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Old 30-12-20, 07:29 AM   #1
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - January 2nd, 2021

Since 2002

January 2nd, 2021

The Year We Gave Up on Privacy

Our lives moved online in 2020. Too bad privacy laws didn’t.
Sara Morrison

As a digital privacy reporter, I try to avoid sites and services that invade my privacy, collect my data, and track my actions. Then the pandemic came, and I threw most of that out the window. You probably did, too.

I gave away tons of personal data to get the things I needed. Food came from grocery and restaurant delivery services. Everything else — clothes, kitchen tools, a vanity ring light for Zoom calls, office furniture — came from online shopping platforms. I took an Uber instead of public transportation. Zoom became my primary means of communication with most of my coworkers, friends, and family. I attended virtual birthdays and funerals. Therapy was conducted over FaceTime. I downloaded my state’s digital contact tracing tool as soon as it was offered. I put a camera inside my apartment to keep an eye on things when I fled the city for several weeks.

Millions of Americans have had a similar pandemic experience. School went remote, work was done from home, happy hours went virtual. In just a few short months, people shifted their entire lives online, accelerating a trend that would have otherwise taken years and will endure after the pandemic ends — all while exposing more and more personal information to the barely regulated internet ecosystem. At the same time, attempts to enact federal legislation to protect digital privacy were derailed, first by the pandemic and then by increasing politicization over how the internet should be regulated.

All things told, 2020 was a bust for digital privacy. But 2021 doesn’t have to be.

Privacy laws had momentum at the beginning of 2020

When 2020 began, there was reason to be optimistic that we’d get federal privacy legislation in the coming years, possibly even in this one. Though concerns have been brewing for some time, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal marked a turning point in how many Americans (and lawmakers) viewed Big Tech, data, and tech’s impact on society.

The scandal involved a researcher at Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that did work for the Trump campaign, who improperly accessed millions of Facebook users’ data. After this happened, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress, where he was grilled about user privacy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ended up fining Facebook $5 billion for privacy violations. By the end of 2019, the vast majority of Americans felt they had no control over their data and were concerned about how it was being used, according to a Pew study. There was a bipartisan consensus that something had to be done.

Accordingly, Republicans and Democrats rolled out a slew of privacy bills, calling for jail time for tech CEOs, a new federal data privacy agency, and a legally enforceable internet version of the Do Not Call list. Senate Democrats released a framework for privacy laws, and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, came out with her own privacy bill in accordance with them. Privacy advocates approved.

Elsewhere, California rang in 2020 with the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the strongest data privacy law in the country. Data companies, realizing where things were going, rolled out more privacy options to quell user fears and show that they were capable of regulating themselves. And seemingly everyone was disturbed by revelations that a company called Clearview AI scraped the internet for billions of public images to populate its facial recognition database, then tried to sell the service to law enforcement and private companies.

Then the pandemic hit, and Congress had more pressing concerns. At the same time, people needed the services that collect and use their data to carry out most aspects of their daily lives. (Essentially, anything you do that uses the internet is likely collecting your data in some way, and many of those services are monetizing it one way or another.) Some may not have been willing to trade their privacy for those services before. Now they had to.

The pandemic put more people online than ever, and their data followed

When stores closed and people were afraid to leave their homes, consumers turned to online shopping for groceries and other necessities. Restaurant delivery apps boomed as many restaurants went bust. Streaming services had a great year (except Quibi), taking the place of movie theaters and most other forms of entertainment.

School and work also moved online. Accordingly, employers turned to worker tracking software and schools turned to online proctoring services to monitor their employees and students from afar. Remote schools put children’s privacy at the mercy of edtech companies, some of which have spotty track records. Google’s school services — from Chromebooks to its Classroom software — added millions of young users.

People have turned to Zoom, only to find that the company hadn’t put a lot of thought into its privacy controls or cybersecurity. Zoombombing was easy and frequent, subjecting users to images of pornography and racism in the middle of their math classes and town meetings. Zoom claimed to offer end-to-end encryption; it didn’t. It also sent user data to Facebook and LinkedIn. The FTC wasn’t pleased, but the punishment for Zoom was basically a wrist slap.

