New Judicial Hero: Philip Gutierrez Goes Ballistic On Ridiculous Gov't Prosecutors During Xbox Modding Trial

from the good-for-him dept

Wow. I don't think anyone expected the trial of Matthew Crippen for modding Xboxes to kick off the way it did: with a half an hour rant from the judge complaining about nearly everything having to do with the government's case. The judge, Philip Gutierrez, even stepped back from his ruling last week that fair use couldn't be used as a defense. The judge slammed prosecutors for putting two witnesses on the stand who had apparently broken the law -- including one, a security employee from Microsoft, who had admitted to modding Xboxes himself in college -- while trying to hide that fact from the jury. But the most important point may be Gutierrez highlighting how the government seemed to be going against its own claims about the DMCA concerning the willfulness of breaking the anti-circumvention clauses:
The fair-use issue came up as the judge berated prosecutor Allen Chiu's proposed jury instructions, which included the assertion that the government need not prove that Crippen "willfully" breached the law, in what is known as "mens rea" in legal parlance. The judge noted that the government's own intellectual property crimes manual concerning the 1998 DMCA says the defendant has to have some knowledge that he was breaking the law.

"The first prosecution 12 years later, and you're suggesting a mens rea that is akin to exactly contrary to the IP manual: that ignorance of the law is no excuse?" the judge barked.

"You didn't even propose a middle ground," Gutierrez continued. "What's getting me more riled, it seems to me I cannot communicate the severity to you of what's going on here."
After the verbal drubbing was over, apparently stunned federal prosecutors asked the judge if they could recess to think about possibly dropping the case, or maybe offering Crippen a plea deal of some sort. All too often we see judges simply fall over themselves to agree with the government's position on intellectual property cases. It's nice to see some judges pushing back on some rather important points. Update: Apparently, despite all of this, the government is moving forward with its case, believing it will still prevail.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    The eejit (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 8:13am

    What staggers me is that they had an expert witness who did exactly the same thing as the defendant in this case testifying for the prosecution.

    How is that not completely hypocritical?

     

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  2.  
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    Pickle Monger (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 8:35am

    Re:

    Ever heard of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    ofb2632 (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 8:49am

    Re:

    Not only that, the witness now works at Microsoft!!!

     

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  4.  
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    Scote, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 8:50am

    I wouldn't call the judge a hero. All these issues were brought up in pre-trial motions by the defense and ignored by the judge.

     

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  5.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 8:50am

    I has a happy.

    This made my day. :)

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    Yes but now it is in a court transcript. Meaning if this case ends up being overturned, for fair use, it can be used as a precedent in other cases.

     

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  7.  
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    Hulser (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 9:44am

    Re:

    How is that not completely hypocritical?

    I don't see how this is hypocritical. Unless the witness just recently graduated college, then modding Xboxes is something he used to do, not something he is currently doing. In this particular case, the witness probably didn't realize he was doing something wrong; he probably just got a job and started spending his time doing other stuff. But regardless of why he stopped, he did stop.

    Besides, since when is not being a hypocrite a criterion for being a witness? Whether the witness should also be charged with breaking the law for modding Xboxes is irrelevent to the question of whether the defendent broke the law by modding Xboxes. It may not look good, but who else are you going to get as an expert witness on modding Xboxes other than someone who's actually done it?

     

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  8.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 9:46am

    Re: I has a happy.

    It's sad, really, that one tiny ray of sanity in an ocean of ignorance can brighten my day.

    PS- I like to mix metaphors, so what? :)

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 9:49am

    Re: Re:

    What's hypocritical is that they're advocating jail time and criminal charges, while using a witness who did the EXACT SAME THING and was completely unpunished.

     

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  10.  
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    Howard the Duck (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 9:55am

    High hopes

    One can only hope that this snowball rolls.

     

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  11.  
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    interval (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Plus the prosecutor is prosecuting a defendant who now works for the complainant (or "victim" since this seems to be a criminal case)? Oh, and way to be a tool for the corporation, Government.

     

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  12.  
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    Hulser (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:00am

    Re: Re: Re:

    What's hypocritical is that they're advocating jail time and criminal charges, while using a witness who did the EXACT SAME THING and was completely unpunished.

    How do you know they didn't charge the witness? How do you know that his testifying isn't part of a plea bargain as a result of said charges? How do you know they won't charge him after they prove modding is illegal?

