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Updated 2018-02-25 09:35
This Week In Techdirt History: February 18th - 24th
Five Years AgoThis week in 2013, the Harlem Shake was still taking the world by storm, and serving as a great example of selective copyright enforcement. WIPO negotiations over access to copyrighted works for the disabled were, as usual, shrouded in secrecy, while an anti-piracy group was threatening the Pirate Party with criminal charges, the RIAA was moaning about Google's lack of an anti-piracy magic wand, and ISPs were gearing up to enact the Six Strikes program. On the other hand, the European Copyright Society was arguing against the idea that linking and framing are forms of infringement, a court tossed out an attempt to block CNET from offering BitTorrent downloads, and the CCIA was making the interesting argument that Germany should be on the Special 301 naughty list... for its attacks on fair use.Ten Years AgoThis week in 2008, torrent users were fighting back against Comcast's traffic shaping program by amping up their encryption efforts, while Comcast was weakly defending the practice by rolling out non-experts. Australia joined the list of countries considering the idea of kicking file sharers off the internet (even as, the same week, they declared their previous $89-million internet filtering plan a failure). Meanwhile, nobody could actually explain why stopping file sharing is an ISP's responsibility — indeed, as the US freaked out about P2P, the EU was investing in it; and as ISPs were starting to insist they can't offer unlimited access, mobile operators were pivoting to do exactly that.Fifteen Years AgoThis week in 2003, the Lexmark printer ink case was waking some people up to the DMCA's potential for abuse. The Turner Broadcasting chairman who called all TiVo users thieves was stepping down, while Hollywood was trying to recruit piracy informants, and Congress was trying to hash out a weak "compromise" on copyright. Meanwhile, the news arrived that Overture would be buying Alta Vista, in what appeared to be another nail in the erstwhile search giant's coffin — right around the same time that people were starting to seriously talk about the idea of a Google IPO (which would arrive the following year).
Good Faith Beats Bad Warrant In Another Win For FBI's World-Traversing NIT Malware
Another challenge of the NIT (Network Investigative Technique) warrant used by the FBI during its investigation of a dark web child porn website has hit the appellate level. A handful of district courts have found the warrant used invalid, given the fact that its reach (worldwide) exceeded its jurisdictional grasp (the state of Virginia, where it was obtained). That hasn't had much of an effect on appeals court rulings, which have all found the warrant questionable to varying degrees, but have granted the FBI "good faith" for violating the jurisdictional limits the DOJ was attempting to have rewritten (Rule 41 -- which governs warrant jurisdictional limits, among other things) to allow it to do the things it was already doing.Even though the FBI had to have known searches performed all over the world using one Virginia-based warrant violated Rule 41 limits, appellate judges have declared the FBI agent requesting the warrant wasn't enough of a legal expert to know this wasn't allowed. Two appeals courts have stated suppressing the evidence is pointless because the law changed after the jurisdiction limit violation took place. The appellate decisions have been troubling to say the least, providing further evidence that the good faith exception is the rule, rather than the outlier.The latest decision [PDF] dealing with the NIT warrant comes from the Third Circuit Appeals Court. It, too, finds the warrant questionable. And it states the government has agreed the warrant was not valid under Rule 41(b).
Game Studio Threatens Employees' Jobs If They Don't Write Positive Reviews Of Own Game, Then Steam Pulls Game Entirely
It's no secret that Valve's Steam platform is the dominant marketplace for PC video games. Much comes along with that status, including the strategies and metrics studios must employ to get their games noticed on Steam. One of the important metrics for recognition is Steam reviews. And it's not just the review scores themselves that are important, but actually getting reviews -- any reviews -- to begin with is a big deal.So it's no surprise that game studios strategize on how to get their games in enough customer hands to generate reviews. Still, one studio's strategy has massively backfired. Insel Games out of Malta recently released Wild Buster, it's latest title. Sadly, in the all important initial release window, the game was not generating enough reviews to result in a general review score on the game page. Those scores are often used by consumers to quickly decide whether a title deserves their attention at all and a lack of a score can indicate that the game isn't good enough to even warrant a look. Insel's CEO, Patrick Steppel, decided to address this with a strongly-worded email to his own staff insisting that they all buy the game and review it, despite having had a hand in making the game. If employees refused to do this, Steppel warned that it could mean that they would no longer have a job at the studio.
Federal Court Shuts Down IMDb-Targeting 'Anti-Ageism' Law Permanently
In the annals of stupid legislation, California's attempt to fight ageism at Hollywood studios by targeting third-party websites and using the First Amendment as a doormat will secure a prominent place in infamy. Rising from the ashes of a failed lawsuit brought by an actress who claimed IMDb cost her untold amounts of wealth by publishing her age, the law basically said IMDb couldn't publish facts on its website. Those pushing the legislation included the Screen Actors Guild, which apparently doesn't have the spine to stand up to studios and target them for discriminating against actors and actresses.Last year, IMDb secured a temporary injunction against the state of California, forbidding it from enforcing the law while the courts sorted out its constitutionality. That day has arrived. A federal court has declared the law unconstitutional and permanently blocked California from going after IMDb because Hollywood producers participate in discriminatory hiring. (h/t Jacob Gershman)The decision [PDF] is short. It takes only six pages for the district court to destroy the state's arguments. First, it tells the state it's not going to apply a lower First Amendment standard of scrutiny to its awful law.
US Border Officials Have Never Verified Chipped Passports, Despite Demanding Their Usage
Ron Wyden is at it again. Sending pesky letters to government officials who appear to be completely falling down on the job. The latest is asking Customs and Border Patrol why it's still not verifying the e-passport chips that have been in all US passports -- and in all countries on the visa waiver list -- since 2007 (hat tip to Zach Whittaker). The letter points out that the US government pushed hard for these chips... and then never bothered to check to make sure no one has tampered with them.