Telehealth expanded significantly during the pandemic, offering patients a way to see their health care providers without having to risk visiting a physical office. The Department of Health and Human Services loosened HIPAA restrictions, temporarily allowing health care providers to use non-HIPAA-compliant services such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and Skype to communicate with patients.

“There’s been some different incursions into people’s lives,” Jennifer King, the director of privacy at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, told Recode. “I think that the real highlight is the lack of options. That isn’t, ‘I’m choosing to use Google for my searches over somebody else.’ It’s, ‘My school district has told me that we have to use Google Classroom.’ There’s no negotiating with them.”

Not only did people integrate more data collection and information exposure into their daily lives, but they were also told that this tracking could have public health benefits. Location data companies promoted their services as useful tools to track the virus’s spread or measure the effectiveness of social distancing as they tracked millions of people who were likely unaware that they were being tracked at all, let alone how. But it’s hard to say that any one of them did much good, given the pandemic’s mostly unchecked spread across the country.

The good news is that some of the more extreme and invasive privacy violations once feared at the beginning of the pandemic haven’t come to pass — yet.

“We don’t have widespread contact tracing apps that monitor our location or report data directly to the government,” Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Recode. “We don’t have immunity passports. And we don’t have GPS shackles or compelled phone malware for patients in home quarantine.”

But that’s not to say that some of those things won’t come to pass in the months ahead. As the vaccine rolls out, we may yet see those immunity passports, and companies are lining up to offer health verification programs to airports, offices, and concert venues.

America’s selective resistance to digital tracking and surveillance

Ironically, the one way that tracking has been proven to help slow or stop the spread of disease — contact tracing — hasn’t been effective during the pandemic because the majority of Americans won’t do it. (Neither will the Trump White House.) Giving up health information for the sake of helping other people is apparently the line some people won’t cross.

Manual contact tracing efforts have floundered due to a lack of resources to implement them and Americans’ reluctance to participate. Digital contact tracing tools were initially seen as a possible savior, but adoption rates have been low. Apple and Google’s unprecedented joint effort to create an exposure notification tool with seemingly decent privacy protections (to the point that public health officials criticized them for not providing enough data) hasn’t come to much. States were slow to roll their apps out, and then people didn’t want to use them.

Over the summer, the George Floyd protests put a spotlight on how police abuse their power, including using surveillance technology like facial recognition. Some companies stopped working with law enforcement at the height of anti-police sentiment, though how long those moratoriums last remains to be seen. Some cities and states put forward measures and laws prohibiting their use. Proposed federal legislation, on the other hand, hasn’t gone anywhere.

There’s also been some increased scrutiny on how law enforcement obtains data. Multiple reports have detailed how police simply purchase location data from data brokers instead of bothering with a warrant. Some lawmakers have pushed for regulations to stop this, and the subsequent discovery that some of this data came from a Muslim prayer app caused a great deal of outcry. That data was obtained by X-Mode, one of the many data location companies that promoted itself as a tool to fight the coronavirus earlier this year. Apple and Google have since banned from their stores apps that use X-Mode’s tracking code. But they haven’t done a thing to all the other apps that use trackers planted by other companies.

Regulating Big Tech has become increasingly politicized, which could further delay legislation

While some lawmakers did continue to sound the alarm about privacy throughout the year, especially with regard to issues raised by the pandemic, the focus on how to regulate the internet seems to have shifted away from privacy laws and toward curbing the power wielded by Big Tech companies. Generally, the left and the right have differing ideas of how to do this. Democrats are looking at using antitrust laws to break the companies up, while Republicans hope to take away immunity protections that allowed those companies (and the internet as a whole) to prosper.

Many Republicans have recently taken up the cause of repealing Section 230 to fight what they see as a greater or more immediate Big Tech evil: censorship of conservative voices by too-powerful and liberal companies. Section 230 gives internet platforms immunity from what their users post on them, and it’s necessary for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and countless other, smaller, sites to exist. Both sides have their issues with Section 230, but Republicans — encouraged by President Trump — have made it their rallying cry.

