posted 29 days ago on techdirt
As we've pointed out in the past, the wireless providers, led by lobbying group CTIA, are desperate not to have the FCC include wireless broadband in whatever new net neutrality/open internet rules it releases. However, Tom Wheeler has been hinting that he's had enough of wireless providers screwing over the American public. The head of CTIA, Meredith Attwell Baker (famous for jumping from an FCC commissioner job to head Comcast lobbyist just months after she approved Comcast's merger with NBC Universal), has written an absolutely hilarious opinion piece at Wireless Week insisting that everyone loves their wireless providers, so there's no need whatsoever to apply any net neutrality rules. Of course, her definition of everybody loving their mobile operator differs from, well, basically everyone not paid by the mobile operators to be their public spokesperson. From our innovation economy to the free exchange of ideas, the United States is a shining example to the world of the promise of an open Internet. It is widely embraced by policymakers, innovators and consumers alike, particularly with respect to mobile broadband. We remain the global leader in mobile innovation and have embraced openness across the ecosystem. So much so, that not a single formal complaint against wireless providers has been made to the Federal Communications Commission since it first adopted open Internet rules in 2010. Oh, really? First of all, that last sentence is so ridiculous that it deserves a special callout for just how blatantly dishonest it is. You know why there's been no formal complaint to the FCC against wireless providers under its 2010 open internet rules? Because those rules never applied to wireless in the first place. This was one of the major loophole/problems with the 2010 rules: they explicitly carved out wireless providers. So the reason why there haven't been any formal complaints against wireless providers is because you couldn't make a formal complaint under those rules. To use that as the example of "nothing to see, move along now" is ridiculous -- and totally dishonest. Furthermore, the idea that the US is a "shining example" is laughable. Our mobile broadband offerings are a joke. The mobile carriers have run into many, many problems, often around really nasty anti-consumer practices. As we've discussed just this week, AT&T got fined for lying to subscribers by selling them an "unlimited" plan and then throttling it down to useless, and Verizon Wireless agreed to pay $64 million for regularly overbilling customers. Sure, there were no complaints under the open internet rules that didn't even apply to the wireless providers, but there were tons of complaints about anti-consumer behavior. And that's not even mentioning AT&T getting fined (earlier this month) for cramming charges put on consumers' bills (in which the FCC made use of its Title II authority, which could be the prime tool for net neutrality rules). Or their efforts to block out alternate payment solutions in favor of their own ISIS Softcard initiative. Or the efforts to block certain devices from their network. The US mobile broadband network is not, in any way, a shining beacon of openness and freedom as Attwell Baker represents. It's the opposite. Subjecting wireless broadband networks to rules that dictate how wired broadband networks are designed and operated would be a mistake. Instead, wireless network managers need maximum flexibility to keep networks expanding and clear. And wireless companies need the ability to differentiate their products and services without having to ask permission. This is our best guarantee that we maintain an open and innovative Internet—one in which mobile broadband retains its virtually limitless capacity to transform our lives. Ha! What she's proposing is that while wireless providers may not have to ask for permission, everyone else will have to do so because what CTIA wants is for the mobile operators to be able to discriminate and block and set up tollbooths. If we have to choose between the big wireless providers having to "ask for permission" from the FCC to engage in anti-consumer behavior... or every app maker, or online service provider having to beg for permission to work on a mobile network, it seems like the former is much more likely to lead to an "open and innovative internet." In commenting on last month’s vote for Scottish independence, President Obama turned to an old maxim that retains a modern ring of truth: ‘If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.’ When it comes to maintaining the open Internet and all the momentum surrounding mobile broadband, we couldn't agree more. It seems like the mobile ecosystem is very, very broken, considering just how much the mobile operators have been able to get away with. But, we're supposed to ignore all of that just because no one complained under a set of rules that they couldn't complain under? How stupid does CTIA think everyone is?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Here we go again. For some reason, alcohol products, particularly beer, seem to make everyone go trademark crazy. This latest case concerns Empire Brewing Company out of New York (you know, the "Empire State") and their latest brew released in bottle form, called "Strikes Bock." Do you already know where this is going? I'm pretty sure you already know where this is going. Lucasfilm has filed a trademark dispute with a small brewery in Syracuse, New York. Empire Brewing Co., named after New York’s Empire State Building, recently applied for a trademark for its signature lager, Strikes Bock, according to Syracuse.com. The Star Wars producer contends Empire’s beer infringes on Lucasfilm trademarks and could be used to deceive consumers or cause brand confusion. Of course, Lucasfilm, now featuring a litigation supercharger in the form of Disney ownership, has filed a trademark dispute. As best as the internet can tell me, there is no such thing as a Star Wars beer produced by Lucasfilm. As the trademark opposition itself notes, the trademark that Lucasfilm has is for "toys, games, apparel, video/computer games, personal-care products, paints, trading cards, confections, prerecorded films and music, books, magazines, music and entertainment services." I don't see beer. Or any other kinds of beverages. The best Lucasfilm can come up with in its opposition filings is that Lucasfilm licensed the "Skywalker" name to Skywalker Vineyards, which makes Skywalker wines. But it still seems like a stretch to argue there's a likelihood of confusion here, rather than just a basic homage to the film. “The thing is the beer is called ‘Strikes Bock,’ not ‘Empire Strikes Bock,’” Empire Brewing Co. owner David Katleski said. “It’s ‘Strikes Bock,’ by Empire.” That may sound like a minor difference, but add to it the fact that Empire Brewing Company's name is not in itself under dispute and their logos and packaging to date are in no way similar to any Star Wars films, and what we end up with is an obvious nod to the film -- one which won't cause any brand confusion -- that's being disputed by Lucasfilm just to be a pain in the ass. It's worth noting, by the way, that Strikes Bock certainly isn't the only such craft beer nod. Here's a list of some more, including my favorite. Lucasfilm might have a marginally stronger argument as a dilution claim, but especially given that it's not actually "Empire Strikes Bock," or even "Empire's Strike Bock," but "Strike Bock by Empire Brewing Company," even the dilution claim feels a bit iffy. Katleski has hired a lawyer, but he also acknowledges his small brewery doesn't have the money to contend with Lucasfilm in the long run if they decide to throw their money behind this. Of course, there is a reasonable flip side to this, which is that if they're just such a small brewery, why did the company even bother filing for a trademark in the first place? The company doesn't need the trademark to sell the beer. It could easily rely on common law trademark instead of getting a registered one, saving it some money (and calling in the attention of Lucasfilm/Disney lawyers). In the end, though, we just have another trademark dispute that doesn't seem to serve any real benefit to anyone.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've heard some mumbling about one of the main reasons that the CIA has been dragging its feet on declassifying the executive summary of the CIA torture report that the Senate Intelligence Committee put together: it knows there's a decent chance that the Republicans will win the Senate next week, and suddenly the report may disappear from view. As you may recall, the Intelligence Committee (with support from GOP Senators) voted to declassify the 480 page executive summary of the 6,300 page report (which the Senate spent $40 million putting together). Multiple leaks concerning the report have suggested that it's devastating and details how terrible the CIA's torture program was, how it was completely ineffective and how the CIA lied about it all. But most of the support for releasing the report is coming from the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Dianne Feinstein (who sides with the NSA on plenty of stuff, but is more willing to challenge the CIA). But if the Republicans take the Senate next week, then the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee will likely shift to Senator Richard Burr, who has made it quite clear that he's on the CIA's team and against the public interest. "I personally don't believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly," Burr told reporters in March. "If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing." It's also expected that Burr will try to muzzle Ron Wyden and Mark Udall (if Udall is re-elected, which is iffy at this point): If Burr takes over as chair, he could easily sideline the committee's vocal civil libertarian bloc led by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and bolstered by Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), two senators who've called for Brennan's resignation. Udall, in particular, drew blunt criticisms from Burr earlier this year for disclosing the existence of an internal CIA review of the detention and interrogation program that Democrats believe vindicates their own study. "I think Mark did make some public releases that were committee-sensitive information, but that's for the committee internally to handle," Burr told reporters in March. "My concern is that the release of information could potentially cause the losses of life to Americans. That to me, is a threshold that should be addressed." As for the torture report itself, Burr has already said that the report is inaccurate and he's against it being released in any form. When a group of religious leaders asked him to support releasing the report, Burr told them he didn't think the report was accurate: Last year, Burr drew criticism from more than 190 North Carolina religious leaders, including Christians, Jews, Quakers, and Muslims, for opposing the release of the Senate's post-9/11 torture report. "The U.S. does not condone torture, but torture has been done by our citizens and in our country's name," reads a letter the religious leaders sent Burr. "We are writing to you as fellow people of faith to support the release of the ... report." Disappointing the religious groups, Burr responded in a letter saying he opposed making the report public due to factual inaccuracies contained within the report. "I believe the American public should be provided with reports that are based on accurate facts," he said. Given all of this, if the GOP does win, it seems like the only way the public may ever see the details is if someone steps up and leaks the damn thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Gautham Nagesh at the Wall Street Journal (who was also the first to reveal many of the details of Tom Wheeler's original net neutrality proposal) had a story last