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Old 11-05-22, 06:26 AM   #1
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 14th, 22

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May 14th, 2022

Disney Copyrights Targeted in Bill Proposed by Sen. Josh Hawley

The company would lose its copyright to the original design of Mickey Mouse if the law is passed.
Winston Cho

Disney, under siege by Republican lawmakers, may immediately lose its copyright for Mickey Mouse if a law slashing the duration of ownership is passed.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Tuesday proposed legislation that limits copyright protection to 56 years. According to the Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022, the law would retroactively apply to existing copyrights.

The move follows Florida lawmakers last month stripping Disney of special privileges of self-government that allowed it to independently oversee its sprawling theme park area. The feud started when the company vowed to push for repeal of the Parental Rights in Education Law, which bars discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K-3 and allows parents to sue school districts if they think there’s been a violation.

Disney has suspended political donations in Florida. After an about-face that saw the company publicly oppose the legislation under pressure from employees after initially staying silent, Gov. Ron DeSantis placed Disney front and center in a culture war against what he called “woke corporations.”

Hawley, employing DeSantis’ playbook, said in a statement, “Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists.”

Hawley’s mention of “special copyright protections” refers to Disney’s major role influencing the evolution of copyright law. Mickey Mouse was first introduced with the 1928 release of Steamboat Willie. At the time, Disney was afforded 56 years of protection for the character.

But with the copyright set to expire in 1984, Disney lobbied for reform and secured the passage of the Copyright Act of 1976. This allowed ownership of works by corporations for 75 years. In 1998, Disney was again able to delay the entry of Mickey Mouse into the public domain with the adoption of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The law extended protection of copyrights by corporations for 95 years from their original publication, pushing the expiration of Disney’s copyright for Steamboat Willie to 2024.

Several Republican lawmakers have said that they won’t support an extension of copyright protections for Disney if a bill is introduced. In a letter to chief executive Bob Chapek, Jim Banks (R-In.) denounced the company for capitulating “to far-left activists through hypocritical, woke corporate actions” with its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act.

“Given Disney’s continued work with a Communist Chinese regime that does not respect human rights or U.S. intellectual property and given your desire to influence young children with sexual material inappropriate for their age, I will not support further extensions applicable to your copyrights, which should become public domain,” reads the letter.

But even if Disney’s copyright for Steamboat Willie expires, only the original design of Mickey Mouse will hit the public domain. There have been several iterations of the character over the past century. The copyright for sorcerer Mickey, for example, which appeared in the 1940 movie Fantasia, expires in 2036.

Trademarks, which cover words and symbols used to identify products, may also serve to protect Disney’s business interests in controlling the commercial use of its characters.

The proposal brought by Hawley is unlikely to pass given the Democratic majority in the Senate. Even so, Republican lawmakers’ appetite to attack Disney to attract conservative voters places the company in the increasingly untenable position of trying to play both sides of the aisle.

So far, Disney has stayed silent on the dissolution of its Reedy Creek Improvement District in Florida. It didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

2 Make Deal, Leaving Just Kim Dotcom facing US Extradition
Nick Perry

Two men charged by U.S. prosecutors with racketeering and other crimes for their involvement in the once wildly popular file-sharing website Megaupload said Tuesday they have reached a deal that will see them avoid being extradited to the U.S. in exchange for facing charges in New Zealand.

The deal by former Megaupload officers Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk means that only Megaupload’s flamboyant founder Kim Dotcom, who also lives in New Zealand, still faces the possibility of extradition to the U.S. in the long-running case.

U.S. authorities shut down Megaupload in 2012, saying it raked in at least $175 million, mainly from people using it to illegally download songs, television shows and movies. The Department of Justice describes it as the largest criminal copyright case in U.S. history.

Facing the possibility of spending decades in U.S. jails if convicted, Dotcom and the other two men have fought against extradition through the New Zealand legal system for the past 10 years.

