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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 2:40pm

The Crazy Redactions Of The No Fly List Decision: The Kafkaesque 'On-Off-On' Redactions

from the dig-in dept

So, we already highlighted the key information revealed and the newly unredacted version of the court's ruling in the Rehinah Ibrahim "no fly list" case (namely: that the US has a "secret exception" by which it can put people into the terrorist screening database despite no "reasonable suspicion" that they're a threat). However, seeing as we had noted some of the bizarre redactions in the original, and now that we have the unredacted version, I figured we could look at some of the more bizarre redactions now that they've been revealed. Let's start with what might have been the most hilarious redaction from the original

If you can't read it, it's:
Given the Kafkaesque [REDACTED] treatment imposed on Dr. Ibrahim, the government is further ordered expressly to tell Dr. Ibrahim [REDACTED] (always subject, of course, to future developments and evidence that might [REDACTED]). This relief is appropriate and warranted because of the confusion generated by the government's own mistake and the very real misapprehension on her part that the later visa denials are traceable to her erroneous 2004 placement on the no-fly list, suggesting (reasonably from her viewpoint) that she somehow remains on the no-fly list.
Now those redactions have been uncovered, and here's what we see (with the redacted portions in yellow):
And the text version, with redacted portions underlined:
Given the Kafkaesque on-off-on-list treatment imposed on Dr. Ibrahim, the government is further ordered expressly to tell Dr. Ibrahim that she is no longer on the no-fly list and has not been on it since 2005 (always subject, of course, to future developments and evidence that might warrant reinstating her to the list). This relief is appropriate and warranted because of the confusion generated by the government's own mistake and the very real misapprehension on her part that the later visa denials are traceable to her erroneous 2004 placement on the no-fly list, suggesting (reasonably from her viewpoint) that she somehow remains on the no-fly list.
Many people rightly mocked the original version as the Kafkaesque nature of the situation appeared to be increased by that particularly hilarious looking redaction. Of course, now having seen all the redactions, we can see the true reason behind it. It appears that, despite all of this, Ibrahim is still in the Terror Screening Database (TSDB), for some secret reason, even though everyone admits she's no threat. And that secret reason is apparently unrelated to the original mistake.

In other words, the purpose of all those original redactions was to misleadingly suggest that Ibrahim had been cleared from all lists, but the "on-off-on-list" aspect was actually hidden in the redacted version. Now that it's all been revealed, reading between the lines, we see that Ibrahim is only being cleared from some lists and databases, while remaining in others that likely prevent her from ever returning to the US. In other words, the redactions were created to mislead the public into believing that Ibrahim has been totally cleared, when the reality is she's still in the same basic position -- other than the fact that she now knows she's in the TSDB rather than the no fly list, which she was removed from all the way back in 2005.

Still, other redactions seem equally bizarre. Take this one:
The unredacted version says:
Government counsel has conceded at trial that Dr. Ibrahim is not a threat to our national security. She does not pose (and has not posed) a threat of committing an act of international or domestic terrorism with respect to an aircraft, a threat to airline passenger or civil aviation security, or a threat of domestic terrorism. This the government admits and this order finds.
Why was that redacted? Perhaps the government thought the reasons someone might be put on the list needed to be secret? But, did anyone doubt that any of the things listed above were considered reasons why you might be put on the no fly list or the terrorist screening database? This identical redaction was done later in the ruling as well, again enforcing the idea that the government sought to hide the fact that you have to be a threat to one of those three things to be placed on the lists. But it also hid the fact that even if you were not one of those things, you can still be placed in the Terrorist Screening Database for a "secret exception" to the reasonable suspicion requirement.

Another bizarre one, concerning an attempt in 2006 to have her removed from all lists:
The unredacted version:
In a form dated February 10, 2006, an unidentified government agent requested that Dr. Ibrahim be "Remove[ d) From ALL Watchlisting Supported Systems (For terrorist subjects: due to closure of case AND no nexus to terrorism)" (TX 10). For the question "Is the individual qualified for placement on the no fly list," the "No" box was checked. For the question, "If no, is the individual qualified for placement on the selectee list," the "No" box was checked.
Can anyone explain why this was redacted? It makes no sense at all.

There is also a lengthy discussion of how the US blocked Ibrahim's daughter, Raihan Binti Mustafa Kamal, from flying to the US for the trial and then lied about it. We noted how bizarre it was that Judge William Alsup's entire discussion of what happened there was redacted. Now seeing the full version, it is, once again, entirely unclear why it was redacted in the first place. The unredacted parts do show more screwups by the US, in which Homeland Security falsely flagged Kamal based on rules that are not supposed to apply to US citizens, even though she is a US citizen. In fact, it notes that Customs and Border Patrol realized in six minutes that she was a US citizen, but then there was a series of other confusions that resulted in her not being allowed to board the flight.

Unfortunately, despite considerable anger on Judge Alsup's part, when all of this came out, it appears that, in the end, he did nothing about this, other than make sure that Kamal's own record in the TSDB was "updated... to reflect that she was a United States citizen."

In the end, the revelation of these redactions do reveal that Ibrahim still appears to be unable to come to the US, and also suggests that the US government tried to use redactions to hide this fact -- allowing the public to believe that Ibrahim had been entirely cleared, when she had not been. It also sought to hide, as mentioned in our earlier post, that the DOJ has some "secret exception" that allows them to basically destroy someone's life, even if there's no reasonable suspicion that they're a terrorist threat of any kind.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 12:21pm

Why Didn't The MPAA Weigh In On Garcia v. Google?

from the couldn't-bring-themselves-to-support-google? dept

We already mentioned the amicus brief we submitted about the risks concerning intermediary liability (authored by lawyer Cathy Gellis) in the Garcia v. Google case. In it, we noted that the 9th Circuit had set up a page where all such filings are listed and that we planned to write about some of the other briefs. Of course Eric Goldman beat me to it, discussing all of the various amicus briefs and what they focus on. In short, though:

  • Public Citizen's brief, submitted a while ago, focuses on whether or not an injunction against Google is appropriate, and explains why it is not.
  • An excellent brief from EFF, ACLU, Public Knowledge, CDT, New Media Rights, American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries covers a lot of ground in under 2,500 words, highlighting the "novel" nature of the copyright claim and its "dangerous implications." It also highlights how the focus on the potential harms to Garcia are not copyright-related harms. Finally, it notes that the gag order Kozinski ordered was unconstitutional.
  • A bunch of news organizations, including the LA Times, the Washington Post, NPR, Scripps, Advance Publications, the California Newspaper Association, RCFP, First Amendment Coalition and DMLP, submitted a brief on both the First Amendment issues raised by the ruling, and how it might lead to news organizations being blocked from publishing newsworthy content.
  • A separate brief from California broadcasters focused on the oddity of Kozinski's interpretation of copyright law, and how that will "create confusion."
  • Another fantastic brief comes from a variety of tech companies, including Twitter, Automattic, Kickstarter, Facebook, Yahoo, Tumblr, eBay, Adobe, IAC, Gawker and Pinterest. It highlights how the injunction goes way beyond what the law allows, placing (again, as we noted in our brief) tremendous liability on intermediaries, such as requiring them to block all future uploads. It also challenges the gag order that was originally placed on Google as setting a very dangerous precedent.
  • Then we have the academics. A brief from internet law professors (written by Eric Goldman and Venkat Balasubramani, but signed by many more) covers the intermediary liability issue (like ours did) and highlights how this appears to be Garcia trying to use copyright as an end-run around Section 230.
  • Then there's a brief from IP law professors (written by Christopher Newman, Chris Sprigman and Julie Ahrens but signed by many more) focusing on the core ridiculousness of the claim that Garcia has a legitimate copyright interest in her performance. As they note: "the panel opinion in this case makes new law with corrosive implications for these foundational principles of copyright law."
  • Netflix weighed in to point out that this creates a "new species of copyright" and would give "an effective veto right to any performer."
  • Finally, a bunch of independent filmmakers, including the International Documentary Association, Film Independent, Morgan Spurlock and Fredrik Gertten, all submitted a brief about the "chaos" this will cause for filmmakers.
The last one is especially powerful and worth reading. But those final two -- from Netflix and those indie filmmakers -- actually highlight a glaring omission: Where is the MPAA? As we noted when the original ruling came out, it was so bad and so ridiculous that it ought to have actually united Google and the MPAA on a single copyright issue. Because if it stands, both will suffer greatly.

