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Posted on Techdirt - 25 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

What Should We Add Next To The Techdirt Gear Store?

from the feedback dept

Techdirt Gear on Teespring

Get I Invented Email, Copymouse and more in the Techdirt Gear store »

Right now, there are four different designs in available in the Techdirt Gear store on Teespring: our new Copymouse gear, our limited-time I Invented Email gear, and two different styles of Techdirt logo gear. But, under Teespring's new ongoing-order system, over time we're going to start bringing back some of our designs from last year as permanent fixtures in the store — in some cases with tweaked or updated designs.

So, which Techdirt tees would our readers like to see first? There's our popular Takedown gear, the controversial Copying Is Not Theft, and some less-popular but beloved-by-some options like Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants and Math Is Not A Crime. Of course, there's also the first t-shirt we offered and still the most popular: Nerd Harder.

We have some brand new designs in the works too and will be rolling those out in the near future, but first we want to get one or two of these classics back into rotation. In addition to letting us know which ones you're most interested in, feel free to include your thoughts on whether the design needs an update or you'd like to see different products/colors available!

Thanks for your feedback, and thanks for supporting Techdirt.

Two logo tee styles (plus hoodies, mugs & more) in the Techdirt Gear store »

Techdirt Gear on Teespring

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 February 2017 @ 11:23am

Celebrate Fair Use Week With A New T-Shirt From Techdirt

from the forever-less-a-day dept

Copymouse, by Techdirt

Get your Copymouse t-shirts, hoodies, mugs and more »

It's Fair Use Week — time to celebrate the all-important safety valve on copyright law and oppose those who want to see it clogged up or removed entirely! Of course, for us that's pretty much every week, but this still seemed like a good time to launch our newest t-shirt design: Copymouse (also available as a v-neck, hoodie, women's tee, mug or sticker). As most of our readers know, Mickey Mouse has a real talent for evading the public domain (even if he has to drag the rest of our culture down with him) and this t-shirt lets you remind everyone of that fact — and the fact that we likely haven't seen the last of that fight.

Also, while all our gear artwork is available on request, for Fair Use Week we figured it was a good idea to make a vector SVG version of the artwork available from the get-go.

(P.S. don't forget to check out the Techdirt store on Teespring for our logo gear (in two styles) and our still-available I Invented Email gear.)

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 21 February 2017 @ 1:15pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 110: Luck In Silicon Valley, With Robert Frank

from the chance-encounters dept

Innovation isn't easy, but success in Silicon Valley involves a bigger dose of luck than a lot of entrepreneurs seem prepared to admit. Chance gets left out of the economic equation all too often, and this week we're joined by Mike's own Econ 101 professor from Cornell, Robert Frank, to discuss the role of luck in the world of entrepreneurs and innovation.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the call-and-response dept

Last week, when we launched our Techdirt Survival Fund, we received a lot of support and encouragement — but of course we also recognize that there are plenty of good reasons some readers might not want or be able to donate. So it was largely unnecessary for one commenter to come by and explain that we "aren't important enough", but at least it yielded a response from Vaultnode that won most insightful comment of the week:

Aren't you an egotistical one? Mike has had lawmakers and Congressional staffers on his podcasts saying that TechDirt's writings was substantively responsible for changing some legislation on tech issues.

That's pretty damn important in my eyes.

Moving on... In second place on the insightful side we head to our post about Trump's ongoing Chicago crime proclamations, where one commenter busted out the "Chiraq" label, only for Roger Strong to counter with some blunt fact-checking:

ABC7 I-Team Investigation: Despite 'Chiraq' label, data show Chicago not even close to Iraq

In that same nine year period when 4,265 citizens were killed in Chicago, there were almost 30 times as many citizens killed in Iraq. Last year, there were 459 murders in Chicago. In Iraq, there were more than 17,000. Last weekend in Chicago, there were seven murders. In Iraq, there were 103. And Iraq's murders have been doubling year to year, unlike Chicago's murder rate that has been cut in half since 1991.

Speaking of Roger Strong and fact checking, for editor's choice on the insightful side he gets one more nod for his characterization of the Trump administration's media strategy:

It's like a distributed denial-of-service attack on fact checkers.

Next, we've got an excellent anonymous response to the frankly idiotic refrain of "Techdirt loves regulation and hates capitalism":

It is important to not conflate "Capitalism" with the corrupt, globalist-rigged, anti-competitive, anti-free-market, labor-crushing, democracy-hating, politically-coopted, crony manipulations of whatever in the hell name you'd come up with to describe what the US/Western markets have metastasize into. Where big money is in play, Capitalism does not typically exist (only mega corporations doing whatever they consider necessary to ensure the continued existence of their established interests).

There are few better examples of what Capitalism is NOT, than the US broadband industry. It's an industry that better serves as a cautionary tale as to what devastation befalls a country that allows industry to "self-regulate" too much and then fails to enforces meaningful consequences to those organizations whose belligerent pursuit of profit delivers ever increasing degrees of harm to the public good.

"Government Regulation" per se, should never be the crux of the discussion. The meaningful discussion concerns itself with 'good/effective-in-promoting-healthy-markets' versus 'bad/effective-in-promoting-rigged-markets' regulation.

Our contemporary problem with "regulation" in the US/Western markets is that big business and their wealthy benefactors have corrupted/gamed the regulatory process and the end result is that a boat load of very bad (i.e., nonsensical - unless it happened to be your lobbyist who wrote it up and bribed the politicians to pass it) regulation exists.

Over on the funny side, for first place we head to our post about how the Trump administration is going to handle leaks, in which we dedicated the first portion to once again harshly criticizing Obama's handling of the same. Thad sarcastically underlined that fact for some of our detractors:

But what I want to know is why Techdirt never talks about all the secrecy in the Obama Administration.

Next, we head to our latest post about the Oracle/Google debacle, where we accidentally failed to close a parenthesis in the post to the understandable ire of one punctuation-sensitive commenter. But an anonymous commenter won second place for funny by making up an excuse for us:

TechDirt cannot use closed parentheses because "matching parentheses" notation appears in the Java API, which has been copyrighted by Oracle.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with a response from Gwiz to one of the perennial "what does this have to do with tech" comments we receive:

I really wish people would quit asking this, like it's some sort of "gotcha" moment. Techdirt writes about a lot of things, most of them related to tech, but not always. If it's a problem for you, find something else to read.

Seriously, do you people post comments at PopeHat.com and ask them what their articles have to do with the Catholic leader's headgear too?

