Prenda Law seems to be the gift that keeps on giving if you're writing about absolutely ridiculous attempts at copyright trolling. If 2012 was the year of Righthaven as the representative of brazen, hubristic, bullshit copyright trolling getting its due, 2013 looks to be the year of John Steele / Prenda Law (or whatever he's calling it these days). It is clearly going above and beyond what Righthaven only dreamed about. The latest is that Prenda has sought out yet another questionable loophole in trying to force ISPs to hand over subscriber info without having to first go to court. It's using a misreading of a Pennsylvania state law to do so (it's tried a similar move under a Florida state law, which flopped). However, as the good folks at FightCopyrightTrolls have noticed, the argument it's using in Pennsyvania has failed in the past as well. And not just that the general argument has failed but the specific, word-for-word argument. That's because Prenda or its local-lawyer-for-hire, Isaac Slepner, appears to have copied word for word (and stylistically too!) a filing for Liberty Media (represented by Jordan Rushie), and simply slapping the Prenda shell company Guava's name at the top. Rushie confirmed with FCT that he had nothing whatsoever to do with this new filing.
Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not quite the same thing -- and there have been discussions of whether or not you can really infringe on copying a legal filing (it happens often enough, though usually in snippets, rather than wholesale). Not that anyone took Steele's claims of "protecting" copyright seriously, but it really says something when the law firm billing itself as protecting against piracy chooses to copy top to bottom someone else's legal filing. Check out both filings below.
Back in May, we wrote about how Pennsylvania Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate), Tom Corbett, had sent a subpoena to Twitter demanding the identity of an online critic, who he believed to be a former state employee who had been convicted and was facing sentencing in a political corruption scandal. While Corbett dropped the subpoena after the guy was sentenced (and there was widespread criticism of his actions), the legal community continues to scold him for his actions. A recent article highlights that not only did he send the subpoena, but the coverletter of the subpoena ordered Twitter not to reveal the existence of the subpoena -- even to the account holder. In fact, it told Twitter that if it wanted to reveal the existence of the subpoena to anyone, it first had to contact the Attorney General's office, so that it could seek an order prohibiting revealing the subpoena:
"Should you decide that you wish to disclose the existence of this subpoena and its contents to anyone, including the account holder, it is requested that you contact the deputy attorney general named on your subpoena and so advise him or her before any disclosure so he or she can determine whether or not to seek a court order from the supervising judge prohibiting disclosures under section 4549(d) of the Investigating Grand Jury Act, 42 Pa. C.S. 4549 (d)."
So not only was he seeking to out an anonymous critic, he wanted to make sure no one -- least of all the guy who's identity was at stake -- was able to know about it.
Last week, the news came out that Pennsylvania Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate), Tom Corbett, was so thin-skinned that he had subpoenaed Twitter to try to get at the identity of some anonymous online critics. Of course, all this really did was draw attention to (a) the criticism of Corbett and (b) his incredibly thin skin when it comes to criticism. Twitter, thankfully, didn't just roll over, and now Corbett has dropped the subpoena. Of course, one of the reasons Corbett was trying to unmask the identity of the commenter was because he believed it may have been someone he had already targeted in a political corruption scandal -- who was being sentenced on Friday. However, without being able to identify the user by the time of the sentencing, he couldn't use that in pushing for a tougher sentence. So, in the end, Corbett didn't get what he was after, but called a lot more attention to criticism of him. Nice work.
from the let-me-introduce-you-to-the-constitution dept
What is it with various state Attorney Generals and their difficulty in understanding the law? And why is it that those same AGs always seem to be running for higher office when they do? We've already covered how Andrew Cuomo (who wants to be NY's governor) appeared to ignore the law in bullying ISPs. And then there's Richard Blumenthal (who wants to be one of the Senators from Connecticut) who continues to ignore Section 230 safe harbors for Craigslist in grandstanding against the company. Then there was South Carolina's Harry McMaster (who tried to run for governor), who also ignored Section 230 in threatening to put Craigslist execs in jail.
Now we can add to the list Pennsylvania's Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate), Tom Corbett, who apparently is so thin-skinned about people criticizing him, that he's subpoenaed Twitter, demanding it reveal the "name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol address" of two anonymous critics who are using both Twitter and Blogger to criticize him.
