Last week, we launched our latest t-shirt (and hoodie!) on Teespring: the Takedown tee. Now the campaign is nearly at an end, so if you want one you've only got until Monday, August 1st at 8:00pm PT. Otherwise you'll have to wait for the campaign to restart, which could happen soon or it could take ages — so don't delay!
Men's and women's t-shirts are $20, hoodies are only $35, and everything's available in a variety of colors. Hurry up and get yours today!
Silicon Valley has produced lots of disruptive technologies — ways to solve problems by upending entrenched industries and, often enough, routing around protectionist regulations. But not all regulations are meaningless, not all industries are easy to disrupt, and sometimes "fake it until you make it" becomes plain old lying. This week, we discuss what happens when "disruption" goes wrong.
One of the biggest stories this week was the shutdown of Kickass Torrents and the arrest of its owner, all of which we pointed out had questionable basis in actual law. That One Guy won most insightful comment of the week with the theory that this doesn't matter at all:
The fact that the charges don't line up with what's actually in the law doesn't matter really, as that would be distantly secondary at best. The purpose isn't so much to enforce the law regarding copyright infringement as to show what happens to those that annoy the USG and those buying politicians.
Site destroyed, owner arrested, message sent.
Much like MU winning the legal case would be something they'd like to be able to crow about, but they've already accomplished what they set out to do, and if all it cost them was some 'creative' interpretation of the law that's a price they're more than willing to pay.
Meanwhile, after Donald Trump threatened his disloyal ghostwriter with defamation claims, eaving won second place for insightful by drawing a comparison:
The more interesting thing would be to see if anyone exploits the rules to distribute malware that does real harm or has other unintended consequences that causes real problems for the Chinese government. With malicious ads being increasingly common, security is one of the larger reasons people are using these things.
I mean, I wouldn't want to be the person trying to exploit the opportunity even I were that way inclined. But an extra 159+ million people being added to a pool of targets, where the entire pool is barred from defending themselves against you, must be very tempting for certain people.
Next, we head to our post about the court that has offered no remedy to someone whose vehicle was illegally searched and then subjected to civil forfeiture after drugs were found. One commenter suggested that there's no way the alternative — returning all the property — is acceptable either, but Uriel-238 questioned that premise and its assumptions:
"I don't think they should just give the drugs, or the vehicle used to transport them back.. full fucking stop."
I do. The state is way out of jurisdiction once they have conducted an illegal search, and -- how shall we say it: it imposes a substantial social cost for there to be any impetus for the police to engage in unreasonable search and seizure, since the temptation to do so is so great on its own. The police are not even trustworthy holding contraband in their evidence lockers or destroying it.
Once we allow law enforcement to gain actually profit from overreach, they're going to do so. Excessively. There are number historic examples of how this goes down.
No, the proper order in this case is for the police to return to him his belongings (including any contraband) in recognition that the state and its agents are not above law either.
The suspect should be compensated for time lost due to the police overreach and then let to go about his business
We need to stop thinking of the police as a caste with a moral high ground over the rest of us. Indeed, if anything they have clearly proven that human beings are incapable of holding that elevated level of power without corruption and indulgence. They just aren't.
The US police is supposed to operate under the principles of policing by Sir Robert Peel (at least they still teach Peelian Principles in cop school and say these are our foundational principles. The police is the people. The people are the police. It's still supposed to be that way. It's not.
Rather, our law enforcement agents are so removed from common civilians now that they regard common civilians as the enemy, they defend their own corruption openly and plainly. They prey commonly on innocent civilians as highwaymen and brigands. They act as nothing more than yet another street gang, merely one backed with state funding.
Over on the funny side, we start out with the news that the German government is suing the US government over copyright infringement by the Navy. First place for funny goes to Machin Shin, who couldn't resist the simple joy this story provides:
I saw this on another site as I wandered around the net. I still think the best part in all this is that we can now call our Navy a bunch of pirates.
Did you hear? Yesterday, we launched our latest t-shirt on Teespring. It's a re-vamped version of our classic DMCA tee: the Takedown T-Shirt. In addition to men's and women's t-shirts for $20 each, we've reduced the price of hoodies to $35 and added some new color options including royal blue and forest green!
This initial run is available until Monday, August 1st, after which point your only choice will be to reserve one and wait until the campaign reboots — so if you want to get your hands on one soon, don't delay and order yours now!
