by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 4:47pm
from the the-illusion-of-choice dept
This week's deadline to offer a la carte TV channels doesn't appear to be going much better. Companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Bell are now allowing users the option to buy TV channels individually -- but they've again priced each channel high enough to make the option completely pointless. Under this new pricing paradigm, buying individual channels can cost you anything from $6 to $20 per channel. After having a little time to crunch the numbers, consumers were quick to complain to the BBC about the absurdity of the entire effort:
"Turns out, to add CNN and CP24 individually, Spitz would pay $14 a month instead of $15. That's only a $1 savings, and her mother would lose a handful of extra channels included in the theme packs.Incumbent Canadian TV providers, as you also might expect, insist that offering "discounted" service that really doesn't provide any discount is the height of value, and that the way they've always done things (read: offering you a bloated, expensive bundle of channels you don't actually watch) is the best way to continue to do things:
"That's ludicrous; that's ridiculous," said Spitz.
But some industry experts are not surprised by the pick and pay prices. That's because, they say, TV providers are for-profit companies, and their main objective is to protect the bottom line.
"What did you really expect?" says telecom expert Gerry Wall.
"Rogers told CBC News that adding individual channels to a plan won't benefit everyone and that most customers instead opt for its bigger TV packages "which offer great value." It said the cable company's standalone channel pricing is "reasonable and competitive."Part of the problem is that the CRTC doesn't really have the authority or willingness to fully regulate rates, so it's demanding less expensive options for consumers -- but isn't really willing (or in some instances able) to hold companies accountable when they tap dance around the requirements. In a March interview with The Globe and Mail, CRTC boss Jean-Pierre Blais tried to downplay public criticism of the effort (and the CRTC's unwillingness to follow through) by claiming the goal was never to lower soaring cable bills:
"People may have thought, mistakenly, that the CRTC was going to reduce everybody’s cable bills – that’s not what we promised. We said we’re going to give you more choice,” Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said in an interview."But what people actually got was the illusion of more choice under what appears to just be regulation theater. Given the fact that streaming video competition (and by proxy lower prices and more choices) will be arriving whether these cable companies like it or not, the CRTC's effort could just be a giant waste of time. A better tack for regulators would be to focus not on trying to drag legacy TV kicking and screaming into the modern era, but to focus on improving broadband competition and obstacles (usage caps) to the rise of cheaper, better, and more flexible streaming TV alternatives.
by Glyn Moody
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 1:11pm
Antigua Says It Will Certainly, Absolutely, Definitely Use WTO Permission To Ignore US Copyright And Set Up A Pirate Site, Maybe
from the don't-make-us-do-this dept
One of the longest-running, and most extraordinary, sagas on Techdirt concerns the island of Antigua. Over 13 years ago, the country filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the US ban on online gambling, which Antigua said violated a trade agreement between the two countries. Long story short, the WTO not only agreed, but said that the Caribbean country could ignore US copyrights, and set up a WTO-authorized pirate site to obtain the $21 million in WTO sanctions that the US was refusing to pay as compensation for blocking Antigua's online gambling sites. In 2013, Antigua was still saying it was definitely going to do this if it couldn't come to some agreement with the US on the matter, and the US was still refusing to settle.
Three years later, Antigua -- officially known as Antigua and Barbuda -- has just told a meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) the following:
Antigua and Barbuda now informs the DSB that, if an appropriate and beneficial settlement is not reached with the US by year-end, the government will be compelled to take action to enforce the suspension of copyright on the sale of US intellectual property, consistent with the award of the DSB.
That's from a copy of Antigua's statement (pdf), obtained by IP Watch. The spokesperson claims the country has suffered serious losses as a result of the US gambling ban:
Over that entire 12-year period, my small country with a Gross Domestic Product of just $1 billion has been deprived of trade revenues which now exceed $250 million.
