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Game Music Composer Goes On DMCA Blitz Against Innocent YouTubers Over Contract Dispute With Game Publisher (Copyright)

by Timothy Geigner

from the hostage-negotiations dept on Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 @ 9:24AM

Stories about both the abuse of the DMCA process and the peril YouTubers regularly find themselves subject to by way of intellectual property laws are both legion, but to see the truely egregious nature of the abuse of this sort of thing, it takes a story about them intersecting. We appear to have such a story on our hands in the form of a music composer hired to work on a video game that then began sending DMCA notices to YouTubers over a contractual dispute with the game publisher. This story weaves a strange path, so let's dig in.

Alex Mauer is a digital composer. She was hired to do contract work by Imagos Softworks, the developers of Starr Mazer: DSP. That game had been available for early access on Steam, but is still down at the time of this writing. The reason for that is that Mauer sent Steam a DMCA notice for the game, claiming that it used her music without proper payment. Mauer and Imagos are in the middle of a fairly heated contract dispute, one which Imagos has been taking public with explanations of what happened and why the claim is not true.

When you have dug into enough of these sorts of things, you begin to have a good sense for what's going on based on everyone's responses. Imagos' response is solely from its perspective, so it is not to be taken as the final word on the matter, but claims this detailed tend to be more common from those on the right side of things. Despite having been paid roughly $35,000 for her work on the game as a contract for hire, Mauer is currently claiming that Imagos owes her another $10,000. Even if that were true, the rights for the music in the contract were transferred to Imagos, making the DMCA claim against the game inappropriate. Through it all, Imagos claims to have attempted to resolve this with Mauer on several occasions only to be refused, while also going so far as to strip her music from the game and replacing it with temporary placeholder music.

But Mauer is apparently still unsatisfied. As I mentioned above, you can often get a sense of which side of an issue is on the firmest ground by how they behave. Well, Mauer's behavior in the past week has amounted to levying DMCA claims against every YouTuber showing off Starr Mazer: DSP footage that included her music. Even with the obvious Fair Use defense these YouTubers would have, that isn't even the most infuriating aspect of the tactic. No, that title belongs to Mauer suggesting to the YouTubers that she was launching the DMCA claims to raise awareness of the contract dispute and would rescind them if the YouTubers would give some hell to Imagos instead.

According to Ms. Mauer, Imagos Softworks owes her US$ 10,000 “for unpaid music work” (on Starr Mazer: DSP) and she is trying to use the DMCA strikes as a way to generate awareness about her situation. Sadly, this isn’t the intended purpose of the copyright strikes system, and innocent content creators are being punished when their only involvement in the matter has been that they published videos covering the independent roguelike shooter.

Well-known YouTuber SidAlpha even reached out to Mauer on behalf of his smaller peers to try to figure out what the hell was going on and received the following reply.

The fact that TemmieNeko is directing her complaints to me instead of the developer is a problem. This seems to be the general response of those who were hit with DMCA strikes. I did suggest to some who complained to me that I would reverse their DMCA strikes if they were willing to redirect their complaints to the developer/complaints about the developer. No one was willing to do so, and I no longer want to offer anyone the possibility of having their DMCA strikes reversed. Thank you.

It's worth repeating that none of this serves the purpose of the DMCA. In fact, there is a ton of potential harm to the YouTubers in question, who, in receiving these abusive DMCA notices, are at risk of having their channels pulled by YouTube. They can file a counter-claim, and should be successful with them, but there is still a risk. There is also risk for Mauer herself, as the DMCA process does have a perjury provision for fraudulent claims.

SidAlpha also explained that once the affected YouTubers process a successful counterclaim, they would be able to file a civic lawsuit against Mauer. This is because filing a fraudulent DMCA claim is considered perjury and she would be tried in the state the Youtubers live in. In addition, because the videos are transformative, they are protected by the Fair Use Doctrine which renders the DMCA strike spurious. Also, she doesn’t own the music in the first place because it was made as part of a for-hire contract with Imagos. Imagos owns all content related to Starr Mazer and Starr Mazer: DSP.

Mauer has since gone on to send out DMCA notices for a couple other games in which her music is featured, including one put out by Adult Swim. As part of this, Mauer has gone so far as to send a DMCA notice to Turner Broadcasting. Meanwhile, she put the music she created for Imagos under her contract on her own website, selling it as part of an album for $1,000.

This is as clear an abuse of the DMCA process as I've seen to date and there is no excuse for imperiling innocent YouTubers over a contract dispute with a game publisher. If ever there were a case begging for punishment over abuse of the DMCA system, this is certainly it.


