Posted on Innovation - 18 May 2013 @ 9:00am
For this week's awesome stuff, we've got three different projects that just caught my eye for being different and interesting in a design sense.
- I don't know about you, but I've had a few too many experiencing having to try to inflate an air mattress of some kind or another, and realizing what a freaking total pain it is using regular valves (not to mention the inevitable annoying emptying process as well). So I have to say that the Windcatcher project definitely piqued my curiosity. I don't understand the mechanism behind it, but it certainly looks like an air mattress that you can fill with 4 or 5 breaths -- and all without having to put your mouth on anything. It looks kind of like magic, so check out the video.
These guys still have a bit of a way to go on the funding front, having raised only about a quarter of the $50,000 they're seeking, but the product definitely has that neat design factor going for it.
- There's been something of a hipster revival in pinhole cameras lately, it seems, but the ONDU Pinhole cameras are definitely the nicest design I've ever seen. A nice wooden box with no exposed screws. A backplate that's held on by magnets. It just looks cool. Also, bonus points for the cool music in the video (apparently this is the musician.
This project has already surged past its goals, so it's definitely going to get funded, and with another 25 days to go, it'll likely end up much, much higher.
- Finally, there are times when someone designs something and you wonder why no one else has done it before -- or even why such things aren't common. That was the feeling I got after seeing the Nuplug, which is basically an extension cord/surge protector/outlet that attaches to furniture. So, rather than having your outlets on the wall and behind furniture, you can connect them in a more convenient way. Given how much stuff folks are charging all the time these days, I could definitely see how this could be handy for many people.
The one thing holding me back on this one, frankly, is that it's a bit on the ugly side -- in that it really stands out. Seems like something a little more subtle would be cooler. Maybe future iterations. This one also has a pretty ambitious $75,000 goal, and they're only a little past halfway there with 18 days to go.
That's all for this week...
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 5:27pm
Plenty of people rightly mocked the news a few years ago that the Associated Press was working on a plan to "DRM the news." The idea was to put some sort of licensing mechanism together to get news aggregators to pay to promote their news. This seemed incredibly dumb for a whole host of reasons. It added no value. Its only purpose was to limit the value for everyone in the system by putting a tollbooth where none needed to exist. When it finally launched last year to great fanfare in the newspaper world, under the name "NewsRight," we pointed out that, once again, it made no sense. Basically, the whole focus appeared to be on getting bloggers and aggregators to pay for a license they legally did not need.
Since the launch... we heard absolutely nothing about NewsRight. There was a launch, with its newspaper backers claiming it was some huge moment for newspapers, and then nothing.
Well, until now, when we find out that NewsRight quietly shut down. Apparently, among its many problems, many of the big name news organization that owned NewsRight wouldn't even include their own works as part of the "license" because they feared cannibalizing revenue from other sources. So, take legacy companies that are backwards looking, combine it with a licensing scheme based on no legal right, a lack of any actual added value and (finally) mix in players who are scared of cannibalizing some cash cow... and it adds up to an easy failure.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 2:34pm
The Obama administration has supposedly been "considering" the latest version of the DOJ's plan to require backdoor wiretapping abilities in any form of digital communication. If you don't recall, the FBI asks for this basically every year. The latest version would lead to fines for any company that doesn't build in a backdoor wiretapping ability. We've been pointing out for quite some time that putting in such backdoors only makes us all less safe, because those with malicious intent will find and use those backdoors.
A new report has been released, put together by some of the best known technologists and security experts out there, saying that the plan, as being considered would effectively undermine any cybersecurity regime. At a time when the administration and Congress keep insisting that we need better cybersecurity, to undermine it all with wiretapping backdoors would be ridiculous. And let's not even begin discussing how this would play out if it passed and number one CISPA backer Mike Rogers then became head of the FBI.
Among the report's authors are names you might recognize, like Ed Felten, Peter Neumann, Bruce Schneier and Phil Zimmerman. You can read the full report (pdf) to see all the details. As Ed Felten told the NY Times:
“It’s a single point in the system through which all of the content can be collected if they can manage to activate it,” said Edward W. Felten, a computer science professor at Princeton and one of the authors of the report... “That’s a security vulnerability waiting to happen, as if we needed more,” he said.
Once again, all of this suggests that the efforts around "cybersecurity" have always been more of a cover story to try to make it easier for law enforcement to access data, rather than any legitimate effort at improving security.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 12:32pm
Here's a fun one via Popehat. Apparently an Indian publishing firm by the name of OMICS can't take some criticism from a blogger. The blogger, Jeffrey Beall, who is based in the US, has a blog called Scholarly Open Access (he's also a librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver) in which he reviews and critiques various open access programs. As we've discussed, open access is really important for the sharing of knowledge -- but not all open access programs are created equal. In fact, there are serious complaints about many of them. Beall had some choice words for some of OMICS practices, which he claimed involved spamming and bait-and-switch. For what it's worth, Beall is hardly the only one to question OMICS' tactics. The Chronicle of Higher Education discussed OMICS in an article about "predatory" open access journals. As The Chronicle explains:
In 2012, The Chronicle found that the group was listing 200 journals, but only about 60 percent had actually published anything.
OMICS' response to Beall is almost too incredible to be believed, but it threatened to sue Beall for $1 billion and seek criminal penalties as well
. Yes, billion with a b -- so insert your Dr. Evil jokes here. Oh, if you're asking under what law?
In India, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act makes it illegal to use a computer to publish "any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character" or to publish false information. The punishment can be as much as three years in prison.
As Ken White points out, the SPEECH Act
clearly protects Beall from any ruling in India. We've been waiting
for the first attempt to see that law used to protect someone from some insane foreign claim. If you don't recall, the SPEECH Act says that the US will not recognize foreign civil rulings over speech that would violate US law, such as the First Amendment.
Similarly, criminal charges would be meaningless, because any attempt at extradition to India would require dual criminality -- such that the acts would be criminal in both countries. That's clearly not true here (and it's debatable if they're actually criminal in either
Amazingly, when asked about this whole thing by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the lawyer representing OMICS, Ashok Ram Kumar, a lawyer with the firm IP Markets, appeared to double down on the threats and insist that he was "very serious" (TM), though various lawyers are a bit more skeptical of that.
"What he has written is something highly inappropriate," Mr. Kumar said. "He should not have done something like this. He has committed a criminal offense."
While Mr. Kumar said he and his client are "very serious" about the $1-billion amount, Jonathan Bloom, a lawyer with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, in New York, said it seemed more like a publicity stunt. "Sometimes people just want to puff their chests, indicate their reputation, and try to intimidate people that criticize them," Mr. Bloom said.
One thing that is clear, however, is that any company that would send out such a ridiculous threat over a blog criticism isn't a company worth trusting. Whether or not they spam and engage in bait and switch or other predatory practices, we do know with certainty that they send out insane legal threats. That's enough information necessary to decide that OMICS is not a company worth supporting.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 11:29am
I've always been careful about putting my phone into "airplane mode" when flight attendants ask. However, a few years back, for reasons that I've yet to see any explanation for, flight attendants changed the script and started insisting that "flight mode" wasn't enough any more and you had to turn the phone all the way off. I've asked many times why this switch was made, and no one can say. At the point when that happened, I happened to have a smartphone that had no ability to turn off. I looked. There was no power button. There was nothing in the software that was a "turn off" function. The only way to turn it off was to pull out the battery. I did that on a few flights and then figured it was stupid. So I stopped. And nothing happened. With my current phone, I've tried to "turn it off" but even when it says it's turning off it's not really turning off (because when I switch the battery, it takes about 3 minutes to boot up -- but if I "turn it off" and then turn it back on, it's ready to go within a second). Today, I still always put it into flight mode, but that's it. I turn off the screen and put the phone away, but I don't "turn it off" because it's pretty clear the phone doesn't actually turn off. And the requirement is silly. Similarly, my tablet stays on in my bag and my laptop is generally in "sleep" mode, but not off.