It You Can't Beat Purveyors Of Unauthorized Copies, Join Them -- With Style
One of the perennial questions around here is what companies should do about unauthorized copies of physical products. As readers will know, on Techdirt we don't think automatically filing lawsuits is the way to go. This little vignette from the New York Times reveals an alternative approach that is smarter and more remunerative:
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Loss In 9th Circuit Appeals Court Isn't Slowing 1-800-LAWFIRM's Lawsuit Crusade Against Social Media Companies
1-800-LAWFIRM's oblique assault on Section 230 continues. This firm, along with Excolo Law, have been behind several Plantiff v. Social Media lawsuits seeking to hold Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. responsible for acts of terrorism. The legal theories are as terrible as they are long-winded. In an effort to route around Section 230 immunity, these firms have tried to portray the mere existence of terrorist groups on social media platforms as active material support for terrorism by tech companies. But Section 230 itself is also targeted, just in case the plaintiffs happen to luck into a federal judge willing to punch holes in immunity.So far, none of these efforts have been successful. The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court recently rang up another loss for 1-800-LAWFIRM, finding none of its arguments credible. Unfortunately, it did not go so far as to reaffirm Section 230 immunity, limiting itself to 1-800-LAWFIRM's novel legal theories about the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). But, as Cathy Gellis noted in her coverage of the decision, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. By focusing on the ATA, Section 230 remains undamaged, and doesn't draw the attention of enterprising politicians who might try to "do something" (terrible) to keep terrorists from using social media platforms.Unfortunately, terrorists continue to kill and injure people, providing these law firms with clients hoping to extract payment from tech companies as compensation for death and injury caused by terrorists. As Eric Goldman notes, the Ninth Circuit loss has had no deterrent effect, apparently. But this loss possibly explains why the latest lawsuit [PDF] has been filed in Illinois, rather than in California (where the social media defendants are headquartered) like the law firm's previous attempts. Illinois is the plaintiff's home state, which gives the venue switch some legal grounding. More importantly, it moves the battle to the Sixth Circuit, where 1-800-LAWFIRM has yet to be shut down at the appellate level.The lawsuit is exceedingly long. It runs 128 pages and 663 paragraphs. Is it worth reading? Not really. Not unless you really need a blow-by-blow account of social media use by terrorists over the years, occasionally punctuated with things like this, presumably to remind the judge there's a personal injury lawsuit buried in all this exposition.
The FCC's 'New' Broadband Availability Map Hallucinates Broadband Competition
A few years back the FCC (under Obama's first FCC boss Julius Genachowski) spent around $300 million on a broadband availability map that did a crap job actually measuring broadband availability. As we noted at the time, the map tended to hallucinate both available competitors and the speeds they could deliver to any address, providing a completely bogus sense of the nation's competitive options. It also failed utterly to include pricing data at ISP behest, lest somebody actually look at the data and realize that a lack of competition drives high prices and abysmal customer service from coast to coast.After efforts to further fund the inaccurate map stalled (you can find the old map sitting unused here), Ajit Pai's FCC this week stated they've dusted off and relaunched the map as part of Pai's purported dedication to the digital divide (the new version is available here for your perusal). An FCC press release (pdf) said the new map offers better data at a lower price than the original:
Game Studio Found To Install Malware DRM On Customers' Machines, Defends Itself, Then Apologizes
The thin line that exists between entertainment industry DRM software and plain malware has been pointed out both recently and in the past. There are many layers to this onion, ranging from Sony's rootkit fiasco, to performance hits on machines thanks to DRM installed by video games, up to and including the insane idea that copyright holders ought to be able to use malware payloads to "hack back" against accused infringers.What is different in more recent times is the public awareness regarding DRM, computer security, and an overall fear of malware. This is a natural kind of progression, as the public becomes more connected and reliant on computer systems and the internet, they likewise become more concerned about those systems. That may likely explain the swift public backlash to a small game-modding studio seemingly installing something akin to malware in every installation of its software, whether from a legitimate purchase or piracy.
Everyone In the Cook County Criminal Court System Too Busy Pointing Fingers To Fix Its Antiquated Records System
When you write regularly about lawsuits, you learn very quickly that not all court systems are equal when it comes to allowing modern access to public filings and records. The country is a veritable panoply of an access spectrum, with some districts offering modern e-filing systems and websites to review documents, while other districts are far more antiquated and restrictive. That said, it's hard to imagine a county court system more backwards than that of Chicago's Cook County.
Report On Device Encryption Suggests A Few Ways Forward For Law Enforcement
Another paper has been released, adding to the current encryption discussion. The FBI and DOJ want access to the contents of locked devices. They call encryption that can be bypassed by law enforcement "responsible encryption." It isn't. A recent paper by cryptograpghy expert Riana Pfefferkorn explained in detail how irresponsible these suggestions for broken or weakened encryption are.This new paper [PDF] was put together by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. (h/t Lawfare) It covers a lot of ground others have and rehashes the history of encryption, along with many of the pro/con arguments. That said, it's still worth reading. It raises some good questions and spends a great deal of time discussing the multitude of options law enforcement has available, but which are ignored by FBI officials when discussing the backdoors/key escrow/weakened encryption they'd rather have.The paper points out law enforcement now has access to much more potential evidence than it's ever had. But that might not always be a good thing.
Court Destroys Future Public Art Installations By Holding Building Owner Liable For Destroying This One
Last week was a big week for dramatically bad copyright rulings from the New York federal courts: the one finding people liable for infringement if they embed others' content in their own webpages, and this one about 5Pointz, where a court has found a building owner liable for substantial monetary damages for having painted his own building. While many have hailed this decision, including those who have mistakenly viewed it as a win for artists, this post explains why it is actually bad for everyone.The facts in this case are basically this: the owner of a run-down, formerly industrial building in a run-down neighborhood aspired to do something to redevelop his property, but it would be a few years before the time would be right. So in the meantime he let some graffiti artists use the building for their aerosol paintings. The building became known as 5Pointz, and the artwork on it soon began to attract attention. The neighborhood also began to change, and with the improvement the prospects for redeveloping the property into residences became more promising. From the outset everyone knew that redevelopment would happen eventually, and that it would put an end to the arrangement since the redevelopment would likely necessitate tearing down the building, and with it the art on the walls. As the date of demolition grew closer, the artists considered buying the building from the owner in order to prevent it from being torn down and thus preserve the art. However the owner had received a variance that suddenly made the value of the property skyrocket from $40 million to $200 million, which made the buyout impossible. So the artists instead sued to halt the destruction of their art and asked for a preliminary injunction, which would ensure that nothing happened to the art while the case was litigated. But in late 2013 the court denied the preliminary injunction, and so a few days later the building owner went ahead and painted over the walls. The painting-over didn't end the litigation, which then became focused on whether this painting-over broke the law. In 2017 the court issued a ruling allowing the case to proceed to trial on this question. Then last week came the results of that trial, with the court finding this painting-over a "willfully" "infringing" act and assessing a $6.7 million damages award against the owner for it.It may be tempting to cheer the news that an apparently wealthy man has been ordered to pay $6.7 million to poorer artists for damaging their art. True -- the building owner, with his valuable property, seems to be someone who potentially could afford to share some of that wealth with artists who are presumably of lesser means. But we can't assume that a defendant building owner, who wants to be able to do with his property what he is normally legally allowed to do, will always be the one with all the money, and the plaintiff artist will always be the one without those resources. The law applies to all cases, no matter which party is richer, and the judicial reasoning at play in this case could just as easily apply if Banksy happened to paint the side of your house and you no longer wanted what he had painted to remain there. Per this decision, removing it could turn into an expensive proposition.The decision presents several interrelated reasons for concern. Some arise from the law underpinning it, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, an amendment to copyright law that, as described below, turned the logic of copyright law on its head. But there are also some alarming things about this particular decision, especially surrounding the application of high statutory damages for what the court deemed "willful" "infringement," that accentuate everything that's wrong with VARA and present issues of its own.With respect to the law itself, prior to VARA the point of copyright law (at least in the US) was to make sure that the most works could be created to best promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts (as the Constitution prescribed). The copyright statute did this by giving creators economic rights, or rights designed to ensure that if there was money to be made from their works, they would have first crack at making it. The thinking was that with this economic incentive, creators would create more works, and thus the public interest goal of having more works created would be realized.VARA changed this statutory equation for certain kinds of visual works. Instead of economic rights, it gave their creators certain moral rights, including (as relevant for this case), the right to preserve the integrity of their work. This right of integrity includes the right
Trump Blames School Shootings On Violent Video Games, Movies; Suggests We Need Some Sort Of Rating System For Them
When a mass shooting occurs, politicians leap into the void with plenty of ideas of how to fix it. They can't -- or won't -- fix it, but they're more than willing to sacrifice other Constitutional amendments to keep the Second Amendment intact. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevins was the first to fill the void with garbage following the latest school shooting by blaming violent video games, despite there being no evidence linking violent acts to violent video games.Now it's Donald Trump blaming school shootings on the First Amendment. During a discussion with Florida legislators (video here), Trump suggested doing something we've been doing for years.
