by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 8:11pm
by Joyce Hung
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- The Rare Genomics Institute may have enabled the first crowdfunded gene discovery. Pioneering a new funding model for rare disease research, RGI used crowdfunding to raise $3,550 to help sequence the genes of a 4-year-old girl with a rare genetic disorder, and identify a previously undocumented gene mutation. [url]
- The online game Phylo is tapping gamers from all over the world to help solve the Multiple Sequence Alignment (MSA) problem. The game is designed to take advantage of human visual intelligence to improve the sequence alignment of promoter regions in 521 genes associated with diseases from 44 vertebrate species. So far, the game has produced over 350,000 solutions, with 70% of them being more accurate than the alignments produced by a state-of-the-art computer program called MULTIZ. [url]
- Is it even possible to protect the anonymity of genetic information that has been posted online? Apparently, it isn't that difficult to uncover the identities of people whose DNA has been made public for research purposes. Using an online genealogy service, in addition to information from public records, social networks, and other websites, researchers were able to find 5 out of 10 people in their study, including their relatives, identifying 50 people in total. [url]
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 3:40pm
Florida Homeowner's Association Sues Resident For Critical Blog Comments, Seeks Identity Of Other Commenters
from the but-of-course dept
And the thing is, every time I ever hear anything about HOAs, it always seems to involve some similar crazy story. A few months back, we wrote about an HOA president in Indiana going ballistic with bogus legal threats towards pretty much anyone who criticized him. And now, here's a story out of Naples, Florida, where an HOA for "Fiddler's Creek" is using homeowners' fees to sue one of their own homeowners, a resident named James Schutt, because he made some comments the HOA board members don't like on a blog about the community.
You can see the actual comments in the original lawsuit. I read them over and my first reaction was "they're suing over that?!" Basically, it sounds like a typical HOA fight. Schutt isn't thrilled with how the HOA is being run, and he accuses them of failing their fiduciary responsibility, and he feels that some of the things the HOA pays for -- such as management -- are excessive and possibly corrupt. You see these kinds of things all the time. Even if they're not exactly true, they're standard rhetorical hyperbole that happens online. Get over it and move on. Instead, the HOA sued.
It seems pretty clear that this is a SLAPP lawsuit, designed to shut up Schutt and potentially other critics. Schutt is being defended by Marc Randazza (a name many of you will hopefully recognize) who let us know that the HOA is seeking to depose the blogger and are trying to "out" other anonymous commenters on the blog (to clarify, Schutt is not the blog owner, but was merely a commenter). The fact that the HOA is now trying to out other anonymous commenters certainly adds weight to the idea that this is a SLAPP suit designed to shut up critics. The blogger is pushing back but the anonymous commenters themselves might want to find some legal representation to protect their own rights as well, and to make sure that their identities aren't disclosed due to baseless threats that seem designed solely to create a chilling effect on critics of the HOA.
Did I mention that I no longer live anywhere near an HOA... and I have fantastic neighbors who all seem to get along splendidly with each other?
by Glyn Moody
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 2:18pm
from the change-of-focus dept
As you may have heard, there's been an election in Rome recently. These kind of events tend to bring out the crowds, and NBC had the clever idea of finding a couple of pictures showing roughly the same view, but eight years apart. They look very similar, except for one rather striking detail: in the first, from 2005, there are a few mobile phones visible; in the second, taken recently, tiny screens are visible everywhere in the crowd -- it seems as if practically everyone is using their phone to take a picture.
But the same article also notes that other pictures taken at the time of the election of Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks after the death of his predecessor show a similar scarcity of people holding up their phones to take pictures. And a moment's reflection will confirm that nowadays there is an almost reflexive urge to use our smartphones with their high-quality cameras to capture anything of note that is going on around us, in a way that wasn't the case when cameras were separate things (to say nothing of when some kind of physical film had to be loaded, emptied and developed in order to use them.) The huge numbers of pictures on Facebook alone -- 220 billion as of October last year, rising by 300 million each day -- also bears witness to that.