And I'm not alone. It seems that lots of people leave their devices on when they fly.
In a study released on Thursday by two industry groups, the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, as many as 30 percent of all passengers said they had accidentally left a device on during takeoff or landing. About 67 percent said they had never done this, always ensuring that their electronics were turned off. Four percent were unsure.
In another segment of the study, passengers were asked if they turn their devices to “off” when instructed to do so by the pilot. Although 59 percent of passengers said they do fully turn their electronics off, 21 percent said they often simply switch to “airplane mode,” which disables the main radios of a gadget. Five percent sometimes adhere to the rule. And others were either unsure or do not carry electronic devices on a plane.
People give all sorts of reasons for why the devices should be turned off, but none of them make much sense. There is the interference question, but given how many of these devices stay on, there would be at least some real evidence of interference by now if that were really a big concern. There is the "gotta pay attention to the flight attendants" argument, but then they wouldn't let you sleep or read a book during takeoff. There's the "flying device is dangerous if something goes wrong" argument, but that applies equally to books. So, what is the reasoning? There's either some reason that no one's explaining... or just a ridiculous overabundance of caution where it's clearly not necessary.
Of course, as I was finishing up this post, someone passed along a Bloomberg video that claims that phones do interfere with flight GPS
. If you look at at the text that goes with the video
, they cite a story of a flight that went off course until flight attendants convinced someone to turn off an iPhone. However, nowhere in the video do they even mention that story or give any data or support for that claim. The video claims are also suspect. They name a single
study from nearly a decade ago talking about a single phone, which is no longer on the market, that caused some interference. The other "studies" they look at include a very small number of claims from pilots who claim problems and that they "suspect" interference from phones, but those are never confirmed. They found 75 such claims over six years, but without any evidence to back them up.
Again, given how often people leave their devices on, you would expect a lot more verifiable evidence beyond a few pilots "suspecting" that phones were the problem, when a variety of other variables might have been a part of it.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 10:32am
Reader Jason sent over a blog post that sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, following the story through a variety of twists and turns. The key player in the story is Jonathan Monsarrat, who among other things founded the video game company Turbine (Asheron's Call, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, etc.). In early 2010, Monsarrat was arrested concerning events at a party in Massachusetts. The charges against him were later dismissed. However, there were various blog discussions among local bloggers and commenters. Not long ago, approximately three years after all of this happened, Monsarrat sued two named defendants and 100 "John Does" in a Massachusetts (not federal) court on a variety of charges, centering around defamation, but also including copyright infringement, commercial disparagement, deceptive trade practices and conspiracy. He's asking for an astounding $5.5 million.
Reading through that complaint first, before digging deeply into a variety of other sources, there were some immediate oddities. Many of the "defamatory" statements didn't seem to have anything that could possibly be defamatory in them. Some of them possibly reached the level of defamation, but at worst they read like typical silly hyperbole among internet commenters. Hardly worth worrying about. But other stuff seemed even odder. A copyright claim not in federal court? And for what sounded like adding context/imagery to a news article? Hmmm. That doesn't sound right. State copyright claims are pre-empted by federal copyright law (and, no, this isn't one of those possible exceptions involving pre-1972 recordings). Commercial disparagement? Over some blog comments? There were a lot of alarm bells, signalling something that required a lot deeper look.
Then, I came across the actual news reports of his arrest -- both the Boston Globe one linked above and the Wicked Local story. Both seem to be pretty clear that they're reporting based directly off of a police report -- and state things from that police report that Monsarrat is now claiming are entirely untrue and defamatory. But... for those who repeated them on the blog, even if they did turn out to be untrue, they'd have an incredibly strong fair report privilege claim. For example, the lawsuit suggests that Monsarrat was just a guest at the house and knew little of the party before it happened. From his filing:
The party leading to Plaintiff's arrest was hosted by another third party, "Trano", and not by Plaintiff.
This other third party, Trano, provided music entertainment, bouncers and beer at this party, which Plaintiff knew nothing about until the immediate time leading up to the commencement of the party.
The non-use of Trano's full name is also an interesting choice. Anyway, according to the Boston Globe coverage of the incident:
Upon arriving at the scene, police found broken beer bottles near the door of the first floor of the apartment and 25-30 teenagers inside. Many were attempting to conceal bottles of beer and other alcoholic beverages, the police report states. Open bottles of alcohol were found in the kitchen area as well as a small amount of marijuana.
Monsarrat identified himself as the host of the party, but denied that any alcohol was being served, the report states. When asked by an officer to inform his guests that the party was ending, Monsarrat became “argumentative” and refused to follow instructions, police said. Officers asked for identification from several partygoers who responded, “We're in high school, we don't have ID."
Then the story gets even odder. In researching it, up popped a press release from Monsarrat himself about the lawsuit
, in which he refers to himself as a "dotcom era icon and Internet expert." Also, there's this:
Jon Monsarrat announced this week that as part of an Internet defamation case, he will expose the real identities and addresses of 100 cyber bullies as part of his new cyber investigation service.
Oh, wait a second...
Earlier in 2013 he created a cyber-investigation service, which cracks the real identities of cyber bullies who post defamatory material online. The release of names and identities is part of this new service, for one of Monsarrat's client with an ongoing legal case against cyber bullies. His company is working in partnership with Defend My Name, perhaps the most technically advanced of the top anti-defamation services, and Ishman Law Firm, which has expertise in defending victims from cyber-attack.
Jon Monsarrat said, "Cyber bullies harass and spread lies about their victims using the power of the Internet, which leads to thousands of suicides a year. The police and courts are not always up to the challenge of fighting back. Now I'm bringing two patented technologies to bear to help people in need." Monsarrat was referring to his two patents in collecting and analyzing data from public websites.
This might present a possible reason that it took about three years after the original blog posts to file a lawsuit (by the way, statute of limitations on defamation in Massachusetts: three years).
, a bunch of LiveJournal users -- including some who claimed they never commented on the original blog post -- began receiving letters
saying that they're being added to the lawsuit. Apparently, those letters have some bogus boilerplate in them claiming copyright on the letter and stating "I prohibit anyone from publishing or disclosing it in whole or in part, on the internet or any other venue or any other means, without first obtaining my written consent." That, of course, is bullshit. It is not how copyright works, especially on a legal threat letter. At least one blogger has written that Monsarrat threatened to include him in the lawsuit
for merely writing about the lawsuit
and for the comments others had left on that blog. Of course, there is no legitimate claim against writing about the lawsuit, and the blogger is protected from liability from the comments under Section 230 of the CDA.
Then, and only then, did I finally get to reading the epic response letter from the lawyer representing Ron Newman
, one of the two named defendants in the lawsuit. The lawyer is Dan Booth of Booth Sweet LLC, a law firm you may recognize from its awesome job fighting back against numerous Prenda Law cases. I cannot do justice to the entire 18 page letter, so I suggest you read it in its entirety, but I will give you a few highlights. I will note that this is not a legal document filed with the court in response to the lawsuit, but rather a letter to Monsarrat's lawyer, Mark Ishman, of the Ishman Law Firm, which Monsarrat's press release names as a "partner" in this new "expose-the-cyber-bully" business.