“Big Tech wants to run our country,” Sen. Hawley, who has become one of the leading Republican voices against Big Tech, told Recode. “And unless Congress does something about it, they will. Section 230 gives these companies unchecked monopoly power. It’s time to end those monopolies, end Section 230, and protect Americans.”

Making this now-politicized issue the center of any upcoming Big Tech legislation could derail the progress of privacy bills and antitrust investigations. But there is reason to be optimistic that those antitrust investigations will indirectly make things better for consumer privacy. By the end of 2020, attorneys general from almost every state in the country sued Facebook and Google over antitrust violations, with privacy playing a surprisingly large role in some of these lawsuits. Facebook is accused of using its market dominance to erode user privacy on its own platforms as well as prevent the rise of platforms that might have offered better privacy options. Google’s ad business — and its reliance on data collected about users — is another target of the suits. (Facebook and Google have denied that they engage in anti-competitive practices and call the suits meritless.)

“All of [the suits], if successful, should improve privacy by allowing consumers to ‘vote with their feet’ and leave established companies with bad privacy policies and go instead to new companies with better privacy policies,” said Schwartz, the EFF attorney. “However, this is an indirect path from here to privacy. The antitrust lawsuits are no substitute for comprehensive consumer data privacy legislation.”

The future of federal privacy laws

California, meanwhile, has done what the federal government could not, passing another privacy law called the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). Among other things, this law adds and funds a dedicated agency to investigate privacy violations. It also signals that Americans favor such laws — CPRA was a ballot measure approved by voters, not a law created by legislators. Washington state, meanwhile, is now on its third attempt to enact its own state privacy law. Several other states were considering their own privacy laws when the pandemic hit; they may well take them back up when it passes.

“I think as California’s new law goes into effect and other states start to pass their own privacy laws, demand for federal legislation by consumers and even businesses who want some certainty is only going to build,” Sen. Wyden, who co-wrote Section 230 and is one of the Senate’s biggest privacy hawks, told Recode. “I try not to make predictions after the past couple of years! But I’m sort of an eternal optimist.”

There are also signs of renewed federal interest in privacy regulation. The FTC recently ordered nine platforms — Amazon, TikTok, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube — to disclose their data collection and ad targeting practices. Democratic and Republican commissioners voted in favor of the order. And the Senate Commerce Committee recently held a hearing to “revisit” the need for federal privacy legislation.

Finally, there are indications that the incoming Biden administration will have a more productive focus on privacy issues than the outgoing administration did. Biden is on record as not being a fan of Big Tech (especially Facebook) or the lack of regulations on the industry. He’s also indicated that he’s open to repealing Section 230. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris both have a pro-privacy track record. That said, they’ve also been criticized for being too friendly with Big Tech. But there may be limits on what the Biden administration can accomplish without bipartisan cooperation.

Wyden is hopeful. “By the end of last year, senior Democrats endorsed a set of really strong privacy principles, and several members introduced promising legislation,” he said. “Then, of course, we ran into the trifecta of Republican obstruction, a global pandemic, and the 2020 election. Overall, though, I’m encouraged that we cleared the way for something to get done in the next few years. I’m definitely looking forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration after the past four years.”

In the meantime, while the pandemic has made people more comfortable with giving away their privacy and exposed their information to more services, this may also make them more aware of how those companies take and use their information. We’ll see if familiarity breeds contempt or complacency.

I have to admit that, for me, the latter has been more true. Zoom was the only way I could see my grandma when the flights were canceled; I bought the security camera for my apartment after a break-in scare. If a shady data broker knowing everywhere I’d been for the last seven months would make this pandemic go away, I’d happily comply.

The upside of these services has never been greater, but users can only hope the companies that provide them respect their privacy, despite overwhelming evidence that they don’t. Hopefully, we’ll get a government that will acknowledge and protect our privacy rights — before they’re gone forever.

