|25-04-12, 08:44 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - April 28th, '12
"When someone pirates your software you think who am I going to call, the police? In this case, they're the pirates." – Bruce Craig
"Here’s this beautifully crafted marketing vehicle that could sell so many more copies of these great songs. It’s free money for the labels, with no cost for them. But here comes Denny to reinvigorate their catalog, and he has to pay to do it." – Hal Blaine
"Simply put, CISPA encourages some of our most successful internet companies to act as government spies, sowing distrust of social media and chilling communications in one segment of the world economy where Americans still lead." – Alec Ross
"I also have to say that I failed. I am very sorry about it." – Rupert Murdoch
April 28th, 2012
Dropbox Adds Link File-Sharing; Welcome to the Megaupload Club
Summary: Dropbox has painted a giant target on its back by offering one simple, additional feature to its file-storage service: a link-generating button to enable public file-sharing.
As file storage favourite Dropbox adds the option to turn private files it stores into public, linkable content, it has overnight transformed into a de facto file-sharing service.
The trouble is that nothing seems to differentiates Dropbox from any other file-sharing website, including troubled Megaupload.
Megaupload was shut down for among many things, criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. Its executives were arrested and the extradition process began within hours of their detention. The company continues to battle its case despite reports suggesting the prosecution’s legal case is close to collapse.
In a similar set of circumstances, 23-year-old British student Richard O’Dwyer is to be extradited from the United Kingdom to face charges in the United States — though his website and server was in Europe, and the UK previously ruled on a similar case which deemed his activities legal — for hosting a link-sharing website. No copyrighted content was hosted on his site, but mere links pointing to U.S. movies and television shows.
Dropbox chief executive Drew Houston concedes that sharing documents, pictures, and files on the Web to anyone you know — regardless of whether they are in your social network or not — is still “bafflingly, still really difficult.”
All good and well. But what truly separates Megaupload’s or O’Dwyer’s case from Dropbox?
Nothing does. Here’s why.
A user uploads the latest episode of House to their Dropbox account, and enables the link-sharing feature. They then share the link with a few friends and they download it. Or, they submit the link to a link-sharing forum — and there are plenty of them, rest assured — and hundreds or thousands go on to download it.
Maybe Dropbox gets suspicious, or maybe it blocks the file on upload for infringing copyright. Or it fails to, and like the recent YouTube case in Germany, is forced to shell out for a more stringent filtering system. Either way, Dropbox will all but inevitably end up in court.
Or, someone takes to another file-sharing site to upload copyright infringing files and takes a note of the link. Rinse and repeat a dozen times. They then create a document that contains links to other file-sharing sites. It could then be shared by friends and family, or even to the wider community.
That list alone uploaded to Dropbox would be illegal under U.S. and now UK law, and could lead to extraditions and prosecutions of not only the infringer, but a mass copyright suit in Dropbox’s inbox.
Dropbox is no different from any other file-sharing site. It allows users to upload files, and it allows them to share the files by way of sending others’ links to that file. The file can then be downloaded and redistributed either on Dropbox or elsewhere.
It has no legitimacy, nor does it have legal protection. File-sharing is big business, and Dropbox makes hundreds of millions if not more. It was estimated to generate at least $240 million in 2011 alone, and its revenue comes from premium accounts offering additional storage and enterprise clients.
Granted, it isn’t quite a referral scheme, in which users can upload content — most of it often infringing someone’s copyright, such as television shows, movies and music — and generate revenue based on how many clicks and downloads are made which ultimately draws in traffic for the site. But it makes money from those who upload large files or require vast spaces to store their content.
RapidShare, which for years ran a similar referral scheme, denied this week violating copyright laws, and released a “responsible practices” manifesto for cloud storage companies. RapidShare, along with Dropbox, could kick off infringers off its site, and even report repeat infringers to law enforcement.
But who would use a service that may issue false positives and lead to unfounded allegations and investigations based on a third-party’s suspicion?
Dropbox had for over a year fringed on becoming something more than it was. But the reality is that Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Google Drive could fall to the same fate. SkyDrive offers public linking, and Google Drive is expected to offer a similar feature to which its sister service Google Docs also offers.
What do Microsoft and Google have that Dropbox doesn’t? Money to install heavy-duty, zero-tolerance copyright catching filters, and the money to pay for lawyers when it inevitably blows up in their respective faces.
Or it shows an entirely different picture. If Dropbox, and other file-sharing heavyweights like Microsoft and Google all offer file-sharing capabilities, perhaps its time for the MPAA, RIAA, and the rest of the “copyright cartel” to back down and concede that it cannot repackage the plague that emerged from Pandora’s box.
Update: Dropbox offered this statement after publication:
“Dropbox explicitly prohibits copyright abuse. We’ve put in a place a number of measures to ensure that our sharing feature is not misused. For example, there’s a copyright flag on every page allowing for easy reporting, we place bandwidth limits on downloads, and we prohibit users from creating links to files that have been subject to a DMCA notice. We want to offer an easy way for people to share their life’s work while respecting the rights of others.”
Anonymous Builds its Own Pastebin-Like Site
Hacker group Anonymous and the People's Liberation Front have created a data-sharing site called AnonPaste, meant to host pastes of code and other messages without any moderation or censorship of the information posted. The new site, which uses a free .tk web address, allows users to set a time for the paste to expire. It claims that data is encrypted and decrypted in the browser using 256 bit AES, so the server doesn't see any of the information included in the paste.The site says it's taking donations in the form of WePay or BitCoins.
The two groups launched AnonPaste as an alternative to the popular code-sharing site Pastebin, which has struggled to deal with its growing reputation as the popular hangout for malicious code or stolen data. Recently Pastebin has seen a huge growth in traffic, but it's also faced increasing DDOS attacks—one in February used over 20,000 unique IP addresses alone.
To deal with the growth in sometimes-illegal traffic, Jeroen Vader, a Dutch internet entrepreneur and the owner of Pastebin, has claimed that the site does occasionally filter out illegal information that gets pasted. He commented last week to the BBC that the site has complied with occasional law enforcement requests to turn over data. According to the press-release issued on AnonPaste this week, Pastebin's claims were largely the impetus for the creation of the new data-hosting site.
Although Anonymous has used the news of AnonPaste to taunt Pastebin, Vader isn't worried about the popularity of his own site. He does see problems with the general idea of the new paste site though. "Having this new anonymous paste service online will most likely mean that less 'sensitive information' is posted on Pastebin.com, which we like," Vader told Ars, "But we think this new totally anonymous Paste site will be used mainly by people who have something to hide, people who are posting things that really shouldn't be posted. We see no benefit for normal legitimate users to use it over the currently existing paste websites. We are afraid that this site will be bombarded with people's personal information, credit-card details, and things such as child pornography."
In the press release, the creators of AnonPaste washed their hands regarding content: "Because the data on our servers is unreadable by us (or anyone), the responsibility for the legality or appropriateness of any paste lies solely with the person posting. So there will be no need for us to police this service, and in fact we don't even have the ability of deleting any particular paste."
Indeed, without the possibility of deleting information, authorities might argue the site poses a threat to personal privacy and institutional operations. Vader told Ars, "Here at Pastebin.com we think freedom of speech is very important, but we do think there should be some form of content moderation, because people do abuse paste websites, and if there is really no delete option, this could cause major harm." He added that yesterday his site released a "My Alerts" feature, which allows people to track names or keywords on Pastebin, so if illegal information shows up they can submit a takedown request to Pastebin in a timely manner.
And InfoWeek notes that ZeroBin has not been stress-tested against the kinds of DDOS and other attacks that might threaten AnonPaste's operation and philosophy of anonymity. As of this afternoon, access to AnonPaste has been on-and-off, suggesting there are still many hurdles for the endeavor to function at all.
No, Google Does Not Own Everything that You Upload to Drive
There’s a bit of a hubbub going on right now across the social sphere when it comes to the terms of service for Google’s recently-released file locker called Google Drive. It all seems to surround this one section of text, where Google says that it has “a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works” and much more:
The problem, of course, comes when you have people who are expecting the worst. They’re going to read things in as much of a negative light as possible. But we have to look at what’s really being said here, and more imporantly why it’s being said.
In order to do that, we have to first look at what Google Drive is — a file locker, with a heavy focus on documents. Now what does it allow you to do? It lets you take your files with you, and access them anywhere that you have an Internet connection. Unless you specifically grant Google the right to host, store, use and reproduce those documents, it wouldn’t be able to do that.
But what about the section that talks about “publicly perform, publicly display and distribute” your content? It sounds a bit dubious, but I think that it’s actually quite innocent, at least in my non-legal-trained mind. It seems to me that Google is looking for permission to display your work, to you, when you access it from a location that is considered “public” such as a library or Internet cafe.
Google does a lot of work in making sure that you are actually you (you’ve noticed the IP logging in Gmail, no doubt), but the company understands that you’re going to want access to your files no matter where you are. If you don’t grant the company permission to do a public display and distribution, it becomes quite unsolid ground for Google and the company could find itself on the wrong end of another lawsuit by simply doing what you think it should do.
In short, the claim that Google owns everything you upload to Google Drive is pretty short-sighted. In fact, nowhere in the text does it specifically say that Google is claiming ownership of your content. It’s simply telling you that, if you want to operate Drive in the manner that you probably think it should work, then it needs a load of permissions in order to make that happen. Any time that you give a company permission to use your content, you run a risk. Here it would appear that the risk is minimal, but it’s up to you to decide whether you feel comfortable with the terms or not.
Wireless Providers Side with Cops Over Users on Location Privacy
The trade association representing AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint opposes a California proposal for search warrants to track mobile devices, claiming it will cause "confusion."
The nation's largest wireless providers oppose a proposed California location privacy law that would require police to obtain search warrants to track a wireless customer's whereabouts, CNET has learned.
They're criticizing a new state bill, S.B. 1434, that would require a judge to approve requests for location tracking except in certain emergency situations. S.B. 1434 would also require wireless providers to divulge "the number of times location information has been disclosed," and how many times they rejected police requests.
Their criticism comes as concerns about warrantless location surveillance, a practice that the Obama administration and law enforcement agencies have defended, are growing. Federal legislation introduced last year would require police to obtain a warrant signed by a judge before monitoring someone's movements, and courts have split over whether warrantless tracking is constitutional or not.
Requiring a warrant to track California residents would "create greater confusion for wireless providers when responding to legitimate law enforcement requests," says the letter written by CTIA, a wireless trade association that counts AT&T, Verizon Wireless, U.S. Cellular, and Sprint Nextel among its board members. CTIA sent the letter to bill sponsor Mark Leno, a Democratic state senator whose district includes the city of San Francisco. CTIA also opposes the reporting requirements of S.B. 1434, saying they would "unduly burden wireless providers and their employees, who are working day and night to assist law enforcement to ensure the public's safety and to save lives."
"Wireless companies should be working day and night for us, their customers, not law enforcement," replies Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.
"This bill is good for consumers and it's good for business," Ozer told CNET. CTIA "shouldn't be opposing this bill. They shouldn't be opposing the warrant requirement. And they shouldn't be opposing the basic reporting requirements to make sure the law is being followed." (In a subsequent blog post, Ozer asked ACLU supporters to take to Twitter to criticize CTIA's position.)
By advancing this argument, CTIA risks creating the perception that its member companies are happy to open their databases of customers' GPS coordinates to law enforcement -- just so long as nobody knows about it.
Jamie Hastings, vice president, external and state affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, sent CNET a statement this morning saying:
CTIA and its members oppose S.B. 1434. If this bill was enacted, it would mandate burdensome reporting requirements for wireless carriers. We also have concerns with the warrant provisions in the bill because the definitions appear overly broad. We are seeking clarification within this section to ensure that wireless providers can provide lawful and timely information to legitimate law enforcement requests and that there are no conflicts with federal law while protecting consumers' privacy.
AT&T, one of CTIA's largest member companies, is also part of the Digital Due Process coalition, which has taken the opposite position. It's lobbying for laws saying that location data should be disclosed only with a search warrant.
Wireless providers already compile many of the records required to be disclosed by S.B. 1434. It's for billing purposes: because they're paid for assisting surveillance requests, they keep the records so they can send accurate invoices to law enforcement.
The ACLU recently posted over 5,000 pages of internal government documents, which show that Verizon Wireless sent the Raleigh, N.C. police department an invoice of $45 after it turned over cell site information on a customer. MetroPCS charges $50 for "detail records," and AT&T charges a $100 activation fee and $25 a day for location tracking.
In addition, some companies, including Google, already publish data about how frequently they comply with law enforcement requests.
Google voluntarily does this voluntarily with its interactive Transparency Report. And the OpenNet Transparency Project -- a project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and other universities -- is hoping to make that kind of voluntary disclosure more mainstream.
Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones and planting GPS bugs on vehicles thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best. Courts have split over how easy it should be for police to track Americans electronically and whether the same rules should apply to live tracking and obtaining stored information about someone's earlier whereabouts.
In April 2011, the Obama Justice Department launched a frontal attack on the idea of requiring search warrants for locations, with James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, telling a Senate panel that such a requirement would hinder "the government's ability to obtain important information in investigations of serious crimes." Previously, the department had argued in court that warrantless tracking should be permitted because Americans enjoy no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their, or at least their cell phones', previous locations.
Not too long ago, the concept of tracking cell phones would have been the stuff of spy movies. In 1998's "Enemy of the State," Gene Hackman's character warned that the National Security Agency has "been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the '40s -- they've infected everything." But after a decade of appearances in the likes of "24" and "Live Free or Die Hard," location-tracking has become such a trope that it was satirized in a scene with Seth Rogen in "Pineapple Express" (2008).
CNET was the first to report on the Justice Department's use of warrantless prospective cell tracking, meaning information about a person's future whereabouts, in a 2005 news article.
Hurt Locker Makers Return to Sue 2,514 BitTorrent Users
Voltage Pictures, the makers of the Oscar-winning movie The Hurt Locker, have filed a new lawsuit at a federal court in Florida. By targeting at least 2,514 alleged BitTorrent users, Voltage Pictures hopes to recoup several million dollars in settlements to compensate the studio for piracy-related losses. In total, more than a quarter million people have now been sued in the US for alleged copyright infringements via BitTorrent.
After being honored with an Oscar for Best Motion Picture in 2010, the makers of The Hurt Locker went on to sue thousands of people who allegedly shared the film online.
Movie studio Voltage Pictures was not only one of the first studios to sue BitTorrent downloaders in the US, it also secured the award for the biggest mass-BitTorrent lawsuit by listing 24,583 alleged infringers at once.
This case dragged on for nearly two years and after collecting an undisclosed number of settlements it was eventually closed last December. It remains unknown how profitable the lawsuit was for the movie studio, but since they haven’t given up on the scheme yet we assume that it wasn’t a financial debacle.
Last week the studio filed a brand new lawsuit in Florida against 2,514 John Doe defendants, who are all accused of downloading The Hurt Locker.
Through this lawsuit the studio wants to obtain a subpoena so they can order ISPs to reveal the identities of the alleged downloaders. These account holders will then receive a settlement offer that generally lies around $3,000, which means that the Hurt Locker makes can receive over 6 million dollars in damages.
While the complaint filed at a federal court in Florida is pretty standard, there are a few details that stand out when we look at the list of sued IP-addresses.
Firstly, all the defendants downloaded the film in 2010. This means that the movie studio has waited two years before filing a lawsuit against the alleged copyright infringers. On top of that, we see that all the 2,514 defendants are subscribers of the same Internet provider, Charter Communications.
It could be that the points above are related. For example, Voltage Pictures may know that Charter keeps IP-address records for more than two years while other ISPs don’t. Another reason for targeting Charter subscribers could be that the movie studio knows that the ISP is not going to object to handing over bulk subscriber details.
Whatever the case, this new lawsuit is worth keeping an eye on.
While The Hurt Locker is a prominent name, this mass-lawsuit is just one of many being filed every week. In total more than 250,000 alleged BitTorrent users have been targeted in the United States and this number continues to increase.
While most of the plaintiffs are adult film studios, more reputable brands such as the major book publisher Wiley & Sons have joined in as well. And last week the first game publisher filed a lawsuit as “Airbus X” makers Aerosoft GmbH targeted 50 downloaders.
Depending on the success of the current cases, the BitTorrent lawsuits may continue for years. Thus far there is no indication that the end is in sight.
Exclusive: SEC Probes Movie Studios Over Dealings in China
U.S. regulators are investigating major U.S. movie studios' dealings with China as the entertainment companies try to get a greater foothold in one of the fastest-growing movie markets in the world.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has sent letters of inquiry to at least five movie studios in the past two months, including News Corp's 20th Century Fox, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation, a person familiar with the matter said.
The letters ask for information about potential inappropriate payments and how the companies dealt with certain government officials in China, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the letters.
The Chinese film market is seen as one of the largest potential markets for Hollywood, but it has also historically been tightly controlled by the state-owned China Film Group.
China Film Group had limited foreign films to 20 per year, but it eased some control in February of this year, after China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who is known to admire some American movies, spent a week in Washington.
Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk hailed the deal, which allows 14 premium format films, such as IMAX or 3D, to be exempt from the quota, as will the 2D versions of the films.
Also in February, DreamWorks Animation announced a landmark deal of its own in which it will build a production studio in Shanghai with some of China's biggest media companies.
DreamWorks Animation found success in China last year with "Kung Fu Panda 2," which became the highest-grossing animated movie in China with ticket sales of about $100 million.
China Film Group did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Representatives of DreamWorks, Disney, and News Corp declined to comment.
A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment.
The inquiry reflects stepped-up scrutiny from the SEC and Justice Department into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1970s law that bars U.S. companies and individuals from paying bribes to officials of foreign governments.
U.S. authorities have active bribery investigations into high-profile companies including Avon Products and Hewlett-Packard Co. News Corp is also separately under investigation for alleged bribery at its UK media properties.
Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, has disclosed to the SEC and DOJ an internal investigation, and lost $10 billion of its market value on Monday after the New York Times reported on allegations of widespread bribery in Mexico. All of the companies have previously said they are cooperating with federal authorities and investigating the allegations.
EASING THE MARKET OPEN
While U.S. box office sales dropped some 5 percent to around $10 billion last year, Chinese box office revenue grew roughly 35 percent to $2.1 billion.
Much of the revenue came from 3D titles, a rapidly growing sector of the film industry, making China an even more desirable market.
U.S. movie studios have long been frustrated with China's tight restrictions on foreign films, which they say helps fuel demand for pirated DVDs that are widely available in China.
But recently the dynamics within the Chinese market have shifted.
China's booming middle class is increasingly willing to pay tickets prices for a cinema experience, forgoing cheap pirated DVDs and free internet downloads.
Also, Xi's visit to Washington and then Los Angeles in February was quickly followed by the deal that loosened China's annual quota on foreign film imports.
That pact also strengthens opportunities to distribute films in China through private enterprises rather than the state film monopoly.
Hollywood has struck a flurry of deals since the deal was reached.
Besides DreamWorks Animation's plan to build a production studio in Shanghai, Disney announced last week that the next "Iron Man" film will be co-produced in China under a joint agreement between Disney, its Marvel Studios arm and China's DMG Entertainment.
Disney had also announced earlier this month that it would work with China's Ministry of Culture and Tencent Holdings to promote the animation industry in China.
U.S. anti-corruption regulators have specifically focused their interest in countries like China, where much of the economy is state-run.
Since 2002, the United States has brought around four dozen FCPA enforcement actions related to corruption in China, second only to those involving Nigeria.
The SEC has also initiated several so-called industry sweeps for potential foreign bribery across an industry. Last year, for example, it sent letters to a handful of banks and private equity funds and said it was investigating possible FCPA issues in their dealings with sovereign wealth funds.
"Typically those (sweeps) arise where the agencies, most commonly the SEC, see a situation in a particular company that it believes for some reason may reflect a broader practice or pattern in the industry," said Homer Moyer, a partner with Miller & Chevalier who has worked on FCPA issues for decades.
But U.S. regulators have brought few cases in the entertainment industry. In one of the few actions targeting the movie industry, the Justice Department in 2008 charged Gerald and Patricia Green, a husband and wife pair of film producers, of bribing government officials in Thailand in order to run a film festival there.
The Greens were convicted in 2009 and served six months in jail.
(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha with additional reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles, and Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Tim Dobbyn)
NSW Police in Legal Battle with Software Giant
An extraordinary legal battle is shaping up in the Federal Court with a multinational software company suing NSW Police for wide-scale copyright piracy.
UK software company Micro Focus is demanding at least $10 million in damages from NSW Police.
It claims NSW Police has been using pirated copies of their computer software for more than a decade to run their COPS (Computerised Operational Police System) - the largest criminal intelligence database in the country.
It was a routine request from the NSW Ombudsman's office back in August 2010 that first set off alarm bells for Bruce Craig, the Australasian managing director of Micro Focus.
"Our team was out at the Ombudsman's and in a conversation they said they were accessing the COPS database using our software," he told 7.30.
"And we said what software - you don't own our software?"
The software in question is called ViewNow. It is a mainframe computer program NSW Police began using in 1998 to access the COPS database, which holds the highly confidential details of just about every citizen in the state.
Cybercrime investigator Michael Speck says the COPS database operates like the "nervous system" of the NSW police and holds critical intelligence on everything from criminal histories to victims of crime.