night confirming the buzz over the last few weeks that Wheeler is now exploring a new set of "hybrid" net neutrality rules that appear, on their face, to take parts of the plans that consumer groups want and parts of what the broadband players want... and comes out, in the end, with a plan that almost no one wants. There is something to the old saying that a good compromise leaves everyone a little unhappy, but it appears that the rules being contemplated right now might leave nearly everyone really unhappy. It's not clear that's a good result. First, it's important to note that the WSJ article only describes the plan in slightly vague generalities, and the specifics matter a lot in these situations. It's tough to know exactly how good or how bad this is without those details, but there are some broad brush strokes of what the FCC is leaking now to see what sort of reaction there is. The plan looks to be loosely based on a proposal Mozilla submitted back in May, in which the FCC sets up rules that sort of split the baby, by separating out the relationships directly between various internet providers, classifying that under Title II (common carrier rules), while leaving the last mile sections (the part delivered to you at your home or office) regulated under 706 as an "information service." But then, it sets up very loose rules on top of that structure, that potentially have massive loopholes for the broadband players -- and that's where the specifics matter. The end result could be that the broadband players could still make deals for "differentiated services" to the end connection -- which is what many fighting for net neutrality were most worried about. Here's how the WSJ describes Wheeler's current thinking: The plan now under consideration would separate broadband into two distinct services: a retail one, in which consumers would pay broadband providers for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content. The FCC would then classify the back-end service as a common carrier, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers. But, yes, the plan would still allow for paid prioritization: People familiar with the FCC’s thinking say the agency remains skeptical of a flat ban on paid prioritization, noting that even common carriers are allowed to charge for certain specialized services. Mr. Wheeler suggested in December that he would be open to some such arrangement. He has been careful since then to emphasize that the FCC won’t tolerate harmful discrimination, though hasn't called for a flat ban. [....] The proposal would leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for, say, videogamers or online video providers, which require a particularly large amount of bandwidth. The proposal would also allow the commission to explore usage-based pricing at some point, in which consumers are charged based on how much data they use and companies are able to subsidize traffic to their websites or applications. In an attempt to deal with the concerns of such paid prioritization, Wheeler's plan apparently would put the burden on the telcos to have to "prove that the arrangements would be beneficial to consumers and equally available to any company that would like to participate." If this is the actual plan, it's definitely better than Wheeler's original May plan, which would have allowed such prioritization if it were "commercially reasonable." Having a combination of it being "beneficial to consumers" and with a non-discrimination component is a clear step up. But -- and here's the important bit -- it's unclear what benefit this hybrid proposal really buys. Anything that touches on declaring any part of the network Title II is going to lead to lawsuits from the broadband players, as Verizon made clear just yesterday. In fact, it potentially gives them another legal argument in saying that not only is using Title II improper, but so is the attempt to slice and dice what parts of the network get Title II. And, the consumer advocate groups may (in a funny way) be with them on that argument. In a statement Free Press put out in response to the WSJ article, they also declare the splitting the baby solution to be legally dubious: The FCC is supposed to protect our communications, period. Chairman Wheeler can't wave a wand, change the law, and pretend to break the Internet in two. But these schemes suggest just that: dividing the Internet to protect corporations sending information, but not the people receiving it. Such an untested, too-clever-by-half approach is bad law and a bad idea. It will not survive in court, and it is clearly inferior to reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. It's also unlikely to buy Wheeler any political support from Congress. The anti-net neutrality crowd in Congress which has been so revved up to be against anything that even hints at Title II will immediately condemn this plan, and supporters from the other side will find it equally distasteful in allowing the broadband guys to mess around with the last mile connections. Still, the end result here seems like a plan that may be noticeably better that the original proposal, but which angers almost everyone, and possibly kicks off a more aggressive set of legal challenges that may be more complicated (and potentially even less likely to survive a legal challenge). While I recognize and appreciate the goal of trying to find a "compromise," it seems that coming up with one that is even less likely to survive a legal challenge is a risky proposition, because it means in another three to five years, we'll be right back here again after a court tosses out these rules and a different FCC has to try again. This definitely is a shift towards stronger rules, but the devil is in the details, and many people seem to be wondering, if the FCC is willing to go part way towards Title II and strong net neutrality rules, why not go all the way. The political opposition will likely be the same, as will the legal challenges. A compromise solution always sounds nice, but it's not entirely clear what this buys in the long run. And, if this plan (again, details matter) still leaves a way for big broadband players to pick winners and losers, that's a problem. And, again, that's what this all comes down to. When the big broadband players get to act as gatekeepers who can set up tollbooths for internet services, there's a real risk of massive chilling effects and a worse overall internet experience.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Gautham Nagesh at the Wall Street Journal (who was also the first to reveal many of the details of Tom Wheeler's original net neutrality proposal) had a story last night confirming the buzz over the last few weeks that Wheeler is now exploring a new set of "hybrid" net neutrality rules that appear, on their face, to take parts of the plans that consumer groups want and parts of what the broadband players want... and comes out, in the end, with a plan that almost no one wants. There is something to the old saying that a good compromise leaves everyone a little unhappy, but it appears that the rules being contemplated right now might leave nearly everyone really unhappy. It's not clear that's a good result. First, it's important to note that the WSJ article only describes the plan in slightly vague generalities, and the specifics matter a lot in these situations. It's tough to know exactly how good or how bad this is without those details, but there are some broad brush strokes of what the FCC is leaking now to see what sort of reaction there is. The plan looks to be loosely based on a proposal Mozilla submitted back in May, in which the FCC sets up rules that sort of split the baby, by separating out the relationships directly between various internet providers, classifying that under Title II (common carrier rules), while leaving the last mile sections (the part delivered to you at your home or office) regulated under 706 as an "information service." But then, it sets up very loose rules on top of that structure, that potentially have massive loopholes for the broadband players -- and that's where the specifics matter. The end result could be that the broadband players could still make deals for "differentiated services" to the end connection -- which is what many fighting for net neutrality were most worried about. Here's how the WSJ describes Wheeler's current thinking: The plan now under consideration would separate broadband into two distinct services: a retail one, in which consumers would pay broadband providers for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content. The FCC would then classify the back-end service as a common carrier, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers. But, yes, the plan would still allow for paid prioritization: People familiar with the FCC’s thinking say the agency remains skeptical of a flat ban on paid prioritization, noting that even common carriers are allowed to charge for certain specialized services. Mr. Wheeler suggested in December that he would be open to some such arrangement. He has been careful since then to emphasize that the FCC won’t tolerate harmful discrimination, though hasn't called for a flat ban. [....] The proposal would leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for, say, videogamers or online video providers, which require a particularly large amount of bandwidth. The proposal would also allow the commission to explore usage-based pricing at some point, in which consumers are charged based on how much data they use and companies are able to subsidize traffic to their websites or applications. In an attempt to deal with the concerns of such paid prioritization, Wheeler's plan apparently would put the burden on the telcos to have to "prove that the arrangements would be beneficial to consumers and equally available to any company that would like to participate." If this is the actual plan, it's definitely better than Wheeler's original May plan, which would have allowed such prioritization if it were "commercially reasonable." Having a combination of it being "beneficial to consumers" and with a non-discrimination component is a clear step up. But -- and here's the important bit -- it's unclear what benefit this hybrid proposal really buys. Anything that touches on declaring any part of the network Title II is going to lead to lawsuits from the broadband players, as Verizon made clear just yesterday. In fact, it potentially gives them another legal argument in saying that not only is using Title II improper, but so is the attempt to slice and dice what parts of the network get Title II. And, the consumer advocate groups may (in a funny way) be with them on that argument. In a statement Free Press put out in response to the WSJ article, they also declare the splitting the baby solution to be legally dubious: The FCC is supposed to protect our communications, period. Chairman Wheeler can't wave a wand, change the law, and pretend to break the Internet in two. But these schemes suggest just that: dividing the Internet to protect corporations sending information, but not the people receiving it. Such an untested, too-clever-by-half approach is bad law and a bad idea. It will not survive in court, and it is clearly inferior to reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. It's also unlikely to buy Wheeler any political support from Congress. The anti-net neutrality crowd in Congress which has been so revved up to be against anything that even hints at Title II will immediately condemn this plan, and supporters from the other side will find it equally distasteful in allowing the broadband guys to mess around with the last mile connections. Still, the end result here seems like a plan that may be noticeably better that the original proposal, but which angers almost everyone, and possibly kicks off a more aggressive set of legal challenges that may be more complicated (and potentially even less likely to survive a legal challenge). While I recognize and appreciate the goal of trying to find a "compromise," it seems that coming up with one that is even less likely to survive a legal challenge is a risky proposition, because it means in another three to five years, we'll be right back here again after a court tosses out these rules and a different FCC has to try again. This definitely is a shift towards stronger rules, but the devil is in the details, and many people seem to be wondering, if the FCC is willing to go part way towards Title II and strong net neutrality rules, why not go all the way. The political opposition will likely be the same, as will the legal challenges. A compromise solution always sounds nice, but it's not entirely clear what this buys in the long run. And, if this plan (again, details matter) still leaves a way for big broadband players to pick winners and losers, that's a problem. And, again, that's what this all comes down to. When the big broadband players get to act as gatekeepers who can set up tollbooths for internet services, there's a real risk of massive chilling effects and a worse overall internet experience.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
