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Posted on Techdirt - 23 April 2014 @ 10:12am

Why Do So Many People Describe Aereo 'Complying' With Copyright Law As The Company 'Circumventing' Copyright Law?

from the the-law-is-the-problem dept

We mentioned this briefly in our writeup of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court in the Aereo case, but I wanted to focus in on one particularly annoying issue that has come up repeatedly throughout this company's history: the idea that its compliance with the law is actually the company circumventing the law. A perfect example of this is an incredibly ill-informed opinion piece for New York Magazine's Kevin Roose that declares, based on a near total misunderstanding of the case, that the Supreme Court should shut down Aereo because its 10,000 antennas are a cheap "copyright-avoidance gimmick."

But that's simply incorrect. It's actually 100% the opposite. We'll fully admit, as that article does, that the setup of Aereo is simply insane from a technology standpoint. There is no good reason at all to design the technology this way. But the reason they're doing this is not to avoid copyright but to comply with it. If you think that this is insane (and you're right) the answer is not to whine about what Aereo is doing, but to note that it's copyright law that leads to this bizarre result. Don't blame Aereo for following exactly what the law says, and then say it's a "gimmick." Blame the law for forcing Aereo down this path.

Of course, it's one thing for an uninformed magazine columnist to make this argument... but quite another for Supreme Court justices to do so themselves. And tragically, in the oral arguments, a few of them appeared to be coming close to making that kind of argument (though not so ridiculously as the column above). The worst offender was Chief Justice Roberts, who asked:

All I'm trying to get at, and I'm not saying it's outcome determinative or necessarily bad, I'm just saying your technological model is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don't want to comply with, which is fine. I mean, that's -- you know, lawyers do that.
Note the twisting here. Complying with the law is now "circumventing legal prohibitions." Justices Ginsburg and Scalia both also asked about whether or not the technology decisions had any technological purpose, or if they were solely about the law (though, at least both questioned if the choices were about "complying" with the law). But the implication that is being raised (and has been explicitly raised by others) is that in setting up this "a Rube Goldberg–like contrivance" (as 2nd Circuit judge Denny Chin called Aereo in his dissent to the company's victory in that court) it means that they're somehow violating the law by meticulously complying with it.

And that's a very dangerous assumption, even by implication.

If that argument is allowed to fly, then it's not a stretch to see how copyright holders might twist lots of versions of complying with the law, into infringing on the law simply by arguing that the form of compliance is somehow "too clever." That would lead to all sorts of dangerous implications -- in which those who are being careful to comply with the law may suddenly be deemed infringing because of their careful compliance. Under such a standard, the more carefully you aim to comply with the law, the greater chance you can be accused of "contorting" yourself in a manner that allows copyright holders to argue that your compliance is somehow "less than sincere" as appears to be the main suggestion here.

It's troubling that at least a few of the Supreme Court Justices appear to even be considering such a possibility.

Yes, Aereo's setup is technologically bizarre. But that's because it's doing everything to comply with copyright law. If you have a problem with it, it's not because the company is breaking the law, it's because the law itself is broken. It would be a cruel twist of fate for Aereo to lose its case because Supreme Court Justices believed that it had broken the law, because the inevitable results of the broken law itself create a situation where complying with the law looks so bizarre that it appears to be infringement!

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 April 2014 @ 9:05am

Why Is The DOJ Gagging Twitter And Yahoo Concerning Grand Jury Subpoenas?

from the please-explain dept

The ACLU has jumped into a troubling legal fight, in which it appears that the DOJ has issued gag orders against Twitter and Yahoo concerning grand jury subpoenas that have been sent to both companies. This case is one we mentioned last week where magistrate judge John Facciola asked the two companies to weigh in, as he appears unconvinced that the government's request is sound. However, the whole thing is happening under seal, which the ACLU feels is inappropriate, given the importance of allowing companies to respond freely to such requests, without being gagged.

The ACLU filed a motion last night seeking to represent the public's interest in open court proceedings when the government seeks gag orders on Internet companies. We know about the three cases only because the magistrate judge pushed back on the government, inviting Yahoo and Twitter to weigh in and ordering the government to make its legal arguments public. The government appealed those orders to a district court, where the judge ordered the appeals sealed. The ACLU is now moving to intervene in the district court for the purpose of opening these gag order proceedings to public scrutiny. In a democracy, if your government is going to gag someone from speaking, it should publicly explain why.

The federal government has an awesome array of tools and technologies in its investigative arsenal, and it often goes to great lengths to shield its tactics from outside scrutiny. Not only does this secrecy prevent people from challenging surveillance used against them, but it also means that elected officials can't openly debate the underlying policies, and communities can't discuss their government's actions.

Traditionally, gag order applications are considered ex parte – meaning with only the government's argument on the record before the court. However, Magistrate Judge Facciola noted that the government's request in this case raised controversial legal questions, and so invited Twitter and Yahoo to respond. (In one case, the government withdrew its gag order application after Judge Facciola invited Twitter's participation.) He also ordered the government file public copies of its gag order applications with limited redactions.

It's good to see at least some pushback on the feds' attempt to get information and to silence companies from saying anything about it. But it's still quite troubling that they seem to assume they have near free rein to do so in the first place. Kudos to the ACLU for stepping in as well, and representing the public interest.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 April 2014 @ 7:47am

Quentin Tarantino Loses Big In Trying To Paint Gawker As A Copyright Infringer

from the nice-try,-quentin dept

We didn't write about this case when it came out because it just seemed so ridiculous, but filmmaker Quentin Tarantino sued Gawker Media earlier this year for linking to a script he had apparently been working on. There had been a bunch of media coverage over the fact that his script for The Hateful Eight leaked, and was being shared around Hollywood, though not online. Gawker then asked anyone if they'd seen a copy, leading to a followup post which included a link to the newly leaked script.

Tarantino argued that by soliciting from the public a copy of the script and then subsequently linking to it, Gawker was guilty of contributory infringement. Thankfully, a federal court that actually understands copyright law has quickly disabused Tarantino of that bizarre interpretation of copyright law, granting Gawker's motion to dismiss. The big problem: at no point anywhere in the process above, did Tarantino's lawyer show how Gawker's actions resulted in anyone infringing on anyone's copyright. That makes it quite hard to pin "contributory infringement" when there's no direct infringement in the first place:

However, nowhere in these paragraphs or anywhere else in the Complaint does Plaintiff allege a single act of direct infringement committed by any member of the general public that would support Plaintiff’s claim for contributory infringement. Instead, Plaintiff merely speculates that some direct infringement must have taken place. For example, Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to allege the identity of a single third-party infringer, the date, the time, or the details of a single instance of third-party infringement, or, more importantly, how Defendant allegedly caused, induced, or materially contributed to the infringement by those third parties
In a footnote, the court further notes that even if Tarantino's lawyers could dredge up some example of direct infringement based on someone reading the script, the lawsuit still wouldn't make any sense:
Even if Plaintiff alleged that individuals accessed the links contained in Defendant’s article in order to read Plaintiff’s script, such an allegation would still not support Plaintiff’s contributory infringement claim against Defendant. Simply viewing a copy of allegedly infringing work on one’s own computer does not constitute the direct infringement necessary to support Plaintiff’s contributory infringement claim. See Perfect 10, Inc., 508 F.3d at 1169 (where alleged primary infringers merely view pages containing infringing images, but do not “store[] infringing images on their computers,” there is no infringement). In addition, based on the allegations of the Complaint, there can be little doubt that Plaintiff has a strong claim for direct infringement against Doe 1, a/k/a AnonFiles.com. However, Plaintiff has not alleged and it is highly unlikely that Plaintiff will be able to plead facts demonstrating that Defendant somehow induced, caused, or materially contributed to the infringing conduct by publishing a link to the screenplay after it was wrongfully posted on AnonFiles.com.
The court notes that Gawker spent a lot of effort explaining why this is fair use but notes that, "albeit persuasive and potentially dispositive," it doesn't even need to bother with that argument since there's no infringement to defend against fair use here anyway.

Once again, it seems like people who grow up totally immersed in a world of copyright maximalism automatically leap to the conclusion that "something I don't like" must be an infringement of copyright. Thankfully, the law (mostly) doesn't work that way.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 April 2014 @ 12:20am

UK Filters And The Slippery Slope Of Mass Censorship

from the slip-slip-sliding-your-freedoms-away dept

We've covered the ridiculousness of the UK's "voluntary" web filters. UK officials have been pushing such things for years and finally pushed them through by focusing on stopping "pornography" (for the children, of course). While it quickly came out that the filters were blocking tons of legitimate content (as filters always do), the UK government quickly moved to talk about ways to expand what the filters covered.

The pattern is not hard to recognize, because it happens over and over again. Government officials find some absolute horror -- the kind of thing that no one will stand up for -- to push for some form of censorship. Few fight back because no one wants to be seen as standing up for something absolutely horrific online, or be seen as being against "family values." But, then, once the filters are in place, it becomes so easy both to ignore the fact that the filters don't work (and censor lots of legitimate content) and to constantly expand and expand and expand them. And people will have much less of a leg to stand on, because they didn't fight back at the beginning.

