Florida Dept. Of Corrections Sued For Screwing Inmates Out Of $11.3 Million In Digital Purchases

from the you-don't-own-what-you-overpaid-for dept

Last fall, the Florida Department of Corrections decided it needed to enrich itself at the literal expense of its inmates. It signed a new contract with new provider of jailhouse entertainment, instantly making $11.3 million in purchased digital goods worthless. You don't own what you paid for, even at inflated prison prices.

The new contract with JPay rendered the purchased content unusable. Even the players purchased by inmates aren't technically theirs and must be returned to the vendor. Not that keeping the players would help much. The licensing agreements covering the content are only valid if the previous contractor is providing the service. Since it's not, the mp3s and ebooks can't be transferred to JPay devices.

Unsurprisingly, inmates are furious. So are their families -- the ones who paid extortionate rates to give their imprisoned family members a little music to enjoy. The DOC recognized this was a problem and created a portal for the filing of complaints related to this disappearance of purchased digital goods. That portal is going to be very useful in the upcoming lawsuit against the Florida DOC for screwing inmates out of their purchases. (h/t Boing Boing)

The Florida Department of Corrections is facing a potential class action over recently forcing inmates to forfeit millions of dollars worth of mp3 and other multimedia files purchased under a since-axed media player contract.

William Demler, a 74-year-old incarcerated man at South Florida Reception Center is the lead plaintiff in the case, which was filed in the northern U.S. District Court on Tuesday with the backing of the nonprofit legal firm, the Florida Justice Institute.

The lawsuit [PDF] says the Florida DOC violated its own contracting guidelines when it decided to prioritize its profits over the inmates' purchases.

As part of this bidding process, both the FDOC’s Invitation to Negotiate Contractual Services, as well as the FDOC’s Request for Proposal for Contractual Services, explicitly stated that compatibility with the FDOC’s prior vendor was a mandatory requirement of the contract, in order to ensure that prisoners would not bear the cost of the transition between vendors:

[T]he proposed system must allow for inmates who currently have a device and/or songs purchased from the current Contractor to transfer and/or obtain updated equipment and/or music compatible with the successful contractor’s Digital Music Player Program. It is the intent of the Department that the implementation of a new Digital Player Program to have little or no financial impact on inmates presently participating in the Department’s current program.

Obviously, that's not what happened. A new contractor was picked based on prison profit margin, disregarding the standards the DOC set for itself. On top of that, the previous contractor offered up its own false assurances about the longevity of purchased digital content.

In addition to touting the qualities of the digital media players themselves, at least one widely-distributed advertisement, which appeared on the digital media player order form itself, also touted various qualities of the Digital Music Player Program, including the following representation:

Browse, search and preselect songs from updated music catalogs holding millions of song titles representing a wide array of music genres. You have the ability to purchase and listen to unlimited music utilizing the re-download feature free of charge. Once music is purchased, you’ll always own it! (emphasis supplied).

The only concession the new vendor has made is one that solves none of the problems created by the new contract. For a fee, inmates can have their mp3s transferred to a new device or CDs, but those copies can only be sent to friends or family members who can hold onto the purchased content until the inmate is released. This means every inmate wishing to access the music and books they thought they owned will have to not only repurchase the content again, but the devices and accessories needed to access them.

The suit is probably a long shot, but it does highlight the bullshit engaged in by companies selling digital media that relies on a thicket of licensing to make its way to the end user. Promising anyone that their digital purchases will be around "forever" is so out of touch with the reality of the situation it should be considered fraudulent on its face. In this case, the planned obsolescence was accelerated by the DOC's desire for a better profit margin. If there's any justice, those profits will go towards replacing the purchased goods it took away from the inmates it houses.

Filed Under: copyright, department of corrections, digital goods, florida, inmates, mp3s, music, ownership
Companies: jpay


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  1. icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 4:03pm

    Perfect

    This is a perfect example of how copyright is supposed to work. They purchased a limited use license to use their music on a single device.
    Of course they will need to re "purchase" everything.

