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About Leigh BeadonTechdirt Insider

Leigh Beadon, formerly Marcus Carab, now a full-time member of the Techdirt team.

Located in Toronto, Ontario.

Posted on Techdirt - 24 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the fair-minded dept

When law enforcement abuses citizens, some people choose to focus on any aspects of the citizen's behaviour that might have brought on the abuse. One such example happened this week when a woman was tazed by border patrol agents and a commenter accused her of asking for it, prompting JamesF to win most insightful this week with a reversed version of the comment:

Its so easy to just blame the civilian. If the cops would have just acted within the bounds of the law, she wouldn't have been tazed. They were confrontational, aggressive and generally behaved like asses.

Meanwhile, the FBI disappointed everyone this week by accusing the world's cybersecurity experts of being either uninformed or unfair on the subject of encryption, since "their letter contains no acknowledgment that there are societal costs to universal encryption". Ninja won second place for insightful with a thoughtful and sad response:

And pervasive surveillance has zero cost in his mind, it seems. I've seen and talked to people like him. They don't give a fuck about rights and the well-being of others as long as their narrow view of what is right is implemented.

I've been in discussions with people that advocate dictatorships are good because people are too ignorant to be left free and allowed to choose things and otherwise live without some totalitarian ruling them. And I don't mean some crazy ass out there, oh no. One of them was in his 25's, about to become a father and is generally a good person. This is scary.

He may actually be genuinely 'depressed' even if it's a consequence of his total ignorance of how encryption works. This is scary. And it's even scarier when you think that people have been trying to explain those types about encryption and why a 'golden key' destroys it for a while now and he simply refuses to learn. As I said, he is not alone out there.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start by looping back to the story about border patrol for an anonymous response to the idea that their victim's nervous behaviour was the problem:

Perhaps the reason she was nervous, was that she had just been pulled over and interrogated by a gang of thugs who can quite easily hurt or kill her without fear of reprisal and for the sole reason that they didn't like her. That would make me nervous as well.

Next, we've got a response to the Texas politician who said "I can appreciate Tesla wanting to sell cars, but I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first" while the state failed to pass its new pro-innovation bills. That One Guy noted that the opportunity for riffing was too good to pass up:

"I can appreciate Tesla wanting to sell cars, but I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first," she said.

"I can appreciate Emile Berliner wanting to sell records, but I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Berliner had sat down with the orchestral musicians first," she said.

"I can appreciate Karl Benz wanting to sell automobiles, but I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Benz had sat down with the horse-drawn buggy makers first," she said.

"I can appreciate the movie industry wanting to sell films, but I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Movie Maker had sat down with the live theater companies first," she said.

"I can appreciate Fred W. Wolf wanting to sell refrigerators, but I think it would have been wiser if Mr. Wolf had sat down with the ice sellers first," she said.

Over on the funny side, we start out with a response to the big ISPs that are already hating the way they have to play fair under new net neutrality regulations. First place goes to JD for a theory about why they are so upset:

The ISPs are probably just terrified that the FCC will treat them the way those ISPs treat their own customers.

"I understand you're upset. We'll send out an FCC staffer to talk to your lawyers and sort everything out."
"Oh thank god."
"They'll be there between 8am and 6pm either Tuesday the 17th or Wednesday the 20th."
"But ... those aren't ..."
"Thank you, have a good day. ::click::"

For second place, we head to the story of an Australian ISP that has promised free lawyers to people targeted by copyright trolls, prompting an anonymous commenter to balk at the audacity:


For editor's choice on the funny side, we start with another nod to Ninja, this time for his reaction to the legal showdown between Godzilla's rightsholders and Voltage Pictures:

So we conclude in the battle between Godzilla and Giant Bots hypocrisy wins?

Finally, we return to the FBI's demands for impossible encryption backdoors, where DannyB took James Comey's baffled despair and boiled it down to something simpler:

Experts say the sun rises in the East.

Others say that:
I'm no expert on where the sun rises or where it shines but there are a lot of smart people in silicone valley and if they put their mind to it, the sun could rise in the West.

Those narrow minded people who say the sun rises in the East are not being Fair Minded.

That's all for this week, folks! We're off tomorrow for Memorial Day, and back on Tuesday.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: May 17th - 23rd

from the thou-infringeth-on-a-summer's-day dept

Five Years Ago

There was plenty of ridiculousness from Hollywood this week in 2010. For one thing, movie studies were decidedly not following through on their "promises" to offer lots of new content if they could only break your TV with selectable output control, while the MPAA was also bizarrely focused on getting soldiers to stop buying bootleg DVDs, and Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier was angrily defending his crusade against downloaders. Of course, given Hollywood's remake culture, it was no surprise that the studios were starting to run into copyright problems of their own (and given its anti-piracy culture, it was no surprise to see different anti-piracy solutions suing each other over patents). Not to mention the irony of Time Warner Cable standing up against automated copyright filings, or actor Peter Serafinowicz explaining why he even pirates movies he's in.

The UK was still grappling with the realities of the Digital Economy Act. We wondered if it would interfere with London's ambition to offer free wi-fi, while one regulator said the act only applies to big wireline ISPs and several politicians started trying to repeal it altogether. Copyright shenanigans were all around on the music side of things too: ASCAP bullied another local coffee shop into no longer playing local bands while a massive performance royalty rate hike in Australia drove gyms to start ditching pop music, and it became increasingly clear just how much the RIAA had clogged up the court system with its lawsuits.

Ten Years Ago

Five years before all that, the US Copyright Office was busy showing off just how much it misunderstood copyright law. Spain's recording industry pressured a university lecturer into resigning after he explained how file-sharing could be legal and positive. People were shocked at a Star Wars leak, but ignored the fact that it probably wasn't a big deal at all. And the UK's Premier League was moaning about illegal streams but not acknowledging that it was creating the market for them by failing to offer anything in competition.

The BSA conducted its annual ritual of releasing bogus piracy numbers, followed by the inevitable backlash. One copy-protection firm was playing both sides of the piracy game by patenting a P2P system and the technology to stop it. The NY Times tried its ill-fated experiment to charge for opinion pieces, one university library was going all digital, and megaplex movie theaters were straining to recapture their former glory.

Fifteen Years Ago

Last week, we saw Volkswagen become the first auto manufacturer to start selling cars directly online. This week, Ford joined them (in Canada) followed closely by GM, and lo the floodgates were opened. Meanwhile, online retail giant Amazon was experimenting with dynamic pricing, and some were predicting that the next great digital frontier would be family businesses — but we were all hoping that the then-dominant trend of cartoon mascots on every website would die out, quickly.