Cable Industry Quietly Shelves Its Bogus Plan To Make Cable Boxes Cheaper, More Competitive ((Mis)Uses of Technology)

by Karl Bode

from the misbehaving-without-a-baby-sitter dept on Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 @ 6:25AM

Last year, the cable industry quietly launched one of the most misleading and successful lobbying efforts in the industry's history. The target? A plan concocted by the former FCC that would have let customers watch cable programming without having to rent a cable box or use a CableCARD. Given the industry makes $21 billion annually in rental fees off of this entrenched hardware monopoly, the industry got right to work with an absolute wave of disinformation, claiming that the FCC's plan would confuse customers, increase piracy, and was (with a little help from Jesse Jackson) somehow even racist (seriously).

At one point, the industry even managed to grab the help of the US Copyright Office, which falsely claimed that more cable box competition would somehow violate copyright. Of course the plan had nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with control, exemplifying once again that for the US Copyright Office, public welfare is often a distant afterthought.

As part of this stage show, the cable industry also created a group specifically tasked with attacking the proposal. Dubbed the Future of TV Coalition, the group set forth to not only attack the FCC's plan, but to propose its own counter proposal it claimed made any cable box reform efforts at the FCC unnecessary. Dubbed the "ditch the box" proposal, the cable industry and the Future of TV Coalition breathlessly stated the industry (pdf) was already cooking up ways to help consumers avoid rental fees have greater choice, and that these efforts were already well underway:

"This new “Ditch the Box” approach calls for binding, enforceable obligations for major TV providers to allow customers to ditch their set-top boxes and access live and on demand programming via boxless apps compatible with a wide range of retail devices, including smart TVs, game consoles, streaming devices, laptops, tablets, phones, and more...Providers will have two years to fully implement the new requirements – and many are already racing to do so sooner."

That was then, this is now. Shortly after Trump's election win, the new Ajit Pai led FCC quickly moved to scuttle the plan. And not too surprisingly, the cable industry's counter plan to make lives better for consumers never actually materialized, and appears to have been mothballed:

"The Future of TV Coalition has gone silent — it last tweeted Nov. 28 — the cable industry’s trade group NCTA hasn’t had much to say about it either. NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz wrote in an e-mail that Ditch the Box was pitched as “an “alternative” to the Wheeler’s original proposal. Without the FCC’s acceptance of Ditch the Box, that plan got ditched."

So without somebody actively pressuring an uncompetitive sector to stop being uncompetitive, they continue to be uncompetitive. Who could have possibly predicted that? Of course the cable industry continues to pay empty lip service to the idea of choice and freedom, all the while continuing efforts to make actual consumer choice on this front as difficult and expensive as ever (see Comcast's decision to charge users a completely unnecessary fee just to use a Roku as a cable box, or cross-industry efforts to use unnecessary broadband usage caps and overage fees to drive up the cost of streaming via their competitors).

The cable industry falsely believes this is all an ingenious plan to keep its traditional cable TV cash cow alive indefinitely. But as the continued and accelerating rate of TV cord cutting illustrates, the cable sector isn't going to be nearly as impervious to market evolution as it likes to believe.


Appeals Court Upholds Matthew Keys' Two-Year Sentence For A 40-Minute Web Defacement (Legal Issues)

by Tim Cushing

from the can-never-have-too-much-deterrent-apparently dept on Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 @ 3:23AM

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Matthew Keys' conviction and sentence of two years for a 40-minute web defacement he didn't actually perform himself. That works out to basically 18 days for every minute of mild disruption the LA Times suffered, as it (very briefly) suffered through a headline changed to read "Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337."

Prosecutors actually wanted five years for this momentary mild hacking, but still managed to end up with two years after the LA Times submitted enough paperwork to make it appear as though this 40-minute malicious hiccup racked up $1 million in CFAA damages.

The appeals court isn't there to question the accuracy of the LA Times' bill of lading, but it does use the inflated figure to affirm the part of the sentencing affected by the claimed damages. From the unpublished opinion [PDF]:

Concerning employee response time, the district court did not abuse its discretion by relying on loss estimates based on employees’ testimonies or on the worksheet prepared by a Fox 40 executive. In response to Keys’s challenge to inconsistencies in the employee salary evidence, the district court appropriately re-reviewed the trial testimony and considered the amount in light of national statistics on the value of non-liquid employee benefits.

