— FEATURED —
— FOLLOW US —
— POLICIES —
Except where indicated, Boing Boing is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution
— FONTS —
Five things companies can do to protect user privacy and free speech:
Respect your data.
Companies should carefully evaluate the costs of collecting and retaining data to avoid the fallout, lawsuits, and government fines that Path suffered for silently uploading users’ contacts.
Stand up for your users’ rights.
Companies can earn public praise and user trust for protecting user privacy rights like Amazon or for supporting free speech like Facebook.
Incorporate privacy and security from start to finish, and evaluate these practices as the company grows.
Give users the ability to make informed choices by letting them know what data you collect, and how it can be used, shared, or demanded by the government. Transparency reports like Google’s are important tools.
Encourage users to speak freely.
Give users control over the content they access and the tools they use rather than censoring content like PayPal.
Retraction Watch, a website that documents the retraction of scientific papers, has had a series of articles about disgraced cancer researcher Anil Potti abruptly censored by WordPress in response to a DMCA copyright complaint from a dodgy Indian website that appears to have copied all the articles to its own site, then complained to WordPress on the grounds that Retraction Watch had copied it:
One of the cases they followed was Anil Potti, a cancer researcher who, at the time, worked at Duke University. Potti first fell under scrutiny for embellishing his resume, but the investigation quickly expanded as broader questions were raised about his research. As the investigation continued, a number of Potti's papers ended up being retracted as accusations of falsified data were raised. Eventually, three clinical trials that were started based on Potti's data were stopped entirely. Although federal investigations of Potti's conduct are still in progress, he eventually resigned from Duke.
In all, Retraction Watch published 22 stories on the implosion of Potti's career. In fact, three of the top four Google results for his name all point to the Retraction Watch blog (the fourth is his Wikipedia entry). Despite the widespread attention to his misbehavior, Potti managed to get a position at the University of North Dakota (where he worked earlier in his career). Meanwhile, he hired a reputation management company, which dutifully went about creating websites with glowing things to say about the doctor.
This morning, however, 10 of the Retraction Watch posts vanished. An e-mail Oransky received explained why: an individual from "Utter [sic] Pradesh" named Narendra Chatwal claimed to be a senior editor at NewsBulet.In, "a famous news firm in India." Chatwal said the site only publishes work that is "individually researched by our reporters," yet duplicates of some of the site's material appeared on Retraction Watch. Therefore, to protect his copyright, he asked that the WordPress host pull the material. It complied.
The Ars Technica article skirts outright accusation, but makes a clear inference that a "reputation management company" committed fraud as part of a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of Potti.
One important thing to note is that WordPress isn't obliged to respond to DMCA takedowns, but if it fails to do so, it could be jointly sued, along with its users, over the alleged infringement. In theory, though, WordPress could decide that these takedown requests don't pass the giggle test, reinstate the posts, and tell the company that sent in the notices to sue and be damned.
Site plagiarizes blog posts, then files DMCA takedown on originals [John Timmer/Ars Technica] (via Making Light)
The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) has joined a private equity consortium that acquired the notorious Internet surveillance company BlueCoat, yoking teachers' retirement security to the fortunes of a company that has systematically assisted some of the world's most brutal dictatorships to censor and surveil their citizenry. Blue Coat has blood on its hands, people rounded up and tortured and even killed thanks to it and products like it, and it's a disgrace for teachers -- whose professional ethics embrace freedom, intellectual inquiry, and fairness -- to be part of the financial exit strategy for the people who founded and ran that company.
Ron Deibert and Sarah McKune from the University of Toronto's CitizenLab and Munk School of Global Affairs have written an op-ed in the Toronto Star, detailing some of BlueCoat's ethical unsuitablity, and the fact that the OTPP went into the transaction having been thoroughly briefed on what they were getting into.
If you'd like to read more about BlueCoat, check out CitizenLab's excellent report: "Mapping Global Censorship and Surveillance Tools."