Finally, because it is also one of my own pet peeves and conversational red flags, we've got one more nod to Thad for a response to someone who used a particular term in his comment:

Sheeple?
Clearly you are a serious person with serious ideas.

That's all for this week, folks!

21 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 19 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: February 12th - 18th

from the and-recent-history dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2012, mass anti-ACTA protests broke out across Europe as opposition to the bill continued to swell. Bulgaria joined the list of EU members halting ratification of the treaty and even the European Parliament's president spoke out against it. The EU official who resigned in protest of ACTA explained further what was wrong with it, the head of Mozilla called it a bad way to develop policy, Public Knowledge made a strong call for greater transparency in such agreements, and our own Glyn Moody offered a thorough debunking of the European Commission's list of supposed "myths" about ACTA as well as the idea that there's any meaningful transparency at all. Despite all this, the IFPI and other lobbyists stood by the agreement, even having the gall to claim that the public protests were silencing the democratic process.

Ten Years Ago

Things were pretty grim on the copyright front this week in 2007. The RIAA was making its first forays into voluntary enforcement deals with ISPs that would forward settlement letters, which would eventually morph into the now-dead six strikes program. The US entertainment industry was trying to get Canada condemned as a pirate haven while its Canadian counterpart was itself pushing for an iPod tax. Microsoft was introducing yet another DRM scheme even as one survey showed that even two-thirds of music industry executives thought ditching DRM would be a good idea. Hollywood was beginning a new crusade against Google, not over YouTube but over ads on P2P websites, and a jury sided with sample troll Bridgeport in yet another abuse of the George Clinton copyrights they own. There was, at least, one victory: an EFF-backed lawsuit forced a prolific DMCA abuser to rescind his baseless takedown notices.

Fifteen Years Ago

There was one event this week in 2002 so much more significant than the others that it deserves the sole focus this week. Today, CC licenses are an integral part of the world of digital content, but (because copyright is a disaster) such open and flexible licenses were not always so easy to employ no matter how much a creator might want to. But it was this week fifteen years ago that we first learned that Lawrence Lessig and a team of other people were working on a new project called Creative Commons to provide an alternative to copyright.

Two Days Ago

What, two days ago? Yes: this week, I'm using this space to remind everyone about the Techdirt Survival Fund that we launched on Friday along with our filings in the lawsuit we face. We're very grateful to everyone who has donated so far, and hope you continue to give generously and spread the word so we can continue our fight for free speech.

Techdirt is off tomorrow for President's Day. We'll be posting the weekly comment winners at noon, and back to our regular schedule on Tuesday!

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 14 February 2017 @ 1:30pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 109: The New FCC

from the net-neutrality-under-fire dept

Net neutrality is at risk. The FCC under Ajit Pai is clearly intent on destroying it, and this is quickly turning into a fight for the future of the internet. This week, we're joined by Gigi Sohn, one of former chairman Tom Wheeler's top advisors at the FCC and now a fellow at the Open Society Foundation, to discuss what's happening at the FCC and what needs to be done in response.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the politics-as-unusual dept

This week, after Elizabeth Warren was blocked from reading a letter by Coretta Scott King in the Senate, we noted the extreme Streisand Effect that resulted. Chris ODonnell won most insightful comment of the week by summing it up nicely:

"She Persisted"

And thus turtle faced KY Senator Mitch McConnell did hand Elizabeth Warren the greatest campaign slogan for her 2020 run for President.

In second place on the insightful side, we've got an anonymous commenter who offered a very interesting angle on the DHS' plans to demand social media passwords at the border:

Isn't the sharing of passwords a violation of every website's Terms of Service? And isn't that (at least in the eyes of the DOJ) a violation of CFAA, and a felony? So every non-citizen who visits the USA will be required to commit a felony before they will be admitted?

The CFAA doesn't seem to grant an exemption for this kind of activity, so any government agent who logs in to another person's account violates that website's TOS, and they also commit a felony? Wonderful.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with a comment from rytyshy highlighting one of the many noteworthy lines in the appeals court's decision not to overturn the injunction against Trump's immigration order:

The judges also point out that the President's comments (and tweets) are relevant to the intent of this ban. This is important in that it underlines that his words now matter in a legal sense. Something he seems to still not understand.

Next, we've got a comment from That responding to the notion that Trump is just a natural next step after Obama and Bush:

No.

As I've said before, I absolutely agree that each President builds on the powers and policies taken on by his predecessor.

But there is nothing normal or natural about what is happening now. Yes, you can absolutely criticize the bad precedents set by Obama and Bush (and Clinton and Reagan and Nixon and Johnson and on down the line). But stop talking about what's been happening these past few weeks as if it were just politics as usual.

Over on the funny side, first place goes to Roger Strong for offering a bizarre but amusing comparison in response to the silencing of Elizabeth Warren:

1994 - The first piece of spam appears in USENET newsgroups. After much uproar, it is quickly removed and an apology is issued. "Well, that should be the last of THAT", say users.

2017 - The GOP use their new Senate majority to silence Elizabeth Warren on civil rights. "Well, that should be the last of THAT", say Republicans.

In second place, we've got a response from PaulT to one of the many ranting comments about the crazy things that straw-men liberals think (it really doesn't matter which one or on which post):

Yeah, it's amazing what those people who only exist in your head believe.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with a response to the ongoing legal fight in Iowa over police abusing warrant exceptions. TechDescartes expertly co-opted a piece of Star Wars culture and gave it a brand new meaning:

Instead of telling friends to "drive safe" when they leave, maybe we should be saying, "May the Fourth be with you."

Finally, we've got a fantastic observation from Oblate regarding Trump's vague executive order on crime:

Trump's task force is charged with "Crime Reduction And Public safety".

Pretty much what we've come to expect. At least they're correctly labeling what they're giving us now.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 11 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: February 5th - 11th

from the five-ten-fifteen dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2012, as congress sat in the wreckage of SOPA, 70 different groups put together a letter telling lawmakers to halt all other efforts to expand intellectual property. Despite this, a number of elected representatives were still inexplicably backing the dead bill, while Lamar Smith was trying to declare all anti-SOPA data as invalid. At the same time, he was being trashed by Politifact for his claims about the impact of piracy, and styling himself as an enemy of the internet by continuing to push a data snooping bill. The RIAA was also on the warpath, attacking Google and Wikipedia and hypocritically complaining about 'misinformation'.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2007, we were digging deeper into Viacom's takedown of 100,000 YouTube videos, and noticing that some were short, innocent home movies that were clearly not infringing. They weren't alone, of course: people were starting to realize how the RIAA's DMCA notices were slapdash and flimsy, and we even saw a bizarre push from the supposed creator of the Electric Slide to get videos of "his" dance off of YouTube. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs personally spoke out against the recording industry's DRM demands, prompting a rather strange response from the RIAA (which was also ludicrously calling for higher prices on CDs).

