by Mike Masnick
Mon, Feb 10th 2014 3:38am
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Feb 7th 2014 3:47pm
from the deflating-trolls dept
That big case has now ended in a mistrial after a jury couldn't decide who should prevail. A mistrial is hardly the end, as IV is already talking about a retrial (and hyping up that it still has other patent cases against Motorola), but it certainly suggests that the case isn't nearly as open and shut as IV had been suggesting in the past.
Moving on to another high profile patent troll case. For a few years now we've been covering a company called Innovatio which was threatening lots of companies, claiming that anyone who used WiFi infringed on its patents, but that (out of the kindness of its heart) it wasn't targeting individual users "at this stage." Instead, it went after a ton of small businesses, including coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants and hotels -- exactly the type of businesses which wouldn't be interested in spending money on a costly legal battle.
A bunch of makers of WiFi access points, including Cisco, Netgear and Motorola actually teamed up in an attempt to smack Innovatio down to protect their own customers. They noted that they had all licensed the patent in question in the past, and that should cover the end users. Furthermore, the patent itself was subject to RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms which Innovatio never mentioned to people it was threatening and suing. In fact, they argued that Innovatio was actually engaged in a form of racketeering. While a judge in the case, unfortunately, didn't allow the racketeering claims to move forward, he did determine that if Innovatio was due a license, the royalty rate was less than 10 cents per device, rather than the much, much, much higher numbers Innovatio had been pushing.
Recognizing its case was going nowhere, it appears that Innovatio has agreed to settle. Innovatio admitted that over 100 million of the devices they had sent threats over were already licensed, but has agreed to "license" the remaining 85 million devices for $2.7 million, or about 3.2 cents per device. This is how lots of patent trolling lawsuits end. Innovatio was looking for a much larger payout, but $2.7 million is still pretty significant money for very questionable activity. Cisco, in reporting this, notes that it spent $13 million on the litigation (not even counting the settlement) and highlights just how ridiculous the whole thing is, and how some basic changes to patent laws might stop trolls like Innovatio from targeting end users.
But that expenditure would not have been necessary if Innovatio had met its obligations to license on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, and had come to Cisco seeking a reasonable license first rather than targeting our customers and those of other manufacturers. And, if our laws included provisions requiring those who target innocent third party users of products to register their claims at the FTC and make sure users know they can take their claims to manufacturers like Cisco, it seems unlikely Innovatio would have engaged in its letter-writing shakedown against end users. And if they thought they might be on the hook for the $13M we had to spend, they might have thought twice about the way they approached their licensing scheme. Provisions to deal with this problem, and with the problem of lawsuits that target users of products rather than those who develop and sell the products, were included in legislation that overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives recently. We hope the Senate will act quickly as well.Trolling behavior has become so pervasive in the patent arena that anyone denies that it's a problem is either lying or in deep, deep denial. However, it's good to see that a couple of big trolls aren't having quite as easy a time of it as they likely expected.
In the meantime, we hope the “Innovatio” outcome will cause others who are undertaking similar efforts to step back and rethink their strategy.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, Feb 6th 2014 1:02pm
from the be-careful-what-you-wish-for,-www.u2.com dept
Paul McGuinness, U2's manager, ("World's Richest Band Seeks Handout") has been a longtime critic of Google, whose search engine he views as being nothing more than a portal for pirates. That's when he's not blaming pretty much everyone else (ISPs, any tech company connected to the internet in general) for not making U2 incrementally richer. But Google is never far from his mind, not even when accepting an Industry Icon award from Billboard Magazine for his 35 years as the band's manager.
McGuinness (again) thinks he has a quick fix for the piracy problem, and it all revolves around Google.
What needs to be done is simple, take the sites down and keep them down. If the pirates can manage to replace their sites instantly with legions of bots, Google, with their brilliant algorithm engineers can counter it. We need the technology giants like Google to do the things that labels, the publishers, the artists, the writers repeatedly ask them to do. They need to show corporate and social responsibility. Take down the illegal sites, keep them down and clear the way for the legal digital distributors like iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, the new Jimmy Iovine Beats service, which promises to be a very serious competitor.Yes. It's all so "simple." Just "take sites down" and "keep them down." Like many people who frequently confuse "Google" for "the Internet" (see also: many people in the UK government), McGuinness overstates the simplicity of his request while granting powers to Google that it simply doesn't possess.
Let's tackle the "simplicity" aspect first. If McGuinness is only referring to delisting sites (and that's somewhat unclear), it's not nearly as easy as he (or the RIAA, MPAA, UK government) thinks. There are several ways this could go wrong (see also: site blocking/web filters), not the least of which is that it puts internet access in the control of agencies and entities that can't even seem to issue DMCA notices without taking down legitimate content sources. So, if labels and studios (and those represented by them) can't even send out failure-free DMCA notices, they're hardly in the position to tell a company that indexes millions of sites how "simple" it would be to "block" or "take down" pirate sites.