YouTube's ContentID system has left many creators in a tough spot, with their videos whisked away by the questionable copyright claims of big media companies — and many a would-be viewer has been met with a disappointing takedown message instead of the content they hoped to enjoy. Now you can remind everyone of the problems with this arrangement with this update of our classic DMCA tee: the Takedown T-Shirt (also available as a hoodie).
This initial run is available until Monday, August 1st, so don't wait! In addition to a basic tee, it's also available as a women's tee and a high-quality hoodie. The t-shirts are $20 and the hoodies have a new reduced price of $35. Get yours today!
Let me start by saying it's obvious that this isn't going to happen. Nevertheless, let's consider the idea: should DC put its flagship superheroes in the public domain? Alex Schmidt over at Cracked (the comedy site that has caught our attention with its understanding of these kinds of topics before) makes the compelling case that they should in a new video that's worth watching:
The crux of the argument is that these iconic characters currently appear to be in a bit of a death spiral. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman met with a mixed-at-best response from fans and critics, and while both made good money in the big picture, they also showed some worrying signs — like failing to catch up to Marvel's superhero movies (which was the whole point) and breaking records of audience drop-off between the much-hyped opening night and the following week (when word begins to get around that the movie sucks). Schmidt is not the first to attribute this to the creators' disdain for the characters: Zack Snyder has openly expressed his lack of real interest in Batman and Superman, and made it clear that he doesn't really understand their appeal. Writer David Goyer has made similar comments. And the same people are already hard at work on the follow-up Justice League films, which seem unlikely to break the pattern of mediocrity.
So, the proposal goes, DC needs to do something drastic to revive the franchise, and the most drastic and positive thing they could do would be to put the characters into the public domain (where they were supposed to be as of a few years ago, were it not for the infamous Mickey Mouse copyright extension). Opening up the characters to other creators would result in a huge variety of new work involving them, and still wouldn't stop DC from working their own massive film franchise, especially by making use of all the later storylines and details about the characters that would still be under copyright.
Of course, there are a few problems with Schmidt's argument. He points to other big public domain characters like Robin Hood, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, and cites Holmes especially as an example of a character who has been revived to massive popularity through adaptations by other creators. But that example is flawed, because Holmes only recently entered the public domain (mostly), and both the Robert Downey Jr. movies and the insanely popular BBC series actually did license Holmes from the Doyle estate. DC has even felt some of this pain itself — the video points to the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics as a prime example of new creators using public domain characters, but those comics actually did face various release issues due to the questionable copyright status of Victorian-era characters including Holmes. Robin Hood and Dracula are both excellent examples though, and they chart a course for the direction Holmes is likely to go now that the estate's control has been eroded.
Now, as I said at the outset, this obviously isn't going to happen — it flies directly in the face of the copyright orthodoxy that rules Hollywood and so much of our culture. We can instead settle in for several more years of middling cash-grab films that irritate existing fans of the characters and fail to create new ones. But it's great to see a site like Cracked — a pillar of the fandom communities that fawn over these beloved superheroes and lend a serious critical eye to every execution of them — recognize that loosening the reins would be a much, much better idea.
This week, after Verizon tried to "debunk" the simple reality that its wireless plans are terrible, one commenter broke down the numbers to show how expensive they are compared to Comcast. Michael won first place for insightful by underlining the horror of what just happened:
When someone holds up Comcast as a better deal, you know you have a problem...
Meanwhile, we asked why the UK's Intellectual Property Office was praising the National Portrait Gallery's brazen copyright heist of public domain images, and That One Guy won second place for insightful with a classic quotation:
How's that saying go again?
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” -Upton Sinclair
"We bring together options customers tell us they want..."
Me: "I want a bigger bill every month. Can you do that for me?"
Me: "I'd like my rollovers to be totally useless, too."
VZ: "Can do! After all, the customer is always right..."
For editor's choice on the funny side, our first comment comes from a different telco tantrum in Europe, where a coalition of telcos and hardware vendors are protesting net neutrality by threatening to withhold next-gen wireless. One anonymous commenter put it in simple terms:
In other news, 5 year old threatens to hold breath until he gets a cookie.
Finally, after a Sony VP abused the DMCA to try to hide his Wikileaks-listed salary, Pixelation began devising countermeasures:
I'm going to take a trademark out on $320,000 and sue Yankelevits for infingement. Based on music industry numbers I should be able to recover millions.
It should surprise nobody that the FBI is seeking even broader digital surveillance powers by changing the warrant requirements and expanding the power of national security letters. If you're a regular Techdirt reader, it also won't surprise you to learn that Senator Ron Wyden is working hard to hold the line against this kind of expansion. This week, we're joined by Senator Wyden to discuss what the FBI is up to and what the public needs to know about it.