That appears to be happening at an astonishingly fast pace in the UK. Index On Censorship has a fantastic article, discussing how a UK government official has already admitted to plans to expand the filter to "unsavoury" content rather than just "illegal."

James Brokenshire was giving an interview to the Financial Times last month about his role in the government’s online counter-extremism programme. Ministers are trying to figure out how to block content that’s illegal in the UK but hosted overseas. For a while the interview stayed on course. There was “more work to do” negotiating with internet service providers (ISPs), he said. And then, quite suddenly, he let the cat out the bag. The internet firms would have to deal with “material that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury”, he said.

And there it was. The sneaking suspicion of free thinkers was confirmed. The government was no longer restricting itself to censoring web content which was illegal. It was going to start censoring content which it simply didn’t like.
It goes on, in fairly great detail, to describe just how quickly the UK is sliding away down that slippery slope of censorship. It highlights how these filters were kicked off as an "anti-porn" effort, where the details were left intentionally vague.
But David Cameron positioned himself differently, by starting up an anti-porn crusade. It was an extremely effective manouvre. ISPs now suddenly faced the prospect of being made to look like apologists for the sexualisation of childhood.

Or at least, that’s how it was sold. By the time Cameron had done a couple of breakfast shows, the precise subject of discussion was becoming difficult to establish. Was this about child abuse content? Or rape porn? Or ‘normal’ porn? It was increasingly hard to tell.
And, of course, the fact that the filters go too far, is never seen as a serious problem.
The filters went well beyond what Cameron had been talking about. Suddenly, sexual health sites had been blocked, as had domestic violence support sites, gay and lesbian sites, eating disorder sites, alcohol and smoking sites, ‘web forums’ and, most baffling of all, ‘esoteric material’. Childline, Refuge, Stonewall and the Samaritans were blocked, as was the site of Claire Perry, the Tory MP who led the call for the opt-in filtering. The software was unable to distinguish between her description of what children should be protected from and the things themselves.

At the same time, the filtering software was failing to get at the sites it was supposed to be targeting. Under-blocking was at somewhere between 5% and 35%.

Children who were supposed to be protected from pornography were now being denied advice about sexual health. People trying to escape abuse were prevented from accessing websites which could offer support.

And something else curious was happening too: A reactionary view of human sexuality was taking over. Websites which dealt with breast feeding or fine art were being blocked. The male eye was winning: impressing the sense that the only function for the naked female body was sexual.
But, of course, no one in the UK government seems to care. In fact, they're looking to expand the program. Because it was never about actually stopping porn. It was always about having a tool for mass censorship.
The list was supposed to be a collection of child abuse sites, which were automatically blocked via a system called Cleanfeed. But soon, criminally obscene material was added to it – a famously difficult benchmark to demonstrate in law. Then, in 2011, the Motion Picture Association started court proceedings to add a site indexing downloads of copyrighted material.

There are no safeguards to stop the list being extended to include other types of sites.

This is not an ideal system. For a start, it involves blocking material which has not been found illegal in a court of law. The Crown Prosecution Service is tasked with saying whether a site reaches the criminal threshold. This is like coming to a ruling before the start of a trial. The CPS is not an arbiter of whether something is illegal. It is an arbiter, and not always a very good one, of whether there is a realistic chance of conviction.

As the IWF admits on its website, it is looking for potentially criminal activity – content can only be confirmed to be criminal by a court of law. This is the hinterland of legality, the grey area where momentum and secrecy count for more than a judge’s ruling.

There may have been court supervision in putting in place the blocking process itself but it is not present for individual cases. Record companies are requesting sites be taken down and it is happening. The sites are only being notified afterwards, are only able to make representations afterwards. The traditional course of justice has been turned on its head.
And it just keeps going on and on. As the report notes, "the possibilities for mission creep are extensive." You don't say. They also note that technologically clueless politicians love this because they can claim they're solving a hard problem when they're really doing no such thing (and really are just creating other problems at the same time):
MPs like filtering software because it seems like a simple solution to a complex problem. It is simple. So simple it does not exist.
Of course, if you recognize that the continued expansion of such filters was likely the plan from the beginning, then everything is going according to plan. The fact that it doesn't solve any problems the public are dealing with is meaningless. It solves a problem that the politicians are dealing with: how to be able to say they've "done something" to "protect the children" while at the same time building up the tools and powers of the government to stifle any speech they don't like. To those folks, the system is working perfectly.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 8:17pm

NIST Finally Removes NSA-Compromised Crypto Algorithm From Random Number Generator Recommendations

from the took-'em-long-enough dept

Back in December, it was revealed that the NSA had given RSA $10 million to push weakened crypto. Specifically, RSA took $10 million to make Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator, better known as Dual_EC_DRBG, as the default random number generator in its BSAFE offering. The random number generator is a key part of crypto, because true randomness is nearly impossible, so you need to be as random as possible. If it's not truly random, you've basically made incredibly weak crypto that is easy to break. And that's clearly what happened here. There were other stories, released earlier, about how the NSA spent hundreds of millions of dollars to effectively take over security standards surreptitiously, including at least one standard from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). People quickly realized they were talking about Dual_EC_DRBG, meaning that the algorithm was suspect from at least September of last year (though there were indications many suspected it much earlier).

In response to all this, NIST quickly issued an announcement recommending against using Dual_EC_DRBG, but it didn't finally remove it from its random number generator recommendations until this week -- following through on an open comment process on changing its recommendations.

Following a public comment period and review, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has removed a cryptographic algorithm from its draft guidance on random number generators. Before implementing the change, NIST is requesting final public comments on the revised document, Recommendation for Random Number Generation Using Deterministic Random Bit Generators (NIST Special Publication 800-90A, Rev. 1).

The revised document retains three of the four previously available options for generating pseudorandom bits needed to create secure cryptographic keys for encrypting data. It omits an algorithm known as Dual_EC_DRBG, or Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator. NIST recommends that current users of Dual_EC_DRBG transition to one of the three remaining approved algorithms as quickly as possible.

In September 2013, news reports prompted public concern about the trustworthiness of Dual_EC_DRBG. As a result, NIST immediately recommended against the use of the algorithm and reissued SP 800-90A for public comment.

Some commenters expressed concerns that the algorithm contains a weakness that would allow attackers to figure out the secret cryptographic keys and defeat the protections provided by those keys. Based on its own evaluation, and in response to the lack of public confidence in the algorithm, NIST removed Dual_EC_DRBG from the Rev. 1 document.

In the announcement, NIST also points out that it's reviewing its cryptographic standards development process, to try to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 3:59pm

Intellectual Ventures Big Case Shut Down By Judge Over Completely Bogus Patents

from the but-of-course dept

Late last fall, we highlighted some very questionable practices by Intellectual Ventures in suing a bunch of big banks for patent infringement. Our focus was on a particular patent, 6,182,894, which was initially assigned to American Express, and which claimed to cover the concept of CID or CVV codes (those little extra three numbers on the back of your credit card you're supposed to type in as an added security measure). American Express, perhaps realizing how ridiculous it would be to sue over such a patent "donated" it to a non-profit, the Consumer and Merchant Awareness Foundation ("CMAF"), who explicitly promised that it would only be used to encourage better credit card security, and that it would never use the patent "against issuers, acquirers, merchants or consumers related to activity in the retail financial services and payment areas." Of course, it took all of about two years before CMAF effectively sold the patent to Intellectual Ventures, and then disappeared as an entity. IV, apparently, felt that it was not bound by the original promises, and started suing basically everyone. Soon after our story appeared exposing this questionable activity, Intellectual Ventures suddenly decided to drop that particular patent from its lawsuit. Shocking.

However, it continued with a few other patents... but that all ended last week when a judge rejected the remaining patents as completely bogus:

... the Court concludes as a matter of law, based on a clear and convincing evidence, that neither the '137 nor the '382 patent contains patentable subject matter under Section 101.... Nothing in the Court's Claim Construction establishes patentability, since however the claim terms may be construed each patent consists of nothing more [than] the entry of data into a computer database, the breakdown and organization of that entered data according to some criteria, disclosed in the '137 patent, but not the '382 patent, and the transmission of information derived from that entered data to a computer user, all through the use of conventional computer components, such as a database and processors, operating in a conventional manner. There is no inventive technology or other inventive concept that authorizes the protections of a patent, such as an improvement in the workings of the computer or the transmissibility of data or some other transformation of data into something qualitatively beyond the informational content of the data entered, even though the data might be organized and manipulated to disclose useful correlations. Rather, these patents are "drawn to a mental process -- i.e., an abstract idea."...
The two patents in question, 8,083,137 and 7,603,382, describe some rather basic and obvious ideas that a couple of patent lawyers twisted around to make it appear like they were patentable. The '382 patent claims to patent offering up a custom webpage to a user based on their personal preferences. The '137 patent is about "administering financial accounts." In both cases, Joe Mullin in the link above notes that they appear to have really originated with patent lawyers. The '137 patent did come from an engineer, but it wasn't because of anything she invented. She was doing some retirement planning, and her patent lawyer husband thought that her ideas for tracking budgets could be patented. The '382 patent just came straight from a patent lawyer.