Disney's Stupid Lawsuit Against Redbox Results In Judge Saying Disney Is Engaged In Copyright Misuse
Well, well. For the past few months I've been meaning to write about Disney's silly lawsuit against Redbox, but other stuff kept coming up, and now a judge has ruled against Disney and said that Disney appears to be engaged in copyright misuse. This is in a case that Disney brought -- and it appears to be backfiring badly. Redbox, as you probably know, has kiosks where you can rent DVDs relatively cheaply. It's managed to stay alive despite the traditional DVD rental business disappearing most everywhere else. About a decade ago, Hollywood fought vigorously against Redbox, but the company survived (though being taken over by a private equity firm in 2016), relying heavily on first sale rights, enabling it to legally purchase DVDs and then rent them out.Back in December, however, Disney sued Redbox over taking its business to the next level and including download codes that could be purchased at a Redbox kiosk. Though it took them basically forever, Hollywood studios have finally realized that offering online access with the purchase of movies is a good idea, but they only want the end consumer who is buying a DVD to get access to them. So, Redbox would buy the Disney "Combo Packs" that offered the DVD and a download code, and the would offer the paper codes in kiosks to let renters watch the movie online. They weren't just copying the code and letting anyone use it -- it was still a one-to-one limitation with the purchase in that they would buy the DVD with a paper code on it, and then stuff that paper code into their kiosk delivery pods. Disney argued that this was contributory copyright infringement, even though the code pointed to a legitimate/authorized version of the movie and was legitimately purchased.Redbox hit back by arguing that the First Sale doctrine protected it (as it did with the physical rentals) and that it is free to use the codes in this manner as the legal purchaser. Disney's response to that was that First Sale does not apply to the download code because it's not the copyright-covered work.But Redbox also hit back with a separate punch against Disney, arguing that it was engaged in copyright misuse, a concept we've discussed in the past, but that rarely shows up in cases these days (even though we've argued it should be used more often). The basic argument was that Disney was over-claiming what copyright allowed it to exclude in order to stamp out competition. And, (somewhat surprisingly), in the process of denying Disney's demand for a preliminary injunction, the court agrees that Disney is engaged in copyright misuse because it is using its copyright in the movies to restrict what happens to purchases.
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House Prepared To Rush Vote On Terrible Frankenstein SESTA, Which Will Harm Trafficking Victims & The Internet
Things had been mostly quiet on the SESTA/FOSTA front for the past few weeks, but apparently that's about to change, as the House leadership has agreed to a plan to rush the bill to a full floor vote next week, by creating a terrible Frankenstein of a bill that solves none of the existing concerns people had -- but creates new ones. If you don't recall, there are competing bills in the House (FOSTA) and the Senate (SESTA) which purportedly both attempt to deal with the problem of human traffickers using internet services to enable illegal trafficking. Both bills have serious flaws in how they attack the problem -- with the potential to actually make the problem of trafficking worse while also screwing up how the internet works (especially for smaller internet services) at the same time.Things had been at a standstill for the past couple months as the House pushed its approach with FOSTA, while the Senate stood by its approach with SESTA. SESTA works by changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to create a huge hole saying that CDA 230 doesn't apply if a site "knowingly facilitates" a violation of sex trafficking laws. If you don't have much experience with how similar laws work on the internet, this might sound reasonable, but in practice it's not. There's a similar "knowledge" standard in copyright law, and we've seen that abused repeatedly to censor all sorts of content over the years. You just need to allege that something violates the law, and a platform seeking to avoid potentially crippling liability is likely to remove that content. As I've noted, if the law passes, almost every internet company will be put at risk, including anyone from small blogs like ours to Wikipedia. The bill's backers seem to think this is a benefit rather than a problem -- which is quite incredible.Until now, the House had been pushing an alternative proposal, called FOSTA, which tried to achieve similar results without punching a giant hole in CDA 230. Instead, it focused on creating a new crime for those with the intent to promote or facilitate prostitution. The intent standard is a much stronger one than the "knowledge" standard. There were still a couple of problems with FOSTA, though. Rather than focusing on sex trafficking, it covered all prostitution, which is too frequently lumped in with trafficking, and worried many in the community of folks supporting the rights of sex workers. But, a larger issue was that this would still open a huge hole for state and local prosecutors to go on massive fishing expeditions if any sort of prostitution related content ended up on any website. Even if they couldn't show intent, they could still bog down almost any internet platform with charges and investigations for quite some time. I mean, even we get people trying to spam our comments all the time with what appear to be prostitution ads. We catch most of them, but what if a few get through and some law enforcement agency wants to make life difficult for us? Under FOSTA, that's a real possibility. Such laws can be abused.Still, the approaches were so different that things appeared to mostly be at a standstill. However, as noted above, suddenly things are moving and moving fast... and in the worst possible way. House Leadership apparently decided that rather than convince the Senate to move to a FOSTA approach, they would just bolt SESTA onto FOSTA via an amendment. And then, suddenly the House bill has all the problems of both bills without fixing either.That amendment was released yesterday and is being introduced by Rep. Mimi Walters of California. Her district includes Irvine, which houses a whole bunch of tech companies who should be absolutely furious that their own representative just made things much more difficult for them. Take, for example, JobzMall, an Irvine-based company for connecting workers and employers. It's not difficult to think of how some might try to abuse that tool for prostitution or trafficking -- and suddenly the site may face a ton of legal fights, fishing expeditions and criminal threats because of this. That seems like a huge, huge problem.And, importantly, it cannot be stressed enough that nothing in either of these bills does anything at all to actually stop sex trafficking. Supporters of the bill keep insisting it's necessary to stop sex trafficking and that those opposed to the bills are somehow in favor of sex trafficking. That's just wrong. Those opposed to the bill know what happens when you have mis-targeted bills that hold platforms responsible for what users do with them: and it's not that the "bad stuff" goes away. Instead, the bad stuff tends to continue, and lots of perfectly acceptable things get censored.A recent paper by one of the world's foremost experts on "intermediary liability," Daphne Keller, explains why the bill won't work based on years and years of studying how these kinds of intermediary liability laws work in practice:
Right On Time: Kentucky Governor Lays The Blame For Florida School Shooting At The Feet Of Video Games
In the wake of the school shooting tragedy in Florida that saw 17 people slain and more injured, the following days have played out in a depressingly familiar fashion. It's somewhat stunning to see such bloodshed result in the predictable retreat by most people to the defensive or offensive ground of their cause du jour. What should be immediately obvious to anyone seriously examining something like the mass murder of school children and teachers is that the reality that surrounds such an event is messy, complicated, and influenced by detail. Yet, as is our wont, entirely too many people decide that the solution to the mass shooting puzzle is made up of one or two pieces, rather than hundreds and thousands. It's guns. It's specific types of guns. It's mental health. It's rap music, or the waltz, or comic books. It's one of these things that deserve our ire, or maybe two if we're feeling generous.Well, it was only a matter of time, but contributing to this non-conversation is Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who has yet another cliched scapegoat upon which to place the sins of the shooter.