This raises many interesting questions, for example to do with how people nowadays relate to their memories, and what the existence of so many photos means for privacy and surveillance. But here I want to consider one other aspect.
Judging by the Facebook numbers quoted above, there are now probably trillions of digital photos in existence, with billions more being created each day. It goes without saying that this wealth of fixed (and moving) images is unprecedented in the history of mankind. That also means the things that could be done with those images are also unprecedented, because new scales bring new possibilities. For example, by combining millions of pictures taken by thousands of people of the same location at different moments it would be possible to create interesting four-dimensional digital artifacts -- navigable 3D worlds that change with time.
Except, of course, that you can't, thanks to the way that copyright is automatically attached to creations once they are fixed -- for example, by storing a digital photo. To use all those images for this kind of reconstruction would require every single one of them to be licensed under a suitable Creative Commons license that allowed them to be re-used. Even the simplest of them -- CC-BY -- would be hard to comply with, since attribution would need to be available for every photo that made even the smallest contribution to the different composite images for each moment of time. Ideally, billions of images would be placed in the public domain, allowing any kind of use, but that's surprisingly hard to achieve, because of the prevailing presumption that copyright should apply to everything, for as long as possible. Certainly, it's not something we can reasonably hope huge numbers of people might do routinely.
This inability to tap into the incredible collective wealth of a trillion digital images stored around the world imbues that recent picture of thousands of people holding up their mobile phones in Rome with a certain melancholy. The blurred screens receding into the distance become a symbol of all that we cannot see thanks to copyright laws whose original focus on protecting small numbers of hard-to-produce works from copying is no longer appropriate.
by Tim Cushing
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 1:18pm
from the we-know-it-when-we-see-it dept
The awkward question of whether porn can be covered by copyright (and not much else, amirightgents?) has been debated a time or two on this side of the world. In 2011, some discussion revolved around the protection of "obscene materials," namely the protection extended to porn by the Fifth Circuit Court in a 1979 case involving a porn producer and a chain of adult theaters. This decision was cited in a lengthy footnote appended to a lawsuit filed by Liberty Media against 18 John Does.
In 2012, the argument was made that pornography doesn't "promote progress," therefore it should not be entitled to copyright protection. This particular argument is a rather dangerous one (and composed almost entirely of slope grease) as it puts the extension copyright protection in the hands of the court and allows it to determine whether a piece of erotica is art or "just porn." (The case was closed before this conversation could really get started.)
On the other side of the world, Japanese porn producers are finding themselves battling this very argument.
For years producers of porn movies in Japan have bemoaned the lack of protection their content has received in Taiwan.These producers took their complaints to Taiwan's legal system and received this response.
In 2010 things came to a head. The leading producers of the 20,000+ adult movies released in Japan each year warned Taiwan that if it didn’t get tough on pirates selling their content on websites and even airing it on TV, legal action would follow.
Taiwan's prosecutors said Wednesday that Taiwanese firms that use Japanese-made pornographic films to make profits online have not violated Japanese producers' copyrights.Despite the producers' arguments that each film was unique and expressed singular artistic vision, prosecutors refused to budge, stating that Taiwan's Supreme Court affords copyright protection only to "works of literature, science and arts." According to the court, porn is not included, therefore it has no "copyright" to be infringed.
The Taipei District Court's Prosecutors Office therefore announced it will not press charges against Elta Technologies Co. Ltd, and 10 other Taiwanese firms that the Japanese studios accused of violating their copyrights.
This disappointing decision prompting the Japanese porn producers to take another approach, and start calling the kettle black... for litigious reasons.
In a sign of how desperate they had become, the Japanese companies added that if they had no remedy under copyright law, they would sue the pirates for spreading obscene material and damaging the health of Taiwan’s children.
As crazy as it sounds this approach had the potential to work. While authorities have done nothing to protect copyrights of adult material, they do arrest people for distributing obscene material.Ah, the "for the children" tactic. It's been used here before as justification for SOPA and various computer-snooping plans. This is a bit different, however, as it flips the script on the pirates, turning them from enemies of porn producers to enemies of the state. It's an approach that takes a very oblique angle, but when the usual stuff isn't working, it's time to bust out the "just-crazy-enough-to-work" options.
