[Ticker] Commission clears Barroso to work for Goldman Sachs

van EU Observer - di, 11/01/2016 - 07:45
The European Commission’s ethical committee recommended on Monday that former commission president Jose Manuel Barroso should not be sanctioned for taking up a senior position with Goldman Sachs bank. Vicky Cann from Corporate Europe Observatory said the 18-month cooling-off period for former EU commissioners is too short to prevent conflicts of interest, while the EU's ombudsman said, she would now reflect on the next steps – including a possible inquiry.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

Sega/Steam Took Down A Bunch Of Legitimate Steam Workshop Mods Over Copyright Concerns

van TechDirt - di, 11/01/2016 - 07:30

We've talked often about how common it is for legitimate customers to get caught up in attempts to thwart piracy and copyright infringement. From DRM keeping legit purchasers from using what they paid for to Fair Use uses of content getting taken down by automatic systems on sites like YouTube, it's worth noting whenever this happens. After all, there is an expression in the legal system that goes something like: I'd rather set 100 guilty people free than imprison a single innocent. The stakes when it comes to copyright aren't as high as jail time, typically, but it's interesting how little this mantra penetrates with those who would enforce copyright via carpet-bomb rather than a scalpel.

Take the recent incident with Sega's Steam Workshop mod-space, for instance, where dozens and dozens of mods within the platform suddenly disappeared.

Earlier this year Sega opened a Steam Workshop section for their Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics Hub, allowing modders to tinker with emulated versions of games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage. On Tuesday, dozens of those mods were removed without explanation.

Modders asking why their creations were taken down have received a stock reply from Steam Support: “Due to reporting of content that violates the Steam Terms of Service, the content in question has been removed from the Steam Community.”

Now, some of the mods taken down did indeed violate Steam's ToS, including some that weren't so much mods as they were full uploads of classic Sega games. Those takedowns make perfect sense. But many other mods were exactly the type that Sega itself had allowed, if not encouraged, which certainly did not violate the ToS. These included game mods to make games easier, mods to mix Sega games with the original music from their PC counterparts, and even mods designed to help those with certain disabilities play classic Sega games. We've even noted recently that Sega has made it clear that it wants gamers to mod its games in this way, even poking at its competitors for issuing these kinds of takedowns. So what gives?

Well, in a later update, PC Gamer posts a response from Sega. It essentially acknowledges that a bunch of innocent mods were taken down by an automated system not intelligent enough to discern between what was allowed and not allowed.

"SEGA would like to reiterate how delighted it is with how the Mega Drive/Genesis Collection community has self-moderated content on Steam Workshop. We've seen some fantastic mods created and released on the platform and want to encourage the community's continued creativity by helping to curate a library of outstanding mods.

"However, due to some erratic user behaviour over the last few days, many mods which didn't breach Steam's terms of service were automatically removed from Steam Workshop. SEGA and Valve are working together with the affected modders to reinstate their work as soon as possible and have already reversed a number of removals.

"SEGA and Valve are not actively removing mods that do not violate the terms of service, only those that do. We appreciate the help of the community's self-moderation in removing illegal or offensive content to maintain the high standard of legal mods on the platform. If you feel your mod does not breach the Steam terms of service but was removed, please contact community@sega.co.uk and SEGA will investigate."

Which, fine, but why not just reverse the automated process, put everything back up, and use those same Sega investigators to only take down the infringing mods? Why does the human element always seem to be reserved for remedying the mistakes as opposed to preventing them? Why must innocent modders suffer, like a villager caught in a cluster bomb?

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[Investigation] Romania and Morocco have most expats in EU prisons

van EU Observer - di, 11/01/2016 - 07:18
Romania and Morocco have the highest number of expats in prison in the EU while Lithuania has the highest percentage of their expat population in jail.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

Stupid Patent Of The Month: Changing The Channel

van TechDirt - di, 11/01/2016 - 00:20

Is somebody really claiming to have invented a method for switching from watching one video to watching another?

This question comes from a lawyer at the New York Times, as an aside in an interesting article about the paper's response to a defamation threat from a presidential candidate. Apparently, that defamation threat distracted the his legal team from their work on another task: responding to a patent troll. Intrigued, we looked into it. The patent troll is called Bartonfalls, LLC and its patent, U.S. Patent No. 7,917,922, is our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

The patent is titled "Video input switching and signal processing apparatus." It includes just two pages of text and, as the title suggests, describes an apparatus for switching between channels that come from different inputs (e.g. between cable channels and free-to-air broadcasts). The patent is directed to the equipment found in and around a 1990s television (such as VCRs, cable converters, satellite tuners). It does not even mention the Internet.