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2002, congress was all over the internet with its "dirty dozen" crop of digital regulation bills. Apple and Sony were battling over the future of home entertainment and what the technology would look like, while other companies were avidly pushing home networking to a mostly-uninterested public that didn't really understand what the benefits would be or why they'd want such a setup. Broadband was still failing to gain a real foothold, but spam was going strong and people were trying to figure out how to create the next Silicon Vally. One thing was clear though: the dot-coms that dropped big bucks on Superbowl ads weren't seeing much return on investment.

One-Hundred And Eight Years Ago

There are lots of big milestones in the history of consumer electronics and communication technology, and many involve the invention of critical components like the transistor. But this week we celebrate one that gets discussed less often: the invention on February 5th, 1909 of of Bakelite, one of the first synthetic plastics. It was useful for a huge range of applications, but quickly became a critical material in the world of electronics where it formed insulating and non-conducting components like telephone and radio casings, lightbulb sockets and bases, automobile distributor caps and more. Though it began to be replaced in the 1940s, it is still manufactured today.

(Fun side fact: Bakelite also became a tool for advanced art forgery, because it could be used to harden paint and make it appear much older than it really was.)

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 February 2017 @ 1:10pm

The Met Goes Public Domain With CC0, But It Shouldn't Have To

from the unfortunate-necessities dept

The ongoing digitization of the vast wealth of material sitting in museums and archives around the world is one of the greatest projects of the digital age — a full realization of the internet's ability to spread knowledge and culture to all. Or it would be, if it weren't for copyfraud: for every museum genuinely embracing open content and the public domain, there's another claiming copyright on public domain images and being backed up by terrible court rulings.

And so it's fantastic to see The Metropolitan Museum of Art joining the former camp with a new Open Access policy that is putting images of 375,000 works online with a CC0 public domain declaration. The Met actually partnered with Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Pinterest and others to help make this happen, and has even announced its first Wikimedian-in-residence who will head up the project to get these images into Wikimedia Commons and onto Wikipedia.

This is all great, but here's the annoying thing: it should be totally unnecessary. These are digitizations of public domain works, and there's no reasonable basis for granting them any copyright protection that would need to be divested with a CC0 mark in the first place. They are not creative transformative works, and in fact they are the opposite: attempts to capture the original as faithfully and accurately as possible, with no detectable changes in the transfer from one medium to another. It might take a lot of work, but sweat of the brow does not establish copyright, and allowing such images to be re-copyrighted (in some cases hundreds or even thousands of years after their original creation) would be pointless and disastrous.

Instead of the CC0 mark, the Met should be able to use a lesser-known Creative Commons tool: the Public Domain Mark, which indicates that something you are sharing is already in the public domain (whereas CC0 declares that you have rights in it, but are relinquishing them and releasing it to the public domain). And while the Met probably could have done so (and likely discussed this with CC since they were partners in this project), it's understandable why they decided not to: the statutory public domain is so damn weak and vulnerable that it can't be trusted, and a CC0 license is actually a much stronger way of ensuring nobody tries to exert control over these works in the future.

As Creative Commons points out on their information page for the Public Domain Mark, they don't recommend it for works where there is any doubt, in any jurisdiction, that they are in the public domain — a category that is virtually empty when all factors are considered. Though efforts to establish copyright on digitizations of PD works have mostly failed in the US, they have gained ground in Germany and the UK among other places. And attacks on the public domain are creative and frequent in the US too. Though it's somewhat hard to envision how another party could swoop in to attempt to take copyright control of the Met's digitizations, there would also be the possibility of the museum changing its stance in the future — and any such uncertainty creates a chilling effect where everyone who wants to make use of the images has to think twice. The CC0 mark is the strongest available statement that something is in the public domain.

Sadly, even CC0 is not completely waterproof, and it's a problem in the first place that the only way to release something into the public domain in most jurisdictions is via a third party's special licensing tools, not an official legal mechanism under copyright law. That's how you end up with a museum needing to partner with international copyright experts just to be able to make it absolutely clear that they don't own any rights to an unknown copyist's 100-year-old painting of a 4000-year-old Egyptian relief, which frankly should have been obvious. Kudos to the Met for doing everything it possibly could in a world that sometimes seems determined to snuff out as much of the public domain as it can.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 7 February 2017 @ 1:30pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 108: Autonomous Cars Are Accelerating

from the driving-forward dept

The adoption of self-driving cars is rapidly changing from science fiction to present reality. We had a preliminary discussion on the subject here on the podcast a couple years ago, but today we're digging more deeply the impact this is having, especially on policy. R Street Institute senior fellow Ian Adams joins us as a special guest this week for a discussion about the many implications of this accelerating technological shift.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the your-humanity dept

Normally, on the rare occasions that Mike's or my own comments win the top spots, I skip over them unless they are really important — since this post is all about highlighting reader comments. This week, however, our participation in the comments on our response to Trump's immigration ban dominated the leaderboards to such a degree (with one double-winner) that skipping them would mean going pretty far down the list, so this particular comment post will have to be more boastful than usual. And indeed, all of our top-voted comments this week come in response to that post.

That said, a reader still beat Mike and me out for first place on the insightful side. Roger Strong provided the very first comment on the immigration post, and racked up the points with a simple and appropriate quote:

"The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it."
- Tony Benn, British Minister of Parliament for 47 years

In second place, we've got the first of Mike's several responses to our detractors on the post, in this case one who asserted that "no one except children are swayed by emotional arguments and cherry picking individual sufferers to form a platform which is ultimately harmful to society at large". Mike's response became a double winner, taking first place for Funny as well as second place for Insightful:

Really? Because that seemed to be the basis of the entire platform of the President of the United States.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll start out with one more nod to Roger Strong for his activity on that post, in this case handily rebutting the argument that immigrants are a drain on the country:

You're making that up.

A more interesting look at the issue:

Wall Street Journal: Immigrants Founded 51% of U.S. Billion-Dollar Startups

...including Google, SpaceX, Tesla, Uber, Cloudfare and more.