    OK, maybe based on the literal definition of hypocracy, the prosecution is being hypocritical, but then so is any other case of a criminal getting a deal for testifying for the prosecution. Again, if you're trying to prove something is illegal, especially something as technical (to most people) as modding, then you need someone to explain it who has some credibility. I personally don't think that modding an Xbox is or should be illegal, but using this witness seems like a reasonable tactic given the prosecution's goals.

     

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  13.  
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    Eugene (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:06am

    There is a notable subset of Judges who consider fairness absolutely sacred, and any breach of fairness to be akin to trying to kill their child.

    It's always fun seeing them go on the attack, they have the best rants :D

     

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  14.  
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    DogBreath, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:07am

    It's about time...

    the pendulum starts swinging in the other direction.

    One can always hope this judge dismissed the pretrial defense motions and thereby allow the trial to begin, so he could squash those who for too long have shown their true colors: by thinking and acting as if they are above the law.

    Copyright law certainly has its place in our world, but when those in power unilaterally expand and abuse those rules, they should expect no quarter drawn or given. I feel this judge will be showing the prosecution just how foolish it is to spit into the oncoming wind.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Tom The Toe, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:12am

    Fair Use Aspect

    I think the best part is the judge is most likely to let fair use back in. “The only way to be able to play copied games is to circumvent the technology,” Gutierrez said. “How about backup games and the homebrewed?”

     

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  16.  
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    Jay (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:14am

    The best part about this.

    The prosecutors can't say a word.
    But I have one for them...


    Owned.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:16am

    The case is proceeding

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:19am

    Re: It's about time...

    they should expect no quarter drawn or given
    Quite. On the contrary, they should expect to be drawn and quartered.

     

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  19.  
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    Jaqenn, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:21am

    "The first prosecution 12 years later, and you're suggesting a mens rea that is akin to exactly contrary to the IP manual: that ignorance of the law is no excuse?" the judge barked.

    I am completely unable to parse this sentence. What was 12 years ago? What is the IP manual? Which particular law?

    Can someone please chew and recite this quote to me as though I was a stupid baby?

     

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  20.  
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    One fishie, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:23am

    Re: Re: I has a happy.

    May not be a mixed metaphor if you're a fish -- are you a fish?

     

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  21.  
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    One fishie, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:33am

    Re:

    Might make more sense if put in context... The judge noted that the government’s own intellectual property crimes manual concerning the 1998 DMCA says the defendant has to have some knowledge that he was breaking the law. “The first prosecution 12 years later, and you’re suggesting a mens rea that is akin to exactly contrary to the IP manual: that ignorance of the law is no excuse?” the judge barked. More on the DMCA here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act

     

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  22.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:34am

    Re:

    he is slamming them for saying ignorance of the law is no excuse when in this case it actually is, and for the fact that they have had 12 years to figure out exactly what the law says and the first time they bring a trial in this area, they are either unaware of what the law actually says or they are willfully ignoring what the law says in order to strengthen their case.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:36am

    Re:

    "What was 12 years ago?

    From TFA - "The judge noted that the government's own intellectual property crimes manual concerning the 1998 DMCA[...] "

    2010 - 1998 = 12 (assuming a decimal base, of course)

     

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  24.  
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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 10:53am

    Video

    I would pay dearly to actually have SEEN that proceeding! IMMD.

     

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  25.  
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    average_joe (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 11:02am

    Re: The case is proceeding

    Prosecutors have decided to continue without any deal:

    No surprise there. I don't know why everyone got their hopes up. This "hero" judge will probably be signing off on this guy's guilty verdict in the very near future.

    I don't really follow how the debate over which mens rea the prosecution needs to prove has anything to do with fair use. It doesn't. The issue was whether or not the statute required the defendant know he was breaking the law. That's got nothing to do with fair use.

    Besides, as the judge made perfectly clear is his recent ruling, not to mention as Congress made perfectly clear when enacting the DCMA, there is no fair use defense available in this case. I'm not saying I agree with that, but that's what the law says.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 11:09am

    Re: Re: It's about time...

    I'd say. The judges words to them were the courtroom equivalent of an old fashioned keelhauling.

     

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  27.  
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    SkullCowboy (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 11:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The problem here isn't so much that their witness used to mod xboxes. The problem is with the prosecution wanting to keep that tidbit secret from the jury.