We've been meaning to weigh in some more on the whole Amazon/Hachette battle, because lot of misinformation has been spewed around (including by

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
In September, both Apple and Google announced plans to encrypt information on iOS and Android devices by default. Almost immediately, there was a collective freakout by law enforcement types. But, try as they might, these law enforcement folks couldn't paint any realistic scenario of where this would be a serious problem. Sure, they conjured up scenarios, but upon inspection they pretty much all fell apart. Instead, what was clear was that encryption could protect users from people copying information off of phones without permission, and, in fact, the FBI itself recommends you encrypt the data on your phone. But it didn't stop FBI director James Comey from ignoring the advice of his own agency and pushing for a new law that would create back doors (he called them front doors, but when asked to explain the difference, he admitted that he wasn't "smart enough" to understand the distinction) in such encryption. So, now, of course, the FBI/DOJ gets to go up to Congress and tell them scary stories about just how necessary breaking encryption would be. And it's being done in total secrecy, because if it was done in public, experts might debunk the claims, like they've done with basically all of the scenarios provided in public to date. FBI and Justice Department officials met with House staffers this week for a classified briefing on how encryption is hurting police investigations, according to staffers familiar with the meeting. The briefing included Democratic and Republican aides for the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the staffers said. The meeting was held in a classified room, and aides are forbidden from revealing what was discussed. It's almost guaranteed that someone will introduce some legislation, written primarily by the FBI, pushing for this (such a bill is almost certainly already sitting in some DOJ bureaucrat's desk drawer, so they just need to dot some i's, cross some t's and come up with a silly acronym name for the bill). So far, many in Congress have been outspoken against such a law, but never underestimate the ability of the FBI to mislead Congress with some FUD, leading to all sorts of scare stories about how we need this or we're all going to die.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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EFF recently learned about a patent that covered a method of filming a yoga class. We reviewed the patent and discovered that it was just as ridiculous as it sounded. Despite our familiarity with absurd patents and our concerns about cursory review at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), we were still surprised that this one issued. It seemed the so-called "invention" wasn't the kind of thing that should be patented at all—or at the very least, was not something novel or nonobvious. Yet another stupid patent, and winner of our October accolades. There's a silver lining to this story. The yoga community affected by this stupid patent wasn't willing to give in. Instead, the community fought back, and as our post was set to go live (and on the day EFF contacted the patentee's lawyers for comment), the patentee publicly disclaimed all interest in the patent. So this stupid patent is now a stupid ex-patent. Even though the patent owner, YogaGlo, Inc., has already given up, we think the story of this patent is still worth telling. We think it reveals a lot about how our patent system is desperately broken. This story is one of a grave series of omissions and errors that resulted in a patent that should never have been granted in the first place, and a patent applicant incentivized to do everything in its power to keep filing for more. This blog post goes into this history in detail. Filing for a Patent on Filming a Yoga Class U.S. Patent No. 8,605,152 claims to cover a "method and apparatus for yoga class imaging and streaming." To be clear, the patent involves slightly more than just filming a class, but not much. The claims require, among other things, "a studio having a front area and a rear area," "a line of sight corridor," and an "image capturing device" at a "height of about three feet." In non-patent speak: a room, a direct view of the instructor, and a camera positioned about three feet above the ground. Figure 2 from the patent, shown below, is described as "an embodiment of the present invention," and shows all the elements of the claimed "invention." The yoga patent came out of U.S. Patent Application No. 13/763,569 (the "'569 Application"), filed on February 8, 2013. Derik Mills, the CEO of YogaGlo, Inc., a Santa Monica based company that strives to provide "the experience of being in the class at your home," listed himself as the inventor. At the time the '569 Application was filed, a related patent was also making its way through the PTO. Mills had previously filed U.S. Patent Application 13/220,621 (the "'621 Application") on August 29, 2011. Both applications claimed priority (meaning there was a claim to an earlier date of "invention") to a previous application filed August 27, 2010. This sort of "continuation practice"—having multiple applications relating to the same or related inventions—is common at the PTO. What was not common, however, was that the original '621 Application was literally identical to the original '569 Application: Mills sought to claim the exact same thing through both the '569 and '621 Applications. (It is unclear why Mills filed two applications with exactly the same claims. One possibility is that Mills felt his chances with the second examiner were better than the first.) Often, similar or related applications are assigned to the same examiner. But Mills' applications were given to two different examiners for review (we're not sure why). The '569 Application was assigned to Examiner Nhon T. Diep and the '621 Application was Examiner Mohammad J. Rahman. Both the '569 Application and the '621 Application were initially rejected. Diep initially rejected the '569 Application on July 3, 2013, on two grounds: double patenting (can't get two patents on the same thing) and obviousness (the "invention" was not different enough from what came before). In making the obviousness rejection, Examiner Diep relied exclusively on patents or patent applications. Shortly after that, on August 5, 2013, Rahman (faced with the exact same claims that had just been rejected) rejected the '621 Application for the same reasons. But from there, the two applications and their histories at the PTO diverge. "YogaGlo intends to enforce its intellectual property rights" On August 26, 2013, despite having both its patent applications initially rejected on multiple grounds, YogaGlo sent demand letters to its competitors, including Yoga International. In the letter, YogaGlo (through its lawyers) pointed to its patent applications and stated its belief that Yoga International "streams online fitness classes that mimics [sic] the method and technique of YogaGlo's U.S. patent application." Although YogaGlo did not explicitly demand that Yoga International remove the videos it believed infringed YogaGlo's not-yet-existing rights, it warned that the letter "shall serve as actual notice of the existence of the YogaGlo Patent Applications" and "upon patent issuance, damages may be due retroactively to the date of patent publication." Yoga International, concerned by the idea that a company could get a patent on filming a yoga class, decided to fight back. It told the yoga community about the letter and the yoga community went into uproar. Yoga Alliance, another Yoga organization, started a petition asking YogaGlo to withdraw its patent applications and received over 14,000 signatures. YogaGlo responded with its own interpretation of the situation, saying that it filed for the patents "in order to continue to provide our community with this distinctive online yoga class experience at an affordable price." In effect, YogaGlo's argument appeared to be that without patent protection, it would cease to exist. Except that for at least the first few years of YogaGlo's existence, this wasn't true. YogaGlo, it seemed, had been flourishing for many years without the patent protection it now felt it needed. Patent Protection Not Required Nor Deserved Patents are only supposed to be granted on what is novel and nonobvious. The Patent Office, in initially rejecting YogaGlo's patents, relied on other patents and patent applications. But filming a yoga class didn't seem to us like something that should (or would) be in a patent or patent application. Filming methods just aren't something that are traditionally patented (nor should they be). Instead, it seemed to us that prior art for systems and methods for filming would most likely be found in actual films. So in order to help understand just how "novel" YogaGlo's invention was, we did an Internet search for other, similar "systems" and "methods." Below is a collection of just some of the videos we found, all uploaded or filmed before YogaGlo filed its patent application: Based on our search, it seems like YogaGlo's patent should never have issued. But even more interesting is that last screen shot. Its similarity to Figure 2 of YogaGlo's patent applications is not surprising, because it is from YogaGlo's own website—and it's dated July 28, 2009. This is a problem for YogaGlo. Even if something is novel and nonobvious, a patent should not be granted if the application is filed more than one year after the "invention" is made, used, or sold. This is commonly referred to as the "one-year statutory bar." Basically, you can't patent something once the public has known about it for over a year. The public policy rationale is that patents are meant, in part, to get inventors to disclose their inventions to the public. If the invention has already been disclosed, the applicant didn't need the patent "carrot". The one-year statutory bar is well known by patent practitioners and is often used to invalidate a patent or prevent one from issuing. One organization, after receiving YogaGlo's letter, found YogaGlo's invalidating videos and recognized their importance. After receiving YogaGlo's letter, and before any patent issued, that organization sent YogaGlo's lawyers a letter and pointed to the videos as prior art,. And Yoga International wasn't the only ones who noticed that YogaGlo shouldn't be able to get a patent. A comment on YogaGlo's own website on the post about YogaGlo's patent applications, dated before any patent issued, also highlighted the videos: That link at the end? That's to the "Manual of Patent Examining Procedure" and the section on the one-year statutory