And yet, so far, the MPAA appears to be sitting this one out. Eric Goldman, in his post, speculated as to possible reasons, none of which look good for the MPAA:
Noticeably absent from the amicus brief roster are the big entertainment companies, such as the major movie studios and the record labels. Given that this case involves video production, something Google/YouTube don’t know much about, where are the real experts on this topic? One possibility is that they are hubristic enough to believe that they run such a tight legal ship that they will never run into problems with the court’s holding. Another possibility is that they are spiteful enough to delight in Google’s misery, even if the rule ultimately hurts them too (i.e., the enemy of my enemy is my friend). Yet another possibility is that they are happy to free-ride on Google’s efforts, getting all the benefit of Google fixing the law without any of the financial or reputational costs of siding against Garcia or supporting a deceitful rogue film producer. Whatever the reason, I can’t say that I favorably regard their decision to stand on the sidelines as the Ninth Circuit is trying to wreck their industry.
It is quite a glaring absence.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 11:10am

And, Of Course, Labels Sue Pandora Over Pre-1972 Recordings

from the after-losing-on-trying-to-shake-them-down dept

Just a few days ago, we wrote about how the record labels were trying to have it both ways. That is, on the one hand, they are arguing in a variety of cases that the DMCA shouldn't apply to pre-1972 sound recordings, while also arguing against any attempt to treat pre-1972 sound recordings the same as if they were under federal copyright law. At the same time, they are claiming that it's somehow unfair that Sirius XM and Pandora aren't paying statutory licensing fees on those very same pre-1972 recordings.

Having already sued Sirius XM over the issue last fall, the RIAA's record labels have now targeted a similar lawsuit at Pandora. The lawsuit itself is highly misleading, taking statements from Pandora totally out of context (the labels have a habit of doing this). The most obnoxious of these misrepresentations is the RIAA's claim that Pandora recently stated in SEC filings that there's a risk factor if the company is "required to obtain licenses from individual sound recording copyright owners for the reproduction and public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings."

The RIAA presents this as if it's Pandora trying to get out of paying. But that's not what Pandora is saying at all. It's noting that because pre-1972 works are not covered by the various rates that it pays which are set by the Copyright Royalty Board, in order to secure the rates, it would need to negotiate individually with every copyright holder for the right to stream those works in every single state. But it's noting that as a risk factor -- because, as Sirius has pointed out in its own response to the similar lawsuit, decades have gone by and the labels have never been asking for licenses for performances of pre-1972 works. And those works have been used for years, license free, by TV and radio broadcasters, bars, restaurants and a variety of other places. The real risk is that Pandora, which has relied on the fact that it can take compulsory rates, would then suddenly have to negotiate with everyone, which would be a massive headache. And this is the mess caused by the weird way in which pre-1972 sound recordings are treated.

Again, those works are not covered by federal copyright laws, which include specific rights over performances of works, which was something of a new concept when it was added to federal copyright law. The various state laws that these works are covered by are generally common law concepts around misappropriation and unfair competition. So the big question is whether or not "performing" a work falls under such common law concepts. Historically, these claims were mostly focused on making unauthorized copies. Performing the work has generally been considered a separate issue. This makes it a bit questionable that the RIAA is now suddenly seeking to reinterpret a big swath of history around how those works were legally used -- which also raises a concern about "laches" or how timely these lawsuits are. The RIAA has had decades to complain about these practices, and is just doing so now...

And, of course, remember that this is all happening just a month or so after the publishing arms of the very same labels were found to have been colluding unfairly to jack up Pandora's rates. Basically, the legacy recording industry players are now looking for just about any way possible to make Pandora pay even more. This isn't a surprise. It's how the industry has always worked. When they're struggling to figure out ways to make money, they look at anyone successful and assume it's their fault that the legacy players are making less money. So, rather than innovating, they try to find legal ways to force more money out of the innovators and into their own hands. This is just the latest example in a very long line of such cases.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 10:05am

General Mills Says If You 'Like' Cheerios On Facebook, You Can No Longer Sue

from the likewrap dept

Three years ago when the Supreme Court ruled in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, basically allowing binding arbitration clauses in contracts to exclude class action suits, we noted that it was an unfortunate pitting of a broken class action system against a broken arbitration system. Both arbitration and class action lawsuits may have some good features -- and the concepts behind each sound good, but both have been abused to extreme levels. On the class action side, often these lawsuits have little to do with righting wrongs, and very much to do with big paydays for lawyers (and some companies even turn class action lawsuits into marketing opportunities).

On the arbitration side, while the theory of having a neutral third party settle the dispute without having to go through an expensive litigation process certainly sounds good, the reality is quite different. Since arbitrators are hired, and large companies are frequent employers, arbitrators have very strong incentives to side with those companies, in order to make sure they'll be hired in the future. When you have one party who is likely to be a frequent employer, and another who will only engage in the transaction once, guess where the bias is going to fall. And, indeed, multiple studies have shown that's exactly what happens. In one case 94% of rulings went against consumers. Another study showed that companies that regularly use arbitration get higher awards.

So neither side in that fight necessarily could be said to "represent the good guys." However, as we noted when the Supreme Court ruling came out, it seemed likely that this would lead to companies putting arbitration clauses absolutely everywhere. At the time, we suggested a simple fix: have Congress make it clear that you can't give up your right to go to court based on a non-negotiated contract. And that still seems to make sense, but of course, nothing has actually been done.

It should come as little surprise, then, that the prediction of seeing companies put arbitration clauses absolutely everywhere is happening -- and to ridiculous levels. The NY Times has an article about how General Mills, makers of Cheerios, Chex and lots of other cereals, has updated some legalese on their own website to basically say if you do absolutely anything related to its cereals -- including liking them on Facebook, or buying them -- you give up your right to go to court and are agreeing to arbitration:

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.
While one might argue that you get what you deserve when you "like" a cereal on Facebook, this still seems ridiculous and excessive. I can almost see the sense of saying if it's in a binding contract you sign as a subscriber (e.g., mobile phone service) such a clause can be considered legit, but something like this, which isn't even "clickwrap" but more "likewrap" can't possibly be legally binding. Not only has the person probably not read the details, from what's being said, this "binding arbitration" clause may appear on a website they've never visited at all. I can't see how that can or should be considered a true contract in any sense of the word.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 7:44am

US Has A 'Secret Exception' To Reasonable Suspicion For Putting People On The No Fly List

from the also-known-as-the-'because-we-wanted-to' dept

Over the past few months, we covered the bizarre trial concerning Rahinah Ibrahim and her attempt to get off the no fly list. In January, there was an indication that the court had ordered her removed from the list, but without details. In February, a redacted version of the ruling revealed that the whole mess was because an FBI agent read the instructions wrong on a form and accidentally placed her on the no fly list, though we noted that some of the redactions were quite odd.

