by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 7:58pm
by Michael Ho
Thu, May 16th 2013 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Sebastian Thrun is optimistic about creating an online class that will confer a master's degree in computer science. All the class material will be online for free, but the actual degree will cost a few thousand bucks still (via Georgia Tech). [url]
- The traditional education system might be in for some disruption as more online education startups attract students and pull tuition dollars away from bricks and mortar institutions. If professors don't like their student reviews now, it's going to get a bit worse when online classes are rated instantly by students.... [url]
- Professor Sugata Mitra has demonstrated that kids don't necessarily need a teacher -- if you just set up an internet-connected computer in the middle of a village in India, you'll be surprised by what the kids learn all by themselves. And now, Mitra has $1 million from a TED prize to further his research into self-organized learning. [url]
- Don't have time to attend a class? You might not need to with the University of Wisconsin's upcoming program to grant bachelor degrees based on existing experience. You still have to take some tests and demonstrate your skills, but the school of hard knocks might be good enough in some cases? [url]
Thu, May 16th 2013 4:01pm
from the the-thetans-did-it dept
The universe has a sense of humor. I'm convinced of it. See, as someone who believes that humor is a wonderful way to deal with otherwise disheartening topics, I'm amazed at how often the world around me will give me something to laugh at when I'm feeling blue. Take the world's current climate on the topic of religion, for instance. It'd be very easy to get down in the dumps over the Westboro Baptist Church, religious fundamentalists engaging in acts of terror, and the never-ending saga known as the Middle East "peace" process. None of those things are laughing matters. But then, reading the forlorn expression on my face, the universe sends me another story from the Church of Scientology.
The Tom-Cruise-iest religion on the planet took a break from their attempt to destroy free speech to celebrate the grand-mega opening of their new ironically named Ideal Organization in Portland by producing the worst photoshopped picture this side of the Iranian military.
The crowd was around 450-750 people. But the church claims it was more like 2,500, and it Photoshopped in the proof. Except the proof is about as convincing as your thetan's origin story. In reality, there were no people in the right-hand side of the photo. There was actually a line of rented trees set up to block the view of people not so friendly to Scientology (see the photo below), as well as police blocking off a four-block radius for the event. And it's not just that the picture was doctored, it's that it was done quite poorly. They added people right on top of the trees in the altered section.Tony Ortega has the two photos that demonstrate this. First was the "official" photo from the Church which is clearly photoshopped.
So a word of friendly advice to my Scientologist friends: brainwashed graphic designers are a better asset than brainwashed Tom Cruises. For ever and ever. Amen.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 3:01pm
from the should-be-a-no-brainer dept
To promote access to justice, equal protection, innovation in the legal marketplace, and to codify long-standing public policy, the Copyright Act of the United States, 17 U.S.C., should be amended as follows:Such a basic concept, I'm wondering if there's anyone who will present a counter argument for why this shouldn't be done today.“Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.”This language comes directly from Section 206.01, Compendium of Office Practices II, U.S. Copyright Office (1984). It reflects clear and established Supreme Court precedent on the matter in cases such as Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888). The law belongs to the people, who should be free to read, know, and speak the laws by which they choose to govern themselves.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 1:54pm
from the good-ruling dept
Forty five years ago Judge Lumbard of the United States Court of Appeals for this circuit called a case a "Frankenstein monster posing as a class action." ... The description fits the class aspects of this case.It then goes on to point out that YouTube is just the platform, and just because infringing content is uploaded to YouTube, it doesn't automatically make YouTube liable. It notes that "YouTube does not generate infringing material." And, given that, the situations of various potential class members is quite different. Then there's a strong point related to all of this: because there are all sorts of different issues related to copyright, "copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment." Specifically, there would need to be specific evidence relating to each individual infringement, and that makes it silly to do this as a class action.
The putative class consists every person and entity in the world who own infringed copyrighted works, who have or will register them with U.S. Copyright Office as required, whose works fall into either two categories: they were subject of infringement which was blocked by YouTube after notice, but suffered additional infringement through subsequent uploads (the "repeat infringement class"), or are musical compositions which defendants tracked, monetized or identified and allowed to be used without proper authorization (the "music publisher class"). Plaintiffs assert that there are "at least thousands of class members" the Repeat Infringement Class, and "hundreds" in the Music Publisher Class...