The letter picks apart the case piece by piece in devastating fashion, noting repeatedly that the claims made in the lawsuit are so far removed from reasonable that if Ishman and Monsarrat do not drop the lawsuit, Booth and Newman will seek sanctions for bringing bad faith claims. He then goes on to lay out, in excruciating detail, what their arguments would be in court, repeatedly asking Ishman if he's ever actually read the statutes he's relying on. He notes the articles based on police reports as just a starting point. He then points specifically to the few quotes that were actually Newman's, showing how the complaint appears to take them entirely out of context and misrepresent what they were saying, and there is simply no way they were even remotely defamatory. Some of them are ridiculous when put back into context -- including using a comment about how Newman and some other admins had agreed to close the original thread to more comments, and saying that
was defamatory. It also, of course, references CDA 230 to point out that Newman clearly is not liable for anyone else's comments.
Those are the basics. Then it goes even deeper. I'll let Dan Booth handle this part:
The second claim for relief is supposed to be under Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws. Have you ever actually read that statute? I'm not sure you made it all the way through to Section 9(3), which requires that a demand letter complying with certain statutory requirements must be mailed to a defendant at least 30 days before filing suit under Chapter 93A. "[T]he thirty-day requirement, as part of the requirement of a written demand for relief, is a prerequisite to suit, to be alleged and proved." York v. Sullivan, 369 Mass. 157, 163 (1975). Perhaps you jumped the gun a bit here? You filed suit on February 4, so you would have needed to send a demand letter before January 5, 2013 to satisfy the statute. Mr. Newman received no such letter. As far as I can tell, you didn't even comply with the spirit of the 30-day requirement -- you made no attempt to settle the dispute amicably before filing suit, or before filing the amended complaint, or before having it (and its telephone-book sized pile of exhibits) served on Mr. Newman.
How about the commercial disparagement stuff? Yeah, under the law, such statements need to be made by a competitor, which Newman clearly isn't. Oh, and Booth notes he didn't actually disparage any products or services, as required by the law. And then we move on to the copyright claim. We already noted the oddity of trying to shove a copyright claim into a state (okay Massachusettians: commonwealth) court, and Booth highlights some more problems:
Attorney Ishman, I see on your website that you hold yourself forth publicly as a copyright lawyer. I am too. I commend you for that, and for any work you do to legitimately support and protect creators. I like copyright law a lot; I just hate to see it abused. So I wonder whether you may have gotten a bit ahead of yourself with this cause of action.
Claims of common-law copyright are preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. Have you read that statute? Since the 1976 Copyright Act became effective, Section 301 has explained that copyright claims are "governed exclusively" by the Act, and that "no person is entitled to any such [copyright] or equivalent right in any such work [within the subject matter of copyright] under the common law or statutes of any State." 17 U.S.C. § 301(a).
In other words, common-law copyright claims are a relic. "Under the Copyright Act of 1976 ... common law copyright is abolished." Burke v. NBC, Inc., 598 F.2d 688, 691 n.2 (1st Cir. 1979). There have been no reported cases in Massachusetts state courts since the 1976 Act in which a common-law copyright was found valid. But there have been several that say things like, "These common law claims ... have clearly been preempted by the 1976 Copyright Act." Sicari v. Raccula, 2 Mass. L. Rep. 109 (Mass. Super. Ct. May 8, 1994). To the extent such claims exist, they're generally limited to media where, due to quirks of the Act's history, no statutory right ever existed, such as extemporaneous speeches or pre-1972 sound recordings. But the copyright claim in this case concerns a photograph, and those have been covered by the Copyright Act since Oscar Wilde was a young man. Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53 (1884). Your assertion that Mr. Monsarrat's images are "subject to common-law copyright protection under the laws of the state of Massachusetts" (Complaint ¶ 102) is wrong as a matter of black-letter law.
Booth even goes through a "sake of argument" explanation for how, even if common-law copyright could apply to a photograph (which, as noted, it cannot), via Monsarrat's own actions, that photograph would be in the public domain under the specifics of the prevailing copyright law.
goes on to point out when you look at Newman's actual
comments, he actually was quite even handed when the story broke, noting things like, "To my knowledge he hasn't been found guilty of any crime in a court of law." And he invited Monsarrat to present his side of the story. And yet, Monsarrat tries to paint Newman's activity as "extreme and outrageous" for the sake of "intentional infliction of emotional distress."
And then, Booth goes on to point out that the record suggests the version of the story that Monsarrat presents in his filing is less than accurate:
Those assertions are directly contradicted by the record. Set aside the fact that Mr. Monsarrat was at the party and that he was arrested at the party. Set aside the fact that both the police report and the Somerville Journal article stated plainly that Mr. Monsarrat had "identified himself as the host of the party." Set aside the fact that the police report indicates that Mr. Monsarrat denied, to the arresting officer, that there was any alcohol at the party, despite the officer's firsthand observations. Mr. Monsarrat publicly announced his role in the party online, before his arrest. As Mr. Newman pointed out at the time, Mr. Monsarrat had posted an open invitation on his Wheel Questions blog, announcing that he was holding the party, two days before it happened. Complaint Exhibit 4 p. 69 ("I'm holding a party Friday in the Boston area. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org and say a little about yourself for the location.") (quoting Mr. Monsarrat). If Mr. Monsarrat wants to clear his name by suggesting that he was a mere innocent bystander at the party, he cannot hope to succeed in rewriting the public record. His own words will be admissible as non-hearsay, to prove the truth of his statements identifying himself as the host, and to disprove statements to the contrary in the complaint. See Commonwealth v. DiMonte, 427 Mass. 233, 243 (1998) ("A party's admission is excluded by definition from the hearsay rule.") (citing Proposed Mass. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)); see also Flood v. Southland Corp,. 33 Mass. App. Ct. 287, 294-95 (1992).
And we're not done yet. He points out that many of the comments included in the claim are way outside the statute of limitations, and Massachusetts has a well established single publication rule, meaning that the date when the content is published is when the clock starts ticking on the statute of limitations. The fact that the content remains online is meaningless. Booth also points out the ridiculousness of the $5 million dollar demand.
The complaint seeks punitive damages in an amount to exceed $5,000,000. That is outrageous on its face, and wholly unsustainable under controlling law. Massachusetts has not allowed such damages since 1974. "In a case of defamation the plaintiff's recovery is limited to actual damages, which are compensatory for the wrong done by the defendant. ... Punitive damages are never allowed ... even after proof of actual malice." Stone v. Essex County Newspapers, Inc., 365 Mass. 246 (1974) (citations omitted). The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reaffirmed that position the following year: "We reject the allowance of punitive damages in this Commonwealth in any defamation action, on any state of proof, whether based in negligence, or reckless or wilful conduct. We so hold in recognition that the possibility of excessive and unbridled jury verdicts, grounded on punitive assessments, may impermissibly chill the exercise of First Amendment rights by promoting apprehensive self-censorship." Stone v. Essex County Newspapers, Inc., 367 Mass. 849, 860 (1975).
As for the letters that various LiveJournal users are receiving:
It is my understanding that Mr. Monsarrat has busied himself, since the filing of the amended complaint, by reaching out to people he believes responsible for these three-year old discussions, sending them wildly improper threatening letters and/or directly confronting in person. In at least one of those letters, he states, "The purpose of this correspondence to is [sic] notify you that I am suing LiveJournal forum moderator Ron Newman for $5,500,000 for defamation, and that you are named as a Doe Defendant in this lawsuit..." These actions are deeply dismaying. Mr. Monsarrat is tarnishing Mr. Newman's name in scattershot fashion, to many people who may have had no relation to the postings at issue. He may not harass people in the Somerville community by seeking to intimidate them into removing their legitimate free speech comments.