However, earlier this week, the court finally released the unredacted version, and we'll have a few things to say about the choice of redactions in a later post. But first, there were three main "reveals" from the newly unredacted version. The first is that Ibrahim was actually put on multiple lists by mistake (and never for any clear reason) and was actually dropped from the no fly list years ago (though the other lists created the same effective problem in barring her from being allowed to travel to the US). The second is that the US government has a "secret exception" to the requirement that there be "reasonable suspicion" to put someone in various terrorist databases, and that secret exception was later used on Ibrahim. And third, that despite the implications from the redacted versions, the fully unredacted ruling shows that Ibrahim is still likely blocked from coming to the US for separate undisclosed reasons, even though the government fully admits that she is no threat. All of these things were hidden by the redacted version.

Let's start with the first issue -- that Ibrahim was not just on the no fly list, but multiple other lists and databases. This all stemmed (at first) from that initial mistake from FBI Agent Kevin Michael Kelley. The yellow highlighted portions on this form were redacted in the original version, but now they're public:

As you can see, Agent Kelley was supposed to be checking which lists NOT to put Ibrahim on, and did the reverse of what he intended to do, meaning that she got placed on both the no fly list and the Interagency Border Information System (IBIS). In the redacted version, all mentions of IBIS were redacted. Note that, from this, Kelley did intend to put her on the Selectee list. Later, an unredacted portion reveals that at the time she was removed from that selectee list, she was added to the lists the US gives to Australia and Canada (TACTICS and TUSCAN -- though no reason for that was ever provided). The court also notes that all the way back in 2006, a government agent requested that Ibrahim be removed from all lists, and she was removed from some, but not the others.

However -- and here's where it gets really sketchy -- the government started putting her back into the terrorist screening database (TSDB). She was added back in 2007... and then removed three months later, for no clear reason. But then, in 2009 she was added back to the TSDB "pursuant to a secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard." Let's repeat that. In order to be put into the TSDB, the government is required to show a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is a terrorist. However, what this court ruling has revealed is that there is an unexplained secret exception that allows people to be placed on the terrorist screening database even if there's no reasonable suspicion, and the government used that secret exception to put Ibrahim back on the list.

Later in the ruling it notes that the terrorist screening center knows Ibrahim is not a terrorist threat. This line was revealed back in February:
The TSC has determined that Dr. Ibrahim does not currently meet the reasonable suspicion standard for inclusion in the TSDB.
However, the next two sentences were redacted until now:
She, however, remains in the TSDB pursuant to a classified and secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. Again, both the reasonable suspicion standard and the secret exception are self-imposed processes and procedures within the Executive Branch.
The ruling also makes it clear that Ibrahim has not been on the actual no fly list (even if she is on other lists) since 2005, and that she should be told this (and, indeed, to comply with the law, the government has now told her solely that she's not on the "no fly" list and hasn't been since 2005). It also tells the government to search for all traces of her being on all such lists and correct all of those that are connected to Agent Kelley's initial mistake. However, it's not at all clear if this applies to the later additions to the TSDB, which was done for this secret and undisclosed exception, and might not be directly because of Agent Kelley's mistake (though, potentially is indirectly because of that). In fact, a different unredacted section now says that the reasons why Ibrahim was denied a visa (which were revealed to the court in a classified manner) were valid, and thus it appears that Ibrahim will still be denied visas in the future (unredacted portions underlined) -- and, indeed, as we explain below that has already happened:
The Court has read the relevant classified information, under seal and ex parte, that led to the visa denials. That classified information, if accurate, warranted denial of the visa under Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B). (That information was different from the 2004 mistaken nomination by Agent Kelley.) Therefore, under the state secrets privilege, any challenge to the visa denials in 2009 and 2013 must be denied
Thus, it appears that while Ibrahim has been told she's been taken off the no fly list (and has been for nearly ten years), she's still not going to be able to travel to the US, because she's still in the TSDB for an unrevealed secret reason -- even though everyone admits she's not a threat. And, indeed, Ibrahim tried to apply for a visa to the US on Monday and was denied (with the apparent reason -- if you read between the lines -- being that she is related to someone "engaged in a terrorist activity.")

Either way, what sort of country is this where there's a secret exception to "reasonable suspicion" that will put you on a set of secret lists that get you treated like a terrorist for wanting to travel?

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 5:38am

Teen Arrested For Using Heartbleed To Get Canadian Taxpayer Info; Did Nothing To Hide Himself

from the that-didn't-take-long dept

One of the most high profile victims of the Heartbleed vulnerability was the Canadian tax service, Canada Revenue Agency, which shut down its online tax filing offering. A few days later, the agency admitted that about 900 Canadians had information copied from the site via someone exploiting the vulnerability, prior to the site being shut down. And, from there, it was just a day or so until it was reported that a teenager, Stephen Arthuro Solis-Reyes, had been arrested for the hack.

Given the speed of the arrest, it would not appear that Solis-Reyes did very much to cover his tracks. In fact, reports say he did nothing to hide his IP address. He's a computer science student -- and his father is a CS professor, with a specialty in data mining. It seems at least reasonably likely that the "hack" was more of a "test" to see what could be done with Heartbleed and (perhaps) an attempt to show off how risky the bug could be, rather than anything malicious. It will be interesting to see how he is treated by Canadian officials, compared to say, the arrests of Aaron Swartz and weev.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2014 @ 3:34am

Snowden Calls BS On Putin's Answer: Says He Was Playing The Role Of Ron Wyden

from the your-move dept

Yesterday we, like many, were perplexed by Ed Snowden's decision to go on a Russian television program, and to ask Vladimir Putin a question about whether or not the Russians do mass surveillance like the NSA does (which was, of course, exposed by Ed Snowden). It was clearly playing into Putin's propaganda efforts, because Putin immediately took the opportunity to insist that no, Russia does not do mass surveillance like that. Of course, Putin's answer was not true. Many of Snowden's detractors immediately jumped on this as an example of how he was working for the Putin propaganda machine -- and many (including us), wondered if he was, at the very least, pressured to play a role in order to keep his temporary asylum. Others thought he was just being naive. Some Snowden supporters, however, insisted that we should hear him out, and see if there was some more specific motive behind his question.

Apparently, we didn't have to wait long. Snowden himself has now directly called Putin out for lying about Russian surveillance, and said that his question was designed to act similar to Senator Ron Wyden's now famous question to James Clapper, leading to Clapper's lie, which (in part) sparked Snowden's decision to finally release the files he'd been collecting. Snowden, writing in the Guardian, explained:

On Thursday, I questioned Russia's involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: "Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals' communications?"

I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden's question and mine here.)

Clapper's lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.
From there, he explains why he thinks Putin was lying, and how he expects this to now be exposed in Russia, as it was in the US:
In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we'll get to them soon – but it was not the president's suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin's evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia's surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as "extremely important for Russia". It could, he said, "lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping."
Snowden also pointed out the remarkably similar response from Putin and Obama when asked about their domestic surveillance programs, and noted that he expects the Russian press to finally start challenging Putin on this assertion.
When this event comes around next year, I hope we'll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don't have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals' communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.
Finally, he notes that his position continues to remain entirely consistent:
I blew the whistle on the NSA's surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.

Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded "will make our nation stronger". I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.

I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials' claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.
I don't think many people -- other than perhaps the most diehard Snowden supporters -- expected something quite like this. For months, many Snowden detractors have repeatedly criticized Snowden for not speaking out against Russian authoritarianism and surveillance. Many of us have felt that those criticisms were significantly off-base, in part because that wasn't Snowden's particular fight (nor did he have any unique knowledge of Russian surveillance, as he did with the US). It seemed like a stupid false equivalency to try to make Snowden look bad. And when he asked his question to Putin, some people argued that this showed he was actually "questioning" Russian surveillance. Except that the TV question felt like such a softball, so designed to allow Putin to spin some propaganda that this didn't really seem like Snowden challenging anything.

However, this latest response suggests that Snowden is (once again) playing a game where he's several moves ahead of many folks. The question may have set up a propaganda answer, but it appears there was a bigger strategy behind it -- and one that remains entirely consistent with what Snowden has claimed his position has been since the beginning. Frankly, while this possibility was raised about his original question to Putin, many people (myself included) thought it was unlikely that Snowden would so directly go after his current hosts (who only became his hosts thanks to the US pulling his passport). Putin is not known for gracefully handling those who directly challenge him, and I don't think it would be surprise anyone if Snowden had continued to stay out of the question of Russian surveillance, simply out of basic necessity.

Snowden, however, has said from the beginning, that this story has never been about him, and he accepts that the end result of his starting the process may not be good for himself. He's made it clear that he was willing to effectively sacrifice himself to get this debate going -- and having done it once, he apparently has decided he can do it again in another context. While I was confused by this move 24 hours ago, I'll admit it was because I never thought Snowden would go this far (and so quickly) to criticize Russia while he was there. Already, given what Snowden did in releasing the NSA documents, he's shown that he's much braver (and in many ways, patriotic to the public) than just about anyone. In now questioning -- and then calling BS on Putin's answer -- he's shown that bravery was not a one-time thing, but a position he intends to live by going forward.

Snowden likely made a lot more powerful enemies today -- including more who could make life very uncomfortable for him very soon. But he also showed why the public, around the globe, owes him an incredibly large debt of gratitude, one which it's unclear we'll ever be able to pay off.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2014 @ 2:29pm

Eli Lilly Enlists Congress In Fight Against Canada For Refusing Patent On Useless Drug

from the war-on-all-fronts dept

Eli Lilly bet its entire business model on patents years back, rather than on creating useful products that people want to buy. Lately it's been having trouble getting new patents, and is reacting extremely poorly to the fact that its last-gasp efforts to get new patents aren't working. As we've noted, a few years back, Canada rejected some patent applications for some Eli Lilly drug after the Canadian patent board "determined that the drug had failed to deliver the benefits the firm promised when obtaining the patent." In other words, after realizing that the drug is not useful, Canada rejected the patent.

And Eli Lilly flipped out.

Eli Lilly has sued Canada for $500 million claiming "lost profits." How is this possible, you ask? Well, it's those corporate sovereignty provisions that are finding their way into various trade agreements lately. They're usually called "investor state dispute settlement" (ISDS) provisions, because supporters know that such a phrase will bore most people to death and they won't realize what's happening. Eli Lilly is arguing that Canada's decision to check to see if a drug is actually useful somehow violates its international agreements. And thus that a sovereign decision by Canada not to patent drugs of questionable benefit is not just a violation of trade, but stomping on Eli Lilly's expected profits.

Lilly is now raising the stakes. Not only has it asked the USTR to put Canada back on the wacky "Special 301 list" of "naughty countries" that don't bow before American corporate demands, but it's convinced 32 members of Congress to out themselves as corporate shills for Eli Lilly by demanding that the USTR follow through on this request.

Eli Lilly seems to have no shame about this, happily admitting that it's behind this effort to have the US punish Canada for daring to judge whether or not a drug is useful. As he told the Wall Street Journal:

“We’ve been unsuccessful in bringing about change by other means,” said Lilly chief executive John Lechleiter. “It’s an issue right at our back door. And unfortunately, we’re afraid it can lead to other countries attempting to undermine intellectual property.”
No, not "undermine intellectual property." It's about actually making sure, before giving you a decades-long monopoly right, that your drug is actually useful. Of course, if the USTR actually follows through and puts Canada on the Special 301 list, it will just cement what a complete joke the Special 301 list really is. For years, the USTR -- at the behest of Hollywood -- put Canada on the Special 301 list. Each year Canadian officials would specifically state that they "don't recognize" the process of the Special 301 list as being legitimate (because it's not) and then proceed to do nothing. Eventually, though, with a new government in place, Canada did change its copyright laws, and was "downgraded" on the Special 301 list. Upgrading them back up to a "pirate" nation will just highlight why Canada (and every other country) should totally ignore the nearly entirely arbitrariness of the list.

Meanwhile, shame on those 32 members of Congress for supporting such a blatant attempt by a company to interfere in the sovereignty of Canada and its crazy idea that drugs should actually be useful to deserve patent protection.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2014 @ 12:22pm

Court Rightly Finds That GoDaddy Isn't Liable For Revenge Porn Site

from the for-now... dept

In the ongoing attempts to deal with the (very real and serious) issue of "revenge porn" websites, various parties have been trying desperately to blame third parties, rather than figuring out ways to go after those actually responsible. In one such case, victims of the site had gone after the host and registrar of the revenge porn site Texxxan.com, which happened to be GoDaddy. A Texas trial court totally ignored Section 230 in finding GoDaddy liable. Thankfully, an appeals court has now reversed that, highlighting the importance of Section 230, and the lengths to which many will go to in an attempt to get around it, in order to blame third parties for the actions of others. Basically, the plaintiffs here tried to find a way around Section 230 by arguing that it "didn’t apply to intentional torts, obscene material that isn’t constitutionally protected, and civil lawsuits based on criminal statutes." However, the court rejected all of that:

All of plaintiffs’ claims against GoDaddy stem from GoDaddy’s publication of the contested content, its failure to remove the content, or its alleged violation of the Texas Penal Code for the same conduct. Allowing plaintiffs’ to assert any cause of action against GoDaddy for publishing content created by a third party, or for refusing to remove content created by a third party would be squarely inconsistent with section 230.
As Andrew McDiarmid at CDT points out, this is important:
Last week’s opinion reads like a greatest-hits record of Section 230 case law, and makes it clear that because GoDaddy had nothing to do with the creation of the content at issue it cannot be held liable. This is the right answer; hosts like GoDaddy must be protected from liability for their users’ (and their users’ users’) speech so that the Internet remains a vibrant platform for free expression and access to information. Otherwise, who would be willing to take the risk of opening up their servers for public hosting?