Unfortunately, it didn't work. (Not crazy enough??)
[T]he adult producer’s claims that the pirates were spreading obscene material and damaging children didn’t gain any ground either. The prosecutors decided that since the pirate sites displayed warnings and blocked minors from accessing their websites then there was no case to answer there either.At this point, it looks as if Japan's porn producers are out of options, at least in terms of preventing piracy in Taiwan. The court tells them their work is too dirty to protect. They counter by saying their work is too dirty to distribute. The court says (paraphrasing) "It's ok, these sites are using protection." I doubt these producers really want to push the issue of having porn declared a protectable art form and leave the defining line between protectable art and unprotected obscenity in the hands (and minds) of government officials. Perhaps these producers should just concede the battle and focus on areas where they have the protection, or at least, paying customers.
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 12:12pm
from the lame dept
Apple considering its iOS app store a way to nanny their customers is nothing new. We've already seen examples such as when they took down a dictionary that included profanity, a scan of the Kama Sutra, and an educational game revolving around the war in Syria. That last example is particularly relevant, as Apple has once again chosen to take down a game that sought to educate the public on how pressure-filled and awful work conditions are in sweatshops abroad.
Anyone with any level of understanding that's had the opportunity to play Sweatshop HD knows the defense-style game isn't about glorifying the practice of hiring underage workers to toil away in unsafe conditions to create designer clothes for wealthy foreigners. Instead it's an exploration of the pressure put on people in all aspects of the sweatshop business model. It's about raising awareness, and communicating the sick feeling one gets when seemingly the only way to win is to subject workers to dangerous conditions.And now that educational avenue has been blocked. According to the report, Apple finds something about a game based on sweatshops to be unfit for their customers' iDevices, which is an interesting stance for a company that has been accused of making those same devices in sweatshops themselves. Sweatshops: good enough to build your electronics, but not a fit subject for a game to play on them? Developer Littleloud even attempted to add a disclaimer to the game to clarify that you weren't supposed to think running a sweatshop was fun, but that didn't satisfy Apple.
As a result, people are beginning to see Apple devices as attractive only for a pigeon-holed selection of potential customers.
Given the size of its market, it's quite unfortunate that Apple has decided to take this sort of hardline stance on game approvals. The platform's reach could prove invaluable in advancing awareness and understanding of serious topics, but with each banned game, Apple's position becomes clearer — iOS is not a place for serious games, and other developers are beginning to get the message.Serving as an example of these other developers is Introversion Software, who released their game, Prison Architect, on Steam, but has since said they won't release an iPad version. Cutting off both potential customers and developers in favor of some obtuse nanny principal may end up coming back and biting Apple in the backside.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 11:00am
from the what-is-he-smoking dept
And while others in the Senate have been proposing bad IP bills over the past few years, Hatch is now back with a proposal to create a special US Ambassador position solely focused on expanding intellectual property around the globe. The so-called Innovation Through Trade Act (S.660) would create a "Chief Innovation and Intellectual Property Negotiator" who would have the official rank of Ambassador.
Incredibly, Hatch claims that IP issues aren't getting enough attention when it comes to trade policy.
“Intellectual property and innovation are the cornerstones of American competitiveness and job creation. Yet in recent years, they are all too often relegated to second tier status in our trade policy,” said Hatch. “With our economic competitors getting more sophisticated by the day, finding more ways to steal, expropriate or otherwise undermine the value of U.S. innovation, negotiating strong intellectual property agreements and enforcing them is a necessity, not an option. The establishment of a Chief Innovation and Intellectual Property Negotiator will give intellectual property and innovation the stature they deserve. The Office will help guarantee that America remains at the forefront of innovation policy, that our trade agreements reflect the critical importance of intellectual property to our economy and that the preservation of high-standard IP protection and enforcement are at the forefront of every trade debate.”Of course, all this really shows is how incredibly out of touch or corrupt Senator Hatch is. First, as we've seen from ACTA to TPP to TAFTA and a variety of other trade agreements in between, "IP" issues have been front and center for the USTR negotiating team. To claim that they have been relegated to "second tier status" is laughable -- especially if you're familiar with the history of such agreements. For years, IP wasn't even considered a major issue for trade negotiations, until a few decades ago when the entertainment industry realized this was a good way to force Congress (and legislatures around the world) to adopt laws they wanted. And then it quickly became a key piece of every trade agreement.