Michael Eisner, on the other hand, was convinced that email was a great existential threat to companies and the country (perhaps he heard that Singapore arrested a man for "cyber rage" after he sent thousands of them) while most people stopped shorter, at "email marketing is getting annoying". Congress was, for some reason, worried about genealogy websites, and Napster was struggling to figure out its future (with 60% of college students saying they'd supposedly pay for it).

Oh, and, you know those topic icons over to the left of every post? This week in 2000 is when we debuted them.

Four-Hundred and Six Years Ago

Shakespeare's Sonnets: they are among the foundational texts of English culture, and on May 20th, 1609 they were first officially listed in the Stationer's Register (an early precursor to copyright — for publishers, not authors), and printed shortly thereafter. Nobody has been able to determine whether the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, had authorization from Shakespeare or was working from an illicit copy.

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Posted on Innovation - 23 May 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Handwritten Input For Anything, Anywhere

from the by-hand dept

Freehand input is hardly a new idea. It was a fixture of the early Palms, a feature of the famous Newton, and of course our primary means of "input" before computers came along. With the ascendance of touchscreens today, the capability is everywhere — and yet it still hasn't really caught on. Why? The three big reasons seem to be that screen real-estate is a premium and freehand input requires a lot of it, many devices simply aren't responsive enough to make it feel natural, and it isn't actually that useful in most situations. For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at a device that aims to solve at least two of those problems: Phree, a laser-based digital pen.

The Good

Let's look at those three key issues again. The screen real-estate problem is what Phree aims to solve by its very nature, moving all that freehand work off your device's screen itself and onto any nearby surface. That alone would likely just exacerbate the second issue — responsiveness — but this is where the team's technological innovation is focused. In the video, they claim to have built the world's smallest 3D laser interferometer with new algorithms to achieve this high degree of accuracy in the compact device, and though I can't speak to the truth of this, the video does indeed show a very-responsive-looking system in action. If the finished product really works that well on such a wide array of surfaces, it'll have cleared the two key viability hurdles for the technology.

The Bad

The big question for anyone who has looked into this kind of device before is: can it compete with Livescribe, the current household name in smart pens? There are, of course, some big differences: Livescribe pens are real, functioning pens that also record what you write digitally, while the Phree is just an input device. The Livescribe can work as a standalone unit to record notes during the day then retrieve them digitally later, which it appears the Phree cannot. And, despite these missing capabilities, the Phree costs a bit more than a Livescribe 3.

That sounds pretty grim, but there are some factors running in the opposite direction: Livescribe pens only good for storing notes, not active live input of handwriting, and require you to actually be writing on paper at the same time; they operate through the cloud rather than being directly linked to your device by BlueTooth; and they have considerably fewer compatibility options, leaning heavily on a partnership with Evernote. The Phree is a far more versatile device.

In a way it's an unfair comparison, since the two are trying to accomplish different things, but I suspect it's the first comparison many people will make — and it's not entirely clear that Phree comes out on top.

The Useful?

We've established that the Phree aims to solve two of the three big issues with handwriting input, but what about the third? Freehand input has been possible for a long time — even longer than the multi-touch input we all use every day — but it's never really caught on. Part of this might be because the technology wasn't good enough, but there's a big question as to just how useful and desirable such input really is. Speaking for myself, I rarely find myself wishing for freehand when typing on my phone; on the occasions when I do want to jot and sketch more freely, I grab an actual pen and paper; and on the occasions when something I jot turns out to be important, I snap a photo of it. Obviously this process leaves a lot to be desired but, critically, it doesn't come up all that often.

On the other hand, I imagine there are many people with a different story to tell, who would love the ability to quickly and easily switch back and forth between typing and handwriting. The Phree could provide this with unprecedented responsiveness, and much more convenient workflow integration than existing smart pens — and that could definitely be a winner.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 19 May 2015 @ 12:38pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 25: EFF's Parker Higgins On Correcting Copyright Misconceptions

from the mythbusting dept

Last week, we discussed the many misconceptions that run rampant in the public understanding of copyright. This week, the EFF's Parker Higgins returns for part two of the conversation, looking at how to begin addressing and moving past these false facts.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, 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 - 17 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the brands-and-bands dept

This week, the man behind the Stanford Prison Experiment went on a tear against videogames and all sorts of associated culture (reduced to its most gauche symbols). PaulT took first place for insightful by tearing apart his vitriol:

"When I'm in class, I'll wish I was playing World of Warcraft" opposed to the "I'll wish I was doing almost anything else" that was the norm before WoW existed? Or, is he pretending that the world was full of dedicated studious children before that?

"When I'm with a girl, I'll wish I was watching pornography, because I'll never get rejected."

Because porn is a brand new thing that never existed before the internet, and teenagers would never fear rejection if it weren't for porn?

"Zimbardo defines excessive porning and video gaming as more than five hours a day"

How does this compare to other similar activities such as watching TV? I'll never take any of these people seriously if they pretend that watching hours of trashy reality TV and soaps is OK or that lounging around watching football is fine but it suddenly becomes a problem when you have a controller in your hand.

"He added that young men are drinking Coke instead of alcohol and becoming "fat-asses."

...because nobody got fat from drinking beer? Because instead of a fatass playing games in their room, what you really need is a pissed-up teenager with nothing productive to do outside the home?

"Unsurprisingly, Zimbardo has recently published a book dealing with these very issues."

Ah, OK. So, instead of a dickhead being paranoid about videogames and presenting half-assed research and long-outdated stereotypes as mere fearmongering, he's doing it to make money from book sales? That's not better.

What a shame that people will swallow this rubbish rather than dealing with some of the real issues (such as parents who use games and TV as babysitters because they don't have time for productive parenting, have swallowed the 24 hour news cycle exaggeration of danger outside the home, etc).

Meanwhile, in a guest post, law professor Michael Carrier laid out countless examples of how technology has benefited musicians, and jupiterkansas won second place for insightful by pointing out that not only does this disprove the RIAA's idea that the music world is ending, it makes them look pretty useless, too:

This article lists over a dozen services that any of the major record labels had more than enough resources to create in the last 20 years as a service to musicians - the kind of service they're supposed to be providing. It's their own fault they couldn't see the future past the bottom line.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with the story of yet another company trying to retain ownership of the stuff it sells you via copyright on the software. In this case it was John Deere, prompting one anonymous commenter to point out just how absurd the entire idea is:

Additionally, there is about zero market for pirated tractor software. The software is useless unless you own a compatible tractor (and thus you already own a copy of the software.) The copy protection does nothing legitimate.