    Just like when you "purchase" a single Microsoft OS. You have to toss it out if you get a new computer - it's right there in the terms of the license. (Seriously, it is.)

    This is the end-goal of every copyright maximalist. Limited user, perpetual fees.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2019 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Perfect

    Or you reuse the same product key on your new computer and update Microsoft with the details if they require you too(they almost always do). This is both legal and common. If you have been using your windows key only once and getting a new one each time you upgrade, you have lost out on quite a bit of money.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2019 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Re: Perfect

    You can't use the same product key on two active computers, but if you have stopped using your old computer, you are perfectly in your rights to transfer it to your new PC.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2019 @ 5:10pm

    Re: Perfect

    Never had a problem with Microsoft in that regard. Have ported it from one computer to another many times without incurring any extra fees.

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

  5. icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 5:59pm

    Re: Re: Perfect

    Although it is possible to do this, it is explicitly against the microsoft licensing to transfer it to a different CPU.

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

  6. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 7:29pm

    But but but they are "bad people" so they deserve to punished a little bit more if it means we can make a few more bucks.

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

  7. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 25 Feb 2019 @ 9:58pm

    the Department of Corrections responded that the confiscations were "necessary" because "the download of content purchased from one vendor to another vendor's device would negate the new vendor's ability to be compensated for services."

    ...Services neither rendered nor (nonfraudulently) required...

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

  8. identicon
    David, 26 Feb 2019 @ 2:02am

    Rehabilitation

    Getting screwed out of their purchases by crazed media companies that have bought themselves into a cozy relationship with the law is just preparing them for the realities of life once they are released. That way they won't be hit cold by the developments of society while they were locked away.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 4:44am

    "As part of this bidding process, both the FDOC’s Invitation to Negotiate Contractual Services, as well as the FDOC’s Request for Proposal for Contractual Services, explicitly stated that compatibility with the FDOC’s prior vendor was a mandatory requirement of the contract, in order to ensure that prisoners would not bear the cost of the transition between vendors:"

    Of course, with a proprietary system, mandating backward compatibility means the only companies that can win the contract are a) the original vendor or b) a company that licenses the old tech from the original vendor. Prisoners wouldn't lose their songs, but with vendor lock-in like that, they'd be paying $5 a song rather than $1.80 or whatever it was. This would screw over the short-timers in favor of the lifers and long-timers, where the current situation primarily screws over the lifers.

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

  10. identicon
    Avideogameplayer, 26 Feb 2019 @ 4:54am

    And they wonder why people pirate stuff.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 6:19am

    the inmates have been tried and found guilty of crimes, then sentenced to imprisonment. it shouldn't mean that they can be screwed into the ground, just because they are inmates! their money was good enough when they purchased the devices and the media but to now take away what they paid for, just because the companies concerned can do and just because they are inmates is reprehensible! regardless of why these people are in prison, WE are supposed to human beings FFS! we are supposed to be above the rest of the animals on the Planet!

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

  12. icon
    Thad (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:43am

    Re: Perfect

    Just like when you "purchase" a single Microsoft OS. You have to toss it out if you get a new computer - it's right there in the terms of the license. (Seriously, it is.)

    Actually, that depends. If Windows came preinstalled on your computer (or if you bought an OEM license), then that license is only for that single computer; you can transfer the license to somebody else with the computer, but you can't transfer it to another computer. The license for the full retail version, on the other hand, does allow transfer to another computer.

