In order to protect people from online defamation, this law states that each webmaster of whatever website must rectify within 48 hours (even if you’re a private blogger who just left for the weekend!) any page on the website itself, if somebody just tells him or her (how?) that they consider themselves wronged by that page. No discussion or reply allowed, no judge needed, and the fine for not "rectifying" within 2 days is 12K Euros [about $15,000].
The newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano gives an example of just how absurd that might be in practice (original in Italian):
A site writes about an arrest; the person arrested in prison could perhaps get his lawyer to say that it is not true that he has been arrested, and the Web site would be obliged to print this correction (without comment), or face a big fine.
Although it would be nice to think that such an absurdity would be thrown out once again by the Italian politicians, that's by no means certain, not least because the ACTA technique is being employed here:
As it too often happens in Italy with similar small but surely unpopular norms, it is "hidden" as a sub-section of a wider law proposal on an unrelated issue, in this case wiretapping.
Let's hope Italian bloggers spread the word about this shabby trick -- while they still can.
I would have hoped that, by now, most people could understand basic secondary liability issues, such as the difference between a service provider who provides the tools/service for communications and a content creator and/or publisher who actually creates or chooses the content. Unfortunately, when large sums of money are involved, people often have difficultly distinguishing the two. The latest situation involves a guy in Australia, named Joshua Meggitt, who appeared to have a legitimate defamation claim by Australian writer/TV personality Marieke Hardy. On her blog, she accused Meggitt of writing "ranting, hateful" articles about her. She then posted a link to her blog on Twitter, where it got a lot of attention. Hardy and Meggitt have already "settled" the dispute between each other, with a rumored $15,000 changing hands, but Meggitt has now sued Twitter directly claiming that it "published" the tweet by putting it on its front page.
It strikes me that there are a number of (significant) legal problems with this lawsuit. First, perhaps this happened a while ago, back when Twitter did show tweets on its front page, but nowadays it does not. Second, I'd be shocked if anyone really used Twitter's front page without an account to find links. Instead, it sounds like people who actually followed Hardy saw her tweet in their views from the site -- which wouldn't have anything to do with Twitter making any kind of editorial choice at all. Even if it was back under the (very) old system when Twitter did display some tweets, I'm pretty sure those were just random tweets from the stream. Arguing that Twitter has any real selection choice in those is pretty ridiculous.
Furthermore, it appears from the description in the article that the tweet from Hardy didn't even name Meggitt. Perhaps it did elsewhere, but the tweet repeated in the Sydney Morning Herald just says:
Her tweet read: ''I name and shame my 'anonymous' internet bully. Liberating business! Join me,'' with a link to her blog, where she incorrectly named Mr. Meggitt as the author of ''ranting, hateful'' articles about her.
In other words, it's unclear if even the tweet itself should be considered defamatory, rather than the blog post. Linking to a defamatory blog post should never be seen as defamatory itself. Either way, it seems we're getting even further and further away from any actually defamatory statement. If Twitter somehow is liable for defamatory comments written on a blog because someone then tweets a link to that blog, Twitter is going to become a hell of a lot less useful.
While Meggitt claims that he's not subject to Twitter's terms of service, since he doesn't use it, that's meaningless. The issue has nothing to do with Twitter's terms of service. It has to do with who's the actual liable party and that would be the person who made the defamatory statements. And, from everything that's been said, it sure likes like Meggitt has already settled the claim with that party...
Yesterday we wrote about the bizarre seizure of a music blog, RnBXclusive.com, by UK law enforcement officials. Many people doubted that it was real, given the insanity of the splash page that SOCA -- the UK's Serious Organized Crime Agency -- had put up on the site. However, SOCA has since confirmed that it's real. SOCA is also claiming that this is about "fraud" rather than copyright infringement, because the site apparently had posted some pre-release music (something that happens pretty frequently). It's called a leak, not fraud. And many artists embrace them -- or (quite frequently) leak the works themselves because it builds up buzz.
SOCA is also making the absolutely laughable statement that this one blog was costing the labels "approximately £15 m per year." Perhaps in some fantasy land where the IFPI/RIAA is in charge of "new math," but not anywhere in reality. Now, certainly some of these leaks may have broken the law, but at best they should be civil issues and actual harm should be proved, rather than fantasy harm. While RnBXclusive was a decently widely read blog among music blogs, Dajaz1 (who, again, knows in great detail how all this insanity works) is pointing out that if the £15m claim is accurate, then you could easily sum up all the music blogs around, and they would account for more losses than "what the recorded music industry has made total since the very first record deal was signed. Per year."