This is not how you watch videos on nytimes.com

Even though its patent has nothing whatsoever to do with Internet video, Bartonfalls has sued the New York Times and a dozen other companies that provide online content. In its complaints, it suggests that merely auto-playing a video after another has finished is enough to infringe its patent. In its complaint against the New York Times it claims:

[O]n its website [at this link], NYT practices The Accused Instrumentality of automatically changing from a first TV program (e.g., "Bill Clinton Offers Personal Tales of Hillary") to an alternate TV program (e.g., "Sanders Delegates Revolt After Roll Call") at a TV viewer location (e.g., at the location of a user of the accused instrumentality).

This is ridiculous. Even if we assume this perfunctory patent describes a non-obvious invention, its claims are directed to automatically changing "TV channels" at a "TV viewer location." In the context of the patent's own description, "TV" clearly means "television," not "television or computer."

Arstechnica looked into the background of Bartonfalls and its patent. It found a campaign with all the indicia of abusive patent litigation. The company has no business other than patent litigation. All of its cases are filed in the plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas. As with so many other troll cases, at least one of the so-called "inventors" is a patent lawyer.

We need broad patent reform to cut down on abusive troll litigation. For starters, tell your representatives that we need venue reform legislation to stop trolls flocking to the Eastern District of Texas.

Republished from the EFF's Stupid Patent of the Month series.

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Legislators Demand Answers From DOJ On Expanded Hacking Powers It's Seeking

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 22:50

There's only a couple of months left until the DOJ's proposed Rule 41 changes become law. All Congress has to do is nothing. This is a level of effort Congress is mostly amenable to. If this becomes law, worldwide deployments of malware/spyware during investigations will be unable to be challenged in court. In addition, the DOJ wants to be part of the cyberwar. It's seeking permission to remotely access zombie computers/devices used in cyberattacks to "clean" them.

The rule changes would also add a presumption of guilt to an activity performed by millions of computer users around the world:

Opponents of the pending change to Rule 41 say that it unlawfully confers a new authority that changes substantive rights. First off, they contend that it adds a criminal taint to a perfectly legal practice: using location to cloak your location.

“There are countless reasons people may want to use technology to shield their privacy,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation earlier this year. “From journalists communicating with sources to victims of domestic violence seeking information on legal services, people worldwide depend on privacy tools for both safety and security.”

The DOJ has argued that these Rule 41 amendments are just "clarifications" of existing law:

“The amendment would not authorize the government to undertake any search or seizure or use any remote search technique not already permitted under current law,” the DOJ told Consumerist in May, noting that law enforcement would still need to demonstrate probable cause.

This statement obviously isn't true considering how many federal judges have agreed the warrant it used in the Playpen investigation exceeded existing jurisdictional limits.

Fortunately, there are legislators pushing back against the DOJ's proposed changes. Ron Wyden has sent a letter [PDF] to the DOJ -- co-signed by 22 other legislators -- asking for clarification on the DOJ's interpretation of the changes it's seeking.

One of the questions the group has is how the DOJ can produce probable cause to search thousands of devices.

Please describe any differences in legal requirements between obtaining a warrant for a physical search versus obtaining a warrant for a remote electronic search. In particular, and if applicable, please describe how the principle of probable cause may be used to justify the remote search of tens of thousands of devices. Is it sufficient probable cause for a search that a device merely be "damaged" and connected to a crime?

The letter also raises the issue of forum shopping. With jurisdictional limits removed, federal law enforcement officers are free to find judges more willing to sign off on their warrant requests, rather than being forced to work with those in the locality the alleged criminal activity took place.

The DOJ's proposed botnet cleaning efforts raise a whole set of new troubling questions, ones that Wyden and co. would like to see answered before allowing the rule changes to slide by unopposed. First, there's the question of unforeseen collateral damage -- efforts that hurt more than help.

We are concerned that the deployment of software to search for and possibly disable a botnet may have unintended consequences on internet-connected devices, from smartphones to medical devices. Please describe the testing that is conducted on the viability of "network investigative techniques" to safely search devices such as phones, tablets, hospital information systems, and internet-connected video monitoring systems.

Then there's the question about the proposed "cleaning" efforts. Under what authority will law enforcement break into Americans' computers and screw around with their software and hardware?

Will law enforcement use authority under the proposed amendments to disable or otherwise render inoperable software that is damaging or has damaged a protected device? In other words, will network investigative techniques be used to "clean" infected devices, including devices that belong to innocent Americans? Has the Department ever attempted to "clean" infected computers in the past? If so, under what legal authority?