    From the license (see Section 4: Transfer):

    a. Software preinstalled on device. If you acquired the software preinstalled on a device (and also if you upgraded from software preinstalled on a device), you may transfer the license to use the software directly to another user, only with the licensed device. The transfer must include the software and, if provided with the device, an authentic Windows label including the product key. Before any permitted transfer, the other party must agree that this agreement applies to the transfer and use of the software.

    b. Stand-alone software. If you acquired the software as stand-alone software (and also if you upgraded from software you acquired as stand-alone software), you may transfer the software to another device that belongs to you. You may also transfer the software to a device owned by someone else if (i) you are the first licensed user of the software and (ii) the new user agrees to the terms of this agreement. You may use the backup copy we allow you to make or the media that the software came on to transfer the software. Every time you transfer the software to a new device, you must remove the software from the prior device. You may not transfer the software to share licenses between devices.

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 8:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Perfect

    I don't think you are "within your rights" to do that. I think it's within Microsoft's right to gift that to you and that's a very significant distinction. It'd be interesting to hear what more informed parties have to say on the matter...

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

  14. identicon
    David, 26 Feb 2019 @ 11:11am

    It's not a matter of being "human beings"

    Inmates are supposed to reform and to respect the rules and laws of society. Shenanigans like that are setting a lousy example where examples are most needed. You don't get to respect laws and rules when you get to see the worst laws and rules there are.

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

  15. icon
    Thad (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 11:50am

    Re: It's not a matter of being "human beings"

    I'd say there's a pretty significant overlap between "prisoners should be rehabilitated, not just punished" and "prisoners should be treated like human beings."

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

  16. identicon
    David, 26 Feb 2019 @ 4:41pm

    Re: Re: It's not a matter of being "human beings"

    The focus of one is bettering the people behind bars, and the other is bettering the people before bars. The former is the principal goal of gaol.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 5:39pm

    Re:

    I, personally, think it would be better served to mandate FORWARDS comparability, forcing them to use open source file types.

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

  18. identicon
    Nostrildamus, 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:30pm

    Profit margin

    "A new contractor was picked based on prison profit margin"

    Are you sure they didn't just bribe whoever chose them?

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

  19. identicon
    anonymous coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:36pm

    Meh, first they came for the idiots who can't tell the difference between OEM and Retail licensing, then they came for the prisoners who were dumb enough to believe the DoC, then they came for the Government Bureaucrat who awarded a contract to a vendor that wasn't capable of complying with the terms of the proposal. (to give him a promotion), Then they came for the vendor that didn't comply with the terms and gave them more money. Finally, they came for me, but I was already broke, from paying AT&T for my internet access.

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

  20. icon
    Bergman (profile), 27 Feb 2019 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Perfect

    You think Microsoft is going to encourage people to switch to Linux when they could keep a customer instead?

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

  21. icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 27 Feb 2019 @ 7:00am

    Re: It's not a matter of being "human beings"

    Inmates are supposed to reform and to respect the rules and laws of society

    In Florida, that applies only in Juvenile. Adult prison is purely retributative; officially, there is no goal of rehabilitation.

    I cannot say that this is a wise public policy decision. It does seem to work out well for legislators ``keeping us safe'' and prison unions and prison contractor/campaign contributors.

    This particular problem, switching to J-Pay, was a Governor Scott [now sen. Scott]. In effect, it is stealing. But then, remember, his campaigns have been largely funded by the portions of the Medicare fraqud proceeds which he did not return. I think the deal was that he gave back half the money, and he did not go to prison.

    That works out well: he is not at risk of suffering the fate of the other prisioners, having his stuff stolen to benefit the campaign.

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

  22. identicon
    Smalls, 1 Mar 2019 @ 1:46pm

    yeah..

    Corporate digital theft is pretty much why I stopped buying ebooks from Barnes and Noble. They had a PC book reader that downloaded your book onto your PC. That is disabled now so you buy a book but you can only stream it.. so you're leasing a book you paid for.
    Only buy Amazon digital downloads now.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 8:05pm

    Re:

    These are prison purchases, that means they'll pay $5 each even if they expire in a month.

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

  24. identicon
    jsb, 9 Apr 2019 @ 10:20am

    Screwing The Inmates~

    About your story screwing the inmates...…How about the parents of the inmates who pay for everything!!!!!!

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


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