Isn't it time that law enforcement stopped relying on fantasy numbers and started living in reality? Especially when it comes to censoring blogs?
Twitter has taken quite a lot of heat for putting in place the capability to block tweets on a geographical basis. This begins to look a little unfair in light of the fact that Google quietly adopted a similar policy before Twitter. That's shown by the answer to a question on Google's Blogger site about blogs being redirected to country-specific URLs, which at the time of writing was last updated on 9 January 2012. Here's what it says:
Q: Why am I seeing a URL change?
A: Over the coming weeks you might notice that the URL of a blog you're reading has been redirected to a country-code top level domain, or "ccTLD." For example, if you're in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected [blogname].blogspot.com.au. A ccTLD, when it appears, corresponds with the country of the reader’s current location.
Google is quite frank about why it is doing this:
Q: Why is this happening?
A: Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law. By utilizing ccTLDs, content removals can be managed on a per country basis, which will limit their impact to the smallest number of readers. Content removed due to a specific country’s law will only be removed from the relevant ccTLD.
This is not only what Twitter is doing, but employs exactly the same topsy-turvy logic: by enabling local censorship, we are promoting free expression. That in itself is obviously troubling, not least because Google may be setting off down a slippery slope that sees all of its services segmented by geography to avoid local problems. But there's an even deeper issue.
If more and more companies follow the lead of Google and Twitter, as seems quite likely, it could represent the beginning of the end of the truly global Internet. In its place will be an increasingly balkanized online world subject to a patchwork of local laws. Looks like geography just made a comeback.
from the seems-it-would-be-simpler-to-just-revoke-the-Senator's-internet-access dept
Joe Lieberman is at it again. And by "it," I mean throwing around the word "terrorist" as an excuse to further sanitize the web for our "protection." Having already talked Google into allowing users to flag Youtube videos as "terrorist," Lieberman went a step further, asking for the "Report as Terrorist" option to be applied to Blogger as well.
Senators want to stop feeds which boast of insurgent attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan and the casualties they inflict. Aides for Joe Lieberman, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said the move was part of a wider attempt to eliminate violent Islamist extremist propaganda from the internet and social media. The Taliban movement has embraced the social network as part of its propaganda effort and regularly tweets about attacks or posts links to its statements.
Like everyone else in this digital age, the Taliban is using various social media to communicate with its fans. But why should our Senators be concerned about what the Taliban had for lunch? And more importantly, why do they feel so deeply that forcing Twitter to block these feeds will prevent future "violent Islamist extremist" action? If NATO forces are attacked and no one tweets about it, does it change the outcome?
The feeds named in the Telegraph article (@ABalkhi and @alemarahweb) are about as "threatening" as a Westboro Bapist Church Twitter account, with a few facts tucked away between tweet after tweet filled with jingoistic statements and "preaching to the converted." The very idea that blocking feeds like this will deter or diminish future Taliban activity is laughable at best, and disingenuous grandstanding at worst. In fact, it makes Lieberman and his fellow Senators nothing more than "preaching to the converted" grandstanders, scoring easy points with voters who still somehow believe the only thing Twitter has to offer is lunch descriptions and terrorist propaganda.
As for Twitter, it won't even confirm whether or not Lieberman has asked it to block the feeds.
Rachel Bremer, a spokesman for Twitter, said: "This isn't something we'd comment on."
Not only that, but Twitter won't have to block these feeds no matter how nicely Lieberman asks because the Taliban is not registered as a terrorist organization by the State Department. Any censorship applied by Twitter would pretty much just be a personal favor to Joe, rather than a government-sanctioned shutdown.
Lieberman obviously believes that his success with Youtube filtering should be applied to every area of the internet. He's already gone after the long (Blogger) and the short (Twitter) which means his next request for "Report as Terrorist" buttons will be sent to Tumblr, possibly resulting in the removal of f*ckyeahterrorism.tumblr.com and ryangoslingtaliban.tumblr.com.