The government presented evidence that nearly all of the 20,000 Fox 40 Rewards Program members cancelled their participation in response to Keys’s conduct. Starting essentially from square one, the database took three years to rebuild. The district court did not abuse its discretion in relying on the Fox 40 executive’s representation that this process cost $200,000. It was appropriate for the district court to order restitution in the amount it cost Fox 40 to replace the member database, as it would be difficult to determine the fair market value of such an asset.

Basically, this database could have been worth any amount, so why not the $200k the LA Times claims it's worth. That adds to the restitution amount owed by Keys and also plays a small part in the sentencing. But in total, this is overkill for a 40-minute web defacement, especially one performed by someone else using Keys' login credentials. The move may have been petty and amateurish but it's extremely difficult to believe the momentary elevation of Chippy 1337 to the front page of the LA Times' website warrants a two-year sentence and thousands of dollars in fines.

But it appears the DOJ is happy with this outcome. And having completed its prosecution of Keys, it's presumably performing an OJ Simpson-style hunt for the person who actually performed the defacement.

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NJ Mayor Can't Stop Streisanding Himself After Being On The Receiving End Of The Crying Jordan Meme (Too Much Free Time)

by Timothy Geigner

from the i-see-what-he-memes dept on Monday, June 26th, 2017 @ 6:26PM

Of all the wonderful gifts the internet has bestowed upon humanity, there is perhaps none more precious to me than the now famous Crying Jordan meme. After Michael Jordan's tearful Hall of Fame induction speech, an image of him in tears took on the secondary purpose of being photoshopped onto anyone the internet wanted to portray as being sad or upset about pretty much anything. The creativity of some of the memes is nearly unmatched, leading to it becoming so popular that then President Obama brought it up when giving Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In other words, as far as internet memes go, the crying Jordan meme is nearly as prolific and celebrated as the basketball career of Jordan itself.

Which is why it's somewhat odd that the loser of a local township committee election went completely bonkers when he himself got "crying Jordan'd."

Cinnaminson (N.J.) mayor Anthony Minniti lost his bid for re-election to the township committee Tuesday when a retired police sergeant defeated him in the Republican primary. When a Facebook user Crying Jordan’d Minniti’s campaign flyer and posted the image to the Cinnaminson Friends & Neighbors page, well, the mayor got real mad:

“Obviously, I’m disgusted by this post, but sadly not surprised,” Minniti said about what he described as the “inflammatory, outrageous rhetoric” of the Facebook page. “It was only a matter of time before someone took this moblike behavior too far, and this is definitely too far,” he said. “Hate has no place in Cinnaminson, and this needs to be treated with the seriousness it warrants.”

In other communications, Minniti has suggested not just that the meme is an output of some demonic hate-engine, but that it's racist. Why? Because the Jordan meme is barely known in common circles and its true purpose is to put white people in "blackface." Yeah, seriously.

Portraying any white person in blackface is racist and unacceptable. There’s no question about that,” he said. “If this was such a well-known meme and this is something everybody knows about, why did the Facebook administrator pull it down? It was flagged as racist by others. It was taken down because it was racist, or deemed racist by the administrator.

We'll do the easy part of this first: the crying Jordan meme is most certainly not racist. Jordan himself has noticed the meme and has reportedly received it with somewhere between a shrug and mild annoyance. Also, I'm fairly certain our first ever black President would not toss around jokes about a racist meme while celebrating an African American award recipient. In addition to all of that: shut up, it's not racist. It's just not.

But it's worth noting that this is a story about a person who lost a mayoral election at the primary stage in a small town in New Jersey. I'm not certain how many people would be aware of the story at all, nor would they have seen the following meme in question, had Minniti not chosen to throw his shit fit about it all. But I'm fairly certain that answer could be stated as "less", with so much media coverage over Minniti Streisanding this into the mainstream.

Anger about being the subject of a meme that then makes that meme go viral is not anger well spent.


Zillow Sends Totally Bullshit Legal Threat To McMansion Hell (Legal Issues)

by Mike Masnick

from the censorious-thugs dept on Monday, June 26th, 2017 @ 3:18PM

There are few things I hate more than when tech platforms -- which have benefited from key rights provided to internet platforms and the public -- turn around and abuse the law to try to silence or kill off others. And the latest company to dive headfirst into this unfortunate pool of shame is Zillow, which is threatening to sue the person behind based on a number of different awful interpretations of the law that can be summed up as: "hey, you can't use our images to make fun of homes."