Booth also points out that in intimidating various LiveJournal users into possibly removing their comments, there may be further issues with regard to encouraging the destruction of key pieces of evidence:
When Mr. Monsarrat succeeds in this intimidation, he helps to destroy the record that would be at issue if the litigation were to proceed. If this pattern of behavior continues, he may be subjecting himself to sanctions for suborning spoliation. Thanks to poor formatting, many of the Complaint's Exhibits reproduce discussion threads in piecemeal fashion, omitting much or all of the text of longer comments. See, for just one example, Complaint Exhibit 4 pp. 31-42. These fragmentary Exhibits leave the original online discussions as the only reliable source of material evidence. Any deletion of those comments, as Mr. Monsarrat demands, makes them invisible to subsequent viewers, depriving defendants of the context-specific defenses that a defamation claim requires. "'The destruction of relevant evidence ... has a pernicious effect on the truthfinding function of our courts.' ... The doctrine of spoliation permits the imposition of sanctions or remedies where a litigant or its expert negligently or intentionally loses or destroys evidence that the litigant (or expert) knows or reasonably should know might be relevant to a possible action, even when the spoliation occurs before an action has been commenced." Scott v. Garfield, 454 Mass. 790, 797 (2009) (quoting Fletcher v. Dorchester Mut. Ins. Co., 437 Mass. 544, 553 (2002)).
Booth also notes the same press release I saw, and raises some questions about it:
It appears this action has been filed with an ulterior purpose: not as a good faith means to redress any legitimate grievances, but as a case study to be used in marketing one of Mr. Monsarrat's business ventures. That would be more than improper enough, but worse, the entire purpose of "cyber investigation service" seems to be to empower litigants to make endruns around the discovery process, as Mr. Monsarrat has done.
And, also, the oddity of the fact that Ishman appears to be both a lawyer for Monsarrat and
a business partner:
This partnership, in the place of a putative client and attorney relationship, is more than irregular. It may subject Attorney Ishman and his law firm to the same liability as Mr. Monsarrat, based on their involvement in a larger scheme. See Kurker v. Hill, 44 Mass. App. Ct. 184, 192 & n. 8 (1998). "[A] civil action is wrongful if its initiator does not have probable cause to believe the suit will succeed, and is acting primarily for a purpose other than that of properly adjudicating his claims." G.S. Enterprises, Inc. v. Falmouth Marine, Inc., 410 Mass. 262, 273 (1991). It appears that Mr. Monsarrat has dragged Mr. Newman into court, and badgered an untold number of others, to make a name for his "cyber investigation service." This ulterior purpose, combined with the paucity of the complaint's factual allegations and legal claims, strongly suggest that the action has been undertaken without good faith. These improprieties would support counterclaims of abuse of process, see generally Millennium Equity Holdings, LLC v. Mahlowitz, 456 Mass. 627, 636 (2010), and under Chapter 93A, see Northeast Data Sys., Inc. v. McDonnell Douglas Computer Sys. Co., 986 F.2d 607, 611 (1st Cir. 1993) (filing legal claim "which proves baseless" is an unfair trade practice if claim brought with "ulterior motive"); Nova Assignments, Inc. v. Kunian, 77 Mass. App. Ct. 34, 44 n. 7 (2010); Refuse & Envtl. Sys., Inc. v. Indus. Servs. of Am., Inc., 932 F.2d 37, 43 (1st Cir. 1991) ("bringing [a] lawsuit in spite of the evidence" can violate Chapte 93A). These improprieties would further support sanctions under M.G.L. c. 231, § 6F, see Fronk v. Fowler, 456 Mass. 317, 334 -35 (2010) ("Claims that are so unmoored from law or fact are the very definition of 'frivolous': 'Lacking a legal basis or legal merit; not serious; not reasonably purposeful.'") (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 739 (9th ed. 2009)), and under Mass. R. Civ. P. 11, see Van Christo Adver. v. M/A-COM/LCS, 426 Mass. 410, 416-17 (1998).
Believe it or not, those aren't even all of the highlights of the letter. I imagine that this one could get interesting if Ishman and Monsarrat choose not to take Booth's stern suggestion that they immediately dismiss the claims against Newman with prejudice.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 9:29am
For years, we've noted that the big drug companies like to conflate legitimate foreign pharmacies (often based in Canada) that sell back into the US (the so-called "reimportation" or "parallel import" market) at cheaper prices with out and out bogus or counterfeit online pharmacies. The drug companies like nothing better than when people lump the two very different beasts together and label them all as "counterfeit." Of course, for many Americans, relying on cheaper legit drugs from Canada is the only way they can survive, and there have been efforts made at times by US politicians -- including President Obama -- to support more parallel importation to ease the high cost of drugs in the US.
However, there's an interesting tidbit coming out in the ongoing battles over new top level domains. It appears that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is seeking a .pharmacy domain, which (obviously) they would then only bestow upon pharmacies that they like. That could be a big issue, because it's likely they wouldn't allow that for certain Canadian pharmacies and other foreign legitimate pharmacies that may offer cheaper drugs. Both Demand Progress and Public Citizen recently filed comments with ICANN about why NABP should not be allowed to control .pharmacy.
From Public Citizen's filing:
Granting the .pharmacy domain to NABP would confer legitimacy on pharmacies sanctioned by NABP, to the detriment of those that are not.
NABP has proposed an unfair standard that would bar online pharmacies that serve US consumers but are located outside of the United States from using the domain (see NABP’s application at Section 18(a) IV*). This would exclude many licensed pharmacies which offer American consumers low-cost medicines of quality.
Whether a pharmacy is located in the United States does not determine whether a pharmacy is licensed and provides medicines of quality.
Consumer access to medicines depends in significant part on price and competition. It would be inappropriate to allow NABP to control such an important gTLD while it maintains exclusionary plans for the domain, which work against the consumer interest in a robust market of quality affordable pharmaceuticals.
And, from Demand Progress's filing
The pharmaceutical industry has prioritized trying to shut down legitimate pharmacies selling safe Canadian drugs to U.S. consumers (as currently allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). But their tactics to achieve these anti-consumer goals involve censorship regimes allowing government seizure of domains, blacklists of sites, or suspended hosting services for legitimate competitors.
NABP supporters have justified their actions by preying on consumer fear of counterfeiters, when their real goals include shutting down sites providing cheaper legitimate drugs. Pfizer joined the assault on the Net in 2011, testifying to Congress that: "The major threat to patients in the U.S., however, is the Internet..." ...
NABP's supporters define "fake pharmacies" as those not registered with VIPPS, rather than only those selling actual counterfeit goods.
The Demand Progress comment also points out how the big pharmaceutical companies supported SOPA and PIPA, since they knew that it, too, would be useful to use as a sledgehammer against foreign online pharmacies that sold legitimate drugs back into the US.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 8:32am
I watched a large part of the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property's first hearing on copyright reform, and came away somewhat disappointed. While the panelists presented a variety of interesting viewpoints and worked hard to highlight areas of agreement, many of the Congressional Representatives were clearly confused about the law, the Constitution and the nature of the debate itself. I came away with a few key concerns, but also with some ideas for a framework that any debate on copyright should necessarily take. First up, the concerns:
- Too many Representatives flat out mis-stated what the Constitution says. They said that the copyright is "guaranteed by the Constitution" or that their Congressional mandate is to protect science and art. Neither is true. The Copyright Clause of the Constitution grants Congress the power to issue "exclusive rights" for the sake of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. That is, it was never about "protecting" but about "promoting the progress." Those are very different things. For that matter, it had nothing to do with creative works, for the most part. If we go by the originalist mandate, "science" was the part that copyright was about, and it meant "learning." The framers of the Constitution were focused on promoting learning and education via copyright, not a specific entertainment business. That it does that now is fine, but don't claim that the Constitution says that Congress must "protect" the entertainment industry. Because it says no such thing. After all, that same section grants Congress the power to grant letters of marque to privateering ships to seize foreign ships. If copyright is guaranteed by the Constitution, then so would the right to demand your right to a letter of marque.