This is a hard case. You feel the plaintiff here is sympathetic (and I'll have to take your word on that), and in this particular instance you seem to have no appetite for dragging the plaintiff in question back into the open.
But hard cases make bad law. We cannot expect every "disappeared" case to involve a sympathetic plaintiff. Imagine if the likes of Malibu or Prenda were allowed to disappear old cases from court history. And we cannot know, presently, if cases have been completely removed from public view.
This cannot be allowed to stand. It sucks for this particular plaintiff, and I'm very sorry that the consequences of their actions may put them in more difficulty than we feel they deserve. (Karma can be a real bitch that way.) But we absolutely cannot allow courts to disappear cases from public view. It would threaten (or further destroy) our trust in an open and fair rule of law. Once you disappear one case, what stops you from doing so for other reasons?
Being stupid or dishonest is a crime if you're unlucky enough to get caught up in a FBI fabricated terrorism plot, but evidently it's not if your stupidity and dishonesty actually risked national security.
I guess that means if she's elected president there will be another private email server set up.
Next, we head to the interesting pro-fair-use language in the the Supreme Court's latest Kirtsaeng ruling, where one commenter suggested that we simply support diminishing protections for artists, and OldMugwump offered his perspective:
I'll say it yet again.
Artists must get rewarded for creating things people value. I don't know anyone who disagrees.
But copyright is no longer a good way to do it.
It used to be a good way - before copying became trivially easy.
Now we need a new way.
Personally I like automated patronage - electronic "tip jars" that ensure micropayments go straight to artists (not middlemen) each time a work is enjoyed.
But I'm sure there are other ways as well. We have to stop defending the dead horse of copyright, and start moving on to something that will actually help artists.
Over on the funny side, our first place winner is again an anonymous commenter, this time responding to Mike Huckabee's settlement with the band Survivor by serving up a good ol' song parody:
It's the eye of the liar
It's the shrill of the right
Sinking down when the issue ends up viral
And the last known survivor
Sues his prey in this fight
And he's watching us all with the eye of his lawyers
For second place, we head to our post about the arrest of a man who posted a picture of himself burning the American flag on the 4th of July, where Tim Geigner reminisced about the day George Washington punched King George in the face, and one commenter noted that they'd love to have a picture of the event. Then, an anonymous commenter expanded further on the mythology:
I think Abe Lincoln might have captured it on his iPhone, but the video is a little shaky because the bald eagle he was flying on wouldn't hold still. It was probably spooked by the double gatling guns that Jesus was using to hold off the redcoat reinforcements.
Techdirt has been around for a long time, but the folks at the EFF still have a few years on us: it was on July 6th, 1990 that the EFF was founded by John Perry Barlow and Mitch Kapor after both faced inquiries by law enforcement agents who were clueless about technology. Happy birthday, EFF!
Did you miss your chance to get one of Techdirt's Nerd Harder t-shirts? Well, you're in luck — since the campaign on Teespring ended, rebooted, and ended again, enough people have reserved a shirt to cause it to reboot once more! So now you've got another chance to get your hands on one:
This latest batch is only available until the end of the weekend, so hurry up and claim one unless you want to wait for another reboot!
It's been a while since we've had a double winner, but this week Rekrul took first place for both insightful and funny, in response to the warning from US intelligence agencies that Americans travelling abroad should use burner phones and trust nobody. His response was to note a key omission in this warning:
The video is incomplete! Where's the part where he returns to the US and gets his electronic devices searched and confiscated by the TSA while he's given a thorough groping?
In second place on the insightful side, we've got a response to Google's use of copyright tools to remove extremist content, where we wondered what anyone thinks this will actually accomplish. Almost Anonymous had an answer for us:
The answer is, "something". I know it is not a good answer, but it is the correct one.
For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with one more response to the warnings for Americans abroad, this time from OldMugwump who had some hands-on experience:
It's not new, it's just how USG people think
In the 90s I used to go to UN-related meetings in Geneva a lot.
There was always a guy from the State Dept. there to watch over the "US delegation" (most of whom represented private firms).
Every Friday he'd tell us to let State know everywhere we went outside our hotel over the weekend - not for infosec reasons, but because it's a "foreign country" and we could get into all kinds of trouble. We could get arrested and have no rights, not like at home in the US.
This was in Switzerland, the child-proofed chocolate-coated rubber room of Western Europe. Far safer than any place in the US - the main danger was overdosing on cheese.
