I've written here before that the impending UK press-regulation rules coming in as a result of the Leveson report will inadvertently end up treating bloggers and other everyday Internet users as though they were newspapers, exposing them to the threat of arbitration proceedings where they will have to pay the legal costs of people who want to silence them, and be subject to "exemplary damages" -- enormous statutory fines that grossly exceed any actual harm caused.
Now the Open Rights Group has started a campaign to warn party leaders about this in the three days we have left before Leveson becomes law. We need your help now, or bloggers and the open Internet will become collateral damage in the campaign to control Britain's awful tabloids.
Jim from ORG writes, "The Leveson regulations are being applied to UK websites -- in ways that could catch more or less anyone who publishes a blog. Ordinary bloggers could be threatened with exemplary damages and costs. If this happens, small website publishers will face terrible risks, or burdensome regulation -- and many may simply stop publishing."
Cameron, stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill
(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am proud to volunteer on its advisory board)
A lot of people were frustrated in 2011 when the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by Time Warner Cable to revoke local authority to build community-owned networks. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause explains how Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink bought their bill.
In the two years since, the big companies have refused to invest in better networks and AT&T just announced layoffs for some call center workers. Meanwhile, the state is tied with Mississippi for last place in the US in the number of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband connection" according to the FCC. Perhaps these decisions should be made locally and not by corporate lobbyists?
The Empire Lobbies Back: Killing Broadband Competition in NC
Well, that was predictable: days after a 3D printed gun fired a few rounds, Rep Steve Israel has called for a ban on of Wiki Weapons. The congressman points out (correctly) that all-plastic 3D printed weapons would not be easy to spot using traditional methods, such as metal detectors.
However, what Rep Israel doesn't say is how he hopes to accomplish his goal. Firmware locks for 3D printers? A DMCA-like takedown regime for 3D shapefiles that can be used to generate plastic firearms (or parts of plastic firearms?). A mandate on 3D printer manufacturers to somehow magically make it impossible for their products to print out gun-parts?
Every one of those measures is a nonsense and worse: unworkable combinations of authoritarianism, censorship, and wishful thinking. Importantly, none of these would prevent people from manufacturing plastic guns. And all of these measures would grossly interfere with the lawful operation of 3D printers.
Rep. Steve Israel urges Congress to renew ‘Wiki Weapon’ ban
This January sees the first cohorts of books whose authors can terminate their contracts with their publishers under a 1978 law that lets authors kill their old deals after 35 years. Given all the interesting stuff happening with backlists and ebooks, expect to see a lot of authors being courted by, say, Amazon with big fat advances for their profitable backlists if they yank their books and make them Amazon-exclusive. And this is going to happen every year from now on.
The law in question is Section 203 of the 1978 Copyright Act which allows authors to cut away any contract after 35 years. Congress put it in place to protect young artists who signed away future best sellers for a pittance.
“People have had 2013 circled on their calendar for a while,” said Andrew Bart, a copyright lawyer at Jenner & Block, in a phone interview...
The 1978 law also means a threat to the back list of titles that are a cash cow for many publishers. The threat is amplified as a result of new digital distribution options for authors that were never conceived when the law was passed — these new options mean authors have more leverage to walk away from their publishers altogether.
Publishers brace for authors to reclaim book rights in 2013
(via Making Light)
Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) has pretty good credentials as a friend of the Internet, being one of the early Congresscritters to stand up to SOPA and PIPA (though there's the little matter of sponsoring a corporatist bill to limit open access for state-funded research). He's introduced a bill called the "The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA)" which proposes a two-year moratorium on Internet-related legislation. Presumably, this would give Internet freedom activists a couple years to prepare an offense game, rather than having to always be reacting to pro-surveillance and pro-censorship proposals from Hollywood and the DHS.
Issa's appearing in a Reddit AMA today at 1030h Eastern to discuss the bill.
The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA)
Steven Levy's Wired magazine feature on the cancerous multiplication of patents has all the hallmarks of Levy's work: excellent, eminently readable, human-scale tech reporting that makes important issues comprehensible.
The rise of trolls came as a result of a court system that seemed to favor them every step of the way. The vagueness of the underlying patents, the ridiculous ease with which plaintiffs could file a suit, the high costs defendants faced, and the unthinkable consequences of losing—all created an environment in which trolls were routinely rewarded for filing frivolous suits. But by the late 2000s, courts and the legislature began slowly chipping away at these factors. In 2003 a company called MercExchange successfully sued eBay over the provenance of its Buy It Now button. When eBay appealed, MercExchange took the common step of asking for an injunction against the defendant, which would have barred eBay from using the disputed technology as long as the case remained open. This was intended to prevent firms from profiting unfairly from someone else’s invention. But all too often it further pressured companies to settle quickly so they could go back to business. Courts could be quick to grant such injunctions, but when the issue came before the Supreme Court in 2006, the justices determined that more care should be taken with that drastic step. This precedent made it harder for challengers to threaten a defendant’s entire business.