The plaintiffs attempted to argue that Section 230 doesn’t apply when the content at issue is illegal – an argument the judges rightly rejected. Shielding hosts from liability when their users upload illegal content is precisely the point of Section 230: those who post such content – not those who host it – should be legally responsible for it. Thankfully, the court recognized as much, writing that such a reading of the statute “would undermine its purpose.”
Of course, this is not the final word on this. The attorney for the plaintiffs has said that they will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. And of course (once again) we have the issue that the person who has been credited with helping to draft the upcoming federal revenge porn law has flat out said that it's her intention to make companies like GoDaddy liable.
"The impact [of a federal law] for victims would be immediate," Franks said. "If it became a federal criminal law that you can't engage in this type of behavior, potentially Google, any website, Verizon, any of these entities might have to face liability for violations."
Indeed, this would target the GoDaddy's of the world as well. I recognize that there are serious issues involved in revenge porn, but targeting third parties like web hosts and search engines is idiotic. It will have tremendous unintended First Amendment consequences.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2014 @ 11:23am

Recently Departed Founder Of Russia's Facebook Says Gov't Demanded Data On Ukrainian Protestors

from the surveillance-made-simple dept

While we're still puzzled by Ed Snowden's question to Vladimir Putin concerning Russian surveillance, it's pretty well accepted that the Russians have significant surveillance powers, and they're not afraid to use them. Now the outspoken ousted founder of "Russia's Facebook," VKontakte, Pavel Durov, has said that Russian intelligence service FSB had demanded info on Ukrainian protestors -- and that VKontakte had refused to provide it. As Mashable explains:

"On December 13, 2013 the FSB demanded from us to turn over the personal data of organizers of the Euromaidan protesters," Pavel Durov wrote in a post (English translation) on his VKontakte page on Wednesday.

"Our response has been and remains a categorical refusal — Russian jurisdiction does not extend to Ukrainian users VKontakte," he wrote. "Giving personal details Ukrainians Russian authorities would not only be against the law, but also a betrayal of all those millions of people in Ukraine who have trusted us."

This actually provides some more background details on what happened with VKontakte and Durov in the past few months. In January, Durov "sold" his stake in the site to the CEO of a Russian mobile operator. Many people noted at the time that this was unlikely to have been a wholly voluntary transaction. Having known some folks working for startups/tech companies in Russia, stories of being "forced" to sell are not exactly uncommon.

Durov himself had been outspoken for a while about the importance of secure communications, and had criticized both the NSA and the FSB for mass surveillance. He's also been working for a while on a secure messaging app (separate from VKontakte).

Then, just a few weeks ago, despite promises that when he sold his shares, nothing would change about his management role, he abruptly resigned. It was noted at the time that he had been under pressure to shut down pages related to Alexei Navalny, an opposition candidate to the current government, whose web presence was broadly censored by the Russian government last month. However, it was also hinted at that Durov had been asked to give up info on Ukrainian protestors. His latest comments appear to confirm those rumors.

Also, given that he's no longer there, and this appears to be part of the reason, it seems reasonable to believe that the FSB now does likely have access to such information via VKontakte. For whatever Putin thought he was proving with his answer to Snowden's question, it's pretty clear that Russian surveillance reaches far and wide. And, of course, the NSA's activities allow him to play it off as less intrusive than the NSA (even if that's not true). Either way, all of this seems to highlight why we all need much more secure communications systems.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2014 @ 3:38am

Do Nature's Publishers Even Read Their Own Articles About Open Access?

from the funny-that dept

Just a few weeks ago we wrote about scientific publishing giant Nature's somewhat abhorrent open access policy, where it's telling researchers at universities that require open access publishing that they need to get a waiver from that policy. So it seems rather strange to see that very same Nature, just days later, publishing an article about open access, in which it talks about how two of the largest funders of scientific research today, Wellcome Trust in the UK and the National Institute for Health (NIH) in the US, are starting to punish grant recipients who don't follow through on open access obligations. Both of those organizations require certain open access standards, but apparently have mostly just trusted researchers to follow through. Not any more:

Now they are done with just dangling carrots. Both institutions are bringing out the sticks: cautiously and discreetly cracking down on researchers who do not make their papers publicly available.

Neither agency would name those who have been sanctioned. But the London-based Wellcome Trust says that it has withheld grant payments on 63 occasions in the past year because papers resulting from the funding were not open access. And the NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland, says that it has delayed some continuing grant awards since July 2013 because of non-compliance with open-access policies, although the agency does not know the exact numbers.
The report notes that this has resulted in a "noticeable jump in researchers following the rules." That makes sense.

Of course, nowhere in the Nature article does reporter Richard Van Noorden ever bother to mention that his own publication is fighting against those requirements. In fact, the article reads as if it's a strong supporter of open access rules:
Some scientists are not even aware that they could be penalized. Nature's news team contacted Sheila MacNeil, a tissue engineer at the University of Sheffield, UK, who has published hundreds of articles, including a March 2013 paper on making stem-cell lattices for corneal repair that was funded by the Wellcome Trust (I. Ortega et al. Acta Biomater. 9, 5511–5520; 2013). Nature pointed out that the article should be open access but is not. "This is new to me," responds MacNeil, who plans to make the paper available. "Agreeing with open access is easy — making it happen, less so," she says.
Perhaps the Nature "news team" should take a look at how their own publisher is forcing researchers to ignore their open access obligations.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 8:04pm

Tom Lehrer, Culture And Copyright After Death

from the different-attitudes dept

If you don't know who Tom Lehrer is, well, you've missed out for a long, long time. Still, it's never too late to catch up, and there are plenty of great sources, including the The Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel on YouTube (though, hardly a "rare cut" this remains my favorite). Of course there's much more to the lore of Lehrer than just his music, and Ben Smith at Buzzfeed has an has an excellent long discussion of Lehrer's life, including his very brief, but massive, music career, and his life for the past half a century in which he more or less tries to hide from or live down that whole episode of his life. It's a great read.

But what caught my attention was some discussion that Lehrer has had with certain fans concerning the copyright on his works, whether or not it's okay to put them online and what happens to them after his death. The simple answer seems to be that Lehrer couldn't care any less about all of it.

While Lehrer has made startlingly little effort to ensure a future for his work, a handful of superfans have filled in the gap. One is Erik Meyn, a Norwegian who manages the Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel on YouTube, a feed of performance videos and playlists that has received more than 10 million views since 2007. Meyn originally posted content to the channel without Lehrer’s permission and called him from overseas in December 2008 to apologize, a conversation he later posted on the “Tom Lehrer!” Facebook page. An excerpt:

TL: Well, you see, I’m fine with that channel.

EM: You’re very kind. But my question is: Who in your family will take care of your copyright and your songs in the distant future?

TL: I don’t have a family.

EM: OK, but what do you think will happen to the channel and your songs? And if you have someone who will act on your behalf, could you give them my name in case they’d want the channel taken down?

TL: Yes, but there’s no need to remove that channel.

EM: I was just wondering what will happen in the future, because you’re certainly going to continue to sell records.

TL: Well, I don’t need to make money after I’m dead. These things will be taken care of.

EM: I feel like I gave away some of your songs to public domain without even asking you, and that wasn’t very nice of me.

TL: But I’m fine with that, you know.

EM: Will you establish any kind of foundation or charity or something like that?

TL: No, I won’t. They’re mostly rip-offs.

There's also the discussion with a fan who has been in contact here and there with Lehrer for the past 20 years or so, who stopped by his house once, found Lehrer's master tapes, and Lehrer just gave them to him:
In 2011, Morris was rummaging through the Sparks Street basement, and alongside the collection of books and records Lehrer referred to as his “Noel Coward shrine” were two boxes marked “masters.” They were, to Morris, “the holy grail.” These were the original recordings of the 1959 album More Songs by Tom Lehrer: the orchestral session and outtakes and Lehrer’s recordings. Morris offered to help Lehrer remix them from half-inch tapes into stereo recordings.