The statement points out that for the US, $250 million represents just 0.0003% of its annual GDP, and that over the last 12 years, the US has enjoyed a trade surplus of $1 billion with Antigua. Moreover:
While the US continues to act in contradiction of the rulings and recommendations stipulated by DSB concerning my country, it remains the most active user of the institution's Dispute Settlement System.
As a result of the continuing US intransigence, Antigua feels it has no choice but to take the momentous step of absolutely definitely setting up that WTO-authorized piracy site -- just like the last time it said that.
by Tim Cushing
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 11:49am
More National Security Letters Made Public After Government Drops Its Attempt To Keep Its Gag Orders In Place
from the most-transparent-administration-still-all-about-forced-transparency dept
Thanks to the EFF's efforts, another set of National Security Letters have been published and their recipient freed to discuss them. CREDO Mobile received two NSLs in 2013 -- both accompanied with the usual indefinite gag order. The NSLs [PDF 1] [PDF 2] requested a wealth of data on three of CREDO's customers -- including all call records, financial information (credit cards used, etc.), and personal information (name, address, etc.) -- dating back to April 2008.
CREDO challenged the constitutionality of the indefinite gag orders as well as the constitutionality of the NSLs themselves.
“A founding principle of CREDO is to fight for progressive causes we believe in, and we believe that NSLs are unconstitutional. These letters, and the gag orders that came with them, infringed our free speech rights, blocking us from talking to our members about them or discussing our experience while lawmakers debated NSL reform,” said Ray Morris, CREDO CEO. “We were proud to fight these NSLs all these years, and now we are proud to publish the letters and take full part in the ensuing debate.”
CREDO's challenge to the gag order was upheld [PDF] by a federal judge in March, who struck it down when the FBI failed to show a need for the continued secrecy. This decision was held pending the FBI's appeal, but the government apparently decided this wasn't a battle it wanted to fight and dropped its appeal of the court's order.
The government's decision to drop the appeal highlights one of the (many) problems with NSLs. These are self-issued administrative orders subject to very little, if any, oversight. The FBI can issue as many of these as it wants without ever having to get a judge involved. Every one of these arrives with an indefinite gag order attached, forcing recipients to lawyer up if they want to challenge the government's demands for secrecy.
The government clearly felt it couldn't demonstrate why this gag order should still be in place. But the government doesn't have to justify its demands for secrecy at the point the NSL is issued. It only needs to do this if challenged in court. While some judges have expressed an interest in periodic reviews of NSLs to determine the need for ongoing secrecy, these conclusions are the exception rather than the rule.
That judges are the ones making this determination is another part of the problem. In response to the USA Freedom Act, the DOJ instituted a policy requiring a "periodic" review of issued NSLs. Unfortunately, that's all it does. There's no definition attached to "periodic," which means the review could happen every few years… or never.
The constitutionality of the orders themselves should still be actively challenged. While much of what is sought with these falls under the very generous definition of "third party records," the lack of any oversight or judicial review makes these the go-to tool for the FBI -- which has been known to issue NSLs when its warrant requests are turned down by federal courts. Throw an indefinite gag order on it, and the FBI can pretty much ensure complete compliance from recipients, whose only option is to fight an often-futile legal battle against the government.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 10:42am
from the are-you-serious? dept
The reason for the new system is that the old system was just ridiculous -- on that everyone can agree. You had to fill out a paper form, sign it, and send it in. The Copyright Office has been way behind on digitizing everything, so moving to a web based system is a good thing. Also, the old system required payment of over $100, while the new one is just $6. That's all good. The problem is twofold: first, the Copyright Office has said that it is throwing out all the old registrations, and if you want to retain your safe harbors, you need to re-register. There's a grace period through the end of next year, but plenty of sites who don't follow the Copyright Office's every move are going to miss this, and will no longer have an officially registered agent with the Copyright Office (it's possible that, should this issue go to court, a platform could reasonably argue that it still did meet the statutory requirements in the original registration, but why force site owners through that hoop in the first place). The second problem, is that this new system will toss out records every three years, so if you forget to renew, you once again can lose your legal safe harbors. This puts tons of websites at serious risk, removing key protections and opening them up to lawsuits from copyright trolls.
