoever does hold the copyright. Still, Automattic's lawyers had some fun with their response, noting that they "tried to use as many Janet Jackson song titles as possible" in the response (while also noting they hope that doesn't lead to another takedown demand): It seems like you believe the use of the trademark “Janet Jackson” is reserved all for you, but we were hoping you’d be open to some feedback because your attempt to control every use of the mark is pretty nasty. If you read up on nominative use, you’ll discover that it doesn’t really matter that “Janet Jackson” is used on this site. If you believe there are any other alleged infringements, would you mind submitting a notice again via our trademark form? http://automattic.com/trademark-policy/ So excited to work with you going forward Nicely done.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Two weeks ago, the DOJ Inspector General released a report on the FBI's use of National Security Letters (NSLs)—the controversial (and unconstitutional) surveillance instruments used to gather personal information of Americans without any prior oversight from a judge. In a little-noticed passage buried in the report, the IG describes how NSLs have been used on journalists in the past, and indicates that the FBI can currently circumvent the Justice Department's media guidelines to do so in the future. When and precisely how can they do so? Well, apparently that's classified. First, some background: In July, after a torrent of criticism that the Justice Department (DOJ) was targeting reporters in the wake of the Associated Press and Fox News scandals, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines for DOJ that tightened the rules for when they could secretly obtain records from reporters. Notably, the guidelines excluded National Security Letters. This is critical because past IG reports, as well as the new one, have harshly criticized the FBI for circumventing the old media guidelines and using NSLs to gain access to reporters' records on at least three occasions. Earlier this year Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman revealed his telephone records had once been targeted by an NSL. As the New York Times reported when the new guidelines were issued in July: There is no change to how the F.B.I. may obtain reporters' calling records via "national security letters," which are exempt from the regular guidelines. A Justice spokesman said the device is "subject to an extensive oversight regime." What is the "extensive oversight regime"? The IG report discusses it, but the FBI has brazenly redacted the whole thing. From page 178 of the new report: The above passage is referencing the FBI's response to the IG's criticism of a leak investigation in which a journalist's telephone records were accessed with an NSL. 28 C.F.R. § 50.10 refers to the media guidelines. Reading between the redactions, it seems that Attorney General approval may required in some classified circumstances but not in others. The FBI thinks those circumstances should be secret. Worse, it seems the FBI has so far ignored another IG recommendation regarding the use of NSLs against reporters. From page 192 of the report: Unfortunately, the redactions in this section make it nearly unintelligible, but it's clear from the reference to the DOJ's media guidelines in the second paragraph that they are writing about leak investigations and journalists. It should be noted from the very first footnote of the 196-page report that the IG strongly objected to many of the redactions within the report, including both information that was made public in previous reports and information they "believe is important to the public's understanding of the FBI's compliance with NSL requirements." And that's the crux of the issue: how can the public be expected to have confidence in a so-called "extensive oversight regime", without any transparency or inkling of what it is? All too often the government has expected us to trust that such authorities are not being abused, while their own investigations continually uncover problems with compliance. Beyond the fact that the whole NSL statute was ruled unconstitutional last year (the ruling is on hold pending appeal), journalists—at the bare minimum—deserve to know when the FBI thinks it can secretly conduct surveillance on them without court approval. As the IG states, this has significant First Amendment implications and it's a travesty that the FBI continues to keep their policies for spying on the press a secret. Reposted from Freedom of the Press Foundation Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
As we wrote back in July, it seems that the trade agreement between Canada and the EU, generally known as CETA, is finally nearing completion, after premature claims to that effect. One reason why we might believe so is that thanks to some public-spirited whistleblower(s), we now have both CETA's main text (pdf) and the annexes (zip). This has permitted Michael Geist to perform an analysis of how the copyright provisions in CETA have evolved since the first leak of the chapter covering intellectual monopolies, posted by Wikileaks back in 2009. At that time, the European Union was pushing for some serious beefing-up of Canadian law in this area: the starting point for copyright in CETA as reflected in 2009 leaked document was typical of European demands in its trade agreements. It wanted Canada to extend the term of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years (Canada is currently at the international standard of life plus 50 years), adopt tough new rules for Internet provider liability, create criminal sanctions for some copyright infringement, implement new rights for broadcasters and visual artists, introduce strict digital lock rules with minimal exceptions, and beef up enforcement powers. In other words, it was looking for Canada to mirror its approach on copyright. Geist's post explores how that gradually changed, as reflected in subsequent leaks, culminating in the latest one, of the full text. Rather remarkably, he finds: The major European copyright demands were ultimately dropped and remaining issues were crafted in a manner consistent with Canadian law. He sees four main reasons for this: First, the domestic policy situation in both Canada and the EU surely had a significant impact as ACTA protests in Europe and consumer interest in copyright in Canada led to the elimination of the criminal provisions and the adoption of better-balanced, consumer-oriented rules. ... Second, while there is much bluster about "strong" European rules or "weak" Canadian laws, the reality is that both are compliant with international standards that offer considerable flexibility in implementation. ... Third, the "made-in-Canada" approach is gradually garnering increased attention around the world as a creative, viable alternative. ... Four, when the European Union was pressed to prioritize its top intellectual property issues during the negotiations, copyright ultimately took a back seat to pharmaceutical patents and protection for geographical indications. While it's great that the copyright provisions of CETA are not nearly as bad as we had feared, there's a worrying implication here for TTIP/TAFTA. The EU's maximalist approach to copyright was only dropped in CETA because Canada fought back. In TTIP, there is zero chance the US will do that -- on the contrary, it may well want the EU to become even more extreme. That means we can probably expect some really awful copyright measures in TTIP, confirming earlier fears about what backroom discussions may be preparing for us. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
I'd say it's been pretty well established at this point that the NYPD sucks at Twitter. Occasionally they get it right and engage with the public in a meaningful way, but too often NYPD officers put things on Twitter that can only serve to cause the public to question their judgement. Insensitivity, racism, and otherwise crass behavior doesn't make the NYPD look all that good, of course, so the top brass has a solution. They're going to review their hiring practices to make sure they're hiring good, level-headed men and women to put on the uniform and protect the public. Hahahahaha, just kidding, they've decided to send some of their officers to "Twitter school" instead. After a series of online gaffes — including a joke tweet about a dead woman and a hashtag that became a laughingstock — the NYPD is forcing top officers to take a course in Twitter. “USE COMMON SENSE” reads a memo handed out to the commanders at the first training session at John Jay College. Yes, police are going to a formal class in order to learn how to use Twitter in a manner consistent with common sense. That appears to indicate that common sense isn't all that common amongst NYPD officers, which should probably be setting off alarm bells in everyone's brain. The kind of person that doesn't know they shouldn't make fun of dead members of the public they're supposed to be protecting and serving probably aren't the kind of people I really want walking around with a gun in the first place. The course is designed to prevent embarrassments like a tweet sent by Capt. Thomas Harnisch of Harlem last month in which he made light of the death of a woman who fell onto the subway tracks at Union Square while using an iPad. “Let me guess, driver’s fault right?” he wrote over his personal account in a tweet directed at a safe-streets advocacy group. Lovely. It's not that a single incident like this was particularly egregious, or that it prevents Harnisch from doing his job. The problem is that when the inability to act appropriately is such a pandemic across the police force that formal training on not acting like a jackass is warranted, the public might better be served by excising said jackasses from the police ranks entirely. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