And, of course, what the judge was noting above, is that neither should have been granted as patents in the first place, because both just involved basic data processing that any software could do. Neither did anything even remotely inventive. And, of course, the fact that both originated with patent lawyers highlights just how bogus IV's constant refrain is about how it's protecting individual inventors. It's never been about individual inventors at all.

It's been about the lawsuits and the money.

Which is why it should be no surprise to read about IV's response to this complete loss:
[Our] patent portfolio is deep and we have another action pending against Capital One in Maryland. We remain committed to defending our intellectual property rights, as well as those of our customers and investors.
In other words, okay, if we didn't get you with the first batch of bogus patents, we have tens of thousands of other bogus patents, and sooner or later, some judge will either let us win, or these banks will fork over lots of cash to make us go away.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 2:59pm

US Promoting Mesh Networks; Reporters Misleadingly Think They Somehow Stop Digital Spying

from the not-the-same-thing dept

A recent article in the NY Times talked about how the US State Department is behind a project to build up mesh networks that can be used in countries with authoritarian governments, helping citizens of those places access an internet that is often greatly limited. This isn't actually new. In fact, three years ago we wrote about another NY Times article about the State Department funding these kinds of projects. Nor is the specific project in the latest NYT article new. A few months back, we had covered an important milestone with Commotion, the mesh networking project coming out of New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI).

But the latest NYT article is especially odd, not because it repeats old news, but because it tries to build a narrative that Commotion and other such projects funded by the State Department are somehow awkward because they could be used to fight back against government surveillance, such as those of the NSA. The problem is that the issues are unrelated, and nothing in mesh networking deals with stopping surveillance. As Ed Felten notes, the Times reporters appear to be confusing things greatly:

There’s only one problem: mesh networks don’t do much to protect you from surveillance. They’re useful, but not for that purpose.

A mesh network is constructed from a bunch of nodes that connect to each other opportunistically and figure out how to forward packets of data among themselves. This is in constrast to the hub-and-spoke model common on most networks.

The big advantage of mesh networks is availability: set up nodes wherever you can, and they’ll find other nearby nodes and self-organize to route data. It’s not always the most efficient way to move data, but it is resilient and can provide working connectivity in difficult places and conditions. This alone makes mesh networks worth pursing.

But what mesh networks don’t do is protect your privacy. As soon as an adversary connects to your network, or your network links up to the Internet, you’re dealing with the same security and privacy problems you would have had with an ordinary connection.
The whole point of Commotion and other mesh networks is availability, not privacy. The target use is for places where governments are seeking to shut down internet access, not surveil on them. Yes, there is a case where if you could set up a mesh network that then routed around government surveillance points you could circumvent some level of surveillance, but the networks themselves are not designed to be surveillance proof. In fact, back in January when we wrote about Commotion, we pointed out directly that the folks behind the project themselves are pretty explicit that Commotion is not about hiding your identity or preventing monitoring of internet traffic.

Could a mesh network also be combined with stronger privacy and security protections? Yes, but that's different than just assuming that mesh networking takes on that problem by itself. It doesn't -- and it's misleading for the NYT to suggest otherwise.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 2:01pm

Supreme Court Discussion In Aereo: At Least The Justices Recognize The Harm They Might Do

from the but-will-they-still-do-it? dept

The oral arguments in the Aereo case happened this morning before the Supreme Court and you can read the transcript here (it's still a travesty that there is no live broadcasting (or any video recording at all) of the proceedings, but that's a different argument for a different day). As with any such case, this discussion needs to be prefaced with the fact that reading the tea leaves from what Justices say during oral arguments is a unlikely to yield much that is useful. You'll often see large segments of the arguments discuss issues that later don't appear at all in the final ruling. In some cases, Justices are just testing out certain theories or pushing the lawyers to see how they respond. Oral arguments do matter, but not nearly as much as the underlying briefs. We still have a few months (probably) to find out how the Court will rule, but we can at least comment on some of today's discussion.

The important thing to get from the discussion was that the Justices, for the most part, seem to actually recognize that with copyright law the way it is today, finding -- as the broadcasters would like -- that Aereo is engaged in a public performance -- may have long term consequences for all sorts of other industries. It starts off early on, with Justice Sotomayor jumping in with a very different question, concerning whether or not Aereo is a cable company, which would include a different set of issues (in fact, this was exactly the strategy that Aereo competitor/predecessor ivi sought to take -- and ran into trouble). She points out that there may be value in avoiding the whole public performance question all together, since it could get messy:

If we take public performance, maybe we run into what Professor Nimmer saw as a problem. Why isn't what used to be called a phonograph record store that sells phonograph records to 10,000 customers a public performance? It seems to fall within that definition. But if it is, there's no -- no first sale doctrine and it's a big problem. So we could avoid that problem.
Meanwhile, Justice Breyer is clearly concerned about the possible impact on the cloud, again in discussing the possibility that the Court could avoid the issue by calling Aereo a cable company:
And what you've read in their briefs is they, in their supporting amici, have thrown up a series of serious problems not involving them, like the cloud, which the government tells us to ignore, and many others, which make me nervous about taking your preferred group.
Which bounces back to Sotomayor, who notes that the public performance definition the broadcasters want "sweeps up" an awful lot of other businesses where it doesn't make sense:
I mean, Justice Breyer has already asked you -- said he's troubled about the phonograph store, and -- and the Dropbox and the iCloud. I'm also worried about how to define or -- public performance or the performance of a work publicly, which I guess is the better way to do it, according to you. How do I define that so that someone who sells coaxial cable to a resident of a building is not swept up as a participant in this? Or someone who -- the sort of passive storage advisors that -- this is really hard for me.
Justice Kagan, also, quickly gets to the heart of the matter -- the point that we've been raising since the beginning with Aereo -- that this is all about the length of the cable. If someone were to do this at home -- with the same exact electronic setup, it's clearly legal. But the broadcasters want to make Aereo illegal, because the length of the cable between the "DVR" component and the "TV" component is much longer.
Suppose a company just gave the antenna and a hard drive, that's what they sold to the user, and the user was able to use the antenna and the hard drive in her own house or apartment in order to get all these broadcast programs. What would the -- would that be a performance?
When the broadcaster's lawyer pushes back, Kagan points out that it does seem odd that where the hardware sits determines if there's a public performance or not.
But then it really does depend on, like, where the -- where the hardware is. In other words, if -- if Aereo has the hardware in its warehouse as opposed to Aereo selling the hardware to the particular end user, that is going to make all the difference in the world as to whether we have a public performance or not a public performance.
Chief Justice Roberts highlighted the same issue:
Why isn't -- and I don't want to stretch it too -- but why isn't it like a public garage in your own garage? I mean, you know, if you -- you can park your car in your own garage or you can park it in a public garage. You can go to Radio Shack and buy an antenna and a DVR or you can rent those facilities somewhere else from Aereo. They've -- they've got an antenna. They'll let you use it when you need it and they can, you know, record the stuff as well and let you pick it up when you need it
There's then a discussion trying to see if there's a way to distinguish Aereo from the Cablevision decision (in the 2nd Circuit appeals court) saying that Cablevision's remote DVR was legal. The lawyer for the broadcaster says that he thinks the Cablevision decision was decided incorrectly, but the difference is that Cablevision already has a license. This is misleading, because the license in Cablevision was unrelated to the issue of the DVR feature. Furthermore, over-the-air broadcasts (which is what Aereo offers) have an implied license already associated with them (you don't have to pay to watch over-the-air TV for that very reason). So the distinction here is meaningless. Justice Breyer says that, even if that's true, there's still a real risk to cloud computing.
But then the problem is in the words that do that, because we have to write words, are we somehow catching other things that really will change life and shouldn't, such as the cloud? And you said, well, as the government says, don't worry, because that isn't a public performance. And then I read the definition and I don't see how to get out of it.
When asked similar questions, the Deputy Solicitor General, Malcolm Stewart, (again, bizarrely, the US is intervening on behalf of Hollywood for no clear reason), appears to admit that there's no clear line, and that things should be decided on something of a case by case basis:
I think you would have to -- you would have to know both the details of the service and you would have to be making a harder call there about how to draw the line, because I don't pretend that there is a bright line between providing a service and providing access to equipment. If you look, for instance, at the extremes of a person putting a rooftop antenna at his own home, everybody agrees that the rooftop antenna manufacturer is not performing at all and the individual is engaged in a solely private performance.