Either way, the Copyright Office opened the doors on the new system yesterday, and so I went ahead and re-registered Techdirt. And, let's just say, the Copyright Office has a reputation for being technically clueless, and boy, does it live up to that reputation with its new system -- though, to be fair, as the Copyright Office's General Counsel reminded me on Twitter, it's actually the Library of Congress that built the system. First off, to register a new agent, you need to first register with the Copyright Office's system. As Eric Goldman points out, the system is not designed for individuals or sole proprietorships, even though those people should be able to get DMCA safe harbor protections as well. Specifically, to register, it requires an organization name and a "second contact" name and information. I'm not sure what individuals should do, other than maybe make something up -- though, before you even get started, the system pops up a warning suggesting that you may face criminal charges under the CFAA if you do anything wrong (while it means if you try to hack the system, the wording may confuse many people not familiar with the law). Nice touch.
Oh, and then there's the password system. Like many people, I use a password manager, which also will generate strong passwords for you. I went through the process of filling out my info, and generated a strong password... and I got back an error message. It seems that the Copyright Office has taken what used to be considered best practices, and then took it to an insane extreme: new guidelines for password policies for any US government websites. And the Copyright Office ignores them, because whoever designed the new DMCA system seems to not give a shit and not be even remotely aware of good security practices these days. Here's what the new rules say:
No composition rules. What this means is, no more rules that force you to use particular characters or combinations, like those daunting conditions on some password reset pages that say, “Your password must contain one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number, four symbols but not &%#@_, and the surname of at least one astronaut.”So, yeah, nice job Copyright Office for ignoring what you're supposed to do. Second, even if those rules did make sense, by lumping together all of them, and then adding the absolutely ridiculous and bad security practice of saying "must not have any repeated letters, numbers, or special characters," you actually reduce randomness and make passwords less secure. This is just bad security.
Let people choose freely, and encourage longer phrases instead of hard-to-remember passwords or illusory complexity such as pA55w+rd.
To deal with this rule, I generated a much longer password, and then manually went through and removed any repeated letters, numbers or special characters, and made sure that all of the other rules were met. They were. I hit submit. The system rejected it, and gave me the exact same error message. I tried again. Same problem. I kept trying things for about 20 minutes until I figured out what the problem was. You see above, where it says "and special character "!@#$%^&*()""? Well, in my first attempt at a password I had two special characters: ? and >. I incorrectly assumed that when they say "special character" they mean any special character on the keyboard, and not just those limited to the ones above the number line on your keyboard. Once I realized that might be the issue, I still had a problem. And that's because my new password had " as a special character. I incorrectly assumed that was okay because it's in that list above, right? Except, no, it's not. It's just put around those symbols for no reason at all except to fool people. It would be nice if the error message actually told you that you could only use those characters and that the " wasn't included. Would have saved me a lot of time.
Once I finally finished that, the system sent me a confirmation/validation email (good), which I used to confirm my email and log into the system... only to discover that everything I had just done... was not actually registering a DMCA agent. It was just to register your account to use the Copyright Office's DMCA system. So I had to then go and fill out another form to register our DMCA agent (and I won't even get into the fact that once you've activated your account, the message telling you to "click here" to login to designate an agent makes it so that it's not at all where to actually click -- great design guys!).
Finally, once I'm all registered, and despite the fact that I'm very clearly registered in the United States, the system says I'm in Canada. Because, apparently, the genius IT staff thinks that the "CA", which everywhere else means California, means Canada in their own system. Because whatever, nothing matters.
from the good-deals-on-cool-stuff dept
Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.
by Karl Bode
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 9:38am
from the insulated-from-competitive-harm dept
As this cable monopoly grows, these cable companies have less incentive than ever to compete on price across more than half of their footprint. And with ISPs literally writing state laws preventing public/private or community broadband, no market forces exist to prevent them from expanding the application of entirely unnecessary usage caps and overage fees. Most analyses overlook this, instead focusing on the scattered rise of Google Fiber and other gigabit deployments in highly-select areas.