bar. Back at the Patent Office Because YogaGlo filed its original patent application (the one to which both its applications claimed priority to) on August 27, 2010, more than one year after it had posted videos using its "invention," no patent should have been allowed. The one-year statutory bar prohibits it. But if the PTO doesn't know about prior art, it can't use it to reject an application. This is why the patent office relies on patent prosecutors (the people who file applications on behalf of inventors) to bring to light prior art known to the applicant. The PTO itself will do a search, but it's expected that prosecutors will point out art too. Indeed, they have a duty to do so. In prosecuting the two applications, Mills and YogaGlo were represented by patent prosecutor working at the same office as the lawyer who sent Yoga International and others the letter about YogaGlo's patent applications. This is also the same the law firm office that received the responses, including its mention of YogaGlo's own invalidating videos. But despite the duty of disclosure, neither Mills, YogaGlo's lawyers, nor anyone else associated with YogaGlo notified the PTO about YogaGlo's own videos that implicated the one-year statutory bar. At this point, its important to note is that the '569 Application was filed under what's called the "Accelerated Examination Program." This program allows applicants to get their applications reviewed more quickly if they can meet certain requirements, including making a statement regarding the "most closely related" prior art and how the "invention" is different than what came before. (Normally a hopeful patentee isn't required to particularly point this art out. It's enough to merely list it on a form). YogaGlo identified and discussed some prior art, but it failed to bring up the most damning examples: its own videos. So on October 7, 2013, when it came time to address the examiner's initial rejection, YogaGlo did not identify its own videos and correct the failure to identify them at the outset. Instead, it filed an "amendment" and "request for reconsideration" of its '569 Application. YogaGlo modified its claims slightly, and argued that the claims were now patentable. The reason? The prior art, according to YogaGlo, didn't disclose "a line of sight corridor." In plain English: YogaGlo argued that when filming a teacher from eye level at the back of the room, it wasn't known or obvious to keep students from blocking the camera's view of the teacher (yes, really). Incredibly, Mills and YogaGlo—despite Yoga International's letter, posts on their blog, and explicit recognition of the duty of candor—never told the PTO about its videos. Instead, on October 29, 2013 and without explanation, Examiner Diep allowed YogaGlo's patent, having never been given the chance to consider the art that was so clearly important. To be clear, Examiner Diep did a search for prior art. He searched databases available at the PTO, but he did not do a YouTube (or even general Internet) search. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he did not find YogaGlo's videos, or the many other videos that predated YogaGlo's "invention," among the patent databases he searched. The '569 Application issued on December 10, 2013, almost two months after YogaGlo received the information pointing out YogaGlo's prior art videos, and more than four years after YogaGlo had first started posting its videos. If at First You Succeed, Try Again? Having received one patent, YogaGlo continued to seek a second through its '621 Application. On February 5, 2014, like with the '569 Application, YogaGlo modified its claims slightly and argued that the claims of the '621 Application were now patentable. Again YogaGlo did not disclose its own videos. But unlike Examiner Diep, Examiner Rahman searched for prior art on YouTube. Below is part of his results: Through this YouTube search, Examiner Rahman was able to easily find YogaGlo's own videos that implicated the one-year statutory bar. On that basis, the '621 Application was finally rejected on March 7, 2014. But in a practice that has become all too common at the patent office, the "final" rejection became not so final. On September 17, 2014, YogaGlo asked the examiner to reconsider the application. In an act that can only be called brazen, YogaGlo argued that it's own videos were not prior art, because "while the video appears to show the line of sight corridor, it is clear that it does not show the widening of the corridor as shown in Fig. 1" Here is Figure 1 from the application with another frame from that "John Friend" video: We're having a hard time figuring out how this does not blow YogaGlo's claim out of the water. When looking at the frame (a different one than that cited by the examiner), YogaGlo's argument seems completely frivolous to us. But because the examiner cited to a different frame, YogaGlo was able to cite to some minute distinction between its claim and the picture Examiner Rahman found, and ignored the rest of its video. But even if a distinction exists, why does it matter? Is this really something that's a "patentable distinction" over the prior art? Should someone be entitled to a patent every time a room is set up differently or a camera is moved slightly? Practices at the PTO encourage applicants to keep filing, and to make this sort of meaningless distinction. Examiner Rahman had already finally rejected this application once. But YogaGlo is insistent. Unfortunately, if Examiner Rahman wants to get this work off his plate, the quickest and easiest way is to allow the patent. And applicants know this. Symptom of a Larger Problem YogaGlo's patent never should have been filed, and never should have issued. Even more importantly, hopeful patentees should not be incentivized to continue to push for patents despite clear evidence showing the claims are invalid. In the broader view, it seems unlikely that patents are needed in order to incentivize people to develop new systems and methods for filming. Hollywood has existed for many generations without every director rushing out to patent new styles and angles of filming. Most likely, this is because patenting a new way of filming just doesn't seem like something that patents were meant to protect, and nor are they needed in order to encourage the next Stanley Kubrick. And YogaGlo seems to acknowledge this: their own statement says they wanted to protect the "look and feel" of their videos. This is not something our patent system was designed to protect. But our culture of overclaiming of intellectual property rights likely encouraged YogaGlo to file for a patent and incentivized YogaGlo to seek it at all costs—including honesty. We don't know why YogaGlo's decided to not disclose its own videos, but its failure to do so seems questionable (at best). We asked YogaGlo's lawyer for comment, but he declined. The PTO relies on applicant disclosures, and should be able to, but in this case, it is clear that such reliance was misplaced. And what is also clear is that an incentive exists to not disclose. The fee worksheet in the file history for the '569 patent application shows that YogaGlo paid $663 when it filed its application. After paying a few more thousand in fees during the pendency of the application, YogaGlo got an almost twenty-year monopoly on its systems and methods for filming a yoga class. We strongly believe that YogaGlo's patent never should have issued. And we're glad YogaGlo has belatedly agreed. YogaGlo's pending patent application is as deeply flawed as the issued patent. It should do the right thing and abandon its application too. Although pressure from the Yoga community convinced YogaGlo to do the right thing at least with respect to the issued patent, for most people getting rid of a patent is not so easy. To invalidate a patent, the cost is a minimum of $6,000, which is the cost of filing an ex parte re-examination. Fortunately for the Yoga community, people were willing and able to fight back. But often communities aren't able to do so, and EFF can't help with every stupid patent we find (trust us, we see a lot of them). This is why reform is needed: too many incentives exist to encourage patent applicants to be less than forthcoming, and it is too expensive and difficult to challenge stupid patents. We hope that in telling this story we can start a dialog on how to fix the system to make sure that no one gets a stupid patent on filming a yoga class again. Reposted from the EFF Deeplinks Blog Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
So, hey, let's say you're an old guy in a tiny town in central Wisconsin. Old, like, seventy-five, let's say, and the tiny town is farm country where you have a twenty-acre plot of good old American heartland. Now, let's say that the municipality hasn't appreciated the fact that you've kept your tractors out on the land you own and even went so far as to get a judge to level thousands of dollars of fines on you for not putting your toys away, because that's apparently a thing that can happen. Now let's say you've been ignoring these civil fines for some time. Under those conditions, would you expect this to show up on your lawn? Could you repeat that? I couldn't hear your answer over the sound of you crapping your pants... Yes, along with a couple dozen SWAT officers, 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner had his property assaulted by a BearCat armored vehicle for the crime of not keeping things as tidy as the local government would like and refusing to pay the fines they levied. Marathon County sheriff’s captain Greg Bean declined to answer multiple requests for comment, but told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the large police presence was called in because law enforcement officials expected they would have to seize large equipment. See, this is our fault. I don't think any of us realized that SWAT teams moonlight as large-format moving companies. I always thought they were for things involving tactics more complicated than the tactics of getting a tractor onto the hitch of a Mack truck. But, hey, what do I know? I'm sure Mr. Bean isn't prone to saying super ridiculous stuff or anything. So how about that BearCat? “I’ve been involved in about five standoff situations where, as soon as the MARV showed up, the person gives up,” Bean told the Journal Sentinel. I don't think the fact that the BearCat makes your job super easy to do is the proper justification for its deployment. If it was, why bother with the BearCat? Why not just bring the perp's mother to the scene and threaten to put a bullet through her head if perp doesn't give up immediately. Sure, it would be wholly unethical and inappropriate, but I bet Bean could still use the quote above, so all's good, yes? This is yet another obvious and gross misuse of tactical and/or military-grade equipment in a haphazard way. Hoeppner owes Stettin, his city of 2500 residents, $80,000 in fines for not keeping his property as clean as the city would like. In other words, he left his tractors out. As a result, he faced down a BearCat and a SWAT team, which then escorted him to the bank where he paid his fines and was escorted back out by SWAT. All of this because the authorities couldn't be bothered to come up with a creative way to get Hoeppner out of his house. “I just don’t understand why a dollar and a half of postage on an envelope that I would have had to pick up at the Wausau post office wouldn’t have done the same thing as 24 officers and an armored vehicle,” Hoeppner told the Guardian. “The United States is not supposed to terrorize its hardworking people." Good one, sir.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