But I think they really meant it.
There's something about the mentality of people who go to work for the US government - they really, truly, think all them furriners in nasty, terrible places like Switzerland, the UK, Austrialia, Japan (Japan!) are lawless hellholes without Good Old Fashioned Merican Democracy where people will be skinned alive for blinking at the wrong time.
Today, barcodes are ubiquitous. They were conceived in the late 1940s, patented in the early 50s, and shopped around for some time after that before the critical development of the Universal Product Code that dominates the retail world. It was on June 26th, 1974 that the first UPC barcode was scanned at a retail checkout, ringing up the price of a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum in Troy, Ohio.
This week, we launched a new Techdirt t-shirt on Teespring. If you were a music listener in the '80s, or a general follower of recording industry nonsense anytime since, you probably know all about the false mantra that "Home Taping Is Killing Music". Turns out that's about as true as saying "Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants" — so why not wear the latter on a t-shirt (or hoodie)?
This is a limited time offer that ends at midnight on Monday, July 4th! So don't miss your chance — order yours today!
We'd like to do that too, but currently we can't have separate artwork for the hoodie without a separate campaign - and hoodies so far haven't proven popular enough to sustain a Teespring campaign by themselves.
Funny, Eurostile was one of the fonts I toyed with when building it - but I decided against it since, to my mind, it's passed from "chic" into "vastly overused". I'm sorry you don't like the font ("Furore", if you're curious), but I *think* you're in the minority.
The goal was always a simple design, and it's been extremely popular so far - but if there's more interest in a fancier version, we may create a 2.0 at some point.
Before patents, advances and inventions were often kept completely secret -- in some cases, entire secret societies grew out of that tendency. This was, in the long run, terrible for society at large.
That's the story we are told. But it is, at best, a half-truth.
For one thing, patents were around for some 400 years as simply a form of government-granted monopoly, before even being talked about as a form of "intellectual property". And throughout all that time and beyond, there's basically no example of a period in which patents served the idyllic purpose they are supposed to according to the "secrecy" narrative. From the very start, they were a means of wheeling and dealing with governments granting patents to "inventors" solely on the basis of making everyone involved a bunch of monopoly money, not any sort of reasonable rationale.
There wasn't any requirement to publish the details of a patent for the first several hundred years of patents. The notion of having to examine a patent application for things like prior art and obviousness before granting it is even newer than that.
Nevertheless, let's look at the notion of patents as a way to prevent secrecy seriously for a moment, and assume it's the true intent: where's the evidence that this was a problem, or that patents fix it? As we see throughout the world today and throughout history, most things are invented contemporaneously and independently by multiple people in different places - because most "inventions" are in fact natural innovations based on what has come before. So, where are the great inventions that were lost because they were secret? Where are the great patents that were published to a cry of "thank god they revealed that and we can all use it in couple decades", as opposed to the cry of "fuck so now we have to wait a couple decades before we can use that?"
I don't know of any. And even if you can make the case that this was true historically, to me that has little bearing on the situation now. Now, the reality is that keeping a patentable invention secret is basically impossible anyway - there are enough smart people with enough resources that any invention is reverse engineered and fully understood, or else simply reproduced, within moments of hitting the ground. There are endless real examples of patents restricting innovation, and only vague hypothetical examples of how they promote it.
I'm not saying the notion of patents necessarily has to be entirely rejected, but it certainly has to be re-evaluated from the ground up. And in order to do that, we must look at the reality, not the myth of secretive guilds and the glorious publishing of patents. The reality is that they have always been a means of building monopolies in order to make business-shrewd individuals rich first, and a means of promoting innovation second if at all.
You do realize there are plenty of companies making cola, right? And thousands of restaurants big and small making fried chicken? Some worse, some better, some preferred by some and not by others, much indistinguishable in blind taste tests?
If this is your example for how trade secrets are worse for innovation than patents, I think you've chosen a bad one. There's been no shortage of innovation in the cola beverage and fried chicken fields. Also neither of those things are eligible for patent protection in the first place.
Recipes for Coca-Cola and KFC are like that. If you happen to copy them, even by accident, say goodbye to your life savings and any hope of a career as an inventor.
That's not true. Trade secret protection (now made uniform across most of America by the UTSA) only applies to "improper means" of learning a secret (corporate espionage, theft, misrepresentation, etc). If you uncover a trade secret by reverse engineering or independent invention, those are considered "proper means" and are perfectly legal. Indeed, you can even gain trade secret protection yourself for something you've developed by "proper means", and benefit from the same protections as the original inventor.