The Chinese get credit for a lot of things: fireworks, the printing press, bird flu (do not want).... But some things that everyone thinks are Chinese, aren't really Chinese. Here are just a few examples. There's a nine-note melody that immediately signals a Chinese (or generic Asian) stereotype, but where did it come from? Prof Charles Hiroshi Garrett and other curious internet detectives try to track down the origins of this oriental riff, finding that it's not actually Chinese and could be heard in 1847 in a show called The Grand Chinese Spectacle of Aladdin, or The Wonderful Lamp. [url] Chinese food in the US frequently comes with a fortune cookie, but those little desserts actually originated in 19th-century Japan. Fortune cookies were once sold in Japanese confectionery shops in San Francisco before WWII, but then, uh, Japanese Americans were taken away and Chinese businesses took over the fortune cookie industry. [url] The common knowledge is that iPhones are made in China, but technically, the devices are mostly just assembled there. Of the estimated $178.96 wholesale cost of an iPhone, only about 3.6%, or $6.50 of assembly is done in China. The iPhone is obviously sold (and designed) by an entirely US company, and its components are made in several different Asian and European countries. [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

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Thanks to its ingenuity and expeditiousness, the criminal justice system -- from the cops busting perps to judges presiding over arraignments -- is able to perform small miracles. The impossible is nothing, not when these forces come into play. First off, a person picked up by police (for minor possession) managed to commit (inadvertent) suicide with a gun he'd somehow kept hidden during two previous searches of his person. The official statement from police said this: “[Victor White III] was taken into custody, handcuffed behind his back, and transported to the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office for processing. Once at the Sheriff’s Office, White became uncooperative and refused to exit the deputy’s patrol vehicle. As the deputy requested assistance from other deputies, White produced a handgun and fired one round striking himself in the back.” The police questioned his father at 5:00 am the next morning, never once mentioning White was already dead. Police did not allow White's father to see his entire body at the morgue, but what could be seen (White's face) had abrasions and bruising. This somewhat miraculous self-shooting was made even more miraculous by the autopsy report, which showed something else entirely. The autopsy report, issued by Iberia Parish Coroner Dr. Carl M. Ditch six months after the death, revealed that the bullet did not enter the body from behind, as police had claimed. Instead, the report stated that the bullet penetrated White’s chest from the front, perforated his heart and left lung, then exited through his left armpit and injured his upper left arm. So, apparently White, with his hands cuffed behind him, shot himself in the chest. The coroner's report also noticed a couple of other things at odds with the official explanation. According to the report, the forensic pathologist found gunshot residue in the wound, but not the sort of stippling that a close-range shot can sometimes produce. He also found abrasions on White’s face. If you thought this miraculous event would have prompted a full investigation, your faith is sadly misplaced. Despite nothing agreeing with the official narrative, the coroner still found the officers' description of the incident largely believable. Dr. Carl Ditch ruled that White shot himself, and declared his death a suicide. Ditch cited White's "body habitus" as making this highly unlikely event possible. No explanations were given as to how multiple police failed to spot a gun during two pat-downs, nor as to why the involved officers and White weren't tested for powder residue. From one miracle to another. You'd think having a completely airtight alibi would result in charges being dismissed. And this wasn't just any airtight alibi, this was one that could be confirmed by law enforcement officers and their official records. But somehow, because the criminal justice system moves in frustrating and mysterious ways -- this alibi still wasn't good enough. This is how we come to meet Tyree Threatt, 21 years old, facing charges of mugging a woman on June 27. They didn’t arrest him that day, of course, but she gave a description of the mugger. A few weeks later, officers saw Threatt and determined he matched the description. Then they put his photo in a lineup and she picked him out. "Two days after that, a court commissioner signed a warrant for Threatt on a raft of charges, including armed robbery and using a firearm in a violent crime, each of which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Threatt was arrested over the weekend, according to court records." So there he was, facing a crap load of jail time, when the simple fact emerged that on June 27, he was already in jail. Someone incarcerated obviously can't commit criminal acts on the outside. Threatt should have walked away from this one. But he couldn't, because impossibility isn't enough. A public defender who represented Threatt this week says he laid out jail records before a judge Monday showing that his client had what might have been the best possible alibi. But prosecutors said the issue should be sorted out at trial, according to the public defenders office, and the judge declined to release Threatt (he did get $25,000 shaved off his bail). Just being physically unable to commit a crime is no defense against a system that has been fine tuned for prosecution. What seems impossible is now possible, as long as you're willing to have your disbelief forcefully suspended by a perversion of the justice system. But none of this takes into account the law’s stubborn desire to extract a conviction from just about anyone who wanders into its field of vision, despite the apparent physical impossibility of that person to have committed the crime. Someone who was in jail during the alleged crime will now have to return to jail (or make bail) to await a trial for a crime he couldn't possibly commit because the system at play here has decided to sacrifice rights for expeditiousness. Threatt's two options at this particular session were either (a) plead guilty or (b) wait for his turn in the courtroom. It's called a "meet and plead" and it had nothing to do with defending yourself against allegations of impossible criminal activity. Overwhelmed attorneys are pressured by judges into forcing their clients to plead guilty on the day of arraignment to “discounted” and “one-time only” resolutions. So you end up with people who are completely innocent who still plead guilty because they feel like they have no choice and would rather taste freedom again than wait in jail until it’s “sorted out at trial”. Gone is the right to effective representation. If a defense attorney is present, he or she is only there to advise on the choices presented, not defend his or her client. The judge is not there to weigh evidence or even see if the charges should be dropped. The judge is there to accept pleas. Full stop. Anything else -- even something that would take 30 seconds to verify -- is ignored in favor of pushing grist through the judicial mill. In our criminal justice system, the impossible is also the mundane. Narratives only the most extreme conspiracy theorists could love are accepted at face value. Anything that might keep the system from running smoothly -- like someone being unable to leave the building they're in, much less mug someone -- is ignored in favor of obtaining speedy guilty pleas. So, what do you tell the public? That if you're picked up for minor marijuana possession, you might die? That if you were in jail when a crime was committed, you're still a suspect? That doesn't jibe too well with the "if you're doing nothing wrong, you've got nothing to fear" narrative that is pushed by law enforcement defenders and surveillance proponents alike. It's enforcement first and the public's rights and safety are a distance second. Take a look at this chart (via) and see where all the money and attention goes and then ask yourself who's looking out for you. The guy who could take a ride in a cop car and end up dead. Or the guy who could already be caught in the wheels of the system only to find out that being stuck in the machinery doesn't keep the machinery from moving towards its desired conclusions. The criminal justice system doesn't serve the public. It feeds on them. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Public libraries: they're important. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, somebody is going to have to explain to me why we occasionally see people attempt to take books out of libraries on either religious or decency grounds. It seems to me that these people often need a lecture on the First Amendment and how they probably want to be careful about eroding its protections. The latest in need of such a lecture is a group of Texas religious leaders who are circulating a letter demanding a local public library remove all works of fiction that have to do with vampires and the occult. Phillip Missick and other religious leaders have called on the Austin Memorial Library to remove books about vampires, demons and other magical beings from the teen section. Missick is circulating a petition that requests that the "occultic and demonic room be shut down, and these books be purged from the shelves, and that public funds would no longer be used to purchase such material, or at least require parents to check them out for their children," according to the Cleveland Advocate. Missick's reasoning for this is the same moral panic crap we've written about so often: if children read about the occult, they'll end up being demonic little hooligans or whatever. It's Dungeons and Dragons, video games, and chess all over again. But it's all the more egregious when a religious leader calls for the removal of secular funds from a public institution to fulfill his religious views. We don't do that in America. Let me show Pastor Missick why we don't do that, using one of his own statements. "This is dark. There's a sexual element. You have creatures that aren't human. I think it's dangerous for our kids," Missick, a pastor at King of Saints Tabernacle of Cleveland, told KTRK. Now, let me think what other books that might exist that I could argue contain dark literature, sexual elements, and creatures that aren't human? Oh, I know! How about the bible? Plenty that could be considered dark, what with the detailed descriptions of war and Cain killing Abel and all that. Sexual elements? Oh, you betcha, what with the incestuous date-rape of Lot by his daughters and the orgies and whatnot. Non-human creatures? Well, you know, there's God, angels, and demons, so yeah. Most public libraries carry the bible in the reference section, alongside the equally dark-n-sexy religious texts from other major religions. So, are we going to ban the bible in public libraries because of this? Shall we insist no public funds go to buying religious texts, including the bible? Of course not, because libraries aren't for partisan texts, they're for all texts that have value to the public, including texts we may not care for. You can't understand literature if you don't have a basic understanding of religious texts and you can't understand the current realm of young-adult fiction if you don't have access to vampire books. Sad, but that's the way it is. So, hey, to my religious friends: stop trying to ban books. You're chipping away at a federal law that allows you to exist. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
The big broadband providers have all been spinning a yarn for a while now pretending that there's widespread competition. A key partner in this has been the FCC, which for years has helped spread this myth by pushing out totally bogus broadband data. If you want a good laugh, go over to BroadbandMap.gov and type in your address -- and discover a bunch of bogus claims about broadband which you really don't have. The speeds are inflated. The services are inflated. It includes mobile data broadband, despite it being priced much, much higher and with very low caps and limits -- and speeds that no one truly considers to be broadband but, that doesn't stop the big broadband players from using that bogus data to claim there's tons of competition. It looks like maybe, just maybe, the FCC is going to be getting out of the business of furthering this bogus narrative. FCC boss Tom Wheeler gave a very interesting speech today, in which he spoke out about the lack of any real competition. Not only that, he didn't use the FCC's old bogus definitions of broadband. Instead, he made it clear that when we're talking about real broadband most people have no competition. The FCC released this chart in conjunction with his speech: Every part of that chart is useful, because it doesn't just blindly say "broadband" and lump in a bunch of crap that isn't broadband. It shows there may be some (still not much) competition at very low speeds, but as you get up to real broadband speeds, competition basically disappears, with most people having only one option (or no options!). Past FCC's have lumped all this data together in a misleading way to pretend there's a lot more competition. It's good to see Wheeler clearly admit that there isn't -- and that this is a big problem. Wheeler makes it clear that 4 Mbps may be the official FCC definition of broadband, but it's not really broadband with today's internet: The bar on the left reflects the availability of wired broadband using the FCC’s current broadband definition of 4 Mbps. But let’s be clear, this is “yesterday’s broadband.” Four megabits per second isn’t adequate when a single HD video delivered to home or classroom requires 5 Mbps of capacity. This is why we have proposed updating the broadband speed required for universal service support to 10 Mbps. But even 10 Mbps doesn’t fully capture the increasing demand for better wired broadband, of which downstream speed is, of course, only one component. It’s not uncommon for a U.S. Internet-connected household to have six or more connected devices – including televisions, desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. When these devices are used at the same time, as they often are in the evenings, it’s not hard to overwhelm 10 Mbps of bandwidth. And consumer demand is growing; today over 60% of peak-time downloads are streaming audio and video. While today that video may be for entertainment, other applications are right behind. For instance, if we are to tackle healthcare costs, high-speed broadband video for remote examination, diagnosis and even surgery is important. If our students are to get a 21st Century education, high-speed broadband to the classroom is essential. And, increasingly, that high-speed will be in both directions And, he finally admits that wireless broadband is not a real competitor: We have great hopes for wireless as a potential substitute for fixed broadband connections. But today it seems clear that mobile broadband is just not a full substitute for fixed broadband, especially given mobile pricing levels and limited data allowances. We welcome, and we must encourage, the development of new technologies that can bring greater competition and more choices to consumers. Furthermore, Wheeler says he recognizes how many other problems are created when there is no real competition in the broadband market: The simple lesson of history is that competition drives deployment and network innovation. That was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. Our challenge is to keep that competition alive and growing. Of course, some of us have been saying exactly that for years, while wondering why the FCC was doing nothing to help it -- and, actually, often helping to enable consolidation, rather than competition. Wheeler also notes that while Google Fiber and other experiments have clearly driven big broadband players to increase investment (not decrease it), Google Fiber and a few similar players are few and far between with very limited footprints. On top of that, he points out that the switching costs are too high. Even if you have choices, if it's a pain to switch from one to the other that makes you captive to the broadband provider you've signed up with -- and apparently he wants that to change as well. But even two “competitors” overstates the case. Counting the number of choices the consumer has on the day before their Internet service is installed does not measure their competitive alternatives the day after. Once consumers choose a broadband provider, they face high switching costs that include early-termination fees, and equipment rental fees. And, if those disincentives to competition weren’t enough, the media is full of stories of consumers’ struggles to get ISPs to allow them to drop service. Okay. So all of that was very good to see, and actually quite refreshing from the FCC. But there's the big question that remains: we've seen FCC people claim we need more competition, but they've done little to actually make that happen. And... that's where Wheeler's speech begins to fall down. Then it devolves back into lip service. Wheeler says the FCC will protect competition where it exists, will "encourage" greater competition where it is needed, will work to "create" competition where there is none and where that's impossible, will "shoulder the responsibility for deploying" broadband. But, what will that actually mean in practice? Wheeler has talked about preempting bans on muni-broadband, but that needs to become a reality (even as some of Big Broadband's friends in Congress have sought to block it). He doesn't really mention anything about net neutrality or reclassifying broadband under Title II -- which would actually give the FCC more power in this space. He doesn't say anything about the Comcast, Time Warner Cable merger, which would clearly (despite what those companies claim) limit competition (not directly in a market by market basis, but in creating a large dominant player in negotiating deals). Not that anyone actually expected Wheeler to tip his hand on any of those things before an official decision is made, but it's one thing to talk the talk -- and the talk was good -- but to actually walk the walk? It's been a long time since we've seen an FCC willing to make the tough decisions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