     

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  28.  
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    Christopher (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 11:38am

    Re: Fair Use Aspect

    Sounds like the judge finally did some 'internet exploration' and realized that the only way to do some fair use things (playing backup games, etc.) is to 'break' the DRM on these machines.

    The DMCA was A BAD PIECE OF LAW! It should have never been passed in the first place, at least not with the anti-circumvention clauses.

    We should be LEGALLY ABLE to break DRM on ANYTHING if it keeps us from doing Fair Use things, like playing backups!

    If these companies don't like us doing that... MOVE TO A NON-VOLATILE/DAMAGEABLE FORMAT! Meaning.... SSD drives or USB Flash drives.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "How do you know they didn't charge the witness? How do you know that his testifying isn't part of a plea bargain as a result of said charges? How do you know they won't charge him after they prove modding is illegal?"

    Maybe it's the fact that the government tried to cover the whole thing up?

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And government in this case being the prosecutors.

     

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  31.  
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    The eejit (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 1:24pm

    Re: Re: The case is proceeding

    No it doesn't: it is inconsistent with other recent rulings. Also, thew fact that their expert witness has done exactly the same thing, and seems to have not been charged with any criminal activity.

    He also modded Xboxes. But that must clearly have been fair use.

     

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  32.  
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    technomage (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    Apparently the new update is the case has been dropped

     

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  33.  
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    average_joe (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Apparently the new update is the case has been dropped

    Good for him. I guess they realized they couldn't prove the higher mens rea and threw in the towel.

     

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  34.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: The case is proceeding

    No surprise there. I don't know why everyone got their hopes up. This "hero" judge will probably be signing off on this guy's guilty verdict in the very near future.

    Want to bet?

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Joshy, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Quoted from the above mentioned Wired article.......

    The prosecution’s decision to continue would come back to haunt them as the government’s first witness ultimately unraveled their case.

    Witness No. 1, Tony Rosario, was an undercover agent with the Entertainment Software Association who told jurors Wednesday that he paid Crippen $60 in 2008 to modify an Xbox, and secretly videotaped the operation. Rosario had responded to Crippen’s advertisement on the internet, and met Crippen at his Anaheim house.

    All of that had been laid out in pre-trial motions. But during his testimony, Rosario also said Crippen inserted a pirated video game into the console to verify that the hack worked. That was a new detail that helped the government meet an obligation imposed by the judge that very morning, when Gutierrez ruled that the government had to prove Crippen knew he was breaking the law by modding Xboxes.

    But nowhere in Rosario’s reports or sworn declarations was it mentioned that Crippen put a pirated game into the console. Shortly before Rosario’s testimony during opening statements, defense attorney Koren Bell told jurors that there would be no evidence of that kind.

    Defense attorney Callie Steele objected to the new testimony. And as court was to get underway here early Thursday, prosecutor Chiu told the judge that he first learned of Rosario’s newfound recollection days before trial. Chiu conceded he never forwarded that information to the defense.

    “That fact was disclosed on Sunday,” Chiu told the judge. “We should have disclosed that to the defense right away.”

    In light of that omission and “based on fairness and justice,” Chiu moved to dismiss the case, conceding that the government had made errors in its prosecution.

     

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  36.  
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    average_joe (profile), Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: The case is proceeding

    Want to bet?

    You should have asked me earlier. I would have taken you up on it. Kind of silly the prosecutor didn't know what level of mens rea they needed to prove. I guess that sort of thing happens with a seldom used statute. They won't make that mistake again I should think.

     

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  37.  
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    dav_due, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 5:04pm

    case dropped, he's a free man

     

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  38.  
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    Aerilus, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 5:29pm

    Re: Re:

    I think you just highlighted one of the major reasons why copyright is bad. it is holding back advancement how can someone gain knowledge about something an improve it if they can't reverse engineer it or experiment with it.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2010 @ 7:58pm

    Re:

    'dropped" as in "case dismissed"... or "dropped" as in "case dismissed with prejudice".

    There is a big difference - the first they can re-try him any time before applicible statues of limitation expire. (or so I understand - IANAL or even American)

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Jose_X, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Judges, like all humans, especially in areas where you have not thought many details through or even know the most relevant details, can be influenced. This is normal and there is a trust relationship here. The last thing a person who takes such a role seriously (where lives and laws are made or broken) is to smell duplicity from some of your working colleges. It (at least momentarily) brings into question everything they have been arguing over time and which you have tended to view with an open mind.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Jose_X, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Tinkering is human nature and a way to promote the progress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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