One would assume that, as Attorney General, Corbett is familiar with the First Amendment. One would also hope that, as Attorney General, Corbett is familiar with the long list of decisions in the caselaw protecting the right of anonymity especially in situations where it involves criticizing a politician. Apparently not. Corbett also appears to be unfamiliar with the basic tenets of The Streisand Effect... and how trying to unmask these critics is only serving to draw significantly more attention to their criticism of him.
How do you get to be Attorney General if you don't even understand the basics of the law? And how do you become a politician if you can't stand people criticizing you?
About a year ago a prosecutor in Pennsylvania wanted to bring child porn charges against some teenage girls who had taken some "nude and seminude" photos of themselves with cameraphones and sent them to others. The case was complicated in that after school officials turned over the evidence to the district attorney, the DA's office told the girls that they could avoid charges if they agreed to a special afterschool "education program." Some of the girls refused, and the prosecutor tried to charge them. This raised an outcry from many who felt it was ridiculous to charge kids with child pornography for taking photos of themselves. The judges in the case blocked the prosecutor from filing charges, but rather than take the hint, the prosecutor tried again with an appeal.
It looks like that was a dead end too. The appeals court unanimously ruled against the DA and criticized them for their efforts to bring charges against these girls. This case won't necessarily directly apply to other similar cases -- as much of the reasoning had to do with the requirement to take this class and write an essay about why what they did was "wrong," which was judged to be compelled speech, violating the First Amendment. Furthermore, the fact that the lawsuit was seen as retaliating for not obeying the order to take the class was also problematic. So, it's likely we'll still see other cases involving "sexting," where teenagers are accused of creating child porn of themselves.
You may recall last year that prosecutors in Pennsylvania wanted to charge some girls who had taken either nude or partially unclothed photos of themselves, and then sent them via their mobile phones, with "child porn" charges. This seems pretty ridiculous no matter how you look at it, and it was good that a judge temporarily blocked the prosecutor from moving forward. You would hope that this would give the prosecutor a chance to rethink this idea, and perhaps realize that it's beyond extreme.
Instead? The prosecutor is appealing the ruling and still wants to charge at least one girl with child porn charges. The ACLU is fighting back, not just for this particular girl, but apparently over the threats of felony charges on 16-girls, who were then forced to participate in a "re-education" class to avoid charges. I have no problem with children being educated about why such things are really bad ideas, but to threaten them with felony charges, especially when even the mothers of one of the girls says that photos were just some girls goofing around, and in most cases no worse than what you'd find it a typical Victoria's Secret catalog? That seems like a prosecutor going too far.
Ima Fish writes "The Supreme Court in Pennsylvania struck down a state trademark law (pdf) which essentially criminalized any use of a trademark without permission of the trademark holder. There were no exceptions at all, including free speech rights.
The Opinion noted "that the use of the word 'Nike' on a sign at a protest rally, such as 'Nike uses sweatshop labor' would fall within the reach of the Trademark Counterfeiting Statute because the activity would involve the unauthorized use of a word or term used by another to identify goods or services."
The Court went farther and stated, "Taken to the extreme, even our use of the words 'Nike' and 'Penn State' in this opinion without the permission of the company or the university would fall under the current definition of a counterfeit mark. Clearly, the statute prohibits a substantial amount of protected speech."
It's nice to see courts get it right every so often. I wish it happened more.
There was also a concurring opinion and two separate dissentingopinions (all pdfs, of course). Definitely great to see the court get this right, but it makes you wonder what legislators were thinking when they put such a law in place.
A few months back, we wrote about how the town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, not only had installed more surveillance cameras than many large cities, but was also allowing resident volunteers to control the cameras, which seemed to raise quite a few questions about the potential for abuse. The town insisted it was fine, because even though the screening process was "informal" it planned to "weed out voyeurs and anyone who might use the tapes for blackmail or other illegal activity." Apparently that weeding process needs a bit of work. Someone who prefers to be anonymous notes that it took a third party to notice that one of the residents approved to control the cameras had been convicted of stalking and harassment, as well as impersonating a public official, in the past. Oddly, the newspaper that wrote up the report still claims that the effort to screen the camera operators has been "a success." Oh really? The anonymous tipster also notes that the newspaper in which that article appeared just happens to have donated over $200,000 to the surveillance program while also giving the program a $2 million interest-free loan (and you thought all newspapers were broke), so perhaps it isn't the best judge of how well the program is going.
