Podcast: What happens with digital rights management in the real world?

Here's a reading (MP3) of a recent Guardian column, What happens with digital rights management in the real world where I attempt to explain the technological realpolitik of DRM, which has nothing much to do with copyright, and everything to do with Internet security.

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Feds drop link-related charges against Barrett Brown

The DoJ has filed a motion to dismiss charges against Barrett Brown related to republishing a link, an act they had previously characterized as a felony. Brown, a journalist, had posted links to the Anonymous dump of emails from private military contractor Stratfor. The US DoJ is still trying to put him in jail for putting his laptop in a cabinet ("obstruction of justice") and losing his shit and ranting about hurting the cops who were hounding him for pasting a link into a chat room (threatening acts). Cory 5

As Idaho moves to criminalize undercover video with 'ag-gag' law, clip of dairy worker sexually abusing cow surfaces


A still from the video shot undercover at an Idaho dairy by animal rights group Mercy For Animals. Under a proposed law, filming scenes like this would become a crime.

In Idaho, the dairy industry has successfully lobbied lawmakers to propose a new law that would make it a crime for animal rights advocates or journalists to lie about their backgrounds to applications at dairy farms, for the purpose of documenting criminal activity or animal abuse.

Striking back at this proposed legislation that would curb free speech, Los Angeles-based nonprofit Mercy for Animals today released video of a dairy worker sexually abusing a cow at Dry Creek Dairy (owned by Bettencourt Dairies) in Idaho.

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AIDS deniers use bogus copyright claims to censor critical Youtube videos

Myles Power, a debunker who goes after junk science and conspiracy theorists, has gone after AIDS denialists and a terrible, falsehood-ridden, dangerous documentary called "House of Numbers," which holds that HIV/AIDS isn't an actual viral illness, but rather a conspiracy to sell anti-viral medication. The AIDS denial movement encourages people who are HIV-positive to go off the medication that keeps them alive.

The producers of "House of Numbers" have used a series of bogus copyright takedown notices to get Youtube to remove Powers's videos, in which he uses clips from the documentary as part of his criticism, showing how they mislead viewers and misrepresent the facts and the evidence. It's pure censorship: using the law to force the removal of your opponents' views.

Google and Youtube have some blame to shoulder here. They should not be honoring these takedown notices, as they are not valid on their face. However, the buck doesn't stop there. The DMCA's takedown procedures have no real penalty for abuse, so it is the perfect tool for would-be censors. What's more, the entertainment companies -- who are great fans of free speech when defending their right to sell products without censorship, but are quite unwilling the share the First Amendment they love so dearly with the rest of us -- are pushing to make censorship even easier, arguing that nothing should be posted on Youtube (or, presumably, any other online forum) unless it has been vetted by a copyright lawyer.

Update: Google has reinstated the video, and published this statement: "When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove it promptly in accordance with the law. We reinstate content in cases where there is clear fair use and we are confident that the material is not infringing, removing any associated copyright strikes.”

However, the "accordance with the law" business isn't the whole story. The law says that if Google is sent a takedown notice and they don't remove it, they could be sued along with the person who posted it. But it's up to Google to determine whether it believes the complaint holds water, and whether to assume the risk of disregarding it. IOW: Google could have left the video up, but at some risk of being named in a nuisance suit by some genuinely evil people. It decided that this risk was more costly than the likely temporary removal of the video.

They're probably right inasmuch as they will generally be let off the hook for this. However, to the extent that we -- the people who generate Google's income -- give them a good kicking when they make decisions like this, we will raise the cost of acting on obviously spurious copyright complaints. The higher that cost rises, the less censorship we'll see on Youtube.

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EU elections: ask candidates to sign digital rights pledge

Kirsten From Edri writes, "European Digital Rights (EDRi) has launched WePromise.EU to put digital civil rights on the agenda of the European election. The platform is based on a two-sided promise: On the one hand, parliamentary candidates will be able to endorse a ten point 'Charter of Digital Rights' that supports an open digital environment. On the other, citizens across Europe can in turn sign the petition and promise to vote for candidates that have endorsed the Charter."

