Security journalist Brian Krebs documents a string of escalating extortion crimes perpetrated with help from the net, and proposes that the growth of extortion as a tactic preferred over traditional identity theft and botnetting is driven by Bitcoin, which provides a safe way for crooks to get payouts from their victims.
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Yesterday, a federal judge in the DC circuit court of appeals handed Prenda law -- the most loathed and evil porno copyright trolls in the business -- its own ass on a plate, and struck a blow against copyright trolling everywhere. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mitch Stoltz has a deep dive into the case, which EFF participated in.
Prenda (previously) is one of the leaders in the shady practice of accusing people of downloading pornographic films with embarrassing titles and then demanding money in exchange for not filing a lawsuit against them, using the threat of having your name associated with "Anal Invaders XII" in public records forever as a lever to get you to settle even if you've done nothing wrong. In AF Holdings v. Does 1-1058, Judge Tatel struck an important blow against this practice by ruling that trolls have to file cases in the same jurisdiction as their victims in order to get court orders to reveal the victims' names and addresses, without which the cases cannot proceed. But filing cases in the correct jurisdiction will likely cost more than the average blackmail payment that Prenda extorts from its victims, making the whole thing into a losing business.
The court also held that merely being accused of having, at some point, participated in a Bittorrent swarm does not join you with everyone else who ever joins that swarm, and that there is only joint liability for people who download from one another, as part of the same swarm at the same time. This is the first-ever federal ruling on copyright trolling's most evil practices, and it represents a major victory for the good guys.
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In Florida, District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro has dismissed a suit brought by notorious porno-copyright trolls Malibu Media on the grounds that an IP address does not affirmatively identify a person, and so they cannot sue someone solely on the basis of implicating an IP address in an infringement. This is a potentially important precedent, as it effectively neutralizes the business-model of copyright trolls, who use IP addresses as the basis for court orders to ISPs to turn over their customers' addresses, which are then inundated with threatening letters. The porno copyright trolls have a distinctly evil wrinkle on this, too: they threaten their victims with lawsuits that will forever associate the victims' names with embarrassing pornographic video-titles, often with gay themes.
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Facebook continues to tighten the screws on the businesses that use the service to market to their customers. Independent research shows that new updates from businesses reach about six percent of the people who follow those businesses. It is rumored that Facebook intends to reduce this number to "between one and two percent" over time. Businesses that want to reach the people who follow them at higher rates will have to pay Facebook to reach them through paid advertisements.
If you're building your business's marketing and customer relations strategy atop Facebook, take note -- and remember that if you have a real website, all your readers see your posts, even if you don't pay Facebook!
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California State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the arrest of a man said to have owned and operated a so-called revenge porn website. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), the site operated by Kevin Christopher Bollaert published over 10,000 sexually explicit photos. The young women who appeared in these images, some of whom were minors at the time they were taken, were charged up to $350 each to be removed from the site.
California Department of Justice agents arrested Bollaert, 27, in San Diego where he lived. He is in San Diego County jail on $50,000 bail, and has been charged with 31 felony counts of conspiracy, identity theft and extortion. If he is convicted, penalties may include jail time and fines.
The arrest warrant is well worth a read. It includes the stories of a number of young women who ended up physically exposed and personally identified on the internet against their will. In some cases, private photos made their way online after their accounts were hacked or phones snatched. The women speak about how that violation damaged their lives and destroyed their sense of privacy.
During an in-person interview with two special agents, Bollaert bemoaned the burden of all those emails he was receiving from young women and teens, asking for images to be removed -- a service he charged hundreds of bucks for.
"At the beginning this was like fun and entertaining," he said to the agents, "But now it's ruining my life." At the end of the meeting, the agents served him with search warrants.
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We've seen some stupid copyright laws in the past fifteen years, but Panama's new law -- which has passed the legislature and merely awaits executive approval. Under Bill 510, the Panamanian copyright office has the power to pursue file-sharers directly, fining each one $100,000 ($200,000 on second offense) and keeping the money for itself, paying bonuses to apparats in the copyright office from the pot. Artists and copyright proprietors get none of that money, but they can also sue file-sharers if they want. Naturally, this bill was passed without public scrutiny, expert input, hearings, or public debate. As Technollama writes:
This is what I think will happen if the law passes as it stands. The DGDA will immediately try to monitor all torrent use in Panama, be it legitimate or not, and all people identified with IP addresses will be summoned and summarily fined. After all, the institution and its employees will have a direct financial incentive to assume guilt. Then those same people will be sent again and again, as there will be clear incentive to fine re-offenders.