The Patent Problem
(Image: Brock Davis)
The Australian government is following the UK, US and Canadian governments' examples and establishing a secretive, no-holds-barred snooping regime. The "data retention" bill that's been prepared by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department requires ISPs to store all communications for two years, and grants wide access to those stored records, as well as allowing snooping on residents' social networking activities. What's more, the Attorney General has denied a Freedom of Information request for a look at the draft legislation from the Pirate Party, saying that public scrutiny of spying laws is "not in the public interest" and would be prejudicial to the decision-making process.
The Pirate Party, which is an activist and political organisation which lobbies to maintain and extend Australians’ digital rights and freedoms, issued a media release this morning noting that it had filed a Freedom of Information request with the department, seeking draft national security legislation which had been prepared in 2010 with respect to the current proposal. The draft legislation had been mentioned by the Sydney Morning Herald in an article in August.
However, the Attorney-General’s Department wrote back to the organisation this week, noting that the request had been denied. Logan Tudor, a legal officer with the department, wrote that he had decided that the draft legislation was exempted from being released because it contained material which was being deliberated on inside the department. “… the release of this material would, in my view, be contrary to the public interest,” Tudor wrote.
In the Pirate Party’s statement, its treasurer Rodney Serkowski described the response by the Attorney-General’s Department as “disgraceful and troubling”.
“They have completed draft legislation, prior to any transparent or consultative process, and are now denying access to that legislation, for reasons that are highly dubious and obviously politically motivated,” wrote Serkowski. “The Department is completely trashing any semblance or notion of transparency or participative democratic process of policy development.”
Govt censors pre-prepared data retention bills
Popular Science's John Robb reports on a person who claims that his 3D-printed pistol can successfully fire live ammunition, though not with total reliability. The same person then went on to print a working AR-15 rifle (this is a substantial advance on last year's account of a 3D printable AR-15 automatic conversion kit. This event has raised something of a crisis for Thingiverse, the online repository for 3D printable meshes, which is contemplating whether it will host files that can be printed into "weapons."
An amateur gunsmith, operating under the handle of "HaveBlue" (incidentally, "Have Blue" is the codename that was used for the prototype stealth fighter that became the Lockheed F-117), announced recently in online forums that he had successfully printed a serviceable .22 caliber pistol.
Despite predictions of disaster, the pistol worked. It successfully fired 200 rounds in testing.
HaveBlue then decided to push the limits of what was possible and use his printer to make an AR-15 rifle. To do this, he downloaded plans for an AR-15 in the Solidworks file format from a site called CNCGunsmith.com. After some small modifications to the design, he fed about $30 of ABS plastic feedstock into his late-model Stratasys printer. The result was a functional AR-15 rifle. Early testing shows that it works, although it still has some minor feed and extraction problems to be worked out.
A Working Assault Rifle Made With a 3-D Printer
Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,
One of the big issues we face in trying to make legal documents available to citizens at no charge is a feeling in Washington that "ordinary" people just aren't smart enough to read things like public safety codes. They think charging $850 for a 30-page elevator safety spec or $500 for a water hygiene document is OK because the audience is highly limited.
To counter the "dumb American" theory we hear in Washington, we spent some time out in the field producing a video featuring our local elected officials, the fire marshal, the building inspector, automotive experts, and then went to Code for America to talk to the fellows, Jennifer Pahlka, and Tim O'Reilly, and to MAKE headquarters to talk to Dale Dougherty. The result is a 20-minute video called "Show Me the Manual." I hope you enjoy it!
Show Me The Manual
While there are many resources out there to help citizens learn more about how much money gov't officials are accepting from special interest groups, I wanted to call out SopaTrack as it is the first of its kind that enables people to easily and quickly look up how elected officials are voting on a particular issue, enabling voters to be more educated and aware as they hit the ballots. For this broader issue and problem, for the first time, there is an app for that :)
In a nutshell, SopaTrack highlights how elected officials are voting on specific issues -- with a focus on how often they vote for or against the money. With the recent fight against SOPA demonstrating how potent and motivated the digital community is in holding elected officials accountable, and with CISPA quickly creeping onto the national stage, SopaTrack demonstrates the next way of digital activism and grass-roots campaigning. Originally, SopaTrack was created to help provide facts around the then one-sided discussion around SOPA that was quickly turned around by alarmed citizens like Randy Meech.
The data for this comes from Maplight and Sunlight Labs.
Sopatrack - Check how Congress Votes with the Money
After intense lobbying from frozen pizza makers, and the potato and salt industry, Congress is poised to pass a spending bill whose riders establish that pizza is a vegetable and can be served in school cafeterias in substitute for actual vegetables.
We’re now facing a policy decision that has replaced science-backed common sense with the assertion that pizza ought to count as a vegetable when it’s served to schoolchildren.
(Side note: we’re not even talking about whole-grain pizza loaded with veggie toppings! We’re talking about frozen cheese pizza with tomato paste.)
If you want to take a look at the bill’s language, go for it, but the main takeaway is this: our Congressional leaders are on a fast track to overrule nutrition science in favor of political expediency. This is a dangerous precedent to set and not good public policy.
Pizza Counts as a Vegetable? How the Spending Bill in Congress Could Unravel Progress on School Nutrition
(Image: Gryfes frozen pizzas - cooked, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from grongar's photostream)