Micro Focus says after the Ombudsman's query they started investigating and were astounded to discover police had been duplicating their software, then sharing the stolen booty with other law enforcement agencies.
And not just the Ombudsman's Office, but two other state untouchables - the Department of Correctives Services and the Police Integrity Commission.
"When someone pirates your software you think who am I going to call, the police?" Mr Craig said.
"In this case, they're the pirates."
Mr Craig says Micro Focus' contract with police was very specific.
He says police were allowed to use up to 6,500 ViewNow licences and if they wanted any more, they would have to pay for them.
"The licenses were for police only. Yet police were out there handing out our software like confetti," he said.
'Out of control'
But it gets worse. Micro Focus say when they asked police just how many of the 6,500 ViewNow licenses they were using, a police employee allegedly told them: "Oh f--k. We've rolled out 16,000 devices".
"They did not pay for those extra licenses," Mr Craig said.
"It's incredible. It shows an organisation that's completely out of control."
Mr Craig says police have spent the past 18 months stalling.
At first, he says, police claimed they had lost the contract. He says they then told him it was impossible to tell exactly how many of the 20,000-strong police workforce had been using the software over the past decade.
Mr Speck, a former NSW detective, says the idea that NSW Police - the fifth largest police force in the world - cannot track every piece of software they are using seems extraordinary.
"Cant find the license is the pirates' equivalent of the dog ate my homework," he said.
"Let's just get that out in the open straight away.
"A lot of money - a lot of the public's money - is being spent here defending what appears to be indefensible."
'Investigating the investigators'
But according to former police computer forensics investigator, Clinton Towers, trying to "investigate the investigators" is going to be a major challenge for Micro Focus.
When Micro Focus asked to come in and do their own audit - one of the conditions of the contract - police refused, and called in their lawyers instead.
"They said if we wanted to audit them we would require a court order," Mr Craig said.
"The minute we advised police there was an issue they began de-installing our software. They de-installed it without keeping records."
In essence, the NSW Police defence is that it has all been a terrible misunderstanding.
In its statement of defence before the Federal Court, NSW Police say on their reading of their contract, Micro Focus had not limited them to 6,500 ViewNow licenses. Rather, it gave them the right to reproduce as many licenses as they wanted.
"No software company would give away their IP forever for unlimited use," Mr Craig said.
"In this case its quite clear what their usage limit is, it's 6,500 and they have clearly gone way beyond that number."
Mr Speck agrees the idea any company would give away its copyright for free is "just implausible".
"You think about copyright like a hire car agreement," he said.
"When the agreement runs out you can't continue to drive the car and you certainly can't give it to your mates. And that's what happened here."
When the case first landed in the Federal Court last July, the Police Integrity Commission settled out of court almost immediately.
It was quickly followed by the NSW Department of Corrective Services and the NSW Ombudsman's Office. But so far NSW Police have refused to blink.
"This is the first time in 30 years we've ever required a lawyer," Mr Craig said.
"I would estimate they have probably spent over $1 million in taxpayers' money so far in the legal system and all they have done is delay the inevitable."
Mr Speck says Micro Focus has "nobody to go to but the court".
"This is potentially a crime that has to be handled as a civil matter because everybody's got their hands dirty," he said.
"The victims can't go to police - it's the police who are doing the stealing."
This case has attracted surprisingly little attention so far.
Fresh lawsuit looms
But it is about to get even uglier. Micro Focus plans to launch yet another lawsuit, this time accusing the police of trying to replace the first batch of pirated software with another batch of pirated software which also belongs to Micro Focus.
The company claims this latest version of pirated software - a NetManage Applet - was provided by NSW Police to Corrective Services last year as they were scrambling to delete the ViewNow software.
But what Micro Focus now wants to know is how widely the pirated Applet is being used to run the COPS system.
"What's incredible is that they've gone to any length to try and avoid discovery of what's being used in there," Mr Craig said.
"They've been continually deleting our product, they need to replace it with something.
"And that they've replaced it with another license they have no right to use, its just astonishing. It's madness."
NSW Police have denied the latest allegations by Micro Focus, and have vowed to "vigorously defend" any future court action.
But Micro Focus says Police already face a bill of at least $10 million if they lose the case in lost earnings, legal costs and damages.
In a statement from NSW Police to 7.30, they said even if Micro Focus did have damages awarded to them, the $10 million figure did "not concur with the company's calculation of costs to the Force should [the] company be successful with its civil action".
NSW Police followed that statement with another that relates to the fresh accusation against them.
"NSW Police denies these fresh claims in relation to the NetManage Applet and will vigorously contest the matter," the statement said.
Kopimism, Sweden's Pirate Religion, Begins to Plunder America
'Kopimism' gives internet piracy a place to worship
A Swedish religion whose dogma centers on the belief that people should be free to copy and distribute all information—regardless of any copyright or trademarks—has made its way to the United States.
Followers of so-called "Kopimism" believe copying, sharing, and improving on knowledge, music, and other types of information is only human—the Romans remixed Greek mythology, after all, they say. In January, Kopimism—a play on the words "copy me"—was formally recognized by a Swedish government agency, raising its profile worldwide.
"Culture is something that makes people feel much better and makes people appreciate their world in a different way. Knowledge is also something we should copy regardless of the law," says Isak Gerson, the 20-year-old founder of Kopimism. "It makes us better when we share knowledge and culture with each other."
More than 3,500 people "like" Kopimism on Facebook, and thousands more practice its sacred ritual of file sharing. According to its manifesto, private, closed-source software code and anti-piracy software are "comparable to slavery." Kopimist "Ops," or spiritual leaders, are encouraged to give counsel to people who want to pirate files, are banned from recording and should encrypt all virtual religious service meetings "because of society's vicious legislative and litigious persecution of Kopimists."
Official in-person meetings must happen in places free of anti-Kopimist monitoring and in spaces with the Kopimist symbol—a pyramid with the letter K inside. To be initiated new parishioners must share the Kopimist symbol and say the sacred words "copied and seeded."
The gospel of the church has begun to spread, with Kopimist branches in 18 countries.
An American branch of the religion was recently registered with Illinois and is in the process of gaining federal recognition, according to Christopher Carmean, a 25-year-old student at the University of Chicago and head of the U.S. branch.
"Data is what we are made of, data is what defines our life, and data is how we express ourselves," says Carmean. "Forms of copying, remixing, and sharing enhance the quality of life for all who have access to them. Attempts to hinder sharing are antithetical to our data-driven existence."
About 450 people have registered with his church, and about 30 of them are actively practicing the religion, whose symbols include Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V—the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.
It's no surprise the religion was born in Sweden—it has some of the laxest copyright laws in the world. The Swedish Pirate Party has two seats in the European Parliament, and The Pirate Bay, a Swedish website that's one of the world's largest portals to illegal files, has avoided being shut down for years.
Gerson is happy to allow people who want to open their own branches of Kopimism to copy its symbols and religious documents.
"There's been a couple people that asked me [to start congregations], but I tell them they shouldn't ask. You don't need permission," he says. "It's a project, and I want projects to be copied, so I'm happy when people copy without asking."
Most Kopimists say they realized they were practicing the religion before they found it.
"There are many people who are like me, who always held the Kopimist ideals, but hadn't yet heard of the official church," says Lauren Pespisa, a web developer in Cambridge, Mass., who gave a speech about the religion in March to a group of anti-copyright activists called the Massachusetts Pirate Party. "I think some people are like me and have embraced it officially and publicly, but some people believe in it and don't really want to mix religion and politics."
That's a big criticism of the religion—lawsuits brought upon Kopimists is a form of religious persecution, according to Gerson. But Pespisa says that crying persecution in court probably "wouldn't hold up in reality."
In a blog post in late March, Carmean wrote that people should not "bring a legal argument to a religion fight."
"Expecting any religion to provide a logic-based mandate for every single action that one might take is absurd and offensive," he wrote. "It insults the basic moral fiber of Kopimists and all of humanity to outright demand a total moral code of conduct from anyone purporting to have a new perspective on issues of our time."
Although many Kopimists are practicing a "sacred" ritual whenever they download or share a movie, CD, or book, they also regularly meet in online chat rooms to discuss the religion. Many of them are also internet activists, working to make file sharing legal, regardless of copyright. Even if they're unsuccessful, Gerson is happy to help the information flow in any way he can.
"I think we need to change the laws, but I don't think we need to focus only on them. I think laws can, in many cases, be ignored," he says. "We want to encourage people to share regardless of what the laws say."
The History of File-Sharing
Last century filesharing was a fringe hobby, only for geeks who were lucky enough to own a computer that could dial into the World Wide Web. How different is that today, where filesharing has become daily routine for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. In just a few years swapping files has become mainstream.
Time to take a step back and see how it all came about.
Two decades ago 3.5″ disks were the most sought after medium to distribute files. At the time, their massive 1.4 MB file size was more than enough to distribute files. But things got really interesting when people started to swap files on the Internet.
In just 2 score years, filesharing has evolved into an amazingly efficient process which has enhanced lives everywhere. It has brought great exposure to underexposed types of media and democratized distribution, making it possible for individuals to share files with the rest of the world at virtually no cost.
Let’s briefly examine how filesharing has become what it is today in a non-exhaustive overview.
BBS: The Early Days (70s-90s)
The BBS, or Bulletin Board System, has been largely attributed with the beginning of contemporary digital filesharing. Beginning with the Hayes Smartmodem, Bulletin Board Systems became automatic enough that Sysops (or administrators) were able to own and operate these mediums from their own homes as both a hobby and, later, as a business. Typically, the BBS was almost like an intranet in which users would dial-in with their modems to read/send messages, access news, and most importantly for us, share files.
Shareware became incredibly popular through the distribution provided by Bulletin Board Systems. From Wolfenstein to Commander Keen, users were able to learn about a BBS by word of mouth and, in its pinnacle, through printed magazines focusing on BBS’s. Many well-known software packages, including PKZIP, were made popular through the BBS. Many users today still use PKZIP’s .zip algorithm when compressing and decompressing archives.
There are still many traditional Bulletin Board Systems in operation today.
Usenet: Beginnings of Decentralization (Late 70s-Present)
Usenet or Newsgroups were similar to Bulletin Board Systems. However, they operated using UUCP and were able to transcend beyond the centralization of a BBS. Essentially, Usenet servers were able to receive files and re-distribute them amongst other Usenet servers effectively creating multiple copies of messages and files across hundreds upon thousands of servers. Usenet was the medium for discussions which gave birth to several projects, including the World Wide Web, Linux, and Mosaic, amongst other amazing projects.
While Usenet has been in existence since the late 70s, major filesharing did not typically occur until much later. In 1993, Eugene Roshal created RAR which allowed users to split files into multipart archives. Given the decentralized copy-nature of Usenet, this helped distribute files much faster and more efficiently, as corruption in file transfers no longer required files to be re-uploaded in their entirety.
Although many may disagree, Usenet is still very much in use today. However, it is used mostly for filesharing rather than for its original purpose of messaging, which has been mostly replaced by contemporary web forums and IRC.
FTP and FXP: Topsites and the ISO Scene (90s-Present)
Soon after, the underground filesharing scene gave birth to an intricate private network of FTP sites known as Topsites. These networks were based on invite only systems and adopted many of the features of Usenet.
Generally, release groups would upload new media to their release servers and create various kinds of announcements thereof (generally, IRC bot based). Then, couriers who had access to the release servers, as well as other servers, would transport or “race” new releases from one server to another, typically with the use of FXP. By doing so, they would earn credits (typically 1:3 ratio) for uploading files as long as the file was considered to be appropriate and unique (not a dupe — hence the racing).
Through this culture and rewards system, files eventually would make their way to topsites all over the world in this decentralized nature. Much like Usenet, split-file or RAR archives were utilized in order to further enhance the racing culture.
Of course, due to the private and closed nature of this distribution network, it was difficult for many users to gain access to these topsites. Topsites are very much still in existence today.
IRC has been around for a long time and has played quite a role in society, both in filesharing as well as politics. Many IRC clients feature a DCC (direct client to client) protocol which allows users to do exactly as the name implies.
Through DCC, and later with advancements and bots known as XDCC servers, filesharing took yet another turn. Distribution groups who were able to get their hands on releases were able to serve files to the masses using these XDCC servers, which were typically hosted anywhere from powerful machines, brute forced Windows NT computers, personal computers, and university computer labs.
XDCC is still quite popular and a quick search through Netsplit.de shows many active channels across many active IRC networks still utilizing XDCC for distribution. Additionally, IRC is still widely used for its original purpose of chat as well as a bootstrap mechanism for filesharing mediums which sprouted later.
For a brief period Hotline was a very popular medium for sharing files. At first, Hotline was very mainstream with many mega corporations participating in the Hotline network. However, it quickly faded away due to many complications, including but not limited to the encrypting of source files on Hotline computers which essentially crippled the company.
Napster (Late 90s)
Napster arguably brought MP3 and filesharing to the masses. There are very few netizens who haven’t used or heard of Napster. The software operated as a peer to peer filesharing network strictly used for music. Napster’s database, however, was centrally located, which eventually helped lead to its shutdown and subsequent demise. However, not before it helped to spread the idea of filesharing, in its entirety, to the masses.
Gnutella, eDonkey2000 and Kazaa (Early 2000)
The centralized nature of Napster gave way to a single point of failure – or single point of shutdown. As such, many gifted developers researched methods to avoid such complications. Gnutella, eDonkey2000, and Kazaa were different implementations which all did quite well in their heyday. While their protocols were all different, they were each very similar in that there was no central server. However, each protocol ended up “failing” as they were rooted in commercial (and corporate) interest – which ended up becoming an attack point.
Gnutella, originally created by the Nullsoft people, was once the most used network thanks to LimeWire. The LimeWire client was sued by the RIAA and shutdown in 2010, which turned Gnutella into a ghost network. The original eDonkey2000 from Jed McCaleb was toppled as well, but clones have kept the eDonkey network alive. The Kazaa team later created Skype, which is a widely used VoIP/IM platform.
DC++ and i2hub
DC++ and i2hub were popular methods of sharing files in closed-networks. Both were highly used within the university and college scene where students would share hub/server addresses with each other in order to share files at very high speeds within the local college networks. The advantages provided within these was that outside agencies and other various third parties could not access the content found within these networks.
However, the RIAA found a way into i2hub and was able to shut it down. DC++ is still in active development today, but is not as common or widespread as it once was.
Bram Cohen created BitTorrent, which almost anyone with an Internet connection today has used, knowingly or not. BitTorrent essentially took on all of the greatest properties of its predecessors and packed them all into one, easy to use file sharing platform.
Taking on the concepts of breaking files into multiple chunks (Usenet, Topsites) as well as the decentralized peer-to-peer distribution mechanism (Napster, Gnutella, eDonkey2000, Kazaa), BitTorrent has catapulted into a mainstream filesharing mechanism which is fast, efficient, and difficult to stop.
Early versions of BitTorrent required centralized trackers to operate, but have later become able to utilize trackerless “torrents.”
Increasingly BitTorrent users have grown concerned with their privacy. Indexes such as YouHaveDownloaded.com have been able to maintain logs of every file downloaded by IP, which has raised significant awareness to whether it is safe to download files through BitTorrent. In addition, many ISPs have been known to cap speeds when detecting BitTorrent downloads.
As a result of these privacy concerns millions of BitTorrent users have signed up with Anonymous VPN services to mask their IP-addresses when downloading files
Filelockers and Forums (2000 to Present)
In recent years Megaupload, Rapidshare, Hotfile and other file lockers became quite popular. These file lockers provided the simplest means of filesharing when compared to all of their predecessors. Files are simply uploaded to the file locker, and a URL is provided to the file which is download through HTTP/HTTPS.
Generally, the URLs are shared through forums. Due to the affiliate compensations some cyberlockers offer to file uploaders on a per-file based download count, many files are distributed in split-file or RAR archives much like in the days of topsites and Usenet. This is mainly due to for-profit reasons as opposed to cultural or technical reasons as seen in the scene (topsites) or on Usenet respectively.
However, governments as well as special interest groups including the RIAA and MPAA have targeted file lockers leading to widely publicized lawsuits, including the arrest and destruction of Megaupload and Kim Dotcom.
Filesharing has come a long way, and with it, many industries have been born.
While it provides challenges to many of the big media conglomerates, it undoubtedly enriched the lives of many independent creators. Distribution is no longer something for the happy few, which shows as tens of thousands of artists share their work for free online every year.
Filesharing as a technology is good. Let’s make sure it stays around so that we may continue to share our thoughts, ideas, and art in order to better ourselves, our communities, and our earth. Anyone who is against that must obviously dream of world destruction, or at the least, wish for human progress to stop.
There's Plenty of Drama Left in the File-Sharing Debate
Rock legend Levon Helm has been posthumously dragged into an emotional dispute over digital piracy between a Reddit co-founder and a university professor who was once The Band's road manager.
A feud that has flared up over the past several days between Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Jonathan Taplin, head of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, provides a microcosm of the copyright debate: it's zero-sum and full of drama.
Most of the drama has come from Taplin, who is a former road manager for The Band. The two debated copyright policy last Wednesday evening during Fast Company's "Innovation Uncensored" event. The previous day, it had come out that Levon Helm of The Band was about to die of cancer. Taplin opened his argument by saying: "Tonight, Levon Helm is dying, basically broke." He blamed piracy for the "basically broke" part. Helm, he said, had been making $150,000 to $200,000 a year in royalties. But "eight years ago, that stopped" when sales of The Band's back catalog dried up as file-sharing took hold. "That, to me, is not fair," he said.
Perhaps not. But The Band broke up in 1976. If Helm had been making at least $150,000 a year, that means he made a minimum of $4.2 million between the breakup of the band and the time his royalties, according to Taplin, vanished. Presumably, he was making a lot more while the group was still putting out records and touring the world during the eight years that comprised the group's heyday, not to mention whatever he made from solo work and later (far less lucrative) iterations of The Band. If he was broke, piracy was not the only reason. (Taplin made several other questionable statements, which Mike Masnick highlighted at TechDirt.)
Still, it's true that Helm and many, many other musicians (and others in the entertainment business) have lost a lot of money since the advent of file-sharing. Lots of people who would have otherwise purchased his music in recent years have downloaded it illicitly instead. This is a problem, as Ohanian, to his credit, acknowledged. Piracy, he said is "the curse of the benefit that is worldwide, instant distribution."
But as too often happens in debates on this topic, the participants each refused to acknowledge that the other had a point. Taplin laid the blame for piracy on tech companies like Google (GOOG), but said nothing about the media industry's years of clueless missteps and penchant for hauling its own customers into court, not to mention how the record labels mistreated artists for decades before piracy became a problem. Ohanian for his part, put all the blame on the media industry, but said nothing about the ethical culpability of people who download illicit material or outfits, like Pirate Bay, that profit from it.
The moderator tried to get them to find something they could agree on, but they didn't really try.
It was a fairly heated debate, but things got even hotter afterward. Ohanian followed up with a blog post addressed to Taplin where he reiterated his arguments that new models like crowdfunding (as on Kickstarter) can help solve the problem. He offered to use Reddit and Kickstarter to help finance a project by the remaining two members of The Band to honor Helm. And he noted how the music industry had been well-known for taking advantage of artists since well before file-sharing began.
He was polite, but Taplin responded on Monday with some of the same irascibility he displayed during the debate and with a lot more anger. Once again referring to Helm, who had died in the intervening days, he wrote:
I am sad not just for Levon's wife and daughter, but sad that you could be so condescending to offer "to make right what the music industry did to the members of The Band." It wasn't the music industry that created Levon's plight; it was people like you celebrating Pirate Bay and Kim Dotcom--bloodsuckers who made millions off the hard work of musicians and filmmakers." [For the record, Ohanian never "celebrated" piracy, but merely said it's something that media companies will have to learn to live with.]
So what is your solution -- charity. You want to give every great artist a virtual begging bowl with Kickstarter. But Levon never wanted the charity of the Reddit community or the Kickstarter community. He just wanted to earn an honest living off the great work of a lifetime. You are so clueless as to offer to get The Band back together for a charity concert, unaware that three of the five members are dead. Take your charity and shove it. Just let us get paid for our work and stop deciding that you can unilaterally make it free.
And so the debate rages on, with few of the participants looking for common ground -- such as working to find ways to both rationally battle piracy and to adjust business models to fit with the changes that technology inevitably brings.
Music Film Is Delayed by Fees for Songs
In the 1960s many of the hits coming out of Los Angeles under the names of the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees and other top pop acts were actually recorded by an elite but largely anonymous corps of studio musicians nicknamed the Wrecking Crew. To gain them some belated public recognition Denny Tedesco, a son of one of the most prolific of those session players, spent more than 15 years making a documentary about the ensemble.
But there’s just one problem, and it has held up commercial release of “The Wrecking Crew” since 2008, when the documentary made its debut at the South by Southwest film festival. The film includes dozens of snippets from songs the Wrecking Crew played on, but the record companies that own the recordings want so much money from Mr. Tedesco, whose total budget was less than $1 million, that he has turned to a fund-raising campaign, including an event scheduled for New York in mid-June, to meet their demands.
