To pharmaceutical firms, legitimate replicas and outright fakes are much the same: neither make them money. But to sufferers in the developing world, the difference is life and death. Charles Ebikeme on the big business of counterfeit medicine in the developing world.Read the rest
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At least 16 fraudulent sites attributed to the National Republican Congressional Committee have been discovered. These sites, whose domains are the names of Democratic candidates, use large type and photos that make them appear to be fundraisers for those candidates, though the small-print text makes it clear that these are actually sites set up opposing their apparent candidates. The NRCC claims these are all fair game and blame Democrats for not registered their candidates' names as for campaign sites. But when there's a site at AnnKirkpatrick.com, with the words ANN KIRKPATRICK FOR CONGRESS and a DONATE button beneath it, and when that DONATE button sends money to Ann Kirkpatrick's GOP rival, the intent to deceive is pretty clear.
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The Edwardian fabulist who stole from the British Museum and got a whole species declared erroneously extinct
Meet Richard Meinertzhagen, a fascinating and disturbing character from the golden age of Edwardian science. I first learned about him last weekend, reading the Extinction Countdown blog. Meinertzhagen was single-handedly responsible for convincing a couple generations of scientists that the Indian forest owlet was extinct when it actually was not. How?
Turns out, Meinertzhagen had a habit of stealing taxonomic specimens from museums, altering them, and then resubmitting them to different museums as his own discovery, complete with fabricated information about where and when he found the animal. His forest owlet, for example, was an 1884 specimen swiped from the British Museum of Natural History sometime after 1925. He later repackaged the bird as his own specimen, collected in 1914. The problem: Meinertzhagen claimed to have found the forest owlet in an Indian state where the owlets don't live. Later researchers, upon not finding any owlets in that state, concluded the birds must be extinct. This assumption wasn't disproven until 1997. But that's not even the weirdest stuff in Meinertzhagen's biography ...
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Experian, the massive data-broker with far-reaching influence over your ability to get a mortgage, credit-card, or job, sold extensive consumer records to an identity thieves' service called Superget.info. Superget specialized in supplying identity thieves with "fullz" -- full records of their victims, useful for impersonating them and for knowing where their assets are. Experian sold the data through a third part called "Court Ventures" -- which they later acquired -- and the sales continued for about a year. Experian bills itself as a service for people worried about identity theft. It's not clear whether Experian will face any penalty for the wrongdoing.
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John Steele is one of the shadowy figures behind the notorious porno-copyright-trolls Prenda Law, about whom we've written rather a lot, as they are a colorful bunch of grifters. Steele had previously been accused of stealing the identity of Alan Cooper, the caretaker of one of his properties, making him the CEO of one of the shell companies behind which Prenda hides.
Malibu Media is a notorious porno-copyright-troll, a company whose business-model is sending blackmail letters to Internet users threatening to sue them for downloading pornographic movies (and forever link their names to pornography) unless they pay up. They invented a particularly loathsome tactic that sets them apart from other pornotrolls: their blackmail letters make a point of mentioning extremely explicit pornographic titles associated with films that they have no interest in -- basically, a sideways way of implying that any legal action eventually taken against you will include a bunch of humiliating and embarrassing movie-titles, when nothing of the sort is possible, since they don't represent those rightsholders and can't take legal action on their behalf.
Mike Masnick points out that other copyright trolls like Prenda and Righthaven have flamed out after the courts caught on to their shady tactics and started issuing sanctions and ruling for defendants. We can only hope that this will be Malibu's (near) future.
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Did you know that Donald Trump operates an institution of higher education?
The New York State attorney general’s office filed a civil lawsuit on Saturday accusing Trump University, Donald J. Trump’s for-profit investment school, of engaging in illegal business practices.The lawsuit, which seeks restitution of at least $40 million, accused Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and others involved with the school of running it as an unlicensed educational institution from 2005 to 2011 and making false claims about its classes in what was described as “an elaborate bait-and-switch.”
It had a logo with a classy serif font and a heraldic lion and everything. The lion, according to Wikipedia, traditionally symbolizes bravery, valor, strength, and royalty, as it is regarded as the king of beasts.
Back in 2012, the major US banks settled a federal mortgage-fraud lawsuit for $95,000,000. The suit was filed by Lynn Szymoniak, a white-collar fraud specialist, whose own house had been fraudulently foreclosed-upon. When the feds settled with the banks, the evidence detailing the scope of their fraud was sealed, but as of last week, those docs are unsealed, and Szymoniak is shouting them from the hills. The banks precipitated the subprime crash by "securitizing" mortgages -- turning mortgages into bonds that could be sold to people looking for investment income -- and the securitization process involved transferring title for homes several times over. This title-transfer has a formal legal procedure, and in the absence of that procedure, no sale had taken place. See where this is going?