- Too many representatives continued to set this up as a battle between "content creators" and "the tech industry." This is dangerously misleading. In fact, at one point, Rep. Deutch flat out said that any copyright reform must carefully benefit "creators and the tech industry, as if those were the only two stakeholders. The real stakeholders of copyright law, however, have always been the public, who were barely mentioned at all in the hearing. Or, when they were mentioned, it was often with the somewhat disparaging term "users."
- Finally, the myth that "everyone just wants stuff for free" was brought up a few times, in an effort to defend the idea that greater enforcement is a necessity. Except, that's not true. As we've seen over and over again, consumers are actually spending more today on entertainment than ever before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And tons of studies have shown that the biggest infringers also tend to be the biggest spenders. You don't make good policy based on catchy myths, and this one is a myth. It should be stricken from the debate as false. And, I won't even bother with the one comment from Rep. Poe that "copyright won the cold war." Where do we get these people?
Given all that, if we wanted to look honestly at copyright reform, it needs to start from a few basic principles. Here are a few preliminary thoughts on a potential framework for discussing these things.
- Pretty much everyone is both a content creator and a content consumer. Over and over again we heard about concerns of certain creators as if they were a separate class of people unrelated to the wider public. That's silly. Especially as we have copyright law today -- in which every piece of creative content is immediately covered by copyright at the moment the expression is set in fixed form -- we are all creators. Nearly every email you write is probably covered by copyright. Every creator is also a consumer of content, and that includes professional creators. Professional content creation often involves building off of the influences of other works. We should support that as well. Otherwise, we begin to treat copyright as a sort of welfare program for professional creators, which is never what it was intended to be.
- Technology is just a tool. It is neither a competitor to, nor an enemy of, content creators. With so many Representatives setting up the debate as "content vs. technology," we start to go down a very dangerous and distorted path that has little to do with reality. As a tool, technology certainly can create challenges for existing and traditional business models, but also tremendous opportunity. Look at the success of platforms like Kickstarter today. Would anyone seriously argue that the "technology" company Kickstarter is "anti" creator? Similarly, we're seeing more and more artists succeed by embracing new technology platforms that enable them to do amazing things: Bandcamp, TopSpin, BandZoogle, ReverbNation, SongKick, Dropbox, SoundCloud, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, HumbleBundle -- and many, many, many more. The list literally goes on and on and on. These are the tools that so many content creators are embracing today to help them to be better able to create, to promote, to distribute, to connect and to monetize their works than ever before. To argue that this is tech vs. content, when the tech companies seem to be handing content creators the most useful tools they've ever had to be successful, seems ridiculous.
- Every legislative choice has costs and benefits. Too often, it seems like those pushing a certain proposal like to only look at one side of that equation. If we're to have an effective debate over copyright reform, it should include an upfront look at the costs and the benefits, the conditions and the consequences of various decisions across the board on the public. The purpose of copyright law, explicitly, is to promote the progress. We should be weighing carefully whether or not each change really would promote progress of science and the useful arts.
- Decisions need to be made based on empirical data. As we've discussed in the past, historically, copyright reform discussions have been almost entirely faith-based. This is why the claims of "everyone just wants stuff for free" are so concerning," since the data suggests that's not even close to true. Given the recent call for objective research that would be useful in the copyright debate, by the US National Research Council, I'm hopeful that we'll actually begin to see some useful data for this discussion. Hopefully those in Congress will actually pay attention to the data, rather than continue to insist that blatantly false claims must be true.
- Finally, and most importantly, the focus needs to remain on promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. It's not about "protecting" any industry or any class. It's about what most helps to promote overall progress. Each proposal should be judged on that standard.
While it may be difficult, I think that if any discussion on copyright reform begins with those basic principles, it could end up being quite useful and informative.
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 5:27am
We should have know that once the press started picking up on the ridiculous moral panic over Google Glass that Congress would be quick to follow. In a move that smacks of traditional political grandstanding, a group of Congressional Representatives have sent a letter to Google raising a bunch of questions about the supposed "privacy concerns" of Google Glass. I'm wondering if next they'll summon a representative of the seeing public to discuss the privacy concerns of your own two eyes.
First, they jump to the go-to point that any anti-Google privacy activist goes to: the data collection from open WiFi. What no one ever seems willing to discuss is the fact that this is the nature of open WiFi. Anyone can see any of the unencrypted data traveling over that access point. Why that gets blamed on Google makes no sense. They also worry about privacy of non-users, which is definitely a point that others have raised. But, how is this privacy issue different than one of basic sight. Google Glass sees what a user sees. If they can see you doing something you don't want exposed, they can reveal that as well. How is that a privacy issue specific to Google Glass? There are a number of other odd questions, including whether or not Google considered the privacy implications of the NY Times' Google Glass app. Huh? First off, if there were privacy implications, shouldn't they be the NY Times' concern on that issue? And second, can anyone explain why possible privacy issue could be in play here? It's a news app on a tiny screen. So what?
When regular cameras first came on the scene, there were similar scare stories and people worried about the privacy impact of still photo cameras. We pretty quickly learned how to cope and adapt to that. Why do people think we can't learn and cope with Google Glass?
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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2013 @ 3:25am
You may recall that Prenda had (not surprisingly) gone crazy overboard with subpoenas in its attempt to intimidate some anti-copyright troll bloggers and their commenters. The EFF stepped in and asked a court to quash the subpoena, which the court has now done, in large part because Prenda never even bothered to respond.
of this date, no responsive memorandum has been filed. LRCiv 7.2(i) provides in part “if the
opposing party does not serve and file the required answering memorandum, ...such
noncompliance may be deemed a consent to the denial or granting of the motion and the
Court may dispose of the motion summarily.” Pursuant to this rule, the Court deems
Plaintiff's failure to serve and file the required answering memorandum a consent to the
granting of Defendant-Movant's Motion to Quash the Subpoena to Wild West Domains
Seeking Identity Information.
I guess Prenda's a bit busy. Or someone there realized this subpoena had zero chance of actually going forward. Either way, the subpoena is dead.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 7:58pm
Back in March, we noted that while a district court had ordered the US to hand over the evidence it was planning to use against Kim Dotcom, an appeals court had overturned that ruling, and said that the evidence wasn't needed for the extradition fight. Dotcom immediately appealed to New Zealand's Supreme Court, who has now said that it will review that ruling as well, so this case will continue to drag on for some time.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 3:01pm
With copyright reform back on the table, there are bound to be more and more discussions and various ideas suggested. But here's one that we hope is a no brainer for everyone. Carl Malamud, who has worked on making more public information available to the public than anyone else (and, yes, it's crazy that he needs to do this), has famously highlighted many cases of governments locking up key information that the public ought to have, including official copies of laws, judicial rulings and the standards that are referenced by various laws. So he has now proposed -- with the support of a bunch of big thinkers in this arena -- a simple proposal for one specific type of copyright reform: The Edicts of Government Amendment. The idea is simple:
To promote access to justice, equal protection, innovation in the legal marketplace, and to codify long-standing public policy, the Copyright Act of the United States, 17 U.S.C., should be amended as follows:
“Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.”
This language comes directly from Section 206.01, Compendium of Office Practices II, U.S. Copyright Office (1984). It reflects clear and established Supreme Court precedent on the matter in cases such as Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888). The law belongs to the people, who should be free to read, know, and speak the laws by which they choose to govern themselves.