We've already mentioned how a number of comments have been submitted concerning Australian Attorney General George Brandis' Hollywood wishlist proposal for copyright reform in Australia. There are a number of interesting comments worth reading. I was pleasantly surprised to see the normally copyright-maximalist BSA come out against the proposal, saying that it will create a real risk of "over-enforcement, punishment of lawful conduct and blocking of lawful content including critically important free speech rights." Dr. Rebecca Giblin, who has studied these issues and other attempts to put in place similar filters (and how they've failed), has also put forth a very interesting comment. The most bizarre comment, however, has to come from Village Roadshow. Village Roadshow is the Australian movie studio that the US State Department admitted was used as the token "Australian" movie studio in the MPAA's big lawsuit against iiNet. iiNet is the Australian ISP that the MPAA (with Village Roadshow appearing as "the local face") sued for not waving a magic wand and stopping piracy. iiNet won its case at basically every stage of the game, and that big legal win is really at the heart of these new regulatory proposals. Apparently, Village Roadshow's CEO still hasn't gotten over the loss in the legal case. I read a lot of public comments to government requests. Comments from individuals may vary in style and quality, but generally speaking, comments from large businesses and professional organizations take on a certain very professional tone. You can see that in basically every comment listed in this particular comment period. Except for Village Roadshow's. The tone is both exceptionally informal and... almost frantic. The use of hyperbole is quite incredible. It claims without these reforms the entire industry will die, and says that infringement is on par with terrorism and pedophilia. Just the intro itself basically highlights the style and tone: Piracy, if not addressed, will shut down the Australian feature film production industry entirely. It will rip out the heart of the cinema and TV industries, creating massive unemployment and slashing the profitability of taxpaying companies. The problem is urgent. Village Roadshow estimates the theatrical business is down 12% as a result of piracy. Rupert Murdoch interviewed in Australia said: “between 15 and 20 percent of Fox’s revenue is being eaten up by illegal downloads”! The problem is urgent as piracy is spreading like a highly infectious disease and as bad habits become entrenched, they become harder to eradicate. Also of course high speed broadband is just around the corner. The dangers posed by piracy are so great, the goal should be total eradication or zero tolerance. Just as there is no place on the internet for terrorism or paedophilia, there should be no place for theft that will impact the livelihoods of the 900,000 people whose security is protected by legitimate copyright. And this is from the company whose CEO is refusing to take part in a public Q&A about the issue because he claims that any such event will be "filled with crazies." The filing also quotes Steve Jobs from Walter Isaacson's book: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realised that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software we’d be out of business. If we weren’t protected there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to dissipate, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason. It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” Of course, there's that other famous Steve Jobs quote that is a bit more accurate: "Picasso had a saying -- 'good artists copy; great artists steal' -- and we've always been shameless about stealing great ideas." And, at least for that quote, we've actually got video of him saying it rather than having it paraphrased through a third party. Village Roadshow's filing actually claims that Brandis' proposal does not go far enough in making ISPs liable and forcing them to magically make piracy disappear: Vitally, in Village’s view, the question of “reasonable steps” presupposes the clear establishment of ISP’s being potentially liable for infringement on their services. It is crucial that this first step be properly legislated – and then ISP’s will approach the consultation process with a legal incentive to co-operate. As the Discussion Paper states “Extending the authorisation liability is essential ….”. Village is concerned that the proposed amendment to Section 101 of the Copyright Act suggested in the Discussion Paper does not clearly achieve this, and supports clear drafting to achieve that objective. The underlines are in the original. Village Roadshow says that it would love to be able to bombard ISPs with notices in a graduated response (i.e., three strikes type) system, but that it will refuse to do so if it actually has to pay for each notice (apparently Village Roadshow not only wants ISPs to be the copyright cops, but it wants them to do so for free). The entire comment filing comes off as ill-thought-out ranting, or last minute answers to a take home exam of a procrastinating junior high school student. Perhaps my favorite example of this is in response to the question "How can the impact of any measures to address online copyright infringement best be measured?" and Village Roadshow starts off its response: Powerfully this will be measured by the results. Powerfully, this comment is not.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
We've been covering the efforts by Hollywood studios to push extreme draconian new copyright laws down in Australia, where their interests are being helped along by the Attorney General George Brandis, who has a cozy relationship with Hollywood, but cannot present any evidence he's ever met with consumer advocates. Brandis pushed out his proposal earlier this year and it was basically Hollywood's wishlist, exactly as many expected. The Australian government has been accepting "comments" on the proposal, and there have been some interesting submissions. Perhaps most interesting was that the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA), a union that represents a combination of both journalists and entertainers, put in a comment supporting the extreme proposal for an internet censorship regime via filtering. You can understand why some of the more shortsighted folks on the "entertainer" side of the union might support such a policy, but the idea that a journalist's union would do so as well seems... troubling. The MEAA proposal said that it "strongly supports the proposal" and even talks up (incorrectly) how useful similar censorship efforts have been in the UK. However, it appears that many MEAA members quite reasonably freaked out to find out that their own union was advocating "strongly" in favor of censorship and internet filters -- because hours later, MEAA withdrew its comments saying that the whole thing was all a big mistake: It was never our intention to make a submission which could in any way be interpreted as supporting an internet filter. We have previously campaigned against Government proposals for an internet filter and will continue to do so, as we also continue to campaign against data retention. That's funny, because in the submission itself they directly talked about how amazingly awesome such a filter in the UK was. Huh. It's almost as if someone simply took some talking points from Hollywood without any real understanding of the deeper issues of what they were supporting, and submitted it -- only to realize afterwards that they were a media union endorsing out and out censorship.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Over the past couple of days we've been writing about an incredibly questionable series of articles at Huffington Post, pretending to be about the "history of email" even though they're not. They're actually a completely bogus rewriting of well-documented history to falsely pretend that a guy named V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai invented email as a 14-year-old boy. He did not. Not only do Ayyadurai and some of his friends totally misrepresent reality, they fraudulently make claims that are easily debunked. As we've discussed, their two biggest claims are (1) that the "US government officially recognized Ayyaudurai as the inventor of email" in 1982 and (2) that a leading analysis of electronic messaging in 1977, by Dave Crocker at RAND, claims that a full interoffice email system is "impossible." Both of these claims are absolutely false. As we've explained, the first one relies on blatantly misleading people about what a copyright is and what Ayyadurai copyrighted. Copyright does not cover "inventions." It only covers creative expression. What Ayyadurai got a copyright on is a specific computer program called "email." That does not mean he invented email. Just as Microsoft holds a copyright on "Windows" but did not invent windowed user interfaces, Ayyadurai did not invent email. The copyright does not mean that he did invent email, and the fact that he and his friends continue to pretend that a copyright is something it is not is farcical. They are relying on the ignorance of reporters and the public about what a copyright is. The second issue is even more damaging. Ayyadurai and his friends claim that Crocker's paper is the "smoking gun" that proves that no one else was working on a full email system at the time. And yet, as we noted, they never actually link to the paper. We did. You can read it here, and you see that not only does it say the exact opposite of what they claim (debunking Ayyadurai's claims), they deliberately misrepresent what Crocker said by taking two separate sentences, from different pages in the report, removing the context around them, and mashing them together to pretend they say something they do not. It's shameless. In our first post, we claimed that perhaps it's true that Ayyadurai was the first person to shorten "electronic mail" (which was in widespread use at the time) to "email" -- but now even that has been called into question. Computer historian Thomas Haigh has been tracking Ayyadurai's lies and misrepresentations for years, and alerts us to the fact that Ayyadurai's story has notably changed over the years, revealing additional misrepresentations and attempts to change history. This includes, among other things, him changing his story about when he completed his work -- and when his program "email" was named. Here's Haigh's analysis: “Electronic mail” was widely discussed in the 1970s, but was usually shortened simply to “MAIL” when naming commands. However, the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition online) gives a June 1979 usage (“Postal Service pushes ahead with E-mail”) so