We've discussed the push to get both major political parties in the US to adopt language around internet freedom in their official platforms. With the RNC Convention happening, there's been some news that they are, in fact, putting in some internet freedom language, but the specifics do matter. The Daily Caller report indicated that the language was based on the manifesto that Ron Paul and Rand Paul released a few weeks ago, which had serious problems (such as arguing that the public domain was a "collectivist plot" and that the end-to-end principles of the internet were also some sort of awful conspiracy). One would hope that cooler heads would prevail.
Of course, at the same time, there are numerous reports saying that the same GOP platform will include significant anti-porn language. The GOP has had anti-child porn language before, which makes sense, but they're expanding it to porn in general. And it's being cheered on by various groups who seem... a little excessively happy about this (you should see some of the press releases I've been getting from groups in favor of this). They argue that porn, in general, is "a major, major problem." And Mitt Romney seems to support this, arguing that "every new computer sold in this country after I'm president has installed on it a filter to block all pornography."
No matter what you think of pornography, it's hard to square the idea of supporting internet freedom (or freedom of speech in general) with mandatory filters. Porn filters already exist and are widely available in the market. For those who wish to put them on their computers, it's not like they have a lack of options. To make them mandatory seems highly questionable, and it's difficult to see how one can argue for both internet freedom and mandatory filters at the same time.
Of course, this is politics that we're talking about, where it's pretty common to hold two completely conflicting viewpoints at the same time. I expect we'll see similar contradictions in a couple weeks when the Democrats hold their convention as well...
Our first introduction with Zynga was back in 2009 when the maker of Mob Wars sued Zynga over its Mafia Wars game. Zynga was accused of copyright infringement and ended up paying a pretty penny. Later on in the year, Zynga turned around and sued Playdom over what it claimed was trademark infringement. Shortly there after Zynga was sued for trademark infringment over the name Mafia Wars. Then last year, Zynga decided to sue a Brazilian company, Vostu, for various claims of copyright infringment and even some claims that the company copied its entire business model. This lawsuit resulted in a very interesting ruling from a US Judge telling Zynga not to enforce its win over Vostu, because the US Judge wanted first dibs on the ruling. Remember this last case, because it is the most important one when reviewing this next lawsuit.
As outlined in our complaint, when The Ville was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of The Sims Social was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large. The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social. The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable. Scores of media and bloggers commented on the blatant mimicry.
Compare that to Zynga's statement about its lawsuit against Vostu:
Let’s be clear – it is one thing to be inspired by Zynga games, but it is entirely different to copy all of our key product features, product strategy, branding, mission statement and employee benefits lock, stock and barrel. We welcome Vostu into the arena of social games, but blatant infringement of our creative works is not an acceptable business strategy—it is a violation of the law.
In both statements, the accuser is stating that outright copying was taking place. That each accused game was a near replica of the other game. Such a claim from EA after Zynga made very much the same claims has got to be one of the largest legal karma slaps in history. One that Zynga will be very much lucky to walk away from.
Elsewhere in the filing, EA shows that Zynga's cloning is not limited to this one case. It lists numerous instances where Zynga had been accused of cloning other popular games. It lists the afore mentioned Mafia Wars, Dream Heights, Farmville and Zynga Bingo, all games that had been publicly accused of being clones. This was done to show that Zynga has an extensive history of cloning games.
EA's filing is also full of interesting screen shot comparisons in which it points out some of the more common similarities, such as the almost exact duplication of skin tone selections and personality types. EA even provided a video showing other similarities in animations.
Something to note in these examples is that they follow a very similar pattern to the filing Zynga made in its case against Vostu. In that filing, any time Zynga wanted to show off the similarities of the two games in question, it would show images that use as many similar elements arranged in as similar a fashion as possible. Something that EA does as well. This tactic is deployed as a method to project as much of a feeling of copyright infringement as possible. Unfortunately, it also clouds the fact that much of what is shown are in all actuality user made choices.