The other extreme is the cable company, one big antenna, makes transmissions to a lot of people; Congress clearly intended to define that as a private performance. Somewhere in the -- you could come up with lots of hypotheticals that look more or less like one of the other extremes, they are somewhere in the middle. It's an authentically hard call as to where to draw the line. So I don't have a good answer for you.
But that seems rather important, given that this case is asking for that line to be drawn. And the Justices were clearly struggling with that point. Justice Breyer responded:
How do we get out of the example? I mean, how do we get out -- what words do I write to get out of this, throwing into this clause a music store that distributes via Federal Express, a device, or the U.S. Postal Service or even someone over the counter, distributes to 10,000 people a copy of a record which they then will take and play it? They have, to the same degree, transmitted something that will electronically make a performance of the music. So are they when they sell the record violating the display clause?
This isn't to say that the Justices are in agreement with Aereo. They expressed plenty of skepticism about the whole setup, arguing repeatedly that the whole thing seems to have been set up solely to fit within the law, using a technological setup that makes no sense. Aereo, in response, sought to argue that there were technical reasons for its setup, but frankly, that's bogus. The technological setup is insane, but the insanity is not because Aereo is trying to "get around" the law, but the exact opposite. Because it's trying to stay within the law. If the setup of copyright law itself wasn't so insane, there would be much better ways to do what Aereo is doing. But thanks to a bunch of interlocking "rights" buried within copyright law, and caselaw that is basically duct-taped onto the statute every time a new technology comes around, actually innovative requires the Rube Goldbergian-approach that Aereo took just to stay within the law. It's ridiculous that that is seen as a suggestion of illegality...

When the broadcasters lawyer comes back to rebut Aereo's lawyer, he argues that if Aereo loses, it can just get a license or go out of business. But Justice Breyer notes that it's really not that simple:
Once you take them out of the compulsory licensing system, they're going to have to find copyright owners, who owns James Agee's pictures? Who owns something that was written by -- like a French silent film in 1915? I mean, the problem is that they might want to have perfectly good things that people want to watch and they can't find out how to get permission. That is a problem that worries me and it worries me again once you kick them out of the other systems
In the end, I think the Justices were rightly worried about how any ruling might impact the cloud. While there was some skepticism about Aereo's setup, Aereo's lawyer did a good job highlighting why those were wrong. Still -- and again, reading Supreme Court tea leaves is nearly impossible -- if I were going to guess, I'd guess that the Supreme Court will seek some sort of "narrow" ruling that tries to say that Aereo should get a license (possibly just throwing the issue back to the lower courts on the details), while doing everything it can to avoid a ruling that throws the entirety of cloud computing under the bus.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 1:13pm

Chutzpah: John Steele To Court: What, You Think I Would Lie, Cheat And Break The Law? Come On!

from the get-crackin' dept

Having followed the saga of Prenda Law over the past few years, one thing has become clear: John Steele really loves the "I know you are, but what am I" form of legal argument, in which whatever he's accused of, he aggressively accuses his accuser of being guilty of the same. It's a sort of faux macho move, in which every attack on him is met with an equally or more aggressive attack. To date, the strategy has failed badly, but it seems that Steele just can't let go of this kind of approach. In the latest round of the Anthony Smith case, Steele appears to be trying on a variant of that aggressive posture, taking on the very serious and direct accusations made against him (including those by multiple federal judges) and mocking them, by asking another court rhetorically, "what, do you really think I'm guilty of all these crazy things?" when the answer to that question may very well be yes.

At issue is the continuing fight over getting Steele and his collaborators, Paul Hansmeier and Paul Duffy, to actually pay up for their abuse of the legal process. Last we checked in on this particular case, the district court was finding them in contempt and piling more onto the money they would need to pay, while the appeals court does not appear to be impressed by Team Prenda's arguments, clearly calling out the "shell games" that Prenda and associated entities were playing.

While aspects of the case have been stayed during the appeal, other aspects are moving forward, including Smith's lawyer continuing to push for discovery on the actual assets of Steele, Hansmeier and Duffy. As you may recall, despite being required to provide such information, they did so in a questionable manner. As Judge David Herndon pointed out:

The Court finds that plaintiff's counsel has not met its burden. They submitted incomplete, and to say the least suspicious, statements of financial condition. Attached to each statement was a letter from their certified public accountant ("CPA"). In these letters, the CPA indicates a departure from generally accepted accounting principles. He further notes that plaintiff's counsel elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required by generally accepted accounting principles. The Court finds these statements insufficient to establish plaintiff's counsel's inability to pay.
Since then, Smith's lawyer, Jason Sweet of Booth & Sweet, has continued to push for determining the financial position of the three individuals here. There's a sealed document which apparently hints at some shady financial dealings, but it appears to be making Steele very angry. While Paul Duffy filed a pretty empty opposition saying that he has no offshore accounts, Steele went into full on, ultra-aggressive "who me?" defensiveness in response, leading to some incredible statements, considering what multiple courts have already said about them. The classic part has to be this:
For this Court to find any act of Prenda should be attributed to Steele, the Court would have to believe that Steele lied to multiple federal judges without getting caught, committed massive tax fraud without the IRS finding out, and proactively broke into the Illinois Secretary of State’s corporate records database to hide his ownership of Prenda Law, all because of the remote chance that years later a federal judge might sanction Prenda Law for $261,000.
Except... of course, multiple judges have already claimed that Steele and the others have lied, including in this very case. In the original ruling in this case, Judge Patrick Murphy directly called out Steele for lying, saying: "These men have shown a relentless willingness to lie to the Court on paper and in person." He furthermore highlighted how it was quite clear that Steele was directly involved in Prenda, which Steele is now denying yet again. And no one is claiming he hacked into the corporate records database (though, now that he's denied it, it almost makes you wonder...), but that he was clearly in control of Prenda and received much of the money that went into Prenda.

As for the issue of the IRS, well, last we checked, at least one judge, Otis Wright, has referred their conduct to the IRS, and there are at least some indications that an investigation is ongoing. And while no one thinks they set up this shell game specifically to avoid this particular ruling, it's not difficult to see that they did so to try to avoid a series of similar court rulings, after Prenda's initial approach started getting regularly shot down in court.

Steele's response also ratchets up the ridiculous rhetoric in describing the copyright trolling shakedown business, which they copied from a bunch of other firms:
Steele and his partner, Paul Hansmeier (”Hansmeier”) were early pioneers in catching thieves and hackers who engaged in stealing copyrighted works and other computer related misdeeds, including computer hacking and copyright infringement.
Except, of course, they were neither pioneers, nor were they catching "thieves" or "hackers." Rather, by all accounts, they set up a honeypot site, uploaded their own content to it, shared it on file sharing sites, and then used the IP addresses of those who followed the release that they themselves put online, to shake them down with lawsuits and demands for settlement. The evidence on this is fairly overwhelming.

Steele tries to argue away the "oddities" the court noted in the filings made by the CPA they hired this way:
At the hearing, no reference was made to the GAAP, the Generally Accepted Accounting Rules, a set of standards designed for the financial reporting of corporations, not individuals. Steele submitted his financial statement as directed. Steele’s submissions were accurate, and no filing since has disproved any aspect of Steele’s statement
If he thinks that this will get him out of the fact that the CPA "elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required" I would imagine he's got another thing coming.

Steele, also tries to angrily argue away the infamous Brett Gibbs spreadsheet that revealed the revenue of Prenda Law, and how 70% of it went to both Steele and Hansmeier, who have long denied being associated with that firm. Steele argues that this spreadsheet was made by Gibbs, as opposed to (as Gibbs has noted) made by Prenda and shared with Gibbs via a shared Dropbox account.
It appears that Mr. Gibbs created some accounting sheet of Prenda Law finances for some period of time prior to this case, and thus is irrelevant. Steele has no personal knowledge of Mr. Gibbs’ accounting records, methodology, or how Mr. Gibbs created his documents. According to Mr. Gibbs himself, he doesn’t either, and claims he doesn’t even know how his document came into existence. Such a document hardly comports with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing admissible evidence.
He focuses on the fact that the spreadsheet is not admissible. Of course, his partner, Hansmeier, having argued basically the same thing in the past, has also suggested that the facts of the document are accurate, noting (incorrectly) that the document supports Steele/Hansmeier's position and that it was "stolen."

Related to all of this, Steele appears to still be playing games. In a separate filing, Sweet details how Steele took it upon himself to (incorrectly) inform various parties that Sweet had subpoenaed, that the stay on one part of the case meant those subpoenas were withdrawn as well. Except that they're part of a separate process, which is still ongoing. Sweet asked Steele to confirm that Steele had gone back to those third parties, and admitted that he was wrong in interfering with the discovery process. Steele did not do so, but rather sent one of his snarky emails about how he promises that he "will address your most recent round of subpoenas as appropriate."