Ayyadurai was not the first to use this contraction in print. The program name “EMAIL” is not mentioned in the 1980 newspaper article on Ayyadurai but does appear in his 1981 Westinghouse competition submission. By that year the name EMAIL was in use by CompuServe. Compuserve had offered timesharing computer access and electronic mail to businesses for years. In 1979 it launched a new service, aiming to sell otherwise wasted evening computer time to consumers for the bargain price of $5 an hour. A trademark application (later abandoned) that CompuServe made for “EMAIL” listed 1981/04/01 as its first use by the company, which fits with this May 1981 message mentioning CompuServe’s “EMAIL program.” By January 1983 “Email™” (for trademark) was part of CompuServe’s advertising campaign. For years CompuServe users could type “GO EMAIL” to read their messages. Whether Ayyadurai or CompuServe was the first to adopt “EMAIL” as a program name it is clear that CompuServe popularized it. Furthermore, Haigh details how Ayyadurai has conveniently tried to rewrite his own history to counter the debunkings. For example, in 2011, he originally claimed that while he was "challenged" to create an electronic interoffice messaging system in 1978, he didn't actually get it to work until 1980. But, of course, by then email was much more widespread. So, Ayyadurai changed the story, and pretended that he was both challenged and wrote his "50,000 lines of code" and got it all working in 1978. Furthermore, as we noted in our second post, Ayyadurai and his friends are now trying to rewrite history to ignore all those other previous email systems by tightly defining what an email system is such that only his qualifies. But, as we noted, most of the features he listed are arbitrary and unrelated to the basics of email. All of the core elements of email were widely used before Ayyadurai wrote his system. Haigh details how Ayyadurai has taken this to absolutely ridiculous extremes, claiming that it's not email unless it has 87 specific features (up from 32, which was ratcheted up from an original 6 -- as he continues to revise history): One of the five main tabs on Ayyadurai’s new site is “Definition of email.” This presents a short version (“email is the electronic version of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based email system”) and two lengthy checklists. The first checklist presents 32 distinct features of the traditional mail system, all of which he claims were necessary (“if any one component was taken away…you no longer had a functioning interoffice mail system.”) The second checklist repeats these, with some additional items added, and places a check mark by each one to indicate that Ayyadurai’s system had that capability. There are 87 of these check marks. If I understand his argument correctly then this signifies that a system must possess 87 specific features to properly be called email. Has this definition been widely accepted since 1978, as Ayyadurai claims? No it has not. Indeed, Ayyadurai’s own website did not include these definitions of email until recently. The old site (prior to June 2012) offered a quite different six point definition of “an E-Mail System.” These six points were: User-Friendly Interface; A Rich Set of Features; Network Wide; Security and Login; Enterprise Management; Database and Archival. The definition was originally presented as the work of one Matthew J. Labrador. Labrador claims to have “met Shiva in 1981 in a computer science class” and to have been impressed by his modesty. He recently been motivated by inaccurate reports on email origins to “do my own research… to provide readers with a more comprehensive and holistic history.” Ayyudari’s resume lists Labrador as a student whose bachelor’s thesis he supervised in 1990. Labrador, whose prose style closely resembles Ayyadurai’s own, expressed awe at Ayyadurai’s accomplishments (“in writing this History, I was amazed at the vision that Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai had even as a 13 year old, in developing that first E-Mail system”), acknowledged his graciousness in providing materials, and proceeded to show that Ayyadurai’s system met this unorthodox six point definition. Either way, given the abundant evidence that Ayyadurai's claim is complete bullshit, we were still left amazed that Huffington Post has allowed this to remain on its site. Late yesterday, a PR person from Huffington Post finally got back to me, claiming they did not get my original email. Huffington Post not only stupidly stands by the completely false story, it claims that the matter is okay because they've "updated each piece with a clarification." The clarification is not a "clarification" and it's not an apology for publishing a totally bullshit series. It's merely a repeating of Ayyadurai's lies. Incredibly, they repeat his exact language, suggesting the "clarification" is either from him directly, or taken from the claims in the bogus articles. *Clarification about the series: Electronic messaging predates email. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky in 2012, email, spelled uppercase or lowercase, as defined in 1978, was a computer program which was the first full-scale electronic version of the interoffice mail system (Inbox, Outbox, Drafts, Folders, Attachments, etc.), containing the integrated features of what we experience today in "email" programs. However, this is not to imply that prior to the invention of email in 1978, simple methods of computer-to-computer or device-to-device electronic messaging did not exist. In fact such methods of sending text messages electronically -- text messaging -- could be said to date back to the Morse code telegraph of the mid-1800s; or the 1939 World's Fair where IBM sent a message of congratulations from San Francisco to New York on an IBM radio-type, calling it a "high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow." The original text message, electronic transfer of content or images, ARPANET messaging, and even the familiar "@" sign were used in primitive electronic computer-to-computer messaging systems. While the technology pioneers who created these messaging systems should be heralded for their efforts, and given credit for their specific accomplishments and contributions, these early computer-to-computer messaging programs were clearly not email, the system of interconnected parts intended to emulate the interoffice mail system. There is much credit to spread around to the vast community of academic, industrial and military researchers and engineers who eclipsed the industrial revolution with their contributions to computer science and computer and network engineering. There is no intention to take credit where it is not due. However, email as we know and experience it today, not electronic messaging, was first created in 1978 at UMDNJ. Except, this is equally misleading. The systems in place long before 1978 absolutely were "electronic mail" and absolutely "emulated the interoffice mail system." "Email as we know it" was absolutely not first created at 1978 at UMDNJ and any basic reading of the actual documentation would prove that. I asked Huffington Post's PR people if they really wanted to make this statement, pointing out that it would only make them look silly. For reasons I cannot fathom, they appear to be standing by it and have not yet replied. Furthermore, this completely misleading and factually bogus "clarification" has not, in fact, been placed on all of the articles in this series. This HuffPost Live article by Emily Tess Katz does not include it at all, but rather repeats many long-disproved claims by Ayyadurai. Apparently Katz tweeted that she stands behind the article, but later deleted that tweet. I asked her again last night if she still stood by the article, but, par for the course, she has not replied. Huffington Post's PR people further told me that (1) it had not received any money for publishing the series (i.e., it's not a sponsored post) and (2) that "the authors declared no financial interest." Oh really? As I've pointed out, Larry Weber is one of the biggest names in PR. He didn't just magically decide to write an entire series of blatant falsehoods about the history of email. In fact, it didn't take much sleuthing to discover that Ayyadurai and Weber are business partners in "EchoMail", the company that Ayyadurai also likes to insist was a major part of email's history (it wasn't). Ayyadurai claims that EchoMail "grew to nearly $200 million in market valuation" but provides no evidence for that. Was the company public? Where does this valuation come from? For such an important company, you'd think there'd be a lot more information online about it, but there's basically none. The Wikipedia page for it says that EchoMail is a "subsidiary of General Interactive, but was initially developed under Information Cybernetics." The only "citation" to support these claims is this page at General Interactive. However, General Interactive appears to just be yet another (in an increasingly long list) of websites of questionable businesses that appear to do nothing but promote... V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai. For such a big company, you'd assume there'd be some press reports somewhere. So far, I can find none. It's possible they exist, but they are not readily available. It's not hard, however, to find news reports on other big companies of that generation. Either way, Echomail notes that companies like American Express and IBM are customers. It somehow leaves out that the only confirmation I can find of this is a lawsuit EchoMail filed against both companies in 2005. So, at least they were customers, though it doesn't appear to have ended on friendly terms. Basically, no matter where you start to dig in, nearly everything about Ayyadurai's claims is incredibly sketchy, or outright disproven and debunked widely. It's incredible that Huffington Post has decided to stand by this and merely repeat debunked claims. Even if, as some have claimed, the posts by Weber, Ayyadurai and their friends are on the "unedited" blogs section of HuffPo, the HuffPo Live pieces are a part of the "news" business, and they are reporting blatantly false information. As per usual, Ayyadurai himself refuses to address any of this other than pointing back to the same debunked claims. His Twitter feed is hilarious, just constantly repeating claims, in a foot stamping manner, sometimes referring to himself in the third person. No evidence, no support. And, of course, BBN doesn't claim to have "invented email." Like pretty much everyone else, BBN notes that it was among those who made significant contributions to a large group effort that became email. Oh, and there's also this amusing tweet in which Ayyadurai appears to be implying that we're paid off by Raytheon for writing this. We're curious if Ayyadurai would like to try to present any evidence that a giant defense contractor is paying us off to (1) explain basic copyright law and (2) point to the actual 1977 paper that Ayyadurai himself totally misrepresents. Because we'd like to see him try. In the meantime, the folks over at Huffington Post (the ones who still believe in journalistic integrity) might want to take a closer look at what's going on over there.