This threat against McMansion Hell is particularly dumb. On multiple levels. The threat letter offers up a bunch of theories for why McMansion Hell is illegal, none of which make any sense at all when you dig in. Zillow just looks like a particularly assholish, censorial thug.

McMansion Hell, if you didn't already know about it, is basically exactly what it says on the tin. It's a website that looks critically at some trends in home design. I've visited the site a few times in the past, but not in a while -- and because of the threat, the site is currently down. This is what you see as I write this:

But, before that, it looked something like this (via Google Cache):

I realize there's a lot there, but the site would take a bunch of images, of houses, sometimes adding annotations and captions and the go into great detail critiquing a trend, or style, or architectural or real estate idea. It was informative and funny. And, at least for the time being, it doesn't exist.

Zillow's legal theories here are... mostly of the crazypants variety. First, the letter says that McMansion Hell is violating Zillow's terms of service, because the terms of service forbid reproducing or modifying images on Zillow.

Zillow's Terms of Use (the "Terms") specifically prohibit reproducing, modifying, distributing, or otherwise creating derivative works from any portion of the Zillow Site. The Terms further prohibit reproduction of any underlying images from real estate listings on the Zillow Site, as well as any use of the Zillow Site that could harm Zillow or its suppliers.

You are in violation of the Terms, and admit to this Yourself in certain posts on Your Site, wherein You state that "[a]ll photographs in this post are from real estate aggregate" and reference the fact that Your posts feature "[m]anipulated photos."

First off, Zillow cannot use its terms of service to wipe out fair use as a legal defense. The only remedy for Zillow is to stop the person behind McMansion Hell, Kate Wagner, from having an account on the site. But since many of the images are publicly available, she absolutely has a right to make non-infringing fair use reproductions and derivative works. This general threat that if you violate the terms that the company comes up with itself you've run into legal trouble is nonsensical (even though some try to make CFAA arguments about this -- but we'll get to that).

Next, Zillow's lawyer insists that this is not fair use. The argument here can basically be summed up as "No Fair Use Allowed."

In addition to violating the Terms, Your actions infringe on the rights of each copyright holder of the images. You state that the Images are used "for the purposes of education, satire, and parody consistent with 17 U.S.C. § 107," which appears to be a claim that Your use constitutes fair use. Courts weight four primary factors in determining whether use of a copyright work is fair use. When those factors are applied to Your use of the Images on Your Site, none support an argument that Your use is fair use.

That's it. Say there are four factors, mention none of them, then say that none of the factors apply. While it is true that merely saying that you're using the images for fair use purposes is not enough to shield you if you are infringing, here it seems to pretty clearly be fair use under all of the factors. The use is clearly transformative. Whereas Zillow is about selling houses, McMansion Hell is about providing commentary and criticism about real estate and residential architecture. That's a very different use, and showing images of actual homes seems perfectly key to that, and we have multiple cases that have said similar uses are fair use. On top of that, there's tremendous commentary and criticism to go along with the images, which makes it an even stronger fair use argument.

And, let's not forget that, as far as I know -- and as the letter more or less admits -- Zillow doesn't hold the copyright in these images. It's merely licensing them from the actual copyright holders, and thus it can't make any credible copyright threat against McMansion Hell, as it doesn't even hold the rights in question. What a joke.

Finally we get to the CFAA argument which, of the three arguments made, is the dumbest. But at least there's an actual legal issue there -- unlike the previous two:

Furthermore, Your activities may violate the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, and state laws prohibiting fraud and interference with Zillow's business expectations and interests.

Of course, note the lack of any explanation for how this violates the CFAA. That should be a pretty strong statement that Zillow's lawyer knows there's no substance to this argument, but wants to make the threat letter sound as scary as possible (which worked). The only argument that the company could probably come up with is the claim that violating the terms is what violates the CFAA -- but those arguments have mostly (though not entirely) failed in court. Even when the argument has been accepted, I fail to see how the situations in those cases would apply here to a blog doing commentary.

In other words, all three of the supposed arguments against McMansion Hell are silly in the extreme. Zillow and its lawyer, Christopher Poole, (note: not moot) should feel bad. It appears that Poole (the lawyer one) just joined Zillow last month. Hopefully, this was the overeager new guy thinking he was doing something good, rather than shitting all over Zillow's brand as a supporter of a free and open internet.

Hopefully as this gets out, and people realize just how ridiculously censorial and obnoxious Zillow appears, the company will reconsider and apologize. This is not just bad behavior. This is attacking free speech on an open internet -- the same open internet that allowed Zillow to exist and thrive in the first place. The company should be ashamed.

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