Then there's what's actually in Google's power to do. McGuinness does mention "algorithms" but shortly thereafter he's deploying wording that sounds suspiciously like a call for Google to take down sites, as in do a private ICE job and lock up the domain, thus keeping it out of searches and "clearing the way" for legitimate offerings. That's something Google simply can't do, and even if it could, certainly shouldn't do. Google's main product is a search engine. It crawls and indexes sites. It is not in the "internet police" business. That's not what it's product is intended to do and that's not what a majority of those using the search engine want Google to be doing.
But the RIAA, MPAA and others insist this is Google's job -- to sniff out infringing content and remove it from the web (or at least, its search results). Google processes millions of DMCA notices per year, but this is always viewed as a sign of failure on the company's part. If it was "better" at the job McGuinness and others think it should be doing, it wouldn't be receiving so many notices.
Somehow, it always comes back to the claim that Google "owes" millions of content creators something for indexing the web.
I would like to see them open their hearts a little and be more generous to the ecosystem that started their success a few years ago. Google talks a lot about Internet freedom -- that's fine, we all support Internet freedom don't we* -- but let's not confuse freedom of speech with the freedom to steal pirated stuff.*Note: Paul McGuinness does NOT support internet freedom.
I don't think anyone confuses freedom of speech with piracy, but just like the above situation, it's not nearly as simplistic as McGuinness and others believe it is. Shut down a whole site because it hosts or links to pirated content and you're also shutting down everything that surrounded it, a lot of which greatly resembles "free speech."
McGuinness likely won't be happy until every search engine is completely subverted by IP-heavy industries, but that's apparently acceptable collateral damage if it results in incremental sales increases.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Feb 5th 2014 2:17pm
from the what-does-that-do? dept
That includes displaying results from three competitors every time Google shows its own results for searches related to products, restaurants and hotels.I'm at a loss as to how this makes any sense for anyone. First, why are European regulators involved in determining what Google should or should not show anyone? If Google users don't like the results they get, they don't have to stick with Google. Second, this actually gives Google's competitors less incentive to build a better product, because they get an easy in to be included in Google. How does that benefit anyone?
Rivals will have to pay Google each time their results are shown next to the search giant’s own results through a bidding process overseen by an independent monitor, according to European officials.
Yes, any time a company gets big, there are risks of them abusing their position -- and that's clearly what European regulators are concerned with. But what is the evidence of actual abuse here, and how does this solution prevent that abuse? That doesn't appear to be explained anywhere. This whole process, from the beginning, has appeared to be mostly a Microsoft-driven attempt to dump an annoying regulatory process on Google, just because it, too, has had to waste time with European regulators. Rather than compete by building better products, the focus has been on using the political process to try to slow down a competitor.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Feb 4th 2014 3:14pm
Our Broken Patent System: Company That Does Nothing May Get Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars From Google
from the that's-not-innovation dept
However, there was a further dispute about how much Google should have to pay for "ongoing" infringement. Google had argued that it had changed the way AdWords worked to avoid infringement, but Vringo disagreed. A judge not only agreed with Vringo, but has now awarded Vringo effectively 1.36% of all AdWords revenue -- which represents the majority of Google's revenue. No one's exactly sure how much, but it's probably in the range of $250 million per year until the patent expires in 2016.
This is silly. There's nothing in the patent that was key to Google doing what it does. There was nothing in the patent that taught anyone anything. In fact, Vringo flat out concedes that Google didn't "copy" anything. It just built its own product in a manner that best served its users. And Vringo, which did nothing at all, may now cash in for hundreds of millions of dollars. For doing nothing.
In a true capitalist system, when a company fails it goes out of business. Patents like this are a joke on the free market. They allow failed companies to sue those who succeed and get hundreds of millions of dollars out of them. They let companies that failed cash in for doing nothing -- for failing in the market place. It's a tax on companies that build something consumers want, paid to companies that could never correctly figure out what the market wanted. It means the companies that improve the world have to pay off the companies that have done nothing to improve the world. How is that possibly a fair or reasonable result?
