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Posted on Techdirt - 18 July 2017 @ 3:49pm

From Sans Serif To Sans Sharif: #Fontgate Leads To Calls For Pakistan's Prime Minister To Resign

from the fun-with-fonts dept

Some people get really worked up about fonts. Here, for example, is a thread on Reddit, spotted by Leigh Beadon, about the appearance of the serif font Cambria on the show "Better Call Saul". The problem is that the show is set in the years 2002 and 2003, while Cambria was designed in 2004. The (mock?) outrage about this slip-up is all good fun, but obviously nothing too serious. Unlike in Pakistan, where another apparent font faux pas is leading to calls for the country's prime minister to resign.

As the Guardian explains, the daughter of Pakistan's prime minister is being investigated by the country's supreme court as a result of revelations in the Panama Papers that linked her to expensive properties in London. Documents produced in her defense had a slight problem, as spotted by font aficionados:

Documents claiming that Mariam Nawaz Sharif was only a trustee of the companies that bought the London flats, are dated February 2006, and appear to be typed in Microsoft Calibri.

But the font was only made commercially available in 2007, leading to suspicions that the documents are forged.

Social media users have derided Sharif for this apparent misstep, coining the hashtag #fontgate.

Such is the interest in #fontgate and the humble sans serif Calibri font, that visits to the relevant Wikipedia page have ballooned from 500 visits per day to 150,000 in just two days. As a result of the intense interest and some dubious editing attempts, Wikipedia has been forced to act:

After users seemingly tried to change the article's content to say the font was available from 2004, Wikipedia suspended editing on its Calibri page "until July 18 2017, or until editing disputes have been resolved".

Although you might think this is pretty much at the level of the Reddit discussion of Cambria, rival politicians in Pakistan see it as much more serious -- and an opportunity they can exploit:

Opposition parties have urged prime minister Nawaz Sharif to step down after the investigation found a "significant disparity" between his family's declared wealth and known sources of income.

However things turn out in Pakistan for the country's prime minister and his daughter -- Nawaz Sharif has denied wrongdoing -- #fontgate has already had one positive outcome. It allowed the Indian newspaper Financial Express to use the memorable headline: "Awesome story of Calibri, the font that may leave Pakistan sans Sharif."

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 July 2017 @ 6:34pm

When The 'Sharing Economy' Turns Into The 'Missing Or Stolen Economy'

from the anybody-seen-my-300,000-umbrellas-lying-around? dept

The sharing economy -- actually better-described as a rental economy -- is very much in vogue, inspired by the high-profile examples of Airbnb and Uber. But Western enthusiasm pales in comparison to that of Chinese entrepreneurs, who seem to have taken the view that the model will work for anything. For example, alongside the companies that rent out homes and cars, there are now some that will let you pick up an umbrella in a public spot, use it for a short while, and then return it. At least, that's the theory. But the South China Morning Post reports that the Sharing E Umbrella startup ran into a few problems:

Just weeks after making 300,000 brollies available to the public via a rental scheme, Sharing E Umbrella announced that most of them had gone missing, news website reported on Thursday.

The company was launched back in April, and is operating in 11 Chinese cities. Customers borrow umbrellas after paying a deposit of about $3, and a fee of 10 cents for every 30 minutes. Undeterred by the fact that each missing umbrella represents a loss of $9, the company's founder says he hopes to proceed on a larger scale by making 30 million of them available across the country by the end of the year. Here's why he's convinced he's on to a winner:

After seeing the launch of bike-sharing schemes across the country, the Shenzhen-based businessman said he "thought that everything on the street can now be shared".

Perhaps he should have waited a little before modelling his business on bike sharing. Caixin reported last month that Wukong, one of the smaller players in this crowded market, has just closed down -- after most of its bikes went missing:

Wukong operated its 1,200 bikes in the southwestern city of Chongqing. But most of the bikes were lost because the firm didn't embed GPS devices in the vehicles. By the time the company decided the devices were necessary, it had run out of money and failed to raise more

Wukong isn't the only rental company that lost track of most of its bikes, as notes:

Wu Shenghua founded Beijing-based 3Vbike in February, using 600,000 RMB ($89,000) of his own money to purchase the first 1,000 bikes. But only four months later, he told the Legal Evening News that there were only dozens left.

Despite those failures, money continues to pour into the Chinese bicycle rental sector: last month, one of the leading startups, Mobike, announced $600 million in new funding, which it will use it to expand outside China. Let's hope people there remember to bring the bikes back.

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Posted on Techdirt - 13 July 2017 @ 6:46pm

Canada Capitulates: Supreme Court Throws Away Government's Great Pharma Patent Victory

from the who-needs-the-law-when-you-can-bully? dept

Techdirt readers will probably recall a long-running saga involving corporate sovereignty, $500 million, the US pharma company Eli Lilly, and drug patents. In its claim against the Canadian government, made using NAFTA's Chapter 11, Eli Lilly insisted it should have been given some drug patents, despite Canada's courts finding that they had not met the requirements for patentability -- specifically that there was no evidence that the drugs in question provided the benefits in the patent. Eli Lilly said that Canada was being unreasonable in setting a slightly higher bar than other countries by demanding that a patented drug should actually do something useful. As Mike reported back in March, even the lawyers that made up the corporate sovereignty tribunal hearing this case agreed that Canada was within its rights to take this view. They not only dismissed the claim, but ordered Eli Lilly to pay Canada's legal fees.