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
I've never hidden my perhaps strange fascination with video game music. Everything from soundtracks to fan-made remixes, it's something that I love. But, for some reason, video game music for many people isn't so much a lark as a point of major industry contention. Recently we discussed how one composer's union turned into his enemy when he was simply working on a video game. The latest example, however, details how apparently professional musicians and/or their representatives got a game developer to shut down a fan-music contest out of what seems to be pure spite. Some background is in order. Several years ago, developer Red Thread Games produced two insanely good point-and-click adventure games, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. For the third installment, the team decided to turn to Kickstarter for funding, asking for $850k to produce the game and instead getting over one and a half million dollars in funding from fans. It's everything you want out of a Kickstarter story, with a great team organizing their rabid fan-base to both make money and produce another awesome game. And, while Red Thread Games already had a music composer on staff to create the larger soundtrack composition, the team wanted to give a nod to their dedicated fans and set up a contest by which fans could compose background/ambient music for small sections of the game, with the winners of the contest having their compositions included in the eventual release. And that's when everything went to hell. Supposedly professionals within the music arena felt as if the contest was designed to exploit fans and get a hold of royalty-free music for the game, a similar argument that originally caused The Fine Young Capitalists campaign to get shutdown.An update on the official Kickstarter page for Dreamfall: Chapters The Longest Journey details that the contest had been cancelled due to the conflict surrounding the event. As noted on the update, the decision is final and the contest won't be returning. “We do understand the different points of view and the reasons behind some of the backlash, even though we also feel our intentions were perhaps misrepresented and misunderstood. This was not an attempt on our part to commission free music for the game — we already have a fantastic score, a professional composer and some diegetic music — but rather a response to the community asking for a chance to get their music into the game. We felt this competition could benefit both the game and our fans.” And so concludes the attempt by Red Thread Games to connect with their fans in possibly the most meaningful way: inclusion within the project. A fan contest for small amounts of music was done in by industry musicians with no skin in the game. The backlash in the comments on the project, as well as on Twitter and other social media, made the developers out to be greedy robber barons looking to avoid paying a professional musician, which is an interesting theory considering the game already has a professional composer on staff. This was all about letting the fans have some fun, but the industry shouted it down until the project was shut down. The sad reality here is that someone who could have been thoroughly talented, and just needed an opportunity to get their music out there, had a potential avenue to a career in music cut short. This isn't to say that anyone who submitted music to the contest could have become the next Jesper Kyd or Marty O'Donnell, but killing these kind of opportunities to bridge the connection between developers and gamers only hurts game culture. Could you imagine if the same thing extended to the games arena and game jam contests came under the same fire? It's like killing off the potentiality of future artists before they even have a chance to shine. That last bit is of extreme importance, because it's the correct rebuttal to anyone involved in blasting this contest who also says they were doing so to protect the music industry. No, you weren't. You were just being dicks. As a result, a great game is a little less fun and none of you are any more hired for the project today than you were yesterday. Bang up job all around. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
We've heard some folks claim that all these bogus takedown notices we write about are just "anomalies" rather than a pattern of abuse of the law for the purpose of censorship. And yet, there are more and more examples every day. The latest one is particularly bizarre. IFPI (the international version of the RIAA) has apparently been issuing a series of bogus takedown notices to get Kim Dotcom's album "Good Times" taken down off of his own site, Mega. That's... quite incredible. This does not appear to be a strange attempt to hide Dotcom's music, but it looks to just be pure sloppiness on the part of the IFPI issuing misguided takedowns. That is, the IFPI takedown notice lists a totally different song (and it turns out this is the second time this has happened to Dotcom's album in the past month). As short-sighted as the IFPI is, it would take an other wordly level of stupidity to directly target Dotcom's music with a bogus takedown. Even the IFPI must know that that would backfire badly. The story that it's an "accident" makes much more sense. Dotcom filed a counternotice and the album was back up after about a day of being down. However, the real issue here is just how common this sort of thing is. And it comes from the same folks who like to (1) insist that it's "easy" to tell infringing works from non-infringing works and (2) demand that entire sites be blocked based just on their say-so that those sites are "illegal." Of course, Dotcom has some experience on that front, seeing as his own website, Megaupload, was shut down nearly three years ago, despite no adversarial hearing in a court of law on whether or not it was legal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
As Techdirt has reported, so far corporate sovereignty has emerged as the most contentious issue in the TTIP/TAFTA negotiations. In response to the growing public concern in Europe, the European Commission held a consultation on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), although that proved largely a sham, with the desired outcome clearly signalled by the choice of questions and how they were framed. Indeed, Karel De Gucht, the EU Commissioner with overall responsibility for TTIP, even went so far as to call the unprecedented 150,000 public responses an "outright attack" -- which is an interesting way to characterize democracy in action. By contrast, corporate sovereignty has not figured so prominently in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement discussions, even though it is likely to be as problematic there as for the transatlantic nations. The one exception is in Australia, where there has been an interesting debate on the topic thanks to Philip Morris using ISDS to sue that country over plain packaging for cigarettes, and more recently because of a Bill proposed by Peter Whish-Wilson, a senator from the Australian Greens party. It's called the "Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014" (pdf), and consists of the following succinct paragraph: The [Australian] Commonwealth must not, on or after the commencement of this Act, enter into an agreement (however described) with one or more foreign countries that includes an investor-state dispute settlement provision. Earlier this year, the Australian Senate referred the Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation committee for an inquiry and report, which provided a rare opportunity for the public to comment on the inclusion of ISDS in TPP and other agreements. As with the European Commission's consultation, the response was huge. The recently-published report (pdf) explains: The committee also received over 11,000 emails from individuals using an online tool by which people could express their opposition to ISDS clauses in trade agreements to the committee. Due to the large number of emails received, it was not possible for the committee to accept them as submissions and publish them on the committee’s website. The committee, however, agreed to accept the emails as correspondence, and acknowledge them on the committee's website. Although they didn't call it an "outright attack" like De Gucht, the committee