Next, we've got a response from John Fenderson to the latest murmurs from the Internet Security Task Force (actually a coalition of movie studios) — not so much its unsurprisingly-ridiculous statements, but its blatantly manipulative branding:

I also like how they call themselves the Internet Security Task Force (ISTF). This is obviously intended to cause confusion with the legitimate and not-corporate-lobby-group, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). They're probably hoping that they will benefit from the established legitimacy of the IETF.

Way to not be sleazy, guys!

Speaking of entertainment branding, our first place comment on the funny side this week comes in response to the cable industry's decision to distance itself from the word "cable" and drop "The Cable Show" as the name of its annual trade conference. One anonymous commenter had a suggested alternative:

Ok let's just call it the Anti-consumer Show then.

Next, we've got a bit of an odd one. The aforementioned post about the benefits of technology for creators, and the lies and failures of the RIAA, prompted a vicious but completely-unsupported rebuttal from someone named Phil. It certainly didn't seem like a joke, so the fact that it won second place for funny really illustrates the difference between "laughing with" and "laughing at":

As a professional musician earning a terrible living in the industry since 1999, I want to say that the level of ignorance of what musicians are dealing with in 2015 expressed by the authors of this blog and by the commentors here is astounding and depressing. In the 5 minutes I spent reading this rant and the comments that followed it, I was overwhelmed by the number of misinformed or logically faulty arguments expressed. I love debating on the internet and I've had no problem dealing with presidential elections, hot-button social issues, pressing scientific controversies, etc. But the sheer asshattery and blindness expressed here just leaves me speechless. All of you musically ignorant fucks completely deserve the dark ages of original music that is forming even as you dissemble and make endless excuses for the low value that our modern economy has affixed to original music... That sad thing is that from what I can tell, most Americans' musical literacy is so abysmal that they will never be aware of what they have lost.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we've got two quick and punchy lines. First, a response from Michael to Wyoming's attempt to control reporters and hide the fact that its streams are contaminated with e. coli:

Bullshit in streams leads to bullshit in legislature.

Finally, we've got what might be the simplest, most elegant response possible to the sad, amusing announcement that Verizon is buying AOL:

Two turkeys don't make an eagle.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: May 10th - 16th

from the wars-and-thickets dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, another shot was fired in the ongoing Apple-Nokia patent war, and in the Apple-HTC war as well. Wired was thus inspired to take on the smartphone patent thicket, and all this was at a time when the USPTO was ramping up patent approvals. On the flipside, though, we also saw the birth of the Defensive Patent License.

The RIAA racked up another legal win, this time in its lawsuit against LimeWire, while the YouTube-Viacom case was still winding its way through the court with some amicus briefs that tried to rewrite the DMCA. The Hurt Locker producers were just gearing up for their now-infamous plan to go after thousands of filesharing fans, Games Workshop was suing a Warhammer fan site over trademark issues, and music publishers were still trying to get money from lyrics websites. At least the EU Digital Commissioner recognized the market created by piracy, Brazil decided against a notice-and-takedown system, and the estate of Roy Lichtenstein backed down from threats against a band that appropriated some of the same material used by the famous artist.

The Humble Bundle, now an online fixture, was just beginning to strut its stuff and show off some extremely impressive numbers. While the Bundle was going open-source, Rockstar was amusingly caught selling a pirated version of their own game on Steam in order to get around the disc-based DRM they had originally saddled it with. But President Obama was brushing off the whole world of videogames (and tablets, and iPods...) as diversions and distractions.

Ten Years Ago

In 2005, Napster was in its "legal service" phase, and trying to get into the ringtone market (though record labels were getting fighty over those, too). Speaking of tough rebrandings, former RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen (architect of lawsuits against individual downloaders and anti-consumer policies) was trying to pass herself off as a consumer rights defender. Former Universal Music head Edgar Bronfman Jr., since moved on to Warner Music, was not doing so great in his new gig, and we started to notice other businesses facing new digital challenges, like wedding photographers.

Also in 2005: Google went down for a terrifying 15 minutes this week in 2005, followed by some serious eBay outages; Bill Gates made the not-at-all-biased prediction that Windows-based phones would replace iPods (though I guess he was only one word off) while Microsoft was doling out the intellectual property propaganda; Blockbuster was getting ready to give up on online rentals, people were starting to catch on to free credit report scams, and newspapers were trying their hardest to beat Craigslist at its own game. Last but not least, Techdirt held a party to celebrate our 25,000th post.

Fifteen Years Ago

Bill Gates had some stupid things to say this week in 2000, too. This time it was the claim that if Microsoft was broken up into separate companies, there would be no tablet PCs and Windows never would have had a taskbar. Uh, sure. Napster's position was far more nebulous at this time, with the CEO giving interesting interviews while also caving to Metallica's ban-demands. Of course, this latter event inspired someone to (probably jokingly) start working on a Napster-clone for Metallica songs only.

Volkswagen was the first carmaker to get their dealers on-board for direct online car sales (somehow). There were other areas of retail where it wasn't clear that brand mattered much at all. The broader world of ecommerce, plus issues surrounding Napster and eBay, started raising serious liability questions. The internet was of course still raising various underthought social objections too, but some people were starting to push back, noting that the internet keeps lots of people in touch who wouldn't be otherwise, and genuinely makes people closer. And, nearly fifteen years before the launch of our new podcast, Techdirt made a foray into online radio.

Forty Years Ago

Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, the battle fought over Sony's Betamax technology which established the legality of home recording, was a major turning point in modern copyright law. It introduced the question of "substantial noninfringing uses" that has come up time and time again in more recent lawsuits over copying and sharing technology, with mixed results. But it was on May 10th, 1975 that the seed was planted for the whole shebang: Sony released Betamax, in Japan, for the very first time.

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Posted on Innovation - 16 May 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Don't Throw Those Batteries Away Just Yet

from the recharge dept

Batteries are the bane of our mobile existence, limiting the usefulness of our devices and bottlenecking the power that can be built into them. External battery packs have unsurprisingly become a popular item, but with heavy usage they are just another device that needs to be regularly replaced, and another source of batteries that end up in the trash. For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at the BETTER RE: a small piece of inspired engineering that aims to stem that waste and expense by making old smartphone batteries reusable as external battery packs.

The Good

BETTER RE is, quite simply, a universal smartphone battery adapter. You can hook up any battery inside the chassis and the BETTER RE lets you charge it up and use it to charge your devices. This just seems like a great idea. The creators rightly point out that device-churn has picked up the pace, and today the average smartphone is thrown out while its battery still has lots of life left. This is incredibly inefficient and expensive, not to mention a serious disposal headache and environmental concern — and now we're putting millions of additional external batteries in circulation alongside the phones themselves. The BETTER RE stems that tide from both directions, extending the usefulness of phone batteries and reducing the need for new externals. For the individual, it means a powerpack that lasts forever instead of wearing itself out — plus you can use it as a secondary charger, with quick and simple test functions, making it easier to have multiple phone batteries in rotation. There are also stackable expansion units, so you can amp up those old batteries to charge new, high-power devices.