This was a huge win for Canada in particular, and governments in general. At the time, it all felt a little too good to be true. And now seems it was: as reports, the Supreme Court of Canada has just overturned decades of precedent -- and implicitly the Eli Lilly ruling -- by making it easier for Big Pharma to gain patents on medicines that don't really work:

This reversal in AstraZeneca Canada Inc. v. Apotex, Inc. is particularly disconcerting because Canada had just won an investor-state arbitration award in the long awaited Eli Lilly v. Canada case upholding its more stringent promise/utility doctrine that had been used successfully to overturn two dozen secondary patents, particularly those claiming new uses of known medicines, where patent claimants failed to present evidence in support of the prediction of therapeutic benefit promised in their patent applications.

Thus Canada's Supreme Court has inexplicably thrown away the government's earlier victory, and undermined the country's more rigorous approach to granting pharma patents. Writing for, Brook K. Baker believes this stunning capitulation is a result of unremitting bullying from the US:

Canada had been under intense pressure from the US, which had placed Canada on its Special 301 Watch List for five years threatening that the promise/utility doctrine unreasonably harmed Big Pharma in the US and from the pharmaceutical industry itself which claimed that the doctrine violated global patentability criteria. President Trump's hardball campaign promise to rewrite or leave the North American Free Trade Agreement because of its failure to adequately protect US intellectual property interests may also have played a role. Likewise, President Trump's more recent assertions that US payers are unreasonably subsidizing biomedical research and development because other countries, like Canada, are paying lower prices for innovator medicines than insurers and other payers in the US may also have increased pressure on the Court.

It's really sad to see the Canadian court kowtowing like this, undermining its own independence and moral authority in the process. Weaker patents will lead to the Canadian taxpayer paying higher prices for less-effective drugs. Worst of all, the Big Pharma bullies, aided and abetted by a newly-aggressive US government indifferent to other countries' health problems, will be encouraged to push for even more patent protection all around the world. That will lead not just to higher prices, but to more suffering and avoidable deaths, as crucial medicines become unaffordable for poorer patients.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 July 2017 @ 6:36pm

EU's Brexit Strategy Shows How Aggressive Transparency Can Be Used To Gain The Upper Hand In Negotiations

from the poor-Theresa-May-doesn't-stand-a-chance dept

We're big fans of transparency around here, as you may have noticed. In particular, Techdirt has repeatedly called for trade deals to be negotiated more openly to allow greater input from the public -- and less backlash when they find out what has been agreed without them behind closed doors. But a fascinating post from the Institute for Government, a UK-based think-tank "working to make government more effective", points out that aggressive transparency can also be used to gain the advantage during high-level political negotiations.

In this case it is the critical "Brexit" negotiations between the EU and the UK that will determine their future relationship if and when the UK leaves the European Union. The stakes are incredibly high: the financial implications alone run into hundreds of billions of euros. Moreover, the UK's place in the world is also at play, as it extracts itself from the biggest geopolitical bloc in an attempt to go it alone. As the post points out, the approaches taken by the EU and the UK could hardly be more contrasted:

The European Council [one of the key EU bodies setting strategy] has published its "transparency regime" for the Brexit negotiations, committing the EU to a far greater degree of transparency than anything that we have seen in the UK. It sets out the ten classes of documents that could be issued by the Council, the [European] Commission and [EU] member states, along with a default level of public disclosure for each.

The UK government, by contrast, has said rather sniffily it would not be offering a "running commentary on Brexit negotiations", and aims to keep its plans totally under wraps. The Institute for Government points out that this is a big mistake:

The EU wants to be able to control the public narrative around Brexit. Two weeks ago, the EU published its draft negotiating mandate. Its proposals on the prerogative of the European Court of Justice, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the sequencing of the negotiations were in all the UK papers. Having taken a self-imposed vow of secrecy, Prime Minister Theresa May was unable to respond to any of the issues of substance.

In other words, 500 million Europeans are only hearing the EU's side of the story, and the EU's views on what should happen during Brexit. Theresa May's secrecy means that she cannot rebut any of the assertions, nor offer her own vision (cynics say that is because she has neither a vision nor a plan….) The post points out that the EU's approach is not naïve or simplistic, but carefully planned and nuanced -- open for this aspect, but more reticent elsewhere:

A degree of secrecy is necessary to allow negotiators the space to think innovatively, to propose and weigh potential compromises. So, the EU stops short of a commitment to total transparency. It wants talks to be open, but not wide open.

The UK on the other hand wants to run as much of the negotiations behind closed doors as possible. That may just be the preferred operating style of this government or it may be a conscious decision. Whatever the reason, it will play right into the EU's hands.

It's a perceptive analysis that adds to the already compelling reasons why such high-level talks should be open and transparent as a matter of course. It's a pity that the one person who needs to take heed of that fact -- the UK's Prime Minister -- almost certainly won't. Both she and the country she nominally controls are likely to pay a high price as a result.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 July 2017 @ 3:32pm

Former Head Of GCHQ Says Don't Backdoor End-To-End Encryption, Attack The End Points

from the putting-an-end-to-the-end-to-end-debate dept

When he was head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan said some pretty clueless things about the Internet and encryption. For example, in 2014, he accused tech companies of 'facilitating murder', and joined in the general demonization of strong crypto. Last year, he called for technical experts to work more closely with governments to come up with some unspecified way around encryption. Nobody really knew what he meant when he said:

"I am not in favor of banning encryption. Nor am I asking for mandatory back doors. … Not everything is a back door, still less a door which can be exploited outside a legal framework."

Now, speaking to the BBC, he has clarified those remarks, and revealed how he thinks governments should be dealing with the issue of end-to-end encryption. As he admits:

"You can't uninvent end-to-end encryption, which is the thing that has particularly annoyed people, and rightly, in recent months. You can't just do away it, you can't legislate it away. The best that you can do with end-to-end encryption is work with the companies in a cooperative way, to find ways around it frankly."