“There are 132 music cues in this film, and you’ll know 99.9 percent of them,” Mr. Tedesco, 51, said. “But when I asked one record company for a quote, they said it was going to cost $2.5 million.”
He has managed to bargain the labels down, but, he added, “I’ve still got about 25 songs left to pay off and need to raise $175,000 before I start to see the light.”
Mr. Tedesco’s plight underlies the difficulties that the makers of music documentaries increasingly face. As the recording industry has seen its sales tumble by more than half since 2000, labels are intent on squeezing every bit of profit out of songs in their catalogs. Licensing that music to films — whether big Hollywood productions or modestly budgeted documentaries — is an attractive source of revenue.
“It’s harder now, because the music industry needs those licensing fees,” said Eddie Schmidt, who has just finished a three-year term as president of the International Documentary Association. “If you’re making a film about a singer-songwriter, that person might have some influence over what gets licensed. But here the people who are your subjects aren’t necessarily the names on the records, so you have to go to third parties and say, ‘What’s your price?’ “
The Wrecking Crew consisted of 20 or so musicians, the guitarist Tommy Tedesco among them, and played in one configuration or another on thousands of records, including Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” and Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Their first major successes came in 1962, providing the “wall of sound” for Phil Spector singles like “He’s a Rebel.” As the ’60s progressed, they played on hits by the Byrds, the Fifth Dimension, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Rivers and the Carpenters.
“The Wrecking Crew were the best of the best, with the additional gift of being able to function as mini-arrangers within each song,” explained Kent Hartman, author of a recent book about the ensemble. “The producers depended on them to make the songs better, and that’s why they kept getting asked back time and time again: They knew how to turn a song into a hit.”
Some members of the ensemble, most notably the guitarist Glen Campbell and the pianist Leon Russell, later became stars in their own right. But as hired hands the musicians had no ownership stake in or legal claim to the songs they recorded, and record company executives who may have felt a debt of gratitude for their contributions at the time have long since departed. As a believer in copyright Mr. Tedesco is philosophical about his situation.
“The reality is that I want to pay,” he said. “But the problem is this business. There are just so many people involved, so much turnover, and so many licenses and contracts, at least two different parties for every song, the label and the publisher.” He said there were more than 400 different rights holders to be dealt with.
“No one is gouging here, and on a song-by-song basis these are really low fees,” said Pamela Lillig, vice president for film and television licensing at BMG Chrysalis. “But with 132 cues the body of work is enormous, formidable. Most projects are not this intense with the rights in them, or, like Martin Scorsese on the blues or Ken Burns on jazz, are very well funded. So we are trying to help in any way we can, because we want these musicians to get their due and have a light shined on their work.”
If the Wrecking Crew can be said to have had a leader, it was probably the drummer Hal Blaine, who was the contractor for many of the sessions, played on more than 50 No. 1 records and is interviewed in the film with several other of the players and producers. Now 83, he’s frustrated — though not surprised — that “The Wrecking Crew” hasn’t been released commercially. (Screenings at film festivals are nonprofit showcases for filmmakers.)
“It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is,” Mr. Blaine, said. “Business is business, a cold and calculating business, cutthroat at times, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it. You just have to accept it.”
Some artists who control their master recordings have allowed songs the Wrecking Crew played on to be used in the film without charge. That is the case with Nancy Sinatra and “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ “ and various recordings made by Herb Alpert, who in the documentary refers admiringly to the Wrecking Crew as a “groove machine.”
In theory Mr. Tedesco could argue that as a documentary his film has a journalistic and educational function and is therefore entitled to the fair use exemption to copyright that news organizations routinely invoke. But he would then run the risk of lawsuits, and “that’s too scary,” said Claire Scanlon, who edited the film and is one of its producers. “This is a one-man show and a labor of love, and Denny has already been wiped out financially by this film.” (As Mr. Tedesco explains it, he has at various points mortgaged his house and maxed out his credit cards.)
A 2002 documentary called “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” about the Funk Brothers, the studio musicians who provided the backing for Motown Records’ biggest hits between 1959 and 1972, won several film awards and a Grammy and showed that there is an audience for films like Mr. Tedesco’s; it made over $2.3 million at the global box office, has done well as a DVD and was accompanied by an uptick in sales of CDs by Motown artists. But that film was easier to make because, as Mr. Blaine noted, the Funk Brothers worked exclusively for Motown, but the Wrecking Crew played for dozens of labels large and small. Mr. Hartman, whose book is also called “The Wrecking Crew,” said he was puzzled by what he sees as the shortsightedness of the four conglomerates that now control the music business.
“The Wrecking Crew made these songs hits and made the record companies a ton of money,” he said. “It’s to their advantage to let this thing come out. Here’s this beautifully crafted marketing vehicle that could sell so many more copies of these great songs. It’s free money for the labels, with no cost for them. But here comes Denny to reinvigorate their catalog, and he has to pay to do it.”
UK’s Anti-Piracy Law Delayed: ‘Three-Strike’ Warnings on Hold
Provisions and measures under the UK’s Digital Economy Act have been delayed — again.
Plans to send warning letters to those who are caught infringing copyright by file-sharing have been put on ice until 2014, the government department responsible for the law confirmed.
The law would set up a system where a “graduated response” — or three-strike letters — would be sent out incrementally to persistent file-sharers in a bid to prevent them from infringing more, and ultimately having their rights to Internet access revoked.
Broadband cut-off is one of the ‘technical measures’ mentioned in the law, but is only seen as a last resort to extreme offenders.
Ofcom, the communications regulator, had previously said it would start sending out notification letters to file-sharers in mid-2013. But legal challenges and bids from broadband providers to clarify the law have delayed the enacting of the controversial anti-piracy act.
It was passed during the ‘wash-up’ or ‘guillotine’ period towards the end of the last Labour government in 2010. The bill was controversial enough to deter most members of Parliament (MPs), and in the end, less 10 percent of all UK’s representatives voted on the bill.
Broadband providers BT and TalkTalk through joint legal proceedings pushed back the issuing of the warning letters, which were due to be issued from 2011 onwards. They had argued the law was in breach of European law, but were unsuccessful in their challenges.
The UK government also faced added criticism after questions were raised in a Parliamentary committee pertaining to the evidence for the bill. One civil servant responsible for implementing the draft laws said there was ‘no evidence’ to support the new anti-piracy law.
With 2015 being an election year, the law will no doubt be a contentious topic. With the Labour government drafting and implementing the law, and the now Conservative-led coalition government pushing through its measures, it will be a hot topic for the politicians on the soapboxes.
Megaupload: Data Access Talks to Begin on 26 April
The raids cut thousands of users off from data needed to run small businesses
Negotiations will start on 26 April over what will happen to data taken offline by the shutdown of file-sharing site Megaupload.
More than 25 petabytes of data were left in legal limbo by the raid, which was co-ordinated by US law enforcement.
Megaupload, digital rights groups and the company left holding the data have called for it to be released to users.
Film studios have opposed the release, saying pirated material is likely to be found in the giant cache of data.
Lawyers for Megaupload and the US government will meet in Virginia on 26 April to start talking about what will happen to the data.
Megaupload was shut down on 19 January in a series of raids motivated by what the US government said was evidence of massive copyright infringement by the firm.
The US authorities froze Megaupload's assets, leaving it unable to pay for the upkeep of the data users had uploaded to its farm of more than 1,000 servers.
Carpathia, the hosting firm which oversaw the servers for Megaupload, has put the hardware in a warehouse while the row over what happens to the data is sorted out.
The US government said Carpathia could delete the data, provided enough had been done to try to return the information to users.
Legal action by Megaupload and digital rights groups stopped anything happening to the servers. A US judge said Carpathia had to hold on to the servers for a few more weeks while negotiations continued.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns on web issues, said many "innocent" users, including small business owners, had been cut off from their data by the Megaupload shutdown.
The Motion Picture Association of America has resisted calls to let users get at their data unless action is taken to police any pirated material in the cache.
Art Is Long; Copyrights Can Even Be Longer
It is there in the new 3-D version of “Titanic,” as it was in James Cameron’s original film: a modified version of Picasso’s painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” aboard the ship as it sinks.
Of course that 1907 masterpiece was never lost to the North Atlantic. It has been at the Museum of Modern Art for decades — which is precisely the reason the Picasso estate, which owns the copyright to the image, refused Mr. Cameron’s original request to include it in his 1997 movie.
But Mr. Cameron used it anyway.
After Artists Rights Society, a company that guards intellectual property rights for more than 50,000 visual artists or their estates, including Picasso’s, complained, however, Mr. Cameron agreed to pay a fee for the right to use the image.
With the rerelease of “Titanic,” the society wants Mr. Cameron to pay again, asserting that the 3-D version is a new work, not covered under the previous agreement.
“I don’t expect we’ll have any difficulty,” said Theodore Feder, president of the society, who contacted Mr. Cameron last week.
Filmmakers are not the only ones who sometimes run afoul of artists’ copyright law. In recent weeks Google Art Project, which just expanded its online collection of images to more than 30,000 works from 151 museums, agreed, because of copyright challenges, to remove 21 images it had posted.
Artists’ copyright is frequently misunderstood. Even if a painting (or drawing or photograph) has been sold to a collector or a museum, in general, the artist or his heirs retain control of the original image for 70 years after the artist’s death.
Think of a novel. You may own a book, but you don’t own the writer’s words; they remain the intellectual property of the author for a time.
So while MoMA owns the actual canvas of “Les Demoiselles,” the family of Picasso, who died in 1973, still owns the image. And under existing law, the estate will continue to own the copyright until 2043.
If someone wants to reproduce the painting — on a Web site, a calendar, a T-shirt, or in a film — it is the estate that must give its permission, not the museum. That is why, despite the expansion, Google Art Project still does not contain a single Picasso.
Indeed, few 20th-century artists are included in the project’s digital collection because copyright owners have not yet given permission. “We don’t want to prevent Google from showing the work, but they won’t enter into negotiations with us,” Mr. Feder said.
The Art Project’s position is that it is the responsibility of each museum to get copyright permission. “Google is placing the burden and onus on the museum, which is unfair to them and unfair to the artists,” Mr. Feder said.
Robert Panzer, executive director of VAGA, a second company that represents the copyright interests of artists, said that Google was legally responsible for securing the permissions. “It’s a game that they should try to make it someone else’s responsibility,” said Mr. Panzer, whose group represents more than 7,000 artists worldwide.
The Toledo Museum of Art recently asked the Google Art Project to remove “Dancer Resting” (1940), by Henri Matisse, as well as 20 other images from its collection that were posted but are still under copyright.
“There had been some confusion on all sides,” said Kelly Garrow, director of communications for the Toledo museum. “We want those works on the Art Project, but there needs to be some type of agreement to make that happen.”
Mr. Panzer, whose group is currently doing a review of all the work posted on the Art Project, said the underlying question was what Google’s business plans are in the long term: “We have to make sure that the artists’ interests from an aesthetic point of view and a commercial point of view are protected.”
Amit Sood, head of the Google Art Project, said it had decided early on to focus on its partnerships with museums. “We have been approached by commercial organizations who wanted to sell us content, but we chose to work directly with the museums,” Mr. Sood said. “We believe they are in the best position to assess rights status and we are happy to work with them to address any concerns.”Groups representing authors and publishers have been trying for years to come to an agreement with Google over its plan to digitize every book published. But after a federal judge threw out a proposed settlement in 2011, citing copyright and monopoly concerns, no agreement is in sight.
Raymond Dowd, a lawyer who has represented both sides on copyright questions, said of the Google Art Project: “Every artist is going to have a different view of it. Some will think it’s the greatest thing in the world and others will be horrified, just as the writers were, and just as musicians have been.”
Copyright law covers everything from reproductions in books to those used on keychains. “We try to acquire as much information as we can about a project, and then we go to the estate,” Mr. Feder of Artists Right Society explained. His organization, like VAGA, takes a percentage of the fee, which varies depending on the use.
Sometimes artists or estates want input. In the 2011 film “Tower Heist,” for example, the estate of Dan Flavin sent an expert to oversee the construction of a Flavin light installation that was recreated on the set.
Often celebrated masterpieces end up as nothing more than background scenery. That Alexander Calder you may have noticed in “The Muppets,” the Charles Roka in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” or the Noguchi in “Friends With Benefits” were all used with the permission of Artists Rights Society. Paul Klee’s “Mask of Fear,” for instance, will make its film debut later this year in “Cloud Atlas” with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Natalie Portman.
Some news media outlets, including The New York Times, have agreements with the companies that set the terms under which they can make use of copyrighted images from the artists the companies represent.
In about 40 percent of its cases, the society ends up trying to prevent the use of an image, Mr. Feder said. Multimillion-dollar movie productions can present a challenge, however. Given the money involved, filmmakers are sometimes willing to risk the expense of a lawsuit and penalties after the movie’s release.
When making “Basquiat,” the 1996 biographical film about the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, for example, Mr. Feder said that the film’s director, Julian Schnabel, ignored the objections of the artist’s father and created paintings in Basquiat’s style for his movie. Using these sorts of “derivative” images is also prohibited by copyright law, but Mr. Schnabel used them anyway, Mr. Feder said. In the end, Mr. Basquiat declined to sue.
Other filmmakers have tried to comply with family requests. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory sent the Picasso family a script of their 1996 film, “Surviving Picasso,” and then flew to Paris to make their case in person. But the estate was unhappy that Picasso was portrayed as an inconsiderate womanizer, so it refused to grant permission. Instead, to recreate the aesthetic atmosphere, the filmmakers used work by Picasso’s contemporaries, Matisse and Braque.
Mr. Feder said that when he went to see “Titanic 3-D” recently, he noticed one revision that he appreciates: A fleeting shot of “Les Demoiselles” going underwater has been replaced by Edgar Degas’s work “L’Étoile” — which was also never on the ship but is at least a painting already in the public domain.
More on DRM and eBooks
Last week's blog entry on Amazon's ebook strategy went around the net like a dose of rotavirus. And, as we can now see from Tor's ground-breaking announcement I was only just ahead of the curve: people at executive level inside Macmillan were already asking whether dropping DRM would be a good move. Last week they asked me to explain, in detail, just why I thought abandoning DRM on ebooks was a sensible strategy for a publisher. Turns out my blog entry on Amazon's business strategy didn't actually explain my full reasoning on DRM, so here it is.
Note that I am not responsible for Macmillan's change of policy. An internal debate was already in progress; this move was already on the cards. I caught their attention and was given a chance to offer some input: that's all. The final decision to drop DRM on ebooks from Tor/Forge was taken by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, who ultimately has to account for his actions to the shareholders.
Also note that when trying to argue for a strategy, you need to frame it in terms of the concerns of the people you're addressing. Therefore what's below the fold is my response to the question of why I thought abandoning DRM would be good for Macmillan's business, framed to address the concerns of publishing executives. I thought I'd post it here as an historical footnote to the end of blanket DRM restrictions in the book trade, and because it features a line of reasoning about DRM which may be of interest to other publishers who are, as yet, undecided.
After I recommended that the major publishers drop mandatory DRM from their ebook products, I realized that my essay had elided a bunch of steps in my thinking, and needed to reconsider some points. Then I realized that it's not a simple, straightforward argument to make. Consequently, I ended up writing another essay, although I've tried to summarize my conclusions below.
First, my conclusions:
1. The rapid current pace of change in the electronic publishing sector is driven by the consumer electronics and internet industry. It's impossible to make long term publishing plans (3-10 years) without understanding these other industries and the priorities of their players. It is important to note that the CE industry relies on selling consumers new gadgets every 1-3 years. And it is through their gadgets that readers experience the books we sell them. Where is the CE industry taking us?
2. Dropping DRM across all of Macmillans products will not have immediate, global, positive effects on revenue in the same way that introducing the agency model did ...
3. However, relaxing the requirement for DRM across some of Macmillans brands will have very positive public relations consequences among certain customer demographics, notably genre readers who buy large numbers of books (and who, while a minority in absolute numbers, are a disproportionate source of support for the midlist).
4. Longer term, removing the requirement for DRM will lower the barrier to entry in ebook retail, allowing smaller retailers (such as Powells) to compete effectively with the current major incumbents. This will encourage diversity in the retail sector, force the current incumbents to interoperate with other supply sources (or face an exodus of consumers), and undermine the tendency towards oligopoly. This will, in the long term, undermine the leverage the large vendors currently have in negotiating discount terms with publishers while improving the state of midlist sales.
Now the details:
1. Anticipating the future of ebook reading technology
(Background note: I have a computer science degree from 1991, which is a bit like having an aeronautical engineering degree from 1927. But I've spent a chunk of time working as a computer journalist, and I try to keep up to date.)
First, a note on the changing technology. The consumer electronics industry relies on selling everybody shiny new devices every 12-24 months for their revenue. Margins are narrow and R&D costs are high. They also have an interest in maintaining a floor under the price of their products by adding new features to justify the upgrade treadmill, because thanks to Moore's Law, the electronics sector is trapped in a permanent deflationary cycle. So I believe that any forward-looking publishing strategy needs to consider the impact of this endless device churn on consumers, and their likely response.
Because the devices our consumers own mediate their experience of the ebooks we sell them.
First, the hardware:
It's my belief that today's e-ink ebook readers are doomed to obsolescence within a short period — 2-3 years possibly, 5 years probably. This is because the power consumption of LCD displays is dropping and their quality is rising. e-ink devices are inherently incapable of displaying video, are lousy as web browsers due to the screen refresh time, and if you use them to play audio or do any intensive processing (such as running apps) their battery life drops towards that of a regular LCD-equipped tablet. They're essentially single-purpose devices, competing in a market with general-purpose devices. Their only advantages are battery life and readability in direct sunlight, both of which are under threat. So it's my belief that general purpose tablets (and big-screen smartphones) will drive e-ink readers out of the mass market within 2-5 years, just as smartphones killed off your 2003 Palm Pilot.
Secondly, the software:
The two current tablet/smartphone market incumbents are iOS (Apple) and Android (Google). (Microsoft is making a come-back attempt with Windows 8 Mobile, but is fighting an uphill battle.) These are essentially competing software platforms, like MacOS and Windows in the late 1980s. However, just five years ago, none of these platforms existed; the market was dominated by PalmOS, Symbian, and Microsoft's dead PocketPC platform. I therefore conclude that it is a really bad idea to make assumptions about the devices customers will own in even 3 years' time.
In the tablet/smartphone world, DRM is supported at the application level. B&N (Nook), Amazon (Kindle), and Adobe all provide readers that run on incompatible DRM standards. Even when the file format is the same (ePub) the DRM prevents files from, say, the Adobe Digital Editions system from being read by a rival's reader.
In the absence of DRM it is trivially easy to convert ebooks between file formats — as easy as opening a word processor file on a different machine, if not easier. Amazon's continued use of a non-epub file format on the Kindle platform does not mean that Amazon could not, very rapidly, shift to supporting epub files; all that would be needed would be a software update pushed to their Kindle customers' readers. In fact, Amazon acquired a software company specializing in epub reader software — Lexcycle — in 2009.
The main effect of DRM, from a platform vendor's perspective, is to lock end-users into their platform in perpetuity. (Amazon, as both a retailer and a platform vendor, has leveraged this very effectively to give their retail channel a whip hand.)
2. Which sectors will respond positively to less DRM
Macmillan sells a variety of products (trade and mass market, audio, ebooks and paper books) into a variety of wholesale and retail channels, who in turn sell the products to the reading public.
The reading public is not a monolith, and the products Macmillan sells are dissimilar. Some books are unique and non-interchangeable, while others are treated as an undifferentiated commodity by their consumers. One large customer segment buy 1-5 books a year, usually bestsellers for recreational vacation reading. At the opposite end of the scale, 20% or fewer buy 20-150 books a year, typically midlist titles. The former group supplies mass sales, but the latter group supports the midlist and supplies diversity. A one-size-fits-all approach to the reading public is therefore unlikely to satisfy everyone.
For example, the 1-5 bestsellers-a-year people: previously they bought from airport bookstores and WalMart, to read once then discard; we expect them in future to buy ebooks to read once then discard. They will probably use a work-issue tablet or smartphone running a free Kindle or Nook app, rather than buying a special-purpose e-reader, and delete their books after reading. They couldn't care less about DRM. They will probably stick to one well-known online retail supplier. You are absolutely right about there being no benefit from dropping DRM in this sector.
3. Who gains? And why?
The voracious 20-150 books/year readers are a small but significant market segment.
These people buy lots of titles. They frequently have specialized interests which they pursue in depth, and a large number of authors who, although not prominent, they will buy everything by. They frequently re-read books, and they are disproportionately influential on other customers because they enthuse about what they've read. They're particularly common in genre fiction. Previously they bought paperbacks and hardcovers from specialist genre bookstores or, failing that, from large B&N/Borders branches. They will go to whatever retailer they can find online, and they find DRM a royal pain in the ass — indeed, a deterrent to buying ebooks at all.
There is a pervasive assumption that ebooks are disposable literature. But to the voracious readers, this is not the case. Currently it's hard for many people to build up collections of books due to space constraints — nevertheless I know many SF fans (of the kind who read 50-150 books a year) who have turned their homes into libraries. They will be the tip of an iceberg once ebooks become mainstream; why discard an ebook when you can file it and come back to it in 10 years' time and it takes up no space?