Here to make resolutions which advance the litigation will require the court to determine, for each copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, whether a copyright holder gave notices containing sufficient information to permit the service provider to identify and locate the infringing material so that it could be taken down. That requires individualized evidence. Further, the analysis required to determine "fair use," and other defenses, is necessarily specific to the individual case.The court points out that the benefit of a class action is that there's "an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in one stroke" but that's clearly not true with mass copyright claims. Given all that, the class certification (for both classes) was denied.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 12:52pm
from the you-need-permission-to-innovate-on-our-network dept
All AT&T Mobility customers can use any video chat app over cellular that is not pre-loaded on their device, but which they download from the Internet. For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we offer all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share, Tiered and soon Unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices. It's up to each OS and device makers to enable their systems to allow pre-loaded video chat apps to work over cellular for our customers on those plans.The whole focus on "pre-loaded" apps was how AT&T tried to tap dance around net neutrality questions last year with FaceTime. And it's completely made up and bogus.
Basically, they're saying if you want to do video, you have to ask permission. That's a broken system. It goes against what makes the internet good and useful: the fact that you can innovate without permission. A mobile carrier -- one who may see video chat apps as competition, for example -- being able to act as a gatekeeper to block the usefulness of such apps is a dangerous situation for those who believe in promoting innovation. We shouldn't stand for an internet where one company gets to pick what you're allowed to do.
And, just to cut this off before anyone brings up a really silly argument to defend AT&T: yes, bandwidth on mobile broadband networks is somewhat more limited (though not as limited as they would have you believe). But, these networks, for the most part, have all done away with unlimited accounts anyway. So if people use up all their broadband quota on video calls, that should be their own decision. AT&T has already made pricing decisions that limit bandwidth to consumers, so further limiting their choice in apps makes no sense on top of that.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, May 16th 2013 11:56am
from the a-step-in-the-right-direction dept
That this is the most common assumption shows how far the trustworthiness of law enforcement has fallen. This precipitous drop in trust is almost inversely proportionate to the increase in recordings captured by members of the public. Law enforcement has long been in control of the cameras and this power shift has resulted in some very ugly behavior. The expected mode is cover up and obfuscate, abusing the power that comes with the position.
The unsurprising part of the David Silva beating is this: when one of the phones confiscated by law enforcement (one without a warrant, the other after an illegal nine-hour detention) was inspected at the Sheriff's office, Sheriff Youngblood discovered the footage had been deleted.
The surprising part is that Youngblood decided to call in the FBI to head up a parallel investigation into the death of David Silva. Even better, he had the phones flown out to the FBI's Sacramento office for analysis. This is a rather unprecedented move. The general response from local law enforcement to situations like these is to close ranks and make vague promises and statements about "justice" and "truth." Instead, Youngblood opted to turn the investigation over to a more neutral party (and one with better tech tools).
The fact that this story has attracted national interest probably pushed Youngblood to consider other options. There's little chance the Sheriff's department would be able to control the narrative (or contain the fallout) at this point and with potentially damning footage being deleted by a law enforcement officer, there's no chance for redemption without making the investigation more neutral.
This isn't to say the FBI isn't capable of covering up misbehavior, but in this instance, it really doesn't have much of a stake in the outcome. If the footage shows what eyewitnesses have described, there shouldn't be too much of a question as to where the guilt lies.
The deputies named by the department have been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, and Sheriff Youngblood has stated that these officers have been receiving death threats and negative email. This, too, is an expected outcome. The court of public opinion creates a lot of judge/jury hybrids. Naming the officers involved is a small but significant step towards a transparent investigation. Hopefully, the FBI's involvement will continue in this fashion, rather than take a turn towards the opaque.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 10:52am
from the putting-lives-in-danger dept
But, of course, various governments hate that idea, because it would decrease the massive revenue from red light camera fines. That's why over and over and over again, we see that various governments are caught redhanded lowering the time for yellow lights. Make no mistake about it: this increases the danger, and puts many more people at risk. Stupidly, it probably also could end up costing the city more in terms of having to respond to more accidents and deal with more injuries. But, boy, I'm sure it pumps up the revenue on red light camera violations.
The latest example of this comes via Darby Keene, who points out that the Florida Department of Transportation quietly tweaked its own standards for yellow light intervals in 2011, allowing them to be shorter without breaking the law (after many cities have been caught violating official standards). And, of course, various cities quickly did lower the interval timing. Yes, revenue at the expense of public safety. Research has shown that reducing the time of a yellow light by a mere half a second can double the number of red light camera citations -- and in some cases, the changes to FDOT's regulations meant cities reduced the length of a yellow light by an entire second. Smell that? It's the smell of revenue for cities, intermingled with wrecked cars and destroyed lives!