Spotify’s Podcasting Problem: Loophole Allows Remixes and Unreleased Songs to Hide in Plain Sight

Spotify has joined the ranks of streaming services like SoundCloud and YouTube as a hub for bootlegs of popular songs. With obscured titles like “Jocelyn Flores but you’re in the bathroom at a party” by eraylandin, a new take on XXXTentacion’s popular “Jocelyn Flores,” and “Dead To Me – Kali Uchis (slowed + bass boosted)” by user Unreal sounds, a rework of Uchis’ popular track from her 2018 album “Isolation,” these underground remixers have chosen to upload their creations as podcast episodes, hoping to circumvent copyright infringement detection by the platform.

Using simple keywords and terms like “chopped and screwed,” “slowed and reverbed,” “remix,” and “mashup” in Spotify’s search bar, users can track down bootlegged reworks of songs by many top artists which live on Spotify’s podcast hub. Late rapper Juice WRLD, who still commands a cult following, has a full ‘podcast series’ dedicated to revealing his unreleased songs, like user No Si’s podcast titled, “Instagram @xricardol.tx.” The podcast contains ‘episodes’ like “Sugarfish (Leaked),” a song Juice WRLD wrote with The Chainsmokers that was never officially released, despite online rumors that the collaboration would become available in December 2019. These podcasts, like “Instagram @xricardol.tx,” only contain the audio of specific songs and almost always list the tracks as individual episodes. There is nothing that resembles the typical characteristics of a podcast.

Such a workaround is referenced in the terms and conditions of use outlined in the Spotify for Podcasters user agreement, which notes that service “is not intended to be a music distribution tool” and directs those who “wish to deliver music to Spotify” to its Spotify for Artists platform.

Further, a rep for Spotify tells Variety in a statement: “We take intellectual property infringement extremely seriously. Spotify has multiple detection measures in place monitoring abuse on the service to detect, investigate and deal with such activity. We are continuing to invest heavily in refining those processes and improving methods of detection and removal, and reducing the impact of this unacceptable activity on legitimate creators, rights holders and our users.”

Indeed, when posted publicly without the approval of rights holders, these remixes could be considered “derivative works” and, under U.S. copyright law, may signify a form of infringement that can be prosecuted in court. For defendants in these cases, the vague proviso of “fair use” is often used to bolster their argument that such musical reimagining is legal. According to Professor Daxton “Chip” Stewart of Texas Christian University’s journalism department, who specializes in media law, “There’s not a whole lot in the courts to give us guidance about [fair use.]” As Stewart explains, there are few parties who are willing to go to the expense and effort to litigate.

Another reason these possible infringements haven’t been litigated? They’re potentially damaging to the artist-fan relationship. “It gets into an odd situation where an artist is all of a sudden in the position of suing one of their fans, which is never a great look,” says Stewart. “It’s something [artists] should handle pretty delicately.” Though there have been numerous cases pertaining to copyright law in the U.S. court system in the last few decades, most have seen artist go up against another artist. To wit: the watershed case of Marvin Gaye vs. “Blurred Lines” creators Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, which in 2015 ruled in favor of the Gaye estate determining that Thicke’s hit infringed upon Gaye’s 1977 song, “Got to Give It Up.” (Williams and Thicke were ordered to pay some $5 million in damages and the Gaye family is now entitled to 50% of all future royalties earned by “Blurred Lines.”)

For remixes masquerading as Spotify podcasts, pseudonyms are often used, which is not at all new in the music industry where fans, fledgling producers and DJs have long reworked existing songs in homage or for their own creative purposes. DSPs have provided easy distribution for such creators as unofficial reworks have popped up on sites like SoundCloud, YouTube, and, most recently, TikTok. Hunter Thompson, of electronic music management company and record label Alt Vision, notes that a few of the remix creators he first spotted on SoundCloud in the early 2010s ultimately built a thriving career off of their derivative works. “Dillon Francis was one of them,” he says. “That’s how he became a big festival headliner. People loved his bootleg remixes.” As remixes continue to pop up on Spotify Podcasts, copyright holders are left to discern whether or not they warrant action, legal or otherwise.