It's been a while since Steele has done this kind of thing, but it's the same old John Steele, cocky until the very end, even as all of the evidence is against him. It reminds you of a little kid who has been caught doing something wrong but figures if he just keeps denying it over and over again, buying himself time, there will be some way to get out of it all.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 12:11pm

Revolving Door: MPAA Hires Chief USTR Negotiator Behind ACTA And TPP's IP Chapter

from the a-big-pat-on-the-back dept

For the past five years or so, the USTR's chief intellectual property negotiator has been Stan McCoy. McCoy has long positioned himself as an intellectual property maximalist, repeating talking points from lobbyists regularly, while condescending to anyone who questions the legitimacy of those claims. McCoy famously was the chief negotiator behind the US's disastrous (and mostly failed) attempt to push ACTA through, as well as the lead on the TPP's intellectual property chapter -- a chapter so bad it may help sink the TPP agreement. In fact, previous reports have noted that McCoy's bullying and aggression in trying to push through the TPP were angering others in the negotiations. McCoy also has a long history of mocking public interest advocates, while praising maximalists for similar tactics. From a report a few years ago concerning a hearing that McCoy chaired:

The burden of proof was very obviously on the public interest, civil society groups. Stan McCoy of the USTR, who was presiding over the hearing, joked about the two-phonebook-sized submission by the International Intellectual Property Alliance. (Lol?) Sadly, there is no independent verification of these industry reports and there were no tough questions for industry regarding their testimony. Several times, McCoy interrupted civil society groups’ testimony to chide them on speaking too generally about IP policy, but refrained when industry witnesses did the same.
Given all that, it should be no surprise at all that McCoy, the failed strategist behind ACTA and the TPP's IP provisions... has received his reward and pat on the back from the industry: a shiny new job at the MPAA. As Tim Lee notes in that link, this is just the latest in the never-ending revolving door between maximalist lobbying groups and the USTR:
Last year I wrote that at least a dozen former senior USTR officials have moved to industry groups that favor stronger protections. McCoy's hire makes it a baker's dozen. Previous hires include including Greg Frazier, who (according to his LinkedIn page) spent 8 years as the executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America after a stint at USTR. Other former USTR officials took jobs at drug and medical device companies.

McCoy's old job, assistant USTR for intellectual property and innovation, made him the Obama administration's highest-ranking trade negotiator on patent and copyright issues. Jamie Love, director of the public interest organization Knowledge Ecology International, notes that this isn't the first time USTR's top intellectual property official has gone on to take a lobbying job. McCoy's predecessor, Victoria Espinel, is now the head of the software industry group BSA.

Espinel's predecessor at BSA was Robert Holleyman, the man Obama just nominated to a senior post at USTR. While at BSA, Holleyman supported the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have created an official internet blacklist to aid in anti-piracy efforts. (He backtracked a few weeks later after an uproar in the technology community.

Another of McCoy's predecessors as USTR's top IP official is Joe Papovich, who later spent seven years as a lobbyist for the recording industry.
As Lee notes, the revolving door between maximalist lobbying organizations and the USTR goes round and round, with USTR officials joining the lobbyist organizations and then going back to the USTR. It's a clear case of regulatory capture by the industry. None of those folks go on to public interest or civil society groups, nor does the USTR ever seem interested in hiring those people. It's entirely a one-sided effort to help out the biggest lobbying interests. Work for a few years pushing through policies that favor those companies, and then get "rewarded" with a nice, high-paying job for those very same lobbyists, and no one ever seems to point out the obvious corruption in the entire process.

As Lee notes, as easy as it is to ascribe comic-book levels of ill-intent here, that's unlikely. McCoy and others genuinely believe what they're doing is the right thing. But the end results are clear:
I doubt public servants like McCoy consciously pursue dubious policies in an effort to curry favor with future employers. McCoy's press representative hasn't responded to my interview request, but I assume McCoy sincerely believes the Hollywood-friendly policies he advocated at USTR were in the interests of the nation.

But the revolving door between USTR and industry groups creates a strong but subtle pressure on USTR's culture. Like many government agencies, USTR regularly turns to outside experts to help it sort through complex trade issues. Naturally, they turn to people they trust: their former colleagues — or even former bosses — who now work at trade organizations with plenty of resources to devote to understanding the minutia of trade policy.
And it's even worse than that, frankly. Because, when you combine that revolving door, with the proposals seen in ACTA, TPP and elsewhere, it undermines the public trust in all of this. People see it and naturally assume corruption, even if the intent is pure. In other words, even if we give McCoy and others the benefit of the doubt, the very fact that he spent 5 years pushing entirely for the MPAA's policies, while brushing off any and all claims from the MPAA's critics, and then took a job at the MPAA, confirms in the minds of many people that the USTR has no interest in representing the public good. And that perception (regardless if the underlying intent is real or not) corrodes public trust in the federal government, and the USTR in particular.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 11:06am

Copyright Maximalists' Incredible Sense Of Entitlement: If It Challenges The Biz Model We Chose, It Must Be Illegal

from the incredible-sense-of-entitlement dept

Having followed the copyright industry for so long, I'm often shocked at the incredible sense of entitlement of those who argue strictly for greater and greater copyright powers. One thing we've discussed in the past is that the gatekeepers (and it always is the gatekeepers) have an issue of constantly overvaluing the content and undervaluing the service. That is, any time they see a new service come along that the public really likes, they insist that all or nearly all of the value must be attributable to the content and not the service. Thus, they will always argue that "the service" is somehow ripping them off. We've seen it over and over again, from ringtone royalties to Guitar Hero to Pandora and others. Every time the story is the same: these other companies are making some money (even if they already pay us) and therefore we're getting screwed. If anyone else is making any money, then the copyright holders start screaming about how it's completely and totally unfair.

In their minds, the value of the service is meaningless. The fact that they were unable to provide such services directly themselves gets totally ignored. They just insist that 100% of the value is the content, and thus they need to get more money. Nevermind the fact that companies like Pandora already pay nearly all of their revenue to the copyright holders. There's always more blood to be squeezed from that stone, even if it means killing the golden goose (to mix a few parables).

Two recent stories illustrate this extreme entitlement, and total dismissal of the value of anyone else, perfectly. Let's start with the Aereo case, which was heard today at the Supreme Court. It will be some time before the court rules, but check out this quote from Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters on why he believes Aereo is breaking the law:

“Quite simply, Aereo takes copyrighted material, profits from it and does so without compensating copyright holders,” said Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Of course, that's misleading in the extreme for a variety of reasons. First of all, there are lots of areas where it's perfectly legal to profit from copyrighted materials without compensating copyright holders. Used book stores and used record stores (back when such things existed) are a perfect example. Fair use is another. The point is: just because someone is making a profit does not mean that the copyright holders have to get paid. That's never been the case. In fact, it's the same fallacy described above. People are flocking to Aereo because it provides a better service than the cable companies. But the broadcasters ignore all of that and insist all of the value must come from the content itself.

That brings us to the second story highlighting this, which involves comments over in the EU concerning the legality of reselling digital media. Not surprisingly, the record labels, represented by the IFPI and BPI, are 100% against this sort of thing for no logical reason, other than that consumers might actually prefer such a system. They specifically highlight that the quality and convenience of digital resales are too good, and that might upset the business model the record labels have chosen. The argument echoes the labels' argument against ReDigi in the US, a service that allows people to resell digital content that has been shut down in the US.

Again, the focus here has nothing to do with what's right or what's best for the public. In fact, the entire argument appears to be "fuck the public, we need more money." It completely ignores multiple studies that have shown that a thriving used goods market increases the value of the original market. It ignores the idea that making things easier and better for consumers is a good thing. Instead, it's all about overvaluing the content and undervaluing everything else.

This all goes back to a point we made years ago: industries that have embraced copyright for the entirety of their business model have set copyright up as a crutch on which they lean. Rather than exercising the rest of their body, finding all sorts of other good business models that allow them to improve the experience for customers, they just keep leaning on that crutch and insist it's entirely necessary for them to live. And thus, those other muscles atrophy and wither away. So now that the world is changing and innovating, and others are demonstrating lots of great ways to better serve the public, the copyright maximalists are insisting it's all impossible. They need that damn crutch, and anything else is "piracy." They only have themselves to blame, of course. For decades, people have been explaining to them and showing them how to build better services, how to offer better experiences for everyone, while still making money. And, all they do is lean more on that old crutch and insist it's the only possible way to walk.

It's a massive sense of entitlement, in which they appear to have no self-awareness that they're actively advocating for a world in which the public is worse off.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 7:53am

James Clapper Bans Intelligence Community From Basically Any Interaction With Nearly Anyone With A Social Media Account

from the good-luck-with-that dept

Back in 2012, we wrote about how Senator Dianne Feinstein appeared to be a lot more focused on who leaked information about the US involvement in Stuxnet, rather than the question of whether or not the US should have been involved in Stuxnet in the first place. Soon after, Feinstein pushed for astoundingly broad "anti-leak" rules that would effectively make it illegal to blow the whistle. It automatically treated any leak as bad, even if such a leak was clearly to blow the whistle on illegal behavior. Thankfully, Senator Wyden stepped in and helped kill that effort, noting the serious consequences:

"I think Congress should be extremely skeptical of any anti-leaks bills that threaten to encroach upon the freedom of the press, or that would reduce access to information that the public has a right to know," Wyden said in a floor statement publicly announcing his hold. "Without transparent and informed public debate on foreign policy and national security topics, American voters would be ill-equipped to elect the policymakers who make important decisions in these areas."
This resulted in the anti-leak provision being withdrawn. However, it appears that, in late March, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, more or less put in place the same rules issuing an intelligence community directive that bars all unauthorized contact with the media, no matter what the subject or the issue. You can read the directive here. While some may argue that of course no member of the intelligence community should be able to communicate with a member of the media without authorization, they are ignoring a few key points.