Even worse: while FDOT is claiming that it changed its regulations to clean up some wording, and not because of potential revenue, the report from WTSP, also found emails from FDOT engineers telling local government officials to lower their yellow light intervals to the absolute minimums allowed. That is, they weren't even saying it was just an option, they were being told to decrease the timing to make the intersection less safe, but more profitable.
And, while FDOT defended the whole thing claiming that they changed the policies to "match federal guidelines," the report explains that federal guidelines actually recommend longer yellow light times, just as we discussed above.
Don't you feel safer now?
A USDOT/Federal Highway Administration (FHA) report said cities should not use speed limit in the yellow interval equation because it results "in more red light violations and higher crash rates." And if drivers' average speeds cannot be calculated, it's recommended engineers use the "speed limit plus 10 mph" variable to producing more conservative, and safer, yellow intervals.
Another report stresses the importance of using 85th percentile speed to calculate yellow intervals, while slide 28 on this report indicates when yellow light times are lengthened, severe crashes drop.
USDOT also recommends an extra half-second of yellow time at intersections with lots of trucks or elderly drivers to allow them to react safely. And despite the fact that Greater Tampa Bay is home to five of the nation's 12 oldest counties (by median age), it's also home to some of the shortest yellow lights.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 9:45am
Appeal Over Former RIAA Lobbyist Judge Allowing Prenda To Get Info On Over 1,000 John Does Moves Forward
from the doesn't-that-look-silly-now dept
What you may not remember is that the key case in which Howell did this happens to be a case involving... you guessed it... AF Holdings and its "law firm" Prenda Law. Oh, and the "copyright assignment" that AF Holdings is using for this case was one of those supposedly signed by... Alan Cooper. While Judge Howell may be well served to pay attention to Judge Otis Wright in California and his actual investigation into Prenda/AF Holdings/Alan Cooper, the case is out of her hands for now, as the various ISPs who have the info in this particular case have appealed Howell's ruling and the EFF, ACLU, Public Citizen and Public Knowledge have stepped in as well with additional arguments in an amicus brief.
Both briefs are well worth reading, though you might be surprised that the amicus brief is probably the more reserved of the two. The ISPs who took part include: Bright House, Cox, Verizon, AT&T and Comcast -- with most of them (Verizon and Comcast being the exceptions) not even providing service in the jurisdiction of the district court: Washington DC. Comcast joining in is interesting, given that they own NBC, but we'll leave that aside for now. To put it mildly, the ISPs think the appeals court should put an end to these kinds of cases, noting that a majority of other courts have refused to allow joinder on so many defendants, and have blocked the discovery process. It points out, of course, that these cases are almost never taken to court, but are usually just used to reveal names and then offer settlement demands. Specifically, they feel that Howell made a pretty big legal mistake, in that a showing of "good cause" is required for discovery, and Howell ignored that.
The district court’s conclusion that rules governing personal jurisdiction and venue provide no impediment to pre-Rule 26 discovery of the ISPs is legal error. A showing of “good cause,” which is required for discovery ostensibly intended to identify defendants, requires an evaluation of whether the information sought from the ISPs would be used to name and serve defendants in the forum. See, e.g., Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 352-53 & n.17 (1978) (where “the purpose of a discovery request is to gather information for use in proceedings other than the pending suit, discovery properly is denied”). The Copyright Act and the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute limit the court’s reach to defendants who reside in the district. And the uncontroverted evidence before the district court showed that few, if any, of the targeted Internet subscribers reside in the District of Columbia—as publicly available geolocation software used by Plaintiff’s counsel in other cases confirms. The district court’s decision to defer any consideration of personal jurisdiction or venue until after the subscribers’ personal information had been disclosed to Plaintiff requires reversal.The ISPs also, quite reasonably, point out that if mass joinder and discovery is allowed in this case, the trolls will descend on the DC Circuit courts in a mass forum shopping situation:
The court’s decision to permit discovery of the ISPs before deciding whether the 1,000-plus “Does” are misjoined provides an additional basis for reversal. Plaintiff, by routinely declining to name and serve defendants after obtaining the subscribers’ personal information, virtually ensures that Rule 20’s requirements for joinder will go unaddressed if not evaluated at the outset. And as a growing majority of courts have concluded, deferring a ruling on joinder deprives the courts of filing fees and encourages a proliferation of improperly coercive lawsuits. Given the groundswell of published opinions that disagree with the lower court and have severed or dismissed non-resident “Does” or all Does except for “Doe No. 1,” deferring a ruling on joinder in a suit that seeks nationwide subscriber information also encourages forum shopping—as the record here shows persuasively.