I'm honestly curious for the usual crew of patent system defenders to explain how Vringo deserves ~$250 million a year for not doing anything at all to improve search.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Feb 3rd 2014 1:00pm
NSA/FBI Got Access To Content Of Around 40,000 Yahoo/Google User Accounts In First Six Months Of 2013
from the it's-a-lot dept
Concerning the Google data, you can see that there's been a pretty big increase in the number of users impacted over the past few years, peaking at the end of 2012, but that drop in the beginning of 2013 may be just seasonal. Meanwhile, it's interesting to see that a much larger number of Yahoo accounts have been impacted. Of course, for all we know, there could have been one FISA order to Google and three to Yahoo and then the number of accounts impacted would be around 10,000 per order. But, without more granularity, it's impossible to tell.
What does seem clear is that there are about 40,000 accounts on Yahoo or Google to which the NSA/FBI and others in the intelligence community have access.
Update: Facebook and Microsoft have updated their info as well and it's more of the same:
Microsoft, a major surveillance partner for the US government, received fewer than 1,000 orders from the Fisa court for communications content during the same period, related to between 15,000 and 15,999 “accounts or individual identifiers”.
The company, which owns the internet video calling service Skype, also disclosed that it received fewer than 1,000 orders for metadata – which reveals communications patterns rather than individual message content – related to fewer than 1,000 accounts or identifiers.
[....] Facebook disclosed that during the first half of 2013, it turned over content data from between 5000 and 5999 accounts – a rise of about 1000 from the previous six month period – and customer metadata associated with up to 999 accounts.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Jan 31st 2014 5:33pm
from the sharing-doesn't-always-need-a-name dept
Yes, you're saying, but YouTube comments are the absolute worst on the whole internet. But, even in all that crap, there are moments of poignant interest, and Slutsky finds a bunch of them -- often involving someone writing detailed, interesting and (yes) sad comments about an emotional memory connected to a song. Some of them are really fascinating glimpses into someone's life -- and in many cases, those glimpses are the kind of things that people are willing to post anonymously, rather than associated with their real name.
But, of course, YouTube has recently changed its system to push people to use their real names with the comments. We've been pointing out for years that "real names" proposals aren't such a great idea, often stifling important and interesting conversations, and this seems like yet another example. Yes, YouTube comments are notoriously terrible, though it's arguable if they've really improved at all since pushing people to put their names on them. But this new policy almost certainly means fewer people will be willing to share such random, poignant memories when they can easily be traced back to who wrote them.
As we've noted plenty of times ourselves, while having a rather open comment policy can encourage some crazy comments, it also leads to plenty of fantastic comments. Each week, when we look at our best comments of the week as voted on by the community here, there are plenty from completely anonymous users. I recognize the temptation to "fix" bad comments, but there's a real risk to throwing out plenty of good stuff when you don't let people post anonymously.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jan 29th 2014 2:56pm
from the but-of-course dept
Well, that little pipedream is now over, with Google selling off the handset business to Lenovo for $2.91 billion. Some are pointing out the rather massive difference between this and the initial purchase price of $12.4 billion, but that leaves out a lot: mainly, Google is keeping the patents and just licensing them back to the company. In 2012, Google claimed that it valued the patents at $5.5 billion. Also, it got $2.9 billion in cash from Motorola, and I'd imagine that's not going to Lenovo too... Instead, at the time of the acquisition, Google said it valued Motorola's customer relationships at $730 million and "other net assets" at $670 million -- and then had another $2.6 billion in goodwill (more or less the premium Google had to pay to get Motorola to sell). Given that, the sale isn't a huge "loss", though it does make Google look kind of silly for pretending it was really in the hardware business for a bit.
In the end, just as we predicted at the beginning, this is a story of the silly things a tech company is forced to do these days because of our stupid patent laws. The end result here pretty much confirms it all. Google shelled out $12.4 billion for a bunch of patents and hung onto a hardware business it never really wanted, and which it has now discarded. Without the pointless patent battles, it's unlikely Google ever would have bothered. So: would we be better off in a world where Google had actually been able to invest that money into making better offerings? Or where Motorola's investors got it?
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jan 29th 2014 7:35am
from the cluelessness-in-power dept
Gerry Sutcliffe MP said that he believed that “millions of complaints [to Google] have not been dealt with”, a point underlined by John Leech MP who recalled “the complacent attitude taken by [Google's] representatives to the whole issue, as though it had nothing to do with them and was not their problem.”Of course, it's hogwash that the complaints "have not been dealt with." Google has shown time and time again that when it receives valid complaints, it takes down the links to that content within hours, despite receiving so many requests. Most other search engines take much, much longer. Second, the whole 50 million links thing is a total red herring. If the sites are illegal, as Sutcliffe claims, then there should be lawsuits against them to take those sites down. But the problem is that the sites generally, have not been found to be illegal. And, many of the sites are used for all sorts of legitimate offerings as well. Yet, Sutcliffe and BPI seem to think there's a magic wand that can be waved to determine what's legitimate and what's not.