The banks screwed up the title transfers. A lot. They sold bonds backed by houses they didn't own. When it came time to foreclose on those homes, they realized that they didn't actually own them, and so they committed felony after felony, forging the necessary documentation. They stole houses, by the neighborhood-load, and got away with it. The $1B settlement sounded like a big deal, back when the evidence was sealed. Now that Szymoniak's gotten it into the public eye, it's clear that $1B was a tiny slap on the wrist: the banks stole trillions of dollars' worth of houses from you and people like you, paid less than one percent in fines, and got to keep the homes.
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The saga of porno-copyright-trolls Prenda Law (previously) just keeps getting more tawdry. Prenda is a mysterious extortionate lawsuit-threat-factory that claimed to represent pornographers when it sent thousands (and thousands!) of legal threats to people, telling them they'd get embroiled in ugly litigation that would forever tie their names to embarrassing pornography titles unless they paid hush money.
Their con has unraveled in a series of legal losses. Now, one of their victims has had an expert witness file an affidavit in First Time Videos vs. Paul Oppold, a case in Florida. The expert fields an astonishing accusation: Prenda Law's principle, John Steele, is the person who uploaded the infringing pornography in the first place, listing it on BitTorrent index sites with information inviting people to download it -- people whom he then sent legal threats to for downloading those selfsame movies.
Among other things, sharkmp4 seemed to be able to post these works on The Pirate Bay before the works were even mentioned anywhere else, and in at least one case, "sharkmp4" put a video up on The Pirate Bay three days before Prenda shell company Ingenuity 13 had even filed for the copyright. On top of that, the "forensics" company that Prenda uses -- which is supposedly run by Paul Hansmeier's brother Peter, but which had its domain registered and controlled by (you guessed it) John Steele -- apparently identified "infringements" almost immediately after the videos were placed on The Pirate Bay -- meaning they were likely looking for such infringement in conjunction with the upload.
At the end, however, Neville pulls together really damning evidence, tying together a website set up to distribute Ingenuity 13 porn films with the same exact IP address that was confirmed as being used by John Steele to log into his own GoDaddy account, highlighting how Steele -- or someone with access to his logins -- clearly has full access and control over Ingenuity 13 works. As you read through all of the evidence it appears highly likely that Steele is in control of Ingenuity 13, despite all his protests to the contrary.
As the filing notes:
Prenda Law's business structure is such that it is pirate, forensic pirate hunter, and attorney. It also appears that Prenda Law also wants to/has formed/is forming a corporate structure where it is: pornography producer, copyright holder, pornography pirate, forensic investigator, attorney firm, and debt collector. Other than the omission of appearing in the pornography themselves, this would represent an entire in-house copyright trolling monopoly- not designed to promote their own works for distribution and sale, but to induce infringement of their works and reap profits seen from mass anti-piracy litigation.
Three men have been convicted of forging £1 coins. The London Police Detective Inspector even got all quippy about the sentencing ("These three men are organised criminals who were intent on undermining the UK monetary system. There is nothing fake about the reality they must now face of life behind bars." -- yes, yes, very clever DI South) but what fascinates me about the story is that it can somehow be profitable to forge £1 coins.
I got passed a fake pound shortly after I first moved to the UK, almost ten years go; it was a foil-wrapped plastic slug. Not realizing it was fake, I tried to buy something with it at a corner shop and the cashier pressed it edge-on on his counter and the foil split open, revealing the green plastic disc inside.
From the sound of this article, these fakes were solid metal, which, I think, would make them more expensive than the fake I got. When you add the costs of the materials, the wages for the manufacturing process, warehousing, the discount for counterfeit cash, etc, it's hard to believe that this was worth anyone's while.
On the other hand, it's probably easier to go on counterfeiting when you're passing very small denominations as most people (me included) won't bother going to the cops over a mere pound; and it's much harder to remember where a given pound coin came from than a £20 note.
The court heard Fisher, of Rags Lane in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire, Sullivan, of Bancroft Chase in Hornchurch, east London, and Abbott were arrested during an undercover police operation in Essex last May.
Police found a storage container with 1.6 million metal discs inside and fake coins equivalent to £20,000.