was still unable to recognize that using an "online tool" is a perfectly natural and legitimate way for people to express their views these days. The committee also made a recommendation that the Bill should not be passed. But as a press release from the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network (AFTINET) points out (pdf), the Australian government has a majority on the committee, so it was hardly likely to support a Bill that went against its own policy of accepting ISDS chapters on a case-by-case basis. However, the report is reasonably fair in its distillation of the objections to the inclusion of corporate sovereignty clauses as outlined in submissions, and it's worth reading the short document for a good summary of those, and of the arguments in favor of ISDS, which are echoed by the report as follows: The committee is of the view that many of the alleged risks to Australian sovereignty and law making arising from the ISDS system are overstated and are not supported by the history of Australia's involvement in negotiating trade agreements. While the committee acknowledges that past experience may not be an accurate guide to the future in terms of potential ISDS claims against Australia, it stresses that the investment treaty arbitration field is evolving in positive ways to enable countries, including Australia, to put exclusions in place, limit the application of ISDS to the investment sections of agreements, and generally tighten up the wording of agreements. The committee is of the view that it is far more important for Australia to manage any risks associated with ISDS provisions than to reverse its longstanding treaty practice and opt out of the ISDS system altogether. That is, corporate sovereignty hasn't been too much of a problem in the past (if you ignore the threat from Philip Morris), and we're sure we can fix any problems that arise in the future. The first point is an incredibly naïve viewpoint given the changing ISDS landscape, with dozens of new cases each year, and multi-billion dollar awards being made. The second commands no confidence given the refusal to allow people to see drafts of these secret agreements involving ISDS; that means, for example, that serious blunders by the negotiators may not be caught until it is too late to do anything about them, with costly consequences for taxpayers. And even if there are no obvious mistakes in the texts, corporations will still use the threat of ISDS actions to bluff and to bully. The Bill is unlikely to pass in the Australian Senate, and almost certain not to in the House of Representatives, where the Australian government retains a majority, but it has at least provided an opportunity for ordinary people to express their views on a matter that will have a big impact on their daily lives. Although that is welcome, it's disgraceful that they were only able to do so thanks to the efforts of the Australian Greens party, which proposed this Bill largely with that end in view. Such consultations should be a matter of course for these kind of agreements, and the opinions expressed should have a real influence on the negotiations -- and not simply be filed away as empty exercises in pretend democracy. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
The big telcos don't exactly have particularly good records protecting your privacy. And now the FCC has reached an agreement with Verizon to pay the largest ever fine to the FCC to settle a long-term practice of hiding the fact that customers could opt-out of having their private info shared with marketers. Even as the "largest" ever such fine, it's still pennies for Verizon at $7.4 million. At issue was that Verizon is required to have either an opt-in system for sharing information on users with marketers or an opt-out system. But if they have an opt-out system, they have to clearly tell new customers that they can opt-out and how to do so. Not surprisingly, Verizon chose the "opt-out" method... and then conveniently left out the part where they tell customers they have the right to opt-out. And they did this for several years. To approximately two million customers. Oh, and to make matters worse, the company is required to let the FCC know of any violation within five business days of becoming aware of it. Verizon finally "noticed" it's own failure to tell people about the opt-out in September of 2012, but forgot to say anything to the FCC for... 126 days. That's a bit longer than five. For many of its customers, Verizon has used an opt-out process, sending opt-out notices to customers either as a message in their first bill or in a welcome letter. During its investigation, the Enforcement Bureau learned that, beginning in 2006 and continuing for several years thereafter, Verizon failed to generate the required opt-out notices to approximately two million customers, depriving them of their right to deny Verizon permission to access or use their personal information for certain marketing purposes. Moreover, the Enforcement Bureau learned that Verizon personnel failed to discover these problems until September 2012, and the company failed to notify the FCC of these problems until January 18, 2013, 126 days later. Under the terms of the Consent Decree the FCC announced today, Verizon must take significant steps to improve how it protects the privacy rights of its customers. For example, Verizon will now include opt-out notices on every bill, not just the first bill, and it will put systems in place to monitor and test its billing systems and opt-out notice process to ensure that customers are receiving proper notices of their privacy rights. Any problems detected that are more than an anomaly must be reported to the Commission within five business days, and any noncompliance must be reported as well. To resolve the matter, Verizon will pay $7.4 million to the U.S. Treasury, which is the largest such payment in FCC history for settling an investigation related solely to the privacy of telephone customers’ personal information. The fine is a slap on the wrist, but this once again suggests the rather cavalier attitude the telcos have concerning privacy and the ways in which they clearly are not particularly concerned about obeying FCC regulations.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
It's never fun to walk unexpectedly into a spider web because you didn't see it. And even if you're not a true arachnophobe, it's still a bit unsettling to see a spider scurry across a wall or the floor in the way only an eight-legged creature can. If you genuinely like spiders, then you perhaps these stories on finding arachnids in unexpected places will be fascinating. Otherwise, maybe you'd better not read on. There are arachnids on your face. Right. Now. Seriously. Okay, so microscopic arachnids -- distantly related to spiders and ticks -- that live in your facial pores (and on nearly every mammal on the planet) aren't visible to the naked eye and are generally harmless, but still. [url] In 2013, in the Brazilian town of Santo Antonio da Platina, spiders built a big web overhead and the spiders crawled around a disturbingly large area where it looked like spiders were just floating in the sky. A biologist identified the spiders as Anelosimus eximius and said this wasn't an unusual event for other cities like Sao Paulo -- so you've been warned, folks. [url] Mazda issued a recall for 42,000 cars because the yellow sac spider likes to crawl into Mazda engines through a fuel tank hose and potentially cause a fire. Apparently, these particular spiders like Mazda vehicles because this isn't the only recall issued due to these little guys crawling into Mazdas. Zoom-Zoom! Yikes! [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

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Apparently it's a big deadmau5 day on Techdirt. Not only do we have the story of Ferrari looking into blocking the sale of his Purrari, Disney is officially opposing his attempt to trademark his logo mousehead, which he famously wears in concert. Deadmau5 responded to this by saying "lawyer up mickey" though we're pretty sure that Mickey's been quite "lawyered up" for a long, long, long time. He further noted: Disney thinks you might confuse an established electronic musician / performer with a cartoon mouse. That's how stupid they think you are. — deadmau5 (@deadmau5) September 3, 2014 While he's right that the likelihood of confusion may not be that strong, it wouldn't actually be a surprise to see Disney win this. Disney has a big music business on its own, and Deadmau5's mouse head may be considered similar enough. I personally think it's silly, and the real likelihood that anyone thinks Deadmau5 is associated with Disney is pretty slim, but the USPTO doesn't always agree with me, and (again) "Mickey" has some powerful lawyers on his side. Of course, it's not really a big deal if Disney succeeds here. All it would do is block Deadmau5 from having a registered trademark on the design, but that's neither necessary nor required. The real question is if Disney would go even further and attempt to block Deadmau5 from continuing to use the design. That... would be a lot more questionable.