The Death Of Net Neutrality Will Be Official In April (Cue The Lawsuits)
While the FCC formally voted to kill net neutrality late last year, the actual repeal of the rules doesn't occur until the repeal itself is published in the Federal Register. Sources tell Reuters that with Ajit Pai's agency having completed the finishing touches on its repeal, the publication should finally happen this week. Once that happens, there's a 60 day window before the actual repeal takes effect, meaning the rules will formally end in April:
Research Paper Links Police Unions To Increased Officer Misconduct
Some research [PDF] has emerged indicating handing officers extra rights results in more citizen complaints. This may seem to be of the "water is wet" research variety, but there's no reason to shrug this off. While most of us can infer that shielding officers from the consequences of their actions would naturally result in increased misconduct, almost all evidence to date has been anecdotal. (h/t Marginal Revolution)University of Chicago researchers were given the perfect chance to weigh the addition of a collective bargaining agreement against year-to-year complaint totals. Thanks to a 2003 Florida state supreme court decision, Florida sheriff's deputies were allowed to unionize, finally joining their police department counterparts. This gave the researchers a dividing line for a before and after comparison. The results were unsurprising.
Court Realizes It Totally Screwed Up An Injunction Against Zazzle For Copyright Infringement
Last year we wrote about a bizarre and troubling DMCA case involving the print-on-demand company Zazzle, in which the judge in the district court bizarrely and wrongly claimed that Zazzle lost its DMCA safe harbors because the allegedly infringing works were printed on a t-shirt, rather than remaining digitally (even though it was the end user using the infringing work, and Zazzle's system just processed it automatically). To add insult to injury, in November, the judge then issued a permanent injunction against Zazzle for this infringement.However, it appears that no one is more troubled about this permanent injunction issued by Judge Stephen Wilson... than Judge Stephen Wilson.In early February, Wilson released a new order reversing his earlier order and chastising himself for getting things wrong.
Inspector General For Intelligence Community Buried Report Showing Whistleblower Retaliation
A report by Kevin Poulsen for The Daily Beast shows, once again, that those suggesting Ed Snowden should have used the proper channels to voice his concerns about domestic surveillance are either ignorant or deliberately obtuse.Just prior to the Snowden leaks, President Obama enacted Presidential Policy Directive 19, which was supposed to prevent retaliation for whistleblowing. It was issued in 2012 and went into force just months before Snowden left the NSA with a trove of documents. However, it did not protect contractors like Snowden. Those protections were added by Congress years later. Not that it really matters. It has been well established those protections are mostly worthless.Over the past year, there's been a concerted effort to oust Dan Meyer -- the person Intelligence Community whistleblowers are supposed to take their complaints to. Meyer filed his own whistleblowing complaint against the Defense Department, claiming IC officials retaliated against him for exposing waste and misuse of funds. Those gunning for top-level positions in Trump's Intelligence Community have histories of retaliatory behavior against whistleblowers, which would further cement the reputation of the "official channels" as a good way to jettison your career.According to The Daily Beast, the problem is larger than previously thought. The implementation of PPD-19 hasn't changed anything. Whistleblowers are still facing retaliation or being ignored completely.
EU Publishers Acknowledge Snippet Tax Concerns, But Say: 'It's OK, You Can Trust Us'
Techdirt has been following the ridiculous proposal to extend EU copyright even further to include tiny snippets from articles for years now. The idea has already been tried twice in the European Union, and failed dismally on both occasions. In Spain, a study showed the move there caused serious economic damage, especially to smaller companies; German publishers tacitly admitted the law was pointless when they granted Google a free license to use snippets from their titles. More recently, the European Commission's own research confirmed that far from harming publishers, news aggregators have a positive impact on the industry's advertising revenue. Despite the clear indications that a snippet tax is a terrible idea, some want to go even further, and make it apply to hyperlinks too. Writing in the French newspaper Le Monde back in December, large news agencies including Germany's DPA and France's AFP complained that sites:
Trump, Nunes Accidentally Undo DOJ's Efforts To Keep Surveillance Docs Under Wraps
The government's antipathy towards FOIA requesters is well-documented. Our last president declared his White House to be the Openest Place on Earth. This was followed by a clampdown on FOIA responses, huge increases in withheld documents, and a war on whistleblowers. The Trump Administration has made no such promises. Good thing, too, as the uncontrollable mouth running the country would make these promises impossible to keep. We're living in a halcyon era of unprecedented, if inadvertent, government transparency. Whatever multitudinous leakers won't provide, the president will hand over himself via Twitter or televised interviews.Late last year, Trump handed plaintiffs in two FOIA lawsuits a gift when he undercut an FBI Glomar response ("neither confirm nor deny") by confirming FBI investigations (and FISA court involvement) in domestic surveillance. Trump has done it again, thanks to approving the release of the Nunes memo. Again, FOIA requesters seeking information about FBI domestic surveillance have been handed a gift by the Commander in Chief, as Politico reports.