This is a toxic piece of legislation any way you look at it, and we urge the Panamanian Congress to modify Chapter I of Title XII, or to remove it altogether.
Is Panama about to pass the worst copyright law in history? | TechnoLlama
A brilliant student, Kaitlin Nootbaar, was denied her High School diploma for using the word "hell" in her Valedictorian speech
, according to Oklahoma City's KFOR. A school administrator at the High School in Prague, Okla., demanded a personal apology from her before handing it over, a condition she turned down—and which her family believes is illegal.
Duke Nukem Forever, a long-overdue sequel in the Duke Nukem video-game franchise, finally shipped this week to scathing reviews. The Redner Group, who were handling publicity for the launch, tweeted a message that warned reviewers that "we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn't based on today's venom" -- in other words, if game journalists say nasty things about our client, they won't get review titles in the future. They've since apologized, but this is not the sort of subtext one usually sees brought to the surface in publicist/journalist relations.
Duke Nukem's PR threatens to punish sites that run negative reviews
(via The Awl)
Hugh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez ,"In a decision with likely wide-ranging impact, a judge in Las Vegas today dismissed as a sham an infringement case filed by copyright troll Righthaven LLC. The judge ruled that Righthaven did not have the legal authorization to bring a copyright lawsuit against the political forum Democratic Underground, because it had never owned the copyright in the first place. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Fenwick & West LLP, and Las Vegas attorney Chad Bowers are defending Democratic Underground."
"In dismissing Righthaven's claim in its entirety, Chief Judge Hunt's ruling decisively rejected the Righthaven business model of conveying rights to sue, alone, as a means to enforce copyrights," said Laurence Pulgram, head of copyright litigation at Fenwick & West in San Francisco. "The ruling speaks for itself. The court rejected Righthaven's claim that it owned sufficient rights in the copyright, stating that claim was 'flagrantly false--to the point that the claim is disingenuous if not outright deceitful.'"
Judge Hunt also noted that "Righthaven has made multiple inaccurate and likely dishonest statements to the Court" and rejected Righthaven's efforts to fix things after the fact with a May 9, 2011, amendment to the original assignment agreement. The judge expressed "doubt that these seemingly cosmetic adjustments change the nature and practical effect" of the invalid assignment.
As part of his ruling today, the judge ordered Righthaven to show why it should not be sanctioned for misrepresentations to the court. The Court permitted Democratic Underground's counterclaim to continue against Stephens Media -- the publisher of the Review Journal -- allowing Democratic Underground to show that it did nothing wrong in allowing a user to post a five-sentence excerpt of a 50-sentence article.
Righthaven is the copyright bounty-hunter spun out of a Las Vegas newspaper whose business-model was to threaten bloggers and online publishers who made brief quotations with copyright lawsuits and collect settlement fees from people who were scared of spending a lot of money in court.
Righthaven Copyright Troll Lawsuit Dismissed as Sham
The law firm behind a strange, extortionate gay-porn copyright shakedown
is all sad about the coverage their weird scheme received on TorrentFreak, and they've made sure their judge knows it
Righthaven is the extortion racket spun out by the Las Vegas Review-Journal
: they received a license from the Review-Journal
for its copyrights, then attempted to make the license pay by threatening any blogger who quoted the newspaper with expensive lawsuits and domain confiscation. They firehosed these legal threats around without regard for their legal merits (and attracted more desperate, unethical newspapers to their client roster in the process) and so it was inevitable that eventually they'd misfire at someone who got pissed off enough to do something about it.