Last year, New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled the trio could be extradited. But it remained up to Justice Minister Kris Faafoi to make a final decision on extradition. And even that decision could be appealed.

In a statement issued through their lawyer Peter Spring, Ortmann and van der Kolk said the continuing uncertainty of the case had taken a heavy toll on their lives and the time had come to move on.

“Accordingly, we have reached an agreement with the New Zealand Government and the United States of America under which we have agreed to be charged in New Zealand for offenses similar to those we face in the United States.”

The pair added that New Zealand was now their home “and we want to stay here.”

Lawyers for Dotcom and the other men have long argued that if anybody was guilty in the case, it was the users of the site who chose to pirate material, not the founders. But prosecutors say the men were the architects of a vast criminal enterprise.

Dotcom and the two other men were once close friends but had a falling out after setting up a new company, Mega, following the closure of Megaupload.

In a series of tweets Tuesday, Dotcom said his former friends would become witnesses against him as part of their deal but he didn’t blame them.

“I want to congratulate my former friends and partners to have found a case resolution,” Dotcom wrote. “They can avoid the terrible US Justice system. I’m happy for them. After 10 years of US lawfare I understand why they have given up. I don’t blame them and I sincerely wish them all the best.”

Dotcom vowed to continue fighting the case.

“I won’t accept the injustice we have been subjected to,” he wrote. “If I have to go to jail for what Megaupload users did on our site then many Big Tech CEOs are in the same boat with me.”

U.S. prosecutors had earlier dropped their extradition bid against a fourth officer of the company who was arrested in New Zealand, Finn Batato.

In 2015, Megaupload computer programmer Andrus Nomm, of Estonia, pleaded guilty in the case to conspiring to commit felony copyright infringement and was sentenced to one year and one day in U.S. federal prison.

How Millions of Russians are Tearing Holes in the Digital Iron Curtain
Anthony Faiola

When Russian authorities blocked hundreds of Internet sites in March, Konstantin decided to act. The 52-year-old company manager in Moscow tore a hole in the Digital Iron Curtain, which had been erected to control the narrative of the war in Ukraine, with a tool that lets him surf blocked sites and eyeball taboo news.

Konstantin turned to a virtual private network, an encrypted digital tunnel commonly known as a VPN. Since the war began in late February, VPNs have been downloaded in Russia by the hundreds of thousands a day, a massive surge in demand that represents a direct challenge to President Vladimir Putin and his attempt to seal Russians off from the wider world. By protecting the locations and identities of users, VPNs are now granting millions of Russians access to blocked material.

Downloading one in his Moscow apartment, Konstantin said, brought back memories of the 1980s in the Soviet Union, when he used a shortwave radio to hear forbidden news of dissident arrests on Radio Liberty, which is funded by the United States.

“We didn’t know what was going on around us. That’s true again now,” said Konstantin, who, like other Russian VPN users, spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld for fear of government retribution. “Many people in Russia simply watch TV and eat whatever the government is feeding them. I wanted to find out what was really happening.”

Daily downloads in Russia of the 10 most popular VPNs jumped from below 15,000 just before the war to as many as 475,000 in March. As of this week, downloads were continuing at a rate of nearly 300,000 a day, according to data compiled for The Washington Post by the analytics firm Apptopia, which relies on information from apps, public data and an algorithm to come up with estimates.

Russian clients typically download multiple VPNs, but the data suggests millions of new users per month. In early April, Russian telecom operator Yota reported that the number of VPN users was over 50 times as high as in January, according to the Tass state news service.

The Internet Protection Society, a digital rights group associated with jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, launched its own VPN service last month and reached its limit of 300,000 users within 10 days, according to executive director Mikhail Klimarev. Based on internal surveys, he estimates that the number of VPN users in Russia has risen to roughly 30 percent of the 100 million Internet users in Russia. To combat Putin, “Ukraine needs Javelin and Russians need Internet,” Klimarev said.