It further shows just how incredibly out of touch Hatch is, because just as he's proposing this bill, tons of public interest and civil service groups and organizations have explicitly called for the end to the practice of lumping patents, trademarks and copyrights into free trade agreements, since they really have no place there.
Finally, the idea that stronger IP laws will "guarantee that America remains at the forefront of innovation policy," isn't just wrong, it's downright dangerous. Other countries have properly recognized that there is no link between IP and actual innovation, and that IP laws are really just a tool for protectionism against American companies.
Hatch fashions himself a "professional musician," and so every so often he feels the need to throw off a favor or two to the RIAA -- but this is ridiculous. Patents, trademarks and copyrights shouldn't be international trade issues at all, and they already have way too much prominence in such discussions. Claiming they need to be elevated is the exact incorrect stance to take.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 10:06am
from the why-they-fight-so-hard-for-anti-circumvention dept
The purpose of DRM is not to prevent copyright violations.He provides a few examples, such as how DVD players force you to watch "unskippable" ads, how services like Netflix can try to limit you from watching the same movie simultaneously on two devices, and how if you buy a movie on iTunes, and want to then watch it on a non-iPhone, you'll have to buy it again. As he notes none of those things are really about copyright violations.
The purpose of DRM is to give content providers leverage against creators of playback devices.
Content providers have leverage against content distributors, because distributors can't legally distribute copyrighted content without the permission of the content's creators. But if that was the only leverage content producers had, what would happen is that users would obtain their content from those content distributors, and then use third-party content playback systems to read it, letting them do so in whatever manner they wanted.
In all three cases, nobody has been stopped from violating a copyright. All three movies are probably available on file sharing sites. The only people who are stopped from doing anything are the player providers -- they are forced to provide a user experience that, rather than being optimised for the users, puts potential future revenues first (forcing people to play ads, keeping the door open to charging more for more features later, building artificial obsolescence into content so that if you change ecosystem, you have to purchase the content again).If you're wondering why copyright holders are soooooooo desperate to have anti-circumvention provisions in copyright law, this is why. In the past, we'd pointed out that it didn't make sense for the movie studios and record labels to be so focused on anti-circumvention/digital locks, since if people are violating copyright law (such as by reproducing or distributing copies), existing copyright law already covers that. So why add in a separate provision all about circumvention -- and then be so focused on making sure the same provision exists in all laws around the globe? It seemed silly, because the only "additional" benefit it seemed to be providing was to outlaw legal forms of copying, since everything else was already covered under existing law.
However, Hickson's argument explains much more clearly why anti-circumvention provisions are seen as an absolute necessity. It has nothing to do with copying, and everything to do with controlling the players so as to limit the kind of innovation they can provide. It's basically a de facto veto power over new technologies. And, really, that puts a bunch of other statements in context as well. Remember how former Copyright Register Ralph Oman was saying that new player technologies should be illegal until Congress approved them? Yeah, same basic thing.
All of this shows a legacy copyright industry that is so focused on holding back innovation so that they have a veto right and control over the pace of innovation. That, of course, is bad for the economy, bad for the public and bad for society. Innovation is important in growing the economy, and due to silly laws around DRM, we are purposely holding it back.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 8:57am
from the ugh dept
However, after talking to two different people with knowledge of the bill in question, it has been suggested that this is not the case, and that the different elements are really meant to be "or" statements. They point out that if you look elsewhere in the existing CFAA, you see the same pattern -- with multiple sub-statements that don't have an "or" but which are interpreted as being "or" statements. For example, under section (a)(2)(A), there is no "or" between that and (B), but clearly the CFAA doesn't only apply to information that is obtained BOTH from a financial institution and a government computer at the same time. This pattern is repeated throughout the bill, such that it seems clear the bill's clauses are connected by "or" statements, rather than "and."