“Well, why don’t you just take them with you?” Lehrer said.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding?! These are the master copies!’” Morris recalled. “I was just trying to reassure him, I’ll be very careful with them, I won’t let them fall in the wrong hands, I’m not going to distribute copies to anyone without your permission.”

“I don’t care!” Lehrer told him. “They’re not worth anything to me.”
None of this is to suggest that any other artists should necessarily follow down the same path. But I always find it interesting to see artists who decide that the traditional concepts of copyright don't make any sense to them, and just choose not to have anything to do with them. Given that Lehrer is so influential on so many people in so many different fields today, it seemed worth sharing this little tidbit.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 3:42pm

Canadian 'Digital Privacy' Bill Actually Puts Everyone's Privacy At Risk; Will Be A Boon To Trolls

from the no-anonymity dept

Michael Geist is raising the alarm on a dangerous new bill in Canada, called the "Digital Privacy Act" (Bill S-4), which will actually serve to undermine many people's privacy. Much of the bill is focused on security breach disclosure rules, something that is important and useful. But, with that are some hidden, and extremely problematic, sections as well.

In light of revelations that telecom companies and Internet companies already disclose subscriber information tens of thousands of times every year without a court order, the immunity provision is enormously problematic. Yet it pales in comparison to the Digital Privacy Act, which would expand the possibility of warrantless disclosure to anyone, not just law enforcement. Bill S-4 proposes that:

"an organization may disclose personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual... if the disclosure is made to another organization and is reasonable for the purposes of investigating a breach of an agreement or a contravention of the laws of Canada or a province that has been, is being or is about to be committed and it is reasonable to expect that disclosure with the knowledge or consent of the individual would compromise the investigation;


Unpack the legalese and you find that organizations will be permitted to disclose personal information without consent (and without a court order) to any organization that is investigating a contractual breach or possible violation of any law. This applies both past breaches or violations as well as potential future violations. Moreover, the disclosure occurs in secret without the knowledge of the affected person (who therefore cannot challenge the disclosure since they are not aware it is happening).
Of particular concern is how this could be a huge boon for copyright trolls, who can get information from ISPs without a court order, by simply claiming that it's for the purpose of "investigating a breach of an agreement or a contravention of the laws of Canada." Similarly, this would put a serious chill on protections for anonymous speech, as claims of defamation or other issues might lead to quick revelations of anonymous commenters, without any role for a Canadian court to balance the interests of free speech and privacy.

It's difficult to see how a bill that is supposed to be about protecting people's privacy actually has this clause that will effectively decimate privacy for many individuals. Industry Canada insists that this provision is narrowly targeted, but Geist highlights how the government rejected much narrower constructions, and seems unable to comprehend how disastrous the current bill will be for Canadians' privacy.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 2:41pm

Travesty: Supreme Court (And Senate) Deny SCOTUSblog A Press Pass

from the shameful dept

So we just had a story about a court recognizing that, yes, blogs are a part of the media, and noted how ridiculous it was that this is still an issue in 2014. However, it appears that the Supreme Court is still living in a different century (okay, maybe not a huge surprise, since they still haven't figured out email). If you follow issues around litigation, it's likely that sooner or later you'll read SCOTUSblog, which is (deservedly) the go to source for anything related to anything having to do with Supreme Court cases. On mornings when decisions come out, it's always the first source I check, and I'm hardly alone among legal watchers.

And yet... the Supreme Court has denied SCOTUSblog's request for a press pass based on a stupidly convoluted system for which the Senate is partly to blame as well. According to SCOTUSblog:

SCOTUSblog is not now, and has never been, credentialed by the Supreme Court. The Court’s longstanding policy was to look to credentials issued by the Senate. We pursued a Senate credential for several years, modifying several policies of the blog to address concerns expressed by the Gallery. Last year, we finally succeeded – the Senate Press Gallery credentialed Lyle as a reporter for SCOTUSblog. We then presented that credential to the Supreme Court, thinking that the issue was resolved.

But the Court declined to recognize the credential, explaining that it would instead review its credentialing policy. The Court has not indicated when that review will conclude.
This is complicated further by the fact that the Senate Press Gallery has now rejected SCOTUSblog's request for a press pass, and also told the blog it will not renew Lyle's press pass -- thereby cutting off the blog to both the Senate and the Court. SCOTUSblog's Tom Goldstein does note that the Supreme Court itself has actually tried to accommodate the blog's requests for public seats, despite not agreeing to give it a press pass. The situation is clearly ridiculous:
All that said, the Senate Press Gallery’s decision to deny us a credential is important to us. We wanted the credential in substantial part because we cover Supreme Court-related matters in the Senate. Most significantly, we do gavel-to-gavel, liveblog coverage of Supreme Court nominations. We also expect to cover hearings related to the Court’s budget. So those efforts are now more difficult.

So we plan to appeal the Senate Gallery’s credentialing decision. We do not have a written list of the reasons for the denial, which makes the process more difficult. Our impression is also that the appeal may go to the same group that denied the application in the first place. If the appeal is denied, then we expect to litigate the issue. We’re now coordinating all those efforts with other groups that kindly have offered to support us.

All in all, the refusal by the Court and the Senate to credential us have always seemed strange. No one seems to doubt that we are a journalistic entity and that we serve a public function. Winning the Peabody and other awards would seem to confirm that. And the Court for years has functionally recognized us, because obviously the overwhelming majority of Lyle’s work is for us. We do not want any kind of special treatment. Credentialing the blog doesn’t give us any special power or recognition; it just makes our jobs incrementally easier. All in all, it doesn’t seem to make sense to impose burdens on us that are greater than those that apply to others who fundamentally do the same thing.
I don't think "strange" is the right word. Shameful works better. Stupid would apply as well.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 12:38pm

Court Declares That, Yes, Bloggers Are Media

from the and-the-moral-of-the-story-is-don't-shoot-dogs dept

A few years ago, we wrote about the bizarre and quixotic effort by Florida businessman Christopher Comins to find any possible way to sue University of Florida student and blogger Matthew Frederick VanVoorhis for his blog post concerning a widely publicized event in which Comins shot two dogs in a field (video link). The story made lots of news at the time, but Comins didn't go after any of the major media -- instead targeting VanVoorhis for a defamation suit. The original blog post is "novelistic" but it's difficult to see how it's defamatory. Either way, Comins' case was shot down on fairly specific procedural grounds: namely that Florida defamation law requires specific notice be given to media properties at least 5 days before a lawsuit is launched. Specifically, the law says:

Before any civil action is brought for publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium, of a libel or slander, the plaintiff shall, at least 5 days before instituting such action, serve notice in writing on the defendant, specifying the article or broadcast and the statements therein which he or she alleges to be false and defamatory.
Comins' lawsuit was dumped because he failed to give such notice. Comins argues that he did give such a notice (though the letter he sent did not meet the requirements of such notice under the law) and (more importantly for this discussion) that VanVoorhis' blog did not count as a media publication, and thus the law did not apply. The original court ruling rejected that pretty quickly, and now on appeal, a state appeals court has not just rejected Comins' anti-blog claim more thoroughly, but also highlighted the importance of blogs to our media landscape.