By accessing banned Ukrainian and Western news sites, Konstantin said, he has come to deeply sympathize with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian the Russian press has sought to falsely portray as a “drug addict.” He was recently compared to Adolf Hitler by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “I loved him as an actor, but now I know Zelensky is also brave because I’ve seen him talk on Ukrainian news sites with my VPN,” Konstantin said.

Not only does widespread VPN use help millions of citizens reach material laying out the true extent of Russian military losses and countering the official portrayal of the war as a fight against fascists, say Russian Internet experts, it also limits government surveillance of activists. Russian officials have sought to curtail VPN use. A law in 2017 resulted in the banning of more than a dozen providers for refusing to comply with Russian censorship rules.

In the days before the war, and in the weeks since then, Russian authorities have also ratcheted up pressure on Google, asking the search engine to remove thousands of Internet sites associated with VPNs, according to the Lumen database, an archive of legal complaints related to Internet content. Google, which did not respond to a request for comment, still includes banned sites in search results.

The Russian government has been reluctant to ban VPNs completely. Policing such a ban would pose a technological challenge. In addition, many Russians use VPNs to access nonpolitical entertainment and communication tools, popular distractions from daily hardships. Last month, when asked on Belarusian television if he had downloaded a VPN, even Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded: “Yes, I have. Why not?”
Mass flight of technology workers turns sector into casualty of war

Since the war began, more than 1,000 Internet sites have been restricted by Russian authorities, including Facebook, Instagram, BBC News, Radio Liberty and Voice of America, according to a survey by a VPN technology tracker. The last independent Russian media outlets were forced to shut down, and those in exile that are offering critical content, such as the popular news site Meduza, have also been banned.

Today, even calling the Russian “special operation,” as Putin has forcibly dubbed the invasion, a “war” risks a sentence of up to 15 years in jail. Free speech has effectively disappeared, and even teachers who question the invasion are being reported to the authorities by their students.

“People want to see banned content, but I think they’re also genuinely scared,” said Tonia Samsonova, a Russian media entrepreneur based in Londond. “No matter your attitude toward the government or the war, every Russian knows that if the government knows too much about you, it’s potentially dangerous. So a VPN is so useful even if they aren’t critical of Putin.”

Katerina Abramova, spokeswoman for Meduza, said online traffic at the site declined only briefly after it was banned by Russian authorities in March. Traffic began surging from unlikely countries like the Netherlands, suggesting that Russians were utilizing VPNs that made them appear to be abroad. “VPNs won’t start a broad revolution in Russia,” she said. “But it’s a way people who are against this war can stay connected to the world.”

Natalia, an 83-year-old Muscovite and former computer operator, asked her adult daughter to help her download a VPN on her laptop shortly after the war started. She feared that the government would ban YouTube, preventing her from seeing her favorite program, an online talk show about technology news. The Kremlin has yet to block YouTube, though Russian Internet experts say the probability remains high.

Yet as the war progressed, Natalia found herself also looking at banned news sites, including Radio Free Europe, to stay informed, even as friends around her bought “totally” into the government line that Ukrainians were Nazis and Russia was facing an existential threat from the West. “People now just believe lie after lie. I feel so isolated,” she said.

Natalia said, for instance, that she has been able to read foreign news stories suggesting there were significant Russian casualties in the sinking last month of the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. But the Russian press has reported only one official death, with 27 soldiers declared “missing.”

“Parents are just getting one answer from the Ministry of Defense that your son is missing,” she said. “Missing? Don’t you really mean dead? But they’re not saying that. They’re not telling the truth.”

Although downloading a VPN is technically easy, usually requiring only a few clicks, purchasing a paid VPN has become complicated in Russia, as Western sanctions have rendered Russian credit and debit cards nearly useless outside the country. That has forced many to resort to free VPNs, which can have spotty service and can sell information about users.

Vytautas Kaziukonis, chief executive of Surfshark — a Lithuania-based VPN that saw a 20-fold increase in Russian users in March — said some of those customers are now paying in cryptocurrencies or through people they know in third countries.