As Ash Stahl, a manager for artist/producer Said the Sky and an employee of Flighthouse notes, “The marketing teams have totally different opinions on these things than the legal teams do.” While legal may jump to get a remix removed, many marketing team members see bootlegs as a boon, popularizing the song by reaching new audiences.

One way around this issue: make the stems available. Deconstructed songs into individual tracks can be a form of collaboration that comes with the artist’s blessing. Los Angeles-based digital marketing company Black Box is doing that by encouraging users to make remixes via online contests. “The idea is to make stems available and give creators the opportunity to be creative with a song,” says general manager Brian Popowitz. The contests allow Black Box to foster the artist-fan relationship and “provide a point of discovery” for their clients’ work. These reworks can also provide key additional content. “In this always-on world where people expect a high frequency of music, remixes are amazing,” Popowitz says.

In the social media space, TikTok has become a hotbed for remixing as sound pages made by aspiring producers like Carney Val, who has earned 2.6 million followers for his self-made mashups on the platform, continue to gain popularity. These users earn their followings as others on the app begin to use their reworks to soundtrack their own videos. For Carney Val, top influencer Addison Rae’s use of his remix “Lets Link x WAP by @carneyval” introduced the bootleg to her 71.5 million followers, 5.4 million of whom liked her post, bringing considerable visibility for the emerging producer and the tracks.

Though “Lets Link x WAP by @carneyval” in particular cannot be found on Spotify, the emergence of these unofficial remixes disguised as podcasts coincides with TikTok’s meteoric rise as a music-mashup platform over the last few years. All DSPs, including social-based companies like TikTok, fall under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Signed into law in 1998, the DMCA set forth much-needed provisions for copyrights on digital platforms. Title II of this act created limitations on what liabilities are held by DSPs when copyright infringement occurs on their platform. According to Professor Stewart, Title II essentially means, “if you’re the copyright owner and you send a DMCA take-down notice to YouTube, and [YouTube] takes [the infringement] down, YouTube is not responsible.”

Title II of the DMCA gives DSPs plausible deniability with any infringement on their platforms until they are asked by the copyright owner to remove the content, but Stahl says, for her, it has still been “damn near impossible” to get infringements she has reported removed from Spotify. Moving forward, derivative works will continue to be every DSP’s game of whack-a-mole as they try to manage take-down requests, but their future on Spotify podcasts remains unclear.

Mixtape Monkey Brings Old School File Sharing into 2021 with Tape Eater Music App
Channa Steinmetz

Editor’s note: This article is underwritten by Plexpod — a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes — but was independently produced by Startland News.

Reviving the nostalgia of the early 2000s music industry, Mark Serrano designed an app where users can file share “mixtapes” straight from their phones, he said.

“I really want to open that world of file sharing up again,” Serrano said of his newly launched app, Tape Eater, which underscores the founder’s special affinity for independent artists. “It expands the possibilities of music distribution, because people won’t have to rely on labels or getting their samples cleared or going through all these legal steps to be heard.”

Tape Eater is a music streaming platform with a utility purpose, Serrano explained. When users click into the application, it is completely blank — allowing the user to download and uncompress files of their favorite mixtapes.

“It’s old school tech,” Serrano acknowledged. “I’m stepping away from the algorithms. There’s no data; there’s no tracking; there’s no analytics. It’s a very simple tool. If you want to be a collector of mixtapes, this will be the perfect tool for you.”

Serrano is a longtime lover of hip hop mixtapes — first creating Mixtape Monkey in 2011 when he was in high school. Mixtape Monkey, a website where Serrano catalogs and shares mixtapes, was created to be a centralized platform for music fans to find new artists, as well as listen to their favorites.

Click here to read more about what goes on behind-the-screen of Mixtape Monkey.

Sitting on the idea of creating an application for the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic and losing a partnership with music streaming platform TIDAL ultimately pushed Serrano to take the leap of faith, he said.

“The account managers who were handling my account at TIDAL were basically furloughed,” Serrano said. “That was a little soul crushing because I spent all this time building this connection to be a part of this bigger music industry empire, and it was gone. So I decided to start designing the app.”