The record reflects that Plaintiff’s counsel’s cases have migrated across the country, with the venues selected, not by the locus of the parties or situs of harm, but based on counsel’s perceptions of which forum is most likely to authorize the greatest discovery, at the lowest cost, with the least judicial oversight.The ISPs also go through, in detail, the accusations against Team Prenda, and the claims of Alan Cooper. As it notes:
The specter of intra-district, judge-specific shopping in Plaintiff’s counsel’s cases further underscores the problem with the lower court’s approach. The ISPs raised below Plaintiff’s counsel’s practice of filing complaints and dismissing them vel non based on the judicial assignment—only to re-file in another court. When presented with the same facts, Judge Wilkins quoted with approval Judge Huvelle’s finding: “Plaintiff’s actions a[re] akin to ‘judge shopping.’… This Court could not agree more.” ...
The ISPs respectfully submit that the district courts in this Circuit should not be the destination for 1,000-plus Doe cases that are brought primarily to compile mailing lists—not to adjudicate actual cases or controversies.
AF Holdings and its counsel owe a duty of candor to the Court, and a duty of fairness to appellants.... The serious issues concerning attorney misconduct and potentially forged documents were not identified for the court below; they necessarily affect the “good cause” analysis and provide an alternative basis for reversal to address the evidence now being considered in the pending disciplinary proceedings in the Central District of California.The EFF/ACLU/PK/PC filing is more focused on the specific errors in Howell's ruling, concerning the "good faith" standard for discovery and the mass joinder of over 1,000 people. They also point out the jurisdiction problems of the defendants who are clearly outside the jurisdiction of a DC court -- and the fact that these cases rarely end up in actual lawsuits means that the question of proper venue will not be "cured" later. Finally, the brief argues that Howell ignored key First Amendment issues concerning revealing anonymous internet users, and the higher standard for them to be revealed. This argument wasn't made by the ISPs, so we'll focus on that one here. It points to the key Dendrite standard we've discussed many times before concerning the revealing of anonymous users. This does not mean that you cannot identify those accused of copyright infringement, but rather that you can't go on a random fishing expedition to get names, as many copyright trolls have done.
Specifically, in a series of cases beginning with Dendrite Int’l, Inc. v. Doe No. 3, 775 A.2d 756, 760-61, 342 N.J. Super. 134 (App. Div. 2001), courts have adopted a balancing standard to assess requests for early discovery to identify anonymous online speakers that protects the right to speak anonymously while at the same time ensuring that plaintiffs who have valid claims are able to pursue them. Without such a standard, abusive plaintiffs could too easily use extrajudicial means against defendants from whom they could not, in the end, obtain judicial redress. See Levy, Litigating Civil Subpoenas to Identify Anonymous Internet Speakers, 37 Litigation No. 3 (Spring 2011).It will be interesting not only to see how the appeals court deals with it... but also Prenda's argument, since they seem to be getting more and more wacky lately.
The use of BitTorrent to select and share movies is expressive and, therefore, protected by the First Amendment. Call of the Wild Movie, 770 F. Supp. 2d at 350 (“[F]ile-sharers are engaged in expressive activity, on some level, when they share files on BitTorrent, and their First Amendment rights must be considered before the Court allows the plaintiffs to override the putative defendants’ anonymity.”).
Although the expressive aspect of the conduct alleged here – the posting of copyrighted movies to BitTorrent – is somewhat minimal, that does not mean that discovery to identify the anonymous user without adequate initial evidence that individual Doe Defendants committed the alleged infringement. The weakness of AF Holdings’ assertions of personal jurisdiction and proper joinder means that First Amendment concerns weigh more strongly here in favor of quashing the subpoenas. Certainly it was not appropriate for the district court to ignore the question altogether.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 8:44am
from the oh-come-on dept
There was one other odd tidbit that might be worth discussing around here as well. Suddenly, in the middle of all the questions about the Associated Press, Rep. Mel Watt -- who, during the SOPA markup famously declared that he didn't understand the technology, or why tech people were concerned, but also that he didn't care and wanted to pass SOPA without bothering to understand -- started asking questions about copyright and "enforcement." Yes, Mel Watt is the ranking member on the IP subcommittee (scary enough in its own right), but it seemed completely off topic.