In a country used to hardships, Russians are good at creative workarounds. Elena, a 50-year-old Moscow tour operator, said she has managed to tap into her old Facebook account by repeatedly signing up for free trials with several different VPN providers to avoid payment. “We do what we have to do,” Elena said.

Low-Wage Earners to Get High-Speed Internet for $30 in Biden Program

At&T, Comcast, Verizon and 17 other providers will offer discounts under the plan, which the White House estimates will extend to 48 million households.
Jacob Bogage

Twenty Internet providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, have agreed to provide high-speed service at a steep discount to low-income consumers, the White House announced Monday, significantly expanding broadband access for millions of Americans.

The plan, a feature of the $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year, would cost qualifying households no more than $30 per month. The discounts plus existing federal Internet subsidies mean the government will cover the full cost of connectivity if consumers sign on with one of the 20 participating companies. The White House estimates the program will cover 48 million households, or 40 percent of the country.

More than 11.5 million households have already signed up to claim government subsidies.

The 100 megabit-per-second service is fast enough for a family to work from home, complete schoolwork, browse the Internet and stream high-definition movies and TV shows, the White House said.

“High-speed Internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” President Biden said in remarks announcing the program at the White House Rose Garden.

Households can qualify for the subsidies, called the Affordable Connectivity Program, if their income is at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, a member of the household participates in certain federal anti-poverty initiatives — including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, federal housing assistance, Pell Grant tuition assistance, or free or reduced-price school meals — or if the household already qualifies for an Internet provider’s low-income service program.

Consumers can check whether they qualify for discounted service at getinternet.gov, or by calling (877) 384-2575.

Biden, during his 2020 campaign and in negotiations for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, has made Internet access a high priority, especially for rural America and low-income consumers. A 2021 study by the Pew Research Center found that although access to broadband, the most reliable form of Internet connectivity, has increased among rural residents in the past decade, rural communities still lag well behind others in terms of service.

Roughly 7 in 10 adults in rural areas reported having home broadband access in 2021, Pew found; the same proportion had a desktop or laptop computer. Eight in 10 had a smartphone. Rates for urban and suburban households were between 5 and 10 percent better.

But in urban and suburban communities, the cost of Internet service has long been a bigger obstacle than network access, experts say. That has prevented families from getting online to access telehealth service, participate in educational activities or enjoy entertainment.

It has led some individuals to go to great lengths to access the Internet. Public education officials speak often of students clustered at fast-food restaurants or coffee shops equipped with free WiFi to complete assignments because they lack Internet connectivity at home. During the pandemic, public libraries set up stations for elderly residents to access remote health care, allowing patients to communicate with doctors, but without the privacy to which many patients are entitled, health-care professionals say.

“The cost of broadband is a driver of the digital divide,” said Chris Lewis, president and chief executive of the advocacy group Public Knowledge. “And that’s in all types of communities, urban, rural, suburban, you name it. ... Look at the reaction during the pandemic to people being upset that children in schools did not have access to broadband. That was not a rural issue. That was an issue in every community. And even if a family could afford broadband and their kids were doing school over broadband, they knew someone in their school, one of their kids’ friends, who was not connected to quality broadband.”

Biden’s infrastructure package reserved $65 billion to improve the nation’s broadband network. Most of that funding will go to states for projects directed by local policymakers, but a $14 billion pool was set aside for Internet subsidies.

The discount program faces early hurdles because the households it is meant to serve are not online and therefore more difficult to reach. The White House said it would partner with other federal agencies, state and city governments and charitable groups to spread the word.

But some experts worried Monday about the longevity of the program. By some estimates, the money for subsidies will run out by 2025, potentially leaving millions of families with a brand-new monthly bill after three years of free, or significantly cheaper, service.

“If we’re going to subsidize broadband, we need to bring it down to $0,” said Christopher Ali, associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of the 2021 book “Farm Fresh Broadband.” “For a lot of families, even $10 a month is expensive. If we look at it by the numbers, there are more people who can’t afford Internet access than people who don’t have access to a network.”