The Ville is the newest game in our 'ville' franchise -- it builds on every major innovation from our existing invest-and-express games dating back to YoVille and continuing through CityVille and CastleVille, and introduces a number of new social features and game mechanics not seen in social games today. It's unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles. It's also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga's CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players.
Zynga has been accused of copying so many games that they’ve sadly lost the ability to recognize games like ours that are chock full of original content and have been independently created. Vostu has 500 brilliant employees working night and day making hand drawings and writing proprietary code for online games that our 35 million users worldwide enjoy. Zynga’s anti-competitive effort to bully us with a frivolous lawsuit — especially when we have some of the same key investors — is pathetic. While Zynga plays games with the legal process we will continue focusing on using our substantial resources to create games that entertain our customers.
There are two key similarities between these two defensive statements. The first is that both companies make the claim that their work is original and built with the companies' creative talents. The other is both are claiming that the lawsuits are less about copyright and more about attacking a competitor. It really boggles the mind that a company like Zynga has missed the poetics of this situation.
While we have repeatedly stated that the practice of game cloning is something that can be dealt with outside of the legal system, it is interesting to see these two players go toe to toe. What makes this case even more interesting than a typical cloning case, as I have tried to portray, is that Zynga set itself up for this lawsuit. Not just by copying EA's game, but also by providing the exact kind of legal precedent EA needs to win. If Zynga is to defend itself in this case, it is in effect defending Vostu's actions. Something that Zynga probably isn't looking forward to.
Well, this is interesting. Given the general condemnation of Wikileaks by governments, all the ongoing controversy and reputation problems faced by the organization, you wouldn't expect them to be approached with any official requests for leaked information. But it seems just that has happened in the UK, where the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics has requested and received a dossier from Wikileaks on corruption in the British press.
On the surface this is pretty hypocritical, and more than a little ironic: in the past, the UK government asked media outlets to brief them on government secrets they received from Wikileaks before publishing them. Now, a government-run inquiry is asking Wikileaks to hand over information on UK media outlets. Apparently they don't hate leaks as long as they flow in the right direction.
Hopefully this represents another step towards governments recognizing that Wikileaks isn't pure evil, even if there are questionable things about the operation. Though there are risks, bringing sensitive information to light is often in the public's best interest—indeed, that's the whole spirit behind public inquiries. The Leveson Inquiry was convened when the News of the World phone-hacking scandal pointed to a secret culture of corruption in the press, and now Wikileaks is helping to expose it further. If governments attempt to maintain secret cultures of their own, they too will be exposed.
Where's ICE when you need them? For a while now, ICE has been making the case that sites that merely link to streaming content -- especially sports content -- are the most evil kinds of criminals around. It's why they're trying to extradite Richard O'Dwyer from the UK to have him face criminal charges. It's why they recently arrested Yonjo Quiroa, who will soon be tried on criminal charges as well. Both ran sites that linked to streams of TV content, including sports content. So clearly, this is serious, criminal business. In fact, if you believe the propaganda from the RIAA, these sites contribute to gangland violence and terrorism.
But, of course, when those major label guys want to set up an illegal public performance of an NFL game, where do they turn? You guessed it! One of those rogue sites.
Jason Kincaid over at TechCrunch has the rather insane story of how Vevo, the music video streaming company created by Universal Music and owned by Universal Music and Sony Music, had a booth set up at Sundance a few weeks back, where they, quite clearly, live-streamed an NFL playoff game. Yeah. In their "lounge," they had computers showing the game, apparently sourced from ESPN America -- which isn't available in the US. And the stream came from TuTele.tv, which appears to be quite similar to many of the sites that have been seized and shut down. In fact, it sounds pretty similar to Rojadirecta, which is currently fighting the US Justice Department in court.
And the folks from these major record labels used this source to live stream the football game throughout their lounge area at Sundance.