For such people, filing and tagging their collections is a major issue. And so is portability. It's true that if they own an iPad they can have an iBooks app full of books purchased from Apple, and a Kindle app full of books from Amazon, and a Nook app full of books from B&N. But those apps are, thanks to DRM, data silos — you can't cross-check to see if you bought book 3 in a series from Apple and book 5 from Amazon without a lot of fiddling around.
Platforms age and die. This summer, Microsoft is turning off the DRM servers for Microsoft Reader. This means that people who bought Microsoft Reader ebooks over the decade since 2002 now find that their ebooks are trapped inside a rapidly ageing, obsolescent slab of plastic and glass. In another 5-10 years, 95% of those books will be unreadable because the machines they're locked into were designed by a CE industry obsessed with the 2-3 year upgrade cycle — they're not durable. This is actually one psychological driver for piracy — people who have paid for a book resent being expected to pay for it again due to an arbitrary-seeming lock-in onto an aging piece of hardware. From their point of view, honesty is being punished.
There is no guarantee that B&N will stay in business, or that Amazon won't discontinue support for older Kindle files, in the not too distant future. This is something that the hardcore readers cannot help but be aware of, because it has already bitten them in the past, if they bought a Zune, or a Palm Pilot, or any number of other devices.
If Macmillan drop DRM on ebooks typically bought by these people, it sends a signal: "you can continue to read these ebooks in future using whatever platform you want". Converting a DRM-free ebook between ePub and Amazon's Kindle format, or any other current ebook format, is as easy as saving a Microsoft Word document in Rich Text Format, or as a web page: there's an app for that. Moreover, all the DRM-equipped reading platforms support importing non-DRM'd ebooks.
So, from the point of view of a particular subset of Macmillan's customers — the hard core genre audience who read many, many books — removing DRM would be a major benefit and would probably generate immense goodwill.
(This is leaving aside the point that, if a trend towards relaxing DRM becomes established — as happened in 2009 in the music download industry — the first mover will reap considerable public relations benefits and news coverage in the short term.)
But is there a business case for doing so?
4. Effects of removing DRM on the supply chain
(Firstly, I'd like to note that the Macmillan experience with dropping the mandatory requirement for DRM on audio books can't be taken as a useful indicator. The main retailers of audio books, Apple and Audible, refuse to ship DRM-free audio books. Therefore DRM-free audio books remained essentially unavailable to the public.)
The main effect of DRM on the supply chain is that a consumer who buys DRM-locked content is locked into the supplier who supports that type of DRM. A non-casual reader with a couple of hundred ebooks on their Kindle can't easily leave the Kindle walled garden. (I emphasize, DRM is the only thing that keeps them there: converting Kindle ebooks to ePub is trivially easy in the absence of DRM.)
This situation plays to the benefit of the largest incumbents in the retail sector. Currently we have gone from a near-monopoly by Amazon to a near-cartel among Amazon, B&N, and Apple. The independent bookseller sector is struggling to deal with ebooks.
It's instructive to take a look at how the independent retailers are failing to cope. Powell's have a large online store, and are quite successful with paper products. However, if you want to buy ebooks from them, they offer you a menu of DRM silos — Adobe Digital Editions, Google Ebooks, and so on. If you want to buy ebooks from Powell's, you have to grapple with registering your device with them, so that the ebooks can be locked to your reader. This forces customers to jump through a bunch of technological flaming hoops; it's easier for them to give up and point their web browsers at Amazon or B&N instead. And the results have been so poor that Google seems to be withdrawing from the retail market, at least to the extent of giving notice to quit to their larger retail affiliates (Powell's included).
If Macmillan titles did not have DRM, then customers would find it much easier to buy books from independent retailers like Powell's — or other small bookstores. DRM-free ebooks can be imported easily into whatever ebook reading device a reader already possesses. It will then be possible for bricks and mortar retailers and small online retailers to get a toe in the door and sell ebooks competitively. In short, it will lower barriers to entry into the retail supply chain, which in the long term is advantageous to publishers.
Another angle is that dropping DRM gives readers some assurance that their ebooks will remain accessible, even if they change reading devices and apps multiple times over the next decade. It also allows them to merge ebooks from different sources into a single collection, simplifying their reading experience, and to confidently purchase from smaller retail outlets.
As noted earlier, consumers change e-reader devices frequently. Within 5 years we will be seeing a radically different electronic landscape. Unlocking the readers' book collections will force Amazon and B&N and their future competitors to support migration (if they want to compete for each others' customers). So hopefully it will promote the transition from the near-monopoly we had before the agency model, via the oligopoly we have today, to a truly competitive retail market that also supports midlist sales.
(Why this will support the midlist: currently Amazon have swamped the midlist among ebooks in a sea of self-published rubbish. It's impossible to find anything worth reading in the Kindle store that isn't a very obvious bestseller. This offers an opportunity for specialist bookstores to offer a curatorial role. I believe the voracious genre consumers are picky enough about what they read that they dislike Amazon's slushpile approach, and will preferentially shop in better organized outlets.)
I don't expect dropping mandatory DRM to have an immediate positive impact on sales. However, it will permit small retailers to compete and specialize in a market they are currently locked out of by network externalities. Right now, there is a window of opportunity for smaller resellers: Amazon's inclusion of masses of self-published material in the Kindle store has made it impossible for heavy consumers to browse it effectively. Smaller bookstores may be able to gain a strategic edge by curating their content, providing quality control on reviews, and other tactics we can't predict at this time. This is, I emphasize, speculative — but I believe saving the smaller resellers is key to diversity in the retail side of the market, and will further support the midlist (which is threatened right now by plummeting mass market sales and the difficulty authors experience in reaching their audience).
To the extent that piracy is an issue, I think the horse is well and truly out of the stable and over the horizon; bolting the stable door and adding chains and padlocks hasn't worked to date, either in print publishing or in music and film publishing. However, I would recommend considering a switch to watermarking. Watermarking doesn't prevent copying, but makes the original source of a copied file easy to find, which is a deterrent to piracy. This appears to be the current best practice in the music industry (in the iTunes store, all music downloads are watermarked), and they're a few years further into the era of internet distribution than we are.
Dropping DRM is probably not going to have a significant effect on the bestsellers, but I will note that J. K. Rowling's move into ebook territory is DRM free; presumably the rampant levels of piracy around her work was seen as a pre-existing condition, and anything that might convert pirate readers into paying customers was seen as giving Pottermore an edge.
Finally, if going DRM-free is a trend, it may be to Macmillan's advantage to be seen to be a front-runner. Removing the requirement for DRM from specialist imprints marketing primarily to the voracious genre readers would be a useful experimental step: I will confess to a personal bias here, but I'd love it if Tor was allowed to sell my novels unencumbered by DRM -- I could personally use that as a strong marketing angle. (Like many younger writers, my major point of contact with my readers is my blog — I typically get 12-14,000 readers per day, and provide them with a community for discussing my work and asking me questions — based on direct feedback I'm fairly certain that dropping DRM would allow me to generate additional ebook sales and point my readers at a more diverse range of retailers.)
Tor Books to Drop DRM on Entire Catalog of e-Books
A major publisher drops DRM on e-books, and some expect more companies to do the same.
Science-fiction/fantasy publishing company Tor Books dropped a big bomb on the e-book world today by announcing plans to abolish DRM on its entire collection of e-books in early July.
The shift will most likely appear seamless to consumers, as an official blog post on the Tor Web site mentions that DRM-free titles will sell at the same retailers that currently sell Tor's books, and will additionally appear on DRM-free-only e-book stores. The Macmillan-owned company also publishes titles under Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen.
Boing Boing, for one, expects that Tor's plan to drop digital-rights management tools might start a wave of other companies following suit, eventually leading to a world where e-book DRM no longer exists.
Among Tor Books' most well-known titles are "The Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan, and the Ender saga by Orson Scott Card.
"Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time," Tom Doherty, president and publisher of Tor Books, said in a statement. "They're a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another."
In related news, Tor Books parent company Macmillan USA is preparing to square off against the U.S. Department of Justice after accusations of e-book price fixing.
Can Anonymous Fix Online Music?
John Paul Titlow
The digital music space is flourishing, yet at the same time, it remains fractured by a multitude of separate services and apps.
It's a problem that hacktivist collective Anonymous blames on the dominance that major labels still exert over the industry. The solution, the group says, is what it calls a "fault-tolerant and open platform for social music."
In a white paper with that very title, the group outlines its vision for how music could be consumed in the future. While they have historically come to the defense of piracy-related sites and organizations, Anonymous isn't advocating copyright infringement. Instead, they want to disrupt the music industry by providing universal access to legal music from a single interface.
It's an endeavor not unlike the open source desktop music app Tomahawk, which scans one's local library and then augments with tracks from sources like SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify and Ex.fm.
Anonymous' solution is a Web-based app called AnonTune. The concept is quite similar to Tomahawk, albeit with a much more crude user interface. The project is nowhere near completion, Anonymous concedes, but once it's finished the creators envision it upending the digital music space by breaking down the walls between legitimate sources of music from across the Internet.
An Olive Branch to Copyright Holders?
Even though Anonymous isn't taking an overtly pro-piracy position, and even comes close to sympathizing with the industry's desire to eliminate illegal downloading, it's hard to imagine the RIAA and major record labels embracing what the hacktivist is trying to do.
Even so, AnonTune is designed to avoid legal liability by not hosting any content but rather pulling it from third-party sources. If an unauthorized song from YouTube shows up in AnonTunes, that's Google's problem, the group reasons.
One of the things that makes Tomahawk so comprehensive is its ability to plug into Spotify's massive library of music, assuming one has a paid account with Spotify. Given the stake that the major labels have in Spotify, it wouldn't be shocking to see the service deny the AnonTune Web client access to its library, if it can help it.
Right now, the project's biggest handicap, other than limited content, is the design of its UI. To be frank, it's hideous. This presumably will be addressed as development moves forward, especially if they want this to be something the average person is willing to use.
There are also some security concerns due to the app's reliance on Java to run, but the developers have denied that their approach presents any security issues.
If things work out and the platform turns out to be viable, the people behind it believe it could "facilitate open research and innovation into the music listening experience." It could take concepts such as Pandora's Music Genome Project to the next level using things like biometric feedback and sentiment analysis of music.
Sound ambitious? These are some high-minded goals. But perhaps they're not too far off if Anonymous is indeed onto something with this.
Start-Up Aims to Stream Pay TV Onto Web Devices
In a move that could hasten the slow pace of so-called TV Everywhere, a technology start-up is introducing a way to move a whole subscription’s worth of TV onto the Web, with or without the subscription company’s permission.
The start-up, called NimbleTV, will begin testing its service with a limited number of users on Monday. The service takes the package of television channels that a customer buys through a distributor like Dish Network, then streams the package onto the Web, allowing the customer more options for viewing than most distributors now allow. It also allows for thousands of hours of TV recording via a virtual digital video recorder.
NimbleTV is the latest example of technology companies trying to break into the closed system of television distribution in the United States. As Americans buy more smartphones and tablet computers, cable and satellite distributors are under pressure to provide TV access on more screens, and entrepreneurs are — depending on one’s view — either helping to provide it, or forcing it to happen on their own terms.
Large companies like Apple and Google have taken steps to enter the television distribution business.. So have start-ups like NimbleTV, which is backed by the venture capital firms Greycroft Partners and Tribeca Venture Partners and by the Tribune Company, the owner of 23 TV stations.
“We’ve all heard about TV Everywhere for a long time. One of the questions that’s bothered me is, why is it not here yet?” said Anand Subramanian, the chief executive of NimbleTV, during a preview of the service at Greycroft’s Midtown Manhattan office last week.
TV Everywhere is a slogan for a nearly three-year-old effort by TV distributors and channel owners to make channels available to subscribers on all screens at all times. Despite some notable successes, the effort has been stymied by outdated contracts and by concerns that new ways of TV viewing will generate less revenue than the old ways.
As a result, many technologically adept television viewers have voiced some variation of the same complaint: why can I not watch any show on any device at any time? That availability is what NimbleTV is pushing.
“It picks up where Slingbox left off,” said Jason Hirschhorn, a former executive at the maker of the Slingbox, Sling Media, who is now an adviser to Greycroft and a supporter of NimbleTV.
When the Slingbox device is hooked up to a TV set, users can log in on a computer from anywhere and view whatever is live on their DVR at home — a useful feature for watching a home team’s baseball games while on the road, for instance.
Sling Media is owned by EchoStar, which is controlled by Charles W. Ergen, the satellite media mogul who also controls the Dish Network. Dish promotes the Slingbox to its subscribers as its form of TV Everywhere. But the device has not been embraced by other distributors.
NimbleTV says it has the same functionality as a Slingbox and DVR, but without the actual boxes. Mr. Subramanian, a Giants fan, recounted watching the Super Bowl through the service while on a work trip in India.
Within the cable world, the closest thing to NimbleTV is an app from Cablevision that replicates its subscribers’ live television lineups on tablets, phones and computers. The app works only within the subscriber’s home, however. Time Warner Cable has a similar app that replicates part of the lineup.
NimbleTV also raises the tantalizing prospect that users could shop around for television subscriptions — removing the physical constraints that now give companies like Comcast and Cox exclusive cable licenses in cities.
But that will not happen for a while, if at all. The company’s test phase, which begins Monday, is limited to New York City and to a set of 26 channels that the company will pay for. It plans to start letting people sign up for satellite service through its software this summer.
The service is positioned by Mr. Subramanian and his supporters as a way to enhance existing cable or satellite packages and to help distributors sell more such packages. “Our intention is to support as many providers as possible,” he said. But he declined to name any providers that are already on board, and he asserted that NimbleTV did not need their blessing.
In that way, NimbleTV is like Aereo, the start-up backed by Barry Diller’s company IAC that repackages broadcast channels like NBC and Fox into a streaming service for $12 a month. As Aereo started letting customers in New York City sign up last month, virtually all of the city’s broadcasters filed lawsuits against the company, citing copyright infringements. The suits are pending and Aereo is online for now.
Mr. Subramanian said that NimbleTV “went to extreme lengths” to comply with the law — changing strategies five or six times along the way. Noting that users would still be paying for cable or satellite service, he said NimbleTV’s role was as an “agent,” paying the monthly service bill for the user and providing software for streaming.
NimbleTV itself will include a monthly fee, probably around $20, though the company would not comment.
Mr. Hirschhorn said planning for the service “took into account a lot of industry issues,” and he added that it “doesn’t economically harm anyone.”
Mr. Subramanian said he did not expect for the company to be sued, but some of the company’s investors said privately that they expected suits.
Dan Rayburn, the principal analyst for digital media at the market research firm Frost & Sullivan, said that even if these streaming companies believed they were on solid legal ground, the entrenched distributors were “still going to come after them.”
“Guys like Aereo and Nimble can’t afford the legal fight,” he added.
Tribune declined to comment on the size of its investment or the reasons for it.
For the venture capitalists involved, a sale of NimbleTV’s software to a distributor or to a technology company would seem like an obvious goal. Mr. Subramanian said he could not speculate on that and added, “I’m just trying to build a really good consumer experience and solve a consumer problem.” https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/b...n-devices.html
Murdoch Hacking Scandal Piles Pressure on UK Government
Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton
A phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch's media empire piled more pressure on British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday with the revelation that one of his ministers gave News Corp executives highly sensitive details to help a controversial merger.
As the Leveson Inquiry on press ethics began to delve into the relationships between politicians and the media, with James Murdoch as a witness, the court heard that Jeremy Hunt, the culture minister, had had numerous secret contacts with James and his top London lobbyist.
Within minutes of the Leveson Inquiry's closing for the day, opposition politicians were lining up to call for the resignation of Hunt, previously seen as a rising star in Conservative Prime Minister Cameron's government.
"Now we know he was providing advice, guidance and privileged access to News Corporation, he was being a back channel for the Murdochs," Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor party, told Sky News.
"If he refuses to resign, the prime minister must show some leadership and fire him," said Miliband, who boosted his credibility last year by galvanizing opposition to Murdoch.
The inquiry was reluctantly ordered by Cameron last July as a phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch's News of the World tabloid spiraled out of control, forcing him to side against the media empire that had helped propel him into power a year earlier.
News Corp eventually dropped its $12 billion bid for the highly profitable BSkyB as public opposition to Murdoch made it untenable.
Hunt denied being a "cheerleader" for the Murdochs, as prosecutor Robert Jay suggested to James Murdoch at the inquiry on Tuesday and said he would not quit.
"Now is not a time for kneejerk reactions. We've heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn't happen," Hunt said in a statement.
He had written to the Leveson inquiry, asking if his planned appearance could be brought forward.
"I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness," he said.
Cameron's spokesman sent a text message to Reuters saying the prime minister still had "full confidence" in Hunt.
Tuesday's revelations are a blow for Cameron's Conservative government, which has been dropping in opinion polls due to a series of blunders including a so-called "granny tax" on pensioners and a failed attempt to extradite a terror suspect.
Hunt took over responsibility for deciding whether to approve the BSkyB bid after the minister previously in charge, Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, was secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Murdoch.
News Corp had already been lobbying Hunt, a Conservative, as it tried to build political support for its long-held ambition to buy BSkyB, Britain's dominant pay-TV operator, which Rupert Murdoch had helped build from the ground up.
"Hunt acted as a back channel for News Corp when Vince Cable had responsibility for the deal and then allowed extensive confidential and secret briefings to take place on what should have been a quasi judicial process," said Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat MP who had lobbied for a media inquiry.
Public opposition to the News Corp-BSkyB deal grew last year as the phone-hacking scandal escalated with the revelation that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked, raising concerns about the extent of Murdoch's media ownership.
Murdoch's News Corp owns the Times of London and Sunday Times national broadsheets, Britain's top-selling tabloid the Sun, and 39 percent of BSkyB, which has an influential 24-hour news channel.
The media conglomerate, which also owns Fox News, the 20th Century Fox movie studio and the Wall Street Journal, abruptly shut down the 168-year-old News of the World to try to contain the scandal last July and dropped its bid for BSkyB.
At Tuesday's Leveson Inquiry hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice, email correspondence between James Murdoch and lobbyist Frederic Michel was read out, showing the level of privileged access that Murdoch's company had to Hunt and others.
Prosecutor Jay read out a series of emails, asking Murdoch to comment, including one that referred to a confidential statement that Hunt was due to read in parliament the following day.
"Mr Michel to you: 'Confidential: JH Statement. Managed to get some info on the plans for tomorrow. (Absolutely illegal),'" Jay read. "What do you make of that?" he asked Murdoch to an audible gasp in the packed courtroom.
Murdoch replied: "I thought it was a joke."
Veteran Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, whom Rupert Murdoch has praised on Twitter, also offered help with the BSkyB bid, the court heard.
Murdoch at first looked nervous, repeatedly clenching and flexing his fists and fiddling with his tie as he waited for Judge Brian Leveson to appear.
He appeared to get more confident as the hearing went on, however, and at times looked impatient with the line of questioning, even rolling his eyes on occasion.
Murdoch, who is deputy chief operating officer of News Corp based in New York, denied he had used the political influence wielded by his father's newspapers, which have destroyed numerous political careers, to steer through the takeover.
He acknowledged he had discussed plans for the takeover with Cameron at a private dinner, but said in general he left politics to his father and Rebekah Brooks, the powerful News of the World editor who resigned last year.
And he again blamed underlings - in particular then-editor Colin Myler who is now at the New York Daily News and lawyer Tom Crone - for failing to alert him to the extent of the wrongdoing when he was chairman of the newspaper's publishing company.
"Knowing what we know now about the culture at the News of the World ... then it must have been cavalier about risk and that is a matter of huge regret," he told the packed court room.
Murdoch said he had not been sufficiently in touch with the culture at the tabloids to question subordinates.
Asked if he even read the News of the World, he said: "I couldn't say I read all of it".
"I wasn't in the business of deciding what to put in the newspapers," he said.
Media consultant Steve Hewlett said: "His lack of engagement with the nuts and bolts of what the business was actually about - i.e. journalism and content - is quite remarkable. I'm not saying it's not genuine but it's quite remarkable."
James Murdoch's brother Lachlan and his wife Kathryn were in court to support James.
Lachlan told Reuters at the end of the day: "I'm no lawyer but I'm very proud of my brother."
(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Drazen Jorgic and Michael Holden; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Rupert Murdoch to Face Inquiry Over Media Influence
Rupert Murdoch makes a keenly anticipated appearance before a high-profile media inquiry on Wednesday to confront charges that he used his powerful stable of British newspapers to influence politicians for the benefit of his business interests.
The 81-year-old mogul - his media empire already under fire from many sides in Britain - will testify before the Leveson inquiry a day after his son James appeared in a highly charged session that revealed how a government minister had advised Murdoch's News Corp in its bid to buy the successful pay-TV group BSkyB last year.
The minister, media secretary Jeremy Hunt, briefed News Corp on the thinking of regulators and leaked confidential information, while at the same time acting for the government in deciding whether to approve the controversial $12 billion Sky deal.
Allegations that the government had sought to help Murdoch in his business dealings go to the heart of the issue in Britain, that Murdoch wields too much influence and that this resulted in a company culture which rode roughshod over rules and regulations.
Prime Minister David Cameron appointed judge Brian Leveson to examine Britain's press standards after journalists at Murdoch's News of the World tabloid admitted hacking into phones on a massive scale to generate exclusives.