At $50, the BETTER RE is not dirt-cheap but it seems quite reasonable when you consider that it won't need to be regularly replaced the way batteries themselves do. And as a cool bonus, the creators have been stockpiling and testing old batteries, and will throw them in for $10 a piece on top of the regular pledges.

The Bad

Even the BETTER RE can't truly free us from the tyranny of batteries. There are some obvious limitations to the device when compared to a dedicated high-power battery unit: though it's great for smaller phones, even with three units stacked it can't quite give a full charge to an iPad Air, and the charge it does give takes hours; though it's currently designed to work with just about any smartphone battery of any size, there's no guarantee that compatibility will remain; and, of course, more and more devices are being built with non-removable batteries, which could put the brakes on the entire idea. Because of all this, I actually suspect that the biggest markets for the BETTER RE won't be wealthy high-tech countries but rather parts of the world where cheaper, smaller phones still reign supreme — and that's not a problem, as many devices have found huge success and made a real impact by targeting such markets.

The Stylish

Function is what makes the BETTER RE interesting, but it bears mention that it's no slouch on the fashion front either. It's built from aluminum (in white or black, brushed or matte, all of which look very nice in the product shots) and walnut and maple hardwood. As a nice bonus, laser-engraving on the wood endpiece is included with most backer tiers.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 12 May 2015 @ 12:35pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 24: EFF's Parker Higgins On Common Copyright Misconceptions

from the clarifications-and-corrections dept

Copyright is one of the most important fields of law in the digital age, and also one of the most widely misunderstood. The EFF's Parker Higgins joins us to discuss to most common misconceptions about how copyright works, and how it's been abused.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, 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 - 10 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the encrypt-this! dept

We've got another double-winner this week. That Anonymous Coward scored first place for both insightful and funny with the same comment: his response to the absurd trademark situation in which a 1000-year-old village was told to stop using its name. As he pointed out, the company that sends out these demands for trademark holders should probably change its slogan:

Mark Monitor... when you absolutely positively want to look like idiots.

In second place in the insightful side, following the huge appeals court win in which the NSA's bulk records collection was found to be unauthorized, Derek Kerton reiterated a simple point that gets more and more true with every such victory:

It deserves repeating:

Snowden's a fucking hero.

Our first editor's choice for insightful goes to Mason Wheeler, who pointed out the common misconception that the danger of security holes is mitigated by the expertise required to exploit them:

This guy doesn't understand the exploitation of electronic vulnerabilities. It's a common enough misunderstanding; not getting it is the primary reason why DRM continues to be used today.

Here's the part he doesn't get: Yes, it takes a lot of tools and skill to figure out how to exploit it. But once one person with the tools and skill does all that hard work and publishes his results, it then becomes trivial for people with a much lesser degree of tools and skill to reproduce that work and do the same thing. Cracked once is cracked everywhere, forever.

Next, we've got a related comment from John Fenderson, filling in a gap in the discussion around encryption:

Jonathan Mayer's analysis is excellent, but I want to add an additional point about subverted encryption of the sort that the feds are looking for:

Criminals who hide their activities through encryption will just continue to do so, using crypto that is readily available and installable (on Android, anyway) without involving any app store at all. There is no need to use an app store to install apps on an Android device, after all, so no provider would have the chance to vet the software.

So we'd just end up with a world of decreased security, computers that people can't trust (even more so than right now), but with the ability of criminals to hide their activities just as strong as ever.

In other words, what the feds are asking for is a world where the criminals are in an even stronger position (relative to law-abiding users) than they are now.

Over on the funny side, we've already had the first place comment, so we move onto our anonymous second place winner who applied political encryption reasoning to Pennsylvania's attempt to strip convicts of First Amendment rights:

I'm no expert, but perhaps the brilliant legal minds who come up with these laws could create some kind of magical front backdoor golden key that allows only the good guys to have speech.

Meanwhile, for editor's choice, we'll start out with yet another encryption-related jab. After it was revealed that the FBI spent years researching the lyrics to Louie, Louie, dfed suggested a last act for the story:

Here's the surprise twist:

Jack Ely was singing in crypto, using a cipher from Enigma. They still couldn't crack it.

Finally, we've got a response to one broadband company's legal text that essentially negated every single promise made about their service. DOlz decided to turn the language around:

Fair is fair

"Actual payments may vary and are not guaranteed. Payment metrics based on Frontier lab validation under realworld network environment simulating “normal case scenario” with network congestion, other factors cause by consumer behavior, or factors caused by third-party providers’ behaviors. Frontier may not be able to replicate the payment shown in the performance metrics."

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: May 3rd - 9th

from the copyright-news-and-news-copyrights dept

Five Years Ago

News was flying in every direction on the copyright front this week in 2010. An unauthorized Catcher In The Rye sequel sparked a copyright fight that remains near the center of the debate about transformative works, but a ruling against the idea that you could copyright the concept of sneaking veggies into kids' food upheld the idea/expression dichotomy. Two different studies (and the chair of the Featured Artist Coalition) underlined the fact that innovation is more important than worrying about piracy. A UK court found that sports schedules could be covered by copyright, while German court ruled that RapidShare is not liable for infringement by users, and a Costa Rican artist was claiming that the country's new money infringes on his artwork. At home, a court ruled that an album is a single work for the purpose of damages, while Google was seeking a declaratory judgement that linking to files is not infringement.

In the world of journalism, Sumner Redstone was saying that all newspapers would be gone within two years. While that hasn't exactly been the case, it's an understandable thought at a time when Rupert Murdoch was getting shy about his newly-paywalled websites and The Economist was warning about paywalls creating news pirates — all while Fox News was aggregating copyrighted photographs. At least the New Hampshire Supreme Court recognized that new media can be news media.

Ten Years Ago

It's not like that was the first sounding of the bell for old media. Back in 2005, faltering ad revenues had already driven newspapers to advertising to advertisers, seeking advertising. The New York Post was irritating readers not with a paywall, but with a broken registration wall. But what was bad news for print also appeared to be good news for digital, and Forbes' online revenue was set to surpass its print revenue. Online advertising was booming, though we noted that it might not grow forever, and video game ads were the next big source of hype.