Fake coins equivalent to a further £30,000 were found in a nearby car.
In Rolling Stone, the amazing Matt Taibbi documents a breaking price-rigging scandal involving the world's biggest banks. The $500 trillion conspiracy to game the interest-rate swaps victimizes every city, town, state and nation that uses bonds to raise money, diverting an unimaginable sum from tax coffers to the pockets of mega-rich bankers. If you've been staring around at the empty storefronts, closed libraries and schools, homeless and breadlines since 2008 and wondering "Where did all the money go?" then wonder no longer.
Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn't that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you've got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.
In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to "swap" that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.
Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix's U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.
And here's what we know so far: The CFTC has sent subpoenas to ICAP and to as many as 15 of those member banks, and plans to interview about a dozen ICAP employees from the company's office in Jersey City, New Jersey. Moreover, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, or ISDA, which works together with ICAP (for U.S. dollar transactions) and Thomson Reuters to compute the ISDAfix benchmark, has hired the consulting firm Oliver Wyman to review the process by which ISDAfix is calculated. Oliver Wyman is the same company that the British Bankers' Association hired to review the Libor submission process after that scandal broke last year. The upshot of all of this is that it looks very much like ISDAfix could be Libor all over again.
"It's obviously reminiscent of the Libor manipulation issue," Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University, told reporters. "People may have been naive that simply reporting these rates was enough to avoid manipulation."
And just like in Libor, the potential losers in an interest-rate-swap manipulation scandal would be the same sad-sack collection of cities, towns, companies and other nonbank entities that have no way of knowing if they're paying the real price for swaps or a price being manipulated by bank insiders for profit. Moreover, ISDAfix is not only used to calculate prices for interest-rate swaps, it's also used to set values for about $550 billion worth of bonds tied to commercial real estate, and also affects the payouts on some state-pension annuities.
So although it's not quite as widespread as Libor, ISDAfix is sufficiently power-jammed into the world financial infrastructure that any manipulation of the rate would be catastrophic – and a huge class of victims that could include everyone from state pensioners to big cities to wealthy investors in structured notes would have no idea they were being robbed.
Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever (Thanks, Elix!)
Since at least 2001, Colin Purrington, a former Swarthmore Evolutionary Biology prof, has been publishing a great guide to conference posters that is widely read and linked. It's also widely plagiarized, and Purrington sends notices to people whom he catches passing it off as their own work, asking them to remove it. Normally, this works.
But not in the case of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc., a company that receives millions in federal grants to fund biotech research. When Purrington sent CPBR an email telling them off for plagiarizing him, they responded by accusing him of being the plagiarist, threating him with massive damages, and demanding that he remove his own work immediately and permanently.
Purrington responded with a pretty good note about the whole awful mess. Though I think he overstates the copyright case here. In particular, he discounts out of hand the idea that reproduction in educational contexts can't be fair use; this is just wrong -- fair use is fact intensive, and educational use tilts the scales in favor of a successful defense. On the other hand, plagiarism (though not illegal) is a cardinal sin in education, and educators who pass off his work as their own may not be breaking the law, but they are unambiguously violating a core ethic of education and scholarship.
But back to CPBR. This is not only plagiarism, it's also copyright infringement, and it's copyfraud -- claiming copyright on something you hold no rights to. It's unethical, it's illegal, and it's fraudulent. CPBR president and chairman Dorin Schumaker (also sole employee -- who, according to its most recent 990, receives $213,964 a year) is not available for comment, and both its attorneys and whomever answers its phone hung up on the Chronicle of Higher Ed when called for clarification.
So: crooks and cowards.
I called the main number for the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research and was told that the president and chairman, Dorin Schumaker, was not available and might not be available for weeks. Schumaker is the only paid employee listed on the nonprofit’s most recent available Form 990 tax filing (her salary, according to the filing, is $213,964). I then called a number listed for a Dorin Schumaker in St. Simons Island, Ga., where the consortium is based. The person who picked up the phone declined to answer questions and hung up when asked if she was Dorin Schumaker. The consortium’s lawyer, David Metzger, also hung up on me. In a follow-up e-mail, he said he was abiding by his client’s wishes.
If they can explain how they created, in 2005, a document that Purrington posted online years before, they’re keeping that explanation mum for now.
Too often in plagiarism cases, the victim never really gets satisfaction. Maybe the offending passage is taken down. Perhaps a footnote is added. The plagiarist might even manage a mumbled apology. But the penalties are often piddling. This is the first case I’ve heard of in which the apparent victim may be the one who gets punished.