Such a basic concept, I'm wondering if there's anyone who will present a counter argument for why this shouldn't be done today.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 1:54pm
You may recall that soon after Viacom sued YouTube, the Premier League football association (which is notorious for aggressively seeking to enforce its copyrights) sued as well, and sought to turn its case into a class action lawsuit for basically anyone who might have had their copyright-covered works uploaded to YouTube. The court has now eloquently smacked that attempt down, pointing out that the issues for different individuals and organizations would be totally different, making it inappropriate to lump them all together.
Forty five years ago Judge Lumbard of the United States Court of Appeals for this circuit called a case a "Frankenstein monster posing as a class action." ... The description fits the class aspects of this case.
The putative class consists every person and entity in the world who own infringed copyrighted works, who have or will register them with U.S. Copyright Office as required, whose works fall into either two categories: they were subject of infringement which was blocked by YouTube after notice, but suffered additional infringement through subsequent uploads (the "repeat infringement class"), or are musical compositions which defendants tracked, monetized or identified and allowed to be used without proper authorization (the "music publisher class"). Plaintiffs assert that there are "at least thousands of class members" the Repeat Infringement Class, and "hundreds" in the Music Publisher Class...
It then goes on to point out that YouTube is just the platform, and just because infringing content is uploaded to YouTube, it doesn't automatically make YouTube liable. It notes that "YouTube does not generate infringing material." And, given that, the situations of various potential class members is quite different. Then there's a strong point related to all of this: because there are all sorts of different issues related to copyright, "copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment." Specifically, there would need to be specific evidence relating to each individual infringement, and that makes it silly to do this as a class action.
Here to make resolutions which advance the litigation will require the court to determine, for each copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, whether a copyright holder gave notices containing sufficient information to permit the service provider to identify and locate the infringing material so that it could be taken down. That requires individualized evidence. Further, the analysis required to determine "fair use," and other defenses, is necessarily specific to the individual case.
The court points out that the benefit of a class action is that there's "an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in one stroke" but that's clearly not true with mass copyright claims. Given all that, the class certification (for both classes) was denied.
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Posted on Techdirt Wireless - 16 May 2013 @ 12:52pm
The big telcos (AT&T and Verizon) have been trying to move more and more to wireless networks over wired networks, in large part because they've realized that, for whatever reason, the FCC more or less gave them pretty free rein to completely ignore net neutrality concepts on their wireless networks. So it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see that AT&T has responded to the latest Google Hangouts app, which replaces the standard Google Talk app, by blocking video while on a cellular connection on Android phones (oddly, it works on iPhones). As you may recall, AT&T actually got into trouble for doing the same thing with FaceTime on the iPhone. AT&T's statement about this, as given to The Verge, parses its words very carefully, as if they think everyone is a complete moron:
All AT&T Mobility customers can use any video chat app over cellular that is not pre-loaded on their device, but which they download from the Internet. For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we offer all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share, Tiered and soon Unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices. It's up to each OS and device makers to enable their systems to allow pre-loaded video chat apps to work over cellular for our customers on those plans.
The whole focus on "pre-loaded" apps was how AT&T tried to tap dance
around net neutrality questions last year with FaceTime. And it's completely made up and bogus.
Basically, they're saying if you want to do video, you have to ask permission. That's a broken system. It goes against what makes the internet good and useful: the fact that you can innovate without permission. A mobile carrier -- one who may see video chat apps as competition, for example -- being able to act as a gatekeeper to block the usefulness of such apps is a dangerous situation for those who believe in promoting innovation. We shouldn't stand for an internet where one company gets to pick what you're allowed to do.
And, just to cut this off before anyone brings up a really silly argument to defend AT&T: yes, bandwidth on mobile broadband networks is somewhat more limited (though not as limited as they would have you believe). But, these networks, for the most part, have all done away with unlimited accounts anyway. So if people use up all their broadband quota on video calls, that should be their own decision. AT&T has already made pricing decisions that limit bandwidth to consumers, so further limiting their choice in apps makes no sense on top of that.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 10:52am
For years, we've been critics of red light cameras, which have been shown time and time again to actually increase accidents rather than decrease them -- which you would think should be the goal. Of course, we all know that's not really the goal. The goal has always been revenue generation for cities. If they actually wanted to increase safety there's a very simple way to do it: you increase the timing of yellow lights (and for the places, like where I live, that don't have an interval between when one direction turns red and the other turns green, you add that brief interval where all directions are red). Do that, and you increase safety and decrease accidents. And it's incredibly easy and cheap to do.
But, of course, various governments hate that idea, because it would decrease the massive revenue from red light camera fines. That's why over and over and over again, we see that various governments are caught redhanded lowering the time for yellow lights. Make no mistake about it: this increases the danger, and puts many more people at risk. Stupidly, it probably also could end up costing the city more in terms of having to respond to more accidents and deal with more injuries. But, boy, I'm sure it pumps up the revenue on red light camera violations.
The latest example of this comes via Darby Keene, who points out that the Florida Department of Transportation quietly tweaked its own standards for yellow light intervals in 2011, allowing them to be shorter without breaking the law (after many cities have been caught violating official standards). And, of course, various cities quickly did lower the interval timing. Yes, revenue at the expense of public safety. Research has shown that reducing the time of a yellow light by a mere half a second can double the number of red light camera citations -- and in some cases, the changes to FDOT's regulations meant cities reduced the length of a yellow light by an entire second. Smell that? It's the smell of revenue for cities, intermingled with wrecked cars and destroyed lives!
Even worse: while FDOT is claiming that it changed its regulations to clean up some wording, and not because of potential revenue, the report from WTSP, also found emails from FDOT engineers telling local government officials to lower their yellow light intervals to the absolute minimums allowed. That is, they weren't even saying it was just an option, they were being told to decrease the timing to make the intersection less safe, but more profitable.
And, while FDOT defended the whole thing claiming that they changed the policies to "match federal guidelines," the report explains that federal guidelines actually recommend longer yellow light times, just as we discussed above.
A USDOT/Federal Highway Administration (FHA) report said cities should not use speed limit in the yellow interval equation because it results "in more red light violations and higher crash rates." And if drivers' average speeds cannot be calculated, it's recommended engineers use the "speed limit plus 10 mph" variable to producing more conservative, and safer, yellow intervals.
Another report stresses the importance of using 85th percentile speed to calculate yellow intervals, while slide 28 on this report indicates when yellow light times are lengthened, severe crashes drop.
USDOT also recommends an extra half-second of yellow time at intersections with lots of trucks or elderly drivers to allow them to react safely. And despite the fact that Greater Tampa Bay is home to five of the nation's 12 oldest counties (by median age), it's also home to some of the shortest yellow lights.
Don't you feel safer now?
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 9:45am
You may recall Judge Beryl Howell, the former RIAA lobbyist who helped author the DMCA, and also went against a very large number of other judges dealing with copyright trolling lawsuits by ruling that it was perfectly fine to lump over 1,000 John Doe defendants into a single lawsuit and then get discovery on them for the purpose of shaking them down for payment. While so many other courts have ruled that such lumping together is an abuse of the legal system in misjoining unrelated parties, Howell not only stuck to her guns, but then proceeded to blame ISPs for copyright trolls, suggesting that if they just did more to crack down on infringing, trolls wouldn't be a problem.
What you may not remember is that the key case in which Howell did this happens to be a case involving... you guessed it... AF Holdings and its "law firm" Prenda Law. Oh, and the "copyright assignment" that AF Holdings is using for this case was one of those supposedly signed by... Alan Cooper. While Judge Howell may be well served to pay attention to Judge Otis Wright in California and his actual investigation into Prenda/AF Holdings/Alan Cooper, the case is out of her hands for now, as the various ISPs who have the info in this particular case have appealed Howell's ruling and the EFF, ACLU, Public Citizen and Public Knowledge have stepped in as well with additional arguments in an amicus brief.