The full ruling does a nice job giving the history and purpose of the law above, as well as the importance of encouraging the media to report on difficult stories. And from there, it explains why VanVoorhis' blog is clearly a part of the media and why blogs in general are so important:
...it is hard to dispute that the advent of the internet as a medium and the emergence of the blog as a means of free dissemination of news and public comment have been transformative. By some accounts, there are in the range of 300 million blogs worldwide. The variety and quality of these are such that the word “blog” itself is an evolving term and concept. The impact of blogs has been so great that even terms traditionally well defined and understood in journalism are changing as journalists increasingly employ the tools and techniques of bloggers – and vice versa. In employing the word “blog,” we consider a site operated by a single individual or a small group that has primarily an informational purpose, most commonly in an area of special interest, knowledge or expertise of the blogger, and which usually provides for public impact or feedback. In that sense, it appears clear that many blogs and bloggers will fall within the broad reach of “media,” and, if accused of defamatory statements, will qualify as a “media defendant” for purposes of Florida’s defamation law as discussed above.

There are many outstanding blogs on particular topics, managed by persons of exceptional expertise, to whom we look for the most immediate information on recent developments and on whom we rely for informed explanations of the meaning of these developments. Other blogs run the gamut of quality of expertise, explanation and even- handed treatment of their subjects. We are not prepared to say that all blogs and all bloggers would qualify for the protection of section 770.01, Florida Statutes, but we conclude that VanVoorhis’s blog, at issue here, is within the ambit of the statute’s protection as an alternative medium of news and public comment.
While it seems crazy that this kind of issue is still being debated in 2014, it's good to see a court make such a clear statement on the fact that blogs will often qualify as media properties.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 11:36am

Did You Retweet The USAir Pornographic Tweet? You May Have Violated New Jersey's Revenge Porn Law

from the oops dept

We've pointed out for a while how the various attempts at creating revenge porn bills will have serious unintended consequences and raise serious First Amendment issues. This is not to minimize the problems of revenge porn (or to absolve the sick and depraved individuals who put together, submit to or regularly visit such sites). However, it's to point out that pretty much any way you try to legislate such actions as criminal likely will create other problems. For example, I'm sure many of you heard the story recently about US Airways... um... unfortunate pornographic tweet. It was the story of the internet a few days ago, in which a United Air social media employee did a very unfortunate cut and paste error, tweeting out a very graphic image that involved a naked woman and a plane where it... doesn't quite belong (for slightly lighter fare, I highly recommend reading some of the of the funny replies to that tweet). For what it's worth, US Air has said that it was an honest mistake and it's not even firing the person responsible.

What does any of this have to do with revenge porn? Well, not a whole lot, other than to note, as lawyer Scott Greenfield did, if you retweeted the picture, there's a good chance you violated criminal revenge porn laws. And that's true -- though it's really specific to one law, right now, which is New Jersey's. California has a revenge porn law too, but it's much more limited and likely wouldn't apply here. New Jersey's law on the other hand includes this:

An actor commits a crime of the third degree if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he discloses any photograph, film, videotape, recording or any other reproduction of the image of another person whose intimate parts are exposed or who is engaged in an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact, unless that person has consented to such disclosure. For purposes of this subsection, "disclose" means sell, manufacture, give, provide, lend, trade, mail, deliver, transfer, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, advertise or offer.
Even if the original photograph was done "consensually" note that you need consent for that specific disclosure. In other words, if you retweeted that image, you probably violated New Jersey criminal laws.

And, yes, it seems likely that the expected introduction of a federal anti-revenge porn bill will include a similar provision. It's already been stated that law professor Mary Anne Franks is helping draft the legislation, and her draft legislation relies heavily on New Jersey's. Here's one version of her draft legislation:
An actor commits a crime if he knowingly discloses a photograph, film, videotape, recording, or other reproduction of the image of another person whose intimate parts are exposed or who is engaged in an act of sexual contact, when the actor knows or should have known that the person depicted did not consent to such disclosure and under circumstances in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. A person who has consented to the capture or possession of an image within the context of a private or confidential relationship retains a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to disclosure beyond that relationship.
Franks' bill does include some exceptions, and she might argue that this might qualify under the exception for "disclosures that serve a bona fide and lawful public purpose," though that leaves the person retweeting the image in the unenviable position of defending that retweeting a major US airline accidentally tweeting a photo of a woman with a model plane stuck up her vagina is somehow "a bona fide and lawful public purpose." Of course, that's part of why we have the First Amendment, because we don't want people to have to defend why the particular speech they're making has a "bona fide and lawful public purpose." Instead, we recognize that making people have to defend the intent of their speech likely has chilling effects.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 10:30am

Court Says That Tweeting Someone Is 'F**king Crazy' Is Not Libelous

from the a-fucking-good-ruling dept

There have been a number of libel cases popping up over the past few years where random insults on Twitter are turned into full blown court cases. Tragically, these cases have picked up the "twibel" name -- a neologism that seems silly and pointless. Still, it's good to see that courts appear to (mostly) be recognizing that random insults shouldn't be considered libelous. Venkat Balasubramani has the details of a recent ruling (where both parties represented themselves!), in which a court recognized that saying on Twitter that someone is "fucking crazy" isn't libelous, especially as part of a "heated" online discussion. I won't get into the details of the case, other than that it involves a horse named Munition, but here's the Court's discussion:

The tweet cannot be read in isolation, but in the context of the entire discussion. In this case, the tweet was made as part of a heated Internet debate about plaintiff’s responsibility for the disappearance of her horse. Furthermore, it cannot be read literally without regard to the way in which a reasonable person would interpret it.

The phrase “Mara Feld . . . is fucking crazy,” when viewed in that context, cannot reasonably be understood to state actual facts about plaintiff’s mental state. It was obviously intended as criticism—that is, as opinion—not as a statement of fact. The complaint therefore cannot base a claim of defamation on that statement
Of course, as Eric Goldman amusingly notes at the end of Venkat's post, "bringing a defamation lawsuit over tweets is almost always fucking crazy," reminding us that it will almost certainly reinforce the association between the phrase and the person who brought the lawsuit, Mara Feld.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 9:25am

Microsoft And Sony Double Down On Patent Trolling; Dump More Cash Into Intellectual Ventures

from the because-innovation-is-for-suckers dept

Last fall, we noted that the world's largest patent troll, Intellectual Ventures, was running out of cash, which is somewhat incredible, given that it had previously claimed to have raised $6 billion in investments (though many of its earliest deals with tech companies were categorized as "investments" when they were really promises not to sue, combined with access to the patent bank) and a further $3 billion in licenses. It should take a long time to spend $9 billion when your company produces nothing that has ever been brought to market, but that's IV for you. As we noted in that story last fall, many of the tech companies that initially "invested" in Intellectual Ventures had no interest at all in re-upping, as they felt that the whole thing had been a bait-and-switch. They were initially told it was a "patent defense fund," not a giant patent troll itself.

However, while many of the companies have indeed avoided giving IV any more money, it appears that Microsoft and Sony were quite happy to dump a lot more cash into IV, which has now ramped up its patent buying efforts again (as well as its lobbying and political contributions in an effort to kill off patent reform). Microsoft, of course, has always been close to IV, seeing as it was started by the company's former CTO, Nathan Myhrvold, who is also a close friend of Bill Gates (who has directly helped IV get some patents). Similarly, Microsoft has become one of the most aggressive patent abusers over the last decade, increasingly relying on its stock of patents to make money from other people's innovations, rather than innovating on its own.