But the program raised questions among experts on how Internet service providers have priced their products. The discounts apply only to low-income customers, but providers often market their products to other individuals at significantly higher prices. That raises issues of price transparency, experts said, even as Monday’s announcement is a positive step for increasing Internet access.

“It will hopefully get Comcast and AT&T and other broadband providers more customers. That’s probably a good thing for them,” Lewis said. “Are they getting customers that are a loss leader for them or customers that make money for them? We don’t know because no one studied the pricing and competition in the marketplace.”

The iPod is Dead
Brian Heater

Last October marked 20 years of the iPod. It’s a remarkable run in the cutthroat, always-iterating world of consumer electronics. And while it’s undoubtedly true that life hasn’t been particularly fruitful for the music player in a product lineup that includes various iPhones and iPads, the beloved music player has somehow managed to hang on.

That is, until today.

Apple this morning announced that the iPod is dead. That is, as much as a particular gadget can ever be dead. Rather, it will shuffle off this mortal coil slowly, remaining for sale while supplies last. So if you were considering purchasing one for any reason, buy now or forever hold your peace.

The iPod’s death has been a protracted one. I can hear those “the iPod was still around?” posts clogging up the comments section as I type this. The iconic clickwheel model, which later gave rise to the Classic, was discontinued back in 2014. The Shuffle and Nano, meanwhile, were killed off three years later. Until today, the seventh-generation iPod Touch stubbornly clung to life, three years after its debut.

The first iPod debuted onstage in the hand of Steve Jobs on October 23, 2001. “With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go,” he noted at the time. “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”

In the age of ubiquitous smartphones and Spotify, it’s hard to impress upon people how revolutionary the promise of 1,000 songs in your pocket ultimately was. All of that was packed onto a tiny 5GB Toshiba hard drive and plugged into a Mac via FireWire cable. Whom amongst us didn’t want to be a silhouetted figure dancing with white headphones in front of a brightly colored backdrop?

Without the iPod, there’s no iPhone, no iPad. Last week, iPod and iPhone co-creator Tony Fadell walked us through that direct connection.

“We did iPod Plus Phone,” Fadell said. “You took the headset, which had a microphone on it and the one ear thing. You could use the Click Wheel to select numbers and names, or you could dial with it, like a rotary phone, which was the ultimate death of it. You couldn’t enter anything, because there’s no textual input. But it was an iPod Classic with a phone in it. Walk it back from the third-party prototype, and we were there, too.”

Of Jobs and the iPod/iPhone connection, he explained, “He had very clear views on things — until they weren’t clear,” he told TechCrunch. “Or it became very clear that they wouldn’t work. He pushed us very hard on making the iPod Plus Phone work. We worked weeks and weeks to figure out how to do input with the click wheel. We couldn’t get it, and after the whole team was convinced we couldn’t do it, he was like, ‘keep trying!’ At some point we all said, ‘no, it isn’t going to work.’”

When the iPhone arrived six years later, it ditched the clickwheel for a touchscreen, though the company was still attached enough to keep that iconic input device alive through the iPod Classic. 2007 also saw the debut of the iPod Touch, which drew upon the iPhone’s touchscreen design. That same year, the company announced that it had sold its one-hundred-millionth device.

Apple used the bittersweet occasion to mourn the device’s end-of-life, while plugging products that will keep that flame burning.

“Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” Greg Joswiak said in a release. “Today, the spirit of iPod lives on. We’ve integrated an incredible music experience across all of our products, from the iPhone to the Apple Watch to HomePod mini, and across Mac, iPad, and Apple TV. And Apple Music delivers industry-leading sound quality with support for spatial audio — there’s no better way to enjoy, discover, and experience music.”

Perhaps it’s time to dig through the old gadget drawer, dust off the iPod and see if it’s possible to resurrect it for one final spin. Here’s to you, old friend.

Until next week,

- js.

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