Most of the coverage on Watt's questioning has focused on the fact that he did most of his questioning with his two-year-old grandson on his lap, who interrupts the questioning at one point. But the questions were ridiculous, as were the answers, and deserve some scrutiny. First, despite it being soundly rejected when SOPA went down in flames, Watt asks Holder if Congress should make online streaming of infringing material a felony, rather than the misdemeanor that it currently is. There are all sorts of problems with this idea, as we've discussed in the past, but Holder embraced the idea wholeheartedly, saying that the Justice Department would love to have "another tool," ignoring just how widely the DOJ has abused existing tools to shut down legitimate companies and websites.
And then Watt directly asks about a connection to terrorism:
Watt: Are there increasing indications of links between this problem and terrorism? Have you found any of those links and would you describe them for the committee?Watt then asks about things that Congress can do to help, and Holder says he's "particularly concerned" about this problem, and he asks for "enhanced penalties" for "intellectual property theft."
Holder: Yes, that's a very good question. It's something that's very worrisome. As we saw organized crime get into a variety of other businesses in order to support their efforts, we're now seeing terrorist groups getting into the theft of intellectual property. Again, to generate money to support what they're trying to do for their terrorist means. So we have to broaden our enforcement efforts, broaden the investigative efforts that we take, to examine what are the precise reasons why people are engaging in this kind of intellectual property thievery. And to consider whether or not there's a terrorist connection to it. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but one we have to be aware of.
Arguing that piracy is integral to such networks [organized crime and terrorism] means ignoring the dramatic changes in the technology and organizational structure of the pirate market over the past decade. By necessity, evidentiary standards become very loose. Decades-old stories are recycled as proof of contemporary terrorist connections, anecdotes stand in as evidence of wider systemic linkages, and the threshold for what counts as organized crime is set very low. The RAND study, which reprises and builds on earlier IFPI and Interpol reporting, is constructed almost entirely around such practices. Prominent stories about IRA involvement in movie piracy and Hezbollah involvement in DVD and software piracy date, respectively, to the 1980s and 1990s. Street vendor networks in Mexico City--a subject we treat at length in the Mexico chapter--are mischaracterized as criminal gangs connected with the drug trade. Piracy in Russia is attributed to criminal mafias rather than to the chronically porous boundary between licit and illicit enterprise. The Pakistani criminal gang D-Company, far from "forging a clear pirate monopoly" in Bollywood, in RAND's words, plays a small and diminishing part in Indian DVD piracy--its smuggling networks dwarfed by local production.In other words, Rep. Mel Watt, a well known supporter of Hollywood's position on copyright, tossed a bogus softball FUD talking point to Eric Holder in the middle of an important hearing about a very different subject, and Holder proceeded to make claims to Congress that have been made for decades without a single bit of evidence to support it.
The US record isn't more convincing in this regard. Jeffrey McIllwain examined the Department of Justice’s IP-related prosecutions between 2000 and 2004 and found that only 49 out of the 105 cases alleged that the defendant operated within larger, organized networks. Nearly all of these were "warez" distribution groups for pirated software--hacker communities that are explicitly and often fiercely non-commercial in orientation. McIllwain found "no overt references to professional organized crime groups" in any of the DOJ's criminal charges (McIllwain 2005:27). If organized crime is a serious problem in these contexts, it should not be difficult to produce a stronger evidentiary record.
Holder has plenty of other serious issues to deal with these days, but it makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see our Attorney General appear to be spreading known scare stories that have been proven bogus from decades ago as if they're new, despite a single bit of evidence concerning any modern connection to terrorism.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 7:38am
from the hello-slippery-slope dept
by Glyn Moody
Thu, May 16th 2013 5:38am
from the no-justification-needed dept
The TICS [Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security)] Bill is a replacement for the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004. This law forced communications providers (ISPs, telcos, data networks, etc) to provide "lawful intercept" capabilities so that the Police, SIS and GCSB could access communications once they had a suitable warrant. The new bill expands and clarifies these requirements.As Beagle goes on to explain, this will have a number of implications, including a requirement to build backdoors into all telecoms networks:
However, the addition of the word "security" is the key to what has changed. The new bill now gives the GCSB sweeping powers of oversight and control over the design, deployment and operation of all data and telecommunications networks run by network providers in New Zealand. The stated reasons are to both protect New Zealand's infrastructure and to ensure that surveillance agencies can spy on traffic when required. As part of this, the GCSB will have the power to stop network providers from reselling overseas services that do not provide these capabilities.