If this is true, then you could run afoul of "exceeding authorized access" for any one of those actions, rather than all three. This is bad for a variety of reasons. Beyond making it much easier to go after someone for exceeding authorized access, it actually acts as a de facto way of expanding, not contracting, that clause in the CFAA. That's because at least a few courts have recently rejected broad interpretations of the CFAA around "exceeding authorized access," such that the courts (in a few key circuits) have effectively cut back on broad interpretations of the bill. This new version of the CFAA would create new broad definitions for which prosecutors could use against people claiming "exceeds authorized access."
It seems like this bill really is all bad. On top of everything else, the one area where it "rolled back" something, it may have rolled it "back" to a place which allows for more ambiguity that existing case law.
So rather than stopping bogus prosecutions like the one against Aaron Swartz, this revision of the CFAA may encourage them and create more such activity.
by Glyn Moody
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 7:57am
from the aren't-things-bad-enough? dept
It would be something of an understatement to say that people have strong opinions about patents. But as Techdirt has reported, there's a growing consensus that software patents in particular aren't working -- James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer have written an entire book, "Patent Failure", about how bad things are there, and why it's happening in this area rather than elsewhere.
One of the key problems is that software patents are essentially patents on mathematical algorithms -- sets of instructions for carrying out a calculation. Since it has long been a principle that you can't patent mathematical formulae or laws of nature, there is a tension there: if software is just mathematics, why should you be able to patent it at all? New Scientist points to an interesting article in the April 2013 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society, in which David A. Edwards
proposes a radical way of solving that conundrum (pdf):
At present, only those things which are made by man are patentable. Thus, the courts have allowed new forms of bacteria which have been engineered to have useful properties using recombinant DNA techniques to be patented but would not allow such a bacterium to be patented if it were naturally occurring even if it were newly discovered. This is the basis for the nonpatentability of computer programs. They are algorithms, which are essentially mathematical formulas, which -- as everyone knows -- are "eternal" and hence discovered by man and not created by him. This argument which, to say the least, is philosophically controversial, leads to our present unfortunate policy. From an economic point of view, there is no rationale for distinguishing between discovery and invention, and we would advocate dropping entirely any subject matter restrictions whatsoever on what can be patented. One should be able to patent anything not previously known to man.
In particular, he believes it should be possible to patent mathematics, and hence software.
One of his arguments is that this would spur people to make more discoveries. But that presupposes mathematicians aren't trying to do that now for glory, peer esteem and tenure, but there's no evidence to suggest that. The same argument is sometimes made in support of software patents -- that they stimulate the production of more software. But that overlooks the fact that the computer industry thrived for decades before the introduction of software patents, and that companies like Microsoft grew into hugely profitable enterprises without them.
Indeed, in 1991 Bill Gates famously warned about the problems that software patents would create for the industry and his company:
In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." Mr. Gates worried that "some large company will patent some obvious thing" and use the patent to "take as much of our profits as they want."
That, of course, is exactly what has happened since the introduction of software patents, leading to the following situation today:
In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years -- an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.
That's bad enough for huge companies with deep pockets; it would be even worse for universities on tight budgets which might suddenly find themselves sued for using mathematical formulae without permission -- a ludicrous situation. Edwards seems to be aware that this is a problem, and tries to address it as follows:
Since patents only give control over the commercial applications of his or her discovery or invention to the patentee, granting patents on mathematical formulas, laws of nature, and natural phenomena would have no negative side effects on pure science.
That's not really the case, in the US at least, thanks to Madey v. Duke University,
as Wikipedia explains:
In 2002, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dramatically limited the scope of the research exemption in Madey v. Duke University, 307 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The court did not reject the defense, but left only a "very narrow and strictly limited experimental use defense" for "amusement, to satisfy idle curiosity, or for strictly philosophical inquiry." The court also precludes the defense where, regardless of profit motive, the research was done "in furtherance of the alleged infringer's legitimate business." In the case of a research university like Duke University, the court held that the alleged use was in furtherance of its legitimate business, and thus the defense was inapplicable.