Purrington also states that he prohibits "paraphrase plagiarism, which is when you copy sentences and phrases but make minor word changes to mask your theft" -- which, again, overstates the scope of copyright. Paraphrasing material, quoting, and transformative adaptation are, in fact, classic fair use, despite Purrington's statement that he's "lost my patience with people claiming that Fair Use allows them to bypass my copyright. Really, folks?" Well, yes, really: fair use is the right to make uses and copies without permission from the copyright holder. It's not without limits, but it's also not nothing. Incidental copying, copying for the purposes of commentary and criticism, format-shifting, archiving, adaptation to assistive formats, etc -- all potentially fair use. Scholarship depends on fair use and other limitations in copyright, and while Purrington's poster is a great and informative work that greatly assists scholarship, his statements about the scope of copyright and its limitations and exceptions are greatly harmful to it.
I applaud the good work he's done in his guide, and am firmly on his side when it comes to the terrible treatment he's gotten at the hands of the CPBR. But I wish he'd check out some of the equally excellent guides to fair use so that all of the information he disseminates was just as accurate and useful as his conference poster piece.
Adding Insult to Plagiary? [Chronicle of Higher Education/Tom Bartlett]
Today marked the long-awaited courtroom showdown of notorious copyright porno trolls Prenda Law (previous posts) and United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II, the judge who figured out that Prenda was running something that looked a blackmail racket that involved systematic fraud against courts around the country. After stalling and fum-fuhing, Prenda's lawyers and principals were dragged before Judge Wright, where they sat for a hearing that ran for 12 whole minutes before Wright furiously banished them from his courtroom. Ken "Popehat" White was there, and sent tantalizing tweets about the total trainwreck he'd witnessed, which he has now had a chance to write up in full.
In a nutshell, the Prendateers showed up and took the Fifth, refusing to speak. Their lawyer tried to enter some argument into the record, but the judge didn't allow it. Prenda had filed no briefs, and had been called to answer basic, factual questions about lawsuits. Wright wasn't happy about it. Ken has written up a list of likely consequences Prenda will now face. It's not pretty. At very least, the firm and its activities are at an end. At most (though not likely), this could end in prison for the principals here.
Judge Wright grew steadily and visibly more outraged. "I want to know if some of my conjecture is accurate — and the only way to know is to have the principals here and ask them questions. This is an opportunity for them to protect themselves," he said. But Steele's lawyer confirmed his client would exercise his right to remain silent. Attorneys for Paul Hansmeier, Paul Duffy, and Angela Van Den Hemel confirmed their clients, too, would invoke their rights to remain silent. Judge Wright did not — unless I missed it — confirm whether Peter Hansmeier or Mark Lutz would answer questions.
An Opportunity To Be Heard
Heather Rosing, appearing for Paul Duffy, Angela Van Den Hemel, and Prenda Law, rose and asked Judge Wright for an opportunity to present "about a half hour" of argument on the points in his Order to Show Cause. Look: when you are a lawyer, representing a client, you have to stand up. You have to hold your ground even in the face of a furious federal judge. When a judge is yelling at you, however unsettling it is, you have to hold fast and remember you are there to represent the interests of your client against the terrible power of the court. Heather Rosing stood up, and has my admiration, whatever I think of her clients.
Judge Wright was uninterested in hearing legal argument, as opposed to testimony or evidence. "My clients have a right to a reasonable opportunity to be heard," Ms. Rosing protested. "Excuse me?" thundered Judge Wright, probably thinking — not unreasonably — that Ms. Rosing's clients could have filed briefs in advance to address any legal arguments they had, and that Ms. Rosing's clients have been evading questions for months. Judge Wright began to count off the questions he wanted answered. "I'm looking for facts," he said. He wanted to know who directs Prenda Law's litigation efforts, who makes its decisions, whether there is another Alan Cooper, and what happens with the money Prenda Law makes from settlements. Ms. Rosing answered (wisely, and properly) that she could not personally testify to those things. Why, Judge Wright demanded, did Prenda Law conceal its attorneys' financial interest in the cases? "There's no evidence that they have an interest," Ms. Rosing protested. "Excuse me?" Judge Wright boomed even louder. Were there windows, they would have rattled. "Have you read Paul Hansmeier's deposition?" he demanded, referring to the bizarre deposition in which Paul Hansmeier failed to explain Prenda Law's shadowy owners or flow of funds. "I have," Ms. Rosing said, but stood her ground.