From the Bill:Here's one way that could dramatically impact Internet users in New Zealand:A network operator must ensure that every public telecommunications network that the operator owns, controls, or operates, and every telecommunications service that the operator provides in New Zealand, has full interception capability.Note that the surveillance agencies still need to have a legally issued warrant (under the Search & Surveillance Act, NZ SIS Act, or GCSB Act) to actually intercept any communications and there are obligations to avoid capturing communications that are not covered by the warrant.
It then goes on to give the Minister the power to ban the resale of an off-shore telecommunications service in New Zealand if it does not provide interception capabilities. This could stop the resale of foreign-hosted VPNs, instant message services, email, etc.Another clause could have major implications for Megaupload:
Network operators must decrypt the intercepted communications if they have provided the encryption, but there is no obligation to do so if the encryption is provided by others.One deeply troubling aspect is the following:
What does this mean for providers such as Mega (file locker) or LastPass (password storage) who have a business model based on the fact that they supply a cloud product that uses encryption but have deliberately designed it so that they can not decrypt the files themselves? This gives users the assurance that they can trust them with their data. Will the government close them down unless they provide a backdoor into the system?
There is also a provision that allows the courts to receive classified information in a court case in the absence of the defendant or the defendant's lawyer. This applies to information that might reveal details of the interception methods used by the surveillance agency or is about particular operations in relation to any of the functions of the surveillance agency, or is provided as secret information from the surveillance agencies of another country. It can also be used if that disclosure would prejudice security of NZ, prejudice the maintenance of law, or endanger the safety of any person.As Beagle notes:
particularly offensive to civil liberties are the provisions for convicting people based on secret evidence. How can you defend yourself fairly when you can't even find out the evidence presented against you?He concludes with an important point:
One must ask where the justification for this expansion of power is coming from. Has New Zealand already been materially affected by attacks on our communications infrastructure? It seems clear that while the GCSB may not be that competent at exercising the powers they already have, they have done a fine job of convincing the government that they can handle a lot more.That's a question that needs to be put to the governments of other countries, like the US and UK, that are also seeking to extend massively their ability to spy on their own citizens. What evidence do they have that such extreme, liberty-threatening powers are actually necessary, and will make the public safer, rather than simply being a convenient way for governments to identify whistleblowers who expose their incompetence and corruption, say, or to spy on those who dare to oppose them?
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 3:32am
Aaron Swartz's Last Project: Open Source System To Securely & Anonymously Submit Documents To The Press
from the add-it-to-the-long-list dept
Poulsen has the backstory of DeadDrop here, which is well worth reading. Basically, he and Aaron worked on this project on and off for quite some time, and it was only just completed a few weeks before Aaron's death. The full story is worth reading, though here's a snippet:
I wondered about this young tech-startup founder who put his energy into the debate over corporate-friendly copyright term extensions. That, and his co-creation of an anonymity project called Tor2Web, is what I had in mind when I approached him with the secure-submission notion. He agreed to do it with the understanding that the code would be open-source—licensed to allow anyone to use it freely—when we launched the system.Poulsen also notes that there were questions raised about the code after Aaron's death, but those were eventually sorted out:
He started coding immediately, while I set out to get the necessary servers and bandwidth at Conde Nast. The security model required that the system be under the company’s physical control, but with its own, segregated infrastructure. Requisitioning was involved. Executives had questions. Lawyers had more questions.
By December, 2012, Aaron’s code was stable, and a squishy launch date had been set. Then, on January 11th, he killed himself. In the immediate aftermath, it was hard to think of anything but the loss and pain of his death. A launch, like so many things, was secondary. His suicide also raised new questions: Who owned the code now? (Answer: he willed all his intellectual property to Sean Palmer, who gives the project his blessing.) Would his closest friends and his family approve of the launch proceeding? (His friend and executor, Alec Resnick, reports that they do.) The New Yorker, which has a long history of strong investigative work, emerged as the right first home for the system.Of course, Poulsen leaves out his own history here as well. As (perhaps?) many of you know, Poulsen was a somewhat infamous hacker back in the day who eventually (after avoiding law enforcement for quite some time) went to prison for some of his hacks. Since then, he's become one of my favorite journalists, writing for SecurityFocus and then Wired (and writing a wonderful book, Kingpin about some more recent hackers). While Poulsen and Swartz met long before Swartz was indicted -- and Swartz and Poulsen were indicted for very different types of activities -- having the two of them work together on a project like this is really quite fascinating.