The revelations last July convulsed Murdoch's media empire, exposed the close ties between the upper echelons of Britain's establishment and provoked a wave of public anger.
U.S.-based News Corp, owner of Fox Television and the Wall Street Journal, eventually pulled its bid to buy the 61 percent of satellite broadcaster BSkyB that it did not already own amid the intense political and public pressure.
Murdoch is likely to face questions over how the phone hacking came about but he will also face detailed questioning about his relationship with politicians.
LIVING IN FEAR
Murdoch was the first newspaper boss to visit Cameron after he took office in 2010 - entering via the back door - and politicians from all parties have lived in fear for decades of his press and what they might reveal about their personal lives.
Labor politician Chris Bryant, who accepted damages from Murdoch's British newspaper group after the paper admitted hacking his phone, said the media mogul had dominated the political landscape for decades.
"You have only got to watch Rupert Murdoch's staff with him to see how his air of casual violence intimidates people," he told Reuters. "His presence in the British political scene has similarly intimidated people by offering favor to some and fear to all."
Murdoch's influence over prime ministers goes back decades: papers released this year showed that he held a secret meeting with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981 to secure his acquisition of the Times of London.
Tony Blair was godfather to one of Murdoch's daughters, Gordon Brown was a personal friend of the Australian-born businessman and Cameron employed as his personal spokesman a former Murdoch editor who was himself implicated in the hacking scandal.
"Ever since the Sun claimed they won it in 1992 there's been an almost pathological fear of Murdoch's ability to influence an electorate," Liverpool University's political professor Jonathan Tonge told Reuters, in reference to the 1992 election.
"It's hugely unhealthy."
Staff who have worked alongside Murdoch say he is hard to brief for such occasions and Murdoch watchers have been hugely anticipating the hearing at the Victorian gothic courtroom.
During a parliamentary hearing last year, memorable for the actions of a protester who hit Murdoch in the face with a foam pie, he sat alongside James and spoke often in monosyllables but on occasion hit the table with his fist in frustration at the line of questioning.
He will have to face potentially another day and a half of questioning starting on Wednesday from prosecutor Robert Jay, who in the five months of the inquiry so far has shown little deference for the status of those he interrogates.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)
Rupert Murdoch Apologizes Over Hacking Scandal
After a day of testimony at a British judicial inquiry over his ties, friendships and disputes with British politicians, Rupert Murdoch returned to the witness stand on Thursday, saying he apologized for failing to take measures to avert the hacking scandal that has convulsed his media outpost here.
“I also have to say that I failed,” Mr. Murdoch told the so-called Leveson inquiry. “I am very sorry about it.”
He said that he had not paid adequate attention to the newspaper at the center of the scandal, The News of the World tabloid, which Mr. Murdoch closed in July as the affair widened.
“It was an omission by me,” he said, adding that he wished to apologize “to a lot of people, including all the innocent people” at The News of the World, a Sunday tabloid, “who lost their jobs.”
Mr. Murdoch’s appearance offered rare public scrutiny of one of the world’s most powerful media tycoons who is usually shielded from unwelcome attention by his power, influence and wealth. His son James testified at the inquiry for five hours on Tuesday.
Over all, the questioning by the inquiry this week seemed almost deferential and genteel, in contrast to the Murdochs’ appearances before Parliament last year. There, in November, one questioner, Tom Watson, likened James Murdoch to a Mafia boss — a comparison the younger Mr. Murdoch called offensive and untrue. In July, when the two men appeared together at the parliamentary inquiry, a protester hurled a foam pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face.
On Thursday, however, the questioning seemed not to have struck any major target in the elder Mr. Murdoch’s carefully constructed verbal defenses.
And while he called his handling of the crisis a “blot” on his reputation, he seemed to emerge from two days of questioning with no further major blemishes exposed.
Casting himself as a victim, Mr. Murdoch coupled his apology with suggestions that there had been what he called a cover-up “from within The News of the World” to hide the extent of the phone hacking scandal from the owners’ top executives. And, like his son in testimony on Tuesday, he seemed to blame subordinates for not alerting him to the practices being used at the newspaper to secure its scoops.
At times contrite and on a occasionally somewhat testy, Mr. Murdoch became more ruminative and discursive, when he was allowed to dwell at some length on the future of the printed word, pondering not only the destiny of his own newspapers but, as if addressing a seminar rather than an inquiry, also ranging over the broader issue of the future of the press in the digital era.
The day would come, he said, when the news business would be “purely electronic” in five, 10 or 20 years.
He appealed directly to the head of the inquiry, Lord Justice Brian Leveson, to be cautious when contemplating any regulatory measures flowing from the hacking scandal. “The press guarantees democracy, and we want democracy rather than autocracy,” he said.
Referring to events at The News of the World, he described them as “a serious blot on my reputation.”
He said he accepted that “the buck stops with me” in cleaning up his British media outpost and that he had spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort to do so.
“We are now a new company, and we have new rules, new compliance officers,” he said.
Since the scandal erupted last summer, Mr. Murdoch, 81, has been forced to undertake once unthinkable measures, like the closure of The News of the World and the abandonment of a $12 billion satellite television bid by News Corporation, as questions have deepened about the behavior and ethics of journalists, editors and managers working for him.
Asked why he had closed The News of the World, Mr. Murdoch said that disclosures relating to hacking the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a teenager who was abducted and killed in 2002, had caused a wave of public revulsion.
“I panicked,” he said. “But I’m glad I did. I’m sorry I didn’t close it years ago and put a Sunday Sun in.” Since the closure of The News of the World, Mr. Murdoch has introduced a Sunday edition of the daily tabloid, The Sun.
Robert Jay, the government’s lead attorney at the inquiry, pressed Mr. Murdoch over events leading to the withdrawal of a bid aimed at acquiring the 61 percent News Corporation, the Murdoch conglomerate, did not already own in Britain’s largest satellite broadcaster, BSkyB.
Mr. Murdoch said he had delegated responsibility for the BSkyB bid to his son.
Pressed about the negotiations, Rupert Murdoch said he did not believe he had met with Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s culture minister, who was in charge of overseeing the bid. Mr. Hunt is at the center of a political firestorm over covert contacts between his office and Frédéric Michel, a representative of the Murdoch family.
An aide to Mr. Hunt, Adam Smith, resigned on Wednesday, saying in a statement that his contacts with Mr. Michel went too far, but Mr. Hunt has resisted calls from the Labor opposition for his dismissal.
Mr. Murdoch said he did not regard Mr. Hunt as a champion of his bid. “I assumed that any responsible minister would be responsible and deal with it in an unbiased way,” he said.
In addition to the investigations by Parliament and the current inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson, the British police have launched three separate inquiries into hacking of voice mail, e-mail and the alleged bribery of police officers.
So far, the police say they have arrested and questioned 26 people in the investigation into corruption and bribery. Twenty others have been arrested in separate inquiries into phone and computer hacking by journalists at News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corporation, Mr. Murdoch’s global conglomerate, which is based in New York.
The scandal has sent deep shudders through British public life, with politicians of all stripes accused of currying favor with Mr. Murdoch in order to ensure the electoral endorsement and broader support of his newspapers, particularly the mass-circulation Sun.
Those arrested and bailed include Rebekah Brooks, once a high-flying editor and confidante of Rupert Murdoch. She was chief executive of News International before resigning over the scandal.
Another is Andy Coulson, a former editor of The News of the World who became Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief but left his job at the prime minister’s office as the scandal grew.
The Leveson inquiry has been pressing to find out how much Rupert and James Murdoch knew about the hacking and when they found out. After the newspaper’s royal reporter and a private investigator were jailed in early 2007 for hacking into the voice mail of members of the royal family, News International insisted that the practice was limited to what was termed a single “rogue reporter.”
Since then, the police have said they have found thousands of potential cases.
Mr. Murdoch said on Thursday that News Corporation had investigated its global press holdings from Australia to the United States to ensure that phone hacking was limited to its British subsidiary.
“The News of the World was an aberration, and it’s my fault,” he said.
He said News Corporation had examined millions of e-mails and had provided information to the police in Britain which “led to the arrest and terrible distress of a number of families, of journalists who had been with me” for many years.
“It caused me a lot of pain, but we did it,” he said.
Sarah Lyall and Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting.
Opposition Grows to CISPA 'Big Brother' Cybersecurity Bill
CISPA is met with a last-minute wave of opposition, including from Rep. Ron Paul and 18 House Democrats. But it may not be enough to stop the U.S. House of Representatives from approving the bill on Friday.
Last-minute opposition to the CISPA, which has been criticized as a "Big Brother" cybersecurity bill, is growing as the U.S. House of Representatives prepares for a vote this week.
Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican and presidential candidate, warned in a statement and YouTube video today that CISPA represents the "latest assault on Internet freedom." Paul warned that "CISPA is Big Brother writ large," and said that he hopes that "the public responds to CISPA as it did to SOPA back in January."
In addition, 18 Democratic House members signed a letter this afternoon warning that CISPA "does not include necessary safeguards" and that critics have raised "real and serious privacy concerns." The number of people signing an anti-CISPA petition is now at more than 718,000, up about 100,000 from a week ago.
Excerpts from the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a self-protected entity may, for cybersecurity purposes -- (i) use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property of such self-protected entity; and (ii) share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government...
The term 'self-protected entity' means an entity, other than an individual, that provides goods or services for cybersecurity purposes to itself."
CISPA would permit, but not require, Internet companies to hand over confidential customer records and communications to the U.S. National Security Agency and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
It's hardly clear, however, that this wave of opposition will be sufficient.
CISPA -- also known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act -- has 113 congressional sponsors. Instead of dropping off as criticism mounted, which is what happened with the SOPA protests in January, more continue to sign up, with six new sponsors adding themselves in the last week.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said today that he remains confident that the CISPA will be approved this week.
"Chairman Rogers continues to have an open door and continues to work to address privacy concerns as the bill moves toward the floor," a House Intelligence Committee spokesman told CNET this afternoon.
Foes of CISPA are hoping to submit amendments that, they believe, would defang the most objectionable portions.
The House GOP leadership has scheduled a vote on CISPA for this Friday. Proposed amendments to CISPA are required to be submitted to the House Rules committee by 1:30 p.m. PT tomorrow.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat whose district encompasses the heart of Silicon Valley, said today: "I cannot support it in its current form. I made suggestions to improve the bill to safeguard the privacy and due process rights of all Americans." (Lofgren posted a longer list of concerns on her Web site.)
What sparked the privacy worries -- including opposition from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Library Association, the ACLU, and the Republican Liberty Caucus -- is the section of CISPA that says "notwithstanding any other provision of law," companies may share information "with any other entity, including the federal government."
By including the word "notwithstanding," CISPA's drafters intended to make their legislation trump all existing federal and state civil and criminal laws. It would render irrelevant wiretap laws, Web companies' privacy policies, educational record laws, medical privacy laws, and more. (It's so broad that the non-partisan Congressional Research Service once warned that using the term in legislation may "have unforeseen consequences for both existing and future laws.")
A position paper on CISPA from Rogers and Ruppersberger says their bill is necessary to deal with threats from China and Russia and that it "protects privacy by prohibiting the government from requiring private sector entities to provide information." In addition, they stress that "no new authorities are granted to the Department of Defense or the intelligence community to direct private or public sector cybersecurity efforts."
During a town hall meeting that CNET hosted last week in San Francisco, Jamil Jaffer, senior counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, said the protests ignored the fact that the bill was approved by a bipartisan committee majority back in December.
"There's no secret agenda here. It's only 19 pages," Jaffer said. "You don't need to be a lawyer to read this bill."
CISPA Cybersecurity Bill Opposed by Obama Administration
White House official reiterates president's opposition to Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act ahead of vote
A senior Obama administration official has stressed the White House's opposition to a controversial cybersecurity bill ahead of a vote in the House of Representatives later this week.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa) is intended to facilitate sharing of information on online threats across different federal agencies and private companies. It has been criticised by both activists and politicians of both Democrats and Republicans for vague wording and insufficient safeguards.
Ahead of the bill coming in front of the House of Representatives alongside three other cybersecurity bills, Alec Ross, a senior adviser for innovation to Hillary Clinton, reiterated the administration's opposition to the proposals in more explicit language than previous White House statements.
"The Obama administration opposes Cispa," he told the Guardian. "The president has called for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. There is absolutely a need for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation.
"[But] part of what has been communicated to congressional committees is that we want legislation to come with necessary protections for individuals."
Ross refused to be drawn, however, on whether the White House would consider vetoing the bill were it to pass through Congress.
Ross's comments came as Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul set out his own strident opposition to Cispa.
"Cispa permits both the federal government and private companies to view your private online communications without judicial oversight provided that they do so of course in the name of cybersecurity," he said on Monday.
"Simply put, Cispa encourages some of our most successful internet companies to act as government spies, sowing distrust of social media and chilling communications in one segment of the world economy where Americans still lead."
The open internet group EFF has warned that Cispa's broad wording could class many routine internet activities, such as using encryption on emails or enabling anonymity using a service called TOR, as potential threats. The act could also indemnify companies acting for security purposes from civil and criminal liability, including violating a user's privacy, provided these were not intentional, the group warned.
Despite the opposition, Mike Rogers, the chairman of the house intelligence committee and primary sponsor of the bill, remains confident it will be passed by the House of Representatives this week.
"I feel pretty confident that we'll close out the bill," he told the Talking Points Memo blog on Monday. Rogers also reportedly told the site he was not aware of a final stance from the Obama administration regarding his bill, and said he had met with some advocacy groups and modified Cispa as a result.
"There's some people who aren't interested in having any bill happen," Rogers told TPM. "But we've had an open and transparent dialogue with everyone who has chosen to engage with us, and there's been major progress made. This has always been a collaborative effort."
Three other cybersecurity-related bills are passing through the house this week – the Data act, which creates more oversight on security of federal computer systems and data; the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, aimed at targeting federal cybersecurity research, and a third computer research and design bill.
House to Amend Cybersecurity Bill, Privacy Group Sees 'Good Progress'
The authors of a House cybersecurity bill said Tuesday they will offer several amendments to address the concerns of privacy groups.
After the announcement of changes by authors Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), one of the leading groups campaigning against the bill, said it still has concerns but will "not oppose the process moving forward in the House."
"In sum, good progress has been made," CDT said in a statement. "The committee listened to our concerns and has made important privacy improvements and we applaud the committee for doing so."
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is expected to pass the House later this week.
The goal of CISPA is to help companies beef up their defenses against hackers who steal business secrets, rob customers' financial information and wreak havoc on computer systems. The bill would tear down legal barriers that discourage companies from sharing information about cyber threats.
But civil liberties groups warned the measure would encourage companies to hand over private information to government spy agencies.
Rogers and Ruppersberger said lawmakers will offer amendments on the floor later this week to address the concerns of the privacy groups.
One amendment would tighten limitations on how the government can use the information it collects. The government would only be able to use the information to protect against a cyber attack, investigate cyber crime, protect national security, protect against theft or bodily harm or to protect minors from child pornography.
CDT argued that the bill should be further amended to only allow the information to be used for cybersecurity purposes.
The amendments would also narrow the definition of "cyber threat information" and would bar the federal government from retaining or using information beyond the explicit purposes of the bill. Another amendment would restrict the scope of the liability protections for companies that turn over data to the government.
The changes address many of the core concerns of privacy groups, but notably would not prevent spy agencies, such as the National Security Agency (NSA) or the CIA from accessing the information. The privacy groups argue that a domestic agency, such as the Homeland Security Department, would be a more appropriate body to handle the personal information.
CDT said the bill still "falls short" because of the "flow of internet data directly to the NSA and the use of information for purposes unrelated to cybersecurity."
"Recognizing the importance of the cybersecurity issue, in deference to the good faith efforts made by Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger, and on the understanding that amendments will be considered by the House to address our concerns, we will not oppose the process moving forward in the House. We will focus on the amendments and subsequently on the Senate," the group said.
Officials from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have also been campaigning against the bill, said they would need to take a close look at the amendments before they could comment.
"I am very pleased with where the bill stands today," Rogers said in a statement. "Our bill is designed to help protect American companies from advanced foreign cyber threats, like those posed by the Chinese government. It has always been my desire to do that in manner that doesn’t sacrifice the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, and I am confident that we have achieved that goal."
House Votes to Approve Disputed CISPA Hacking Bill
Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the House on Thursday passed a bill that encourages intelligence agencies and businesses to share information about threats to computer systems, including attacks on American Web sites by hackers in China and other countries.
The vote was 248 to 168, as 42 Democrats joined 206 Republicans in backing the bill. The “no” votes were cast by 140 Democrats and 28 Republicans, including a number who described the measure as a potential threat to privacy and civil liberties.
Under the bill, the federal government can share classified information with private companies to help them protect their computer networks. Companies, in turn, could voluntarily share information about cyberthreats with the government and would generally be protected against lawsuits for doing so if they acted in good faith.
The White House opposed the bill, saying it could “undermine the public’s trust in the government as well as in the Internet by undermining fundamental privacy, confidentiality, civil liberties and consumer protections.”
In addition, the White House said the government should set “minimum cybersecurity performance standards” for the private sector — an approach resisted by House Republican leaders.
“The White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards and government ought to take care of everything that’s needed for cybersecurity,” said Speaker John A. Boehner. “They’re in a camp all by themselves.”
“We can’t have the government in charge of our Internet,” Mr. Boehner added.
The Senate is working on a more comprehensive bipartisan bill that directs the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to issue regulations to protect “critical infrastructure,” including the electric power grid, water and sewer systems, transportation hubs and financial service networks.
In confidential briefings on Capitol Hill, administration officials have expressed alarm about the damage that could be done by malicious attacks on computer systems and networks that have become an indispensable part of everyday life. Supporters of the bill said China was stealing jobs by pilfering proprietary information and valuable trade secrets stored in American computers.
The House bill was written by Representatives Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House intelligence committee, and C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the panel.
They accepted many amendments to protect privacy, but not enough to satisfy advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or the Center for Democracy and Technology. The civil liberties union criticized the bill as “a privacy disaster.”
However, Mr. Rogers said the sharing of information with the government was “all voluntary,” and he added, “There is no government surveillance, none, not any in this bill.”
The bill says that “cyber threat information” shared with the federal government by the private sector can be used for five purposes: to protect computer systems; to investigate cybersecurity crimes; to protect people from “serious bodily harm”; to protect “the national security of the United States”; and to prevent the sexual exploitation or kidnapping of children.
Some members of both parties said they worried that the bill could lead to violations of privacy.
“We do have a real cyberthreat in this country, and this bill is an honest attempt to deal with it,” said Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, who voted against the legislation.
“But the absence of explicit privacy protections for individuals is, to me, a greater threat to democracy and liberty than the cyberthreats that face America.”
The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, said, “The threat of cyberattack is a real one, but the response must balance freedom and security.”
How CISPA Would Affect You (faq)
CISPA may have cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, but the fight isn't over. It's shifted to the U.S. Senate. Here's CNET's FAQ on what you need to know about this particularly controversial Internet bill.
It took a debate that stretched to nearly seven hours, and votes on over a dozen amendments, but the U.S. House of Representatives finally approved the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act on April 26.
Passions flared on both sides before the final vote on CISPA, which cleared the House by a comfortable margin of 248 to 168.
CISPA would "waive every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity," Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and onetime Web entrepreneur, said during the debate. "Allowing the military and NSA to spy on Americans on American soil goes against every principle this country was founded on."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and author of CISPA, responded by telling his colleagues to ignore "all the things they're saying about the bill that are not true." He pleaded: "Stand for America! Support this bill!"
While CISPA initially wasn't an especially partisan bill -- it cleared the House Intelligence Committee by a vote of 17 to 1 last December -- it gradually moved in that direction. The final tally was 206 Republicans voting for it, and 28 opposed. Of the Democrats, 42 voted for CISPA and 140 were opposed. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said afterward on Twitter that CISPA "didn't strike the right balance" and Republicans "didn't allow amendments to strengthen privacy protections."
The ACLU, on the other hand, told CNET that the amendments -- even if they had been allowed -- would not have been effective. "They just put the veneer of privacy protections on the bill, and will garner more support for the bill even without making substantial changes," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the ACLU.
Q: What happens next?
CISPA heads to the the Senate, where related cybersecurity legislation has been stalled for years. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, has said he'd like to move forward with cybersecurity legislation in May. Its outlook is uncertain.
Senate Democrats may be less likely than House Republicans to advance CISPA after the White House's veto threat on April 25. The administration said CISPA "effectively treats domestic cybersecurity as an intelligence activity and thus, significantly departs from longstanding efforts to treat the Internet and cyberspace as civilian spheres."
Excerpts from the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a self-protected entity may, for cybersecurity purposes -- (i) use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property of such self-protected entity; and (ii) share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government...
The term 'self-protected entity' means an entity, other than an individual, that provides goods or services for cybersecurity purposes to itself."
CISPA's opponents are already rallying Americans to contact their senators to oppose CISPA. Demand Progress has created a petition. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it "vows to continue the fight in the Senate."
Q: What does CISPA do? Let the National Security Agency spy on Americans?
CISPA wouldn't formally grant the NSA or Homeland Security any additional surveillance authority. (A proposed amendment that would have done so was withdrawn on April 26.)
