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This Week In Techdirt History: September 27th - October 3rd (Techdirt)

by Leigh Beadon

from the from-gnu-to-coica dept on Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 @ 12:00PM

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we saw lots of action around COICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. Firstly, we took a look at all the past technologies that would have been blocked by the bill and what it might censor in the future, while Tim Berners-Lee himself came out against it. Of course, the RIAA was claiming that failure to pass COICA would put Americans at risk. Just in case the bill didn't pass, the White House was working on a backup internet censorship plan — and then, finally, the bill was shelved. Some people turned their attention to smarter ways of thinking about copyright law, but that's not always easy in a world where the press could barely tell the difference between copyright and patents. Plenty of others were sticking with stupidity, from the garden-variety claim that "copyleft" supporters think music should only be a hobby to the more fiery assertion that file-sharers are going to hell. We tried our best to note that embracing 'free' doesn't mean making no money, and asked whether even uncompensated commercial use of an artist's work is really all that bad. Certainly it's not as bad as a British city council abusing copyright to stop meetings from going up on YouTube.

Ten Years Ago

Five years earlier in 2005, not much was different. We pointed out how stupid most attempts at making new IP laws were, and that the real way to combat piracy is with innovation, not legislation. But one California senator was convinced that laws could put an end to file sharing, while the Canadian recording industry was trying to convince people that file sharing is a gateway to a life of crime. Much better to piss off customers with copy protection then pretend it was a mistake, or attack the developers making your device better, or attempt to wow the world by making flash storage less useful with copy protections). We did see one great idea, though: Ed Felten proposed the "pizzaright" principle, wherein you evaluate arguments for stronger IP protections by imagining them as a monopoly on delivering pizza in certain market.

Fifteen Years Ago

Let's head back five years earlier still, where everything was... pretty similar. Last week, we noted that The Offspring was planning to release its album online in 2000 — and this week, Sony put an end to their innovation. Capital Records tried to pass itself off as embracing file sharing, but the details were disappointing and mostly meaningless. Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that it's not just kids who wanted downloadable music and that respect for intellectual property actually correlated with poor education.

Also this week in 2000: Volvo launched a car that was only advertised online and Fosters (the beer company) was going digital with care and forethought; the convergence of phones and PDAs was still messy but clearly on the horizon, even though mobile internet still had very limited appeal; companies were realizing the dangers of using a phone while driving, it was discovered that (gasp!) some people use public internet kiosks for crime, and Shanghai decided to just start shutting down internet cafes entirely.

Thirty-Two Years Ago

The GNU project remains controversial in some circles, and even here at Techdirt we've often pushed back against some of its more extreme proponents, but I don't think there's any denying that it has had a huge and overall very positive impact on the world of computing. It was on September 27th, 1983 that Richard Stallman first announced the GNU Project on the net.unix-wizards and net.usoft newsgroups. A few months later, Stallman quit his job at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (so they couldn't claim any sort of ownership) and began developing free software.


Awesome Stuff: A Modular Phone For Makers (Innovation)

by Leigh Beadon

from the tiny-and-simple dept on Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 @ 9:00AM

We've talked before about the buzz around the possibly-coming modular phones of the future, but this week we're looking at an entirely different animal: RePhone, an open-source modular phone kit for makers and tinkerers.

The Good

The basic idea of RePhone is that you can build your own mobile phone. At its heart is a core GSM module, to which you can attach a mini touchscreen, basic sensors, an NFC antenna, and other combinations of the various tiny attachment modules. They can be connected easily with FPC cables, attached to a breadboard, or soldered. Then you can take the assembled guts and build them into any kind of case you like, from a fold-up kraft paper shell made using special templates to something fancier like a custom 3D-printed casing.

Once it's built, the RePhone can integrate with IFTTT (as many things do these days) and also has software libraries that hook into Arduino IDE, Lua and Javascript, and a high-level SDK for developing apps for the RePhone itself — all designed with a focus on learning, so novice coders can try their hand as readily as expert developers.

The Bad

While RePhone seems like an absolute treat for makers and hackers, I'm more dubious about the attempts to make it look appealing to average users who want a unique phone. Apart from the ability to print custom designs on the kraft paper casing template, which is neat but hardly a game-changer, I don't think there's much to attract regular people to the RePhone, and it won't be replacing anyone's iPhones or Galaxies anytime soon, nor should that be the expectation. But for those who want to get inside the guts of a smartphone and tinker around, it's perfect.

The Things

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of RePhone is that it by no means has to be all about phones. The tiny, modular kit makes it really easy to give anything else cellular capabilities, and start building your own additions to the internet of things. That's exciting, because as we see the internet of things grow, it's vital that we keep enabling people to build things for it — otherwise it will evolve into nothing more than a network of locked-down, proprietary products from various gadget-makers. The interoperability with Arduino (and also Pebble watches) makes RePhone right at home in the new world of mobile makers, who will help define what the internet looks like as it continues to break free from traditional devices.