A couple years ago, then US Trade Representative Ron Kirk explained why the negotiating text of trade agreements like the TPP needed to be kept secret: because if the public debated it, the agreement probably wouldn't be approved. He used, as an example, a failed trade agreement where the text had been public. Beyond the "small sample size" problem of this explanation, the much more troubling aspect is the obvious question of recognizing that if public debate would kill the agreement, perhaps it's the agreement that's the problem and not the public. Apparently, New Zealand's current Trade Minister, Tim Groser, feels similar to Kirk on this issue. During a question and answer period, he was asked why he won't share the draft texts with, say, medical professionals for input, given that the current leaks suggest it would be a disaster for public health. Groser's answer is quite telling, in that he admits that he fears the public debate, because it would be "misinformed." Hon Phil Goff : When the Minister has the right under Trans-Pacific Partnership rules to provide negotiating texts in confidence to relevant groups outside the Government, why has he not taken advantage of that right to ensure that core groups like medical professionals are properly informed about the issues under negotiation? Hon TIM GROSER : We are trying to make this negotiation a success, and the member is well aware that there is some quite heavy politics here and that full disclosure to certain parties is likely to lead this to go immediately into the public debate on an ill-informed basis before the deal has been done. We are very conscious of the interests of New Zealanders in protecting themselves from such legislation, and we will continue to take a very responsible approach in this negotiation. Goff immediately tries to point out that Groser does not, in fact, answer his question, but is cut off by the Speaker of the Parliament who claims that the question has been "addressed." Groser's response is revealing. First, he doesn't actually answer the question. Goff doesn't ask him about revealing it to the public, but merely "medical professionals." Groser is the one who leaps to the conclusion that sharing the text with medical professionals will result in public debate. Why would that be the case unless the issues in the document are so severe and so concerning to those medical professionals that they would feel the need to leak the document to the public? Second, going back to the point concerning Ron Kirk's comment: if you're going to lose the public debate, then perhaps it's the agreement that's the problem, rather than the public debate. If these agreements are so good and important, then why can't Groser and others present that information to the public so that they're not "ill-informed." Yes, these are draft texts and not the final ones, but there are other forums in which such draft text negotiations are done publicly, and it hasn't been a problem. It's only in these international trade agreements where the final product is only revealed to the public after it's too late to make any changes or get any input from the public who is most impacted.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Apparently ignoring just how badly this worked out for publishers in Germany, the Spanish Parliament has passed a law to fine aggregators and search engines for using snippets or linking to infringing content. As plenty of folks have described, the bill is clearly just a Google tax. As we had discussed, the proposed bill would be a disaster for digital commons/open access projects. There had been some thought that the proposed bill might be delayed because of a referral to the EU Court of Justice on a related issue, but apparently that didn't happen. Either way, it looks like the bill kept the ridiculous "inalienable right" to being paid for snippets -- meaning that Creative Commons-type licenses may not even be allowed, and people won't even be allowed to offer up their content for free. That's ridiculous. It appears that almost everyone dislikes the law that passed. On the internet/aggregator side of things, the law doesn't make any sense at all, and seems likely to harm any sort of aggregator setup. And, meanwhile, those who want greater copyright expansion felt the law was a "missed opportunity" that is described as "vague and weak." I guess the silver lining is that "it could have been worse." This idea of taxing aggregators for promoting your content is still completely ridiculous. It remains to be seen if Google takes the same approach as it did in Germany, removing the snippets of those who protest, only to have them begging to put them back -- except that, unlike in Germany, the newspapers may not be able to grant a free license thanks to the whole "inalienable right" thing. Either way, it's unfortunate that this seems to be the direction Europe is heading in. These kinds of laws are a recipe for chilling effects on innovation online, scaring companies away from doing useful things.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Technology is becoming ever more essential in our daily lives, but as long as the devices we use are still separate things outside of our bodies, we haven't yet fully adapted to technology. However, as technology gets a bit more advanced, it won't seem too strange to start implanting technology in ourselves. If you wear contact lenses, maybe you think you're a pioneer. But there are far more extreme examples, and some folks are really taking it to the next level. Artificial hearts have been under development for decades, but one that adjusts blood flow based on physical activity allows a 75yo Frenchman to perform everyday tasks normally -- without becoming breathless or exhausted easily. The Carmat artificial heart is powered by a lithium-ion battery and contains membranes from a cow heart to improve biocompatibility. The technology has come quite a ways from the Jarvik-7 that was implanted in Barney Clark in 1982. [url] Transhumanists are exploring the world of do-it-yourself cyborg technologies. Some well-known cyborgs like Kevin Warwick and Steve Mann are just the tip of the iceberg of people who are willing to implant various objects/devices in their bodies. [url] The Cybathlon, the first international olympics specifically for athletes with prosthetics, will be held in Switzerland in 2016. There will only be six events, and unlike the traditional olympics, competitors will be encouraged to achieve superhuman abilities (if possible) with technology. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 29 days ago on techdirt
The sales pitch for automatic license plate readers is how great they are at helping cops solve crimes. From hunting down stolen cars to tracking pedophiles across jurisdictions, ALPRs supposedly make policing a breeze by gathering millions of time/date/location records every single day and making it all available to any law enforcement agency willing to buy the software and pay the licensing fees. The systems come with civil liberties baggage -- privacy issues that aren't completely articulable, at least not in terms of what the courts have held to contain sufficient expectations of privacy. A single photo of a car on a public road isn't a privacy violation. But what about dozens or hundreds of photos that more resemble a passive tracking system than a set of public snapshots? That's a bit more of a gray area -- one that hasn't been fully explored by the courts at this point. Adjacent decisions notwithstanding, ALPRs are mildly intrusive and have troubling implications due to their capabilities, but at this point, they still operate within the confines of the Constitution. So, if civil liberties are still intact, what's the next point of attack? Maybe it's the alleged efficiency. Are law enforcement agencies getting their money's worth? It's a trick question. First and foremost, it's the public's money paying for these. In many cases, DHS grants have paid for ALPRs, with local agencies name-checking terrorism and extremism to increase the odds of obtaining funds. Even when paid for out-of-pocket, it's still the public footing the bill. The systems aren't cheap. And from what VPR (NPR Vermont) has uncovered, they're not really worth the expense. (via Digital Fourth) Over the past five years, law enforcement agencies in Vermont have invested more than $1 million in technology that gathers millions of data points every year about the whereabouts of vehicles across the state. Yet even with the millions of scans, the system has not led to many arrests or breakthroughs in major criminal investigations, and it hasn’t led to an increase in the number of tickets written for the offenses the technology is capable of detecting. No one sells a city council (or the general public) on the wonders of ALPRs by highlighting how many unregistered vehicles might be ticketed or pointing out other mundane traffic enforcement benefits they might provide. Probably just as well, considering these systems have had no discernible effect in these areas. It's the "big ticket" crimes that sell ALPRs and push them past the complaints of those concerned about citizens' privacy and civil liberties. Kidnapping, auto theft, child pornographers, terrorism, etc. These are the sort of thing that put lead in legislators' collective pencils, stirring them to approve funding or sign off on grant requests, and so on. How do Vermont's ALPRs stack up against capital-C "crime?" In the 18 months leading up to Jan. 1, 2013, the 61 license plate readers operating in the state at the time did a lot of recording. A VPR study of public information from local, state and federal law enforcement showed that during that time period, police across the state logged 7.9 million license plates and stored them in a central, statewide database along with the time and location they were scanned. Despite the financial investment in the systems, they were helpful in solving fewer than five crimes in 2013. The number of tickets written for driving with a suspended license and driving with an expired registration (two violations that ALPRs can detect) hasn’t gone up since the technology was introduced in mid-2009. Millions of plates. Five (5) crimes solved. Number of tickets issued flat. So, what do you do? As a legislator who approved funding for this, do you accept this as part of the learning curve or do you demand more from the technology? Do you tell the public, "We appreciate your input but feel that a literal handful of successful criminal investigations far outweighs any privacy issues or budgetary concerns"? An interview with an officer who uses the ALPR system adds some nuance to the discussion, including the fact that law enforcement's civil liberties precautions contribute to the perceived inefficiency of the system. But underneath it all, it's viewed as just another "tool" for local law enforcement to use, albeit one that can't seem to pull its own weight. No one wants to say the equipment is non-essential or possibly redundant, but the officer interviewed (Sergeant Cram) makes this damning statement. Despite the $25,000 tool, Cram says the majority of the Winooski Police Department’s traffic stops are still done the old-fashioned way, with officers stopping drivers for infractions like rolling through a stop sign or failing to yield at a crosswalk. Still, Cram says the federally-funded ALPR is a valuable tool, even though he doesn’t think the city would have put up $25,000 of its own money to buy one. The city wouldn't have ended up with one if the DHS wasn't giving them away. That's how extraneous this "tool" is. The lack of successful criminal investigations backs this up. The fact that traffic enforcement has remained stagnant even with the addition of several million plate scans per year is the final nail in the coffin. No one -- at least not in Vermont -- needs this technology. But if someone else is willing to pay, they'll take it. And they'll use it. And years down the road, they'll likely still have nothing to show for it but a massive database tracking the movement of millions of non-criminals.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 30 days ago on techdirt