One Wall Street analyst this week highlighted just how cushioned a company like Comcast really is when it comes to cord cutting. MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett crunched the numbers and found that once you account for the higher costs you'll have to pay for buying broadband standalone, Comcast only really loses about $5.50 per month when a user cuts the TV cord:
"When a Comcast customer drops video, the MSO loses about $38 in contribution margin, Moffett estimates. But that customer ends up paying an extra $25 a month more for broadband when their bundling discount goes away. "Now, further suppose that half of those customers opt to upgrade to a higher speed tier at an average premium of $15 per month (implying a probability-weighted $7.50 benefit per cord-cutter)." The difference comes to $5.50.Moffett's analysis isn't perfect and Comcast's losses are likely higher. He comes to that $5.50 number by assuming the departing customer upgrades to a faster speed, which really isn't necessary just for streaming Netflix. And it's not clear he's included the revenues Comcast makes on households paying rental fees for numerous cable boxes, or the fees Comcast hides below the line (like the broadcast TV fee). Still, the point remains that Comcast is arguably shielded from cord cutting because of the high prices it charges for broadband -- only made possible by limited broadband competition.
And Moffett doesn't even touch on the fact that Comcast can further recoup any cord cutting losses via usage caps and overage fees, something Moffett and other investors have long embraced given it lets an ISP charge significantly more money for the exact same service. Nor does Moffett highlight how Comcast further benefits by counting all competitor streaming traffic against the cap, while it's own streaming video service remains cap exempt.
All told, cable providers are now adding 99% of the quarterly net additions for new broadband subcribers each quarter, at the same time that the sector is consolidating at an incredible rate. And these companies continue to have almost comical control over state legislatures, often allowing them to literally write wish-list legislation further insulating them from competitive harm. And time and time again the industry, and the policy folks it employs en masse to pollute public discourse, intentionally conflate enabling this protectionist dysfunction as the "deregulation of free markets" (often with no penalty from an unskeptical press).
So yes, if you live in a major, relatively-affluent city or upscale broadband development your broadband options may be improving, if you're lucky. But across more than half of the country, users are actually seeing less broadband competition than ever before. And with Trump listening to telecom advisors that don't believe monopolies exist and are keen on gutting net neutrality and all regulatory oversight of said non-existing monopolies, you're potentially talking about millions of consumers looking at higher prices and worse customer service than ever before.
The solution, again, is fighting for better broadband on the local level. If you want better broadband, you need to get behind the push to eliminate protectionist state laws that restrict towns and cities from making local broadband infrastructure decisions for themselves. These laws, passed in roughly 20 states, not only prohibit towns and cities from building their own networks (even in cases where nobody else will), but they often hinder the kind of public/private partnerships that are becoming necessary to shore up competitive gaps caused by the broadband market failure the industry will tell you doesn't exist.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 8:31am
Intelligence Committee Senators Call On Obama To Declassify Evidence Of Russian Election Interference
from the that-would-be-interesting dept
Either way, it's quite noteworthy that seven Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee have asked President Obama to declassify the evidence pointing to Russia and detailing what Russia actually did to attempt to interfere with the election. The Senators sent a very simple letter, which was released publicly, noting that a classified letter with a lot more details was also sent. Here's the entire text of the publicly released letter:
Dear Mr. President:Of course, it needs to be noted that this will clearly be seen as a partisan effort. Of the seven Senators who signed on to the letter, six are Democrats, and the other, Senator Angus King, is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Basically it's all of the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee except for Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid. So, it's easy for some to spin this as a case of sour grapes about the Democrats not winning the election, and that they're now clinging to stories of Russian interference to explain what happened.