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Even If The Russian Troll Factory Abused Our Openness Against Us, That Doesn't Mean We Should Close Up
Last week, we wrote about the Mueller indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for fraud in trying to sow discord among Americans and potentially influence the election by trolling them on social media. If you haven't read the indictment yet, I recommend doing so -- or at least reading Garrett Graff's impressive attempt at basically turning the indictment into one hell of a narrative story. The key point I raised in that article was that the efforts the Russians undertook to appear to be American shows how difficult-to-impossible it would be to demand that the various internet platforms magically block such trolling attempts in the future.But, there's a larger issue here that seems worth exploring as well. Among the various attacks aimed at social media companies (mainly Facebook) it feels that many are using this as yet another excuse to demand more regulation of these platforms or to poke more holes in Section 230 of the CDA.We've already spent many posts explaining why undermining CDA 230 will do a lot more harm than good, but it seems worth especially highlighting how undermining it here in response to Russian attacks would only help the Russians accomplish what it is they've set out to do. CDA 230 is a key aspect of enabling free speech online. It's what allows platforms to host our speech without having to carefully review it before it's allowed, or take it down at the first sign of complaint (allowing a heckler's veto). This is tremendously important in making the internet a platform for everyone, as opposed to just the elite and connected. And, yes, with that comes serious challenges, because some people will inevitably seek to abuse that openness to try to turn us against each other (as appears to have happened here).But it would be quite an "own goal" to turn around and dismantle the tools that enable free speech in response to foreign attacks.As Julian Sanchez points out at the NY Times, the Russian government is annoyed by the US criticizing them for online censorship -- so pushing social media companies to censor more in the US would help the Russians point out what hypocrites the Americans are and continue to suppress opposing political points of view:
Germany's Speech Laws Continue To Be A Raging Dumpster Fire Of Censorial Stupidity
Germany's new law, targeting hate speech and other unpleasantness online, is off to a roaring start. Instead of cleaning up the internet for German consumption, the law has been instrumental in targeting innocuous posts by politicians and taking down satirical content. The law is a bludgeon with hefty fines attached. This has forced American tech companies to be proactive, targeting innocuous content and satire before the German government comes around with its hand out.It took only 72 hours for the new law (Netzwerkdurchsezungsgesetz, or NetzDG) to start censoring content that didn't violate the law. Some German officials have expressed concern, but the government as a whole seems content to let more censorship of lawful content occur before the law is given a second look. The things critics of the law said would happen have happened. And yet the law remains in full effect.The spirit is willing but the body is weak, Sterling Jones says in the opening of his excellent post detailing more blundering attempts by the German government to enforce its terrible law.
More Than Half Of U.S. States Now Pushing Their Own Net Neutrality Rules
Large ISP lobbyists, the FCC and agency head Ajit Pai are going to be rather busy for the foreseeable future. In the wake of the agency's extremely unpopular net neutrality repeal, consumer groups note that 26 states (27 including a new effort in Kansas) have now taken action to protect net neutrality themselves -- with more efforts on the way. The efforts range from attempts to pass state-level net neutrality rules banning anti-competitive behavior, to executive orders modifying state procurement rules to prohibit ISPs that violate net neutrality from getting state money or securing state contracts.Last week, Vermont became the fifth state to embrace the executive order route, approving new rules (pdf) that prohibit ISPs from securing state contracts if they engage in anti-competitive throttling, website blocking, or paid prioritization. In all instances, both the proposed state laws and executive orders provide ample leeway for the prioritization of essential services (like medical equipment) while allowing ISPs to engage in "reasonable network management."That said, ISP lobbyists tend to be pretty good at convincing lawmakers to water down what "reasonable" means before or after the fact, something we saw with both the 2010 and the 2015 FCC rules. Net neutrality rules are also only as good as the willingness to actually enforce them, which historically hasn't been great. In other words, while these are well-intentioned efforts by many state leaders, it's going to be important to hold state leaders' feet to the fire on this issue, especially given the often comical influence ISPs have on state regulators and politicians.Forseeing this state-level action, ISPs like Verizon and Comcast successfully lobbied the FCC to include language in its repeal banning states from enforcing net neutrality or protecting broadband subscriber privacy (in the wake of their other success killing privacy rules last year).But the FCC's authority on this front remains uncertain. Many of the state leaders, like Montana Governor Steve Bullock, believe the executive orders fall outside of FCC jurisdiction anyway:
German Court Says Facebook's Real Names Policy Violates Users' Privacy
With more and more people attacking online trolls, one common refrain is that we should do away with anonymity online. There's this false belief that forcing everyone to use their "real name" online will somehow stop trolling and create better behavior. Of course, at the very same time, lots of people seem to be blaming online social media platforms for nefarious activity and trollish activity including "fake news." And Facebook is a prime target -- which is a bit ironic, given that Facebook already has a "real names" policy. On Facebook you're not allowed to use a pseudonym, but are expected to use your real name. And yet, trolling still takes place. Indeed, as we've written for the better part of a decade, the focus on attacking anonymity online is misplaced. We think that platforms like Facebook and Google that use a real names policy are making a mistake, because enabling anonymous or pseudononymous speech is quite important in enabling people to speak freely on a variety of subjects. Separately, as studies have shown, forcing people to use real names doesn't stop anti-social behavior.All that is background for an interesting, and possibly surprising, ruling in a local German court, finding that Facebook's real names policy violates local data protection rules. I can't read the original ruling since my understanding of German is quite limited -- but it appears to have found that requiring real names is "a covert way" of obtaining someone's name which raises questions for privacy and data protection. The case was brought by VZBZ, which is the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. Facebook says it will appeal the ruling, so it's hardly final.On the flip side, VZBZ is also appealing a part of the ruling that it lost. It had also claimed that it was misleading for Facebook to say that its service was "free" since users "pay" with their "data." The court didn't find that convincing.It will certainly be interesting to see where the courts come out on this after the appeals process runs its course. As stated above, I think the real names policy is silly and those insisting that it's necessary are confused both about the importance of anonymity and the impact of real names on trollish behavior. However, I also think that should be a choice that Facebook gets to make on its own concerning how it runs its platform. So I'm troubled by the idea that a government can come in and tell a company that it can't require a real name to use its service. If people don't want to supply Facebook with their real name... don't use Facebook.But, honestly, what's really perplexing is that this is all coming down at the same time that Germany -- especially -- has been trying to crack down on any "bad content" appearing on Facebook, demanding that Facebook wave a magic wand and stop all bad behavior from appearing on its site. I'd imagine that's significantly harder if it has to allow people to use the site anonymously. This is not to say that anonymity leads to more "bad" content (see above), but it certainly can make moderating users much more difficult for a platform.So, if you're Facebook, at this point you have to wonder just what you have to do to keep the service running in Germany without upsetting officials. You can't let anything bad happen on the platform, and you can't get user's names. It increasingly seems that Germany wants Facebook to just magically "only allow good stuff" no matter how impossible that might be.