And it doesn't even count second generation immigrants. For example Apple, founded by the son of a Syrian refugee and the son of Polish immigrants.

Which isn't at all surprising. When I was in high school it was the immigrants - from Asia, Russia, the Philippines, etc. - who did their homework and got the highest marks. They got the work ethic from their parents. Later I've worked for immigrants who set up businesses here.

We all know people with grand plans to improve their lives. They're going to move to the west coast. Or to Canada if the Republicans or Democrats win. They're going to save up, quit their jobs and go back to school. They're going to run for office and fix things. But most never do. They're stuck in the inertia of their own lives, unable to drop or stop making new commitments even in the long term. Or unable to save, or to put in the extra effort. Or just too nervous about taking a leap into a new life.

Immigration acts as a filter. You get only the people who DO the things they said. Who got over their fears. Who put in the extra effort and made the big leap.

These are the kind of people you want as citizens. The kind who ALSO tend to start businesses and create jobs. It's one reason why for immigration is a good deal for the countries they head for.

Next, we take a break from that post to look at one of the few clues we've gotten about the Trump administration's stance on copyright — a worrying editorial by one of his advisors who held up China's ability to disappear book publishers as a shining example of how IP enforcement is possible. Machin Shin was understandably horrified:

I must say, sure makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know people in our government are looking up to China and their ability to make people vanish.....

What the hell has happened to this country? We are supposed to be a shining example of freedom, not some twisted country drooling over the wonderful power of an authoritarian country.

It really sickens me to see what this country has become. Instead of the land of the free and home of the brave we have a bunch of cowering morons trashing all our freedoms. I would much rather live free and risk being killed from a terrorist attack than live under an oppressive government that is promising me a false safety.

Over on the funny side, we've already had our first place double-winner from Mike above, so we move on to the second place winner... me! There was some debate over Trump's precise attitude towards Mexicans based on rather generous interpretation of the precise words in his infamous "criminals and racists" speech. Personally, I found his final caveat to be less than convincing:

"Some, I assume, are good people" is right up there with "but I have [minority group] friends!" on the list of Shit Racists Say.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on our post about John Carmack's comments on the code expert who attempted to demonstrate "non-literal copying" in the ZeniMax/Oculus trial. Hij figured the concept could be put to good use:

On the up side this just gave every student in a programming class a way out of completing their assignment. Instead of saying, "the dog ate my code," now students can say, "I wrote the code, but I cannot distribute it since it is under copyright."

Finally, we head to the story of the Mac repair company whose lawyer sent out baseless threatening letters, offering up little more than a "just following orders" excuse when pressed by Paul Alan Levy. Roger Strong (he had a lot of great comments this week) was curious about the marketing aspect:

And what does he call this service?

iThug?

Fraud On Demand?

Chris Cammack's Barratry Emporium?

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 4 February 2017 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: January 29th - February 4th

from the reflections dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2012, we watched as the reaction to ACTA continued to heat up. Though the opposition was in some danger of straying off course, there were some big developments: the Slovenian Ambassador apologized for signing the deal, the Polish Prime Minister suspended all efforts to ratify it, Bulgarian MPs followed in the footsteps of Polish MPs the week before and protested with Guy Fawkes masks, and widespread protests began to break out across Europe.

Meanwhile, the TPP was also on the docket for the week, with a stark example of crony capitalism presented by the USTR getting civil society groups kicked out of the Hollywood hotel where it was hobnobbing with entertainment industry elites. We pointed out that SOPA/PIPA should be a pretty good lesson on why these negotiations need to be way, way more transparent.

Also, this was the week we released the first Sky Is Rising report.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2007, the world was still reacting to the newly Google-owned YouTube. The plans for revenue sharing with video creators were brewing, and while NBC was embracing the promotional value of YouTube clips, Viacom made its big move of telling Google to yank 100,000 videos off the service, setting the stage for the big legal feud to follow.

Also this week in 2007: Sony BNG reached a deal with the FTC for violating federal law with its horrible rootkit DRM, the RIAA had a SWAT team raid an Atlanta mix-tape producer on questionable legal grounds, Google was offering half-apologies for aiding Chinese censorship, and Adult Swim's now-infamous marketing stunt shut down the city of Boston.

Fifteen Years Ago

Five years earlier in 2002, Google made a much more popular decision when it announced it would not use pop-up ads. Of course, that seems obvious now, as did other things that were fresh at the time, like the convergence of wireless devices and the possibility of having a laptop as your only computer. In the world of secondary effects from the dot-com bubble bursting, we saw Cisco grappling with a huge gray market for used IT products and folks to dropped out to work in tech going back to school to finish their degrees.

Also, because nothing is truly new: folks were commenting on how news was getting less factual and more opinionated.

One-Hundred And Seventy Years Ago

Though not in fact headquartered in the city itself, Techdirt does a whole lot of its business in and around San Francisco — so this week we're marking a milestone in that city's history. It was on January 30th, 1847 that its name was changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco by Lt. Washington Allon Bartlett.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 February 2017 @ 9:42am

How Is 'Non-Literally Copying' Code Still Copyright Infringement?

from the form-and-function dept

Back in 2014, when ZeniMax first claimed that Oculus and its CTO John Carmack had copied the company's VR technology, we pointed out the obvious: since ZeniMax hadn't made a peep until the announcement that Facebook was buying Oculus for a cool $2-billion, it was a pretty blatant cash-grab. Now ZeniMax has scored a partial win in its lawsuit against Oculus and its executives, with the jury rejecting claims of trade secret misappropriation but awarding $500 million for copyright and trademark infringement and violation of non-disclosure agreements.

The trade secrets were the most important claim, but Oculus has already vowed to appeal the rest — so the case isn't over. But the most interesting thing to come out of this verdict is a statement from John Carmack about the expert testimony on "non-literal copying" that was central to some of the copyright claims:

For the most part, the process went as I expected.

The exception was the plaintiff’s expert that said Oculus’s implementations of the techniques at issue were “non-literally copied” from the source code I wrote while at Id Software.

This is just not true. The authors at Oculus never had access to the Id C++ VR code, only a tiny bit of plaintext shader code from the demo. I was genuinely interested in hearing how the paid expert would spin a web of code DNA between completely unrelated codebases.