Now, a year later, Citizen Lab has released a new report, Planet Blue Coat: Mapping Global Censorship and Surveillance Tools. Using a combination of technical interrogation methods, our researchers scanned the Internet to look for signature evidence of Blue Coat products. While our investigation was not exhaustive and provided only a limited window of visibility into the deployment of such tools, what we were able to find raises serious concerns.
We uncovered 61 Blue Coat ProxySG and 316 Blue Coat PacketShaper devices, which are designed to filter online content and inspect and control network traffic. While legitimate for some purposes, these capabilities can also be used for mass censorship and surveillance of a country’s Internet users. It is noteworthy in this respect that 61 of these Blue Coat appliances are on public or government networks in countries with a history of concerns over human rights, surveillance and censorship (see the work of the OpenNet Initiative documenting such concerns).
Specifically, we found the ProxySG product, designed to filter access to information online, in Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We found the PacketShaper appliance, capable of deep packet inspection and mass surveillance, in Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Venezuela.
For years, there have been stories about Games Workshop being trademark bullies and sending threats to people who use the term "space marine" in connection with games. But now that they've started publishing ebooks, Games Workshop has begun to assert a trademark on the generic, widely used, very old term "space marine" in connection with science fiction literature.
MCA Hogarth, an author who has published several novels in ebook form, has had her book "Spots the Space Marine" taken down on Amazon in response to a legal threat from Games Workshop. She could conceivably fight the trademark claim, but that would cost (a lot) of money, which she doesn't have.
I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. I want there to be a world where Heinlein and E.E. Smith’s space marines can live alongside mine and everyone else’s, and no one has the hubris to think that they can own a fundamental genre trope and deny it to everyone else.
At this point I’m not sure what course to take. I interviewed five lawyers and all of them were willing to take the case, but barring the arrival of a lawyer willing to work pro bono, the costs of beginning legal action start at $2000 and climb into the five-figure realm when it becomes a formal lawsuit. Many of you don’t know me, so you don’t know that I write a business column/web comic for artists; wearing my business hat, it’s hard to countenance putting so much time and energy into saving a novel that hasn’t earned enough to justify it. But this isn’t just about Spots. It’s about science fiction’s loss of one of its foundational tropes.
I have very little free time and very little money. But if enough people show up to this fight, I’ll give what I can to serve that trust. And if the response doesn’t equal the level of support I would need, then I still thank you for your help and your well wishes. For now, step one is to talk about this. Pass it on to your favorite news source. Tell your favorite authors or writers’ organizations. To move forward, we need interest. Let’s generate some interest.
A few important notes:
* Amazon didn't have to honor the takedown notice. Takedown notices are a copyright thing, a creature of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They don't apply to trademark claims. This is Amazon taking voluntary steps that are in no way required in law.
* Games Workshop's strategy is to make "space marine" less generic by launching high profile, bullying attacks on everyone who uses it, so that there will come a day when people hearing the phrase immediately conclude that it must be related to Games Workshop, because everyone know what colossal dicks they are whenever anyone else uses the phrase
* Trademarks only apply to commercial works. You can and should use "space marine" in your everyday speech, fanfic, tweets and so on. For one thing, it will undermine Games Workshop's attempts to homestead our common language.
In the Future, All Space Marines Will Be Warhammer 40K Space Marines (Thanks to everyone who sent this in)
A member of Athlone Town Council is trying to have a state-owned piece of art removed from a public art gallery. The artwork by Shane Cullen features transcripts of messages smuggled in and out of the Long Kesh Prison by members of the IRA in the late 70s and early 80s. The work is part of the collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and was made in the mid 90s.
Cllr Mark Cooney, of the main government party Fine Gael, tabled a motion calling for the removal of the work from the Luan Gallery, Athlone. Cllr Cooney, compared the work to a piece glorifying Hitler "extolling the merits of exterminating the Jewish population". Cllr Gabrielle McFadden also of Fine Gael supported Cllr Cooney saying that public galleries should not show politically contentious art.
Independent Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne suggested the matter be referred to the board of Athlone Art and Heritage of which she and at least one other Councillor are members. The Councillors voted in favour of this proposal.