First, it makes no distinction at all between classified and non-classified information. That's a big deal. It's reasonable (to a certain extent) to suggest that intelligence employees should not be discussing classified information with the press, but when you get into unclassified material, it gets fairly ridiculous pretty quickly. Lots of members of the intelligence community will often help reporters out, providing explanations and details on background, and that's the sort of thing the intelligence community should support given that they frequently complain that the press gets important details wrong.

Furthermore, as Wyden himself pointed out in the debate about Feinstein's original attempt:
I am concerned that they will lead to less-informed public debate about national security issues, and also undermine the due process rights of intelligence agency employees, without actually enhancing national security.
But, of course, it gets even worse as you dig into the details. In the directive, "media" is defined incredibly broadly:
For purpose of this Directive, media is any person, organization, or entity (other than Federal, State, local, tribal and territorial governments):
a. primarily engaged in the collection production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form, which includes print, broadcast, film and Internet; or

b. otherwise engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any ofrm related to topics of national security, which includes print, broadcast, film and Internet.
Perhaps I'm misreading it, but section "b" especially would appear to suggest that if you ever use your Facebook/Twitter/etc. account to share (i.e., "disseminate") any info concerning the "topic of national security," you're a part of the media. Did you share a Guardian story about Ed Snowden on Facebook? Or maybe comment about the Heartbleed bug? Congrats, you're now considered "the media" under this directive -- meaning that no one who works for the intelligence community is allowed to interact with you at all, except with authorization. For intelligence community employees, this effectively rules out their ability to do things like go to their neighbors' barbecue this summer if that neighbor has ever shared any information concerning an issue that might be under the big umbrella of national security.

And, while it's unlikely that the FBI is suddenly going to be tracking down a lowly NSA analyst for sharing small talk with his or her neighbor, if that same analyst is suddenly under investigation for other issues, you'd better believe that such interactions will be brought under scrutiny. We've seen it before. An investigation into Thomas Drake's whistleblowing turned up nothing, so the DOJ went after him because he had a classified meeting agenda on a computer (even though it was declassified anyway soon after) and threatened him with 35 years in jail. John Kiriakou blew the whistle on CIA torture, but was eventually charged with helping a reporter speak to another former CIA agent in a manner that revealed nothing that would have an impact on national security. In other words, when the DOJ wants to bring an intelligence community employee down, they'll find anything to do so. And this directive gives them another tool, while at the same time making sure to stifle the public discourse on what the intelligence community is doing.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 3:38am

Court Says DOJ Must Release Memo That Justifies Drone Killing Of US Citizen

from the that's-fairly-big dept

As we've discussed, the administration has gone to incredible lengths to try to avoid any sort of public discussion concerning what legal authority it has to target American citizens with extrajudicial drone strikes. However, in a fairly big turn of events, a federal appeals court has overturned a lower court and ordered the DOJ to release "key portions" of the DOJ's classified memo that explains the legal justification for killing US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki via a drone in Yemen. What's interesting is that the panel came to this conclusion based on the administration's public discussion on drones:

The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.

“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had,” Judge Jon O. Newman wrote for the panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, “has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the D.O.J. White Paper.”
The ruling is good in that this sort of information should be public and should be discussed publicly. However, at the same time, it also will likely lead to the administration clamping down on any other such information that it hopes to keep entirely secret -- which could be a real problem. It will lead to even less transparency and fewer open discussion concerning issues of the US doing things under questionable legal authority.

As we've seen over the past few years, DOJ lawyers seem happy and willing to justify just about anything, twisting the law in all sorts of ways to make very questionable decisions deemed "legal" with little to no oversight or review -- and no public discourse whatsoever.

Of course, it seems likely the DOJ will protest this latest decision and seek a Supreme Court review first, so it's not like the justification is going to be revealed any time soon.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2014 @ 12:15am

NY Times Changes Its Tune On TPP; Highlights Cronyism, Lack Of Transparency As Problems

from the getting-it-right-second-time-around dept

Last fall, many folks who follow these issues were somewhat dismayed by a weird NY Times editorial that appeared to endorse the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, while basically ignoring the many complaints about it. It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but it did clearly support the agreement, concluding with:

A good agreement would lower duties and trade barriers on most products and services, strengthen labor and environmental protections, limit the ability of governments to tilt the playing field in favor of state-owned firms and balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property. Such a deal will not only help individual countries but set an example for global trade talks.
The endorsement resulted in the Times being rightly mocked for endorsing a secretive agreement that the NY Times editorial writers had not seen (indeed, could not see). Apparently, some folks on the editorial staff took at least some of this criticism to heart, and have now released a new editorial that is much more critical of the TPP -- in particular, the process around it.

That is, while the editorial still (rightly, in our opinion) supports the idea of lowering key trade barriers, it finally acknowledges that a lot of what the TPP is doing has little to do with removing trade barriers, and plenty to do with helping corporations push through global regulations that it could not get adopted domestically. Furthermore, it directly takes on the fact that the USTR is ridiculously secretive on the negotiation with everyone except big businesses that have direct access:
The Obama administration has revealed so few details about the negotiations, even to members of Congress and their staffs, that it is impossible to fully analyze the Pacific partnership. Negotiators have argued that it’s impossible to conduct trade talks in public because opponents to the deal would try to derail them.

But the administration’s rationale for secrecy seems to apply only to the public. Big corporations are playing an active role in shaping the American position because they are on industry advisory committees to the United States trade representative, Michael Froman. By contrast, public interest groups have seats on only a handful of committees that negotiators do not consult closely.

That lopsided influence is dangerous, because companies are using trade agreements to get special benefits that they would find much more difficult to get through the standard legislative process. For example, draft chapters from the Pacific agreement that have been leaked in recent months reveal that most countries involved in the talks, except the United States, do not want the agreement to include enforceable environmental standards. Business interests in the United States, which would benefit from weaker rules by placing their operations in countries with lower protections, have aligned themselves with the position of foreign governments. Another chapter, on intellectual property, is said to contain language favorable to the pharmaceutical industry that could make it harder for poor people in countries like Peru to get generic medicines.
The editorial further notes the problematic "corporate sovereignty" provisions that allow companies the ability to sue countries for regulations they dislike, noting how it could be abused by banks to block financial regulations (as an example). It further questions some of the predictions of economic benefits from these agreements.

Towards the end, it notes (as many of us have been pointing out for years) that the Obama administration, and the USTR in particular, only have themselves to blame for this mess:
To a large extent, the administration has only itself to blame. By keeping secret so much information about trade negotiations, which have ceased to be purely about trade matters like tariffs and quotas, the government has made itself a target for criticism. Mr. Obama and Mr. Froman argue that their critics have misunderstood or misrepresented their intentions. But that is precisely why the president should provide answers to the questions people have raised about these agreements. It is time for him to make a strong case for why these new agreements will be good for the American economy and workers.
Of course, considering how many times this has been pointed out, and the USTR's only response is to push out blatant misrepresentations of the truth, it seems unlikely that anything is going to change any time soon.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2014 @ 12:09pm

James Clapper Giving Speeches To Students, Begging Them To Stop Thinking Of Ed Snowden As A Hero

from the desperation-sets-in dept

A few weeks back, I read a Washington Post story "Inside the admissions process at George Washington University" and noted this interesting tidbit towards the end:

GW also asks students to list a role model and two words to describe themselves. As for herself, Freitag said, she would list “Martha Stewart/Tina Fey” and “sassy/classy.” This year, she’s seeing a lot of Edward Snowden citations.
I had thought about writing it up, but decided it was a pretty small thing, really. It's not secret that, as a group, younger people have a much more favorable impression of Snowden than older people.