Early on in his testimony, I wanted to stand up say “Sir! As a man of (computer) science, I challenge you to defend the efficacy of your methodology with data, including false positive and negative rates.” After he had said he was “Absolutely certain there was non-literal copying” in several cases, I just wanted to shout “You lie!”. By the end, after seven cases of “absolutely certain”, I was wondering if gangsters had kidnapped his grandchildren and were holding them for ransom.

If he had said “this supports a determination of”, or dozens of other possible phrases, then it would have fit in with everything else, but I am offended that a distinguished academic would say that his ad-hoc textual analysis makes him “absolutely certain” of anything. That isn’t the language of scientific inquiry.

Now, ZeniMax was quick to hit back with its own statement pointing out that some of the code at issue was literally copied (though the jury seems to have found that little or none of that code was actually used), but this question of "non-literal copying" is far more important. This whole notion of experts doing textual analysis to find recurring patterns is a worrying one: for all the real science behind such methods, it's not at all hard to see how easily they could be manipulated to support a chosen result, or how difficult it would be to ensure a jury properly understands the arguments and affords them the appropriate weight. Indeed, Carmack goes on to explain how the expert's presentation was... lacking:

There are objective measures of code similarity that can be quoted, like the edit distance between abstract syntax trees, but here the expert hand identified the abstract steps that the code fragments were performing, made slides that nobody in the courtroom could actually read, filled with colored boxes outlining the purportedly analogous code in each case. In some cases, the abstractions he came up with were longer than the actual code they were supposed to be abstracting.

It was ridiculous. Even without being able to read the code on the slides, you could tell the steps varied widely in operation count, were often split up and in different order, and just looked different.

The following week, our side’s code expert basically just took the same slides their expert produced (the judge had to order them to be turned over) and blew each of them up across several slides so you could actually read them. I had hoped that would have demolished the credibility of the testimony, but I guess I overestimated the impact.

The notion of "non-literal copying" as applied to code is a weird one, and casts a light on how weird code copyright is to begin with. If copyright isn't supposed to cover functional choices, how can it be infringing to create new code that accomplishes the same function in a slightly different way? Are juries supposed to determine which "non-literally copied" aspects of the code were aesthetic, and which were purely functional? This sort of idea-expression divide question is muddy in the worlds of art and literature, but it should be simple in the world of code: what a program does is not covered by copyright, nor are any purely functional elements of how it achieves that.

But instead, we've got experts applying what more or less amounts to literary analysis to computer code, and even using that analogy (to which Carmack has an excellent response):

The notion of non-literal copying is probably delicious to many lawyers, since a sufficient application of abstraction and filtering can show that just about everything is related. There are certainly some cases where it is true, such as when you translate a book into another language, but copyright explicitly does not apply to concepts or algorithms, so you can’t abstract very far from literal copying before comparing. As with many legal questions, there isn’t a bright clear line where you need to stop.

The analogy that the expert gave to the jury was that if someone wrote a book that was basically Harry Potter with the names changed, it would still be copyright infringement. I agree; that is the literary equivalent of changing the variable names when you copy source code. However, if you abstract Harry Potter up a notch or two, you get Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which also maps well onto Star Wars and hundreds of other stories. These are not copyright infringement.

(Not that plenty of people haven't tried to sue over books, including Harry Potter, being vaguely similar to their ideas.)

After all this, you might be thinking that you want to go find out more about just what that expert had to say, and get more detail on how he reached his conclusion about copying. Too bad! Even the defendants didn't get to see the full report, and we get even less:

Notably, I wasn’t allowed to read the full expert report, only listen to him in trial, and even his expert testimony in trial is under seal, rather than in the public record. This is surely intentional -- if the code examples were released publicly, the internet would have viciously mocked the analysis. I still have a level of morbid curiosity about the several hundred-page report.

Several hundred pages to "prove" that software was "non-literally copied" because it does the same thing in similar ways, all by abstracting chunks of code into their platonic forms and comparing them? Well, I guess those experts have to earn their paycheques somehow.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 February 2017 @ 12:41pm

The Codification Of Web DRM As A Censorship Tool

from the exceptions-that-create-a-rule dept

The ongoing fight at the W3C over Encrypted Media Extensions -- the HTML5 DRM scheme that several companies want ensconced in web standards -- took two worrying turns recently. Firstly, Google slipped an important change into the latest Chrome update that removed the ability to disable its implementation of EME, further neutering the weak argument of supporters that the DRM is optional. But the other development is even more interesting -- and concerning:

Dozens of W3C members -- and hundreds of security professionals -- have asked the W3C to amend its policies so that its members can't use EME to silence security researchers and whistleblowers who want to warn web users that they are in danger from security vulnerabilities in browsers.

So far, the W3C has stonewalled on this. This weekend, the W3C executive announced that it would not make such an agreement part of the EME work, and endorsed the idea that the W3C should participate in creating new legal rights for companies to decide which true facts about browser defects can be disclosed and under what circumstances.

One of the major objections to EME has been the fact that, due to the anti-circumvention copyright laws of several countries, it would quickly become a tool for companies to censor or punish security researchers who find vulnerabilities in their software. The director of the standards body called for a new consensus solution to this problem but, unsurprisingly, "the team was unable to find such a resolution." So the new approach will be a forced compromise of sorts in which, instead of attempting to carve out clear and broad protections for security research, they will work to establish narrower protections only for those who follow a set of best practices for reporting vulnerabilities. In the words of one supporter of the plan, it "won't make the world perfect, but we believe it is an achievable and worthwhile goal."

But this is not a real compromise. Rather, it's a tacit endorsement of the use of DRM for censoring security researchers. Because the argument is not about to what degree such use is acceptable, but whether such use is appropriate at all. It's not, but this legitimizes the idea that it is.

Remember: it's only illegal to circumvent DRM due to copyright law, which is not supposed to have anything to do with the act of exploring and researching software and publishing findings about how it functions. On paper, that's a side effect (though obviously a happy and intentional side effect for many DRM proponents). The argument at the W3C did not start because of an official plan to give software vendors a way to censor security research, but because that would be the ultimate effect of EME in many places thanks to copyright law. Codifying a set of practices for permissible security disclosures might be "better" than having no exception at all in that narrow practical sense, but it's also worse for effectively declaring that to be an acceptable application of DRM technology in the first place. It could even make things worse overall, arming companies with a classic "they should have used the proper channels" argument.

In other words, this is a pure example of the often-misunderstood idea of an exception that proves a rule -- in this case, the rule that DRM is a way to control security researchers.