Good questions. Hopefully, we'll see the answers sometime before December 31st.

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My Talk At Wikimedia: Copyright Impacts Everything

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 21:10
Last week, I mentioned that I was giving a talk at the Wikimedia Foundation about copyright. It was a fun time, and the video from the talk is now online. Unfortunately, the audio and the video are... not entirely great. I'd complain about the terrible microphone, but that sounds like a certain presidential candidate. The video is okay, but the colors are off, so my presentation looks a little weird. Either way, you should still be able to get the basics. There's an introduction from Jan Gerlach at the Wikimedia Foundation, talking about all the important policy work they do, then my talk that runs about half an hour, followed by a Q&A with the audience that runs another half hour or so. It was a fun time, with a really great group of folks, and the conversation continued on after the official session ended for quite a while. Check it out:

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Canada Copyright Troll Threatens Octogenarian Over Download Of A Zombie War Game

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 19:43

Copyright trolling is somehow still a thing and it never seems to fail to provide ridiculous examples of miscarriages of justice. It has been long pointed out how rife with inaccuracy the process of threatening individuals with lawsuits and fines based on infringement as evidenced only by IP address is. Even courts have time and time again pointed out that an IP address is not sufficient to identify a person responsible for a given action. Yet the trolls still send out their threat letters, because bullying in this manner generally works.

The latest example of this kind of trolling misfire comes from Canada, where 86-year-old Christine McMillan received a threat letter from CANIPRE over an alleged infringing download of Metro 2033, a game in which the player slaughters zombies in a post-nuclear world.

"I found it quite shocking … I'm 86 years old, no one has access to my computer but me, why would I download a war game?" McMillan told Go Public.

In May, she received two emails forwarded by her internet provider. They were from a private company called Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement (CANIPRE) claiming she had illegally downloaded Metro 2033, a first-person shooter game where nuclear war survivors have to kill zombies.​ McMillan's IP address, the string of numbers that identifies each computer communicating over a network, was used to download the game.

McMillan says she thought the threat letter was a scam at first and, to be fair, it kind of is. With all the discretion of a carpet-bomb, CANIPRE saw her IP address associated with an infringing download and decided she had to pay $5k as a result. Because of Canada's Copyright Modernization Act, her ISP forwarded the notices to her blindly. Needless to say, this lovely woman in her eighties was both scared and confused, being told that the threat letters were legal and legit, but having never murdered a digital zombie in her life. Since receiving the letter, her confusion has turned to understandable anger.

"It seems to be a very foolish piece of legislation," McMillan said. "That somebody can threaten you over the internet … that to me is intimidation and I can't believe the government would support such action."

I'm right here with you, Christine, because this kind of fear and threat tactics are generally reserved for the exact kind of scams too often targeting senior citizens that she initially assumed this was. For the courts to push back on the very "evidence" that groups like CANIPRE rely on solely to threaten people with thousands of dollars in settlement offers isn't so much copyright enforcement as it is extortion. Wireless networks, even when secured, can be used by unauthorized users. Every instance of threatening those whose networks have been accessed in this way to commit copyright infringement is victimizing someone who is already a victim, which is as clear a miscarriage of justice in the Western system as I can think of.

But, again, copyright trolls do this because it works. Even CANIPRE doesn't defend the practice beyond saying that it is technically legal to do all of this, before bragging about how many people fearfully pay upon demand.

The owner of CANIPRE told Go Public he gets 400 calls and emails from people on a busy day and "most of them" settle.

"Ultimately, we are helping our clients get their educational message out about anti-piracy and theft of content and how it harms them and their rightful marketplace," Barry Logan said.

When asked about the wording that McMillan found threatening, Logan said his company ran the language by lawyers and it's legal. He says his company has collected about $500,000 for its clients since the Notice and Notice regime started almost two years ago.

Keep in mind that this is a house of monetary notes built entirely on IP addresses and preying on a public that mostly is unaware of the subtlety in the law and the legal defenses they have at their disposal. Whatever that is, it certainly isn't justice.

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Supreme Court Asks White House To Weigh In On Dancing Baby Fair Use Case

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 18:44
The copyright case involving Stephanie Lenz and her dancing baby is one that may finally be nearing a conclusion after many, many years -- but it's not over yet. As you may recall, Lenz posted a very brief clip of her then toddler, dancing along to a few seconds of a barely audible Prince song. This was almost a decade ago. Universal Music sent a DMCA takedown, and that kicked off a big fight over fair use, with the EFF representing Lenz and arguing that Universal Music needed to take fair use into account before issuing takedowns. The case then bounced around courts for nearly a decade with a variety of rulings, eventually getting a huge confusing mess of a ruling from the 9th Circuit last year, followed by an only marginally better mess earlier this year in an en banc decision replacing the original one.