However, apparently it set off alarm bells in James Clapper's head. He recently gave a keynote speech at the GEOINT conference, and used the opportunity to vent about stupid kids and their stupid love of that stupid Ed Snowden. And apparently he's going to be doing a lot of that.
“An admissions officer from George Washington University told The Post that for the admissions’ essay question, ‘Who’s your personal hero?’ the admissions officer observed that she was seeing a lot more of Edward Snowden citations. And the idea that young people see Edward Snowden as a hero really bothers me. So I thought I needed to talk about Snowden at Georgetown and Georgia and I am going to do the same elsewhere at colleges and universities.”
His attempts to do so in the speech, not surprisingly, really seem to fall flat. He claims that "despite being a geezer" he gets why you stupid kids like Snowden:
“I understand that a lot of young people see Snowden as a courageous whistleblower standing up to authority. I personally believe that whistleblowing in its highest form takes an incredible amount of courage and integrity. But Snowden isn’t a whistleblower,”
To prove this, Clapper comes up with an example of a whistleblower that he thinks "did it right." The army reservist who alerted others to the photos of Abu Ghraib prisoners being abused. And that guy is a whistleblower too. But just because one whistleblower did things one way doesn't discount the experience of other whistleblowers. And the reason so many people look up to Ed Snowden and see him as a hero is that, unlike the Abu Ghraib situation, with the NSA setup, basically the whole system was stacked against him. Clapper insists Snowden had legitimate paths to go down.
"Snowden said he felt NSA’s surveillance program was being used to violate privacy and civil liberties. If that was his concern, he had a lot of options on where to go with it. He could have reported it to seniors at NSA, which he didn’t do,”
Of course, Snowden claims that this is a lie and that he did raise concerns through the proper channels, only to have them ignored.
“There’s an inspector general for NSA and another one for the entire intelligence community. My office has a civil liberties and privacy protection officer. Snowden could also have gone to the Justice Department or the Congress. And as we’ve seen Snowden is superb at finding information so I think he could have tracked those people down had he given it a little thought,”
Of course, the inspector general for the NSA has since made it clear that if Snowden had complained to him, he would have shut him down and insisted there was nothing to worry about. Okay, so what about the one for the entire intelligence community? You mean the one that has rejected Congress' request to investigate the NSA? Congress? Considering how much difficulty Senators Wyden and Udall had in getting anyone to listen to them over the past few years, that was clearly a dead end. The Justice Department has also been equally complicit in the whole thing, since the NSA works hand in hand with the FBI, and the DOJ itself is the one that goes to the FISA Court to request these secret interpretations of US law.

It's pretty clear that the options Clapper listed were not options at all if you really believed that the intelligence community was in the wrong (as over half of the American public now believes). And of course, that's what Clapper really means here. He would have been much, much happier if Snowden had gone down a path that would have completely buried his concerns, making sure there was no debate about the US's creeping surveillance state, dismissal of the 4th Amendment and increasingly secret interpretation of laws to spy on everyone. And I'm sure he would have been a lot happier to never have had the fact that he flat out lied to Congress revealed.

Clapper also repeated the old saw that because of the leaks, those darn terrorists are changing how they communicate:
“We’re beginning to see changes in the communications behavior of our adversaries, particularly and most disturbingly terrorists, a trend that I anticipate will continue. And as a consequence our nation is less safe and our people less secure.”
Of course, as Kevin Gosztola points out, the same claim has been made for nearly a year, so it's a bit bizarre to have Clapper say now that they're just "beginning" to see changes. Even more to the point, these claims are almost certainly bullshit anyway. Elsewhere, when no press was around, Clapper has admitted that the NSA isn't actually concerned about terrorists changing their communications practices, saying that they can track them just fine. Furthermore, the idea that any of the revelations really changed how terrorists view their communications habits seems unlikely. As we've pointed out a few times, it's pretty clear that terrorists were well aware of our intelligence capabilities over a decade ago, and have acted accordingly.

The only new thing that has really been shown is how the US uses these same techniques across nearly all American citizens, as well as friends and allies.

Finally, as Gosztola points out, Clapper's real guffaw-inducing statement in the speech is to argue that his "major takeaway from this whole experience though has been the need for transparency" followed by him taking credit for "the decision to declassify more than 2000 pages of documents beginning last summer because the best way to deal with the misconceptions that had resulted from the leaks was to increase transparency." Except, as we've pointed out a few times, nearly all of the documents he's released have not been because of any major epiphany by Clapper, but because of lawsuits from the EFF, ACLU and others, something Clapper's office almost never admits (though, the last few releases have sometimes acknowledged it -- the last one only acknowledged it on Twitter, though).

And trying not to gag while reading this:
But the same transparency that reassures our citizens comes with a cost. It hurts our capabilities because our adversaries go to school on that very transparency. But when we boil it all down, we felt I felt we needed to pay that cost. Even if it meant losing some sources and methods, we need to engage in the kind of national conversation that free societies have - to correct misunderstandings that lead to false allegations in the media and to counter misperceptions that the IC work force is violating civil liberties. So we made the painful choice to declassify critical documents in the interest of being more transparent
Yeah, right. There's a reason people think Ed Snowden is a hero and James Clapper is a lousy liar. And this little tour to try to convince students otherwise isn't likely to change that.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2014 @ 11:06am

Why Is The US Gov't Arguing In The Supreme Court To Reshape The Internet The Way Broadcasters Want It?

from the smacks-of-soft-corruption dept

This is hardly a surprise, given that we'd already covered the brief submitted by the US Solicitor General's office in support of the broadcasters and against Aereo, but the Supreme Court has agreed to allow the office to argue in court tomorrow in the Aereo case. Again, not surprisingly, the Solicitor General's office tends to have a lot of sway with the Supreme Court, so this is effectively the US government tipping the scales of justice in favor of Hollywood and against the internet, where the impact of a ruling against Aereo may be quite severe.

The Solicitor General's office has argued that a ruling for Hollywood won't impact the cloud, basically because they say so. But, as we've discussed, its argument there is truly bizarre, in that it just asserts that such a ruling "need not" impact the cloud, and never bothers to address the many reasons it will absolutely impact the cloud. In fact, many of the other briefs in support of the broadcasters' position insist that the broadcasters should win because all those other companies can "just get a license." Now think about that for a second. Imagine using your Dropbox if nothing can be uploaded until Dropbox confirms it has a license for the work. Right. That's not going to work.

And, of course, this is what this case is all about. Broadcasters have always hated the internet, because they can't control it. Broadcasters have spent decades honing a business model that is based around a "broadcast" model. That is, they send out a signal, and the masses "consume" it. The internet has shaken that up in so many ways, because the internet is not a broadcast system. It's a communications system that allows anyone to communicate with anyone. For decades now, broadcasters have worked hard to reshape the internet into a better "broadcast" medium. That's what nearly every copyright challenge is about. Giving more control to the big broadcasters, while making it harder for the everyday internet user to do anything online without getting it shut down.

Stifling cloud computing by pushing for every bit of content -- even those totally in control of an individual user -- to be "licensed" is just the latest such attempt to stifle the internet as a communications medium of the people, and to push it to be a broadcast medium for a few giant entertainment companies.

So, really, the big question is why anyone thinks it's appropriate at all for the US government to weigh in here. We've already noted the significant conflict of interest in that the Solicitor General himself, Donald Verrilli, spent many years as Hollywood's top lawyer, even arguing in the Supreme Court on some key copyright cases. And while he recused himself from all of this, it at least smacks of the "too cozy" relationship between Hollywood and the US government. Also recused is Verrilli's top deputy who, prior to rejoining the government a few years ago, was a top lawyer at Jenner & Block, the very same law firm representing the broadcasters in this case. Yes, they've recused themselves, but given that it's rather bizarre that the Solicitor General's office decided to get involved in this case in the first place, it certainly raises eyebrows about the reasons.

This is a dispute where the US government really has no role joining in the proceedings, but it has decided to assert itself, solely on the side of broadcasters and against the internet. Seems like an odd choice for an administration that has claimed to be so internet savvy.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2014 @ 10:08am

Can Anyone Name A Programmer Still Getting Paid For Code He Wrote In 1962?

from the we'll-wait dept

So, we already wrote about the RIAA's big new legal attack on Pandora over royalties on pre-1972 sound recordings. The legal issues there are complex and convoluted, involving a mix of state common law along with federal copyright law. However, the RIAA has clearly decided that it's not going to delve into the nuances there, preferring to go with totally bogus spin. This started with an opinion piece by SoundExchange's CEO, in which he claimed that it was unfair that artists from pre-1972 works weren't getting paid. And with the launch of this lawsuit, the RIAA is trotting out some artists who are making similarly bogus statements:

The RIAA circulated the lawsuit on Thursday along with quotes from artists or their heirs. "It’s an injustice that boggles the mind," says Booker T. & the MG's Steve Cropper. "Just like the programmers who deserve to be paid for their work, I deserve to be paid for mine.”
This depresses me, in part, because I'm a huge Steve Cropper fan -- and have spent tons of money purchasing a variety of music from Booker T. & the MG's over the years (and plenty of other of Cropper's work both at Stax and elsewhere). However, this is a really unfortunate and misleading argument. It's obviously an attempt to hit at those terrible "techies" at Pandora, implying that Pandora's engineering staff continually gets paid for their work.

But it actually underlines how silly the RIAA's argument is here. Because no Pandora programmer expects to get paid for his work 50 years from now. They get paid today to work today. And that's it. If that person leaves Pandora tomorrow, then they don't keep getting paid for it. Nor do they expect their children and grandchildren to keep getting paid for it. Booker T. and the MG's biggest hit, Green Onions, came out in 1962. It would be great if Cropper could point to a programmer who is still getting paid for code he wrote in 1962. Because I would imagine it's not a very big list.