Of course, security research isn't the only thing at stake. Cory Doctorow was active on the mailing list in response to the announcement, pointing out the significant concerns raised by people who need special accessibility tools for various impairments, and the lack of substantial response:

The document with accessibility use-cases is quite specific, while all the dismissals of it have been very vague, and made appeals to authority ("technical experts who are passionate advocates for accessibility who have carefully assessed the technology over years have declared that there isn't a problem") rather than addressing those issues.

How, for example, would the 1 in 4000 people with photosensitive epilepsy be able to do lookaheads in videos to ensure that upcoming sequences passed the Harding Test without being able to decrypt the stream and post-process it through their own safety software? How would someone who was colorblind use Dankam to make realtime adjustments to the gamut of videos to accommodate them to the idiosyncrasies of their vision and neurology?

I would welcome substantive discussion on these issues -- rather than perfunctory dismissals. The fact that W3C members who specialize in providing adaptive technology to people with visual impairments on three continents have asked the Director to ensure that EME doesn't interfere with their work warrants a substantive reply.

For the moment, it doesn't look like any clear resolution to this debate is on the horizon inside the W3C. But these latest moves raise the concern that the pro-DRM faction will quietly move forward with making EME the norm (Doctorow also questioned the schedule for this stuff, and whether these "best practices" for security research will lag behind the publication of the standard). Of course, the best solution would be to reform copyright and get rid of the anti-circumvention laws that make this an issue in the first place.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 31 January 2017 @ 1:30pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 107: Changing Government Starts With You

from the where-else? dept

For obvious reasons, politics and government are on just about everyone's mind at the moment, prompting a vast range of reactions and opinions. A lot of people who share a desire for change are divided not only by what form they think that change should take, but by what methods they think should be employed to achieve it. Former Senate staffer and long-time Techdirt friend Jennifer Hoelzer recently wrote a column entitled Your Government Won't Change... Unless You Do and this week she joins us on the podcast to delve further into this idea and what it means for optimists, cynics, pragmatists and everyone else.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 29 January 2017 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the wit-and-info dept

This week our first place comment on the insightful side comes in response to Tim Cushing's post about the US's trajectory towards becoming a police state. That One Guy zeroed in one particular police comment and offered a fiery rebuttal:

"You have to draw the line between your right as a citizen to privacy and a community's right to live in a crime-free environment. You can't have them both."

Not only does that 'right' not exist, the 'choice' presented is a false dichotomy. Give up all the privacy possible with cameras in every room, every call intercepted and every email scanned, and you're still not guarantee a 'crime-free environment', because, and here's the kicker: those that break the laws tend not to care about the laws.

Cameras in every room? A would-be-criminal will plan out of range of them.

Every communication scanned? Speak in code.

There's also the tiny little detail that any crime not pre-planned could, at best, and assuming it's caught by the (currently mythical) all seeing and flawless privacy destroying system be stopped, not prevented.

They're not offering a trade of security in exchange for privacy, they're 'offering' a trade of something that they can't offer in exchange for something very real and important.

As for the 'woe is us, the police are so unfairly maligned' gist of the rest of the article, from the sound of it Trump's plan of solving that bonefire is to dump a bunch of gasoline on top of it. Pointing to the smoke while ignoring the fire it's coming from. If the public increasingly (rightly) doesn't trust the police, and/or feel that the police get special treatment going even more overboard in 'protecting' them from the mean old public is just going to fan the flames, increasing the divide and intensifying the animosity.

But hey, I suppose I could give him the benefit of the doubt in assuming he's not being completely boneheaded here, because as the title notes, 'Do You Want A Police State? Because This Is How You Get A Police State'

For second place, we head to a discussion about security, where an interesting conversation broke out about what exactly the role is for biometrics. Pegr racked up enough votes to win the spot with a simple assertion, though (as we'll discuss in editor's choice) it's not the only way to look at it:

Biometrics are usernames, not passwords.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll start out with a reply to that comment from Lawrence D’Oliveiro, who considers things in a bit more detail:

Unfortunately, no. Usernames are not confidential information, so there is no point in using biometrics for them.

A username is who you claim to be. But anybody can make that claim. You then have to accompany that claim with some kind of authentication protocol, to prove your claim. Which is where authentication comes in.

As Bruce Schneier has pointed out, there are three categories of ways to provide such authentication factors:

  • Something you know (a password)
  • Something you have (a physical key-type object, or other object that is easy to keep with you, such as a mobile phone)
  • Something you are (biometrics).

What’s called “two-factor” authentication means using factors from two different categories.

Next, because it will lead into one of our winners on the funny side, we've got an excellent comment from sigalrm breaking out the many functions of some of the federal agencies impacted by Trump's recent gag order:

You may think you don't care about HHS. But consider that the operating divisions for HHS include, but are not limited to:

  • Administration for Children and Families,
  • Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality,
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicade Services (CMS)
  • Food & Drug Administration (FDA),
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH), and more.

more here: https://www.hhs.gov/about/agencies/orgchart/

These all roll up under HHS, and are presumably all subject to this gag order, given HHS as the parent organization.

US Department of Commerce? Yeah. That includes:

  • NOAA,
  • NIST,
  • The Patent and Trademark Office, and more.

Also all presumably under a gag order.

More here: https://www.commerce.gov/sites/commerce.gov/files/ media/files/2015/docorgchartfinal.pdf

One or two of those might be important.

I included that comment for the sake of detail, because over on the funny side, our first place winner is Thad responding to a commenter who questioned whether they'd "even notice if all of those agencies just disappeared from the face of the earth" with a blunter and more hilarious version of the same point:

That would depend on how quickly the contaminated food, water, air, and medications killed you.

For second place, we return to the police state post, where one commenter decided to push back by using some un-cited and highly questionable "facts" while accusing us of being inaccurate. Roger Strong nicely summed it up:

The anonymous source with anecdotal evidence from another anonymous source wants you to check your fact checkers. Go figure.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we'll start out with a fun piece of hyperbole anticipating law enforcement's reaction to the return of Lavabit:

This is an outrage! In the old days, all communications however sent could be recovered by journalists. When messages were written on paper, all manufacturers of sulphur matches could be required to provide technical means of reconstructing envelopes from ashes. Manufacturers of hammers, celts, or clubs could be required to provide tools to re-assemble broken cuneiform tablets. In a civilized society, Lavabit would be subject to the same requirements.