One has to wonder why Lieberman is so persistent in his attempts to turn every form of social media into a scattershot weapon aimed at the angry words and hashtags of "Islamist extremists." Possibly a core chunk of his key demographic responds well to blaming the internet for terrorism, but that seems unlikely. Maybe he just likes to see his name in print and, much like four-year-olds and Lindsay Lohan, firmly believes any "attention" is "good attention."
The court rejected a constitutional challenge to the HRO, basically treating harassing speech as a class of content categorically excluded from First Amendment protection. I'm not sure about this approach. It seems like this was more appropriately treated as a situation where speech is also conduct, and the HRO (harassment restraining order) regulated his conduct. I believe treating harassing speech as outside the First Amendment invites more mischief than playing with the speech/conduct divide.
I think Goldman underplays the problems here. I think we all agree that what Arlotta did was ridiculous, creepy and vindictive. But that doesn't mean it's not protected under the First Amendment. As Goldman notes, there were ways to stop Arlotta's conduct without taking away his First Amendment rights and carving out an exception to the First Amendment for being a jerk. I think this ruling is really questionable.
Goldman also highlights the consequences of such a bizarre and comprehensive ruling against Arlotta:
This ruling leaves open a key question. Even under the prior HRO, could Arlotta have blogged about his dealings with Johnson if he did not try to bring it to the attention of others? After all, if his statements are true and not based on restricted information, Arlotta should be able to tell his story. Then again, a blog will show up in the search results, so a blog could be a passive-aggressive way of getting back to Johnson, and just as (if not more) effective as affirmatively reaching out to call attention to the blog. So try a different hypothetical: could Arlotta write and publish a book telling his story? I think the answer should be yes, so long as he lacked malicious intent (recall the initial HRO restricted him from intending to hurt Johnson's privacy).
Of course, I'm not sure a judge would see it that way. That's part of the problem with this ruling. Clearly, the court was troubled by what Arlotta did, and found a way to stop him. So if he were to do as Goldman describes above, I wouldn't be surprised to see them merely assume that it was more of the same, and continue to block his speech. And that brings up one of the clear problems of the ruling. Could you really be barred completely from publicly speaking about an ex because you once harassed her?
A few folks have sent over this great interview with Mark Cuban discussing the fact that he has a best selling book on his hands, one that was put together quickly, mostly from old blog posts, sold as a $2.99 ebook online, with Mark handling most of the promotion himself. There are a bunch of things in the interview, but what comes across loud and clear is just how obsolete the old way of publishing is these days. In an era where it still takes years for books to come out, and almost a year between an author handing in their final version and publication, Cuban tells a very different story:
Of all your business ventures, the profit margin for this book is unmatched. Much of the book already had appeared as blog posts, and the production, promotion and distribution costs were negligible ...
Yes. That is what made this approach so appealing. I didn't have to spend a ton of time writing and editing, and Scott Waxman at Diversion Books was very accommodating in allowing me to make edits, literally up to hours before the book was released.
More importantly, I didn't have to commit to doing a book tour and a rigorous interview schedule because I controlled all the economics. I try to always be a good business partner. If a publisher had made a big investment in me, I would have felt immensely obligated to make sure they made money.
Instead, I can work to my schedule and work almost exclusively from my phone and laptop to do all the promotional work.
Before anyone says anything, we're certainly not saying that just anyone can do what Mark did. Given his fame, success, reputation and following, all of that played into the level of success here. And he's willing to admit that. But that doesn't mean that there aren't key lessons here for the publishing industry. The idea of being able to produce smaller books, much more quickly is really quite appealing. And the legacy publishers still just aren't getting it.
from the clicking-our-way-to-a-safe-and-secure-nation dept
Senator Joe Lieberman, taking a break from his usual schedule of trying to stamp out all things Wikileaks-related, returns to his old anti-terrorism stomping grounds, sending out a letter to Google CEO Larry Page, expressing his concern that not enough stuff is getting labeled "terrorism."
He bases his request on the old "because someone did something once" argument that has served the DHS and TSA so well. (See also: "See something. Say something." because that one time a guy reported a vehicle with a bomb. See also: please remove your shoes and step into the Pornoscan because one time that guy tried to light his shoes on fire and that other time a guy had bomb-laced underwear.) Recent "lone wolf" terrorism suspect Jose Pimentel was, like so many other people in the world, a blogger. Lieberman apparently believes that the prevention of future acts of terrorism should be turned over to the blogosphere in the form of an option to "flag" a blog as containing "terrorist" content.