This is also why many of the other quotes the RIAA is pushing concerning this effort are so misleading as well. Buddy Holly's wife, Maria Elena Holly, rightly notes that "Many artists from the 1950s are retired and struggling to support themselves or have families or heirs who are trying to make ends meet." That is, no doubt, true. But that's a different issue. Copyright was never meant to be a welfare system for artists. It was never meant to keep paying them in retirement. It was meant to be an incentive to create, and once it worked, that was it. In fact, under the copyright laws that were in place in 1958 when Buddy Holly released his hit "Everyday," the absolute longest that the copyright on that song could have lasted was 56 years. In other words, when Holly released that song, he knew that by 2014 (hmmm...) that song would be in the public domain. So it seems, well, a bit unseemly to suddenly be whining about it now.

In fact, I'm sure that many programmers from the 1950s are similarly "retired and struggling to support themselves or have families or heirs who are trying to make ends meet." And many of those retired programmers created the underlying structure and systems for today's computers and internet, which has created so much value for the world. But we don't see them and their heirs whining about how the world owes them a living for work they did more than half a century ago.

And this is the problem. There are almost no professions in the world in which you get to do some work (even if it's amazing work) half a century ago, and then still have people paying you for it today. To act like this is some sort of massive offense just seems silly and misguided.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2014 @ 7:44am

India Wants To Take On 'US Hegemony' Over The Internet... By Renaming It The Equinet

from the smokescreens dept

The battle for countries wishing to take control over internet governance (either to increase control and censorship or to "reward" local state-owned telcos) didn't end with the whole WCIT debacle a year and a half ago. It's an ongoing process. This week is NETmundial, or the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Governance, and the usual countries are making the usual noise about changing how internet governance works. There will be lots of talk about how meaningful these discussions will be, or if they'll just be a "farce" to enable authoritarian governments more control. Either way, there are some important proposals and discussions happening at the event.

And some nutty ones.

Take, for example, India's proposal that we rename the internet as the Equinet as a way to "challenge US hegemony." Because that will do it.

In a major diplomatic initiative, India is all set to challenge the U.S.’ hegemony of the World Wide Web at a global meet on Internet governance in Sao Paulo (Brazil) next week. India has decided to propose renaming of Internet as ‘Equinet’ so that all nations can have equal say in its operations, besides calling for “internationalisation” of core Internet resources.
Of course, the naming bit is the smokescreen attention-grabber for the other point. Setting up so that "all nations" (note: not all people) can have a say in the operations of the internet is a specific attack on the so-called "multistakeholder" model that is currently in place, in which it's not government entities making these decisions, but a broad group of folks from different backgrounds and specialties (including, many technical experts). Hand the internet over to "governments" and you have a recipe for disaster. If you want more evidence of how troubling this is, look at who India is "aligning itself" with in this proposal:
India is likely to side with Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa and Iran to make its point.
Brazil, which organized this event, has been pushing for stronger internet freedoms lately, but also has a history of going in the other direction. Russia, China and Iran, of course, are very much focused on greater control and censorship of the internet, not greater freedom.

There are lots of important things worth discussing concerning internet governance, but renaming the internet as a challenge to US control (which isn't actually US control) is pretty silly. What's much more concerning is the underlying attempt to give some authoritarian countries with long histories of censorship more direct control over the internet. Equinet sounds ridiculous, but Censornet may be more accurate.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2014 @ 3:40am

General Mills Changes Policy After Internet Did Not 'Like' Its Plan To Remove Your Ability To Sue If You 'Liked' Its Facebook Page

from the just-trying-to-help dept

Following reports from last week about how cereal company General Mills had changed its privacy policy to preclude people from going to court if they so much as "liked" Cheerios on Twitter, the company has backtracked, changed its policy and admitted that consumers "didn't like" the new policy, though they insist it was all a misunderstanding:

As has been widely reported, General Mills recently posted a revised set of Legal Terms on our websites. Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread, causing concern among consumers.

So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before.

We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.

But consumers didn’t like it.

After throwing in some legalese (and admitting their lawyers made them do that), General Mills' director of external communications Kirstie Foster explained:
We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization – or just very misunderstood.

Not that any of that matters now.

On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites.
That first paragraph is not entirely accurate. While similar claims do exist in all sorts of consumer contracts (and, contrary to the statement, they often do cause people to effectively waive valid legal claims), they tend to exist in actual contracts. That is, not in a website privacy policy or terms of use -- which is what made General Mills' effort so notable.

Again, there is a simple solution to all of this. It should be clear that simply throwing up a "terms of use" page has no direct legal impact, especially if there's no evidence that anyone has actually read it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 April 2014 @ 12:00pm

A Look Back In Techdirt History

from the how-quickly-the-time-goes-by dept

Here we are again with another look back in Techdirt history.

Five Years Ago:

As we've noted, sometimes these look backs show that nothing ever changes. For example, one of our big stories five years ago was... the NSA abusing its surveillance powers. The NY Times revealed at the time that the NSA was collecting much more information on Americans than was allowed by law. And... basically no one paid attention. Similarly, we had a story about Swedish ISP Bahnhof deleting its log files to protect the privacy of its users. And -- just a week ago, we had nearly an identical story, as Bahnhof did it again, in response to a court ruling against the EU's data retention directive (which was put in place to stop ISPs like Bahnhof from protecting users privacy like that).

This was also the week five years ago that the Pirate Bay lost its big case in Sweden and Nicolas Sarkozy ramped up his efforts to pass a three strikes law. Of course, today the Pirate Bay is still going strong, and France's three strikes law has basically been killed off. Funny how these things work out.

We also had stories of people trying to use the DMCA for blatant censorship, including a news station trying to hide its own mistake and activist group trying to hide its fake political campaign (using actors instead of real people). Copyright as censorship is one of those issues that never changes. Also never changing: media dinosaurs acting like dinosaurs. Five years ago was when some big names in old media announced they were going to set up an "iTunes for news." That eventually turned into Journalism Online -- a paywall company that a bunch of newspapers now use (despite paywalls still failing to do much useful). Similarly, NBC was hard at work making it difficult to watch the Olympics online. Because NBC hates the internet.

Finally, we had a story of a patent troll claiming patents on basically every technology product ever and sneaky lobbyists who were hired to fight against patent reform using underhanded tricks to get "groups" that have nothing to do with patent reform (an anti-communist Hungarian group, the Minutemen (vigilante border guards), and various religious groups) to come out against patent reform. Basically, people in those groups then admitted that the lobbyists more or less tricked them into allowing their names to be used. My favorite was the 87-year old "honorary chairman" of the National Federation of American Hungarians, who had agreed to let the group's name be used but had no idea why he was against patent reform: "It was in Chicago or Detroit, I can't remember. Somebody brought this up, I don't know for what reason... So I gave them permission to use my name." And then he admitted his group was being disbanded anyway, because they were all dying, though he promised to get more information by "trying to reach the still living members of the board."

Ten Years Ago:

Back before there were copyright trolls like Prenda and Malibu Media shaking down people via legal threats, there was DirecTV's infamous program shaking down anyone who bought a smart card reader (even if for perfectly legal purposes). Ten years ago, we wrote about a former employee of their "anti-piracy" division speaking out about how it was all "an elaborate extortion scheme" and that he was suing the company because they forced him to do illegal and unethical things in shaking people down. Down in Australia, they were talking about making ISPs liable for copyright infringement. Yeah, some things never, ever change.

Also, ten years ago was the first we wrote about California state senator Leland Yee's quixotic attempt to ban violent video games. That, of course, eventually went to the Supreme Court and got completely shot down (just like about a dozen states before it). Yee wasted a ton of taxpayer money on this moralistic campaign and -- of course -- is now facing criminal charges for arms trafficking.

Then there are the more dated items that show how the world was different ten years ago. Amazon launched its A9 search engine to take down Google. We were all excited about the idea of navigation systems on phones! And they only cost $6 month! Also, people were freaking out about phones on airplanes, and a few phone makers had started testing out this ingenuous concept known as "airplane mode" to let flight attendants know the phone part wasn't on. Oh, and it was exciting to see that one-in-six Americans had used wireless internet technology.

Fifteen Years Ago:

People were trying to make a bundle of money by trademarking Y2K. The big trend in the computer world was ISPs giving away cheap free computers if you signed a long-term contract for internet service (such offerings were everywhere). In the era before smartphones, we were excited about the idea of "web phones." Also, people were writing off Mozilla for dead because Microsoft IE had won the browser wars. Okay, sometimes things do change.

One thing that never changes though, is sketchy activity online. Fifteen years ago this week, we wrote about the sex.com domain name being stolen -- a saga that went on for many years, and an entire book was eventually written about it. Also typosquatters were hitting the scene, and people were wondering if it was trademark infringement. Also, in one of the earliest "stock scams" online, an employee of the company PairGain, created a fake webpage that looked like a story from Bloomberg news about a buyout attempt, posted it on a free Angelfire account (remember those guys?) -- and watched the stock shoot up. The employee was quickly arrested.

49 Years Ago:

We weren't publishing, but that's about when Moore's Law was coined following his prediction that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 to 24 months. The details of the "law" have shifted somewhat over time, but the basics have held true. Of course, it was also probably 48 years ago that people started fighting over when Moore's Law was obsolete.

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