It gets even more ridiculous when you remember that Congress has been trying to pass bills that would make such streaming a felony in and of itself. Senator Amy Klobuchar's streaming felony bill, S.978 -- the one that would potentially put Justin Bieber at risk -- as well as SOPA, both had provisions that made public performance of infringing content a potential felony. Those were mainly supposed to be directed at sites that allow streaming, but I think people would find it hard to argue that what happened in that bar was not a "public performance."
Of course, what this shows is that these issues are never as black and white as the RIAA would have you believe. And, just like many others, when the industry doesn't give them a convenient way to do what they want, even the RIAA's strongest supporters stoop to making use of rogue sites to potentially do "criminal acts."
I eagerly await ICE moving in to arrest Vevo execs for this blatant criminal activity.
Remember CreativeAmerica? That's the pro-SOPA/PIPA astroturf group that the big Hollywood studios set up, pretending that it was a "grassroots" campaign (even though its grassroots efforts aren't turning up many supporters). For a group that positions itself as being really strongly pro-stronger, more draconian copyright, you would think that it would be careful to, you know, not copy others, right? But, really, what's a little copying among people lobbying over bills about the evils of copying?
Yes, it appears that the good folks at CreativeAmerica just happened to notice that the large and growing anti-SOPA/PIPA forces have mobilized the public to go out to various town hall meetings for Senators to protest PIPA... and they decided, "Hey, we should do that!" But, rather than creating their own campaign, and doing the legwork (and, trust me, there's a lot of legwork involved) to actually compile the list of townhalls and then to craft an email to supporters... it seems that CreativeAmerica thought it would be easier to just copy someone else's... and... um... "remix" it.
Of course, we have no problem with this general kind of building on the works of others. We consider such remixing and building on the works of others a true form of creativity. We just find it a wee bit (well, actually, more than that) hypocritical for an organization set up by the big movie studios for the express purpose of pushing for heftier punishment for those who copy... to then go and copy stuff themselves. Paraphrasing the critics in our own comments: What's wrong, CreativeAmerica, can't you create your own works here? Why do you have to "steal" the work of other people who actually did the work?
We've discussed how the State Department, and Hillary Clinton in particular, have been spending a lot of time talking up the importance of internet freedom, and speaking out against countries that censor the internet. That even resulted in Joe Biden's unintentionally hilarious explanation of why internet censorship is horrible... while he supports internet censorship at home.
It seems like there's a real disconnect in our government, however, when the censorship is couched in the word "copyright." We just wrote about how Spain adopted its SOPA-like law this week, despite widespread public outrage. We had noted that the US State Department was a major force behind the bill, and (no surprise) more news has leaked that there was more of the same behind this new decision to adopt the Sinde Law. It's been leaked that, just last month, State Department officials threatened the Spanish government that if it didn't pass the law, there would be repercussions. This was a letter from US ambassador Alan Solomont to the outgoing Spanish government, sent December 12th, in which he talked about "promises" made to the US government:
"The government has unfortunately failed to finish the job for political reasons, to the detriment of the reputation and economy of Spain... The government of Spain made commitments to the rights owners and to the US government. Spain can not afford to see their credibility questioned on this issue."
Stunning. Because, in actuality, the commitment the Spanish government has is to its own citizens -- who are very much against the bill. The only thing that raises questions about Spain's "credibility" is caving to US diplomatic pressure to censor the internet.
Meanwhile, if we want to talk "credibility," the US State Department is increasingly losing its credibility on this issue. How can any diplomat, with a straight face, go public talking about internet freedom and being against censorship, when the State Department demanded Spain pass a law that allows for censoring the internet?
We keep pointing out just how disastrous SOPA and PIPA look from a diplomatic perspective. Just as the US is going around talking about the importance of internet freedom, to start pushing a bill that involves censorship (and yes, it is censorship) looks really bad. SOPA supporters like to point to Hillary Clinton's letter that said there's no conflict between internet freedom and copyright enforcement. But she did not comment specifically on the bills at issue -- and furthermore her statement is wrong. There doesn't have to be conflict between the two, but you can't say there's never conflict between the two, because you could easily design a rule that proves otherwise (e.g., "we shut down the entire internet to prevent infringement.") The State Department, frankly, is having a really tough time straddling both sides of this debate, because everything they say about the importance of internet freedom acts as the perfect arguments against SOPA.