It also seems important to note that much of the corruption in many of those agencies is exactly that: corruption caused by private sector interests steering regulators away from the public good. But to react by eliminating all regulation would simply hand more direct control to the private interests - the very people guilty of nurturing the corruption you complain about.
The difference is I don't take the presence of corruption in many regulatory bodies to mean that regulation itself is bad in principle. I think that there are many things that will always require regulation, and though I'd certainly like to see that regulation function better than it does in many ways currently, it seems clear to me that some sort of regulatory mechanism will always be necessary - as in, some form of democratic process whereby a populace can create and enforce rules about things that effect everyone.
The FCC may be corrupt, but I still can't envision an efficient modern society that doesn't have a means of, for example, allocating radio spectrum — nor can I envision a way that could happen equitably and with maximum benefit if it was controlled entirely by private entities. The FDA may be corrupt, but I still can't envision a modern industrial food chain that effectively feeds hundreds of million people without some sort of public health control, or a modern health care system that doesn't involve some sort of public monitoring of pharmaceuticals. I can't envision a modern city that doesn't require public regulation of things like traffic, sewage, and zoning — and more broadly I can't envision modern humanity's long-term survival on the planet without some form of environmental and resource regulation.
I have no problem with you saying you think the majority of regulation is bad — though "majority" doesn't mean a whole lot here, as regulation is not just directly quantifiable on some simple scale, considering that tiny pieces of regulation can often have widespread effects and hundred-page-long regulations can often prove impotent and ineffective.
What I fail to follow, though, is the logic of the leap from there to assuming that "regulation" is a concept is thus inherently problematic. Speaking realistically, we have no examples of a wholly regulated or wholly unregulated society - every society everywhere has existed with both, and each has numerous examples of both good and bad things caused by both regulation and a lack of regulation, plus even more examples where the exact causation is debatable and involves a wide variety of unique or specific factors.
The only sensible conclusion I can see is to focus on creating smart, effective, efficient regulation applied where necessary, and minimizing the negative consequences of both bad regulation and lack-of-necessary-regulation where those exist.
Blindly opposing "regulation" - and even discussing "regulation" as one giant, general, homogenous topic - is equally foolish, and far far more common. I've never seen anyone claim "all regulation is good, regulate everything in every way" - but I've seen plenty of people rail indiscriminately against any and all forms of regulation as you do here.
As you note, the real original weapon/tool is a sharp stick - or a stick with a spearhead mounted on it. It's actually quite hard for me to envision many situations where a neolithic hunter would find an axe more useful for either hunting or combat. Hunting is all about range. Axes in war are all about close combat and are especially useful against armoured opponents (and such axes tend to have very small heads, for puncturing power).
It is not entirely intuitively clear to me either, but it is true that almost all prehistoric axes uncovered by archaeologists appear to have been agricultural tools (found on farms alongside ploughs, etc.), and there are few if any examples - specifically of axe-heads for mounting on handles - that predate agriculture. And so this one raised some eyebrows. Archaeologists generally try not to just guess what a tool was used for (or at least not assert that guess as the definite truth).
Aha - thanks, this actually clarifies a lot. I knew there was a distinction between how Java and languages like C++ are compiled, and that Java had a runtime aspect which is what enables it to move so easily between platforms. But I have always been pretty unclear on what exactly that meant and what the real distinction was :)
Definitely. And I should clarify here that I'm a light coder not an experienced software architect - personally I much prefer working with dynamically typed languages (and most of the coding tasks I do are more suited to that anyway). But I'm also well aware of the strength and necessity of stricter languages for many purposes. I like your example here though, as I've definitely enjoyed that kind of thing - for example Wordpress (which I work with a fair bit) provides some great dynamic functions for time/date stuff that accept all sorts of formats from full UTC timecodes to plain language statements like "last 7 days".
Sidenote, I did not know what you brought up above about modern IDEs maintaining a database model of the code and doing such rigorous compile-checking as you type. That makes me want to go back and try to learn C++ again :)
If you change something in Java, which makes it the wrong type to be passed to a function -- then that is a COMPILE TIME error, not a RUN TIME error.
Furthermore on that front - there are times when the lack of strictly typed declarations won't even produce a runtime error, but just bizarre and potentially hard-to-track bugs. For example, if you were to use the example python "max" function here with the numbers 2 and 10, but accidentally passed them as strings instead of integers, it would return 2 as the higher "number" and not generate any error at all.