On the copyright front, we were disturbed to see the Boy Scouts offer an intellectual property badge, but happy to see the RIAA's lectures at colleges fall on deaf ears. We were intrigued by an analysis suggesting the RIAA's high damage amounts in copyright lawsuits were unconstitutional, but sad to see the Supreme Court pass on a case that could have let it give some teeth to people targeted by bogus DMCA takedowns.

Fifteen Years Ago

Five years before that, in 2000, we heard the RIAA's own words about its lawsuits against and Napster. Already, people were realizing that the world of MP3s (still a hot topic) extended far beyond those two famous services, though its future was unclear. This was also the time of the fallout from the Microsoft antitrust verdict, leading some to imagine alternate futures and question the company's kindergarten-level manners. These were days before the cult of Steve Jobs, when there was still a cult of Bill Gates.

A dispute between Disney and Time Warner broke out this week in 2000, leading the former to pull ABC from the latter's cable service and causing some to question the future of the AOL/Time Warner merger. Star Wars, on the other hand, was still in the pocket of George Lucas, who finally agreed to release it on DVD.

Sixty-Three Years Ago

All of modern computing is based on the integrated circuit. As with all monumental inventions, it has its roots in several incremental innovations and sparks of inspiration that came before it, but it was on May 7th, 1952 that British radio engineer Geoffrey Dumner fully formulated and described the idea in a public speech, saying:

With the advent of the transistor and the work in semiconductors generally, it seems now to be possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electrical functions being connected by cutting out areas of the various layers.

And the rest is history.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 May 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Better Than Bluetooth?

from the "wirefree" dept

For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at a project that aims to beat Bluetooth at its own game: the HearNotes WireFree earbuds. These headphones use their own wireless technology to, supposedly, deliver higher-quality audio than Bluetooth with no danger of interference or interruption.

The Good

It's a wireless world, but Bluetooth audio simply isn't up to par. If the HearNotes technology — dubbed "Kleer" — really can deliver better, more reliable sound, then that's an obvious plus. I suspect that the "reliable" part of that equation is actually the more important and could make these a popular product, since pairing and range issues with Bluetooth devices are especially infuriating when you just want to listen to music, whereas the sound quality issue is something of a wildcard: it's questionable just how much people actually notice better sound in blind tests, and devices sold on sound quality have both sunk and swam in the past. In the world of wireless headphones, however, almost everyone agrees they are still noticeably worse than wired options, so it seems like there is some genuine room for improvement. Beyond that core question of sound, the little details of the HearNotes are top notch, like the inductive charging case and the design of the earbuds themselves.

The Bad

The big showstopper is the price. The estimated MSRP is $349, and though there are some decent savings for Kickstarter backers and early birds, it still puts the HearNotes in the same range as the highest-end Bluetooth headphones. That just further enforces the need for these to deliver on the core promises of convenience and quality if they are to stand a chance on the market.

The other obvious issue is the need to have a special transmitter plugged into your headphone jack. They describe it as "versatile" but I'm not really sure what that means as it actually looks quite cumbersome. That said, it seems like there are many popular uses for wireless audio that involve leaving your phone on a desk while you move about (which, with the boasted 50-foot range, would be very possible) so a bulky transmitter might not be a big deal. Still, it would be nice to see options such as building the transmitter into a phone case, or perhaps making it a module for last week's Awesome Stuff project.

The Nauseating

I fully understand that entrepreneurs and innovative people in general have to get very passionate when talking about their work. At Techdirt, we do it ourselves all the time. But there's something extremely offputting about HearNotes' self-serious Kickstarter video (can we retire the phrase "allow me to enlighten you"?) and strained marketing jargon. The greatest irritation is the insistent branding of these earbuds as WireFree, and the claims that this is distinct from wireless because it offers a greater and more reliable degree of freedom. The thinking behind this is actually understandable because, as noted, convenience is the real selling point for a Bluetooth replacement. Despite all our wireless technology, it's actually rare to get that seamless sci-fi feeling of just grabbing-and-going with a wireless device; instead, we generally have to tap out a password or open an app or at least press a button somewhere. If HearNotes can offer a new level of "just works" satisfaction, then it's got a major hook. But somehow the clarity of that point gets lost in the WireFree branding and the photos of people dancing in a meadow. (Though they do, quite fairly, point out that a lot of wireless Bluetooth earbuds are connected to each other by... a wire.)

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 5 May 2015 @ 12:30pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 23: Is AirBnB Good Or Bad For Cities?

from the everyone's-a-hotelier dept

AirBnB has become a massive, popular service despite many people balking at its introduction. But in the big picture, though it's clearly been great for travellers, what effect is it having on the urban centers where it thrives? Are the complaints from some city-dwellers valid?

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, 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 - 3 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the minecraft-and-boxing dept

Much of the political debate around encryption, such as that on display in a congressional hearing this week, has been characterized by a fundamentally flawed understanding of the most basic principles. Mason Wheeler won most insightful comment this week by underlining one such example:

Someone needs to sit this guy down and explain Kerckhoff's Principle to him. It's one of the most fundamental rules of information security: The Adversary Knows The System.

It means that any valid discussion of security must begin from the assumption that the bad guys who are trying to break in already know everything about how your system works, but does not necessarily already know the key, and if you can't show that the system is still secure against such an adversary, you have to assume it's not secure.

Kerckhoff's Principle rejects the very concept of a "front door" that the good guys can use but hackers can't gain access to. If there's another way in besides the private key, you must assume that the bad guys know all about it.

Meanwhile, HBO and Showtime tried to change some basic principles of copyright by pre-suing a site that planned to stream an upcoming boxing match. This raises a bunch of interesting questions, and second place for insightful went to an anonymous commenter who proposed a reversal of the idea:

Wait, if they can sue for anticipated copyright, then can we sue for anticipated public domain? I mean, technically all copyrighted works do eventually fall into the public domain, right? If their whole argument is hinging on eventualities, then why can't we do so for the public domain which is a definite eventuality?

For editor's choice, we start with another anonymous commenter who made a point on that post which is oversimplified but serves as a starting point for a lot of important discussion:

Sporting events should not be copyrightable. Period. To say otherwise is utter insanity.

(The catch, of course, is that the copyright is on the coverage of the event, which is a work of authorship. But this still raises the question of just how much protection such coverage actually qualifies for, based on which aspects of it genuinely involve creative choices and how much is just neutral documentation of facts.)

For our next editor's choice, we pivot as we so rarely do to a Daily Dirt post, which discussed the Singaporean test question that lit the internet on fire. One person in the comments objected to it being called a math problem when it was really a logic problem, prompting Different Anonymous Coward to offer this well-conceived rejoinder:

If you think any given logic puzzle has nothing to do with math you either need to go deeper into logic until you hit math, or deeper into math until you hit logic.

Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about the latest moral panic: Minecraft and kids. Some parents shared their own stories about the game, and NoahVail's became the funniest comment of the week:

My kid roped me into launching a MC server

One of my kids wanted to setup a Minecraft server.

Two years later I'm managing & hosting 2 Minecraft servers w/ most of 100k usernames and my kid has wandered off onto the next project.

I did my bit. I got involved with my kid playing MC and now I'm saddled with running his online community.

At least pets die eventually. I don't know how long game servers live for.


In second place we've got Michael, who observed that the recent takedown of Dan Bull's Death To ACTA video was spurring a well-known Effect:

So a 5 year old YouTube video that pretty much everyone has forgotten about is back in the news because someone is trying to silence it.

Apparently Dan's marketing strategy is working!

For editor's choice, we start out with one more parental Minecraft story, this time from James Blackburn:

My kids (10 and 12) are RUINED by this game. The last parent - teacher interviews I had I was told how my kids are sickeningly respectful to authority, work well with others, and to top it all off, will include other classmates in projects or activities when those kids are being left out by others.

(Full disclosure: I said "You sure you have my kids in mind??")

Oh, and to top it off, not only do they amaze me with what they make on that game (although really how anyone can sit for more than 5 mins on that game amazes me), they have come up with some pretty creative crafts using ordinary items around the house because of that game.

So, yeah. Terrible game.
Finally, we've got another comment regarding the bizarre attempt to pre-sue for copyright infringement. Chris-Mouse asked a critical question:
Copyright only exists once the work is created in a fixed format.

Are they saying the fight is fixed?

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 May 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: April 26th - May 2nd

from the the-power-of-free dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, the world was abuzz over the prototype iPhone that was left in a bar, and we discussed the legal fallout and its implications for bloggers-as-journalists. At the same time, another case found that a blog commenters was not a journalist. In the old-school journalism world, Rupert Murdoch was moving towards paywalls while his competitors were proudly promising to remain free, and the New York Times was struggling to find reasons to like its paywall.

Lots happened on the copyright front this week. A historical association claimed copyright over scans of 100-year-old photos while we asked why UNESCO was launching pro-copyright efforts; Twitter was removing a lot of tweets over bogus DMCA takedowns while a horrible new bill in congress sought to extend DMCA takedowns to cover "personal information"; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a bogus study pushing for more IP enforcement while the IFPI's latest report actually showed music sales growth in some markets; the USTR released its "revised" Special 301 report (and continued to lie about ACTA) while the Justice Department boosted the number of FBI agents and attorneys focused on copyright infringement; and the RIAA utterly missed the point about Record Store Day but also got AFL-CIO to sign on in support of a proposed performance tax. Internationally, Shanghai was cracking down on (read: pushing underground) bootleg discs, Chile got a mixed bag of new copyright laws, and an Irish collection society was trying to get music bloggers to pay up.

Ten Years Ago

Back in 2005, many newspapers weren't nearly as well-established online as they would be in 2010 amidst all the debates about paywalls. It was only just becoming clear (well, it was only just becoming undeniable anyway) that the future of news was online (and that future wasn't in walled gardens). An interesting upshot was that local newspapers were faring better online, and teaching the rest a thing or two about targeted advertising. Meanwhile, Techdirt got some newspaper love of its own.

The entertainment industry was still desperately trying to make the case for mobile TV, this time suggesting babies might be a great audience, which was insane but at least a little more detailed than "just because". Some wanted to leapfrog TV and go straight to selling extremely expensive feature-length movies on phones. Meanwhile, Disney was rolling back its failed video-on-demand test programs just as Steven Soderbergh was trying to get more films available in theatre and on DVD at the same time. RealNetworks was offering a music streaming service with an incredibly sad 25 free streams per month, though it's hard to say whether that's sadder than Wal-Mart's custom-burned CDs.

Oh, and Nathan Myhrvold was going around hyping up his plans to create an "invention factory". I wonder whatever happened with that...

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2000, Silicon Valley was in the midst of the dot-com bubble collapse, with the peak now a month in the past. Still, some CEOs were rightly saying that focusing on running a business was more important than the market, and Valley innovation wasn't going to disappear. People were noting that there was still a lot of investment money out there in the pockets of VCs, while a new book (slightly hypocritically) discussed this question of short- and long-term thinking. Certainly none of this was scaring entrepreneurs away from the web, or stopping dot-coms from throwing big parties and media outlets from listing internet business superstars. It didn't stop ridiculously expensive dot-com Superbowl ads or, on the other end of the scale, the coming wave of dot-com infomercials. After all, there was plenty of evidence to suggest that online retail wasn't dead and that ecommerce would keep on growing. Hell, even music sales were up.

Twenty-Two Years Ago

April 30th, 1993 is an important day in the history of the information era: it's the day CERN announced that the newfangled "World Wide Web" and the protocols and technologies that it consists of would be free to anyone, with no fees due. This decision, arguably moreso than the technology innovations or the proliferation of home computers or any other factor, shaped the future of the global communication network we all rely on today, and shaped it for the better. Sadly, now much of what is now happening online stems from the exact opposite attitude, with even many well-meaning innovators proving too nervous to relinquish control of their creations and let them truly flourish. Hopefully more people will take a moment to think about what the internet might look like if all its higher functions relied on a fragmented mess of proprietary protocols and walled gardens, instead of a unifying web on which everyone can build.

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Posted on Innovation - 2 May 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: The Modular Smartphone... Case

from the modularization,-modularized dept

Not too long ago, people got pretty excited about the idea of a "modular smartphone", and recently Google announced that it would be launching its attempt at such a device in Puerto Rico this year. The idea has also sparked a lot of debate, with some saying the sacrifice of size and/or power needed to create something modular would be too great. But there's one idea I don't recall anyone bringing up at the time: moving the whole modular concept off of the phone and onto a phone case. This week, we're looking at the nexpaq, which does just that:

The Good

There's something very appealing about the modular components, as they seem to strike most people as something that just makes sense. Obviously with them living as extras on the case rather than being part of the phone, some of the original idea's efficiency and space-saving appeal is lost — but that was already debatable (though we'll see what Google comes up with) and I think most people were far more drawn to the modular function itself as a matter of convenience and coolness. It also makes the whole power situation a little easier to deal with: the case has a built-in battery pack (which helps run both the modules and your phone) and you can fill one of the modular slots with an additional battery pack component. This also means that the case can function independently: you can disconnect it from your phone, and still access the modules via Bluetooth. The other modules currently available in the Kickstarter include an amplified speaker, an SD card reader, a pair of physical programmable hotkeys, a laser pointer, a breathalyzer, a USB drive and several more diverse options which paint a good picture of the flexibility offered by the system. $109 gets you a case and four modules (which seems like a good price) and the current model is designed to be compatible with three very popular phones: the iPhone 6, Galaxy S6 Edge and the Galaxy S5.