That someone is Democratic Underground, a political site that contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation for legal help. EFF's lawyers got a court to force Righthaven to reveal the terms of its license with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and discovered that Righthaven's license only gives it the power to sue on the Review-Journal's behalf (that is, Righthaven doesn't actually control the Review-Journal's copyrights in any meaningful way). And that is illegal -- a license to sue is not sufficient to have standing to use the courts for redress. Democratic Underground is now seeking recovery of legal fees, which the Review-Journal and other newspaper clients may be liable for. Joe Mullin writes:
So what began as a business deal in which there was no downside for Stephens Media now looks like a situation where the company could be on the hook for a serious chunk of change. It's worth noting that the contract actually has a specific clause (see Section 11) in which Righthaven indemnifies Stephens Media in the event that attorneys' fees need to be paid to an opponent. But could Righthaven really fulfill that obligation? What assets does Righthaven really haven? Likely not much; it's a company set up just to file lawsuits. One generous estimate is that the company has made a couple hundred thousand dollars of gross revenue in the single year it's been in business. That's surely been distributed to attorneys and staff. That means that a situation where newspaper companies ultimately end up on the hook for payments is a real possibility.
Righthaven's Secret Contract Revealed: Will Its Strategy Collapse?
Righthaven wanted to keep these documents sealed, but they utterly failed to convince the U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt to take their side. Other defendants, and the public at large, should have a right to view the contracts, as well as DU's arguments that they are a sham, which were sealed until Friday. "Because these cases have generated a great deal of public interest, particularly in the media and on the internet, that there is a right of the public to this information which overrides any claimed confidential commercial rights," Hunt wrote in his order.
Hunt also shows how peeved he is at Righthaven's litigation behavior. (The company truly seems to have a knack for angering judges.) Judge Hunt criticizes how Righthaven has attacked opposing counsel, writing: "There is an old adage in the law that, if the facts are on your side, you pound on the facts. If the law is on your side, you pound on the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, you pound on the table. It appears there is a lot of table pounding going on here."
A lawsuit has been filed over a 3D imaging tool called Transmagic whose demo came bundled with a DRM program called Sheriff, produced by Licensing Technologies Limited. The suit alleges after Miguel Pimentel, a Boston-area architect, installed and then deleted Transmagic, Sheriff remained on his computer, and that it scoured his computer for his personal details, then phoned home to a copyright shakedown company called ITCA (IT Compliance Association), and that subsequently, a rep from ITCA called Pimentel and accused him of pirating Transmagic. The ITCA rep demanded an immediate $10,000 license fee payment, and threatened a $150,000 copyright lawsuit if he didn't cough up.
The shadowy ITCA's web page is apparently in a constant state of upgrade and contains nothing more than a link to their online software validation program and some impressive client logos (Microsoft, Siemens and McAfee to name a few). There is a contact page but not a single email address is listed nor is any indication given as to what exactly they do while not enjoying the tropical weather.
DRM Accused Of Sending Personal Info To Help With Licensing Shakedown
However, Chris Luijten has made no effort to hide his real agenda, as evidenced by his partnership with V.i. Labs. V.i. Labs is an organization, which claims it's dedicated to wiping out software piracy. As such, it has taken care to rely on dubious formulas (pirated software x full retail price = amount of lost sales) and acrimonious methodology to try to "turn infringement into leads."
(via The Command Line
This week's Search Engine podcast from TVOntario's Jesse Brown features an interview with the head spokesman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, brought on to explain why the publicly funded broadcaster has signed on with iCopyright, an American licensing agency that aims to collect a monthly fee from any Canadian business that excerpts CBC media on its blog. Additionally, the CBC says that it requires anyone who wants to noncommercially excerpt the nation's public media for discussion, archiving, criticism, etc, must first get written permission from the Corporation (and be prepared to have permission rescinded at any time).
Suffice it to say, the CBC's spokesman does not cover himself in glory. He alternately claims that he must deny permission to Canadian bloggers because the CBC doesn't want to be inconsistent, then, in the next breath, says that the Corporation gives its media for free to YouTube even though it's not consistent, because they're still "feeling their way." And he doesn't even know that the CBC's partner is offering a $1,000,000 bounty for Canadians who rat each other out for using public media without permission.
If I'd been in Jesse's shoes, I would have asked this: The CBC wants to act like a business instead of a public service entity, right? Well, in that case, why don't you act like a business: we, the taxpaying public, were the angel investors for the CBC for a century or so. If you want to bring in another investor at this stage -- a commercial partner to sell licenses for the media we financed -- why the hell should we accept having our equity diluted down to zero? Shouldn't we continue to get our annuity -- in the form of free access and use of the media we paid for -- before you start to deliver value to these late-stage investors?
Podcast #36: The CBC's Antisocial Media