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Appeals court rules bloggers have same speech protections as journalists


A Ninth Circuit Appeals court has overturned a lower-court decision that said that bloggers weren't entitled to the same free speech protection as journalists. The case involved a 2011 blog post by Crystal Cox in which she alleged that a firm had engaged in tax fraud; the company she wrote about said that the allegation was false, and that Cox should be found guilty of libel because she wasn't a "journalist." The higher court found that, journalist or not, Cox's guilt turned not on the truth of her statement, but whether she was negligent, and could have discovered the truth.

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Copyright must accomodate free expression

Here's another great post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in honor of Copyright Week, explaining the relationship between copyright and free expression. Copyright is a monopoly on speech -- the right to decide, within limits, who can express themselves with certain words, tunes, and images -- so it's important that the law be structured so that monopoly doesn't jeopardize free debate and artistic expression.

Arts groups often have a blind spot here, staunchly defending free speech right up until it conflicts with copyright, and then stopping dead. But if you support free speech except where it conflicts with copyright, then your free speech movement is practically irrelevant to the age of the Internet, since all expression on the Internet involves making copies, and thus interacting with copyright.

Or as EFF's legal director Cindy Cohn likes to say, "We know you love the First Amendment, but we want you to share."

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British libel law becomes marginally saner


At last, a tiny piece of good news for free speech from England and Wales: the Defamation Act 2013 goes into effect tomorrow, and will make it substantially harder for rich, powerful people to sue their critics in the UK. The new law requires that plaintiffs show "serious harm" in order to bring a suit. It also protects academic and scientific publications (an important issue since the British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh for publishing a critical scientific review of chiropractic). It adds a defense on the basis of a good-faith belief that publication is in the public interest.

Perhaps most importantly, it tightens up the "libel tourism" rules that allowed corrupt overseas dictators and oligarchs to sue news outlets based outside the UK in a UK court, merely by showing that someone in the UK read the disputed article; and it establishes a "single publication" rule to stop publishers from being sued multiple times over the same disclosure.

However, Northern Ireland has not adopted these reforms; English PEN's Jo Glanville points out that this creates a huge loophole for people who want to bring baseless libel claims in the UK -- they can just sue in an NI court.

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Kansas Universities can fire faculty for tweets that are "contrary to best interest of the University"

The Kansas Board of Regents has adopted a new police that makes it a firing offense to use social media if you communicate sentiments that are "contrary to the best interests of the University." The policy applies to tenured faculty as well as non-tenured plebs. (via Hacker News) Cory 25

Oakland PD's surveillance center's primary purpose is fighting protesters, not crime


An excellent investigative piece in the East Bay Express reviews internal communications and other public records from city staffers and Oakland PD bureaucrats discussing the Domain Awareness Center, a citywide surveillance hub that's currently under construction. Oakland is a city with a decades-long problem with gang violence and street violence, and the DAC -- which will consolidate video feeds blanketing the city and use software to ascribe the probability of guilt to people in the feeds -- is being sold as a solution to this serious problem.

But the internal documents tell another story. Though the City of Oakland's public-facing DAC message is all about crimefighting and anti-terror surveillance, the internal message is very different. City bureaucrats and law enforcement are excited about DAC because it will help them fight protests.

Analysis of the internal documents found almost no mentions of "crime," "rape," "killings" -- but city officials frequently and at length discussed the way the DAC could be used to thwart street protests, future Occupy movements, and trade union activity including strikes.

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David Cameron vows vengeance on the Guardian for Snowden leaks


UK Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to punish the Guardian for publishing leaks about the campaigns of lawless, reckless spying by GCHQ and the NSA. He's asked Parliament to find a legal rubric for cracking down on newspapers that publish stories of compelling public-interest such as the Snowden leaks. He made a bizarre accusation that the Guardian's cooperation in the destruction of its computers (made under dire threat) was an admission of guilt.