Clearly, there is huge scope for inventive lawyers (mathematical trolls?) to bring lawsuits against academics here, which would inevitably have a chilling effect on "pure science". Far from helping resolve the problems we have today with software patents, extending patentability to the mathematics that underlies programming would simply spread the misery wider, and make the lawyers richer.
by Leigh Beadon
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 5:55am
from the with-great-reservation dept
Slowly but surely, HBO seems to be softening on that whole "internet" thing that everyone keeps asking them to look into. We recently noted that they've acknowledged the need to make shows like Game of Thrones more widely available online for the international market, and now Reuters reports rumblings of corollary realization: offering HBO Go as a standalone service without a cable package might be a good idea. Or at least it's crossed their minds.
"Right now we have the right model," [HBO Chief Executive Richard] Plepler told Reuters on Wednesday evening at the Season 3 premiere of HBO's hit TV show "Game of Thrones." "Maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve."
Plepler said late Wednesday that HBO GO could be packaged with a monthly Internet service, in partnership with broadband providers, reducing the cost.
Customers could pay $50 a month for their broadband Internet and an extra $10 or $15 for HBO to be packaged in with that service, for a total of $60 or $65 per month, Plepler explained.
"We would have to make the math work," he added.
The folks at HBO seem intent on letting the world know that they know these demands exist—they're not stupid or blind, they just happen to be making a lot of money with things the way they are, thank you very much. But while there's often a lot of sense to the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it mentality, the record and film industries serve as illustrative examples of why it may not be a great approach for content companies faced with new technologies. It's easier to experiment when you've got money, and HBO could be using these successful times to start piloting and ultimately launching an online-only service that is superior to the competition, both legitimate and otherwise. If they wait until the growing cable-cutter movement actually necessitates the shift, they could end up like those other industries—dragging their heels until someone else steps in to do the hard work (iTunes, Netflix), or offering ersatz late-to-the-game products of their own (Ultraviolet, Hulu).
Still, it's good to know that it's occurred to them. As for the idea of bundling it with ISP subscriptions, while it makes less sense than offering something to everyone who wants it, it's actually not a bad first step for a company that relies so heavily on partnerships with cable providers (who also happen to be ISPs). However, depending on how such a plan was implemented, it could raise a lot of issues around net neutrality, and could lead to a bundling problem that's just as bad as exists now with cable—especially if it's successful at first, and the providers try to pile on with all kinds of other content subscriptions. Since HBO is obviously going to take its sweet time with any online-only strategy, hopefully it at least realizes that solving the cord-cutting problem is a better goal than renewing and postponing it.
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 3:50am
from the harlem-sheikh dept
Which brings us back to Tunisia. They seem to have a problem with this Gangam Style, Harlem Shake combo-video produced by some apparently fun-loving Tunisian students (the original was taken down due to a highly questionable copyright claim, by the way, because while even the Tunisian government wasn't evil enough to block the video, a bogus DMCA claim had no such qualms).
For reasons that will never make sense to me, the Tunisian government apparently had a problem with the video and its popularity, prompting an investigation. And if you think about it for five seconds, you've probably already guessed what the response from Tunisia's people has been.
They danced en masse to the song and posted their exploits on YouTube. That prompted a quarter of a million hits and reports of an investigation by the country's minister of education and that prompted a backlash. Video after video after video of Tunisians proudly doing the Harlem shake in defiance.Dear Tunisian people: congratulations! You've officially been made full members of the internet community now that you've engaged in trolling your own government as a form of protest. It's only a matter of time before you'll be naming soft drinks after fluid-expelling geriatrics.
Over in Egypt, the government didn't stop at a simple investigation, however. Four students were arrested for taking part in this Harlem Shake video shot in front of the Giza pyramids.
The response? A massive protest Harlem Shake performed directly in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters.
Sorry, Middle East governments, but the people have spoken, and they want their damned memes. And, actually, that brings to mind the obvious question: how the hell are memes a threat to you to begin with?
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 12:08am