Both briefs are well worth reading, though you might be surprised that the amicus brief is probably the more reserved of the two. The ISPs who took part include: Bright House, Cox, Verizon, AT&T and Comcast -- with most of them (Verizon and Comcast being the exceptions) not even providing service in the jurisdiction of the district court: Washington DC. Comcast joining in is interesting, given that they own NBC, but we'll leave that aside for now. To put it mildly, the ISPs think the appeals court should put an end to these kinds of cases, noting that a majority of other courts have refused to allow joinder on so many defendants, and have blocked the discovery process. It points out, of course, that these cases are almost never taken to court, but are usually just used to reveal names and then offer settlement demands. Specifically, they feel that Howell made a pretty big legal mistake, in that a showing of "good cause" is required for discovery, and Howell ignored that.
The district court’s conclusion that rules governing personal jurisdiction and
venue provide no impediment to pre-Rule 26 discovery of the ISPs is legal error.
A showing of “good cause,” which is required for discovery ostensibly intended to
identify defendants, requires an evaluation of whether the information sought from
the ISPs would be used to name and serve defendants in the forum. See, e.g.,
Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 352-53 & n.17 (1978) (where
“the purpose of a discovery request is to gather information for use in proceedings
other than the pending suit, discovery properly is denied”). The Copyright Act and
the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute limit the court’s reach to defendants
who reside in the district. And the uncontroverted evidence before the district
court showed that few, if any, of the targeted Internet subscribers reside in the
District of Columbia—as publicly available geolocation software used by
Plaintiff’s counsel in other cases confirms. The district court’s decision to defer
any consideration of personal jurisdiction or venue until after the subscribers’
personal information had been disclosed to Plaintiff requires reversal.
The court’s decision to permit discovery of the ISPs before deciding whether
the 1,000-plus “Does” are misjoined provides an additional basis for reversal.
Plaintiff, by routinely declining to name and serve defendants after obtaining the
subscribers’ personal information, virtually ensures that Rule 20’s requirements for
joinder will go unaddressed if not evaluated at the outset. And as a growing
majority of courts have concluded, deferring a ruling on joinder deprives the courts
of filing fees and encourages a proliferation of improperly coercive lawsuits.
Given the groundswell of published opinions that disagree with the lower court and
have severed or dismissed non-resident “Does” or all Does except for “Doe No. 1,”
deferring a ruling on joinder in a suit that seeks nationwide subscriber information
also encourages forum shopping—as the record here shows persuasively.
The ISPs also, quite reasonably, point out that if mass joinder and discovery is allowed in this case, the trolls will descend on the DC Circuit courts in a mass forum shopping situation:
reflects that Plaintiff’s counsel’s cases have migrated across the country, with the
venues selected, not by the locus of the parties or situs of harm, but based on
counsel’s perceptions of which forum is most likely to authorize the greatest
discovery, at the lowest cost, with the least judicial oversight.
The specter of intra-district, judge-specific shopping in Plaintiff’s counsel’s
cases further underscores the problem with the lower court’s approach. The ISPs
raised below Plaintiff’s counsel’s practice of filing complaints and dismissing them
vel non based on the judicial assignment—only to re-file in another court. When presented with the same facts, Judge Wilkins quoted with approval Judge Huvelle’s finding: “Plaintiff’s actions a[re] akin to ‘judge
shopping.’… This Court could not agree more.” ...
The ISPs respectfully submit that the district courts in this Circuit should not
be the destination for 1,000-plus Doe cases that are brought primarily to compile
mailing lists—not to adjudicate actual cases or controversies.
The ISPs also go through, in detail, the accusations against Team Prenda, and the claims of Alan Cooper. As it notes:
AF Holdings and its counsel owe a duty of candor to the Court, and a duty of
fairness to appellants.... The serious issues concerning attorney misconduct and potentially forged
documents were not identified for the court below; they necessarily affect the
“good cause” analysis and provide an alternative basis for reversal to address the
evidence now being considered in the pending disciplinary proceedings in the
Central District of California.
The EFF/ACLU/PK/PC filing is more focused on the specific errors in Howell's ruling, concerning the "good faith" standard for discovery and the mass joinder of over 1,000 people. They also point out the jurisdiction problems of the defendants who are clearly outside the jurisdiction of a DC court -- and the fact that these cases rarely end up in actual lawsuits means that the question of proper venue will not be "cured" later. Finally, the brief argues that Howell ignored key First Amendment issues concerning revealing anonymous internet users, and the higher standard for them to be revealed. This argument wasn't made by the ISPs, so we'll focus on that one here. It points to the key Dendrite standard we've discussed many times before concerning the revealing of anonymous users. This does not mean that you cannot identify those accused of copyright infringement, but rather that you can't go on a random fishing expedition to get names, as many copyright trolls have done.
Specifically, in a series of cases beginning with Dendrite Int’l, Inc. v. Doe
No. 3, 775 A.2d 756, 760-61, 342 N.J. Super. 134 (App. Div. 2001), courts have
adopted a balancing standard to assess requests for early discovery to identify
anonymous online speakers that protects the right to speak anonymously while at
the same time ensuring that plaintiffs who have valid claims are able to pursue
them. Without such a standard, abusive plaintiffs could too easily use extrajudicial
means against defendants from whom they could not, in the end, obtain judicial
redress. See Levy, Litigating Civil Subpoenas to Identify Anonymous Internet
Speakers, 37 Litigation No. 3 (Spring 2011).
The use of BitTorrent to select and share movies is expressive and,
therefore, protected by the First Amendment. Call of the Wild Movie, 770 F. Supp.
2d at 350 (“[F]ile-sharers are engaged in expressive activity, on some level, when
they share files on BitTorrent, and their First Amendment rights must be
considered before the Court allows the plaintiffs to override the putative
Although the expressive aspect of the conduct alleged here – the posting of
copyrighted movies to BitTorrent – is somewhat minimal, that does not mean that
discovery to identify the anonymous user without adequate initial evidence that
individual Doe Defendants committed the alleged infringement. The weakness of
AF Holdings’ assertions of personal jurisdiction and proper joinder means that
First Amendment concerns weigh more strongly here in favor of quashing the
subpoenas. Certainly it was not appropriate for the district court to ignore the
It will be interesting not only to see how the appeals court deals with it... but also Prenda's argument, since they seem to be getting more and more wacky lately.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 8:44am
You may have heard about a fair bit about Attorney General Eric Holder testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning. He was -- quite reasonably -- raked over the coals by members of both parties for the incredible decision to obtain phone records from AP reporters, under very questionable circumstances.
There was one other odd tidbit that might be worth discussing around here as well. Suddenly, in the middle of all the questions about the Associated Press, Rep. Mel Watt -- who, during the SOPA markup famously declared that he didn't understand the technology, or why tech people were concerned, but also that he didn't care and wanted to pass SOPA without bothering to understand -- started asking questions about copyright and "enforcement." Yes, Mel Watt is the ranking member on the IP subcommittee (scary enough in its own right), but it seemed completely off topic.
Most of the coverage on Watt's questioning has focused on the fact that he did most of his questioning with his two-year-old grandson on his lap, who interrupts the questioning at one point. But the questions were ridiculous, as were the answers, and deserve some scrutiny. First, despite it being soundly rejected when SOPA went down in flames, Watt asks Holder if Congress should make online streaming of infringing material a felony, rather than the misdemeanor that it currently is. There are all sorts of problems with this idea, as we've discussed in the past, but Holder embraced the idea wholeheartedly, saying that the Justice Department would love to have "another tool," ignoring just how widely the DOJ has abused existing tools to shut down legitimate companies and websites.