The Kindle edition is back. Amazon PR person Brittany Turner wrote, "Wanted to let you know that this book is now available in the Kindle Store." Ms Turner didn't offer any further explanation.
Presumably, it was a dumb mistake to begin with, but one that couldn't be corrected until there was enough publicity to get senior people to look in on the issue.
The UK Pirate Party abandoned its fight against the BPI -- Britain's answer to the RIAA -- over its proxy for reaching The Pirate Bay, which is blocked by court order in the UK. The Party's executive had been personally threatened with legal action by the BPI and couldn't afford to risk home and family fighting this fight. But other Pirate Parties took up the slack: new, unblocked Pirate Bay proxies have been established by Pirate Party Luxembourg and Pirate Party Argentina:
“Due to pressure from lobbyists, politicians all over Europe are incited to expand the censorship infrastructure to prevent freedom of expression, the right to information and the free exchange of culture. With our proxy, we help to circumvent the Internet censorship of European countries,” Luxembourg Pirate Party President Sven Clement says.
The Argentinian Pirate Party is sending a similar message, and invites those who can’t access The Pirate Bay due to blockades to use their proxy.
“We wish the UK Pirate Party best of luck in their continued fight for free access to culture and knowledge. We have put up our own Pirate Bay proxy which is accessible from anywhere in the world, including the UK and other places where it has been censored.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Alison Dame-Boyle has a good post on Victoria's Secret bad-tempered attempt to censor a campaign by the feminist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, which parodied the "Sure Thing" and "Unwrap Me" underwear that Victoria's Secret sells to high-school students with its PINK line, replacing the slogans with phrases like "Ask First" and "Respect."
Victoria's Secret used takedown notices to get FORCE's web-host to shut down its site, to get Twitter to yank the FORCE's @LoveConsent account, shutting down the dialogue about consent and rape just as it was gaining momentum. It's a sobering reminder of the power of copyright takedown rules to be used to censor political speech, and of the fragility of free speech in an era where the entertainment industry has lobbied successfully for laws that allow censorship without a court order.
Though nothing was down for long—the site was only down briefly as FORCE moved to a different hosting provider and the Twitter account was back up by Friday, December 7—even the brief downtime hurt the campaign. FORCE had purposefully launched PINK Loves CONSENT immediately prior to the fashion show to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the event, which attracted nearly 10 million viewers. During the show, tweets about body acceptance and the importance of normalizing a culture of enthusiastic consent made #loveconsent the number one hashtag associated with #victoriassecret. The Facebook page was similarly inundated. FORCE was able to use Victoria’s Secret’s popularity to raise awareness and generate discussion about rape culture on an unprecedented level. When its Twitter account and subsequently its websites were taken down, that discussion was interrupted at a vital time.
These takedowns highlight, once again, the weakest link problem that plagues Internet speech. Individuals and organizations rely on service providers to help them communicate with the world (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). A copyright complaint to an intermediary generally triggers a virtually automatic takedown, because the intermediary has a strong interest in complying with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and preserving its safe harbor from copyright liability. A trademark complaint directed to one of those providers can also mean a fast and easy takedown given that those service providers usually don’t have the resources and/or the inclination to investigate trademark infringement claims. Moreover, because there is no counter-notice procedure, the targets of an improper trademark takedown have no easy way to get their content back up.
A new rev of the Great Firewall of China seeks out VPN connections (including, I assume, connections over The Onion Router) and terminates them. Only companies who register official VPNs with the Chinese government will be able to run them without interference. Registration is only available to Chinese companies, and I'll bet it involves escrowing your keys with the Chinese net-cops so they can spy on it.
Users in China suspected in May 2011 that the government there was trying to disrupt VPN use, and now VPN providers have begun to notice the effects.
Astrill, a VPN provider for users inside and outside China, has emailed its users to warn them that the "Great Firewall" system is blocking at least four of the common protocols used by VPNs, which means that they don't function. "This GFW update makes a lot of harm to business in China," the email says. "We believe [the] China censorship minister is a smart man … and this blockage will be removed and things will go back to normal."
But the company added that trying to stay ahead of the censors is a "cat-and-mouse game" – although it is working on a new system that it hopes will let it stay ahead of the detection system.