But, really, the true test of the diplomatic impact of SOPA on the international community is not what the State Department says... it's what those other countries say. And they seem pretty shocked that this is the path the US is going down. Here are two examples. First up, we have the Voice of Russia, noting that the US is joining China in censoring the internet:
The US and the West have long criticized China for stifling dissent and for censorship but now they are not only joining China but they are taking censorship even further and attempting to censor the whole world.
The international implications of SOPA are worrying for as experts claim: it appears that the US is taking control of the entire world. The definitions written in the bill are so broad that any US user who uses a website overseas immediately gives the US the power to potentially take action against it and enable them to force ISPs to DNS-block any foreign site.
On a global scale it grants the U.S. Government far-reaching powers to go after Web sites which it claims are hosting copyrighted content.... Not long ago the U.S. admitted that it was in a state of information warfare and that it was losing the war. So what do you do if you are losing the information war? You muzzle the messenger.
Considering Russia has a bit of a history using copyright law to stifle political critics... folks there certainly know exactly how censorship via copyright can lead to much more than just protecting a few companies.
Now, let's jump over to the Middle East, where Al Jazeera is pointing out the State Department's rank hypocrisy on this subject, assuming that Clinton's letter was, in fact, in support of SOPA, and showing how that seems to undermine the rest of the State Department's arguments for internet freedom around the globe -- especially when it comes to circumvention tools:
In the year and a half since, the State Department has had limited success promoting online awareness and circumvention tools in foreign countries. But given SOPA's incredibly broad definitions of which sites are liable under its censorship provisions - merely claiming the site "engages in, enables or facilitates" infringement is enough - it won't be long until the bill destroys social networks that spread news of protests and the anonymity software that keep activists protected.
Many tech groups worry social networks such as Facebook - which were instrumental in organising protests in Egypt - would be at risk under SOPA. Brooklyn Law School professor Derek Bambauer also argues YouTube, which hosts countless human rights videos, would be "clearly unlawful", since it allows users to upload videos that may contain copyrighted content. While Google and Facebook may have enough money and lawyers to fend off lawsuits and court orders without being shut down completely, emerging social networks in foreign countries would not. Any site hosting videos, even if they are used to draw attention to human rights abuses, will be easily derailed if an overzealous copyright holder decides to use one alleged violation to strangle the whole site.
But circumvention tools - which allow activists to foil internet censors and evade government surveillance - would be the bill's greatest casualties. While many are developed explicitly for human rights advocates, they can also be used to download copyrighted content. Tor, the anonymising software that masks users' IP addresses that was instrumental during Egypt protests, would be a prime target of copyright holders, despite being funded by the US government.
In fact, most of internet freedom programmes currently funded by State Department are in danger. Hillary has pledged millions of dollars to various companies to create a "shadow" internet "that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments", according to the New York Times. But by endorsing SOPA, Hillary is giving the green light to copyright holders to destroy it. Virtual Private Networks, proxies, privacy or anonymisation software could all potentially be deemed illegal if they can also help get around SOPA's censorship mechanisms.
Even if Clinton truly believes that SOPA doesn't harm the US's diplomatic position on internet freedom around the world, it sure looks like large parts of the rest of the world disagree. The site TorrentFreak recently had a caption contest about a photo showing MPAA boss Chris Dodd sharing a hearty laugh with Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui. Perhaps they were laughing about how the bill that Dodd is pushing is the perfect cover for the Chinese the next time the State Department asks them to stop censoring the internet.
Indeed, the NYT reporters several times acknowledge that public awareness of these operations could trigger serious harm ("inside Pakistan,  the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash"). Note, too, that Mazzetti and Filkins did not acquire these government secrets by just passively sitting around and having them delivered out of the blue. To the contrary: they interviewed multiple officials both in Washington and in Afghanistan, offered several of them anonymity to induce them to reveal secrets, and even provoked officials to provide detailed accounts of past secret actions in Pakistan, including CIA-directed attacks by Afghans inside that country.