"Pimentel's Internet activity - both his spreading of bomb-making instructions links and his hate-filled writings - were hosted by Google," Lieberman wrote.
"On his site www.trueislam1.com, Pimentel stated, 'People have to understand that America and its allies are legitimate targets in warfare. This includes facilities such as army bases, police stations, political facilities, embassies, CIA and FBI buildings, private and public airports, and all kinds of buildings where money is being made to help fund the war.' As demonstrated by this recent case, Google's webhosting site, Blogger is being used by violent Islamist extremists to broadcast terrorist content," Lieberman continued.
Lieberman also points out that Youtube already has this option (thanks to Liberman's tireless complaining), so it would logically follow that Blogger enforce the same limitations. In fact, he pretty much states that the same people that can prevent forest fires can also prevent terrorism (i.e. "You," meaning "all of us"), only in this case it can be done with a simple click of the mouse.
"The private sector plays an important role in protecting our homeland from the preeminent threat of violent Islamist extremism, and Google's inconsistent standards are adversely affecting our ability to counter Islamic extremism online."
Oh, wait. We can't actually stop terrorism. We can only flag "Islamist extremism," which for some people could mean the site quotes the Koran. For others, all it might take is a few angry words delivered by certain foreign types. And for others, all they need is the urge to start pushing buttons.
This is another attempt by a politician to shove the culpability for terrorist acts onto the shoulders of hosting platforms. By all means, Google could add a "Report as TERROR" button to its blogging platform, but does anyone not named Lieberman actually believe that this will ever prevent a future act of terrorism? I'd rather potential terrorists bogged themselves down in the minutia of blogging (endlessly checking stats, rescuing legitimate comments from the spam container, arguing with pesky commenters, following incoming links back into malware deathtraps, gaming their Technorati rating, etc.) than actually, you know, doing terrorist stuff.
There's also the fact that "flagging something as something" has got to be the most ineffective deterrent ever devised, whether you're trying to stomp out spam or to do something more difficult, like save the world from "Islamist extremism." Not only will whoever's policing this new banhammer have to deal with a new set of false positives, this also puts Google in the awkward position of trying to decide if the blogs reported are actually harmful or just some random person spouting a bunch of untargeted nonsense.
And if Google does decide to start doing this, odds are that there will be a bunch of racially-motivated clicking going on, which will only add to the "noise" side of the signal-to-noise ratio. Once you start shutting down a particular religion based on clicks -- all because the federal government demanded it -- you're asking for all sorts of trouble in the First Amendment arena. Uglier than this is the fact that asking for a "Report" button is yet another punt by those in charge of keeping this country safe. The implicit statement seems to be "We can't figure out how to stop terrorists so we're leaving that to you," which would make this no different from every previous foiled terrorist attack. It's not the DHS, TSA or air marshals that stop terrorists. When they're not being foiled by their own incompetence, they're being taken down by fellow passengers. A plea for a "Report as Terrorism" button has all the hallmarks of another windmill tilt in the hopes of appearing to be doing "something."
I have to admit that I was pretty sure I've written about this case before, but in searching through the archives, I can't find it. So, here's the quick summary of Comins v. VanVoorhis. Christopher Comins, a wealthy Florida businessman, found out about some dogs running around some cows in a field owned by a business associate. Comins, apparently believing the dogs were wolves, went to the field (with permission of the owner) with some guns and shot the two dogs over and over again. Originally, he claimed self-defense, but after the following video appeared on YouTube showing the whole incident, that story didn't quite hold:
The story made the national press. It was also picked up on many blogs, including this blog post by University of Florida student Matthew Frederick VanVoorhis. VanVoorhis' description of the events is certainly "almost novelistic," as the CitMedia link above suggests. As such it does assume a few things, such as emotions, and may not be perfectly accurate in the timeline. But does it rise to the level of defamation? That seems extraordinarily unlikely, at best, but Comins chose to sue him for defamation. Seeing as the story was covered widely by the media, and there's a video of the events in question, you might think that it's a bit strange to sue a random blogger who very few people read. Perhaps he really is "the easiest target," as some suggest. If anything, it had all the hallmarks of a SLAPP suit, especially since VanVoorhis' post also questioned Cumin's connections to politically powerful figures, and how that might impact any lawsuit concerning the shootings.