It is similarly no wonder that the company somewhat famous for having nearly all of its major success based on copying the work of others, is now trying to stop anyone else from doing the same without paying a massive tax. There was a time when Bill Gates said:

"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today... A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose."
And, now, via Intellectual Ventures and its own patent holdings, Microsoft seems to be trying to make sure Gates' prediction is a reality. It all fits in to the same paradigm we've observed for years. When you're young, you innovate. When you're old, you litigate. Microsoft appears to have given up on innovation, but is ramping up on litigation, and re-investing in patent trolling via Intellectual Ventures is merely the latest step.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 8:10am

Recording Industry Wants To Have It Both Ways When It Comes To Pre-1972 Recordings

from the are-they-the-same-or-different? dept

Yet another story of hypocrisy by the recording industry? Why yes, indeed. For years now, we've been covering the issue of pre-1972 sound recordings. When Congress wrote the 1909 Copyright Act, it did not cover sound recordings, because Congress didn't think that sound recordings qualified for copyright. In a statement released by Congress with the Act, it said it deliberately chose not to cover sound recordings, believing that they weren't covered by the Constitutional limitation on "writings" for copyright protection:

Indeed, the report released with the Copyright Act expressly stated that Congress did not intend to protect sound recordings: "It is not the intention of the committee to extend the right of copyright to the mechanical reproductions themselves, but only to give the composer or copyright proprietor the control, in accordance with the provisions of the bill, of the manufacture and use of such devices." According to one commentator, Congress had two principal concerns about sound recordings, leading it to decline to protect them. First, Congress wondered about the constitutional validity of such protection. The Constitution allows Congress to protect "writings," and Congress was uncertain as to whether a sound recording could constitute a writing. Second, Congress worried that allowing producers to exclusively control both the musical notation and the sound recording could lead to the creation of a music monopoly.
That latter concern certainly was prescient. When Congress did a massive overhaul of copyright law in 1976, the recording industry was a much more powerful lobby, and so sound recordings were included. However, in the years between 1909 and 1976, many states had created their own (often bizarre) "state" copyrights to protect recordings. Rather than deal with this in an intelligent way, Congress basically said the new federal copyright rules would only apply to songs recorded in 1972 or after, and pre-1972 recordings would remain in a bizarre limbo. This has created a whole host of legal issues, and the Copyright Office has been trying to figure out what to do about this for years.

However, it appears that the recording industry would like it both ways. When it's to their advantage, they claim that pre-1972 recordings should be treated just like modern song recordings. And when it's not to their advantage, they insist that pre-1972 recordings should be treated wholly differently. In various hearings about the issue, the RIAA has been one of the most vocal in arguing against treating pre-1972 recordings as if they're covered by federal copyright law. And, at the same time, they've argued in court repeatedly that the DMCA safe harbors don't apply to pre-1972 recordings, making various music storage lockers liable for any such recordings they host. Some courts have rejected this theory, while others have accepted it. Either way, the recording industry has been pretty adamant that pre-1972 recordings should be treated differently, so they can sue whomever they want.

And yet... when various streaming music companies recognize this fact, and note that pre-1972 recordings aren't covered under statutory licensing regimes... the recording industry freaks out. Michael Huppe, the President of SoundExchange -- an organization created by the RIAA -- is writing in Billboard magazine about how unfair it is that streaming services like Sirius XM and Pandora don't pay statutory rates for pre-1972 recordings. Huppe complains that "this is not fair" and notes:
It's a matter of simple fairness to offer equal treatment for all sound recordings.
Okay. If that's true, then why aren't SoundExchange and the RIAA out there in support of federalizing the copyright in pre-1972 recordings? Why aren't SoundExchange and the RIAA agreeing to the fact that the DMCA's safe harbors apply equally to pre-1972 recordings? I'm all for "equal treatment for all sound recordings" as well, but someone ought to point out to SoundExchange and the RIAA: you first.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2014 @ 6:53am

Lavabit Loses Its Appeal For Mucking Up Basic Procedural Issues Early On

from the unfortunate-but-messy dept

This won't come as a huge surprise, but Ladar Levison and Lavabit have now lost their appeal on whether or not they were in contempt for failing to compromise the security of every one of Lavabit's customers in complying with the DOJ's demands to get access to who Ed Snowden had been emailing. The ruling does a decent job explaining the history of the case, which also details some of the (many, many) procedural mistakes that Lavabit made along the way, which made it a lot less likely it would succeed here. Let this be a massive reminder that, if you're dealing with this kind of stuff, getting a good lawyer on your side immediately is important. Unfortunately, the procedural oddities effectively preclude the court even bothering with the much bigger and important question of whether or not a basic pen register demand requires a company to give up its private keys. As the court details, the problem seems to be how Lavabit went about the legal process here:

In the district court, Lavabit failed to challenge the statutory authority for the Pen/Trap Order, or the order itself, in any way. Yet on appeal, Lavabit suggests that the district court’s demand for the encryption keys required more assistance from it than the Pen/Trap Statute requires. Lavabit never mentioned or alluded to the Pen/Trap Statute below, much less the district court’s authority to act under that statute. In fact, with the possible exception of an undue burden argument directed at the seizure warrant, Lavabit never challenged the district court’s authority to act under either the Pen/Trap Statute or the SCA.
The court basically says that because Lavabit mucked up the process, the appeal is going to fail. It further rejects the claim that Lavabit did, in fact, challenge the Pen/Trap order when Levison objected to turning over his keys. The court notes that such a claim is a stretch.
In making his statement against turning over the encryption keys to the Government, Levison offered only a one-sentence remark: “I have only ever objected to turning over the SSL keys because that would compromise all of the secure communications in and out of my network, including my own administrative traffic.” (J.A. 42.) This statement -- which we recite here verbatim -- constituted the sum total of the only objection that Lavabit ever raised to the turnover of the keys under the Pen/Trap Order. We cannot refashion this vague statement of personal preference into anything remotely close to the argument that Lavabit now raises on appeal: a statutory-text-based challenge to the district court’s fundamental authority under the Pen/Trap Statute. Levison’s statement to the district court simply reflected his personal angst over complying with the Pen/Trap Order, not his present appellate argument that questions whether the district court possessed the authority to act at all.
Levison represented himself pro se at the beginning of the case (adding to the mess of procedural problems), and while his legal team tries to use that as a reason why the court should forgive some of the procedural mistakes, the court rejects that as well (even noting that, as a limited liability company, Lavabit shouldn't have been allowed to proceed pro se in the first place).

The hail mary attempt in the case was to argue that because the underlying issues are of "immense public concern" (and they are) that the court should ignore the procedural mistakes. The court flatly rejects that notion:
Finally, Lavabit proposes that we hear its challenge to the Pen/Trap Order because Lavabit views the case as a matter of “immense public concern.” (Reply Br. 6.) Yet there exists a perhaps greater “public interest in bringing litigation to an end after fair opportunity has been afforded to present all issues of law and fact.” United States v. Atkinson, 297 U.S. 157, 159 (1936). And exhuming forfeited arguments when they involve matters of “public concern” would present practical difficulties. For one thing, identifying cases of a “public concern” and “non-public concern” –- divorced from any other consideration –- is a tricky task governed by no objective standards..... For another thing, if an issue is of public concern, that concern is likely more reason to avoid deciding it from a less-than-fully litigated record....

Accordingly, we decline to hear Lavabit’s new arguments merely because Lavabit believes them to be important.
This is unfortunate on many levels, because it's not just Lavabit that believes these issues to be of immense public concern. Either way, this mess of a case should be a reminder that, especially when dealing with the government, it's important to get good lawyers on your side from the very beginning.

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