But knowing that his strengths lay in web design code — not application code — Serrano collaborated with Kansas City’s Code Koalas for the development of Tape Eater.

Serrano designed the application’s icon as a recreation of the Sony TPS-L2 Walkman — the first mobile cassette player.

“It’s a very important piece of tech that changed how people listened to music,” he noted. “I wanted to give a little nod to the past with that.”
Mark Serrano, Mixtape Monkey, Tape Eater

As a way to fund Tape Eater, Serrano applied for Digital Sandbox — a popular Kansas City program that supports early stage commercialization processes — and was ultimately denied, he recalled.

“I have the analytics; I have the revenue model. Everything’s legit,” Serrano stated. “So I got a few friends and told them to believe in me. We piled money together to build the app. I’m taking a huge risk.”

Tape Eater officially launched Dec. 19, also coinciding with Serrano’s 28th birthday. Throughout the ups and downs, Serrano stays motivated and says he is already thinking about his next venture.

“I’m about to hit my 10 years since the first build of Mixtape Monkey in April,” he shared. “I’m in this weird place where I am already trying to figure out the next thing for the music industry.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused his partnership with TIDAL to cease, Serrano is hopeful that with his continued perseverance and hard work, 2021 will bring about more opportunities.

“I can reach out to [TIDAL] or I can reach out to Spotify and build that respectful relationship where an artist has free content and the artist has paid content — and there’s a happy marriage between us,” Serrano said, noting that mixtapes are typically released for free.

Along with building partnerships within the music industry, Serrano said he will continue his work with Mixtape Monkey.

“I think my website’s important for cataloging and archiving these artists’ work,” he said. “You never know when some simple high school kids silly mixtape was something that changed the music industry forever.”

Tape Eater is now available on the App store.

Apple Suffers a Loss in Lawsuit Against Maker of iPhone Emulators

Apple sued Corellium for offering security researchers access to a 'virtual iPhone.'
Mariella Moon

Apple sued security start-up Corellium last year, accusing it of violating copyright law for offering researchers access to “virtual” iPhones that can help them find bugs in iOS products. Now, a federal judge in Florida has tossed Apple’s copyright complaint, giving Corellium a major victory in its legal battle against the tech giant. Apple also accused Corellium of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for allegedly bypassing its security measures to create its iPhone emulator. That complaint has yet to be addressed by court.

Corellium’s software allows security experts to run virtual iPhones on a browser on their computer. It gives them deeper access to iOS even without a physical iPhone installed with special software. As The Washington Post notes, in addition to accusing Corellium of infringing on its copyright, Apple also said the company was selling its product indiscriminately, thereby compromising the platform’s security.

Judge Rodney Smith ruled, however, that Apple’s claims are “puzzling, if not disingenuous.” He wrote in his ruling (via TechCrunch): “Weighing all the necessary factors, the Court finds that Corellium has met its burden of establishing fair use. Thus, its use of iOS in connection with the Corellium Product is permissible.” The judge also pointed out that Apple tried to acquire Corellium in 2018 and was able to test its product before their talks fell through. If Apple pushed through with Corellium’s acquisition, the latter’s software would’ve apparently been used for internal testing and validation. The ruling discussed how Corellium vets its customers before selling them the software, as well.

David L. Hecht, Corellium’s co-counsel, told Engadget in a statement:

“We are very pleased with the Court’s ruling on fair use and are proud of the strength and resolve that our clients at Corellium have displayed in this important battle. The Court affirmed the strong balance that fair use provides against the reach of copyright protection into other markets, which is a huge win for the security research industry in particular.”

Apple has long been criticized for making it difficult for researchers to take its mobile platform apart to check for vulnerabilities. Recently, though, it launched the Security Research Device (SRD) Program that sends qualified security experts hacker-friendly iPhones they can use to find bugs in iOS itself and in third-party apps. Apple sent out its first batch of SRD iPhones a few days ago and is expected to accept more applicants into the program in the future.