As he notes, all of this seems a lot more revealing than anything that Wikileaks has done, and a lot more likely to put people in danger. Yet, there's been almost no response, and certainly nothing like the attention paid to Wikileaks -- with calls for trials or even killing the head of Wikileaks. Seems odd, doesn't it?
But, an even bigger point is buried towards the end in an update, where Greenwald asks:
Why aren't Visa, MasterCard, Paypal, their web hosting company and various banks terminating their relationships with The New York Times, the way they all did with WikiLeaks: not only for the NYT's publication of many of the same diplomatic and war cables published by WikiLeaks, but also for this much more serious leak today in which WikiLeaks was completely uninvolved?
And, I think, we can add Apple to that list. After all, if these companies keep claiming that Wikileaks "broke the law" (as most of the companies listed here are saying), why do they not feel the same way about the NY Times?
It's kind of scary how often people, who claim to be such huge supporters of copyright, are caught infringing on copyrights when it suits them -- often offering amusing rationalizations for their own actions. Torrentfreak has the somewhat hilarious story of a Norwegian author, Anne B Ragde, who was interviewed for an article about unauthorized ebook file sharing and she did the predictable thing and complained about how awful it is, saying that it's no different from stealing and saying that "I have figured out that I've lost half a million kronor ($72,500) on piracy of my books, maybe more." Later she says: "I can not stand the thought of someone stealing something."
However, moments later, she's asked if she's ever bought counterfeit goods and she responds:
"Pirated handbags? Yes, I do buy them," she said. "I feel that the genuine Prada bags have such an inflated price."
Fascinating. One wonders how she'd respond to those who are involved in unauthorized book file sharing by claiming that the genuine products "have such an inflated price." Her son, Jo, then apparently chimes in to help the interviewer and notes:
"You have a pirated MP3 collection," Jo added, helpfully. "We copied the first 1500 songs from one place and 300 from another."
"Yes," admitted Ragde. "There were a lot of things on the iPod."
But she just "can not stand the thought" of others doing the same to her work?
For many, many years, we've pointed to the growing body of research on how the fashion industry thrives, in part, because of its lack of copyright. However, time and time again, we hear about attempts by big designers to add a special fashion copyright. This makes no sense. The purpose of copyright law is to create incentives to create new works. Yet, the fashion industry is thriving. It's highly competitive and very innovative, as designers keep looking to outdo one another. At the same time, the "knockoffs" help spread the concept of "what's fashionable" up and down the economic spectrum in record time. This is not an industry that needs "incentives" for creativity. The only reason to put in place such a law is to prevent competition, not to encourage more innovation.
Now, leading the charge for such copyright protection is famed designer Diane von Furstenberg, who beyond being a top designer, is also president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). CFDA has been the major promoter of such a copyright for clothing design, and runs a site called StopFashionPiracy.com. You would think that von Furstenberg would be quite careful to only to come up with her own design ideas. Not so fast. This story is actually about a year old, but Public Knowledge just brought it to our attention. It seems that von Furstenberg was caught blatantly copying another (less well known) designer's design.
Of course, as soon as the story broke in the press, von Furstenberg had her lawyer call up the other designer and offer to pay up. As the National Post, notes, the level of hypocrisy is striking:
Let's remember that when she and other designers accuse chains like Forever 21 and Anthropologie for alleged garment plagiarism and talk about the intellectual property issue in general, copycatters are vilified as "pirates." Yet when a garment from DvF's own brand is found to be uncannily similar to another designer's, it's positioned as an accident, an honest mistake.
We've seen this before, over and over again. The strongest defenders of monopoly rights so often are caught blatantly violating the laws themselves... and then twist themselves into knots to try to explain why their position is consistent -- insisting it was just a "mistake." Once again, all this really highlights is that the point of IP laws is to let incumbents keep down upstarts, rather than encouraging new creativity.