But it would usher in a new era of information sharing between companies and government agencies -- with limited oversight and privacy safeguards. The House Rules committee on April 25 rejected a series of modestly pro-privacy amendments, which led a coalition of civil-liberties groups to complain that "amendments that are imperative won't even be considered" in a letter the following day.
Q: Who opposes CISPA?
Advocacy groups, including the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and the libertarian-leaning TechFreedom, launched a "Stop Cyber Spying" campaign in mid-April -- complete with a write-your-congresscritter-via-Twitter app -- and the bill has drawn the ire of Anonymous.
A letter from two dozen organizations, including the Republican Liberty Caucus, urges a "no" vote on CISPA, and over 750,000 people have signed an anti-CISPA Web petition. Free-market and libertarian groups have opposed it. The Center for Democracy and Technology flip-flopped twice on CISPA as the result of a short-lived deal with the bill's authors not to criticize it.
Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican and presidential candidate, warned on April 23 that CISPA represents the "latest assault on Internet freedom" and was "Big Brother writ large." And 18 Democratic House members signed a letter the same day warning that CISPA "does not include necessary safeguards" and that critics have raised "real and serious privacy concerns."
Q: Why is CISPA so controversial?
What sparked significant privacy worries is the section of CISPA that says "notwithstanding any other provision of law," companies may share information "with any other entity, including the federal government." It doesn't, however, require them to do so.
By including the word "notwithstanding," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) intended to make CISPA trump all existing federal and state civil and criminal laws. (It's so broad that the non-partisan Congressional Research Service once warned that using the term in legislation may "have unforeseen consequences for both existing and future laws.")
"Notwithstanding" would trump wiretap laws, Web companies' privacy policies, gun laws, educational record laws, census data, medical records, and other statutes that protect information, warns the ACLU's Richardson: "For cybersecurity purposes, all of those entities can turn over that information to the federal government."
If CISPA were enacted, "part of the problem is we don't know exactly what's going to happen," says Lee Tien, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sued AT&T over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. "I worry that you can get a version of cybersecurity warrantless wiretapping out of this."
CISPA's authorization for information sharing extends far beyond Web companies and social networks. It would also apply to Internet service providers, including ones that already have an intimate relationship with Washington officialdom. Large companies including AT&T and Verizon handed billions of customer records to the NSA; only Qwest refused to participate. Verizon turned over customer data to the FBI without court orders. An AT&T whistleblower accused the company of illegally opening its network to the NSA, a practice that the U.S. Congress retroactively made legal in 2008.
Q: Are there other examples of this public-private cooperation for eavesdropping?
Louis Tordella, the longest-serving deputy director of the NSA, acknowledged overseeing a similar project to intercept telegrams as recently as the 1970s. It relied on the major telegraph companies including Western Union secretly turning over copies of all messages sent to or from the United States. "All of the big international carriers were involved, but none of 'em ever got a nickel for what they did," Tordella said before his death in 1996, according to a history written by L. Britt Snider, a Senate aide who became the CIA's inspector general.
The telegraph interception operation was called Project Shamrock. It involved a courier making daily trips from the NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., to New York to retrieve digital copies of the telegrams on magnetic tape.
President Richard Nixon, plagued by anti-Vietnam protests and worried about foreign influence, ordered that Project Shamrock's electronic ear be turned inward to eavesdrop on American citizens. In 1969, Nixon met with the heads of the NSA, CIA and FBI and authorized an intercept program. Nixon later withdrew the formal authorization, but informally, police and intelligence agencies kept adding names to the watch list. At its peak, 600 American citizens appeared on the list, including singer Joan Baez, pediatrician Benjamin Spock, actress Jane Fonda and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
This apparently has continued. In his 2006 book titled "State of War," New York Times reporter James Risen wrote: "The NSA has extremely close relationships with both the telecommunications and computer industries, according to several government officials. Only a very few top executives in each corporation are aware of such relationships."
In a recent Wired article, author James Bamford described how the NSA is currently building the nation's biggest spy center, a $2 billion facility in the Utah desert. Bamford quoted William Binney, a former NSA official, as saying the NSA's backdoor into the U.S. telecommunications network goes far beyond AT&T's facility on Second Street in San Francisco. "I think there's 10 to 20 of them," Binney said. "That's not just San Francisco; they have them in the middle of the country and also on the East Coast."
Q: Would CISPA allow companies to violate their terms of service by turning over information to the Feds without a search warrant?
Yes. Though to be clear: if you trust your Internet provider, e-mail provider, and so on, to protect your privacy, CISPA should not be a worrisome bill. The U.S. government can't force companies to open their databases and networks; federal agencies can only request it. But as the warrantless wiretapping debate shows, the private sector may acquiesce.
One reason CISPA would be useful for government eavesdroppers is that, under existing federal law, any person or company who helps someone "intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication"--unless specifically authorized by law--could face criminal charges. CISPA would trump all other laws.
Q: What's the argument for enacting it?
A position paper on CISPA from Reps. Rogers and Ruppersberger says their bill is necessary to deal with threats from China and Russia and that it "protects privacy by prohibiting the government from requiring private sector entities to provide information." In addition, they stress that "no new authorities are granted to the Department of Defense or the intelligence community to direct private or public sector cybersecurity efforts."
During the April 26 floor debate, Rogers said:
In just the last few years, nation states like China have stolen enough intellectual property from just defense contractors, that would be equivalent to 50 times the print collection of the US Library of Congress. We have nation states who are literally stealing jobs and our future. We also have countries that are engaged in activities and have capabilities that have the ability to break networks, computer networks. Which means you can't just reboot. It means your system is literally broken. Those kinds of disruptions can be catastrophic when you think about the financial sector, or the energy sector, or our command and control elements for all our national security apparatus.
You know, without our ideas, without our innovation that countries like China are stealing every single day; we will cease to be a great nation. They are slowly and silently and quickly stealing the value and prosperity of America. One credit card company said that they get attacked for your personal information 300,000 times a day, one company.
Q: What industry groups support CISPA?
One of the biggest differences between CISPA and its Stop Online Piracy Act predecessor is that the Web blocking bill was defeated by a broad alliance of Internet companies and millions of peeved users. Not CISPA: the House Intelligence committee proudly lists letters of support from Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, and trade association CTIA, which counts representatives of T-Mobile, Sybase, Nokia, and Qualcomm as board members.
In February, Facebook VP Joel Kaplan wrote an enthusiastic letter to Rogers and Ruppersberger to "commend" them on CISPA, which he said "removes burdensome rules that currently can inhibit protection of the cyber ecosystem."
By mid-April, however, Facebook had been forced on the defensive, with Kaplan now assuring users that his employer has "no intention" of sharing users' personal data with the Feds and that section is "unrelated to the things we liked" about CISPA in the first place. (A Demand Progress campaign says: "Internet users were able to push GoDaddy to withdraw its support of SOPA. Now it's time to make sure Facebook knows we're furious.")
Q: Was CISPA rushed through the House?
Not really. It was introduced in late November 2011 and approved by the House Intelligence Committee a few weeks later. So the public had approximately five months to review the bill before the April 26 House floor vote.
On the other hand, CIPSA did move relatively swiftly through the legislative process, and the House Republican leadership moved up the floor vote by one day at the last moment.
During a town hall that CNET hosted on April 19 in San Francisco, a House Intelligence aide argued that it was a deliberative process. CISPA opponents say the measure is being "rushed through," said senior counsel Jamil Jaffer. "I can't disagree with that more."
Q: Is CISPA worse than SOPA?
For all its flaws, SOPA targeted primarily overseas Web sites, not domestic ones. It would have allowed the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against the targeted offshore Web site that would, in turn, be served on Internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear.
It was kind of an Internet death penalty targeting Web sites like ThePirateBay.org, not sites like YouTube.com, which are already subject to U.S. law.
CISPA, by contrast, would allow Americans' personal information to be vacuumed up by government agencies for cybersecurity and law enforcement purposes, as long as Internet and telecommunications companies agreed. In that respect, at least, its impact is broader.
Microsoft Backs Away from CISPA Support, Citing Privacy
Microsoft has been counted as a supporter of CISPA since the beginning. Now the company tells CNET any new law must allow "us to honor the privacy and security promises we make to our customers" and protect "consumer privacy."
Microsoft is no longer as enthusiastic about a controversial cybersecurity bill that would allow Internet and telecommunications companies to divulge confidential customer information to the National Security Agency.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved CISPA by a 248 to 168 margin yesterday in spite of a presidential veto threat and warnings from some House members that the measure represented "Big Brother writ large." (See CNET's CISPA FAQ.)
In response to queries from CNET, Microsoft, which has long been viewed as a supporter of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, said this evening that any law must allow "us to honor the privacy and security promises we make to our customers."
Microsoft added that it wants to "ensure the final legislation helps to tackle the real threat of cybercrime while protecting consumer privacy."
That's a noticeable change -- albeit not a complete reversal -- from Microsoft's position when CISPA was introduced in November 2011.
In a statement at the time, Microsoft vice president for government affairs Fred Humphries didn't mention privacy. Instead, Humphries said he wanted to "commend" CISPA's sponsors and "Microsoft applauds their leadership." He added: "This bill is an important first step towards addressing significant problems in cyber security."
That wasn't exactly an full-throated endorsement of CISPA, but it was enough for the bill's author, House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), to list Microsoft as a "supporter" on the committee's Web site.
Excerpts from the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a self-protected entity may, for cybersecurity purposes -- (i) use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property of such self-protected entity; and (ii) share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government...
The term 'self-protected entity' means an entity, other than an individual, that provides goods or services for cybersecurity purposes to itself."
And it was also enough for news organizations, including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, to list Microsoft as having an unqualified pro-CISPA stand.
To be sure, Microsoft's initial reaction to CISPA came before many of the privacy concerns had been raised. An anti-CISPA coalition letter wasn't sent out until April 16, and a petition that garnered nearly 800,000 signatures wasn't set up until April 5.
What makes CISPA so controversial is a section saying that, "notwithstanding any other provision of law," companies may share information with Homeland Security, the IRS, the NSA, or other agencies. By including the word "notwithstanding," CISPA's drafters intended to make their legislation trump all existing federal and state laws, including ones dealing with wiretaps, educational records, medical privacy, and more.
CISPA would "waive every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity," Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and onetime Web entrepreneur, said during yesterday's floor debate. Its sponsors, on the other hand, say it's necessary to allow the NSA and Homeland Security to share cybersecurity threat information with the private sector.
What Microsoft appears to favor is a Senate bill introduced in February called the Cybersecurity Act.
At a Senate hearing in February, Microsoft vice president Scott Charney was more effusive about the Cybersecurity Act than his colleague was about CISPA three months earlier. The Senate bill provides "an appropriate framework to improve the security of government and critical infrastructure systems," one which will be "flexible enough to permit future improvements to security" over time, Charney said.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been active in an anti-CISPA coalition, welcomed Microsoft's new statement.
"We're excited to hear that Microsoft has acknowledged the serious privacy faults in CISPA," said Dan Auerbach, EFF staff technologist. "We hope that other companies will realize this is bad for users and also bad for companies who may be coerced into sharing information with the government."
Here's the full text of what a Microsoft spokesman sent CNET this evening:
Microsoft has previously stated support for efforts to improve cyber security, and sharing threat information is an important component of those efforts. Improvements to the way this information is shared would help companies better protect customers, and online services in the United States and around the world from criminal attack. Microsoft believes that any proposed legislation should facilitate the voluntary sharing of cyber threat information in a manner that allows us to honor the privacy and security promises we make to our customers.
Legislation passed by the House of Representatives yesterday is a first step in this legislative process. Since November, there has been active, constructive dialogue to identify and address concerns about the House bill, and several important changes were incorporated. We look forward to continuing to work with members of Congress, consumer groups, the civil liberties community and industry colleagues as the debate moves to the Senate to ensure the final legislation helps to tackle the real threat of cybercrime while protecting consumer privacy.
ACTA 'Highly Intrusive' to Individuals, Says European Data Protection Supervisor
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has given an opinion in his official capacity on ACTA, an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement which has been criticized for its potential to invade an individual's privacy. ACTA is an international treaty that has been signed by, among others, the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and 22 of the 27 EU member states. It's concerned with stemming the flow of illegal goods, both tangible and digital, between nations. The EDPS, an independent supervisory authority tasked with protecting the data and privacy of EU citizens, first raised his doubts over the legality of the agreement back in February 2010, long before the full proposal was made public. Assistant EDPS Giovanni Buttarelli has now written a 20-page recommendation which will be taken into consideration by the European Court of Justice when it rules on whether or not ACTA can be adopted by EU countries.
"ACTA's "measures are highly intrusive to the private sphere of individuals.""
While the EDPS acknowledges the need for a bill like ACTA, he concludes that there's a balance that must be struck between the protection of intellectual property and the right to privacy, which the treaty fails to attain in its current state. He says that ACTA would involve "the monitoring of user's behavior and of their electronic communications on the internet." In his opinion, the measures would be "highly intrusive to the private sphere of individuals and, if not implemented properly, may therefore interfere with their rights and freedoms." While the words are encouraging to those that appose the treaty, the EDPS isn't recommending that it be scrapped entirely, but rather reworded, clarified, and refocused on preventing piracy on a commercial scale.
In a press release accompanying the opinion the Assistant EDPS states:
"While more international cooperation is needed for the enforcement of IP rights, the means envisaged must not come at the expense of the fundamental rights of individuals. A right balance between the fight against IP infringements and the rights to privacy and data protection must be respected. It appears that ACTA has not been fully successful in this respect."
State Threatens to Shut Down Nutrition Blogger
Nutrition board says he needs a license to advocate dietary approaches
The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.
Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”
Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.
When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.
But this past January the state diatetics and nutrition board decided Cooksey’s blog — Diabetes-Warrior.net — violated state law. The nutritional advice Cooksey provides on the site amounts to “practicing nutrition,” the board’s director says, and in North Carolina that’s something you need a license to do.
Unless Cooksey completely rewrites his 3-year-old blog, he could be sued by the licensing board. If he loses the lawsuit and refuses to take down the blog, he could face up to 120 days in jail.
The board’s director says Cooksey has a First Amendment right to blog about his diet, but he can’t encourage others to adopt it unless the state has certified him as a dietitian or nutritionist.
Jan. 12, Cooksey attended a nutrition seminar at a church in Charlotte. The speaker was the director of diabetes services for a local hospital.
“She was giving all the wrong information, just like everyone always does — carbs are OK to eat, we must eat carbs to live, promoting low-fat, etc.,” Cooksey said. “So I spoke up.”
After the meeting he handed out a couple of business cards pointing people to his website.
Three days later, he got a call from the director of the nutrition board.
“Basically, she told me I could not give out nutritional advice without a license,” Cooksey said.
He said she also told him that his website was being investigated and gave him some suggestions about how to bring it into compliance.
If he does not go along, the board could file an injunction and “essentially shut the website down,” Cooksey said.
Charla Burill, the board’s director, told Carolina Journal she could not discuss the details of Cooksey’s case because his website is still under investigation, but agreed to talk about the law in the hypothetical.
It’s not necessarily against the law to give your sister or your friend nutritional advice, she said. And it’s not necessarily against the law to use a blog to tell people what they should eat.
Where it crosses the line, Burill said, is when a blogger “advertises himself as an expert” and “takes information from someone such that he’s performing some sort of assessment and then giving it back with some sort of plan or diet.”
Cooksey posted a link to the board’s review of his website. The document shows several Web pages the board took issue with, including a question-and-answer page, which the director had marked in red ink noting the places he was “assessing and counseling” readers of his blog.
“If people are writing you with diabetic specific questions and you are responding, you are no longer just providing information — you are counseling,” she wrote. “You need a license to provide this service."
The board also found fault with a page titled “My Meal Plan,” where Cooksey details what he eats daily.
In red, Burril writes, “It is acceptable to provide just this information [his meal plan], but when you start recommending it directly to people you speak to or who write you, you are now providing diabetic counseling, which requires a license.”
The board also directed Cooksey to remove a link offering one-on-one support, a personal-training type of service he offered for a small fee.
Cooksey posts the following disclaimer at the bottom of every page on his website:
“I am not a doctor, dietitian, nor nutritionist … in fact I have no medical training of any kind.”
In fact, he brags about his lack of formal training throughout his blog.
“It’s so simple,” he told CJ. “I cut carbs, I reduced my drugs and insulin until I didn’t need them at all. If I can figure that out, why in the hell can’t all these other people [in the medical field]?”
Burill said the disclaimer may not protect a nutrition blogger from the law.
“If I’ve given you reason to not worry that I don’t have a license because I have all these other reasons I’m an expert, you could still harm the public,” she said. “At least you’re not trying to mislead the public, but you’re trying to get the public to trust you.”
It’s a fine line between what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to talking about nutrition.
“Anyone can talk about anything they want,” Burill said. “That’s a First Amendment right, so to speak.”
For example, a person could write a blog advocating vegetarianism, she said.
“Now if you advertised that you’d taken classes in nutrition, you’ve worked at [the federal government’s Food and Nutrition Service] for three years, and you say ‘I believe everyone should be a vegetarian, and I’m here to help you if you want to change your diet’ [that could be crossing the line],” Burill said.
“A vegetarian diet would be a little bit harder [to prosecute] because a vegetarian is not really like a medical diet.”
Burill said if Cooksey refuses to come into compliance with the law, the board could file for an injunction.
Declan McCullagh, a CBSNews.com correspondent who writes about online free speech, says the board probably is violating Cooksey’s First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment says state and federal governments ‘shall make no law’ abridging freedom of speech,” McCullagh said. “It doesn't say ‘except for what annoys the North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition.’”
McCullagh pointed to a sentence in Cooksey’s blog the board didn’t approve of: “I do suggest that your friend eat as I do and exercise the best they can.”
“If that language appeared in a book or a magazine article, do you think the board would complain?” McCullagh asked. “How about if someone said that to a friend over dinner at a restaurant? Of course not. But because it's on the Web, they seem to think that the First Amendment no longer applies.”
McCullagh said the board may be on more solid ground in its complaint about the telephone support packages Cooksey offers. “But … if customers are paying $97 or $149 or $197 a month to have someone listen, that sounds a lot like life coaching, which doesn't require a license.”
“In general, I think that as long as someone is very clear that they're not a licensed dietician, state officials can probably find better uses of their time,” he said.
Cooksey said the board both has violated his freedom of speech and done a disservice to the people of North Carolina. He said all he’s trying to do with his blog is provide an alternative to the nutritional advice pushed by mainstream sources on what they say people should be eating.
Cooksey said he’s seeking legal assistance in case the state decides to take further action against him.
Baked Again in Alaska: Yet Another Election Crashes and Burns in The Last Frontier
Municipal election officials see no problems despite unexplained ballot shortages, broken op-scan seals and a 25-point swing that 'defeats' an LGBT anti-discrimination ballot measure...
I know I shouldn't be, but I'm still amazed at the absolute cluelessness of far too many election officials. Yes, some of them are great, know exactly what they're talking about, and realize that the electronic voting systems we use in this nation --- every single one of them --- are complete garbage.
Last month, we reported on a recent Palm Beach County, FL, election in which the paper-ballot optical-scan system declared several losing candidates as the "winners." Thanks to the diligence the Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher --- who told me when we spoke, "I don't want you to have to trust your election officials. I think your election officials have to prove it." --- the software failure on the Sequoia Voting Systems tabulator was discovered and the correct winners of the election were ultimately discovered via a 100% hand-count instead, weeks after the election.
Also last month, we highlighted two great election officials in Columbia County, NY where both the Democratic and Republican Election Commissioners are smart enough to refuse to rely on the electronic optical-scanners made by Dominion Voting that were forced on them by the state. They choose, instead, to count 100% of their paper ballots by hand.
"Since I, as election commissioner, have to certify to the accuracy of any election run under my watch, that steers me in the direction of a more elemental process --- a hand count under the watchful gaze of individuals who are invested in its accuracy," Democratic Commissioner Virginia Martin wrote in her must-read 2010 op-ed, explaining her refusal to rely on computer tabulated elections. The Republican Commissioner, Jason Nastke, agrees with his counterpart. "The most accurate and reliable method is a 100% visual audit," he told The Columbia Paper, "The machines are not completely reliable."
Late last year The BRAD BLOG reported in detail on the Interim Board of Elections (two Republicans, one Democrat) in Venango County, PA, who bucked their own County Commissioners and legal threats from ES&S, the nation's largest e-voting company, to have their 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems independently investigated after failures in several recent elections. The forensic study found the central tabulator had been "remotely accessed" by someone on "multiple occasions," including for 80 minutes on the night before the 2010 general election. As thanks, the commissioners were pushed out of their jobs before the investigation was completed. Asked why the County Commissioners and ES&S were so opposed to an independent forensic analysis by two Carnegie-Mellon computer scientists, the Republican Director of the Board, Craig Adams told me: "They know there's something wrong."
Those are just a few of the many great election officials I've had the pleasure of reporting on over the years, and the voters of their respective counties are very lucky to be served by them.
WLAN Backdoor in Telecom Routers Update
For each copy of the telecom router Speedport W 921V WLAN is secured from the factory by an individual WPA2 key. And of the two methods for easy access by clients, according to configuration only "WPS push button" active, the uncertain WPS PIN is disabled. But the mistaken impression of reasonable protection from unwanted co-surfers.