And finally, after a commenter took it upon themselves to blankly and repeatedly question what some of our posts about police and civil rights have to do with "tech", That One Guy delivered the best response I've ever seen to this question:

Well clearly it's tech related in the sense that TD has apparently figured out some magical coding for their pages that force you to read every single article whether you wanted to or not, and if so that's a wickedly impressive bit of tech I'd say.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 28 January 2017 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: January 22nd - 28th

from the post-sopa dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2012 was all about the fallout from SOPA/PIPA, and the pivot to focusing on new battles. The SOPA supporters who own major media networks were somehow complaining they couldn't get their voices heard, while movie theatre lobbyists were continuing to make up facts and a very confused CreativeAmerica was still campaigning for SOPA on the basis of needing it to take down Megaupload — despite that being the other big battle of the week because Megaupload had just been seized without SOPA.

On that front, we saw the chilling effects as other companies began turning off useful sharing services, and began learning interesting tidbits from the indictment. Some artists spoke out in opposition, with Jonathan Coulton tweeting and blogging against the seizure and Dan Bull releasing one of his always-excellent protest songs. But Megaupload wasn't the only battlefront: we also saw the backlash against ACTA begin to build, with the Polish government seeing SOPA-like protests (and calling it "blackmail") followed by that epic moment when Polish politicians in parliament donned Guy Fawkes masks in protest themselves. And as if all that wasn't enough, we also had to contend with the TPP, support of which was laced into Obama's state of the union address, prompting public interest groups to speak out about an upcoming secret meeting on the deal.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2007, the big copyright fight was still over DRM. The RIAA was complaining about how people thought it looked evil, Blu-ray's DRM was rapidly cracked by the same hacker who beat HD DVD, the licensing group behind AACS admitted that DRM is not in fact a meaningful barrier to piracy, and a fight was breaking out over Apple's FairPlay DRM in Norway. On the plus side, we saw a couple positive court rulings, one further defending the right to anonymity online, and another not just protecting but potentially expanding the safe harbor protections of CDA Section 230.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2002 we were still addressing a few more quaint copyright questions, like whether sharing abandonware is piracy. Beset by lawsuits, KaZaa was selling its site and software to an Australian company. Taxis were beginning to adopt GPS, the future of free web email seemed uncertain, PC-based e-voting was being tinkered with, and we got an early glimpse into the iron-fisted secrecy of Apple. Oh, and Techdirt was nominated for a Bloggie award.

Two-Hundred And Sixty-Three Years Ago

This has little to do with Techdirt topics, but it's a fun and interesting fact nonetheless: it was on January 28th, 1754 that Horace Walpole coined the word "serendipity" in a letter to Horace Mann, basing it on an old name for Sri Lanka used in a Persian fairy tale.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 24 January 2017 @ 1:15pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 106: An Office In A Bag

from the home-is-where-you-plug-in-your-charger dept

After years of working on the go, Mike has the mobile office down to a science — and wherever he sets it up, nearby gadget geeks have plenty of questions and comments (here's a rundown of his set-up). So this week we're joined by Espree Devora, host of the podcasts Women In Tech and We Are L.A. Tech, for a fun discussion about today's high-tech offices-in-bags.

Also: we're getting ready to record our first exclusive patron-only episode for our supporters on Patreon, which means it's time for those who backed us at a level of $5/month or more to submit questions for the Q&A portion. If you're one of those patrons, you can now find a post calling for questions in our Patreon feed and submit yours in the comments. If you're not, but you want to submit a question or just get access to the episode once it's released, now's the time to support the Techdirt Podcast on Patreon. We've only gotten a couple questions so far, but at least one is rich enough for us to do an entire episode in response — still, we want to give others a chance, so we're likely delaying the release of the episode until early next month. If you want to ask a question, don't wait around!

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 January 2017 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the not-so-funny-now dept

We've got a double winner on the insightful side this week, with Roger Strong taking first and second place with a pair of responses to then-still-President Obama's surprise commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence. First, it was a response to the assertion that Edward Snowden's case was different because he "fled into the arms of an adversary":

That'd be one of the four countries that offered Snowden permanent asylum: Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela. The US trapped Snowden in Russia while enroute. They even intercepted and searched the president of Bolivia's plane to search it for Snowden.

Funny though, I hadn't heard that Bolivia was an adversary or undermined American democracy.

In second place, it's a more general response to the idea that Snowden should have stayed to face the music:

You mean like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers?

Ellsberg's trial was dismissed in 1973 after evidence of government misconduct against him, including illegal wiretapping, was introduced in court. Today the government actions that got the case thrown out of court are legal.

For the two years Ellsberg was under indictment he was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. Today Snowden would not be allowed out on bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado, in total isolation conditions.

Speak the truth, then run.
- Polish proverb

Since that post sparked a whole lot of conversation, for editor's choice on the insightful side we'll look at two more responses. First, it's 383bigblock with further thoughts on why Snowden did the right thing:

There is no honor in taking one for the team especially when the system is rigged against whistle blowers. What Snowden released was pure value and we're seeing changes or more importantly increased awareness across the US for how far out of bounds our Government is willing to stray. The value is not less because he didn't subject himself to wrath of those who were caught with their hands in the cookie jar. He's a survivor and thanks to him we have a better understanding of the wickedness of those we entrust to govern us. He is a hero.... by all counts. He was smart enough to reveal what was necessary and preserve his ability to stay relevant and not get swept under the rug.

It just like the liberals who are all upset at Russia blaming them for Hilary's defeat. It's the not Russians fault that they behave the way they did and wrote the emails that they did, they just got caught. No different with Snowden, how many asshats stood up and predicted armageddon because the leak. No such disaster took place, they bent over backwards trying to denounce and deny the truth. The true turn-coats or the extreme unpatriotic are those asshats in our government that needlessly and recklessly spy on Americans in order to drink up the power.

Bravo Snowden.....for being smart about it.

Next, it's a response to that comment from Thad, offering a small piece of nuance:

Well, it is Russia's fault that they only chose to leak information that was damaging to the Clinton campaign. You don't think they had dirt on Trump too?

I've said this before, but apparently it bears repeating: the content of those e-mails was in the public interest. The provenance of those e-mails is in the public interest too. It's possible to be outraged by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and also to be outraged that a foreign government strategically interfered with our election. It's okay to think two different things are bad.

Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about the Mississippi Attorney General's latest attack on Google, which employed a version of the very same complaint the EFF once made. One anonymous commenter questioned what precisely that meant:

Are you telling me that Hood pirated the EFF's complaint?