The creators are also actively encouraging development of new modules and new software: there are several backer rewards specifically for developers. Though I can actually see the case still being popular with just a core lineup of useful modules, it will be really interesting if they succeed in building a community of developers who create new stuff all the time.

The Bad

There are a few things that remain unclear about the nexpaq, and a few details in the description that hint at potential limitations. For one thing, it sounds like most of the modules will only be accessible through the dedicated nexpaq app for now, and that compatibility will have to be built into other apps using the SDK. This may not be true of every module — it's possible that that the flash drive will be broadly accessible by the OS, for example — but it sounds like it might be if all of the modules are mediated through the case as a single peripheral rather than being separately accessible, hub-style. I doubt the blame for this falls on the creators: it's probably a limitation of the smartphones, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent in Android but certainly in iOS, but it still could be the flaw that sinks the nexpaq. Relatedly, the Bluetooth connectivity, while a nice feature, raises the question of whether Bluetooth will be required for some or all communication even when the case is connected, which would eliminate some of the elegance of the concept.

All this points to the key reason nexpaq might have trouble competing with Google's modular phone should it ever come to fruition: Google can build support for the modules directly into the operating system and make sure they are all accessible at a low-level as standard peripherals, so an SD reader module mounts cards normally and your existing Android apps automatically recognize a speaker module and so on; nexpaq will almost certainly have to limit at least some of its capabilities to its own app and those specifically designed to be compatible.

The Inevitable

Either way, it looks like we're going to find out: the nexpaq has already shot past its goal with nearly a full month still to go in the Kickstarter campaign. Despite my reservations, I'm happy to see it move forward, and eager to find out the answers to some of my questions. Their goal is to ship by January of next year, though as with all Kickstarter projects, delays are a likelihood.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 28 April 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 22: Are Smaller Online Media Players Doomed In The Age Of Buzzfeed?

from the we-hope-not dept

The future of online journalism and related businesses continues to be uncertain. Following the recent shutdowns of GigaOm and San Francisco's The Bold Italic, we ask a critical question that is, of course, of personal importance to us here at Techdirt: how can smaller online media players survive in this age of goliaths like Buzzfeed?

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, 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 - 26 April 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the owner's-remorse dept

The ownership situation around things like DVDs has always been somewhat contentious, and this week manufacturers made yet another attempt to use copyright to completely undermine the concept of ownership. James Burkhardt took most insightful comment of the week by raising the excellent point that if you are indeed licensing not owning, there should be additional responsibilities on the other side:

I think the big story here is that by this logic I should get replacements for any lost, stolen or broken DVDs/Blue-Rays. Because its not the disc I am buying. Its access to that content in a specific format. And my access to that content shouldn't be limited to the Temporal nature of the delivery mechanism.

More seriously, Music tried this very argument against format shifting (ripping and using an MP3 player), that we only bought the music in the cd format. It failed.

Meanwhile, we called out the MPAA over its strategizing on how to make internet censorship sound like a good thing. One dreary and unoriginal commenter accused us of hypocritically hating Hollywood while being "addicted" to its content, and another anonymous commenter took second place for insightful by disarming this loaded question:

We don't like Hollywood because they seek too much control over things more important than they are, and don't care about the broader consequences. If you hate the Internet so much, why are you posting here?

For editor's choice, we head to a precursor to the DVD ownership battle this week: a very similar dispute over the software in GM cars, with the automaker claiming it still owns all the software even if you own the vehicle. That One Guy momentarily rose above the legal morass and pointed out how utterly, fundamentally stupid this is:

This really shouldn't be that difficult

If a piece of software is required for something to run, whether it's a car, or tractor, or whatever, then the idea that the software and hardware should be treated as separate items is ridiculous.

No one buys a vehicle and believes that they are making two purchases(or a purchase and a license in this case), one for the car, and one for the software required for it to run. That would be like buying the car, but licensing the wheels. One does nothing without the other, so the idea that they should be treated as separate items is absurd. The customer may not have bought the software itself, but they most certainly should be recognized as having bought a copy of it, and be free to do with it as they will, even if that involves cracking or bypassing any DRM infections.

Next, we've got a simple and anonymous rebuttal to our assertion that the TPP isn't really about trade:

Actually, it IS about trade...

It's about trading our last remaining freedoms for even more corporate profits.

This week, the funny side of the votes absolutely dominated things, with even second place for funny pulling far ahead of first place for insightful in votes. What's more, both our top funny comments came from the same person, Violynne, and both on posts about Sony's hamfisted response to its leaked emails. In first place is a response to our simple message to Sony over a threat letter we received, "go pound sand":

I get the "go" part, but "pound" doesn't rhyme with "buck" and "sand" isn't a synonym for "yourself".

In second place, it's a personal tale of reading the leaked emails:

I tried to view the file.

I downloaded it. Moments later, I started noticing my internet traffic was increasing as a rootkit was sending information to Sony regarding files I had on my own computer.

When I tried to open it, I was greeted by an FBI warning message, which I quickly ignored.

Once the warning was over, I had to spend 15 minutes watching previews of other leaked emails I had no interest in.

Finally, once the file loaded, a message came up stating the device I was using wasn't authorized to view the document. To bypass this restriction, I could pay Sony a fee of $14.99, which allows me a 24 hour access to the file.

I declined.

Being frustrated, I decided to torrent the DRM-free file, opened it in a PDF view, then hysterically laughed my ass off at the irony of a company, once again, having no understanding of how to treat people like people.

Go to hell, Sony.

Since Sony took a beating in the funny winners, we're going to let the MPAA and Hollywood as a whole take a beating in the editor's choice. First, we've got an anonymous theory about just what the MPAA was thinking when it pirated Google video content to make its own material:

MPAA lawyer -
Your honor: To prove Goliath, er Google, is the biggest threat to copyright ever, I'd like to submit Exhibit A, our willful infringement using Google's own video found by using

And finally, we've got Simon with a followup to Chris Dodd's request that every movie studio donate $40,000 to Rep. Goodlatte's election campaign:

"Chris, we find this acceptable, here's a check for $184".

"But it's supposed to be $40,000!"

"Hollywood accounting Chris, Hollywood accounting."