Either way, despite the video, Comins ended up being acquitted of the shooting, with the judge claiming that shooting a couple dogs at extremely close range was not torturing an animal. As the link in this paragraph notes, it seems like that's the kind of question a jury should answer, rather than a judge.
As for VanVoorhis, it turns out that the case against him was also shot down, but on specific procedural grounds. Basically, under Florida law, you have to provide specific notice before suing for defamation. VanVoorhis insists no such notification was given. Cumins insists that it was but there was a procedural mistake in letting the court know. Either way, the court granted summary judgment, solely on that issue, rather than discussing any of the free speech issues.
VanVoorhis, represented by Randazza Legal Group (whose cases we seem to write about a lot around here...), followed up by pushing for sanctions, claiming that Comins' lawyer falsely told the court that VanVoorhis had been notified under the law. That motion was denied, though apparently the court called it "a very, very close call."
Comins... in response, appears to have simply filed a new defamation lawsuit against VanVoorhis, using statements from the blog that VanVoorhis set up to cover stories related to the lawsuit itself. I have no idea if the statements in question are actually libelous (though, the bar for defaming a public person, like Comins, is substantially higher than someone else). But, either way, I do question the wisdom of suing yet again, especially suing someone to whom he already lost a lawsuit. It certainly feels like just another attempt to effectively retry the same lawsuit, which still has the feel of a SLAPP. It's just that Comins and his lawyer found different quotes to use.
Of course, every time Comins takes action like this, it just brings the original video and the original story back into the spotlight. I can't see how that helps his image at all. One of the things in defamation cases is that you're supposed to try to take actions to minimize the damages. Suing yet again doesn't seem likely to do that.
There are a ton of so-called "sucks sites" out there, set up to critique or just ridicule a particular company. Early on, companies often tried to sue such sites out of existence using questionable trademark claims. These efforts mostly (though not always) failed. But, more importantly, the process really backfired thanks to the Streisand Effect. Every time a company went legal after a sucks site, the site and its content only got significantly more attention. Two years ago, it was claimed that corporate lawyers had finally wised up and realized that going legal on such sites only gave those sites significantly more attention.
However, since then, we still hear about such legal threats all the time. Apparently there are still a lot of lawyers out there who haven't received the message. The latest apparently is Demand Media, the content farm giant. Its lawyers sent a cease & desist and a takedown to Demand Studio Sucks.
Rather than a full legal threat against the site, it was focused on the fact that some users on the site had apparently uploaded a presentation in the forums, which Demand considered to be proprietary. Thus, the basis of the takedown was that it violated the company's copyrights and trademark. It appears that DSS's ISP overreacted and rather than taking down the specific content, took down the entire forum. Of course, all this has done is drive much more attention to the content Demand wants removed: a presentation slide showing how Demand is trying to increase quality (now that Google has changed its algorithm to punish crappy quality content that Demand has been associated with in the past).
Demand's lawyers claim:
Demand Media has not granted you any license to use the Demand Media trademark, to publish or copy Demand Media copyrighted content, or to publicize Demand Media’s confidential and proprietary business information. Accordingly, in addition to violating Demand Media’s intellectual property rights in the referenced materials, the postings are disruptive, damaging and harmful to our business practices and reputation.
The intellectual property claims seem totally unfounded. There's no trademark claim. There's no consumer confusion or dilution here at all. No one thinks that DSS is "endorsed" by Demand Media. The copyright claim is dubious. Looking at the blog post in question, I can't see how it's not fair use. It's showing a single slide from a presentation that's certainly relevant, and providing significant commentary on that slide.
The "damaging and harmful to our business practices and reputation" claims are also pretty dubious, though I guess there could be some random state law claims they're thinking they could use here. But, I just don't see it. Someone reporting critically on your business may be disruptive and damaging, but is not illegal. And, honestly, the slide presentation in question is hardly some giant corporate secret. The slide is so bland and pointless and corporatey, it doesn't really give away anything.
Honestly, it's hard to believe anyone thought it was a wise move to go after DSS this way. It just gets them more attention and makes Demand look petty and silly. It's no surprise that the Forbes coverage of this story (the original link above) highlights that this happened at the same time as Demand's valuation dropped under $1 billion for the first time....