France Says 'No' To Company Hack-Backs Following Online Attacks -- But Wants To Keep The Option Open For Itself
Ten years ago, Techdirt was warning about the hype surrounding the concept of "cyberattacks", and after that "cyberwar", both of which were routinely presented in apocalyptic terms. As we now know, the real online battles are being fought much more subtly in the form of low-profile foreign organizations subverting nations in sophisticated ways. Unlike the predicted take-downs of an entire electricity grid, these kind of attacks by foreign states and their proxies have already happened, and with troubling effects.Governments have a responsibility to consider all possible attacks that may be conducted via the Internet, which means that drawing up policy documents in the field is important. The French government has just published its "Revue stratégique de cyberdéfense (pdf)" -- that is, a Strategic Review of Cyberdefense. It was written by the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security, which operates under the authority of the French Prime Minister, and assists the head of government in designing and implementing security and defense policies. It's extremely thorough and well worth reading, but it's also rather long (and in French). Fortunately, Lukasz Olejnik has put together a post discussing some of the main highlights of the document, which is much shorter -- and in English. As he notes, in France, cyberdefense and cyberoffense are two separate domains, and the strategy document lays out six main approaches to the former: prevention, anticipation, protection, detection, attribution, and reaction (remediation). On the offense side:
Court Sends Cop Back To Prison For Bogus 'Contempt Of Cop' Arrest
It shouldn't take an appeals court to reach this conclusion, but that's the route taken most frequently by people challenging their convictions. Former sheriff's deputy Matthew Corder doesn't want to serve time after being convicted of depriving Derek Baize of his constitutional rights, and so we've ended up at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (h/t Sixth Circuit Blog)This all stems from a "contempt of cop" incident. Baize returned home one night to find Deputy Corder parked in his parking spot in front of his home. Baize asked what was going on, only to be told to "mind his own business." Baize then asked the deputy to move his car so Baize could park in front of his house. The deputy said he'd move his car "when he was ready."Nonplussed by the behavior of this supposed public servant, Baize told the deputy to "fuck off." Deputy Corder asked for clarification. Baize responded: "I did not stutter. I said 'fuck off.'" Baize then walked into his house. Corder claimed he yelled for Baize to stop. Baize said he didn't hear this. It really doesn't matter. Citizens are under no legal obligation to engage in conversations with law enforcement officers. The deputy's testimony indicates Baize wasn't committing any crime nor was he wanted for a suspected criminal act when he walked away from the yelling deputy.Baize went into his house. The deputy followed. He banged on the door and told Baize to come outside. Baize refused, again well within his rights. Baize also pointed out Corder might want to get his paperwork in order if he wanted to set foot in the residence. The following was all caught on Corder's body camera:
Ubisoft Perma-Bans Creator Of Cool, Non-Cheating Tool For 'The Division' Because It Was Made With Cheating Software
There are lots of ways companies can deal with those who cheat in online video games. We have seen developers and publishers sue those who cheat, we have seen national governments criminalize this kind of cheating, and we even got to see Rockstar's attempt to force cheaters to only play with other cheaters. While these sorts of efforts vary wildly, the common response from game publishers is to be entirely too ham-fisted in keeping cheaters out of online games. This results in all sorts of problems, ranging from punishing players who weren't actually cheating to creating all kinds of collateral damage.One example of the latter recently transpired when the maker of a very cool tool for Ubisoft's Tom Clancy: The Division found himself permanently banned from the game even though he hadn't participated in anything resembling cheating at all. First, let's outline what he created.
Techdirt Podcast Episode 155: Lies, Damned Lies & Audience Metrics
In 2016, mostly out of frustration, I wrote a post about how traffic is fake, audience numbers are garbage, and nobody knows how many people see anything. My feelings haven't changed much, and neither has the digital advertising ecosystem. And since regular podcast co-host Dennis Yang runs a digital metrics company, it only made sense for us to hash it out on an episode all about audience measurement and how it shapes online advertising.Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.
Facebook 'Security': A New VPN That's Spyware And Two-Factor Authentication That Spams You
Facebook's definition of protection isn't quite up to snuff. Last week, some Facebook users began seeing a new option in their settings simply labeled "Protect." Clicking on that link in the company's navigation bar will redirect Facebook users to the “Onavo Protect – VPN Security” app’s listing on the App Store. There, they're informed that "Onavo Protect helps keep you and your data safe when you browse and share information on the web." You're also informed that the "app helps keep your details secure when you login to websites or enter personal information such as bank accounts and credit card numbers."What you're not told is that Facebook acquired the company back in 2013, and is now using it as little more than glorified spyware, allowing Facebook to track and monetize your travels around the internet (especially time spent wandering around competing social media platforms). That is, understandably, upsetting some people who believe that security tools should, well, actually protect you from surveillance, not open up an entirely new avenue for it:
Wired's Big Cover Story On Facebook Gets Key Legal Point Totally Backwards, Demonstrating Why CDA 230 Is Actually Important
If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend reading the latest Wired cover story by Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, detailing the past two years at Facebook and how the company has struggled in coming to grips with the fact that their platform can be used by people to do great harm (such as sow discontent and influence elections). It's a good read that is deeply reported (by two excellent reporters), and has some great anecdotes, including the belief that an investigation by then Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal into Facebook a decade ago, was really an astroturfing campaign by MySpace:
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Nunes Demands Copies Of FISA Docs About Steele Dossier Warrants; Court Suggests Taking It Up With The FBI
Having already released the memo purportedly showing surveillance abuses committed by the FBI, the legislators behind the release are now getting around to asking for documents to back up the memo's assertions. Bob Goodlatte and Devin Nunes have both asked the FISA court for the paperwork they probably should have looked at before writing and releasing the memo.Nunes has asked for "transcripts of relevant FISC hearings" related to the FISA warrants predicated largely on assertions made in Steele dossier. Goodlatte has asked applications and orders for the same warrants. The FISA court has replied with two letters stating basically the same thing: thanks for the weird (and inappropriate) question, but maybe take this up the FBI. (h/t Zoe Tillman)From the letter [PDF] sent by Judge Rosemary Collyer to Devin Nunes:
FCC Broadband Availability Data Derided As Inaccurate, 'Shameful'
We've long-noted how the government doesn't do a very good job tracking broadband availability and pricing, in large part because incumbent ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T don't want them to. ISPs (and the lawmakers paid to love them) whined incessantly about the last FCC's efforts to raise the standard definition of broadband, given it only highlighted the fact that two-thirds of Americans can't get "broadband" (25 Mbps) from more than one ISP. ISPs also fight revealing pricing data, which is why our $300 million broadband availability map doesn't contain any price data whatsoever.ISPs have also routinely lobbied against efforts to improve broadband availability mapping, since more clearly highlighting competition and deployment shortcomings might result in somebody actually doing something about it. As a result, government reports on the health of the clearly-dysfunctional U.S. broadband market tend to have a decidedly unrealistic and rosy timbre, which is often worse if the regulators in question are of the revolving door variety (as we're currently seeing under current agency boss Ajit Pai).And while Pai is busy insisting that he's all about transparency, hard economics, and "closing the digital divide," his policies repeatedly and consistently undermine those claims.Case in point: folks in West Virginia have complained about particularly awful broadband for years. The state is the poster child for what horrible broadband (and the corruption that helps protect it) looks like. Verizon neglected the state's infrastructure for years, then offloaded its unwanted DSL customers to Frontier Communications, who not only bungled the acquisition, but has been caught repeatedly ripping off taxpayers thanks to regulatory apathy. The end result has been millions of state residents who either can't get broadband at all, or are forced to pay an arm and a leg for sub 3 Mbps DSL straight from 1999.So when a recent FCC broadband availability report tried to claim the state was awash in broadband availability, the people who actually live there were understandably annoyed:
NSA Exploit Now Powering Cryptocurrency Mining Malware
You may have been asked if you'd like to try your hand at mining cryptocurrency. You may have demurred, citing the shortage in graphics cards or perhaps wary you were being coaxed into an elaborate Ponzi scheme. So much for opting out. Thanks to the NSA, you may be involved in mining cryptocurrency, but you're likely not seeing any of the benefits.
Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt
This week, our first place comment on the insightful side is a response to the old claim that copyright is the only way to make money as a creator:
This Week In Techdirt History: February 11th - 17th
Five Years AgoThis week in 2013, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante was praising the pervasiveness of copyright restrictions, while two former holders of the office were complaining about fair use in universities; music publishers were calling for stronger copyright by attacking the Consumer Electronics Association, the BPI was (as usual) cherry-picking stats to fearmonger about piracy, and some folks at the World Economic Forum were talking for "balance" while calling for the opposite. France's Hadopi three-strikes program was reducing piracy, but failing to prop up flagging sales, while some industry folks were seeing if they could just turn three strikes into a moneymaking system.Ten Years AgoThis week in 2008, we discovered there was one kind of copyright limitation Congress would actually consider... an exemption for churches that want to show the Super Bowl, apparently. Then again, that same week, they resurrected the idea of introducing fashion copyrights. And the EU was looking to extend copyright terms and blank media levies, the UK was considering kicking casual file sharers off the internet, and the Bush Administration was bragging about all the anti-piracy work its DOJ was doing. In Canada, people were beginning to speak out against proposals for an equivalent to the DMCA, while in Denmark the Pirate Bay's traffic amusingly grew following a court order to block it.Fifteen Years AgoThings were a little quieter on the copyright front this week in 2003, though there were still rumblings like the IFPI trying to scare a bunch of companies into policing employee piracy and the IIPA releasing all sorts of bogus and misleading stats. Meanwhile, broadband caps were still a silly new idea and customers were realizing how much they suck; precious few people were able to retain perspective on the issue of "driving while yakking"; and it was the early days of the LED lighting revolution.
Appeals Court: Handcuffing A Compliant Ten-Year-Old Is Unreasonable But Deputy Had No Way Of Knowing That
Time and time again, courts remind officers of the law don't actually have to know the law to enforce the law. Yes, that's how it all works out for citizens, who are just as frequently reminded ignorance of the law is no excuse. This has lead to the prevalence of pretextual stops where minor traffic violations (that may not even be violations) are used to initiate long conversations with law enforcement officers with the end goal of obtaining consent for a search or to bring a drug dog onto the scene.Qualified immunity, along with the good faith exception, have allowed an untold amount of law enforcement abuse. This has completely skewed judicial perception, turning law enforcement into noble fools and raising expectations of citizens' legal knowledge to that of seasoned criminal defense lawyers. Here's how occasional Techdirt contributor Andrew Norton breaks down the current state of judicial affairs:
One Down: Instagram Caves To Russian Censorship As All Eyes Turn To YouTube
We had just been talking about Instagram and YouTube facing site blocks in Russia all because a billionaire didn't like his dirty laundry exposed online. For brief background, a noted Russian dissident, Alexy Navalny, had published photos of billionaire Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko relaxing on a yacht with a young woman variously described as a model and escort fawning over them. Importantly, the salacious nature of the photos and videos is only half of the reason Navalny is drawing attention to them. The other reason is his accusations of corruption in government, as a massively wealthy oligarch consorts in this fashion with a high-ranking member of the federal government. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Russian courts had handed Deripaska a legal victory and ordered sites hosting the images, including Instagram and YouTube, to take them down. Russia's notoriously corrupt site-blocking agency, Rozcomnadzor, issued an edict that the images be removed or the sites would face a potential full block in Russia.In that post as well, we posited that American companies should not be assisting authoritarian regimes in political censorship of this sort. Well, it seems that Facebook's Instagram has decided to cave to the censors.
DOJ Russia Indictment Again Highlights Why Internet Companies Can't Just Wave A Magic Wand To Make Bad Stuff Go Away
As you've certainly heard by now, earlier today the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian organizations for various crimes related to trying to influence the US election. You should read the full indictment if you haven't already. Not surprisingly it focuses on the infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA), which was the giant Russian online trolling operation that we've discussed going back to 2015.While many are trying to position the indictment as a "significant" bit of news, I have to admit to being a bit underwhelmed. It really does not reveal much that wasn't already widely known. It's been widely reported that the Russians had interest in disrupting our democracy and sowing discord, including setting up and pushing competing rallies from different political sides, and generally stoking fires of distrust and anger in America. And... the indictment seems to repeat much of that which has already been reported. Furthermore, this indictment actually reminds me quite a bit of a similar indictment four years ago aginst various Chinese officials for "hacking" crimes against the US. As we noted then, indicting the Chinese -- who the US would never be able to arrest anyway -- just seemed to be a publicity stunt, that had the potential to come back to haunt the US. It kinda feels the same here.What is interesting to me, however, is that the indictment also demonstrates why all the hand-wringing against Facebook, Twitter and Google seems kind of misplaced. For months we've been seeing big articles and Congressional hearings questioning why the platforms allowed the Russians to use their services as propaganda tools -- even getting the companies to recently send out (useless, confusing) announcements to people about whether or not they saw or reposted Russian troll propaganda. But what the indictment makes pretty clear, is that the Russians made it nearly impossible for an internet service to ferret them out. The money used was spread out among many different banks and laundered through various means to make it more difficult to trace back. And it details just how far the trolls went to appear to be Americans, including traveling to the US, posing as Americans online to talk to actual US activists and push them in certain directions. And, of course, confusing the internet platforms into thinking they were Americans:
The U.S. Intel Community's Demonization of Huawei Remains Highly Hypocritical
We've noted for some time how Chinese hardware vendor Huawei has been consistently accused of spying on American citizens without any substantive, public evidence. You might recall that these accusations flared up several years ago, resulting in numerous investigations that culminated in no hard evidence whatsoever to support the allegations. We're not talking about superficial inquiries, we're talking about eighteen months, in-depth reviews by people with every interest in exposing them. One anonymous insider put it this way in the wake of the last bout of hysteria surrounding the company:
County Gov't Tries To Dodge Liability In Jailhouse Deaths By Intimidating The Journalist Who Exposed Them
To keep itself from being held liable for inmate deaths, San Diego County (CA) has decided to target the journalist who exposed them. Kelly Davis, along with the EFF's Dave Maass, used public records requests and investigative journalism to detail 60 deaths in the county's five jails, which occurred over the course of five years. The death rate in San Diego jails was consistently higher than those of comparably-sized systems. In fact, the death rate was higher than that of the 10 largest jail systems in the country. Documents showed almost a third of those were preventable.But when a lawsuit was filed by the wife of an inmate who died in a San Diego County jail, the county argued there was no negligence. The presiding judge disagreed, citing Davis and Maass' journalism.