Google Rejects DOJ Antitrust Claims in Court Filing

Google is pushing back in court this week on antitrust claims brought against it by the Justice Department two months ago.

In a legal filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Google denied or partially rejected almost 200 specific complaints against it. On only one count, that Google was a “founded in Menlo Park garage 22 years ago,” did the company side with the Justice Department.

It said that people use its search engine “because they choose to, not because they are forced to or because they cannot easily find alternative ways to search for information on the Internet.”

In October the Justice Department sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

And last week U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta set a tentative trial date of Sept. 12, 2023 for the landmark case.

Google has fiercely denied government allegations that it has illegally struck a series of deals to thwart competition in the search market to help give it a stranglehold on a digital advertising market that has brought in more than $100 billion in revenue to the company during the first nine months of this year alone.

The company’s insistence that it has done nothing wrong makes a pre-trial settlement seem unlikely.

L.A. County Health Department Asks Film Industry to ‘Strongly Consider Pausing’ Production as COVID-19 Cases Surge

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is urging film productions in the area to “strongly consider” pausing their operations for a few weeks amid a continued surge in COVID-19 cases.

Per FilmLA, in an email sent to the county’s film industry contacts on Dec. 24, the LADPH wrote: “Although music, TV and film productions are allowed to operate, we ask you to strongly consider pausing work for a few weeks during this catastrophic surge in COVID cases. Identify and delay higher risk activities, and focus on lower-risk work for now, if at all possible.”

The health department also warned industry members that traveling “for production purposes is currently not advised,” as it increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 “by making it more likely that people will end up together in vehicles or indoors in less-controlled settings.”

The county’s suggestion comes as the LADPH reports 13,661 new cases of COVID-19 and 73 new deaths, with an estimated 432 additional deaths reflecting delayed reporting over the weekend. On Dec. 23, it was announced that California had officially become the first state to surpass two million COVID-19 cases. The recent surge has resulted in crowded hospitals and the likely extension of California’s current stay-at-home order.

In a press conference on Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that he expects to extend regional stay-at-home orders across the state, with an official announcement coming Tuesday.

Newsom said that residents of California must “prepare ourselves for what is inevitable now, based upon the travel that we have seen just in the last week and expectation of more of the same through the rest of the holiday season.”

Mitch McConnell Using Section 230 Repeal As A Poison Pill To Avoid $2k Stimulus Checks
Mike Masnick

As you likely know by now, President Trump is trying to use his last few weeks in office to use various levers of power remaining to him to make sure he fucks up the open internet. However, he also threw a wrench in the works of the long-overdue and way too small COVID relief package by saying that the checks to individuals should be $2,000 rather than $600. He's not wrong, but it was bizarre that his own White House was part of the negotiations that made sure the checks were smaller. It's almost as if the President and his own administration don't communicate very much.

House Democrats took up the cause, and pushed for the $2,000, and many House Republicans went along with it, recognizing how popular an idea this was. The problem, of course, is that Mitch McConnell has absolutely no interest in this at all. Earlier today, Mitch McConnell blocked the motion to vote on increasing the checks to $2,000. Afterwards, he announced, in the most awkward language possible, that he wants to link the raised stimulus to... Section 230 repeal and the made-up issue of "election fraud."

McConnell on CHECKS, SECT. 230, ELECTION FRAUD: "Those are the three important subjects the President has linked together. This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus."

It's not difficult to figure out what's actually happening here. McConnell does not want the larger checks going out. He's spent months trying to limit the size of any stimulus plan. So, his plan now is to "link" the issue to things that he knows will not pass in an actual vote. Basically, Section 230 (and the made up issue of election fraud) are poison pills to kill the stimulus plan.

This is horrific on both sides of the equation: using Section 230 and the open internet as a pawn in this game, and his resistance to actually putting together a stimulus plan that helps Americans who have suffered from their own government's total mismanagement of the pandemic. It's difficult not to be cynical about politics when you have people like Mitch McConnell pulling the strings.