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 April 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: April 19th - 25th

from the moore-not-less dept

Five Years Ago

By this time in 2010, everyone had seen the leaked draft of ACTA — so, naturally, the USTR decided it was time to release it. It was, as we put it, "only very slightly less awful than expected", and it was missing a critical piece of information: what each country is pushing for.

Speaking of pushes by various countries, this week in 2010 we saw Canada's recording industry begin a campaign for draconian copyright laws, while India introduced draft copyright amendments that were a mixed bag. We were unsurprised to discover that UK piracy statistics are bunk too (while at home the MPAA was refusing to reveal how it came up with its own bogus numbers). Amidst all this, Google launched its tool for looking up international takedown stats, though it seemed to have significant limitations.

Also in 2010: Blizzard sold $2-million worth of virtual horses in four hours while Ubisoft was busy annoying customers with its DRM; still-free Hulu announced its paid subscription service while DirecTV struck another customer-confusing release deal with movie studios; and we looked at possibilities for reforming copyright such as returning it to its roots or using compulsory licensing to build an "abundance-based" system.

Ten Years Ago

Plenty of what happened in 2010 wasn't exactly new to that year. Five years earlier the same week, the Canadian recording industry was already trying to kill online music stores with tariffs, the UK recording industry was already saying stupid thinks about filesharing, and bad DRM was already annoying customers.

The entertainment industry was exerting a lot of influence on law enforcement, and sharing songs or movies before their release became a felony with three years of jailtime. Not content to be overly protective of the movies themselves, the MPAA was also sending C&Ds to people who use its movie rating system for other things. Not content to be overly protective of the songs themselves, the recording industry in Germany was forcing a bunch of lyrics sites to shut down.

Microsoft Encarta was still around in 2005, and beginning to adopt some vaguely Wikipedia-like features, but it was too little too late. Macromedia was also still around, and this week Adobe announced that it would buy it for $3.4-billion. And catalog shopping was still around, but not for long, it seemed. Book publishers were starting to freak out about Google's scanning plans, while newspaper editors were surprisingly and naively not freaking out about Craigslist (if they even knew what it was).

Fifteen Years Ago

Just this morning, I was calibrating the voice-wakeup on my phone and being frustrated by its general lack of responsiveness. Despite this, I can't deny it's come a long way from visions of voice-based WAP shopping all the way back in 2000, when AltaVista was still around and postponing its IPO, and colleges were bizarrely cracking open the subject of internet ethics.

This week in 2000 also featured a big announcement from Mirimax: an experiment in putting feature films online, something nobody had done before. It was impossible not to consider the turbulent future of that move, since this was also a time of rampant discussion and controversy around Napster, including some side-switching and the decision of a few fans to put together a system for donating money to Metallica.

Fifty Years Ago

Predictions are abundant in the technology world. They are also almost always wrong, usually either vastly overestimating change in the short-term or vastly underestimating it in the long-term. But there's one fundamental and famous tech prophecy that has held true throughout all the twists and turns of the entire digital revolution: Moore's Law, which turned 50 this week. Put in the simplest terms, the law states that the power of computer processors (more technically, the number of transistors in dense integrated circuits) will double every two years — and that's exactly what's happened for half a century.

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Posted on Innovation - 25 April 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Electroplating At Home

from the metal-for-makers dept

As with last week's awesome stuff, we're trying out something slightly different. Instead of gathering three new crowdfunded products, we're focusing on just one and taking a slightly closer look at it. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

This week, we're looking at a potentially exciting new addition to the maker's toolkit: the Orbit1 tabletop electroplater.

The Good

The Orbit1 simplifies, streamlines and compacts the complex process of electroplating a wide variety of materials with various metal coatings, and could open up a whole new world of possibilities for all sorts of creators. 3D printers get so much focus in these discussions that it's easy to forget there are other pieces to the puzzle, and a tabletop electroplater fills in a big gap. There are many things you can't do with plastic, metal 3D printing is still expensive and not easily accessible, and electroplating typically means forking over cash to professionals with large machines — so the Orbit1 is enabling countless new avenues for prototyping, jewellerymaking, art and more. It even enables the creation of printed circuit boards with a standard 3D printer. That will make it a boon to future Kickstarter projects too: many creators go as far as they can doing home prototyping work with their 3D printers, and the Orbit1 pushes that limit considerably further for many projects.

The Bad

As with virtually all new devices these days, the Orbit1 is going to be unnecessarily shackled to its proprietary apps and cloud system. Thankfully, it appears they aren't going too far with this: the device can be controlled with the app via Bluetooth so it isn't online-only, and the "expert mode" (where all the various settings are under your control) is useable even without an account on the online service. But it sounds like many other features — including the ability to automatically determine settings and store various settings profiles — will be tied to the cloud. There's also no desktop app for controlling the Orbit1: it's limited to Android and iOS.

This approach to new devices is becoming a huge headache. Backing many things on Kickstarter now means not just betting that the creators will be able to produce the product successfully, but that they will also evolve into a sustainable company that keeps its servers running and properly manages your account. Using such devices means additional accounts and passwords (we all need more of those right?), putting your personal data on yet another distant server (best practice!), and having even more limited cloud storage (the Orbit1 comes with 5gb) scattered in fragments across the web. Mobile-only control means you're also relying on the apps to remain active and updated in proprietary app stores, with the potential for issues on that end of things to suddenly and randomly brick your new toy.

The Admirable, But Problematic

There is, however, some justification for the Orbit1's desire to tie users into an ongoing relationship: the creators appear to have a sincere commitment to environmental responsibility and safety (not to mention a genuine need to comply with various countries' regulations). Electroplating can be dangerous — the solutions used in some settings are highly poisonous, and all of them require proper disposal to avoid serious environmental damage. While the Orbit1 can work with any electroplating solution, and those with more knowledge of the process will surely make use of that, the creators are also focused on selling their own line of the safest possible solutions along with a free recycling service.

Here's the catch, though: the solutions are available to people with Orbit1 accounts, and those accounts can get cancelled if people fail to return their used solutions to be recycled. The details are slightly unclear, but it seems like this means a full account cancellation, which would also include all the additional cloud-tied features mentioned above. Now, while I understand and even approve of the desire to put real pressure on people to use the Orbit1 in a responsible way, I can't help but think this is going to screw some undeserving users.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 21 April 2015 @ 12:30pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 21: How The Patent System Can Be Fixed

from the (assuming-it-can-be) dept

Last week, podcast co-host and patent attorney Hersh Reddy helped us navigate the many ways in which the patent system is broken. This week, we turn our attentions to the ways in which it might be fixed, whether by small changes or sweeping reforms. For music, we've got more of Destroy All Patent Trolls by Jonathan Mann (CC-BY).

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

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