Contrary to the settings displayed the WLAN is accessible at all times with WPS via PIN. And even worse: An intruder must not make the effort to crack the PIN, because the same works for all W921V trivial PIN - even if the registered owner to another router.
An attacker who has the default PIN on the Internet and has a little technical experience comes so easily to the WLAN The Speedport W 921 V for which the owner is doubly bad: Often, the local network is not secured additional support so that private data are open. And if the burglar abusing the Internet for dubious activities, falls, according to the Supreme Court ruling back to the port owner.
At a superficial examination one notices not the back door. Because the Windows 7 built-in WPS client provides the user with the only safe method WPS PBC (Push Button Configuration) too, if the router is set in the Sun But for many wireless adapters there are manufacturers tools with which one can try WPS PIN with the default PIN, although the base station does not offer it. Then forwarded to the Speedport W 921V WLAN password immediately, leaving the client to the LAN. For this slump so no hacker tools or waiting periods are required to crack a key.
When tested in the newsroom, both currently in the unit shipped firmware version 1.08.000 proved to be vulnerable as well as the latest update to 1.16.000. Whether other port speed models are affected is not yet clear. Update: More Speed affected port models .
The only remedy: WLAN off
Since the router is not in changing the WPS configuration Behind this door closes, currently is only one thing: turn off the wireless altogether.
It also advised on the telecom demand from heise networks. It was on Monday became aware through a forum post on the issue. Currently they are working together with the supplier "high pressure" on a solution. In addition, a telecom laboratory Speedport all models check for similar errors.
Telekom plans to notify customers by Speedport great information on its website about the problem. In addition, we will inform all T-points, hotlines and trading partners who have the affected routers currently in the program.
According to estimates by industry insiders, Telekom has so far sold some 100,000 of the 200 € expensive equipment. They come from a supplier Arcadyan, which is already frequently noticed by serious security flaws in its products:
• Default WPA passphrase in EasyBox routers predictable
• WPA Key of Speedport routers simply
• Swisscom router to open
• Telecommunications router to open
Android Apps Get Hit with the Evil Twin Routine: Part 1
When pop icon Björk, in an interview with the press, invited hackers and pirates to adapt her app from iOS to other platforms, it seems that some people who rose to the call had a hidden agenda in mind: to distribute malware. The evil twin routine, where an author creates a malicious doppelganger or pirated version of a popular app, seems to be the in vogue scam of late when it comes to malware for Android.
Last week, authors in Eastern Europe were targeting the Instagram and Angry Birds fanbase with a fake apps (detected by Symantec as Android.Opfake) which resulted in premium SMS text charges. The authors even went to the extent of creating a dummy site to make the scam appear more authentic. This week, Symantec has identified another social engineering scam which attempts to get people to download malware from third-party Android sites by passing itself off as part of the popular Biophilla app.
The app itself comes in two parts: the front-end, which has the ability to stream songs, and a background service with the name ‘Market’. Upon examination of the background service (designed to activate every time the phone starts) it appears to belong to the Android.Golddream family of threats. The authors of this family of threats are known to target third-party apps with malicious versions of popular apps, drawing revenue from premium SMS scams.
In Part 2, I will take a closer look at the inner workings of this Trojan and steps users can take to avoid running into the evil twin routine by looking for a few simple things to help spot fake apps online.
Credit Card 'Info for Sale' Websites Closed in Global Raids
Dozens of websites offering credit card details and other private information for sale have been taken down in a global police operation.
Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) says raids in Australia, Europe, the UK and US are the culmination of two years of work.
Credit card numbers or bank account details of millions of unsuspecting victims were sold for as little as £2.
Two Britons and a man from Macedonia were arrested, with 36 sites shut down.
Some of the websites have been under observation for two years.
During that period the details of about two-and-a-half million credit cards were recovered - preventing fraud, according to industry calculations, of at least £0.5bn.
Lee Miles, the head of Soca's cyber crime unit, told the BBC that criminals were now selling personal data on an "industrial" scale.
Police fighting cyber crime can find themselves battling not just the criminals but also, on occasion, the internet service providers.
Not surprisingly, criminal gangs try to recruit the smartest hackers or code-writers to both steal data from unsuspecting internet users, and make their own websites as secure and hard to trace as possible.
But many senior figures at the big internet service providers and domain name registration companies are traditionally anti-establishment and can be suspicious of police interference. They are often reluctant to agree to anything that could be perceived as curtailing the freedom of the web, such as preventing anonymous domain registrations.
Soca officers and their counterparts at Interpol, the FBI and at other law enforcement agencies around the world, say they have been working hard to "influence" the industry, and they are hoping that those efforts will lead to changes that could make their job easier in future.
Without the help of the industry, or a massive investment in law enforcement, it will be increasingly hard to keep track of the millions of items of illegal data being traded in cyberspace.
He said: "Criminals are turning over vast volumes of these cards. We must match the criminals - it's an arms race.
"They are industrialising their processes and likewise we have to industrialise our processes to match them."
Mr Miles said traditional "bedroom" hackers were being recruited by criminal gangs to write the malware or "phishing" software that steals personal information.
Other IT experts are used to write the computer code that enables the websites to cope, automatically, with selling the huge amounts of data.
"I'd rather arrest 10 code writers than 1,000 front-end fraudsters," he said.
Joint operations on Thursday in Australia, the US, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Romania and Macedonia led to the websites being closed down.
A 23-year-old man in Stechford, Birmingham, and a 27-year-old man in Tottenham, north London, have been arrested, along with the man in Macedonia.
More arrests are expected.
Soca is also calling on internet service providers to stop individuals registering websites anonymously.
Automated computer programs can register thousands of similar, but different domain names, and it can be difficult to trace them back to their owner.
"Where individuals register domain names for criminal purposes there is a very loose 'know your customer' regime among the website providers," Mr Miles said.
"What we are trying to do is influence the industry to introduce more secure systems so they do know who is registering these sites and they have a more comprehensive customer database, and do more aimed at preventing criminals buying websites and using them for criminal ends," he added.
The BBC's Ben Ando said that, privately, officers admitted that it could be frustrating dealing with internet companies who were not used to being policed and were reluctant to agree to anything that they perceived to be an infringement of their freedoms.
"The Hidden Side of Your Soul": How the FBI Uses the Web as a Child Porn Honeypot
The e-mail arrived in James Charles Cafferty's inbox on July 14, 2011. Unlike most unsolicited e-mail on the Internet, the message did not pitch mortgages, get rich quick scams, or penis pills. Instead, it provided a link to an under-the-radar child pornography website and the password needed to access it. Cafferty, a diplomatic security officer working for the US government at its London embassy, waited for three days, then clicked on the link. This is what he saw:
"Welcome to the hidden side of yur soul, where you view the yung and innocent. We have been around since 2002, offering the best of private and series Child Pornography (CP), (hardcore/soft core) all for FREE! All you have to do, enter in the password, and you'll be viewing free CP for days. We move around when we have to... congratulations for finding us. Yur old password won't work, so get the new one and you are IN!!!"
The e-mail picked its target well; Cafferty did have a hidden side of his soul. An online dating profile he created at the site Plenty of Fish said that he was looking for "a relationship with someone who can enjoy the 'simple' things of life such as walking in the park, enjoying a nice sunset, engaging in good conversation or go people watching at a café." But he also craved child pornography. Cafferty owned a Drobo backup device that he stuffed with twin Western Digital hard drives in a RAID configuration to guard against data loss. On the drives, he kept his tens of thousands of child porn files.
Sometimes he did more than look at them, too. Cafferty would also fire up image editing software on his computer and splice his image into some scenes.
Below the website's promotional copy sat a “law enforcement note”; the kind that used to feature on warez sites as a talisman that might keep the cops at bay. "If you happen to be in Law enforcement, FBI or Interpol and are viewing this website, it's called free speech," it said. "There is nothing illegal about this website. Our servers are located in a country that has no Child Pornography laws. Even if you are able to shut us down, we pop up again somewhere else..."
Cafferty stared at the screen, then typed in the password found in the e-mail. He was in. Another page popped up listing 35 free videos with names like "Full version of known video. 3 10-12 y.o. girls and man" and an explicit description of the action. Beside each video was a "download" button that provided one-minute previews of each video. Forty-nine seconds after entering his password, Cafferty clicked on video number four, a 71-minute file that claimed to feature a "9-10 y.o. girl and man." A third webpage opened to display the video, which appeared to buffer—but the connection soon slowed and then stopped altogether. Eventually, Cafferty abandoned the site.
But thousands of miles away, deep in the belly of a data center, his online visit had tripped a silent alarm. That click on the "download" button had logged his IP address, the video file he attempted to view, and the number of times he tried to watch site videos. The law enforcement warning on the site's front page had done nothing to keep the FBI away; indeed, the FBI ran the site.
And now they had Cafferty.
The e-mail had not arrived in Cafferty's inbox by accident. Back in 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had opened a major investigation into a string of child porn websites. As part of that work, ICE learned that the sites used PayPal to receive money and disguised the nature of the purchases by using odd subject identifiers. A website called Sick Child Room 2005, for instance, used as its PayPal subject identifier the phrase "SickCR Package v.5.06 Build 3638"—which makes it sound like a software purchase. Instead, the site served up sections with names like "Door 1," "Door 5," and "Medic's Corner." Behind the doors waited 150 videos and 20,000 child porn images.
ICE went to Paypal and obtained a list of 5,000 people who had subscribed to these sites. The priority was of course getting at those who ran the sites, but the subscribers weren't off the hook. One of the e-mail addresses that had purchased access to the Sick Child Room was Travelerva88@yahoo.com. Investigators served an administrative subpoena to Yahoo, which turned over subscriber information for the account. It belonged to someone who also used the address email@example.com and who worked in London—but who listed a Largo, Florida home address. The information from Yahoo also contained, surprisingly enough, a link to the user's Facebook profile.
Putting Cafferty's name to the account wasn't particularly difficult after this. Investigators eventually realized that their target was a US government employee working as a Bureau of Diplomatic Security Special Agent in London. But by this point it was July 2011, and the child porn purchases had happened 5+ years before. Investigators decided that, before pursuing Cafferty, they wanted to know if he was still involved in the CP scene.
The case went to Corey Monaghan, a detective in the Largo, Florida police department and a member of the FBI's nationwide Innocent Images Task Force. On July 14, 2011, Monaghan contacted his colleagues at the FBI's Innocent Images Operations Unit in Maryland and asked them to deploy an "investigative tool" to determine Cafferty's continued interest in child porn. In initial court documents, all descriptions of the tool were redacted—but the Smoking Gun got its hands on the unredacted original and published several key pages.
The FBI had set up its fake CP site for precisely this situation. When investigators had a lead on someone specific, they e-mailed the person with a custom password and the site URL. The strangely explicit front page discussion about the "Child Pornography" within made sure that visitors could have no confusion about what they were accessing. As Monaghan's unredacted affidavit makes clear, "nowhere on the website home page indicates [sic] any adult pornography or anything other than child pornography is available through this website." In reality, the site offered no child porn; the video loading screen had been purpose-built to fail in such a way that visitors believed their Internet connections to be the culprits.
Soon after Cafferty's visit to the site, the Innocent Images task force knew they had found their man. Not only had he used his custom password—he had logged in with a London IP address. Time to pay him a visit.
On August 12, Cafferty boarded a Delta Airlines flight from London to Florida and returned to the US. Monaghan didn't know exactly where Cafferty was, however, and the home address he used in Largo belonged to a long-time friend. Had Cafferty come to stay in Largo right away?
Monaghan used an administrative subpoena on local Internet provider Knology to learn that the Largo home had an Internet connection with an IP address of 188.8.131.52 between August 13 and August 23. A subpoena to Yahoo then revealed that Travelerva88@yahoo.com had logged in from that very IP address on multiple occasions during those 10 days. Cafferty certainly appeared to be staying at the house.
"You can't use it at a public library; you can't use it if you go to another residence. You cannot use the Internet anywhere."
On August 29, Monaghan drove out to the small white home with the red awnings over the windows and found Cafferty inside. Monaghan had brought a search warrant, but before he executed it, Cafferty agreed to talk. He copped to everything. He admitted to using Travelerva88@yahoo.com, he admitted to using Paypal to subscribe to 8 or 10 child porn websites back in 2005 and 2006, and he admitted to "'photo-shopping' himself into scenes where child pornography is depicted," according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
On his flight from London to Tampa, Cafferty had carried along three external hard drives. He shipped his Drobo and its two drives separately. When investigators hauled all five drives to a forensics lab and combed through them, they found more than 30,000 total child porn files.
Cafferty was arrested. At a bond hearing the next day, the government worried that Cafferty posed a flight risk, since he had "traveled to 69 different countries and has substantial ties to the UK." Given that Cafferty had no criminal record, the judge let him off with a $50,000 cash bond and forced him to wear a GPS monitor that restricted him to the Tampa Bay area.
Cafferty's friend, who owned the Largo house, appeared and expressed his shock at what had been happening—and his unhappiness that some of it had been happening in his house. "It's put me in a bad position and I can't be in that position anymore," the friend said. Until the search warrant team had arrived, he "had no idea" about Cafferty's darker interests.
"You shall be prohibited from using the Internet,” the judge told Cafferty at the end of the hearing. “Not only can you not use it at home, and the home's Internet service will have to be disconnected, but you can't use it anywhere. You can't use it at a public library; you can't use it if you go to another residence. You cannot use the Internet anywhere.” But everyone needs the Internet these days, and the judge eventually granted two specific requests. Cafferty needed to provide friends' e-mail addresses to his lawyer in order to request character references, and he needed to go online to get his W-2 in order to file his taxes. In both cases, his friend was authorized to get the information under Cafferty's direction.
On January 4, 2012, Cafferty's case wound down as most federal prosecutions do: with a plea bargain. Saying that he was pleading guilty “because he is in fact guilty,” Cafferty publicly admitted to it all. His sentencing is scheduled for April 26 at the federal courthouse in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Child pornography existed 30 years ago, of course. While investigators used some of the same techniques seen in the Cafferty case today, digital technology in general (and the Internet in particular) means that investigators are really playing a whole new ballgame even when they draw from the same playbook.
For instance, consider one famous case from the 1980s. In February 1984, a middle-aged Nebraska farmer ordered two magazines, called Bare Boys I and Bare Boys II, from a California bookstore. When the store was raided soon afterwards, the farmer's name—Keith Jacobson—appeared on the store's mailing list. The government decided to gauge Jacobson's interest in child pornography and embarked on an astonishingly complex and lengthy campaign against him.
In January 1985, a Postal Inspector mailed Jacobson a letter from the (fake) American Hedonist Society, which included a questionnaire about sexual interests. Jacobson "enrolled" in this organization.
In May 1986, another inspector created a bogus research company, Midlands Data Research, which asked for responses from those who "believe in the joys of sex and the complete awareness of those lusty and youthful lads and lasses of the neophite [sic] age." Jacobson wrote back, "Please feel free to send me more information, I am interested in teenage sexuality. Please keep my name confidential."
The government then created another fake group called "Heartland Institute for a New Tomorrow" which included yet another survey. Jacobson wrote back, "Not only sexual expression but freedom of the press is under attack. We must be ever vigilant to counter attack right wing fundamentalists who are determined to curtail our freedoms."
At this point, without any actual evidence that Jacobson was trafficking in child porn, Customs got involved and used his name for a separate sting operation of their own, based on lists of names gleaned from the Postal Inspectors. "Operation Borderline" used yet another fake company, the Canada-based "Produit Outaouais," to mail Jacobson a flyer advertising photos of young boys having sex. Jacobson placed an order; it was never filled.
The Postal Inspectors were still targeting him, too. They created still another fictitious company, the "Far Eastern Trading Company Ltd," which claimed to have a method of delivering illicit content through the mail without government interference. The Trading Company also told prospective buyers to swear that they were "not a law enforcement officer or agent of the US Government acting in an undercover capacity for the purpose of entrapping Far Eastern Trading Company, its agents or customers." Jacobson responded, eventually ordering a magazine called Boys Who Love Boys. When it was delivered, Jacobson was finally arrested.
At his trial, Jacobson said that he had only placed the last order because all the government mailings had aroused his curiosity. In fact, a search of his home turned up no other child pornography apart from the materials mailed by the government. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, which famously ruled in 1992 that Jacobson had been entrapped by the government.
"In their zeal to enforce the law, however, Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person's mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute," the Court wrote.
By the time petitioner finally placed his order, he had already been the target of 26 months of repeated mailings and communications from Government agents and fictitious organizations. Therefore, although he had become predisposed to break the law by May 1987, it is our view that the Government did not prove that this predisposition was independent and not the product of the attention that the Government had directed at petitioner since January 1985.
The magazine that had kicked off all of the investigations, Bare Boys, did not show conclusively an interest in child porn. Its depictions of nudity weren't explicitly sexual and were in any case not known to Jacobson when he ordered (he said that he believed the boys would be over 18).
A whole new world
The Cafferty case differs from Jacobson in two key ways. First, the government's initial evidence of interest in child pornography was much stronger—"Sick Room" was far more obviously illegal than anything in Bare Boys at the time. The government wasn't creating desire here.
But more interesting for our purposes is the amount of effort required in the two cases. To communicate with Jacobson back in the 1980s, investigators had to create documents, corporate logos, brochures, surveys—all bogus and all made without computers. All of this material then had to be mailed, and investigators could wait for weeks hoping their target would mail back a response. Finally, they had no easy way to see what non-government activities Jacobson was up to through the mail without an invasive and expensive search of all his incoming mail.
But with Cafferty, everything had become so much simpler. PayPal had initially turned over the information that gave the feds a juicy 5,000-name digital database of people to run down. The e-mails collected there made targeting simple, and the government could build a single website that it could use for many different people. Everything could be logged and tracked, and responses might be almost immediately compared to the years the government spent mailing Jacobson its surveys and catalogs.
Most importantly, search warrant and subpoenas now give the government access to incredible caches of information. Want to know what else a target is up to online? Search his e-mail. Want to find someone hidden? Use the fake site to log his IP address, then use an ISP to find the account holder. Want to track someone's movements? Watch the changing IP addresses he uses to log into online services. Need to socially engineer some aspect of your investigation? Find his Facebook and dating site profiles. Need evidence for a trial? Simply search someone's computer, which contains everything from browser logs to file storage to archived e-mail and instant messaging.
In the Jacobson case, investigators could only obtain their initial list by raiding a bookstore. Followups consisted of direct communications between the government and the suspect. Today, most of the information comes from third parties who are not themselves targets of suspicion: PayPal (money), Yahoo (e-mail), Facebook (social networking), Google (search history, Android phone unlocks, e-mail), Verizon (phone location tracking, text messages), etc. Each of these companies has dedicated units that exist to answer government orders for such information, and they provide it rapidly. In addition, investigators can conduct their searches without tipping off suspects.
While it took them a few years to shift to a digital mindset, cops everywhere now have real savvy about getting the information they need. It doesn't take some elite federal squad of "cyber" police. In case after case today, we see even local detectives using cell phone tracking, e-mail searches, and more. And when they need the big guns, they know how to call in "tools" like the fake child porn site.
In combination, the digital techniques available offer incredible customization in investigating a target. While stories about online crime often tell tales of invisible bad guys using their elite skills from some untraceable Batcave, the Internet provides real benefits to law enforcement, too. If it has made it simpler for child pornographers to find each other and to build globe-spanning communities, it has also given creative investigators powerful tools of their own.
Vogue’s Flattering Article on Syria’s First Lady is Scrubbed from Web
It may have been the worst-timed, and most tin-eared, magazine article in decades.
“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” writer Joan Juliet Buck began her profile of Syria’s first lady in Vogue last year. Amid descriptions of Assad’s “energetic grace” and Christian Laboutin shoes, Buck wrote: “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’ ”
Well, perhaps. But just as Buck’s profile appeared, Assad’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, began a bloody crackdown on his opponents. Since then, about 9,000 Syrians have been slaughtered by security forces loyal to Assad, Syria’s hereditary president.
Meanwhile, rather than the progressive, arts-loving, British-educated banker of Buck’s telling, Asma al-Assad has emerged as the Marie Antoinette of the Arab Spring. E-mails leaked by Syrian opposition groups last month showed that she was involved in shopping online for jewelry, chandeliers and designer shoes in boutiques in Paris and London while her government’s violent repression was underway.
Buck’s article, in the March 2011 issue of Vogue, drew widespread surprise and ridicule, especially among Washington’s foreign-policy community, which had long regarded Syria as a regional troublemaker and leading violator of human rights. It contained little hint of the Assad family’s history of repression, offering only that Syria is “a country full of shadow zones.”
And then the story disappeared.
The 3,200-word article apparently proved so embarrassing to the magazine that it scrubbed it from its Web site, an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization and a generally acknowledged violation of digital etiquette.
Today it’s impossible to find the article, “A Rose in the Desert,” on Vogue’s Web site. Links to it lead to a notice on Vogue.com reading, “Oops. The page you’re looking for can not be found,” next to a photo of a fashion model looking sternly into the camera.