Oh, Verizon. When all the big broadband providers filed their original comments with the FCC concerning its net neutrality/open internet proposal, Verizon's comments were a little different than the others. Comcast and AT&T were pretty effusive in supporting FCC boss Tom Wheeler's proposal to rely on Section 706 rather than Title II. Verizon, however, seemed to push back against any new rules, even under 706. Verizon noted that it wanted to do whatever the hell it wanted, even if it meant "differentiated services" (i.e., paid prioritization, fast lanes, slow lanes, etc.): ...consumer welfare is best protected if the Commission allows broadband Internet access service providers to manage their networks and—if they so choose—offer differentiated services or implement sophisticated pricing strategies as long as those practices do not harm competition. In assessing whether a practice harms competition, it is essential not to confuse harm to competitors with harm to competition. The Commission has stated “We believe that consumers of broadband access service should have the ability to exercise meaningful choices.” Those choices should include services offered by edge providers that have chosen to enter arrangements for differential treatment in order to offer more desirable services to their customers. Such options will benefit consumers, even as they reduce rival edge providers’ economic welfare by increasing the competitive pressure they face. Of course, in the past few months, the pressure on the FCC to actually use Title II has increased, and the other big broadband players have made it quite clear that they're furious with Verizon for fighting back against the last set of totally meaningless rules, since the backlash may lead to much stricter rules under Title II. It now appears that Verizon is belatedly making a big push to attack the idea of Title II and say, "Hey, those original plans from Wheeler to use 706 sound great." That seems to be the clear message from Verizon's new letter to Senator Pat Leahy and corresponding blog post entitled "Title II Is Not The Answer". In the letter, Verizon refers to the Title II option as "unprecedented utility-style regulation" and praises Section 706 as being effective. Unprecedented, huh? Really? If that's the case, why did Verizon beg regulators to have its FiOS internet broadband service classified under Title II for the sake of government subsidies? Here's Verizon using Title II in New Jersey: And again in Washington DC: So, um, you know, it actually seems fairly well precedented... by Verizon, no less. Verizon is playing a ridiculous shell game here, in which it wants to be classified as Title II in order to get subsidized access to install its network, but then doesn't want to be held to the rules that Title II puts on those networks. And so it claims, laughably, that such rules are "unprecedented," even as Verizon begs to be regulated under them when it benefits itself. The letter also insists that "paid prioritization" is a joke and nothing more than "demagoguery since no major ISP has expressed an interest in offering 'paid prioritization' and all agree that the FCC has a valid legal path to prohibit it." Oh really? Can we just go right back up to the quotes we pasted above from Verizon's own filing with the FCC in July, in which it made clear that it wanted to engage in offering "differentiated services" to consumers? Does it think no one read that thing? Now it says no ISP is interested in offering any such service? Even worse, later in the letter, Verizon actively plays up the idea of a different form of paid prioritization: the cynical use of "zero-rating" apps or things like T-Mobile's "Music Freedom" service. Verizon and other anti-net neutrality advocates point to these programs as "consumer friendly" proposals that would be barred under real net neutrality rules. Here's Verizon's letter: Inflexible regulation also threatens to take choices away from American consumers. For example, some net neutrality advocates have attacked new business models, such as sponsored data or “zero-rating,” that would save money for consumers. Under these nascent arrangements, content providers could voluntarily agree to pick up the tab for usage-charges when consumers go to their sites. Or in other instances, such as T-Mobile’s Music Freedom plans, in order to differentiate its service a broadband provider could decide not to charge usage for certain types of traffic. While most consumers would no doubt welcome the opportunity not to pay for their usage – and some consumer groups have recognized the potential for such practices to help address affordability and encourage adoption – many of the loudest supporters of new regulation have advocated the regressive step of banning these pro-consumer practices. It's a total joke to refer to these as "pro-consumer practices." As we explained after T-Mobile announced the Music Freedom program, this is like saying that you're a "hero" for setting a house on fire to save the baby inside. The only reason these programs are good for consumers is because they knock down the artificial walls set up by the telcos in the first place. It's not pro-consumer to say, "Hey, we're going to charge you massive data rates for everything... Oh, except for these few services that we'll be nice and let you access without those fees (probably because those services paid us directly already)." Zero-rating programs sound good if you ignore the very reason why they're necessary in the first place: because of the artificially high tariffs that the telcos put there in the first place. It's not "pro-consumer" to offer them a tiny oasis from the ridiculous billing practices you yourself set up. But that's the kind of contradictory bullshit that we've come to expect from Verizon these days. Title II is unprecedented (except all the times we beg to use it to get taxpayer-funded benefits for ourselves). No one wants paid prioritization (except that we've said we'd like to do paid prioritization). Zero-rating is pro-consumer (in that it saves the consumer from the rest of our awful policies). Basically, it seems like Verizon is so used to hiding the nasty details down in the fine print, that it now does it as standard operating procedures in everything it says and does.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 30 days ago on techdirt
The big broadband players keep trying to tell us (and politicians and regulators) how good they are and how much we can trust them. Part of their whole pitch on killing net neutrality is that they'd never do anything to harm consumers. And yet... Just this week, the FTC has sued AT&T for lying to consumers about its "unlimited" plans (just weeks after AT&T was fined for "cramming" bills with unwanted charges). And in the last few days it's also come out that Comcast has agreed to pay $50 million to settle overbilling claims, and Verizon has agreed to pay $64 million to settle overbilling claims. And that was all by Wednesday. There's still more time this week. If these were one-off situations, it would be one thing. But these companies have a fairly long history of shady billing practices, dreadful customer service and similar antics. This is part of the reason why some people are so concerned about the various merger attempts by these companies and why they're all actively seeking to block meaningful regulatory oversight. Bad practices like these can be limited when there's meaningful competition -- but even the FCC is now admitting we don't have that in the broadband market. This is a real problem. Broadband access has become such a key part of how we live and how we work. And it's controlled by companies that have a long and detailed history of treating their customers horribly, lumping on bogus fees, overbilling and providing horrible, horrible service. That's not a recipe for a strong and innovative future. It's suggesting some companies are focused on squeezing as much cash as possible out of consumers, while providing a bare minimum level of service and blocking any and all attempts at meaningful competition. These latest overbilling settlements are just a few small examples of a much larger problem that has been going on for years. It's something that absolutely needs to change. And it won't change by making those companies more powerful and limiting the competition even more.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 30 days ago on techdirt
The big broadband players keep trying to tell us (and politicians and regulators) how good they are and how much we can trust them. Part of their whole pitch on killing net neutrality is that they'd never do anything to harm consumers. And yet... Just this week, the FTC has sued AT&T for lying to consumers about its "unlimited" plans (just weeks after AT&T was fined for "cramming" bills with unwanted charges). And in the last few days it's also come out that Comcast has agreed to pay $50 million to settle overbilling claims, and Verizon has agreed to pay $64 million to settle overbilling claims. And that was all by Wednesday. There's still more time this week. If these were one-off situations, it would be one thing. But these companies have a fairly long history of shady billing practices, dreadful customer service and similar antics. This is part of the reason why some people are so concerned about the various merger attempts by these companies and why they're all actively seeking to block meaningful regulatory oversight. Bad practices like these can be limited when there's meaningful competition -- but even the FCC is now admitting we don't have that in the broadband market. This is a real problem. Broadband access has become such a key part of how we live and how we work. And it's controlled by companies that have a long and detailed history of treating their customers horribly, lumping on bogus fees, overbilling and providing horrible, horrible service. That's not a recipe for a strong and innovative future. It's suggesting some companies are focused on squeezing as much cash as possible out of consumers, while providing a bare minimum level of service and blocking any and all attempts at meaningful competition. These latest overbilling settlements are just a few small examples of a much larger problem that has been going on for years. It's something that absolutely needs to change. And it won't change by making those companies more powerful and limiting the competition even more.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 30 days ago on techdirt
Giving a talk at the Washington Ideas Forum, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about two different (though, similarly named) journalists that the DOJ has been absolutely egregious in trying to abuse for the sake of questionable leak investigations. Regarding James Risen, the NY Times reporter who the DOJ has been pursuing and demanding he reveal sources concerning a leak (when it's clear the DOJ already knows the source and is just doing this to destroy Risen's credibility with sources), Holder says that the DOJ expects "a resolution" in the near future. That's not too surprising. Holder and the DOJ seem to realize that actually putting Risen in jail (the next step in the process) probably wouldn't go over very well. But it's the other journalist where things get a bit dicier. That's Fox News reporter James Rosen (note the different letter from Risen). Rosen, you may recall, had his phone, email and security badge records grabbed by the government, after the DOJ told a court that Rosen wasn't a reporter, but "an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator" in the "crime" of leaking classified information about North Korea from the State Department. It later came out that the DOJ actually pretended Risen was involved in a bombing in its motions to the court. Holder was asked if there was a decision during his tenure that he regretted, and he brought up the Rosen story: Holder: I think that -- I think about the subpoena to the Fox reporter, Rosen. I think that I could have been a little more careful in looking at the language that was contained in the filing that we made with the court. He was labeled as a -- as a co-conspirator. I mean, you had to do that as a result of the statute, but there are ways in which I think that could have been done differently, done better. And that's one of the reasons why I thought the criticism that we received because of that -- and the AP matter as well -- was something that we had to act upon and why we put in place this review of our -- the way in which we interact with the media. Except, as Julian Sanchez points out, that's completely bogus. Holder claiming they had to do that because of the statute is flat out opposites-ville. They had to do that because the statute doesn't allow them to spy on journalists. The law was designed to stop the DOJ from spying on journalists, and so the only way to break that was to lie to the court. The law in question -- 18 USC 793 is designed to only apply to the people actually committing the crime of leaking defense information -- and not to reporters. Holder claiming that the statute effectively "forced" him into declaring Rosen a co-conspirator is ridiculous. The statute compels him not to seize Rosen's records. Holder is admitting that the DOJ lied to the court here and trying to blame the statute for that lie. That's astounding.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 30 days ago on techdirt
Trademark, while generally one of the better forms of intellectual property as used in practice and in purpose, can certainly still be abused. It can also fall victim to an ever-growing ownership culture that seems to have invaded the American mind like some kind of brain-eating amoeba. And that's how we've arrived here today, a day in which I get to tell you about how there is currently a trademark dispute over the flavor of pizza. And no, I'm not joking. New York Pizzeria, Inc. is the plaintiff in this case that was brought after its former president allegedly conspired to create a knockoff restaurant chain called Gina's Italian Kitchen using NYPI's recipes, suppliers and internal documents. The lawsuit includes an allegation of a computer hack, but we'll focus on the judge's analysis of the trademark claims. "Intellectual property plays a prominent and growing role in our Information Age economy," opens Texas judge Gregg Costa's opinion this week. "In this case, though, the plaintiff seeks intellectual property protection for something quite traditional: the meal one might order at a neighborhood pizzeria." So, we have two pizza shops in a fight over ingredients and flavor. What NYPI is claiming is specifically centered around the resulting flavor of the two pizzas as a matter of trademark infringement. The claim is that their flavor is distinct. So distinct, in fact, that consumers would recognize it as solely NYPI's, even if coming from Gina's Italian Kitchen. The judge, as it turns out, was exceptionally good on this claim. "As with colors, it is unlikely that flavors can ever be inherently distinctive, because they do not 'automatically' suggest a product's source," he writes. But even if pizza fans can close their eyes, bite into one, and recognize a slice of New York Pizzeria when they taste it, Judge Costa gives a second reason why trademark protection can't extend to taste: "Functional product features are not protectable," he writes. The judge points to a prior decision at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board as precedent. a pharmaceutical company attempted to gain a trademark on the orange flavor of its medicine, but that was ruled out-of-bounds when the TTAB decided that by flavoring a disagreeable taste, the company merely "performs a utilitarian function that cannot be monopolized without hindering competition in the pharmaceutical trade." Judge Costa goes on to note that the scrutiny of trademark law applying to the flavor of pizza logically should be much greater than even the flavor of medicine. It's a very nice way of calling this whole thing silly and telling everyone to go home. The case has been summarily dismissed, thankfully. Were this sort of dispute allowed to find any kind of foothold, a well-functioning foods industry could be tossed completely for a loop. The trademark-able flavor angle would essentially be an end-around the fact that copyright doesn't apply to recipes. After all, if you can simply protect the end result of the recipe, what would be the difference?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
This article is republished from The Conversation under its Creative Commons license. On a side note, apparently, The Conversation is now moving into the US after focusing on the UK and Australia in the past -- and that's pretty cool, because it's a great site. If extreme polarization is now an enduring feature of American politics — not just a bug — how does that change the game for journalists? I have some ideas, but mainly I want to put that question on the table. “Conflict makes news,” it is often said. But when gridlock becomes the norm the conflicts are endless, infinite, predictable and just plain dull: in a way, the opposite of news. This dynamic has already ruined the Sunday talk shows. Who can stand that spectacle anymore? A recent task force of American Political Science Association put it this way: The United States used to be viewed as a land of broad consensus and pragmatic politics in which sharp ideological differences were largely absent; yet, today, politics is dominated by intense party polarization and limited agreement among representatives on policy problems and solutions. In a fascinating paper on “philanthropy in a time of polarization,” three authors — Steven Teles, Heather Hurlburt and Mark Schmitt — take up the question. They point out that leaders in these grantmaking foundations operate from assumptions that extreme polarization can be overpowered by “strong ideas and persuasive research…[that] will motivate elected officials” to act. They believe in the message of bipartisanship and urge foundations to “stay above the political fray.” The way Obama’s health care reform became law shredded that script. Elites in Washington believed that a compromise would emerge by “combining a broad goal favored by liberals with ideas traditionally supported by conservatives.” Nothing like that went down. One side passed the bill. The other demonized it and continues the fight to this day. Teles, Hurlburt and Schmitt write: Foundations have traditionally seen themselves as part of civil society – as mediating institutions that form a bridge between dispassionate knowledge and political advocacy. Their resources, many in the sector have hoped, could fund objective, nonpartisan research that would take the edge off partisan conflicts and pave the way for broadly accepted social progress. That view of American politics no longer makes sense. Nothing has taken the edge off partisan warfare, least of all “objective, nonpartisan research." The battle over the Affordable Care Act showcased American’s deep ideological divide, which nonpartisan research has done nothing to lessen. dbking/Flickr, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC-SA Is ‘objectivity’ in journalism dead ? It’s tricky to compare foundation officers and journalists because officially the mainstream press has no theory of change, no policy agenda – indeed, no politics at all. Officially, journalists are merely out to get the story, tell the truth, inform us about what’s going on, and in special circumstances share their opinion. But anyone who observes its work cannot help but notice that the Washington press corps shares a certain world view, analogous in many ways to the typical foundation officer’s. (Steve Coll moved easily from the Washington Post to the New America Foundation and on to the deanship of Columbia Journalism School. Walter Isaacson, editor of Time magazine, CEO of CNN, is now president of the Aspen Institute.) Here are some of the components of this shared world view. Recognize them? “Successful candidates move to the middle…” Politicians who know how to get things done cut deals among insiders on both sides of the aisle. (Ronald Reagan working with Tip O’Neill is the usual reference point.) To “cede the ideological center” is the political mistake par excellence. And as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein wrote in the Washington Post: ‘Both sides do it’ or ‘There is plenty of blame to go around’ are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias. What if the ideological center is effectively gone? What if striking deals with insiders from both parties no longer describes the way the world works? For as authors Teles, Hurlburt and Schmitt put it: “Pundits who say that ‘nothing can get done without bipartisan support’ no longer have the evidence on their side.” What are the options? Under these conditions, political journalists have a choice. They can try to muddle through with the framework they had before extreme polarization became too obvious to ignore. If they take this route, they will write well-informed articles about the trend. They will report the data about polarization without drawing any conclusions about their own practices. Or, they can recognize that they too have a world view, and that its assumptions have gone bust. If they choose the latter, what then? Instead of trying to stay in the middle between polarized extremes and avoid criticism, political journalists and their bosses could recognize that there is no escape from charges of bias because these charges are just a further aspect of polarization. If you’re going to be attacked anyway, might as well let it rip. That’s what the Washington Post did when earlier this month it hired Chris Mooney to cover the environment in blog form. Mooney is the author of two books — The Republican War on Science and The Republican Brain (subtitle: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality) — that leave no doubt about where he stands. In announcing his appointment, the Post described Mooney as a writer with a distinctive voice and a consistent argument: “that people’s preconceptions – political, religious, cultural – color the way they view science.” Being transparent about point of view is the honest approach for reporters Newsrooms are better off with reporters who know their beats, nail their arguments, make clear where they’re coming from and meet high standards of verification, always. Intellectual honesty is a more reliable basis for trust than a ritualized objectivity. A clear voice is more valuable than a nonpartisan veneer. Calling out falsehoods that have gotten traction is another thing journalists can do once they realize that extreme polarization is a feature, not a bug. Ever since the fact-checking site, Politifact, won the Pulitzer Prize for “separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters,” fact checking has become routine in the coverage of politics. Now the press needs to take the next step: identify the worst offenders, deny them respectability and platform, raise the cost in reputation for relying on falsehoods: in a word, fight. “Detached from the partisan fray” won’t cut it. The non-profit investigative newsroom, ProPublica.org, calls what it does “accountability journalism.” It is the only kind of journalism ProPublica is interested in doing. Here’s how they describe it: Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force.’ We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them. That is a view of the world as strong as polarization is deep. Political journalists need to adopt a similar view or they will slide into irrelevance. There is one other option: savvy analysts of the game. Winners and losers, who’s up, who’s down, strategy and tactics. That really isn’t journalism, though. It’s scorekeeping. Jay Rosen is an adviser to The Conversation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