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NSA-loving, Internet-hating Rep Mike Rogers' staffers say criticism is "defamation"

Rep Mike Rogers (R-MI) is a former FBI spook turned Congressman. In addition to being an authoritarian creep (he was one of CISPA's co-sponsors) who hates Internet users (he dismissed CISPA's millions of vociferous opponents as "14-year-olds in their basement clicking around on the internet") and loves warrantless NSA spying -- he's also apparently a coward, whose staffers reportedly say that criticizing him on the Internet is defamation. According to a Michigan reporter, they told the press that Rogers could sue Techdirt's Mike Masnick for "defamation" for closely and critically covering his policies. As Masnick says, it's "unbecoming of an elected official to try to chill the free speech of those who criticize his statements and actions with implied threats of lawsuits to silence their public participation."

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Critic of AIDS denialist needs help with Texas defamation lawsuit

Clark Baker, an "AIDS denialist" who plays hardball with his critics -- for example, calling a critic's elderly mother and saying that, as an ex-police-officer, it is his opinion that her son was a violent criminal who might murder her in her sleep -- can dish it out but can't take it.

Baker operates a consultancy that helps people who have HIV and have unprotected sex escape from the legal consequences of their recklessness. His professional service involves appearing in court and arguing that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

Understandably, this draws firm and impassioned criticism. One critic, J. Todd Deshong of Texas, is now the target of a lawsuit by Baker and his attorney, Mark Weitz of Weitz Morgan PLLC in Austin, Texas. They have brought suit against Deshong for "trademark infringement, defamation, "business disparagement," and for injunctive relief."

As Ken at Popehat points out, this is without legal merit. But nuisance suits can be ruinously expensive, and if you're a deep-pocketed pseudoscientist-for-hire whose career as an AIDS denialist depends on silencing critics who point out the obvious holes in your scientific reasoning, then no price is too high when it comes to frivolous litigation.

Mr Deshong needs help from members of the Texas bar and supporters around the world who can come to his aid and defend his right to participate in vigorous debate over important, life-or-death issues without this sort of litigious harassment.

Todd Deshong needs help. He's being sued for attacking junk science; he's being sued by the sort of loathsome nutter who threatens the mothers of critics. Your freedom to speak without fear of censorious and frivolous litigation chilling you depends on the willingness of people to step up in situations like this. If nobody helps Todd Deshong, then anybody can be driven to penury by a flawed legal system that serves as a vehicle for despicable and un-American censorship by lunatics of every stripe. If you're a Texas lawyer, please consider helping. If you know Texas lawyers, please bring this to their attention. If you have an online presence, please tell this story — and research Clark Baker's behavior yourself. Clark Baker and his lawyer should experience the social consequences of their actions — help be a part of those social consequences. Step up for free speech.

Popehat Signal: Vengeful AIDS Denialist Sues Critic In Texas

Apple's mobile devices have a secret list of "sensitive" words that don't autocomplete


The Daily Beast investigated the autocomplete on Apple Ios devices (Iphones, Ipads, etc), and discovered that there was a long list of "sensitive" words that the devices have in their dictionary but would not autocomplete -- you would have to type them out in full to get them into your device. This list includes words such as "abortion," "rape," "ammo," and "bullet." They documented their methodology in detail.

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UN makes the connection between surveillance and free speech

Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, has tabled a report (PDF) to the UN Human Rights Council that makes a connection between surveillance and free expression. This is a first in the UN, and the meat of it is that it establishes the principle that countries that engage in bulk, warrantless Internet surveillance are violating their human rights obligations to ensure freedom of expression:

La Rue reminds States that in order to meet their human rights obligations, they must ensure that the rights to free expression and privacy—and metadata protection in particular—are at the heart of their communications surveillance frameworks. To this end, the Special Rapporteur urges states to review national laws regulating surveillance and update and strengthen laws and legal standards:

Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that potentially interferes with the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and threatens the foundations of a democratic society.

Legislation must stipulate that State surveillance of communications must only occur under the most exceptional circumstances and exclusively under the supervision of an independent judicial authority.

At present, access to communications data has been conducted by a variety of public bodies for a broad range of purposes, often without judicial authorization and independent oversight. Such overbroad access threatens basic democratic values.

Internet Surveillance and Free Speech: the United Nations Makes the Connection (via /.)