Boing Boing 

Soundcloud annoints Universal "Lord High Executioner" for music


Steven Boyett writes, "Universal now has direct access to flag Soundcloud accounts for removal when it believes an uploaded file infringes copyright, with no intervention by Soundcloud. Universal doesn't even inform Soundcloud part of the upload was believed to be infringing; they simply have carte blanche removal authority."

Read the rest

John Oliver to FCC Chairman: prove you aren't a dingo!

When John Oliver smote the FCC over its pro-cable-company-fuckery policy, he compared hiring Tom Wheeler away from his job as top cable lobbyist to run the FCC to hiring a dingo to babysit your kids. Wheeler responded by assuring the American public that he was not a dingo (because metaphor). In his latest segment on the matter, Oliver challenged Wheeler to prove it.

Seattle paid $17.5K to "manage" online rep of public utility CEO

The City of Seattle paid $17,500 to Brand.com to enhance the "online reputation" of City Light, its public utility, and Chief Executive Officer Jorge Carrasco, asking them to "lessen the prevalence of any negative or less-relevant stories" in search results for the utility or the CEO, who was the highest-paid public employee in the city, with a salary of $245,000.

It's not clear what sort of bad news about Carrasco or City Light Brand.com was trying to push off the front page of Google results, but their promised methodology included placing favorable paid articles with the Huffington Post and Examiner.com, as well as "doctorate level content" written by "influential bloggers."

The Huffington Post says that it was unaware if Damon Banks, the writer who published a favorable piece about Carrasco and his utility, was being paid by Brand.com, but if he was, they'd no longer accept work from him. Banks did not reply to a request for comment from the Seattle Times.

Here's the action plan [PDF] that the city and Brand.com drew up for City Light and Carrasco's online reputation polishing.

Read the rest

Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

Read the rest

Timberland's new warranty conditions screw the prisoners who must buy them


Timberland -- whose boots are the sole option for many prisoners in US correctional institutions, thanks to sweetheart deals with prison commissaries -- has a new set of kafkaesque warranty conditions for prisoners that makes it effectively impossible to get defective footwear repaired, meaning that prisoners could spend decades without suitable footwear.

Read the rest

Ikea bullies Ikeahackers with bogus trademark claim


Andy writes, "For eight years, Jules' IKEAHackers site has published ways people have hacked their IKEA products. Hundreds of people have combined IKEA products in creative ways to create everything from desks to cat trees. When the fan site turned to a huge part-time job, Jules ran a few small advertisements. Now IKEA's attorneys have sent the site a Cease and Desist."

Ikea's C&D is, as a matter of law, steaming bullshit. There's no trademark violation here -- the use of Ikea's name is purely factual. The fact that money changes hands on Ikeahackers (which Ikea's lawyers seem most upset about) has no bearing on the trademark analysis. There is no chance of confusion or dilution from Ikeahackers' use of the mark. This is pure bullying, an attempt at censorship. I'm shocked to see that Jules has a lawyer who advised her to take such a terrible deal.

We've linked to Ikeahackers many times in the past.

Trademark law is surrounded by urban legends. Trademark does not create the legal right to stop people from making factual uses of a mark ("Ikeahackers" is a site for people who hack Ikea furniture). And while there is a very slim chance of trademarks being "genericized" through a failure to police, this risk is grossly overstated by trademark lawyers (quick, name three modern, active trademarks that have been genericized through a lack of policing), and in any event, you can get the same benefit from offering a royalty-free license as you get from threatening a lawsuit. Finally, trademark is not copyright: there is no parody "defense" (nor is one needed), there is no fair use, there is no need for any of that stuff.

Read the rest

FCC Chairman's competition promise means nothing


Cable lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to "balance" his attempt to nuke Net Neutrality by promising to override state laws that prohibit cities from setting up their own broadband networks. But it's a largely meaningless gesture: practically every big city in America is locked into a decade-long contractual "franchise" arrangement with a big cable company.

Read the rest

Not selling out: Teens live in commercial online spaces because that's their only option


danah boyd points out that when kids conduct their social lives in commercial spaces, it's not because they don't care about selling out; it's because they have no other option: "In a world where they have limited physical mobility and few places to go, they’re deeply appreciative of any space that will accept them."

Read the rest

Crowdscrounging pennies to support Canada's most important environmental research

When Stephen Harper's petrotories yanked funding from the Experimental Lakes Area -- Canada's answer to the Large Hadron Collider, a captive ecosystem where some of the world's most important environmental research has been conducted -- the world gasped and raced to rescue it; now, scientists are reduced to scrounging for crowdfunding to continue some of the most important environmental research in the world.

John calls it "an amazing opportunity for all of us to fund incredibly important basic scientific research" -- it is, but it's also a blazing indictment of the year 2014, Canada, Stephen Harper, and hydrocarbons.

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is a freshwater research facility in Northwestern Ontario, Canada that has operated as a government research program for over 45 years. After the Canadian Government announced that it would no longer fund the ELA program, operations were transferred to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in April 2014. IISD now needs additional funding to expand ELA’s vital legacy of research so that it can continue to find effective solutions to environmental problems affecting fresh water.

We can thank the ELA for many of the improvements we have seen in recent years to the quality of the water we use daily. ELA’s whole-lake research findings have been instrumental in the phase-out of harmful phosphorus additives in cleaning products, tightening air pollution standards in response to acid rain threats, and proposed installation of scrubbers inside industrial smokestacks to reduce mercury levels found in the fish we eat.

The ELA features a collection of 58 small lakes, as well as a facility with accommodations and laboratories. Since its establishment in 1968, ELA has become one of the world’s most influential freshwater research facilities. In part, this is because of the globally unique ability at ELA to undertake whole-ecosystem experiments.

World's Leading Freshwater Research Facility, the ELA, Needs YOUR Support!

Rightscorp: a business founded on threats of Internet disconnection

Rightscorp, a company that went public last year, has an idea: they'll issue millions of legal threats to alleged music file-sharers, threaten them with millions in fines, and demand nuisance sums ($20/track) too small to warrant consulting with an attorney -- and they'll arm-twist ISPs into disconnecting users who don't pay up. Rightscorp has a secret system for identifying "repeat offenders" who use Bittorrent, and they believe that this gives them to right to force ISPs to terminate whole families' Internet access on the basis of their magically perfect, unknowable evidence of wrongdoing. They call this "holding the moral high ground." More than 72,000 Americans have had "settlements" extorted from them to date, though Rightscorp still runs millions in the red.

Rightscorp's rhetoric is that the sums it demands are "deterrents" to prevent wrongdoing, and that it wouldn't really want to sue people into penury. But it is a publicly listed company with a fiduciary duty to extract as much money as it can from the marketplace. It's a good bet that its prospectus and quarterly investor filings announce that the company will hold its "fines" down to the smallest amount that provides the deterrent effect -- instead of, say, "all the market can bear."

The legal theory under which Rightscorp is operating is pretty dubious: a belief that ISPs have a duty to terminate the Internet connections of "repeat offenders" based on a clause in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This theory has been sparsely litigated, but the one major case in which it has been tested went against Rightscorp's business-model. But as Joe Mullin points out in his Ars Technica profile of the company, they may be able to get past this hurdle just by suborning the increasingly corrupt, noncompetitive, inbred and rent-seeking ISP industry by giving them a piece of the action.

Read the rest

FCC's website crashes, John Oliver's army of Cable Company Fuckery trolls blamed

The FCC's website has fallen over, and many blame John Oliver's incandescent exhortation to Internet trolls to flood the Commission with comments about its assault on Net Neutrality (or support of "Cable Company Fuckery"). The comedy potential is rich ("Hey, FCC, you shoulda paid Comcast for the fast lane, huh?") but to be fair, I think it's equally possible that the site's been brought to its knees by a denial-of-service attack.

FCC Website Hobbled By Comment Trolls Incited By Comedian John Oliver

Canadian scientists accuse govt of using junk science to prop up pipeline

Dave Ng sez, "The Canadian government is poised to once again abhor evidence-based decision making. 300 scientists have looked over the Joint Review Panel Report that is being used to push forward the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project have concluded that it 'has so many systemic errors and omissions, we can only consider it a failure.'"

Read the rest

It's not Net Neutrality that's at stake, it's Cable Company Fuckery

John Oliver was incandescent on the subject of Net Neutrality, Time Warner and Comcast on Saturday, and he has a new, less-boring term for Net Neutrality: "Cable Company Fuckery." This is not only brilliant, it's hilarious. John Oliver is a perfect blend of Jon Stewart and Charlie Brooker. A reminder: you can reach out and touch the FCC on the subject of Cable Company Fuckery, and EFF can explain how to do it.

Read the rest

Brandalists replace 365 outdoor ads in 10 UK cities with hand-printed works of art

Last week, in a coordinated attack by guerrilla artists across the UK, 365 outdoor ads were replaced by hand-printed works of art. It was a project of Brandalism, and they hit 10 cities, using hi-viz vests and steely nerves as camouflage while they did their work.

Read the rest

Brussels: Water cannons turned on anti-TTIP protesters fighting the Son of ACTA


In 2012, a winning combination of lobbying and street protests killed ACTA, a secretive, Internet-punishing copyright treaty. Now, protesters are being water cannoned in Brussels as they fight ACTA's successor, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It seems like the lesson that the powerful took away from ACTA wasn't to conduct trade negotiations with transparency and public feedback -- instead, they're ruthlessly crushing all protest in the hopes of keeping it from growing.

Read the rest

Steve Wozniak explains Net Neutrality to the FCC

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, has published an open letter to the FCC in support of Net Neutrality; Woz explains his view of traditional American fairness and the role of good government, and decries regulatory capture, and warns the FCC that it will lose its "white hat" if it helps corporate America break the Internet.

Read the rest

State GOPs: no benefits unless you shut up and obey your boss


Writing in the NYT, Corey Robin highlights the frightening trend in state GOP labor laws to deny unemployment benefits to workers who are fired for breaking the "behavioral norms" demanded by employers, from dating workers from rival companies to posting unhappy work-related remarks to the Internet. Conservative douchebag Ben Stein loves these rules, and wants high schools to help instill them by vigorously punishing "talking back" -- if you're subordinate, you need to learn not to be insubordinate.

For more background, see the Economic Policy Institute's 2013 report, The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012.

Read the rest

Nutritionists' professional events catered by McD's, sponsored by High Fructose Corn Syrup


An alarming report from the California Dietetic Association describes a kind of corporatist apocalyptic nightmare where junk-food companies pony up fat sponsorships in order to pervert the agenda and distort the science. Nutritionists, like other medical professionals, have to attend educational meetings in order to keep up their credentials.

Their professional bodies have seemingly been totally co-opted through corporate sponsorships, and nutritionists who try to document this are thwarted by "no photography" policies. But even without pictures, it's obvious that a panel on corn sweeteners that's paid for by the corn growers and only sports employees of high-fructose corn syrup is not going to produce a rounded picture of the science of obesity and HFCS.

The situation for nutritionists is a microcosm for the whole health industry. As Ben Goldacre details in his essential book Bad Pharma, doctors' continuing education is almost entirely funded by pharmaceutical companies that present multi-hour adverts for their products -- including dodgy studies that they funded -- in place of genuine, impartial scientific training.

Read the rest

How advocacy beat ACTA in Europe


James Losey writes, "After the defeat of SOPA and PIPA in the United States attention turned to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Europe. Like SOPA and PIPA, ACTA raised concerns that excessive measure to enforce copyright online would limit freedom of expression online. And while the approval by European Parliament once seemed inevitable, protests across Europe and advocacy by civil society lead to Parliament rejecting the Agreement in July 2012. But the protest, while highly visible, represented only a portion of the networked advocacy against ACTA in Europe."

Read the rest

US trade rep demands end to other nations' healthcare, privacy rules, food labelling...


Public Citizen analyzes the new Obama 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, in which the US Trade Rep demands that: Japan abolish its privacy rules and its requirement that food be labelled with its ingredients; Canada abolish its rules limited pharmaceutical patents; Malaysia get rid of its tariffs on pork and booze; Mexico nuke its junk food taxes, and more. It's great reading, and leaves little room for doubt about the neoliberal future, in which anything that's bad for corporate profits -- even if it's good for society or reflects national values -- is killed in the name of free trade.

Read the rest

Bletchley Park Trust erects "Berlin Wall" to cut off on-site computer history museum


The Bletchley Park trust have erected a fence, nicknamed "The Berlin Wall," between their well-funded museum and its poorer on-site neighbour, the UK National Museum of Computing, which houses the hand-built replica of the codebreaking Colossus computer. The trust received an £8m lottery-funded grant and set about shitcanning long-serving volunteers (see below), cutting off the computer history museum, and generally behaving like greedy jerks, systematically alienating long-term supporters. Oh, and there was that Snowden business.

I've left the Friends of Bletchley Park, and have stopped recommending that friends visit the site.

Update: Bletchley Trust has clarified to me that while this volunteer was dismissed from guiding tours because he refused to conduct the tour to the new spec, he still volunteers with the Trust in its educational department.

Read the rest

McDonald's Hot Coffee lawsuit: deliberate, corporatist urban legend

Remember the old lady who sued McDonald's for millions because she burned herself by spilling hot coffee in her lap? It never happened. What actually happened was much more sordid, and the deliberate distortion of the story -- which is ultimately about a company that caused repeated, horrific and preventable injury to its customers -- is a tidy story about how corporations have convinced us that they are victims of out-of-control tort lawyers.

Read the rest

Congressmen ask ad companies to pretend SOPA is law, break anti-trust

A murder of Congresscritters and Senators have told Internet ad-brokers that they expect them to behave as though SOPA passed into law (instead of suffering hideous, total defeat); they want the companies to establish a secret, unaccountable blacklist of "pirate" sites. The group comprises Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and Adam Schiff, and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Orrin Hatch. This isn't just a terrible idea, it's also an obviously illegal antitrust violation, as Mitch Stoltz from the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out:

Read the rest

Fast food workers around the world to strike on May 15


Fast-food workers in 33 countries are planning a walkout on May 15, demanding better pay and better working conditions. The action, coordinated by Fast Food Forward, will target McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC. McDonald's -- which settled a $1B class-action suit over wage-theft from its American workforce in March -- has issued a shareholder warning about the possibility of having to pay a living wage to its workers. Women, especially single mothers, are disproportionately likely to work in sub-living-wage jobs in the fast food industry.

Read the rest

Vi Hart explains Net Neutrality

Fast-talking mathematician Vi Hart weighed in on the Net Neutrality debate with a great video explaining the telcoms' extortion plan with an excellent metaphor about postal delivery. (Thanks, Alan!)

Barack Obama will take a backseat to no one when it comes to (promising) Network Neutrality

Back before Barack Obama appointed a Net Neutrality-destroying cable lobbyist to run the FCC, he was clear: "I will take a backseat to no one when it comes to Network Neutrality."

President Obama and Big Telcoms: delivering high-speed fiber to the campaign promise every election cycle!

Gutting Net Neutrality also guts innovation, fairness and democracy


My latest Guardian column, Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom, explains what's at stake now that the FCC is prepared to let ISPs charge services for "premium" access to its subscribers. It's pretty much the worst Internet policy imaginable, an anti-innovation, anti-democratic, anti-justice hand-grenade lobbed by telcos who shout "free market" while they are the beneficiaries of the most extreme industrial government handouts imaginable.

Read the rest

Obama official responsible for copyright chapters of TPP & ACTA gets a job at MPAA; his replacement is another copyright lobbyist


Stan McCoy is the assistant US Trade Representative who oversaw the creation of the disastrous, far-reaching copyright provisions in ACTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership. He's left the Obama administration for a high-paid job at the MPAA, which represents companies that stood to reap massive profits and permanent control over Internet governance and innovation thanks to his efforts while in government. Now, the Obama administration has headhunted a software industry lobbyist (who supported SOPA) to take over his job. McCoy is one of more than a dozen USTR officials who've left the government to work for copyright lobbying bodies, including former Obama copyright czar Victoria Espinel, who now gets her paycheck from the Business Software Alliance.

Timothy Lee has an excellent piece on the revolving-door relationship between the USTR and the entertainment industry and other copyright lobbyists. When Obama was campaigning for office, he vowed that "lobbyists won't work in my White House."

Read the rest

Private equity, an infection that is eating the world


In an amazing and terrifying essay called How to get beyond the parasite economy, Eric Garland describes how private equity infects industry after industry, sucking all productive capacity out of it through complex and fraudulent financial engineering, and abandoning the drained husk as it moves onto its next meal. Garland uses the case of Guitar Center as his example of this process in action, describing how Bain Capital bought and gutted Guitar Center, turning it into a financially complex, debt-riddled zombie that exists to float high-risk junk bonds to fill out the portfolios of the hyper-rich, without any connection to the real world of guitars, amplifiers and musicians.

Read the rest

The Internet should be treated as a utility: Susan Crawford


Susan Crawford (previously) is America's best commentator on network policy and network neutrality. In this interview with Ezra Klein, she makes the case for treating Internet access as a utility -- not necessarily a right, but something that markets do a bad job of supplying on their own. She describes how regulatory failures have made America into a global Internet laggard, with enormous damage to the nation's competitiveness and potential, and provides a compelling argument for locating the market for service in who gets to light up your fiber, not who gets to own it. Drawing on parallels to the national highway system and the electrification project, Crawford describes a way forward for America where the Internet is finally viewed as "an input into absolutely everything we do," and not merely as a glorified video-on-demand service.

Read the rest