Fred von Lohmann, Legal Director at Google, has published a blog-post explaining the company's new practice of publishing data and reports on the number of takedown requests they get. It's all about helping policy makers understand whether the censorship provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are doing their job:
Starting today, anyone interested in studying the data can download all the data shown for copyright removals in the Transparency Report. The data will be updated every day.
We are also providing information about how often we remove search results that link to allegedly infringing material. Specifically, we are disclosing how many URLs we removed for each request and specified website, the overall removal rate for each request and the specific URLs we did not act on. Between December 2011 and November 2012, we removed 97.5% of all URLs specified in copyright removal requests.
As policymakers evaluate how effective copyright laws are, they need to consider the collateral impact copyright regulation has on the flow of information online. When we launched the copyright removals feature, we received more than 250,000 requests per week. That number has increased tenfold in just six months to more than 2.5 million requests per week today. While we’re now receiving and processing more requests more quickly than ever (on average, within approximately six hours), we still do our best to catch errors or abuse so we don’t mistakenly disable access to non-infringing material.
Earlier this week, I wrote about how UK ISPs were blocking The Promo Bay, a site launched by The Pirate Bay to promote independent artists who didn't having their material shared. The ISPs had been ordered by a court to block The Pirate Bay, but seemed to have added The Promo Bay on orders from the record industry. Now the UK record industry body, the BPI, has graciously decided that it won't insist on blocking a site dedicated to promoting artists who have the audacity to make music without signing up for one of their awful record deals.
Note how Geoff Taylor implies that when The Promo Bay was associated with The Pirate Bay that it was engaged in copyright infringement, but isn't any longer. Of course, this is utter rubbish -- the site was never engaged in copyright infringement. If the record industry asked to have it censored, the industry was either incredibly cavalier about censorship, or it cynically opted to screw over the artists who had the audacity to go it on their own. Either way, the industry has demonstrated (again) its total unfitness to act as judge, jury and executioner on the Internet.
"Until very recently, the domain name 'promobay.org' linked directly to The Pirate Bay and it was therefore a domain name blocked by the ISPs under the court orders," wrote BPI chairman Geoff Taylor.
"The newly reinvented Promobay.org website appears not to be engaged in copyright infringement and we therefore asked the relevant ISPs yesterday to no longer block it."
The BPI could not be reached for further comment on Wednesday, but the BBC understands that Promobay.org will be made available again within 24 hours.
One things the movie studios say in copyright takedown discussions is that they're very careful when they send legal threats to Google demanding removal of links to pirated copies of their work. I mean, maybe some little guys out there play fast and loose, but the Big Five? They're grownups, man.
Then, this happened:
There's lots more. For example, BBC Films sent Google a notice demanding removal of links to its own Facebook page.
On behalf of Lionsgate a DMCA notice was sent to Google, asking the search engine to remove links to infringing copies of the movie “Cabin in the Woods”. The notice in question only lists two dozen URLs, but still manages to include perfectly legal copies of the film on Amazon, iTunes, Blockbuster and Xfinity.
20th Century Fox sent in a DMCA notice to protect the movie “Prometheus”. However, as collateral damage it also took down a link to a legal copy on Verizon on demand, the collection of the Prometheus Watch Company, and a Huffington Post article.
And what about a DMCA takedown request for the Wikipedia entry of “Family Guy” that is supposedly infringing?
Perhaps even more crazy is another request sent on behalf of 20th Century Fox for “How I Met Your Mother”. The DMCA notice lists a CBS URL as the official source of the copyrighted material, but the same URL later appears in the list of infringing links.
TorrentFreak reports that UK ISPs aren't just blocking The Pirate Bay, as a court order requires of them -- they're also blocking The Promo Bay, a website set up by the Pirate Bay to promote legal, independent media.
It turns out that the Promo Bay website is being blocked be several Internet providers, showing a similar message people get when they try to access the Pirate Bay site. TorrentFreak was able to confirm the blocks for BT, Virgin Media and BE, but it’s possible that more providers are also blocking the Promo Bay.