Not so long ago, we wrote about Konami shutting down a fan-remake of the original Metal Gear, the much-beloved initial entry into the vaunted franchise. In that case, Konami did something of a flip-flop, with a company rep telling the development team initially that they had the go-ahead, only for the company's lawyers to pull the rug out from under the remake at the last moment. Well, flip-flopping seems to be becoming a thing when it comes to Metal Gear fan projects, now that the sequel to a previously released Metal Gear Solid fan-film has been nixed by the lawyers. The original fan-film was called Metal Gear Solid Philanthropy, and Part 1 was released several years ago. It was generally regarded as mega-awesome. The indie team behind the project received no contact from anyone at Konami or from the Metal Gear Solid team until they met creator Hideo Kojima in person, who told the filmmakers how much he appreciated the film. The team began to work on Part 2. Then, apparently because they just couldn't freaking help themselves, the Konami brass shut the project down. You can hear from the director himself, in a "Farewell to Philanthropy" video put out. It takes a better person than I for him to say these words. "We knew this might've happened. And we have nothing against the creators of Metal Gear, the saga that we all love and will continue to love." Good for Giacomo Talamini. He's much stronger with the jedi routine than I am, because I can assure you that if I were in his shoes I would be going full on dark-side. Mind-choking, sand-people killing, the whole bit. It's one thing to have Konami needlessly shut down a fan project instead of simply working out a zero-sum or cheap licensing arrangement, since the production of this film does absolutely nothing to harm the MGS franchise, and may indeed help spur it on further. But for the filmmakers to have received no negative feedback from Konami on their first film, and for the creator of the damned franchise to express his support, only to have the lawyers lose their lunch partway through the filming of the second film would be too much for me to bear. Hell, it's too much for me to bear as a gamer and a fan. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
There are all kinds of ways to improve on everyday items. We've talked about how wallets are a popular type of project on Kickstarter, but there are certainly plenty of other things that could be re-designed and made slightly (or significantly) better. The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about building a better mousetrap actually didn't mention mousetraps, but we've ended up with a lot of mousetrap inventions, regardless. Here are just a few examples of umbrella inventions that the world might beat a path to. A novel umbrella (called the Sa) uses origami techniques to fold up nicely and resist inverting in strong winds. It's a $70 umbrella, though, so it's not quite for everyone. (Plus, it's not made out of a single square sheet of paper.) [url] Another Kickstarter umbrella project is selling a battery-powered wand that shoots jets of air to repel raindrops. It doesn't actually exist yet (which might be a violation of Kickstarter's terms), and it looks not unlike a fat plastic toilet plunger. Despite the drawbacks of this design and its $88 price tag, it has exceeded its funding goal by about an order of magnitude. [url] A few years ago, another Air Umbrella was designed by Je Sung Park & Woo Jung Kwon, but this concept product didn't solve the engineering challenges of creating a curtain of air that actually repelled raindrops. Perhaps someday there will be a wide selection of nice-looking, quiet, electric umbrellas, but in the meantime, noisy air-blowing umbrellas hopefully won't get too popular. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
Sometimes it's difficult to maintain any faith in our legal system, particularly when it comes to intellectual property, and perhaps even more particularly when it comes to publicity rights. Then, some former drug-running dictator comes along to sue a video game and the system actually manages to do right. Yes, the case brought by Manuel Noriega against Activision over the game's depiction of the dictator in the Call of Duty franchise has been tossed out by the judge. "This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we're gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn't win," said Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who had defended Activision in the case. "This is not just a win for the makers of Call of Duty, but is a victory for works of art across the entertainment and publishing industries throughout the world." Nice of the mayor to rub it in, but he ain't wrong. In dismissing the case, the judge explicitly states that the First Amendment rights of Activision outweigh any publicity rights that may or may not be afforded to Noriega. It's an important distinction to make, since the judge likely could have simply dismissed the entire suit based on Noriega being a foreign national and not subject to the publicity rights law of California (under which he filed the claim). Instead, the dismissal brings free speech in to play, with a particular eye towards public persons. "A brief summary of defendants' uncontroverted evidence conclusively shows that Noriega is a notorious public figure, perhaps one of the more notable historical figures of the 1980's...Noriega's opposing papers do not contest any of this." The dismissal goes on to note that the depiction of Noriega in the game is clearly transformative, is not the sum total of the game's storyline, and that therefore economic considerations regarding the game being a commercial product don't factor in at all. Finally, it quotes another ruling quite beautifully, "public prominence does not confer a shield to ward off caricature, parody and satire." Bravo. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
Aereo's most recent effort to stay alive was to take the Supreme Court's "looks like a duck" test and to say, since the Supreme Court said it looked like cable TV (for the sake of declaring its service a "public performance"), "fine, then let us quack like a duck and pay compulsory licenses under Section 111." Only problem? Other courts have said internet services don't qualify as cable systems for Section 111, leaving them in a Schrodinger's CATV situation. Aereo is a cable TV system as far as the Supreme Court is concerned when it's talking about public performance, but it's not a cable TV system when it wants to go to the FCC and copyright office to pay a compulsory license, which is available to cable and satellite providers. It appears that FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler may be looking to change that, beginning a process to give internet companies access to those compulsory licenses, letting "over the top" (OTT) video providers get access to network television at compulsory rates: In 1992 Congress realized that the then-nascent satellite industry would have a hard time competing because much cable programming was owned by cable companies who frequently kept it from competitors. Congress mandated access to cable channels for satellite services, and competition flourished. Today I am proposing to extend the same concept to the providers of linear, Internet-based services; to encourage new video alternatives by opening up access to content previously locked on cable channels. What could these over-the-top video providers (OTTs) supply to consumers? Many different kinds of multichannel video packages designed for different tastes and preferences. A better ability for a consumer to order the channels he or she wants to watch. Wheeler is clearly thinking of Aereo here, even noting that the company recently came to the FCC to plead for this sort of thing: In Title VI of the Communications Act, Congress created rules to ensure that cable companies that own video content can’t raise artificial barriers to competition by refusing to let their video competitors have access to the programming they own. That worked for satellite providers, and also helped telephone companies entering the video business. I believe it makes just as much sense – and will have just as positive a consumer benefit – for an OTT. Such benefits follow from innovation. Taking advantage of this rule, new OTTs may offer smaller or specialized packages of video programming, so consumers will be able to mix-and-match to suit their tastes. Aereo recently visited the Commission to make exactly this point – that updating the definition of an MVPD will provide consumers with new choices. And perhaps consumers will not be forced to pay for channels they never watch. Of course, this move may be too little, too late for Aereo. The company has been losing in court, and any final FCC rules may take a bit of time. Still, at the very least it can mean that the next Aereo or ivi may actually be able to survive, rather than have to deal with a veto from the TV networks.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
A few weeks ago, we wrote about how VPN company Golden Frog had quietly revealed in an FCC filing that an unnamed mobile broadband provider had been (even more) quietly blocking people from sending encrypted emails -- basically blocking users from making use of STARTTLS encryption. The Washington Post has now revealed that the mobile operator in question was Cricket -- a subsidiary of AT&T, and that it stopped blocking such encryption a few days after our post was published. Cricket did not address repeated questions about the issue and did not alert customers, many of whom rely on Cricket as their sole Internet service, that they would not be able to protect their e-mails from prying eyes. AT&T, which absorbed Cricket when it acquired Leap Wireless last spring, did not respond to a request for comment. Cricket said in a statement to The Post that it "is continuing to investigate the issue but does not intentionally prevent customers from sending encrypted emails." The issue appears to be that Cricket started using some Cisco firewall equipment to block sending encrypted emails through Port 25. It's true that many ISPs block Port 25 entirely, as it's often used for spamming. What Cricket did here was to just try to block encrypted emails over Port 25, which in some ways is being more permissive than other providers who block it entirely. Yet, still, the way it did so was somewhat misleading and still concerning. While the intent here may have been reasonable, any time you have an ISP stepping in and quietly making the decision itself to block encrypted traffic while allowing other traffic it should raise questions about the security for end users. Yes, there's a constant battle against spam, but there may be better ways to deal with it than single-handedly blocking email encryption.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 month ago on techdirt
So, there's a story in the Washington Post that's getting a bit of attention about how Russian hackers apparently breached a White House computer network (an unclassified network, so not as troubling as it could have been). And that story is kind of interesting, but it seems like the bigger deal is this: U.S. officials were alerted to the breach by an ally, sources said. Wait a second. After all we've been told about the brilliant minds at the NSA/US Cyber Command and their "cybersecurity" skills -- it seems immensely troubling that (1) the US didn't catch this themselves and (2) that some other country did catch it. So, uh, just why is some "ally" monitoring the White House's network? As for the rest of the report, as the Washington Post notes, this isn't even that big of a deal. Foreign state hackers are always going to try to breach US government computers, and sometimes they're going to succeed. That's the nature of the beast. But, it does seem profoundly odd that it was discovered by some other country.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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