The unfortunate part of all of this, of course, is that DeadDrop is basically Aaron's "final project." Given how much he accomplished prior to that in his short life, it's just one more thing to add to a very long list of incredible accomplishments, but yet another reminder of how much potential was wiped away by his suicide.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, May 16th 2013 12:08am
from the €75-für-summte-99-Luftballons-versehentlich dept
We've discussed GEMA's antagonistic attitude towards, well, pretty much everyone other than itself. In addition to turning the German YouTube experience into a farcical collection of "Sorry" faces and demanding fees for music it doesn't even control, GEMA has also been in the news due to its rollout of a "streamlined" fee structure that threatens the existence Germany's underground club scene with unsustainable licensing rates.
Luis Manuel Garcia at Resident Advisor has put together a very thorough and excellently written rundown of the recent events, covering GEMA's attempts to "streamline" its licensing fee structure (and its adverse effects) and explaining some of the organization's idiosyncrasies. (This is a very nice word for GEMA's thuggish tactics that go beyond villainy to cartoonish supervillainy.) There are a few differences between GEMA and other performance rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, PRS, etc.). Much of this has been covered here before at Techdirt, so I'll give you some of the high/low points of GEMA's services, with some added details from Garcia.
Rather than being limited to "public performance rights," GEMA handles "collective rights management" for its 64,000 German members and 2,000,000 worldwide members. GEMA still collects licensing fees from businesses but its power goes much, much further than ASCAP's or BMI's.
GEMA decides how to distribute your work... and at what price.
This means that music-makers don't sign over ownership of their music upon joining GEMA, they sign over their usage rights—the right to legally manage and collect licensing fees for playback, reproduction and broadcast of their music. This is a convenient arrangement when you're a small-time musician who doesn't have the time or money to manage your catalogue; but these management decisions are taken out of your hands. If you want to grant a free license to a charity event or offer a reduced fee for a career-advancing event, you'll find that decision isn't yours to make.All music is assumed to be under GEMA's control unless the artist can prove otherwise.
Unlike ASCAP, BMI, PRS, etc., GEMA isn't opt-in. And it's pretty tough to opt out. GEMA tends to "play it safe" by claiming music it doesn't own.
Like other PROs, GEMA distributes licensing fees to top-selling artists.
This distribution scheme is unlikely to change in the hands of GEMA. Its so-called "full members" (members who have achieved over €30,000 in GEMA revenue over a five-year period) are the only members allowed to vote on issues or hold controlling positions. Any artist not within this elite group has to watch his or her fees being redistributed to already wealthy artists while being prevented from attempting to effect any change in the prevailing structure.
GEMA assumes (like other PROs) that every venue plays only music from top-selling artists.
For underground music venues that mainly feature non-mainstream and independent artists—like many dance music clubs—this means that a portion of the fees collected for these events will likely find their way into the bank accounts of mainstream artists and advertising jingle writers, whose music was never played during the event, while some artists will never see a single cent for their music, however popular it may be.GEMA splits music into three categories which affect rates collected and royalties paid and arbitrarily decides for the artists what category their music falls under.
It classifies music into three categories: entertainment [Unterhaltungsmusik], serious music [Ernste Musik] and functional music [Funktionsmusik]. It then subjects these categories to different fee rates, membership requirements and weighting in the points system they use to calculate royalties. Unsurprisingly, U-Musik gets the worst of this arrangement, having the highest membership requirements, the highest fee rates and the lowest values for royalty calculationsUnlike other PROS, GEMA is a "for-profit" organization that enjoys a government-granted monopoly and legal powers.
Making all of this worse is the fact that GEMA is a private interest "for-profit" organization, unlike most PROs which operate under a "non-profit" status. GEMA also operates as a monopoly, a problem made worse by the German government's decision to grant it legal power to "protect" the rights of its members.
How GEMA went from bad to worse
For years, the German government seemed to have no problem with GEMA's tactics and monopolistic operation. In fact, its only complaint was directed at GEMA's complex fee structure. GEMA responded to this by streamlining its rates with a clear eye on maximizing income. It was required to negotiate these changes with club owners and other affected parties, but its monopoly position basically turned the discussion into GEMA stating, "Here are your new fees," and walking away from the table.
Negotiations broke down sometime in late 2011, however, and an attempt to initiate legal arbitration failed as well. GEMA therefore decided to go ahead without the negotiations or arbitration and published a new tariff structure in the Bundesanzeiger (Federal Gazette) in April 2012, which effectively made the new tariffs legally-binding.Now, the venues being hit hardest were nightclubs, especially underground clubs that catered to non-mainstream crowds and played non-mainstream music. GEMA's "streamlined" fee structure was built from the sort of opportunistic math that could only come from a self-interested monopoly. Any concessions to reality were thrown out the window in search of higher fees.