Party Like It's 1925 On Public Domain Day (Gatsby And Dalloway Are In)
Neda Ulaby

What a year it was for Anglo-American literature and the arts!

1925 was the year of heralded novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, seminal works by Sinclair Lewis, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley ... and a banner year for musicians, too. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, among hundreds of others, made important recordings. And 1925 marked the release of canonical movies from silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

As of today, every single one of those works has entered the public domain. "That means that copyright has expired," explains Jennifer Jenkins, a law professor at Duke University who directs its Center for the Study of the Public Domain. "And all of the works are free for anyone to use, reuse, build upon for anyone — without paying a fee."

On January 1 every year, a new batch of published works is liberated from the constraints of copyright. (For a long time, copyright expired after 75 years but in 2001, Congress pushed the date of copyright expiration to 97 years.) It's difficult to overstate the importance of having work in the public domain. For example, can you imagine the holidays without It's A Wonderful Life? That movie happened to be unprotected by copyright, so it was able to be shown — a lot — for free, contributing to its establishment as an American Christmas classic.

It also means books can be published more cheaply and made available for free online; that old "orphan" films can be preserved by archivists; that scholars can access and publish material more easily; that musicians can sample and experiment with the songs of an earlier generation and that classic characters can be given new life and new interpretations.

While the most successful creators often leave behind legal estates to manage the care (and finances) of their famous books, plays, operas and so forth, most aren't so lucky. "For the vast majority of authors from 1925, no one is benefiting from copyright protections," Jenkins tells NPR. Having their work enter the public domain is a way to keep it circulating in the culture for artists and historians to use for education and inspiration.

In an article about this year's Public Domain Day, Jenkins discusses everything from the changes in length of copyright to a fascinating story about the copyright of Hitler's Mein Kampf, which also enters the public domain this year. (A dizzyingly exhaustive list of works from 1925 now in the public domain can be found here.)

"What a bumper crop!" Jenkins exults. Besides the marquee names traditionally lionized by the literary estalishment, she is quick to point out, there's rich, unplumbed material especially useful to scholars of marginalized communities. And to be able to use and interpret these works — to put them in dialogue with contemporary thoughts and ideas — what a legacy of artistry and inspiration, says Jenkins, with which to begin 2021.

Below, you can peruse a selection of works entering the public domain today, hand-picked by Jenkins:


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
The Trial (in German) by Franz Kafka
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos
The New Negro edited by Alain Locke (collecting works from writers including W.E.B. du Bois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer and Eric Walrond)
Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Those Barren Leaves by Aldous Huxley
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs by Dorothy Scarborough
The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton
A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto


Harold Lloyd's The Freshman
The Merry Widow
Stella Dallas
Buster Keaton's Go West
His People
Lovers in Quarantine
Pretty Ladies
The Unholy Three


"Always," by Irving Berlin
"Sweet Georgia Brown," by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard and Kenneth Casey
Works by Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, the "Mother of the Blues," including "Army Camp Harmony Blues" (with Hooks Tilford) and "Shave 'Em Dry" (with William Jackson)
"Looking for a Boy," by George and Ira Gershwin (from the musical Tip-Toes)
"Manhattan," by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers
"Ukulele Lady," by Gus Kahn and Richard Whiting
"Yes Sir, That's My Baby," by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson
Works by "Jelly Roll" Morton, including "Shreveport Stomp" and "Milenberg Joys" (with Paul Mares, Walter Melrose and Leon Roppolo)
Works by W.C. Handy, including "Friendless Blues" (with Mercedes Gilbert), "Bright Star of Hope" (with Lillian A. Thorsten) and "When the Black Man Has a Nation of His Own" (with J.M. Miller)
Works by Duke Ellington, including "Jig Walk" and "With You" (both with Joseph "Jo" Trent)
Works by "Fats" Waller, including "Anybody Here Want To Try My Cabbage" (with Andy Razaf), "Ball and Chain Blues" (with Andy Razaf), and "Campmeetin' Stomp"

... plus many, many more. You can find Jenkins' full list here, and the exhaustive list of works here.)

Until next week,

- js.

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