And then Watt directly asks about a connection to terrorism:
Watt: Are there increasing indications of links between this problem and terrorism? Have you found any of those links and would you describe them for the committee?
Holder: Yes, that's a very good question. It's something that's very worrisome. As we saw organized crime get into a variety of other businesses in order to support their efforts, we're now seeing terrorist groups getting into the theft of intellectual property. Again, to generate money to support what they're trying to do for their terrorist means. So we have to broaden our enforcement efforts, broaden the investigative efforts that we take, to examine what are the precise reasons why people are engaging in this kind of intellectual property thievery. And to consider whether or not there's a terrorist connection to it. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but one we have to be aware of.
Watt then asks about things that Congress can do to help, and Holder says he's "particularly concerned" about this problem, and he asks for "enhanced penalties" for "intellectual property theft."
That all sounds very interesting. And it might be, if there were any
truth to it at all. Unfortunately, there's not. We've yet to see a single piece of evidence supporting the idea that terrorists are involved in infringement. The claim has been around for years, and we've asked for evidence
for years, and none
has ever been provided. Because it doesn't exist. Researcher Joe Karaganis looked into the issue
a few years ago and found that there were some very vague reports of organized crime
being involved in counterfeit CDs/DVDs
in the 80s and 90s. But that was small and short-lived -- in large part because online infringement basically made that business obsolete:
Arguing that piracy is integral to such networks [organized crime and terrorism] means ignoring the dramatic changes in the technology and organizational structure of the pirate market over the past decade. By necessity, evidentiary standards become very loose. Decades-old stories are recycled as proof of contemporary terrorist connections, anecdotes stand in as evidence of wider systemic linkages, and the threshold for what counts as organized crime is set very low. The RAND study, which reprises and builds on earlier IFPI and Interpol reporting, is constructed almost entirely around such practices. Prominent stories about IRA involvement in movie piracy and Hezbollah involvement in DVD and software piracy date, respectively, to the 1980s and 1990s. Street vendor networks in Mexico City--a subject we treat at length in the Mexico chapter--are mischaracterized as criminal gangs connected with the drug trade. Piracy in Russia is attributed to criminal mafias rather than to the chronically porous boundary between licit and illicit enterprise. The Pakistani criminal gang D-Company, far from "forging a clear pirate monopoly" in Bollywood, in RAND's words, plays a small and diminishing part in Indian DVD piracy--its smuggling networks dwarfed by local production.
The US record isn't more convincing in this regard. Jeffrey McIllwain examined the Department of Justice’s IP-related prosecutions between 2000 and 2004 and found that only 49 out of the 105 cases alleged that the defendant operated within larger, organized networks. Nearly all of these were "warez" distribution groups for pirated software--hacker communities that are explicitly and often fiercely non-commercial in orientation. McIllwain found "no overt references to professional organized crime groups" in any of the DOJ's criminal charges (McIllwain 2005:27). If organized crime is a serious problem in these contexts, it should not be difficult to produce a stronger evidentiary record.
In other words, Rep. Mel Watt, a well known supporter of Hollywood's position on copyright, tossed a bogus softball FUD talking point to Eric Holder in the middle of an important hearing about a very different subject, and Holder proceeded to make claims to Congress that have been made for decades without a single bit of evidence to support it.
Holder has plenty of other serious issues to deal with these days, but it makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see our Attorney General appear to be spreading known scare stories that have been proven bogus from decades ago as if they're new, despite a single bit of evidence concerning any modern connection to terrorism.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 7:38am
Once the UK recording industry realized that UK courts would order ISPs to block websites it didn't like, it appears that the industry, led by BPI and PPL began putting together a list of over two dozen sites that they're asking to have blocked by all UK ISPs, even though many of the sites on the list have never been tried in a court of law or convicted of copyright infringement. Included on the list, for example, is Grooveshark, who has been sued, but has not yet been found to violate copyright laws. It may very well be true that there is infringement on many, if not all of those sites. But, generally speaking, there's this thing called due process that allows a site to defend itself before being censored from an entire country. Just because a site has some infringing content does not mean that the entire site should be blocked -- or you'd have absolutely no user generated content sites online, because the liability would be too high. The UK courts started down this slippery slope by allowing sites to be blocked, and now the record labels are just going to keep piling the list higher and higher.
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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2013 @ 3:32am
The New Yorker has announced a new anonymous document sharing system called Strongbox, that will allow people to anonymously and securely submit documents to reporters from the New Yorker. Other publications have tried to set up something like this -- often inspired by Wikileaks -- but for the most part, they've been full of security holes, sometimes big and serious ones. What may be more interesting than the fact that this system is being set up is the story behind it. It's based on DeadDrop, an open source system that was put together by Aaron Swartz and Kevin Poulsen.
Poulsen has the backstory of DeadDrop here, which is well worth reading. Basically, he and Aaron worked on this project on and off for quite some time, and it was only just completed a few weeks before Aaron's death. The full story is worth reading, though here's a snippet:
I wondered about this young tech-startup founder who put his energy into the debate over corporate-friendly copyright term extensions. That, and his co-creation of an anonymity project called Tor2Web, is what I had in mind when I approached him with the secure-submission notion. He agreed to do it with the understanding that the code would be open-source—licensed to allow anyone to use it freely—when we launched the system.
He started coding immediately, while I set out to get the necessary servers and bandwidth at Conde Nast. The security model required that the system be under the company’s physical control, but with its own, segregated infrastructure. Requisitioning was involved. Executives had questions. Lawyers had more questions.
Poulsen also notes that there were questions raised about the code after Aaron's death, but those were eventually sorted out:
By December, 2012, Aaron’s code was stable, and a squishy launch date had been set. Then, on January 11th, he killed himself. In the immediate aftermath, it was hard to think of anything but the loss and pain of his death. A launch, like so many things, was secondary. His suicide also raised new questions: Who owned the code now? (Answer: he willed all his intellectual property to Sean Palmer, who gives the project his blessing.) Would his closest friends and his family approve of the launch proceeding? (His friend and executor, Alec Resnick, reports that they do.) The New Yorker, which has a long history of strong investigative work, emerged as the right first home for the system.
Of course, Poulsen leaves out his own history here as well. As (perhaps?) many of you know, Poulsen was a somewhat infamous hacker
back in the day who eventually (after avoiding law enforcement for quite some time) went to prison for some of his hacks. Since then, he's become one of my favorite journalists, writing for SecurityFocus and then Wired (and writing a wonderful book, Kingpin
about some more recent hackers). While Poulsen and Swartz met long before Swartz was indicted -- and Swartz and Poulsen were indicted for very different types of activities -- having the two of them work together on a project like this is really quite fascinating.
The unfortunate part of all of this, of course, is that DeadDrop is basically Aaron's "final project." Given how much he accomplished prior to that in his short life, it's just one more thing to add to a very long list of incredible accomplishments, but yet another reminder of how much potential was wiped away by his suicide.
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Posted on Techdirt - 15 May 2013 @ 8:04pm
TorrentFreak has discovered that the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), better known as the company running the whole "six strikes" scheme in the US, somehow had its company status revoked last year for reasons unknown. However, this could have serious consequences:
“If entity’s status is revoked then articles of incorporation / organization shall be void and all powers conferred upon such entity are declared inoperative, and, in the case of a foreign entity, the certificate of foreign registration shall be revoked and all powers conferred hereunder shall be inoperative,” the DCRA explains.
It also may face penalties and fines. It appears that this may have just been a paperwork screwup, which does happen, but given the organization's overall mission, you would think that they would have been a lot more careful dotting their i's and crossing their t's.
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