We believe there is additional information concerning the Russian Government and the U.S. election that should be declassified and released to the public. We are conveying specifics through classified channels.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
But... that spin holds somewhat less weight when you look at the details. First off, the letter itself was put together by Senator Ron Wyden. And, yes, his name comes up a lot around here, but that's because he has a pretty long history of being right on lots and lots of stuff. And that's been especially true when Wyden says that there's some secret info that the public deserves to know about. He's been right on that every single time he's said it. So the track record is there. When Wyden says the public deserves to know something, pay attention.
The second thing that provides more confidence here is that this isn't just random conspiracy theories about "rigged" voting or whatever that some have been spewing. This is a specific request for more transparency by asking for specific information to be released to the public -- specific information that the Senate Intelligence Committee members have seen.
Given that, it seems worth paying attention to -- and at least asking why the President won't declassify such information? If there really is such strong evidence, why not reveal it? So far, all of the evidence pointing to Russia has been fairly weak, and it feels a bit like groupthink that everyone just insists it's true. But it's entirely possible (and perhaps now, probable) that the intelligence community has some more serious evidence. And, if that's the case, it seems worth sharing with the public even if you were happy with the outcome of the election. If Russia really did "interfere" somehow in the election, the public deserves to know the details of it.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 6:31am
from the last-chance dept
Some background: While Feinstein has been historically awful on basically anything having to do with reining in the US intelligence community, the one area that really seemed to get her attention and raise concerns was the CIA's torture regime. She assigned Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to work on a massive and detailed report on the CIA's torture program after it came out that a key official involved in the program had deliberately deleted videotape evidence about the program. The research and writing of the report went on for years and cost millions of dollars, and then resulted in another big fight over releasing a heavily redacted version of just the executive summary of the report (not to mention that the CIA also broke into the staffers' computers after it realized it had accidentally given the staffers a really damning document). The fight over releasing the paper was really, really ridiculous.
There were fights over what ridiculous things to redact, and then the White House put on a full court press against releasing the document, insisting that publicly releasing even a heavily redacted executive summary would inspire terrorist attacks. Even after an agreement was reached on the redactions, John Kerry still tried to block the release, again warning of potential attacks in response.
Eventually the heavily redacted executive summary was released, revealing what many had suspected: the CIA's torture program was a complete waste, providing nothing in terms of valuable intelligence, and also involved the CIA lying to Congress. Since then, though, there have been ongoing battles over the report. Also revealed: what a bunch of bullshit the claims were that the release of the report would inspire new attacks. It's been two years and there's no evidence the report inspired any hatred beyond what was already present.
While Feinstein made sure copies of the full report were delivered to various parts of the executive branch, insisting that the report should be read so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, most of them claim they never read it and also that there was nothing to learn from it. Then, after Senator Richard Burr took over the Senate Intelligence Committee he began to demand that the various copies of the report all be returned so they could be completely destroyed, erasing all of that evidence and reporting on the CIA's torture program. The CIA claims it "accidentally" deleted one of its own copies.
The ACLU tried to FOIA the full document but was rejected... and the courts refused to force the government to release the document.
There's every indication that a President Trump would have zero interest in releasing such a report, and probably would support the destruction of the remaining copies. And, because of that, it appears that Senator Feinstein is calling on the President to declassify the whole thing.
I think people need to see the full facts of the report. I believe they stand on their own. And I think it's very important, particularly since there is discussion or talk or allegations about - well, we're going to resume waterboarding, and, yes, we can torture people.As the report at NPR notes, during the campaign, Trump eagerly endorsed bringing back the torture program, specifically calling out waterboarding and suggesting going even further than that.