Everyone Creates: New Empirical Data Shows Just How Much The Internet Has Enabled A New Creative Economy
Visit EveryoneCreates.org to read stories of creation empowered by the internet, and share your own! »Just last week we announced our new site EveryoneCreates.org, in which we showcase stories of people who rely on the open internet and various internet platforms to create artwork of all kinds -- from music to books to movies to photographs and more. It appears that we're not the only ones to be thinking about this. The Re:Create coalition has just now released some fantastic economic research about the large and growing population of people who use internet platforms to create and to make money from their creations. It fits right in with the point that we made, that contrary to the RIAA, MPAA and its front groups like "Creative Future," the internet is not harming creators, it's enabling them by the millions (and allowing them to make much more money as well).Indeed, the report almost certainly significantly undercounts the number of content creators making money on the internet these days, as it only explores nine platforms: Amazon Publishing, eBay, Etsy, Instagram, Shapeways, Tumblr, Twitch, WordPress and YouTube. Those are all great, and probably cover a decent subset of creators and how they make money -- but it leaves off tons of others, including Kickstarter, Patreon, IndieGogo, Wattpad, Bandcamp, Apple, Spotify and many other platforms that have increasingly become central to the way in which creators make their money. Still, even with this smaller subset of creative platforms, the study is impressive.14.8 million people used those platforms to earn approximately $5.9 billion in 2016.Let's repeat that. The internet -- which some legacy entertainment types keep insisting are "killing" content creators and making it "impossible" to make money -- enabled nearly 15 million people to earn nearly $6 billion in 2016. And, again, that doesn't even include things like Kickstarter or Patreon (in 2016 alone, Kickstarter had $580 million in pledges...). In short, just as we've been saying for years, while those who rely on the old legacy gatekeeper system of waiting until you're "discovered" by a label/studio/publisher and then hoping they'll do all the work to make you rich and famous, maybe that's a bit more difficult these days. But, for actual creators, today is an astounding, unprecedented period of opportunity.This does not mean that everyone discussed here is making a full-time living. Indeed, the report notes clearly that many people are using these platforms to supplement their revenue. But they're still creating and they're still making money off of their creations -- something that would have been nearly impossible not too long ago. And, just as the report likely undercounts the size of this economy due to missing some key platforms, it also misses additional revenue streams even related to the platforms it did count:
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Terrible Copyright Ruling Over An Embedded Tweet Undermines Key Concept Of How The Internet Works
Just earlier this week we noted that a judge easily laughed Playboy's silly lawsuit out of court because merely linking to infringing content is not infringing itself. But a judge in New York, Judge Katherine Forrest, has ruled on a different case in a manner that is quite concerning, which goes against many other court rulings, and basically puts some fundamental concepts of how the internet works at risk. It's pretty bad. In short, she has ruled that merely embedding content from another site can be deemed infringing even if the new site is not hosting the content at all. This is wrong legally and technically, and hopefully this ruling will get overturned on appeal. But let's dig into the details.The case involved a photographer, Justin Goldman, who took a photograph of quarterback Tom Brady on Snapchat. Somehow that image made its way from Snapchat to Reddit to Twitter. The photo went a bit viral, and a bunch of news organizations used Twitter's embed feature to show the tweet and the image. Goldman sued basically all the news publications that embedded the tweet -- including Breitbart, Vox, Yahoo, Gannett, the Boston Globe, Time and more. Now, multiple different courts around the country have said why this should not be seen as infringing by these publications. It's generally referred to as "the server test" -- in which to be direct infringement, you have to host the image yourself. This makes sense at both a technical and legal level because "embedding" an image is no different technically than linking to an image. It is literally the same thing -- you put in a piece of code that points the end user's computer to an image. The server at no point hosts or displays the image -- it is only the end user's computer. In the 9th Circuit, the various Perfect 10 cases have established the server test, and other courts have adopted it or similar concepts. In the 7th Circuit there was the famous Flavaworks case, where Judge Posner seemed almost annoyed that anyone could think that merely embedding infringing content could be deemed infringing.But Judge Forrest has decided to carve a new path on this issue in Southern New York, teeing up (hopefully) an opportunity for the 2nd Circuit to tell her why she's wrong. Even more troubling, she actually relies on the awful Aereo "looks like a duck" test to come to this conclusion. Let's dig into her reasoning. The key issue here is the exclusive right to "display" a work under copyright, known as 106(5) under copyright law.It's also important to note that this ruling is just at the summary judgment stage, and doesn't mean that the various publications will be found to have infringed -- it just means that the court is letting the case go forward, meaning that the various publications might now raise various defenses as to why their embedding is not infringing. It's still concerning, because given the "server test" in other jurisdictions, such a case would easily be tossed on a motion to dismiss or summary judgment because there's no legitimate claim of copyright infringement if no direct infringement can be shown. But here, Judge Forrest argues that because an embed leads an end user's computer to display an image, that somehow makes the publisher who included the embed code possibly liable for infringing the display right. Because it looks like a duck.This is not a new issue by any means. I found a story from over a decade ago in which I warned that we'd see a lot more stupid lawsuits about embedding content from platforms, and have to admit I'm a bit surprised we haven't seen more. The reason that's the case is almost certainly because of the reliance of many courts on the server test, leading many to realize such an argument is a non-starter. Until now.Forrest basically says that even though the image never touches the publisher's server, and the only thing the publisher is doing is linking to an image in a manner that makes the end-user's browser grab that image from another location and display it, it still counts as infringement -- because of the Aereo ruling. If you don't recall, Aereo involved a creative (if technically stupid) method for streaming over-the-air broadcast TV to users by setting up many local antennas that were legally allowed to receive the signals, and then transmitting them over the internet (which is also legal). But, the Supreme Court came up with a brand new test for why that's not allowed -- which we've called the "looks like a duck" test. The ruling found that because Aereo kinda looked like cable to the end user, the technical rigamarole in the background to make it legal simply doesn't matter -- all that matters is how things looked to the end user. Forrest argues the same is true here:
FCC Boss Being Investigated By His Own Agency For Being Too Cozy With The Industry He Regulates
If you watched FCC boss Ajit Pai's rushed repeal of net neutrality there really shouldn't be any question about where Pai's loyalties lie, and it certainly isn't with smaller companies, healthy competition, transparency, openness, innovation, or American consumers. The agency head repeatedly lied about the justifications for the repeal, casually using fabricated data to justify what may just be the least popular policy decision in this history of modern technology. Pai's fealty to giant monopolies runs so deep, his agency now just directs reporters to lobbying talking points when they question the flimsy logic propping up the repeal.So for those paying attention, it's probably not too surprising to see news that the FCC's own Inspector General is investigating the agency boss for being a bit too cozy with the giant companies he's supposed to be holding accountable: