In the 21st century, only corporations get to own property and we're their tenants

In the wake of John Deere's claims that the software in its engines means that its farm equipment is "licensed," not "sold," I talked to the Globe and Mail about what digital locks mean for the idea of property in the 21st century. Read the rest

A bill to fix America's most dangerous computer law

Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] and Rep. Jared Polis [D-CO] have introduced legislation in the US Senate and House to fix one of the worst computer laws on the US statute books: section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which forbids breaking digital locks, even for lawful purposes. Read the rest

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EMI claims it owns copyright to videos of cats purring

Hugh writes, "YouTube's automated takedown tool is known for its flaws, but this week it crossed a line by attacking a purring cat. According to YouTube's Content-ID system both EMI Publishing and PRS own the rights to a 12 second purring loop. The cat in question, Phantom, has filed a dispute and hopes to reclaim his rights." (Thanks, Hugh!) Read the rest

Modern farm equipment has no farmer-servicable parts inside

Ifixit's Kyle Wiens writes about the state of modern farm equipment, "black boxes outfitted with harvesting blades," whose diagnostic modes are jealously guarded, legally protected trade secrets, meaning that the baling-wire spirit of the American farm has been made subservient to the needs of multinational companies' greedy desire to control the repair and parts markets. Read the rest

Porn companies carpetbomb Google with sloppy takedowns, remove tons of Github projects

Takedown Piracy is a copyright enforcement outfit that works on behalf of porn companies; they sent thousands of takedown notices to Google demanding the censorship of search-results for links to pages that contained the word "pure," "rebound," "lipstick," and other common words, including several Github pages that had nothing to do with their clients' movies. Read the rest

DRM screws blind people

Any digital text can be read aloud through text-to-speech, granting people with visual impairments the basic human right to read -- unless there's DRM in the way. Read the rest

Lawquake! Judge rules that explaining jailbreaking isn't illegal

A federal judge in New York has ruled that telling people where to get DRM-removal software isn't against the law -- it's a huge shift in the case-law around DRM, and it's an important step in the right direction. Read the rest

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EFF asks US Copyright Office for your right to fix your car

It's that time again: every three years, the Copyright Office allows the public to ask for exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on "circumvention," which prevents you from unlocking devices you own. Read the rest

Petition: make it safe to report security flaws in computers

Laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act put security researchers at risk of felony prosecution for telling you about bugs in the computers you put your trust in, turning the computers that know everything about us and watch everything we do into reservoirs of long-lived pathogens that governments, crooks, cops, voyeurs and creeps can attack us with. Read the rest

Rightscorp cuts-and-runs as soon as it is challenged in court

Rightscorp -- a firm that asks ISPs to disconnect you from the Internet unless you pay it money for alleged, unproven copyright infringements -- was finally challenged in court by an ISP, Texas's Grande Communications; as soon as it looked like it would have the legal basis for its business-model examined by a judge, the company cut and ran, withdrawing its threats. Read the rest

Senate passes phone unlocking bill

The Senate has approved a bill (which already passed in the House) that makes it legal for you to unlock the phones you own so you can choose which carrier you use. Read the rest

Podcast: News from the future for Wired UK

Here's a reading (MP3) of a short story I wrote for the July, 2014 issue of Wired UK in the form of a news dispatch from the year 2024 -- specifically, a parliamentary sketch from a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time where a desperate issue of computer security rears its head: Read the rest

How can you trust your browser?

Tim Bray's Trusting Browser Code explores the political and technical problems with trusting your browser, especially when you're using it to do sensitive things like encrypt and decrypt your email. In an ideal world, you wouldn't have to trust Google or any other "intermediary" service to resist warrants forcing it to turn over your sensitive communications, because it would be technically impossible for anyone to peek into the mail without your permission. But as Bray points out, the complexity and relative opacity of Javascript makes this kind of surety difficult to attain.

Bray misses a crucial political problem, though: the DMCA. Under US law (and similar laws all over the world), telling people about vulnerabilities in DRM is illegal, meaning that a bug in your browser that makes your email vulnerable to spying might be illegal to report, and will thus potentially never be fixed. Now that the World Wide Web Consortium and all the major browser vendors (even including Mozilla) have capitulated on adding DRM to the Web, this is the most significant political problem in the world of trusting your browser. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

Censorship flood: takedown notices to Google increased by 711,887% in four years

The State of the Discordant Union: An Empirical Analysis of DMCA Takedown Notices , a paper publishing in Virginia Journal of Law and Technology by Stanford/NUS's Daniel Seng, documents the vast, terrifying increase in the use of DMCA takedown notices, which are self-signed legal notices that allow anyone to demand that material be censored from the Internet, with virtually no penalty for abuse or out-and-out fraud. The increase is driven by a small number of rightsholders who have automated the process of sending out censorship demands, industrializing the practice. The three biggest players are RIAA, Froytal and Microsoft, who sent more than 5 million notices each in 2012, and at least doubled their takedowns again in 2013. In the four years between 2008 and 2012, the use of takedown notices against Google grew by an eye-popping 711,887 percent. Read the rest

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