For second place, we head to our post about a copyright fight involving a modified version of a Jorge Luis Borges story and the author's controlling estate. That One Guy stood up for the ghosts of authors everywhere:

If such blatant copyright infringement were to be allowed the original author would have absolutely no reason to create new works. If people are allowed to build upon works that have come before the very heart of culture and creativity is at risk, as the protections that creators depend upon, protections which are of course the only reason that anything is ever created in the first place will be shredded, and without those protections who will bother writing new, entirely-original-and-not-in-any-way-based-upon-anything-that-came-before books, movies or music?

As such it's quite proper that the author's wife brings this lawsuit to stop such activity while the original author is temporarily unable to do so, on account of the man currently being dead and having been so for 31 years, as I'm sure any day now he'll rise again, and without the knowledge that his works from seventy-one years ago are still protected what possible reason could he have for ever creating anything again post-mortem?

Truth is, though, that this was a very slow week for funny comments. Even the two winners had some of the lowest vote totals I've seen for comments in first and second place, and things quickly dropped off even further after that. So, instead of try to dig up a pair of not-that-funny editor's choices, we'll mix it up with a couple that still belong more on the "insightful" side of things. First, it's flyinginn with some important literary context for the Borges "remix" fight:

Borges was fascinated by the ontological issues of literary creation, especially replication - can a copy be more real than the "original"? Can generations of copies result in something which improves on the "original" - as with the Hronir in Tlon, Uqbar, a story which starts with a copyright infringement: "the encyclopedia is fallaciously called The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917) and is a literal but delinquent reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1902." Anyone familiar with Borges' works (which apparently does not include his wife) would find the "Fattened Aleph" an interesting extension of his literary approach and legacy. It certainly poses no threat to her revenue stream.

Finally, we've got an anonymous quip that isn't exactly a side-splitter, but makes a succinct point about the notion of whistleblowers going through the "proper" channels:

No, "proper" channels are via whichever "formal" and "approved" channels are provided.

Wikileaks and The Intercept fall into the "viable" and "meaningful" channel categories.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 January 2017 @ 12:31pm

This Week In Techdirt History: The Slaying Of SOPA

from the a-big-week dept

Five Years Ago

It's time for one more focused retrospective on the events of this week in 2012: the week of the SOPA blackout and a huge victory for the internet. First, we dip briefly into the previous week, where we put out a special Saturday post to report the surprise news that the White House had come out against the approach in SOPA/PIPA. The MPAA responded to this with a bizarro-world statement interpreting it as a sign they could rush the bills through and Rupert Murdoch lashed out at the president on Twitter, while NBCUniversal's Rick Cotton was lying about the bill on MSNBC and Harry Reid was admitting concerns but insisting they must push forward. But the looming Wednesday blackout was gaining steam: Wikipedia officially announced its participation with a tweet from Jimmy Wales, then Google announced that it would join the fray, but not with a full blackout (later revealing a blacked-out logo that drew a lot of attention to its petition page). The Internet Archive (recently declared a rogue site by the entertainment industry) threw its hat into the ring as well, as did gaming site Rock Paper Shotgun and some artists like Peter Gabriel. Even Microsoft, while not joining the blackout, finally made it clear that it opposed the bills in their current form. For our part, we decided that blacking out to raise awareness wouldn't be so helpful on Techdirt where almost all of our readers were well aware of SOPA, and instead spent the day reporting on what was happening.

With all this going on, even before the protest there was talk of the bills being dead — but Lamar Smith quickly made it clear that wasn't the case. He and the MPAA both brushed off the planned blackout as a publicity stunt, and Smith put out a press release announcing the next phase of markup for the bills. On blackout day (Wednesday, January 18th) the denial continued, with the MPAA making the astonishing claim that no "big sites" had joined the protests (Wikipedia, Google and Reddit, anyone?) and Chris Dodd spouting sanctimonious bluster about tech companies turning users into their pawns. A whole bunch of creators signed a letter saying they don't want SOPA/PIPA passed in their names, and soon the blackout began to take effect...

The first one to go was Rep. Lee Terry, who removed his name as a co-sponsor. On the senate site, Marco Rubio followed suit. Then Senators Boozman, Hatch and Blunt and Rep. Quayle, with more and more joining them as the day progressed. The most entertaining response came from Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa. At the end of the day, we noted that 8-million people had looked up their Representatives' information with Wikipedia's tool, and posted a gallery of all the blackout screens. Senator Ron Wyden, long-time opponent of the bills, thanked the internet but noted that the work was not yet done.

The reaction continued strong into the next day, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for the bill to be dropped all four GOP candidates for the 2012 election said no to SOPA and PIPA. But the most telling responses came from the industries that pushed the bills to begin with: Hollywood studio execs expressed pretty blatant anger at the fact that the government wouldn't stay bought, and the MPAA straight-up threatened politicians who wouldn't stick to its agenda. The RIAA, meanwhile, just condescended to the internet.

On Friday, staunch supporter Marsha Blackburn conceded that it was time to scrap SOPA, and by the end of the day the internet had won: the bills were both listed as "delayed" and both Harry Reid and Lamar Smith announced that they would no longer move forward with them. We analyzed a long interview with Chris Dodd to explain why the industry's approach failed, and then began focusing on what comes next.

But there was no need to look far, because for all the significance of the victory, SOPA/PIPA were also a prime example of winning the battle not being the same as winning the war. Not only did the Supreme Court choose the blackout day to issue the Golan ruling that allowed works to be yanked back out of the public domain — on Thursday, in the midst of SOPA/PIPA chaos, the DOJ went ahead and unilaterally seized and shut down Megaupload and arrested many of the principles, including Kim Dotcom.

They didn't need SOPA to do it. They didn't need anything to do it. Much like the seizures of Dajaz1 and Rojadirecta, they didn't even appear to need especially solid legal footing: at least, they took a whole lot of questionable things as evidence of criminal activity. Some artists like Busta Rhymes spoke out in defence of the site (it being an extremely useful distribution tool) — and then Anonymous struck back with widespread DDoS attacks on entertainment industry websites, prompting some nonsensical free speech complaints from the MPAA and suspicions that the DoJ might have provoked Anonymous on purpose.

As we now know, the arrest of Kim Dotcom was just the beginning of another long fight about the overreach of the US government and the influence of the entertainment industry thereon — and we know that's not the only example of a continued war against the supporters of free culture and an open internet. The internet should still take time to remember and celebrate the defeat of SOPA though, if only because we're almost certainly going to have to do the same thing again, and again, and again...

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