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Los Angeles law enforcement has been battling privacy activists seeking access to license plate data for over a year now. The plate and location data scooped up by the city's many automatic license plate readers is considered fair game by law enforcement because visible license plates obviously don't carry any sort of expectation of privacy. This argument only goes one way though. Back in July of last year, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept. refused to hand over plate data, citing confidentiality concerns. While using one of side of its mouth to argue that plates aren't personally identifiable information, the LASD used the other side to claim that releasing the data was impossible because even anonymized, non-personal data was too sensitive for public release. Let that argument soak in for a bit, because that's basically what Judge James Challant said in his opinion preventing the release of the data: "The [LPR] data contains hot list comparisons, the disclosure of which could greatly harm a criminal investigation," Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote in his 18-page decision. "It also would reveal patrol patterns which could compromise ongoing investigations, and even fixed point data could undermine investigations. Disclosure could also be used by a criminal to find and harm a third party. Balanced against these harms is the interest in ascertaining law enforcement abuse of the ALPR system and a general understanding of the picture law enforcement receives of an individual from the system, unsupported by any evidence as to how well the ALPR data will show this information. The balancing works in favor of non-disclosure." So, harvesting license plates and location data is no different than walking around with a camera snapping photos of vehicles driving or parked on public streets. But this very public collection method is somehow also a protected method that could be undermined by the release of data. While some patrol patterns might be ascertained from a week's worth of data, it's unlikely that such a short selection would reveal much. The judge also could have asked for a redacted release, with plates/locations tied to ongoing investigations blacked out, but instead he simply bought into law enforcement's arguments. (Caveat: Los Angeles law enforcement has argued that every plate collected is "relevant" to its investigations.) The idea that a criminal could use the database to "find and harm someone" is the most ridiculous statement. (Although the circular reasoning about whether or not the undisclosed information will show abuse by law enforcement comes close. If you can't see it, you can't really look for signs of abuse.) License plates are public information. Anyone with eyes could "find and harm someone" by looking for license plates. (And -- again -- I thought this data wasn't "personally identifiable.") As long as the vehicle isn't parked inside, anyone can see its plate and location. While a dump of license plate data would make it easier, it's not as though withholding the information will have any noticeable effect on that sort of criminal behavior. The end result is the expected: law enforcement gets access to anything considered "public information" and the public gets nothing in return but second-hand concerns about compromising investigations. It's the same argument, whether it's local law enforcement or the NSA. The public can't logically make the argument that plate readers are a violation of privacy but it has every right to expect that its law enforcement agencies are handling data responsibly and can be held accountable if they aren't. Humoring arguments like "all data is relevant" and "public data is confidential" doesn't achieve that end. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Plebgate is one of those silly minor political spats in the UK involving a top UK politician who apparently got angry that police wouldn't let him ride his bike out of the main gate at 10 Downing Street. The details really don't matter. It's just one of those political type stories that the press loves. But, now it's come out that in investigating this incident, the Metropolitan Police appear to have abused an anti-terror law to obtain the phone records of journalists who reported on the story. Specifically, the police made use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), the big anti-terror law in the UK that earlier this year we noted was abused to track down a government whistleblower. And this time it was used to get the phone records of Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of The Sun, because the Sun reported on the whole Plebgate affair. The use of RIPA -- which, again, is supposed to be for tracking down terrorists -- let the police circumvent the law they're supposed to use, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), which requires the police to actually go before a judge first when trying to access journalistic materials. With RIPA, the police could just claim they need the records, and boom, the phone company handed them over. For various obvious reasons, journalists are fairly alarmed by this clear abuse of the law to view the private communications of journalists. From the Guardian's coverage of this: Sources in the Sun newsroom said Newton Dunn was disgusted and outraged to learn the police had seized his phone records. “The first we knew of it was yesterday, we are taking legal advice,” said the source on Tuesday. “We would never have known unless the Met report came out.” Another said: “This is unbelievable. It’s like the secret police going round checking journalists’ phones. If they have done this, the bigger question is how often have they done this?” Actually, the bigger question goes beyond just how often have they done this for journalists' records, but how often are they doing this for lots of other stuff. As David Meyer at GigaOm rightly points out, the recent (rushed through with no debate) data retention law, DRIP, in the UK expands RIPA to cover all kinds of internet communications as well. Thus, thanks to DRIP, the police can get all sorts of similar information -- and they seem clearly willing to use it on cases that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all, but even in minor political spats that involve the police themselves. It's not a surprise that surveillance laws will be abused. But it's worth highlighting when they're abused so egregiously.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
We've seen all sorts of bizarre and questionable attempts by companies to silence criticism or content they just don't like. Bogus copyright, trademark and defamation claims are pretty standard these days. There's also just general "begging" or the random "tortious interference" arguments. But according to Metafilter's Matt Haughey, timeshare company Sundance Vacations may have taken things to insane new levels: forging a bogus court order to try to get Metafilter to remove a years-old thread. It started nearly two years ago when Sundance Vacations sent Haughey an email, asking him to remove this 2010 thread in which someone asked about Sundance Vacations marketing process -- starting off with "am I about to get screwed by Sundance Vacactions?" leading to a rather tame discussion about the sales tactics of the timeshare industry, and ways to deal with the dreaded "informational meeting" (really a hard sales pitch). The email included an attachment of a "court order" against someone who was supposedly running a "Sundance Vacations Protest site" barring them from speaking negatively about the company online. I don't see how such a court order is actually legal given the whole First Amendment, but we'll leave that aside for the moment. Haughey pointed out that the person named in the court order was clearly not the person who posted the Metafilter thread, and everyone went on with their lives. Until a few days ago, when Sundance Vacations sent a new email to Haughey, talking about a new court order, apparently against the person running this Boycott Sundance Vacations Facebook group. Bizarrely, the "court order" listed the Metafilter page in the document. Haughey posted the court order as an image: As Haughey noted, there are some oddities in that court order. For example, the signature page has a "signature" of "Sundance Vacations" (actually signed as such) rather than the name of an individual, as would actually be required. The part at the top listing the plaintiff and defendant has "Sundance Vacations" in a different size and font than everything else -- suggesting a cheap insertion. Even reading through the document, much of it looks to be about a basic restraining order between two individuals rather than a company. The order mentions "Defendant Friedman" despite the fact there is no Defendant listed with the name Friedman. On top of that, the Order lists out five URLs which it claims are defamatory and says that plaintiffs can use the order to get those articles removed or delisted. While it's not unheard of for local clueless courts to make such rulings, you can't actually make such an order, because it violates Section 230 of the CDA. Thus even if it were true, it wouldn't be enforceable. But it's not actually true. After questioning it, Haughey called the actual court: Today (Tuesday) I called a clerk in the Hinds County Chancery Court office. They asked me to fax them a copy of the court order so they could verify the document. I did as requested and a few hours later got a call back from the office saying it was not a real document from their court. The case numbers on the first page are from an unrelated case that took place last year. The clerk said they found a case from August 21, 2014 that used similar language but had different plaintiffs and defendants, but the same lawyers on page 3. In their opinion, it seemed someone grabbed a PDF from a different case and copy/pasted new details to it before sending it on to me. As Haughey notes, forging court documents is a felony. It kind of makes you wonder, if a company will commit felonies to hide some (very mild) online criticism, what kind of crap will it do in its regular business of trying to do high pressure sales to buy into their timeshare? Ken "Popehat" White points out that Sundance Vacations is now denying having sent the email, though it's pretty difficult to think who else might be sending such an email. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...