Both EFF and Universal Music asked the Supreme Court to hear different questions about the messy 9th circuit ruling, and lots of other folks weighed in with amicus briefs, including internet companies and the RIAA (not on the same side, as you might imagine). The general consensus seemed to be that it was a long shot that the Supreme Court would bother with the case, even as it was kind of a mess, but the Supreme Court this morning kept things alive by asking the White House Solicitor General to weigh in (on page 2 of the document). LENZ, STEPHANIE V. UNIVERSAL MUSIC CORP., ET AL.

The Solicitor General is invited to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States.
So... now everyone gets to sit and wonder what the hell the Solicitor General is going to say. The fact that former MPAA lawyer Donald Verrilli is no longer the Solicitor General is at least mildly encouraging, since his views on copyright appeared to be positively draconian. But it's anybody's guess how the acting Solicitor General, Ian Gershengorn, and his staff will respond to the request. I don't think Gershengorn has much experience with copyright issues, but prior to jumping into the Obama administration, he did work at Jenner & Block, which was where Verrilli worked as well. And others on the staff have been shown to have some wacky ideas about copyright in the past.

But, for now, we'll have to wait and see -- but it also means that the case is still alive. With any luck, it'll be over before Lenz's "dancing baby" graduates high school.

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Daily Deal: Fast Charging Samsung Wireless Charging Stand

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 18:38
The Fast Charging Samsung Wireless Charging Stand is a sleek and easy way to charge your Samsung phone. Delivering a charge 50% faster than any standard wireless charger, this stand uses Qi wireless charging to give your Samsung phone a boost without having to mess with wires. The multi-colored LED halo indicates charging status so you can grab and go when your phone is ready. It's on sale for only $29 in the Techdirt Deals Store.

Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.

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AT&T's Already Making Things Up To Get Its Massive New Merger Approved

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 17:39
Over the years, we've noted how AT&T has a nasty habit of lying to sell the public, press and regulators on the company's neverending attempts to grow larger. Whether it's promising broadband expansions that never arrive, or using astroturf to try and argue anti-consumer mergers are good for toddlers, AT&T's lobbyists, lawyers, and policy tendrils work tirelessly to argue that up is down, black is white, and any skepticism of its claims are unfounded hysteria. As we saw with the blocked T-Mobile merger, this sort of behavior doesn't work quite as well as it used to.

Enter AT&T's latest $85 billion planned acquisition of Time Warner. Consumer advocates worry AT&T could use its size and leverage to make content more expensive, while the usage caps and zero rating give AT&T's own upcoming streaming video service an unfair market advantage. Wall Street hasn't exactly been bullish on the idea either, noting how AT&T's $69 billion acquisition of DirecTV, followed by its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner is not only a giant risk on the eve of the cord cutting revolution, but it saddles AT&T with an absolute mountain of debt that will potentially damage the company's credit rating.

But AT&T being AT&T, the telco is already busy trying to claim the merger will create all manner of amazing consumer benefits. One of the top early claims is that buying a massive media empire will somehow speed up AT&T's fifth-generation (5G) wireless deployments:"Stephenson this week tried to claim that the $85 billion acquisition of a broadcaster will somehow speed up the company's deployment of fifth generation (5G) wireless broadband. "We would probably have a desire to move faster on 5G, certainly not slower," Stephenson claimed on the company's earnings call this week. AT&T CFO John Stevens agreed, claiming that the massive deal "brings us a lot more financial flexibility... or revenue enhancements and growth that will allow us to fund 5G."Except that 5G is an evolutionary step up for wireless, one AT&T was unquestioningly-dedicated to before this merger was even announced. AT&T doesn't really have a choice in working toward 5G, which doesn't even have an official standard yet -- and likely won't see any meaningful commercial deployment until 2020. As for "financial flexibility," buying a massive media empire, saddling yourself with debt, having your credit downgraded and potentially hamstringing your ability to participate in current spectrum auctions -- doesn't magically make your wireless network appear more quickly.

AT&T also appears to be trying to convince the press, public and regulators that the deal is somehow making it possible for AT&T to launch its new "DirecTV Now" streaming service, which is expected to launch this Friday. AT&T executives have been claiming repeatedly that the service's $35 per month price point is somehow thanks to a merger that technically doesn't even exist yet:"AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today defended his company's proposed acquisition of Time Warner, saying that critics who claim the merger will raise prices are "uninformed." As proof, he said the AT&T-owned DirecTV will soon launch a $35-per-month streaming service called DirecTV Now.