Homeland Security Detains Stockton Mayor, Forces Him To Hand Over His Passwords (Privacy)

by Mike Masnick

from the home-of-the-free dept on Friday, October 2nd, 2015 @ 7:39PM
Anthony Silva, the mayor of Stockton, California, recently went to China for a mayor's conference. On his return to San Francisco airport he was detained by Homeland Security, and then had his two laptops and his mobile phone confiscated. They refused to show him any sort of warrant (of course) and then refused to let him leave until he agreed to hand over his password:
“A few minutes later, DHS agents confiscated all my electronic devices including my personal cell phone. Unfortunately, they were not willing or able to produce a search warrant or any court documents suggesting they had a legal right to take my property. In addition, they were persistent about requiring my passwords for all devices,” Silva said.

Silva was not allowed to leave the airport until he gave his passwords to the agents, which the mayor’s personal attorney, Mark Reichel, claimed is illegal.

The mayor said the agents told him confiscating property from travelers at the airport was “in fact routine and not unusual,” and promised to return the items within a few days.
To some extent what the DHS told him is true. It's not that unusual, but it's not that common either. But forcing him to turn over the passwords is unusual, and not standard practice. Besides, courts have been growing increasingly less impressed with Homeland Security's willingness to ignore the Constitution at the border.

The feds, of course, refuse to say anything, saying they cannot confirm or deny anything. Silva first claimed that he's "happy to cooperate and comply with these inspection procedures if they are in fact routine and legal," but pretty quickly notes how ridiculous all of this is:
"I think the American people should be extremely concerned about their personal rights and privacy," he said. "As I was being searched at the airport, there was a Latino couple to my left, and an Asian couple to my right also being aggressively searched. I briefly had to remind myself that this was not North Korea or Nazi Germany. This is the land of the Free."
So they keep telling us.

Pokemon Wants To Totally Bankrupt One Of Its Biggest Fans, Thanks To Copyright (Copyright)

by Mike Masnick

from the how-nice-of-them dept on Friday, October 2nd, 2015 @ 6:22PM
Back at the end of August, we wrote about a ridiculous situation in which the Pokemon Company decided to sue two fans in Seattle who had set up a Pokemon-themed party leading into the big PAX conference. As soon as the threats came down, these guys shut down the party entirely, but the Pokemon Company would not be stopped in its determination to totally bankrupt and destroy such a big fan who was out there promoting Pokemon and Pokemon culture. The company, represented by big copyright maximalist law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, went forward with the ridiculous lawsuit anyway. While they dismissed one guy from the lawsuit, the other, Ramar Larking Jones, didn't hire a lawyer, saying he had no money for it.

End result is that the Pokemon Company is demanding $4,000 from Jones by November or they say they'll make things even worse. Some of the reporting on this suggests that Jones has lost the case already, but that's not true. Basically, a lawyer from Davis Wright Tremaine (who should question how he sleeps at night), Stuart Dunwoody, is bullying Jones, who says he's just a broke fan of Pokemon. Dunwoody told Jones that Pokemon is willing to "settle" the case for $5,400 and sent him a "final judgment and permanent injunction" for Jones to review. This is not from the judge. This is from Dunwoody, who will submit it to the judge and hope the judge just signs off on it. And, of course, if he gets Jones to agree to this "settlement", that's what the judge will do. Apparently Dunwoody has agreed to accept a $4,000 settlement, but only if the amount is paid by mid-November. Jones has been asking if he can spread it out over a year, noting that he's basically broke and works in a cafe.

Jones, for his part, still doesn't appear to have a lawyer (note: this is a mistake), and has set up a GoFundMe page, trying to raise the $4,000 to pay off Davis Wright Tremaine and Dunwoody (who probably bills more than $4,000 per day for doing this kind of shakedown).

Yes, you can argue that perhaps Jones should not have thrown a "Pokemon-themed" party or used Pokemon characters on the poster, but, really? Does anyone honestly think there is any legitimate harm done here to the Pokemon Company? Especially compared to the reputation it will get for bankrupting someone who appears to be one of its biggest fans (or was). This whole thing is shameful, and the Pokemon Company, Davis Wright Tremaine and Stuart Dunwoody should feel bad about this. They're bankrupting one of Pokemon's biggest fans who was trying to share his love for Pokemon. How does that help anyone, other than Dunwoody's billing hours?

As Jones writes on his GoFundMe: "Trust me I will never throw another fandom party again." Congrats, Stuart Dunwoody. Another fan disillusioned. You must be so proud.

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DailyDirt: How Sweet It Is? (Too Much Free Time)

by Michael Ho

from the urls-we-dig-up dept on Friday, October 2nd, 2015 @ 5:00PM
We've been following diet fads for a while now -- and seeing how sugar (in various forms) has been blamed for health problems. Artificial sweeteners are supposed to help us avoid consuming too much sugar (and be more healthy in the balance), but it's probably not surprising that studies are starting to show that these alternatives to sugar also have their own side effects. After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.

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