He emphasized that backdoors are not the answer:

"I absolutely don't advocate that. Building in backdoors is a threat to everybody, and it's not a good idea to weaken security for everybody in order to tackle a minority."

So what is the solution? This:

"It's cooperation to target the people who are using it. So obviously the way around encryption is to get to the end point -- a smartphone, or a laptop -- that somebody who is abusing encryption is using. That's the way to do it."

As Techdirt reported earlier this year, this is very much the approach advocated by top security experts Bruce Schneier and Orin Kerr. They published a paper describing ways to circumvent even the strongest encryption. It seems that Hannigan has got the message that methods other than crypto backdoors exist, some of which require cooperation from tech companies, which may or may not be forthcoming. It's a pity that he's no longer head of GCHQ -- he left for "personal reasons" at the beginning of this year. But maybe that has given him a new freedom to speak out against stupid approaches. We just need to hope the UK government still listens to him.

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 July 2017 @ 3:21am

China's Surveillance Plans Include 600 Million CCTV Cameras Nationwide, And Pervasive Facial Recognition

from the I-saw-what-you-did-there,-and-know-who-you-are dept

Two of the recurrent themes here on Techdirt recently are China's ever-widening surveillance of its citizens, and the rise of increasingly powerful facial recognition systems. Those two areas are brought together in a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal that explores China's plans to roll out facial recognition systems on a massive scale. That's made a lot easier by the pre-existing centralized image database of citizens, all of whom must have a government-issued photo ID by the age of 16, together with billions more photos found on social networks, to which the Chinese government presumably has ready access.

As for the CCTV side of things, the article quotes industry research figures according to which China already has 176 million surveillance cameras in public and private hands, and is forecast to add another 450 million by 2020. If those figures are to be believed, that would mean around 600 million CCTV cameras by that date -- around one for every three people in China. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Facial-recognition cameras are being used in China for routine activities such as gaining entrance to a workplace, withdrawing cash from an ATM and unlocking a smartphone. A KFC restaurant in Beijing is scanning customer faces, then making menu suggestions based on gender and age estimates. One popular park in the capital has deployed it to fight toilet-paper theft in restrooms, using face-scanning dispensers that limit each person to one 2-foot length of paper every nine minutes.

Other existing uses include on a running track to check that people aren't taking shortcuts, and in churches, mosques and temples, where CCTV cameras are deployed in conjunction with facial recognition to keep tabs on exactly who is engaging in these activities, which are regarded with suspicion by the authorities. Future possibilities are also explored by the article. Inevitably, police use of facial recognition systems figures prominently here:

Still to come: a police car with a roof-mounted camera able to scan in all directions at once and identify wanted lawbreakers. Researchers at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Sichuan province have developed a working prototype. "We’ve tested it at up to 120 kilometers per hour," said Yin Guangqiang, head of the university's security-technology lab.

If the prospect of being recognized by a police car hurtling past you at high speed isn't exciting enough, you can look forward to being spotted by a squadron of facial-recognition drones that a Chinese company is working on. The bad news is that this is still "a little ways into the future", but we can be pretty sure that once it is possible, China will be among the first to deploy it as part of its ever-more pervasive high-tech surveillance system, with facial recognition playing a central role.

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 June 2017 @ 1:34pm

First And Only Snippet Tax Deal In Spain Is With Big Supporter Of Snippet Tax In Germany

from the maybe-just-a-coincidence dept

Two years ago, Techdirt wrote about an industry study of Spain's "Google tax", which requires a Web site to pay for sending traffic to publishers when it quotes snippets of their texts. Just as everyone who actually understands the Internet predicted, Spain's new law had a disastrous effect on the publishing industry there, especially on smaller companies. Despite that unequivocal evidence, the law is still in place, and it's a further sign of how pointless it is that only now has the Spanish Center for Reprographic Rights (Cedro) finally managed to sign up its first deal with a news aggregator, called Upday (original in Spanish). Cedro is claiming that this "pioneering" move possesses a "strategic importance" because it recognizes the rights of those whose publications appear elsewhere as snippets.

The fact that it has taken so long to find anyone willing to accept that point is bad enough, but it gets worse. Upday operates across Europe, and was launched in Spain at the beginning of March this year. It turns out to be a partnership between Axel Springer and Samsung. As Techdirt readers may recall, the giant publishing group Axel Springer is one of the biggest supporters of the Google tax in Germany. Initially, it tried to take a hard line against the US search company. But Axel Springer was soon forced to back down humiliatingly and offer Google a free license to post snippets from its publications. A two-week experiment without search engine leads caused Web traffic to Axel Springer's sites to plunge.

So, far from being a "pioneering" move that validates the whole snippet tax approach in Spain, Upday's deal with Cedro is simply a key German supporter of this daft idea trying to give the impression that the moribund Spanish Google tax is still twitching somewhat. It's pretty clear why Axel Springer and Cedro would be keen to do that now, after years of nothing happening in Spain. The European Union is currently revising the main EU Copyright Directive. Article 11 of the proposed text is an EU-wide version of the snippet tax, despite the fact that the idea has failed miserably everywhere that it has been tried. The agreement between Upday and Cedro will presumably be used as "evidence" that the Google tax is "working" in Spain. The fact that it is a "circular" deal between German and Spanish supporters of the idea proves the exact contrary.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 June 2017 @ 8:07am

Why Is US Government Giving A Pharma Giant Exclusive Rights To A Zika Vaccine Whose Development Was Paid For By The US Public?

from the please-tell-me-again-why-making-drugs-unaffordable-will-save-lives dept

Here on Techdirt we've written much about the way Western pharma companies fight for their "right" to charge unaffordable prices for medicines in emerging and developing economies. In particular, they routinely take governments and local generic suppliers to court in an attempt to shore up highly-profitable monopolies on life-saving drugs. But to be fair, it's not only poorer people who are dying as a result of Big Pharma's desire to maximize profits: Western drug companies are equally happy to charge even higher prices in richer countries -- notably in the US. That's old news. But there is a pharmaceutical saga unfolding that manages to combine all the worst aspects of this kind of behavior, and to throw in a few new ones.