"I'm not surprised [by the criticism]. They're uninformed comments," Stephenson said in response to a question from Wall Street Journal editor Rebecca Blumenstein at the newspaper's WSJDLive Conference. "Anybody who characterizes this as a means to raise prices is ignoring the basic premise of what we're trying to do here, again a $35 product we bring into the market."
Right, except this new streaming service was actually first announced eight months ago. And the licensing contracts supporting this $35 price point (which you know won't be anywhere near $35 once AT&T saddles it with fees and caveats) were already in place long before the merger was even announced. While AT&T is surely going to get better rates for content now that it owns the cow, there's absolutely no historical evidence to suggest that savings will be passed on directly to the consumer. If anything, consumers could pay more as AT&T uses its broadband mono/duopoly power to try and hamstring streaming alternatives.

This is just AT&T getting warmed up. Over the next few months, media outlets will be hammered with op-eds from lawyers, lobbyists, politicians, policy wonks, "consultants" and think tankers (all with undisclosed financial ties to AT&T) happily claiming that this new merger will cure cancer, protect toddlers, and keep the nation's puppies warm and happy. And while it's understandable that ISPs want to get into content and ads as broadband growth slows, the $150 billion spent on DirecTV and Time Warner could have brought fiber optic connections to American homes several times over.

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Rights Groups, Activists Ask President To Respond To Unanswered Encryption Petition

van TechDirt - ma, 10/31/2016 - 16:31

A bunch of organizations concerned with privacy, free press, and human rights are gently reminding the outgoing president that he still hasn't fully responded to a We the People petition about encryption.

Today, 18 organizations called on U.S. President Obama to make a declarative statement in support of strong encryption. The letter comes on the one-year anniversary of the day that a joint petition (SaveCrypto.org) reached 100,000 signatures, achieving a threshold that, according to the White House, would trigger a substantive response within 60 days. That never happened.

The key word here is "substantive." The White House did issue two "responses." The first was canned PR stating the White House was absolutely dying to have a conversation about encryption, but noting that fighting terrorism would probably override citizens' wishes for full support from President Obama. It did nothing to address the specifics of the petition and was so full of fluff the authors couldn't even properly forge the typed signature of the person they claimed wrote it.

The petition itself told the White House what they thought about encryption and that's that it's important in protecting our privacy and security and undermining it is dangerous with almost no real benefit. And, indeed, almost every technology expert who has opined on this subject has said the same thing -- including Ed Felten, the White House's Deputy CTO who supposedly co-wrote this response.

Except he didn't. Because not only does it not sound like him, the letter was actually signed by "Ed Felton" not Ed Felten.

That has since been fixed. An update was added a couple of weeks later assuring petitioners that theirs calls were very important and to please stay on the line. After that, the Obama Administration appears to have shut the lights off and gone home -- at least as far as this petition goes.

The gentle reminder [PDF] points out that the petition made specific requests and the White House has completely ignored them.

On September 29, 2015, Access Now, EFF, and a coalition that grew to nearly 50 organizations and companies initiated a petition using your “We the People” platform. The petition asked you to “[p]ublicly affirm your support for strong encryption,” and to “[r]eject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security” online. It also asked you to encourage other governments worldwide to do the same. The petition, also available at SaveCrypto.org, garnered more than 100,000 signatures in fewer than 30 days.

Instead of answers, the American public got reassurances that the government was listening. All well and good if the White House had followed it up by actually doing something. But it has remained silent on the issue of rejecting anti-encryption legislation. And, in the meantime, the attacks on encryption technology have increased.

In the 365 days since our petition hit the 100,000 signatory threshold to ensure a response from the administration, the FBI attempted to force Apple to build an entirely new, insecure operating system to bypass its security protocols and the U.S. Congress and legislatures in individual states have debated passing harmful anti-security legislation that would endanger the technology sector globally. Around the world, governments have capitalized on the lack of leadership in support for encryption and implemented harmful laws and policies. China specifically cited to the rhetoric in the U.S. last December when it passed a new law that likely bans end to end encryption, with no upper limit on fines for non-compliant companies. The UK is on the cusp of passing a law that could, practically, have the same impact. And from Brazil to Russia to India we are seeing other actions or proposals that could undermine the security of the global internet.

If the White House isn't willing to take a strong stance on this, then it will be that much easier for it to shrug and say "everyone else is doing it" when anti-encryption legislation lands on the Oval Office desk. If Obama doesn't tackle this now, he's leaving it for his successor. And neither of the two Presidential candidates seem all that opposed to undermining encryption for national security or law enforcement reasons.

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