We've had a tremendous response in the comments to our previous posts regarding the "sexting" case in Pennsylvania, where a local prosecutor had threatened to bring child porn charges against some girls who'd taken some photos of themselves, topless and in underwear, and sent them to some boys. Last week, three of the girls sued the prosecutor with the help of the ACLU, and a federal judge has put a temporary restraining order on the prosecutor, preventing him from filing charges, while the lawsuit proceeds. While not making any sort of final, binding judgment, the judge said that the girls' contention that the photos -- which reportedly show the two girls in their bras, and one topless with a towel around her waist -- "do not appear to qualify in any way as depictions of prohibited sexual acts" was a reasonable one. That's potentially a big distinction: there's been a persistent line of argument in the comments on the earlier posts that child pornography laws don't allow any wiggle room, no matter how young the producer, or if they're taking pictures or videos of themselves. But if the images in question aren't even considered pornographic under the law, it would certainly appear that the prosecutor doesn't have much to stand on.
Back in January, we got a tremendous response in the comments to a post about some teens in Pennsylvania who were facing the potential of child porn charges from an overzealous local prosecutor. Three girls had snapped nude and semi-nude pictures of themselves, and and faced charges of manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography; the two boys they sent the photos faced possession raps. Now, the ACLU has sued the prosecutor on the girls' behalf, saying he shouldn't have threatened them with baseless charges -- which haven't yet been filed -- if they wouldn't agree to probation and a counseling program. The prosecutor says he was being "proactive" in offering them a choice, but the ACLU says he shouldn't be using "heavy artillery" to make the threats. As its attorney points out, teaching kids that this sort of behavior can bring all sorts of unwanted and unforeseen ramifications is a good idea, but threatening them with child-porn charges isn't the best way to do it. Of course, in neighboring New Jersey, it seems like prosecutors didn't just stick to threats of such charges: a 14-year-old girl has now been arrested for child porn possession and distribution for posting nude photos of herself on MySpace for her boyfriend to see. At least in that case, they say they won't charge friends who viewed the photos as well.
Leigh Beadon: @GM their segment name of "Good News! You're Not Paranoid" was especially great, i thought :) Great Mizuti: @Leigh definitely. they did not lose their edge with the replacement host (i suppose no sign they should have, same writers probably) silverscarcat: http://trutechnoid.com/2013/06/17/drm-is-the-future/ - If this is the future, then the future is bleak and gaming will die. Leigh Beadon: @GM i felt like John Oliver needed a couple episodes to settle into the rhythm and now he's right on point. He's always been good though, and he's slowly bringing a bit of his own flavour to it but yeah, the writing team is the same i'm sure, just with a different guy delivering (and possibly approving) the jokes Mike Masnick: btw, i only just discovered last week that john oliver has a weekly podcast. which is awesome Great Mizuti: @ssc, i could not get passed the second paragraph in that article. run-ons and fragments and grammar, oh my! this is clearly not the official spokesman for the future of the industry. @mike, does he really?!? i did not know this. seems like something i can't live without now that i know about it. Mike Masnick: http://thebuglepodcast.com/ silverscarcat: GM, I could barely read the article myself. John Fenderson: Wow. I seriously think that AJ has finally suffered a complete psychotic break. Josh in CharlotteNC: Not the first time, John. He's been overdue for awhile. silverscarcat: Which thread? Jay: He now has a pastebin for just Mike. Wow, he just doesn't quit... John Fenderson: @silverscarcat: All of them. silverscarcat: Wow... I think the funny men with the little white coats need to pay him a visit. Jay: ... I just thought about what the NSA is doing... They're creating the largest collection of books in history. Conceptually speaking, they're archiving and vacuuming all of the books that they can't read. BentFranklin: Links in comments need a new style. You can barely see them. How about bold them like in articles?