Once again, here's an opportunity for President Obama to actually do something that would make a powerful statement before handing over the White House. Not only would it help provide tremendous transparency into a shameful episode in our very recent history -- a shameful episode that is at great risk of being repeated -- it would also prevent the report from being totally destroyed. As the NPR piece notes, Senator Burr is still fighting to get back the document to destroy it. That means there's a very good chance that if President Obama doesn't get the full torture report declassified, it will disappear forever. Of course, given the White House's (ridiculous) attempts to block the release of the exec summary, combined with Obama's terrible track record in letting the intelligence community get away with all sorts of stuff, I wouldn't hold my breath.
by Tim Cushing
Fri, Dec 2nd 2016 3:27am
from the well,-I-have-lots-of-hearsay-and-conjecture... dept
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed [PDF] the dismissal of a copyright infringement suit brought against Electronic Arts by Robin Antonick, a programmer who worked on the Apple II version of the game Madden back in the mid-80s.
Antonick was locked out of royalties for other versions of the game by the software company, but alleged Electronic Arts did nothing more than copy his code when porting it to other platforms -- creating a "derivative work" that he was supposedly entitled to collect royalties on. Antonick might have had a case. But while allegations are nice…
In 2011, Antonick brought this diversity action against EA, seeking contract damages in the form of unpaid royalties for Sega Madden and Super Nintendo Madden. [...] Antonick produced evidence that Park Place was rushed and inadequately staffed, and argued that it copied his code to meet the demanding deadline for the first Sega Madden. Antonick’s expert, Michael Barr, opined that Sega Madden was substantially similar to certain elements of Apple II Madden. In particular, Barr opined that the games had similar formations, plays, play numberings, and player ratings; a similar, disproportionately wide field; a similar eight-point directional system; and similar variable names, including variables that misspelled “scrimmage.”
…evidence is better.
But neither the source code for Apple II Madden—the “Work”— nor the source code of any allegedly infringing works were introduced into evidence. Nor were images of the games at issue introduced.
Not that evidence (or a lack thereof) apparently mattered to the jury. It found that EA had created a derivative work with its Sega version of Madden, but the court found (post-verdict) that Antonick had not produced any evidence clearly pointing to copyright infringement. Without that evidence, Antonick is out of luck when it comes to his contract/royalty claims.
Antonick tried to route around this obstacle by claiming EA had both the opportunity and the motive to copy his work. On top of that, he tried to pursue this as a "look and feel" case while still relying on the supposedly-copied code as the basis for his claims. The Ninth Circuit found these arguments -- and Antonick's witness -- unpersuasive.
[T]he lay testimony was about how the games appeared, not how they were coded—and Antonick does not assert a copyright interest in Apple II Madden’s audiovisual appearance, only in its coding.
Antonick argues that copying was shown by testimony of Michael Kawahara, an Apple II Madden assistant producer. When asked whether he recognized any of the plays in Sega Madden from Apple II Madden, Kawahara answered affirmatively, stating that “[it] was – well, since the interface was – well, it was the same as we used in the Apple II. It was very easy to look at all of the plays in the Genesis version and they looked identical . . . to the original Apple II version.” This comment, however, does not establish that the source code for the two games were substantially similar. Kawahara had no programming responsibilities for Apple II Madden; did not understand the Apple II Madden code; did not see the Sega Madden code; and admitted that he had no knowledge about differences in the games’ codes.
A statement entered into evidence by the plaintiff -- introduced to back up Antonick's claim about EA's motive/opportunity to copy the source code -- only made the case weaker.
Antonick also cites a statement by Richard Hilleman, an EA representative, that it was “possible” he had told an interviewer that “the Sega game took the system’s approach from Mr. Antonick’s game and just simply put a different aesthetic on top of it.”
This is an area that often trips up those deeply reliant on IP protections but surprisingly uninformed about what those protections actually cover. The Appeals Court straightens out this popular misconception.
But, an “approach” is an idea that cannot be copyrighted—only its expression in code is protectable—and Sega Madden could have used Apple II Madden’s “approach” to football video games without violating the copyright laws.
That's the minor failure of the suit -- mistaking ideas for expression. The ultimate failure is Antonick's inability to back up his assertions with actual evidence. Infringement claims with no evidence presented pushed Antonick into resorting to "look and feel" claims, which are notoriously difficult to turn into courtroom victories.