GEMA's opportunistic math
First, GEMA killed off yearly flat rates and replaced them with "per-event" charges. Supposedly, this was to "balance" fees between large and small venue owners. GEMA even claimed this would reduce fees for 60% of its "customers." But once it applied its GEMA-friendly calculations, everyone was guaranteed to see an increase in licensing costs.
GEMA calibrated the new rate for dance clubs (Tarif M-V) with the goal of charging approximately 10% of the gross income for a music event. Of course, they don't trust organizers to self-report their revenues accurately, so they estimate the gross income based on venue size and price of entry, and then charge 10% of that.This sort of mathematical assumption would ruin any normal business. Fortunately for GEMA, it's a government-ordained monopoly which exists solely to extract fees. The more it extracts, the healthier it is. Under the old flat-rate structure, a 500 square meter club would have paid around €7,800 annually. Under GEMA's new plan, this leapt to over €78,000.
This estimation is based on three assumptions: 1) the capacity of a venue is one person per square-meter, measured wall-to-wall (i.e. beyond the dance floor and ignoring solid objects like furniture); 2) the event is full to capacity; 3) everyone is paying full price for entry.
When club owners complained about this exorbitant rate hike, GEMA responded (belatedly) with a nominal attempt at "fairness."
In answer to complaints about these distorted results, GEMA later introduced the Angemessenheitsregel (appropriateness rule), which allows promoters to apply for a partial refund if GEMA fees are well over 10% of actual gross income or if the venue's capacity is well under GEMA's one person / m2 ratio.In other words, club owner would still need to pay up front and hope GEMA would cut them a (partial) refund check sometime in the next several months. Seeing as GEMA doesn't trust club owners to honestly self-report revenues (hence the lousy fee structure), it wouldn't be surprising if it decided these refund requests were dishonest as well, and rejected a majority of them.
This rate hike hit underground clubs hardest, but GEMA wasn't done punishing them yet. GEMA also levied a rate hike based on the length of the event, jacking the rate up by 50% once the event passed 5 hours and adding another 50% hike every two hours after that. This led to astronomical charges for clubs that routinely ran 10-hour-plus events or operated around the clock. As more outrage poured in, GEMA dialed this back to a 25% increase every two hours after the 8-hour mark -- not as bad, but still unaffordable.
GEMA tacks fees on hardware and data
Obviously, GEMA felt it still wasn't making enough money from these events, so it decided to start double-dipping by cramming its hands into the DJs' pockets.
[I]n late November GEMA announced another tariff, VR-Ö, which became known as the "laptop surcharge." It applied to all music performances that use blank media such as CDs, tapes, USB sticks and hard-drives. This already existed in the past as an automatic 30% surcharge on the entirety of GEMA music licensing fees if any of the DJs used mp3s or burned CDs. Now, the surcharge would no longer be a percentage of the fees, but would instead be calculated at 0.13€ for every mp3 file on the DJ's computer. Every song over five minutes costs an extra 20% per minute. Performers and promoters all over Germany were not pleased, especially since the rate appears to charge all files on a DJ's performing device, regardless of how many songs they actually play.The backlash
All of this led to protests against GEMA and its club-killing license fees. A petition managed to gather enough signatures to get the government's attention. The German government looked into GEMA's fee structure and its opportunistic club revenue calculations. GEMA reentered negotiations with artists' representation and rolled back its fee structure to its pre-"streamlined" levels. It also adjusted its "laptop surcharge" to a flat rate of 50 euros per 500 songs, making this more affordable for DJs, if not actually any less presumptuous and stupid. (RA says some Germans feel this is nothing more than an opportunity for GEMA to jack the rates later on its newly collected list of registered DJs.) There's also been a call for German legislators to craft policies to regulate GEMA's actions.
The outcome of this controversy has been a little better than expected, considering GEMA's horrible track record. Still, as is evidenced by GEMA's ongoing battle with Google/YouTube, the rights organization still has a long way to go before it will be considered anything other than predatory and overbearing. German artists should at least be given the chance to opt out without having to jump through GEMA's hoops.
And all rights organizations should start making an honest effort to track actual usage, rather than simply throwing more money at those artists who already have plenty. It's 2013 and the technology exists to make this possible. PROs (and GEMA) are simply being willfully obtuse by pretending they can't do anything better than cut checks while eyeballing the latest Billboard chart.