[....] “At some time, this Government must have a proper look at the almost monopoly status of this huge, multinational, non-UK business and ask whether it is good for our content industries. I have a sneaking feeling that it is not,” Sutcliffe said.
“I have seen the evidence from the British Phonographic Industry. It sent 50 million notices to Google asking it to take down links to illegal — I emphasize, illegal—sites. Google should not be doing that. What on earth is going on if it receives 50 million requests to take down links to illegal sites?
“It is time to call in the Competition Commission: we cannot continue to allow Google to be the gateway to content industries when they do them so much damage.”
Even more troubling, however, were the comments from Mike Weatherly, who is now David Cameron's "Intellectual Property advisor," but who in the past worked for both the legacy recording and movie industries.
“Ultimately, we need to consider withdrawing internet rights from lawbreakers, along with imposing fines and, as a last resort, custodial sentences,” he told the debate.Yes, even as countries are backing away from the insane move of cutting off internet access -- a form of punishment that has been shown not to work -- he wants to go even further, and put those people in jail. When another politician tried to say that individuals in their bedrooms are different from companies setting up file sharing offerings, Weatherly made it clear that he meant that even those downloading in their bedrooms should face jail if they keep downloading.
“My point was that, when we get the education right and people understand that stealing intellectual property is wrong, and when the industry has alternative downloading models, if we exhaust fines and other means of stopping persons downloading illegally, we must consider some sort of custodial sentence for persistent offenders and people who operate on a commercial scale,”That's the old entertainment industry we've grown to know so well. No matter how many times they ratchet up the punishment and find that it doesn't slow infringement, they just think that if they keep cranking up that dial, it'll work next time. It's why the US passed 15 different anti-piracy bills in the course of 30 years, after none of them actually worked. Perhaps, next time, they should try to offer the death penalty for copying. Except that won't work either.
Maybe, just maybe, rather than trying to punish everyone, they should focus on trying to make things convenient and worth buying. Just a suggestion.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jan 27th 2014 11:55pm
Feds Reach Settlement With Internet Companies Allowing Them To Report Not Nearly Enough Details On Surveillance Efforts
from the too-bad dept
Not too long ago, the government had started allowing companies to reveal, for the first time, how many national security letter (NSL) requests they get, but said they had to reveal that number in ranges of 1,000 starting with 0 to 999. However, they did not allow any such reporting on FISA Court (FISC) orders, which covered things like the now infamous PRISM program under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. It appears that the settlement more or less follows the outline of what the government allowed with NSLs. Companies are given two options. One is to basically report FISC requests like NSL requests, in bands of 1,000, and to similarly report "number of customer accounts affected" for NSLs, "FISA orders for content," "number of customer selectors targeted under FISA content orders," "FISA orders for non-content," and "number of customer selectors targeted under FISA non-content orders." All of those can be revealed separately, but always in bands of 1,000, starting with 0 to 999.
Alternatively, if companies are willing to lump these various programs together, they are allowed somewhat more granularity. So, if they lump together NSLs and FISA orders into a single number, they can reveal the details in bands of 250, starting with 0 to 249. Similarly, they can list the lumped together "customer selectors targeted" under combined NSLs and FISA orders in bands of 250.
This is a step forward, but it's not nearly far enough. As Kevin Bankston notes:
"Asking the public and policymakers to try to judge the appropriateness of the government’s surveillance practices based on a single, combined, rounded number is like asking a doctor to diagnose a patient’s shadow: only the grossest and most obvious problem, if even that, will be ever be evident."Among the problems here, are that while they can reveal the number of customer accounts impacted for NSLs, that's not what they can do with FISC orders. Instead, they can only reveal "customer selectors targeted." That can be very different. You can imagine a "customer selector" that impacts many, many user accounts. And that's what many people are worried about -- and with this agreement, we won't actually know.
Furthermore, the agreement has a ridiculous clause that says if a FISA court order covers a "new capability" (i.e., getting access to a service that previously was not being tapped by the NSA/FBI), the companies cannot share that information for two years. The thinking here is rather obvious. Say, for example, a company launches a new voice communications service, like Skype -- and then gets hit with a FISA court order demanding that the NSA be able to listen in. The companies would be blocked from revealing that for two years. Clearly, the idea is to keep people from knowing how quickly the NSA is able to tap into any new form of communication, but that also opens up plenty of opportunities for the NSA to abuse its powers.
There is still some indication that Congress may require greater transparency here. I can understand why the tech companies agreed to settle, but it's a bit disappointing that they threw in the towel so quickly.
Apple has already updated its transparency report to note 0 - 249 "national security orders" and 0 - 249 "total accounts affected."