Buck’s story is still available on the subscribers-only Nexis database, which archives published articles and broadcast transcripts. According to the Atlantic magazine, the only freely available copy of “A Rose in the Desert” is on a Web site maintained by a Syrian journalist
(President#assad.net, which calls Bashar al-Assad “the President of a Just & Comprehensive Peace”). The site is based in Syria, which places it beyond the reach of Vogue’s owner, Conde Nast.
Vogue’s editors aren’t eager to talk about the story or their efforts to make it disappear. Editor Anna Wintour’s office and Vogue.com’s managing editor, Alexandra Macon, both referred calls to the magazine’s spokeswoman, Megan Salt, who didn’t respond to calls and e-mails requesting comment. Buck also did not reply.
Although the Vogue piece didn’t mention it, the photos that accompanied the article — of Asma al-Assad, her husband and two of their children at home in Damascus — were facilitated by an American public-relations firm working for the Syrian government. The firm, Brown Lloyd James, was paid $25,000 to set up a photo session with James Nachtwey, the famed war photographer who shot the pictures for Vogue.
“Our firm’s role was limited to liaising between the two sides to schedule logistics for the piece in November 2010,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. It said it began working for the Syrian government “during a thaw” in relations with the United States and during a period when “the international community was encouraging increased engagement with Syria.”
Asma al-Assad was briefly in the news again last week when the wives of the British and German ambassadors to the United Nations released a video and online petition calling on her to use her influence with her husband to end the bloodshed in Syria. The video mixes glamorous photos and footage of the Syrian first lady — including one of Nachtwey’s photos from Vogue — with clips of dead and injured Syrian children. “Stand up for peace, Asma,” says the voiceover. “. . . Stop being a bystander.”
Asma al-Assad has not replied.
Buck, the story’s author, suggested in an interview with NPR last week that the children who appeared in the Vogue photos probably weren’t the Assads’ real children, but decoys planted for security purposes. Buck said it was “horrifying” to have been near the Assads. Her biggest regret: that Vogue chose to call her profile “A Rose in the Desert.”
Pirate Party Makes a Raid on German Politics
Pirates are capturing Germany's political system.
The party with the outlaw name started as a marginal club of computer nerds and hackers demanding online freedom, but its appeal as an antiestablishment movement has lured many young voters to the ballot boxes, catapulting it into two state parliaments in less than a year.
Polls show the all-volunteer Pirates — who offer little ideology and focus on promoting their flagship policies of near-total transparency and an unrestricted Internet — as the country's third-strongest political force, leapfrogging over more established parties.
The tremendous success has doubled the Pirates' membership to 25,000, but it has also handed the party a crucial challenge set to dominate their convention starting Saturday: A party founded as a rebellious upstart must reckon with its new political power and its promise of a voice for all of its members.
As 2,000 members gathered in the northern Germany city Neumuenster to discuss the group's growth, new polls predicted it would win seats in two more state legislatures in May, with forecasters expecting them to secure about 9 percent of the vote in both states.
"Many vote for the Pirates as a sign of protest. It is not directed against democracy, but it's based on the unhappiness with the functioning of the established parties," said Alexander Hensel, a political scientist who studies the Pirates at the Goettingen Institute for Democracy Research.
Analysts say that despite the country's robust economy and low unemployment, many Germans — like others around the world — are disenchanted with the established parties, fueled by outrage over seeing the government bailing out banks and businesses to save the economy from collapsing in the wake of the financial crisis.
Thousands in Germany took to the streets last year in protest rallies supporting the worldwide Occupy movement, but it has now all but fizzled out — with the Pirates appearing to inherit the votes of the disenchanted.
While the mainstream parties in Europe's biggest economy are struggling to come up with a response to the continent's debt crisis, the Pirates cheerfully admit that they have no answer to the questions raised by the crisis. Nor do they have a stance on whether German troops should continue to fight in Afghanistan.
But many voters welcome their blunt acknowledgment as a sign of honesty in the political arena. Instead of taking a stand on the pressing issues that more mainstream parties are forced to address, the Pirates demand that public transportation be free of charge and that every citizen be paid a basic income without having to work.
"The Pirates are elected less because of what they stand for than by disappointment with the established parties and for their unconventional methods," Hensel said.
The party's core pledge of full transparency and participation — live transmission of all meetings and the online involvement of all party members in its decisions, countless Twitter debates and email chains — is reaching the limit of feasibility as the number of party members has mushroomed.
The question is: Will the Pirates change Germany's political system, or will the system crack the Pirates?
"The party is growing enormously. Integrating all those new members puts the party under great strain in terms of organization. They need to grow proper structures now and have a more professional leadership," Hensel said.
"A party run by volunteers has its limit," he added.
The party's outgoing managing director Marina Weisband collapsed last week between two television show appearances. She was briefly hospitalized, saying she was just heavily overworked. The 24-year-old has now joined the ranks of some top Pirates who advocate for having professional leaders running the party. Some are also proposing that the party's leaders should have a greater say in shaping the Pirates' policies.
But to grassroots Pirates, those calls amount to mutiny.
"The Pirates' opinion is created by the party members, not dictated by the chairman," party leader Sebastian Nerz said. "The individual's freedom stands at the top."
Recently, however, the party has been marred by a scandal over to handle the far-right past of some of its members, with many Pirates refusing to exclude anyone from the party in a bid to remain a fully open and inclusive party.
Soon enough, the party will have to have more professional politicians if pollsters are right: In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany most populous state with 18 million inhabitants, the Pirates can expect to get 9 percent of the vote in mid-May, according to Emnid, which surveyed 1,001 people for Focus magazine this week.
Another poll for public broadcaster ARD published Friday equally found the party to secure about 9 percent of the vote in Schleswig-Hollstein state's May 7 election.
Pirate parties are now present in several European countries, but only in Germany have they skyrocketed to such success. In Sweden, where the movement originated, the party won 7 percent of the vote in European Parliament elections 2009 but less than 1 percent in national elections the next year, making it a marginal party, albeit with a strong voice on cyber issues.
Germany's political establishment at first did not take them serious at all. Now that they seem poised to be in four of the country's 16 state legislatures within a month, politicians can't ignore them any longer.
"They are an interesting appearance. And we don't know yet how that will develop," conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel told Saturday's edition of daily Leipziger Volkszeitung.
CinemaCon 2012: THE HOBBIT Underwhelms At 48 Frames Per Second
I came to CinemaCon just to see the ten minutes of The Hobbit that Warner Bros showed today. I'm not exaggerating; I don't even have press creds, so I can't get into anything else. The good people at Warner Bros hooked me up with a ticket to the presentation, for which I am indebted to them... and which is making me feel bad for what I am about to write.
The reason it felt important to come to Vegas for this presentation was that The Hobbit was being shown at 48 frames per second. This is the new projection standard that the gearhead titans like James Cameron and Peter Jackson have been touting. The presentation today was to largely sell the CinemaCon audience - 90% made up of theater owners - on buying new equipment to show movies at this frame rate.
As the presentation started I gasped. The footage began with sweeping helicopter shots of mountains, and it was like I was floating over them myself. It looked stunning (this was also in 3D, by the way) and I truly felt like I was seeing something new, something that would redefine the theatrical experience.
And then the rest of the footage played.
I've been trying to figure out how to explain to you why this footage looked bad. First it's worth noting that the CinemaCon honchos bragged that their projection system in that theater was the most advcanced and best ever assembled by man. That's almost a direct quote. So the presentation would almost certainly never be better than what I saw today.
Second, I must say that it's possible there will be lots of post-production work done to offset some of the lighting issues. I also assume that the few 'complete' scenes we saw will continue to be edited before release.
With those caveats out of the way, here's what The Hobbit looked like to me: a hi-def version of the 1970s I, Claudius. It is drenched in a TV-like - specifically 70s era BBC - video look. People on Twitter have asked if it has that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy, and the answer is an emphatic YES.
The 48fps footage I saw looked terrible. It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets. I've been on sets of movies on the scale of The Hobbit, and sets don't even look like sets when you're on them live... but these looked like sets.
The other comparison I kept coming to, as I was watching the footage, was that it all looked like behind the scenes video. The magical illusion of cinema is stripped away completely.
As I said above the landscape shots are breathtaking. 48fps is the future of nature documentaries. But if it's the future of narrative cinema I don't know if that future includes me.
It's unlikely you're going to see The Hobbit at 48fps (especially if all the grumbling I heard from theater owners is any indication. Walking out of the theater I didn't hear a single positive remark). You're wondering what I saw in the ten minutes of footage. Here, to the best of my ability, is a rundown of it all:
There was a lot of the helicopter shots you expect in a Lord of the Rings movie. Lots of shots of the dwarves trudging over mountains (again, this stuff looked spectacular). There was some of the business we saw in the trailer, with the introduction of the company of dwarves. There were also some quick shots - the company floating down a river in barrels, Gandalf running through a dungeon, being jumped on by a wild man of some sort, Legolas sliding in front of spider-webbed dwarves and knocking an arrow, warning he would kill them. There were also a handful of longer scenes that we saw.
We saw Bilbo's meeting with the three trolls. One positive aspect of the 48fps is that since everything looks so video, the digital creatures look more like they're on the set. The tone of the scene is very playfully threatening, with the trolls having dim reactions. The scene ends with the dwarves coming to Bilbo's rescue in a big battle against the trolls.
We also saw Gandalf investigating the rising darkness. In one scene he is at a table with Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman, talking about ancient tombs that have been opened - ancient tombs with such strong binding spells no one should have been able to get in. Then there's a scene of Gandalf investigating the open tomb, where he runs into a very silly Radagast the Brown, who has some birds under his hat (we also saw a shot of his sled being pulled by bunnies). It turns out the opened tombs belong the nine Ring Wraiths.
The biggest scene was Bilbo meeting Gollum. Despite being told what we were seeing were unfinished effects, Gollum looked great (and again, the 48fps gave him more of a sense of being actually there). The scene was cut a little slackly; I imagine the final version will be tighter. But it was good.
The content seemed strong, it was the presentation that bummed me out. I'm honestly kind of depressed about how much I disliked the 48fps footage. In his taped intro, Peter Jackson said it would take a minute for us to get used to it, but I never did. It looked like shit the whole time.
What I don't understand about the gearhead filmmakers is why they're using these new technologies so early. This is like doing your first test flight of new jet engine with 200 passengers - why not perfect it, get it right, get past the disasters before you bring it to the public? I don't want The Hobbit to be a technologically experimental movie, but that's what it looks to be.
Kindle Fire Dominates U.S. Android Tablet Sales
Never underestimate the power of a cheap, well-marketed tablet like Amazon's Kindle Fire. According to Comscore, the Kindle Fire accounts for 54.4 percent of Android tablets sold in the United States.
No other Android tablet comes close in Comscore's figures. Samsung's entire Galaxy Tab lineup only has 15.4 percent of the Android market. Motorola's Xoom -- the first Android tablet on the market -- has only a 7 percent share.
But the numbers are skewed for one big reason: Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet and Nook Color are omitted from the measurements. Comscore considers those Nooks to be e-readers, not tablets -- even though they run apps, browse the Web, and play music and video on full color displays, just like the Kindle Fire.
Barnes & Noble would likely capture a sizable share if its slate was included. Before the Kindle Fire launched last year, the Nook Color was the second best-selling tablet on the market, behind Apple's iPad.
In any case, Comscore's numbers confirm what most tech watchers already assumed: Android tablets owe most of their success to the Kindle Fire and presumably the Nook tablets, which use heavily modified versions of open-source Android. Their interfaces are designed around simple media consumption, and their pricing starts at just $200, making them safe, low-budget alternatives to the iPad. A study from January found that Android's tablet share tripled to 39 percent in the fourth quarter, when Amazon and Barnes & Noble launched their tablets.
The success of the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets likely vexes Google, because its own app store and content services aren't available on those devices. Google is now trying to bolster its own ecosystem by re-branding it as “Google Play,” and will likely launch its own low-cost, 7-inch tablet this year.
That may be Google's best hope at gaining ground, because no Android tablet that's taking on the iPad directly is getting any traction.
Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS)
Over the past three decades, the share of residential electricity used by appliances and electronics in U.S. homes has nearly doubled from 17 percent to 31 percent, growing from 1.77 quadrillion Btu (quads) to 3.25 quads. This rise has occurred while Federal energy efficiency standards were enacted on every major appliance, overall household energy consumption actually decreased from 10.58 quads to 10.55 quads, and energy use per household fell 31 percent.
Federal energy efficiency standards have greatly reduced consumption for home heating
Total energy use in all U.S. homes occupied as primary residences decreased slightly from 10.58 quads in 1978 to 10.55 quads in 2005 as reported by the most recent consumption and expenditures data from the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS). Updated energy consumption data will be available next year. A dramatic reduction in the energy needed to heat homes, along with other efficiency improvements, led to a 31 percent reduction in energy use per household. As a result, total residential energy consumption remained virtually the same.
In 1978, there were 76.6 million occupied housing units in the United States, which used a total of 6.96 quads for space heating. Although the number of homes increased 45 percent to 111.1 million by 2005, they used significantly less energy for heating — just 4.30 quads. The decline is largely due to the improved energy efficiency of heating equipment along with better window design and insulation to more effectively seal homes, although some decline is associated with population movements toward warmer areas.
More homes than ever have and use major household appliances
Initial federal mandatory efficiency standards were enacted between 1988 and 1994 for all major appliances, but energy consumption by household appliances nearly doubled between 1978 and 2005. The 2009 characteristics data are now available from RECS and the 2009 consumption and expenditures data will be available next year. These new characteristics data show that gains in efficiency for these appliances have been offset by other factors including:
• The number of U.S. households grew by 34.5 million from 1978 to 2009
• Improved living standards resulted in more households buying and using major appliances
• The share of households that have central air conditioning nearly tripled, from 23 percent in 1978 to 61% in 2009
• The saturation, or percent of households with an appliance, of clothes washers increased from 74 percent to 82 percent
• The saturation of dishwashers increased from 35 percent to 59 percent
Increased use of consumer electronics has partly offset the efficiency gains of major appliances
Did You Know?
The first digital video recorders (DVRs) shipped in 1999. Ten years later, 43 percent of U.S. households have a DVR player.
While most home appliances have become more efficient over the past 30 years, the average U.S. household uses many more consumer electronics — in particular, personal computers, televisions and related devices.
In 1978, personal computers were expensive and not typically used by U.S. households. In 2009, 76 percent of U.S. homes had at least one computer, eight percentage points more than just four years prior, and 35 percent had multiple computers.
In 1978, most households had only one television. In 2009, the average household had 2.5 televisions. Over 45 percent of homes have at least one television with a screen size of 37 inches or larger. Screen size and average energy consumption per television have continued to grow over time.
DVD players and Digital Video Recorders (DVR), which did not exist 15 years ago, are now widespread. As of 2009, 79 percent of homes had a DVD player, and 43 percent had a DVR. Nearly a third of all households also had at least four electronic devices, such as cell phones, plugged in and charging at home.
At 92, Bandit to Hollywood but Hero to Soldiers
One of the world’s most prolific bootleggers of Hollywood DVDs loves his morning farina. He has spent eight years churning out hundreds of thousands of copies of “The Hangover,” “Gran Torino” and other first-run movies from his small Long Island apartment to ship overseas.
“Big Hy” — his handle among many loyal customers — would almost certainly be cast as Hollywood Enemy No. 1 but for a few details. He is actually Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife. And he has sent every one of his copied DVDs, almost 4,000 boxes of them to date, free to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the United States military presence in those regions dwindling, Big Hy Strachman will live on in many soldiers’ hearts as one of the war’s more shadowy heroes.
“It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” Mr. Strachman said, acknowledging that his actions violated copyright law.
“If I were younger,” he added, “maybe I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.”
Capt. Bryan Curran, who recently returned from Afghanistan, estimated that from 2008 to 2010, Mr. Strachman sent more than 2,000 DVDs to his outfits there.
“You’re shocked because your initial image is of some back-alley Eastern European bootlegger — not an old Jewish guy on Long Island,” Captain Curran said. “He would time them with the movie’s release — whenever a new movie was just in theaters, we knew Big Hy would be sending us some. I saw ‘The Transformers’ before it hit the States.”
Jenna Gordon, a specialist in the Army Reserve, said she had handed out even more of Mr. Strachman’s DVDs last year as a medic with the 883rd Medical Company east of Kandahar City, where soldiers would gather for movie nights around personal computers, with mortar blasting in the background. Some knew only that the discs came from some dude named Big Hy; others knew not even that.
“It was pretty big stuff — it’s reconnecting you to everything you miss,” she said. “We’d tell people to take a bunch and pass them on.”
White-haired, slightly hunched and speaking in his Depression-era Brooklyn brogue (think Casey Stengel after six years of Hebrew school), Mr. Strachman explained in a recent interview that his 60-hour-a-week venture was winding down. “It’s all over anyways — they’re all coming home in the near future,” he said of the troops.
As he spoke, he was busy preparing some packages, filled with 84 discs of “The Artist,” “Moneyball” and other popular films, many of them barely out of theaters, to a platoon in Afghanistan.
As for his brazen violation of domestic copyright laws, Mr. Strachman nodded guiltily but pointed to his walls, which are strewed with seven huge American flags, dozens of appreciative letters, and snapshots of soldiers holding up their beloved DVDs.
“Every time I got back an emotional e-mail or letter, I sent them another box,” he said, adding that he had never accepted any money for the movies or been told by any authorities to stop.
“I thought maybe because I’m an old-timer,” he said.
In February, Mr. Strachman duplicated and shipped 1,100 movies. (“A slow month,” he said.) He has not kept an official count but estimates that he topped 80,000 discs a year during his heyday in 2007 and 2008, making his total more than 300,000 since he began in 2004. Postage of about $11 a box, and the blank discs themselves, would suggest a personal outlay of over $30,000.
Born in Brooklyn in 1920 to immigrants from Poland, Mr. Strachman left high school during the Depression to work for his family’s window and shade store in Manhattan. He became a stockbroker on Wall Street — “When there were no computers, you had to use your noodle” — before retiring in the early 1990s.
After Mr. Strachman’s wife of more than half a century, Harriet, died in 2003, he discovered a Web site that collected soldiers’ requests for care packages. He noted a consistent plea for movie DVDs and wound up passing his sleepless nights replicating not only the films, but also a feeling of military comradeship that he had not experienced since his own service in the Pacific during World War II.
“I wouldn’t say it kept him alive, but it definitely brought back his joie de vivre,” said Mr. Strachman’s son, Arthur, a tax accountant in New York.
Mr. Strachman has never ripped a movie from a store-bought DVD and does not even know how; rather, he bought bootlegged discs for $5 in Penn Station before finding a dealer closer to home, at his local barbershop. Those discs were either recordings made illegally in theaters or studio cuts that had been leaked.
Originally, Mr. Strachman would use his desktop computer to copy the movies one tedious disc at a time. (“It was moyda,” he groaned.) So he got his hands on a $400 professional duplicator that made seven copies at once, grew his fingernails long to better separate the blank discs, and began copying hundreds a day.
Last month, in black grandpa shoes and blue suspenders that hoisted his trousers up to his sternum, Mr. Strachman and his spindly hands steered a master copy of “The Artist” into the machine, fed the seven other bays with blanks, and pressed “Record.” Six minutes later, in went “The King’s Speech.” Then “Moneyball.”
He eventually stuffed the maximum of 84 discs (12 titles, 7 each) into a United States Postal Service fixed-rate box, secured it with several yards of packing tape and scrawled out a packing slip for the Massapequa Park post office. The contraband, which he said could take up to three months to arrive, was addressed to an Army chaplain.
“Chaplains don’t sell them, and they fan out,” Mr. Strachman said. “The distribution is great.”
The movie studios are less enthusiastic. Although the most costly piracy now takes place online through file-sharing Web sites, the illegal duplication of copyright DVDs — usually by organized crime in Eastern Europe and China, not by retirees in their 90s in the American suburbs — still siphons billions of dollars out of the industry every year. And while Mr. Strachman’s movies were given to soldiers as a form of charity, studios do send military bases reel-to-reel films, which are much harder to copy, and projectors for the troops overseas.
Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, said he did not believe its member studios were aware of Mr. Strachman’s operation. His sole comment dripped with the difficulty of going after a 92-year-old widower supporting the troops.
“We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to them while they are away from home,” Mr. Gantman said.
Careful to minimize his malfeasance, Mr. Strachman said he had kept no copies for himself and had destroyed every master disc soon after the new releases came in.
Before long, the sole evidence of his operation will be on his walls and on a little bookshelf, next to his cholesterol-control pills and a few envelopes of farina, where seven three-ring binders overflow with letters and pictures, most addressed to “Big Hy,” from appreciative soldiers.
“Our downtime is spent watching movies as we clean our weapons,” one handwritten note said.
Another accompanied a flag from a combat mission over Afghanistan: “I can think of no one more deserving than you, and no one who understands what this flag stands for and means to our veterans.”
The fun will stop soon, Mr. Strachman said. “I’m not sure who’s going to be left over there anymore,” he said, happier for the soldiers’ return than for his need to find another hobby.
And with that the duplicator beeped, spitting out seven more copies of “The Artist.”
Mr. Strachman scooped them out of their trays, put a rubber band around them and inserted the stack into a box, perhaps his very last.
Until next week,
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