It concerns something really exciting and important: a vaccine that shows great promise against the devastating Zika virus, which can cause microcephaly, blindness, deafness, and calcification of the brain in children whose mothers were infected during their pregnancy. If effective, such a vaccine could be a tremendous boon not just for developing countries, but for Western ones too, since the Zika virus has already begun to spread in the US, and Europe. The vaccine was developed at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, and the Department of the Army funded its development. Great news, you might think: the US public paid for it, so it's only right that it should have low-cost access to it. Moreover, as an act of compassion -- and to burnish its international image -- the US could allow other countries to produce it cheaply too. But an article in The Nation reports that the US Army has other ideas:

the Army is planning to grant exclusive rights to this potentially groundbreaking medicine -- along with as much as $173 million in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services -- to the French pharmaceutical corporation Sanofi Pasteur. Sanofi manufactures a number of vaccines, but it's also faced repeated allegations of overcharges and fraud. Should the vaccine prove effective, Sanofi would be free to charge whatever it wants for it in the United States. Ultimately, the vaccine could end up being unaffordable for those most vulnerable to Zika, and for cash-strapped states.

The Knowledge Ecology Institute (KEI), led by Jamie Love, made a reasonable suggestion to ensure that those most at need would have access to the drug at a reasonable price. KEI asked that, if Sanofi does get an exclusive deal, it should be obliged to make the vaccine available at an affordable price. The Army said it lacked the ability to enforce price controls, but it would ask those nice people at Sanofi to commit to affordable pricing on a voluntary basis. According to The Nation, those nice people at Sanofi refused. Speaking of nice people at Sanofi, the article notes the following:

Sanofi's record also includes a number of controversies related to its pricing practices, from a $190 million fine to settle charges that it defrauded Medicare and other government programs, to a $109 million fine to settle charges that it illegally provided product kickbacks to doctors. In 2014, a whistle-blower alleged the company engaged in another kickback scheme and the destruction of legal evidence. KEI maintains a comprehensive list of Sanofi's fraud fines, including the latest: a $19.9 million settlement, reached this April, for overcharging the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

When there is an entire Web page dedicated to listing Sanofi's problems going back to 2009, you really have to wonder why the US Army is so keen to give the company a monopoly on this promising new treatment. The usual argument for the sky-high prices of drugs is that firms must be rewarded for taking on the financial risk of drug development, otherwise they won't proceed, and the world would be the poorer. Except, of course, in this case that risk was entirely borne by the US public, which paid for the early stage development of the vaccine with their taxes. So Sanofi risked nothing, but now looks likely to reap the benefits by being allowed to price the vaccine out of the reach of the people who most need it. You might think there ought to be a law against this kind of behavior. It turns out that there is:

KEI's Jamie Love pointed out that under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, it is already illegal to grant exclusive rights to a federally owned invention unless the license holder agrees to make it available at reasonable pricing. But that provision has rarely, if ever, been enforced.

Now would be a really great time to start enforcing that law.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 June 2017 @ 6:50pm

Facial Recognition Software Brings Personalized Ads To The Supermarket

from the I-saw-what-you-bought-there dept

Facial recognition software is getting to the point where there are some very interesting things that can be done with it in everyday life. That includes really bad ideas like enabling the police to run record checks on everyone who passes in front of their body-worn cameras. But it also means that businesses can start applying the technology in novel ways. Here's what is happening on a trial basis in some German supermarkets and post offices, as reported by Deutsche Welle:

There's a camera and a screen set up by the check-out. A visual sensor scans the faces of waiting customers who have looked directly at the camera and detects whether they're male or female and how old they are.

Marketing company Echion is running the cameras and screens. The brands that advertise with them have clearly delineated target groups. If the visual sensor detects that enough people who fall into a company's target demographic are looking at the screen, an ad by this company will start playing.

Being shown ads that are likely to be more relevant to you is probably no bad thing. But once cameras are in place, it would be natural for shops to start using them for other more complex tasks, like spotting known shoplifters:

faces of individuals caught on camera are converted into a biometric template and cross-referenced with a database for a possible match with past shoplifters or known criminals. Some stores in the US give shoplifting suspects the option of allowing themselves to be photographed, rather than arrested. All this had been made possible by the arrival of networked, high-resolution security cameras and rapidly advancing analytical capabilities.

That's from a story in the Guardian last year, so it's likely that the technology has moved on considerably since then. It's easy to think of more troubling extensions to the idea of scanning shoppers: for example, linking up to other databases of troublemakers and ne'er-do-wells, or to selfies derived from social networks.

As well as obvious privacy issues, explored in the Deutsche Welle report, a more general concern is the normalization this latest application of facial scanning might produce. Once cameras coupled with facial recognition software are routinely installed in everyday settings like supermarkets -- with appropriate warnings -- perhaps we will begin to accept them as the norm, and barely notice their silent spread to other locations and situations.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 June 2017 @ 6:31pm

Cheese: The Final Frontier For The Completion Of The Canada-EU Trade Deal CETA

from the blessed-are-the-cheesemakers dept

Remember CETA, the "Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement" between the EU and Canada? After years of on-off moments, including one last burst of uncertainty in March of this year, it finally seemed that everything had been settled, and that the deal would soon come into force. But it turns out that there is another, hitherto-unsuspected problem -- cheese:

Canada's CBC reported on its website that plans to have CETA (the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) in place on 1 July were "threatened by a new cheese dispute". It said Europeans were upset at how Canada would allocate import quotas for new EU products, including 18,000 additional tonnes of cheese that Canada has agreed to import tariff-free.

Euractiv has all the details of the problem, which turns out to be bickering over how EU cheese producers will share that new tariff-free allowance. That's just last-minute haggling, and presumably will be solved with some appropriate sticks and carrots on both sides of the Atlantic. But an earlier report on the same site indicates there are deeper issues with CETA that remain unresolved:

In France, 110 MPs have demanded the opinion of the Constitutional Council on the legality of CETA. A ruling is due this summer. And Belgium, whose calls for additional guarantees had led to a confrontation with Brussels, has promised to take its concerns to the Court of Justice of the European Union in the coming weeks.

Most recently, it is France's new President Emmanuel Macron who has put the issue back on the negotiating table, promising in the last days of his presidential campaign to set up an expert committee to examine the CETA agreement before ratification.

The last one of these is particularly problematic. Macron has adopted a surprisingly muscular style in his first few days as French President, most famously in his handshake with Donald Trump, and won't want to be seen backing down from his promise to seek expert scrutiny of CETA before ratification. Looks like there's life in that cheesy CETA saga yet.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 June 2017 @ 8:35am

Multiple German Courts Rule Photos Of Public Domain Works Are Not In The Public Domain

from the and-no,-you-can't-take-your-own,-either dept

Back in November 2015, we wrote about a bad situation in Germany, where a museum in Mannheim was suing the Wikimedia Foundation over photos of public domain works of art, which were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. Sadly, since then, things have not gone well for the public domain. No less than three German courts -- in Berlin, Stuttgart and now again in a higher Stuttgart court -- have ruled against the use of the photos. The latest court judgment is available in full (pdf in German), and it contains some pretty worrying statements.

For example, the upper Stuttgart court confirms that the museum's photographs of the public domain works are not in the public domain, because they were produced by a photographer, and not some mechanical process like a photocopier. Under German law, if there is any kind of creativity involved, however minimal, then the photograph produced enjoys protection as a "Lichtbildwerk" -- literally, a "light image work" -- and is not in the public domain.

The court also ruled that not even photos of works in the public domain taken by a Wikipedia supporter to put on Wikipedia could be used freely by Wikipedia. Making a photo in this way "injured" the museum's ownership of the objects in question, the judges said, even though the works were in the public domain, as a report on the iRights site explained (original in German). In addition, the court said that the museum was within its rights to make it a condition of entry that no photos were taken.

These are clearly dreadful rulings for Wikipedians in Germany. The good news is that the Stuttgart court has allowed an appeal to the country's top court, the Bundesgerichtshof. If even those judges fail to see how crazy this situation is, and how harmful to the public domain, there is always the hope that the Court of Justice of the European Union, the highest court in the EU, might consider the case, but there's no guarantee of that.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 June 2017 @ 6:33pm

Islamic State Using Small Drones Routinely In Iraq For Scouting And Dropping Explosives

from the drone-swarms-coming-up-next dept

Here on Techdirt we like to remind people that drones are not just death-dealing machines in the sky, but can also be a force for good. However, like any other technology, drones can and are utilized by the worst as well as the best. Inevitably, that includes terrorist groups like Islamic State (ISIS), as an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times reveals:

In the seven months of the Iraqi government's drive to recapture Mosul from the jihadists, small drones have become a signature tactic of the [ISIS] group: Their appearance on the horizon, loaded with a camera, signals that punishing mortar barrages will soon be on the way. Others guide car bombs to their target, or drop small explosives miles behind the front line.

Most of these drones come from the Chinese company DJI, generally regarded as the leading drone manufacturer in terms of market share. Clearly, the routine use of its products by ISIS is not the best publicity in the world:

Reports that Islamic State had used DJI products pushed the company in February to create a geofence, a software restriction that creates a no-fly zone, over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, specifically over Mosul.

But there are problems with geofencing. First, there is the issue of when a demand to geofence certain regions is legitimate, since answering that question requires a political judgment about who is really in power. Secondly, it's not that hard to get around geofencing, either by using quick fixes, or simply swapping to other drones that run on open source code that allows geofencing to be turned off.

Given that geofencing may not work, countermeasures are generally necessary. Those include rather crude solutions like shooting drones out of the sky with firearms, to more sophisticated ones like the DroneGun, from the Australia-based DroneShield Ltd., a company that specializes in counter-drone technology:

[the DroneGun] jams the GPS signal and radio linkages between the drone and its operator. The device, which sends out a jamming cone over a mile in length, forces the drone to either land immediately or to return to its base so that it can be tracked.

DroneShield's CEO, Oleg Vornik, already has some thoughts on what terrorists will do next:

"we believe organizations like ISIS will begin deploying swarms of drones. If you saw the Super Bowl halftime, you would have seen dozens of drones with little lights on them moving in a choreographed fashion," Vornik said. "That technology can be used to load grenades onto a large number of drones."

In other words, as drones continue to develop new and potentially exciting capabilities, so terrorists will eagerly embrace them -- just like everyone else.

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Posted on Techdirt - 8 June 2017 @ 6:30pm

Two Big Copyright Cases Sent To Top EU Court: One On Sampling, The Other On Freedom Of The Press

from the metall-auf-metall-auf-metall-auf-metall dept

Back in 2012, Techdirt wrote about one of the longest-running copyright sagas. It involved a 2-second rhythmic sample from the Kraftwerk track "Metall auf Metall", which was used by the German rapper Sabrina Setlur in a single called "Nur Mir". After the case had ping-ponged around various German courts for 12 years, a decision by Hamburg's highest regional court seemed to be the end of the matter, as Tim Cushing described in his comprehensive post. But in 2016, Germany's constitutional court took a look, and now a press release from the country's highest court (original in German), the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), informs us that the case is still not yet over, and that it is moving up a level. The BGH has asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the top court in the EU, to clarify some basic points of law. A post on the IPKat blog runs through the details, and notes that one of the issues is:

What role the rights granted by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union plays: in particular, what is the relationship between copyright protection (Article 17(2)) and freedom of the arts (Article 13)?

That's asking a pretty deep question about copyright, and its relationship to creativity. As it happens, the same BGH has referred another copyright case to the CJEU asking equally important questions about that the role and limits of copyright (original in German). Here's IPKat again:

The second reference (I ZR 139/15 - Afghanistan Papiere) has been made in the context of litigation between the German Government and German newspaper WAZ over the unauthorised publication by the latter of the so called 'Afghanistan Papers', ie confidential military reports on the operations of the Germany armed forces in the region in the period 2005-2012.

Exciting stuff. Equally exciting, albeit in a different way, are the key questions the BGH wants the CJEU to answer:

can copyright protection be trumped by the need to safeguard freedom of the press and freedom of information? Or can fundamental rights be even directly invoked to prevent enforcement of copyright?

There is probably no need to note that this question goes to the very heart of copyright protection, and will revive the longstanding discussion around the scope of protection.

Indeed. These are two very big copyright cases whose outcomes could have a major impact on the contours of copyright law in the EU, and maybe even beyond.

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Posted on Techdirt - 8 June 2017 @ 8:33am

Strong Crypto Is Not The Problem: Manchester And London Attackers Were Known To The Authorities

from the adding-hay-to-the-stack-makes-it-harder-to-find-the-needles dept

Soon after the attack in Manchester, the UK government went back to its "encrypted communications are the problem" script, which it has rolled out repeatedly in the past. But it has now emerged that the suicide bomber was not only known to the authorities, but that members of the public had repeatedly warned about his terrorist sympathies, as the Telegraph reports:

Counter Terrorism agencies were facing questions after it emerged Salman Abedi told friends that "being a suicide bomber was okay", prompting them to call the Government's anti-terrorism hotline.

Sources suggest that authorities were informed of the danger posed by Abedi on at least five separate occasions in the five years prior to the attack on Monday night.

Following the more recent attacks on London Bridge, the UK prime minister, Theresa May, has gone full banana republic dictator, declaring herself ready to rip up human rights "because terrorism". But once more, we learn that the attackers were well known to the authorities:

London attack ringleader Khuram Butt was identified as a major potential threat, leading to an investigation that started in 2015, UK counterterrorism sources tell CNN.

Butt was seen as a heavyweight figure in al-Muhajiroun, whose hardline views made him potentially one of the most dangerous extremists in the UK, the sources said Tuesday. The investigation into Butt involved a "full package" of investigatory measures, the sources told CNN.

Butt was filmed in a 2016 documentary with the self-explanatory title "The Jihadis Next Door", in which a black flag associated with ISIS was publicly unfurled in London's Regent’s Park. Even though police were present during the filming, they did not follow up that incident, according to the Guardian:

Police did not make a formal request for footage or information from the makers of a Channel 4 documentary that featured Khuram Butt, one of the London Bridge attackers.

The broadcaster of The Jihadis Next Door said no police requests were made for film or programme maker's notes to be handed over under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or Terrorism Act.

The UK authorities were warned last year about another of the London Bridge attackers,Youssef Zaghba, by Italian counter-terrorism officials:

An Italian prosecutor who led an investigation into the London Bridge attacker Youssef Zaghba has insisted that Italian officials did send their UK counterparts a written warning about the risk he posed last year and monitored him constantly while he was in Italy.

Giuseppe Amato, the chief prosecutor in Bologna, who investigated Zaghba when he tried to travel from Italy to join Islamic State in Syria in March 2016, told the Guardian that information about the risk he posed was shared with officials in the UK.

Amato added that he personally saw a report that had been sent to London by the chief counter-terrorism official in Bologna about the Moroccan-born Italian citizen.

Manchester and London are not the only cases where the authorities were informed in advance about individuals. A 2015 article in The Intercept looked at ten high-profile terrorist attacks around the world, and found that in every single case, at least some of the perpetrators were already known to the authorities. Strong encryption is not the problem: it is the inability of the authorities to act on the information they have that is the problem. That's not to suggest that the intelligence services and police were incompetent, or that there were serious lapses. It's more a reflection of the fact that far from lacking vital information because of end-to-end encryption, say, the authorities have so much information that they are forced to prioritize their scarce resources, and sometimes they pursue the wrong leads and miss threats.

We wrote about this problem back in 2014, when an FBI whistleblower confirmed what many have been trying to explain to governments keen to extend their surveillance powers: that when you are looking for a needle, adding more hay to the stack makes things worse, not better. What is needed is less mass surveillance, and a more targeted approach. Until Theresa May and leaders around the world understand and act on that, it is likely that more attacks will occur, carried out by individuals known to the authorities, and irrespective of whether they use strong crypto or not.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 June 2017 @ 10:46am

UK Government Department Says It Will Cost $7 To Send It An Email, But Only If You Are A Foreigner

from the no-real-reason,-we're-just-racist-bigots dept

Last June, the UK held a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, or to make a British exit -- Brexit. The majority of those casting their votes -- but only 36% of the UK electorate -- chose to turn their backs on Europe and its people. Since then, the British government has been taking every opportunity to burnish its xenophobic credentials, and with some success: recent figures show that EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for years are leaving in droves.

But it seems that the UK government feels it hasn't punished those foolish enough to live beyond the white cliffs of Dover as much as it could, and has come up with a cunning new plan to show Jane and Johnny Foreigner they are not welcome in any way, shape or form. The government department that handles immigration and the granting of UK visas has just announced that there will be some additional discrimination, specifically:

customers [applying from outside the UK] who contact UK Visas and Immigration by email will be charged £5.48 [about $7]

While true-blue emails born in the pure digital air of Britain's sceptered isle can still be sent free of charge, any emails containing filthy foreign IP packets will be whacked with a $7 charge, presumably to have their electrons scrubbed clean of transmissible diseases and the smell of garlic.

The underlying message to people thinking about visiting the UK should therefore be clear: you and your pathetic tourist spending power are no longer wanted. Just like in the US.

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Posted on Techdirt - 26 May 2017 @ 3:36am

Wikipedians Join Push For Fair Use In Australia After Six Government Reports Recommend It

from the how-many-more-do-politicians-need? dept

People in Australia have been asking for the introduction of fair use as part of a broader copyright reform for a long time. Techdirt first wrote about it four years ago, then again last year, when the Australian Law Reform Productivity Commission produced one of the best reports ever written on the topic by a government body. Amazingly, most of its ideas, including a call for fair use, survived in the final version of that document, which appeared at the beginning of this year.

However, it turns out that those are just a few of the six Australian government reports which have recommended adopting fair use for copyright in Australia. That emerges from a new entry on the English-language Wikipedia, called "History of fair use proposals in Australia". Its appearance is not simply down to some random urge to wiki: it's part of a new campaign by Wikipedians in Australia to put pressure on the government there to bring in fair use after so many official calls to do so. A post on the Wikimedia blog explains the current copyright situation in Australia:

all copying requires permission unless you are only using an insubstantial part of a copyrighted work (which is typically very hard to judge), or the Copyright Act provides a specific exception. The most important exceptions, the fair dealing exceptions, cover research, study, criticism, review, parody, satire, reporting the news, and professional advice as long as the use is "fair". Any use not for one of these purposes will be illegal, no matter how fair or reasonable it is, unless the government introduces a specific exception for it.

The post also points out ways in which Australia suffers as a result of the lack of fair use, for example:

Australian schools end up paying millions of dollars each year to use publicly accessible online content on websites that you use at home for free. No one is asking to be paid for using these websites, and the money rarely makes it to the copyright owner. Just as importantly, the use is transformative and socially beneficial. But because the Act doesn't say such uses are allowed, payment still has to be made.

As part of the campaign to raise awareness of fair use and its benefits, Wikipedians in Australia are adding a banner on the English Wikipedia, and Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Australian Digital Alliance have also set up a new site called Fair Copyright. It would be nice to think that all this hard work would lead to the recommendations of those Australian government reports being implemented at last. But as Techdirt noted last month, the copyright industry has built up a fund of $11 million specifically to fight changes to copyright law in Australia, so we can expect fierce resistance to any such moves.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 May 2017 @ 11:58am

Brazilian Journalist Detained By UK Border Police For Reading A Book About ISIS

from the don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover dept

Just last week, we reported on how a British human rights activist was held at London's Heathrow airport by UK border police, and risked prison for failing to hand over his passwords. Now we learn from the Independent about a Brazilian journalist, Diogo Bercito, who was detained at Manchester airport for reading a book during his flight there:

He was reading The Isis Apocalypse, by former adviser to the US State Department on terrorism issues Will McCants. It explores the ideology of the terrorist organisation and is often used as a reference for journalists and researchers.

That seems a perfectly reasonable thing for a journalist to be reading in order to understand the background to the Manchester attack, which Bercito had been sent to cover for his employer, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. But it was apparently enough for the border police to pull him in for questioning. His passport and press credentials were taken away, and he waited for an hour before he was interviewed. The police officers then explained exactly why Bercito had been singled out for special attention: another passenger on his flight had felt "uncomfortable" about his choice of reading matter.

To be fair, you can't really blame the Manchester border police for following up on that complaint, given the terrorist attack that had taken place in the city just 24 hours before. But it's a sad reflection of the effectiveness of the authorities' scaremongering that some members of the public feel the need to report someone because he or she was reading about ISIS. What next: reporting people to the police for watching TV reports about terrorism?

After a few questions, Bercito was allowed to continue with his journey, with the friendly warning not to read his book in public -- in case other, similarly-nervous people thought he was a terrorist -- as well as a less-friendly threat:

Mr Brecito said they then returned his passport to him, but warned that "if they wanted, they could keep him for a long time".

And they're right -- as David Miranda discovered the hard way.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 May 2017 @ 6:05pm

Financial Times Editorial: Time To 'Ditch' Corporate Sovereignty In Trade Deals

from the more-trouble-than-it's-worth dept

The European Union's top court has just handed down an important ruling about an otherwise minor trade deal between the EU and Singapore. The two sides initialled the text of the agreement in September 2013, and since then it has been waiting for the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to hand down its judgment. The issue is who gets to sign off on the deal: is it just the European Union, or do all 28 Member States of the EU need to agree too? There's clearly a big difference there, because in the latter case, there are 28 opportunities for the deal to be blocked, whereas in the former situation, the EU can simply wave it through on its own. The CJEU ruling (pdf) is fairly straightforward: the EU can sign and conclude trade deals covering most areas, but not for a few that must involve the EU Member States. Of most significance is the following:

The regime governing dispute settlement between investors and States also falls within a competence shared between the EU and the Member States. Such a regime, which removes disputes from the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member States, cannot be established without the Member States’ consent.

That is, the thorny area of corporate sovereignty, also known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), is one of the few that requires the approval of all Member States. There's an interesting corollary to that ruling: if the EU wants to agree trade deals as quickly as possible, without the risk of Member States vetoing them -- as Wallonia did with CETA -- it should not include a corporate sovereignty chapter.

If it seems hopelessly naïve to think that might ever happen, here's an editorial in a ruthlessly hard-headed newspaper, the Financial Times (FT), recommending that it should (paywall):

[The CJEU's ruling] would be an excellent opportunity for the EU to go further, and reverse one of its bigger recent errors in trade policy. It should ditch the whole idea of having rules on investment, or at least rules allowing companies to sue a government directly, in FTAs. Such "investor-state" provisions have attracted intense opposition, not just from the Walloons but also from anti-corporate campaigners.

Removing these rules would ease the way for future deals. As they do not seem to encourage foreign direct investment, they are more trouble than they are worth. Freed from this unnecessary encumbrance, the EU would find it easier to sustain with its quiet run of closing bilateral trade pacts.

When Techdirt first started writing about corporate sovereignty, four years ago, it was an obscure area of trade policy that few knew about. The insiders who were familiar with the mechanism assumed it was a fixed and indispensable part of free trade deals. Now we have one of the most influential business newspapers calling it an "error" that should be "ditched," since ISDS chapters are "more trouble than they are worth." We've come a long way.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 May 2017 @ 3:45pm

China To Require Drone Owners To Register, Just As Similar US Requirements Are Struck Down

from the not-what-you-might-expect dept

The South China Morning Post has a story about a new requirement for drone owners in China to register with the country's civilian aviation regulator starting next month. So is this yet another example of the Chinese authorities clamping down on a potentially subversive new technology by ensuring that drone use can be tracked? Well, that might be one reason, but it's probably also to do with this:

The move is the latest by Chinese authorities to tackle the drone safety threat after the illegal use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made headlines at least a dozen times since the beginning of 2017.

The latest case was in April when more than 240 flights were disrupted by drones flying near Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in southwest China, leaving 10,000 travellers delayed.

And if you still think this is another manifestation of China's authoritarianism, just using safety as a pretext, you might like to bear in mind that the US authorities have required drone owners to register their machines for over a year. However, those regulations have just been struck down by a federal court in Washington, D.C., and it's not clear what the FAA will now do. Perhaps more interesting than arguing about China's real motives here, is information in the South China Morning Post story about who is using this technology in China:

Once the preserve of the military, they are now used in a wide range of industries, from aerial surveillance of crops to search operations and delivery of medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions. For Chinese consumers, drones have become the favoured gadget for taking aerial videos and photos.

There are also estimates of future growth:

The overall UAV market in China is expected to reach 75 billion yuan (US$10.9 billion) by 2025, of which consumer drones will contribute 30 billion yuan while agricultural and forestry drones, as well as security drones, are likely to account for 20 billion yuan and 15 billion yuan respectively, iiMedia Research said in a report last year.

It's worth noting that the company generally regarded as world's top drone maker, DJI, is also Chinese. Given the activity and importance of the sector, what's surprising is not that China has brought in registration requirements for drone owners, but that it has taken so long.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 May 2017 @ 3:23am

British Human Rights Activist Faces Prison For Refusing To Hand Over Passwords At UK Border

from the digital-strip-search dept

As Techdirt readers will recall, in 2013 David Miranda was held by the UK authorities when he flew into Heathrow airport, and all of his electronic equipment was seized, in an act of blatant intimidation. His detention was under Schedule 7 of the UK's Terrorism Act, which, as its name implies, is supposed to be used only if someone is involved in committing, preparing or instigating "acts of terrorism."

That was clearly ridiculous in Miranda's case, and it's just as outrageous in the latest example of UK border bullying, this time against Muhammad Rabbani. He's a British citizen, and the international director of Cage, which describes itself as "an independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror." The Guardian fills in the background:

Rabbani, 35, from London, is involved through Cage in investigating torture cases. He said he was stopped at Heathrow in November returning from one of the Gulf states where he had been investigating a torture case allegedly involving the US.

He said he handed over his laptop and mobile phone but refused to provide his passwords. Although not a lawyer, he said the laptop contained information about the case and the client refused permission to release it. Rabbani was then arrested.

Rabbani later said that he felt that he had been subjected to a "digital strip search," and pointed out:

Using this power, [UK] officers can compel a person to surrender their passwords without cause and there's also no right to remain silent. There is nothing like this anywhere in the Western world.

Rather than dropping the case, this week the UK authorities have formally charged Rabbani under the Terrorism Act. He told the Guardian that he intends to fight, because the move has "serious implications" for journalists, lawyers and human rights, even though he faces three months in jail if he loses. This may be the first time Rabbani's been charged, but he is certainly no stranger to being stopped by the UK border officials:

Rabbani said he had been detained 20 times over the last decade by border officials and had handed over his laptop and mobile phone. On previous occasions, after refusing to hand over passwords, they were returned to him and he was allowed to go. But not on this occasion.

He's not alone in being subjected to this kind of harassment by the UK authorities. Figures published in an article on the Middle East Eye site reveal just how ineffective Schedule 7 examinations are at spotting terrorists:

More than 28,000 people were subjected to Schedule 7 examinations in 2015-16 resulting in about 10,000 intelligence reports being filed, according to a report by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.

About 500,000 are also estimated to have been subjected to pre-examination screening questions in the same period.

According to 2016 statistics, only 0.02 percent of stops lead to an arrest. An even smaller number lead to criminal charges.

The good news is that the UK court of appeal has already criticized Schedule 7 for forcing people to betray confidences and thus make it unlikely that others would trust them again with information in the public interest. That holds out the hope that Rabbani will ultimately win in the courts, since his case is very similar. The bad news, of course, is that the US is thinking of demanding passwords from every foreigner who visits the US.

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