Skip to main content

EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: May 2013

May 30, 2013

Dozens of Industry Leaders Argue APIs That Are Open Are Critical to Innovation, Interoperability

San Francisco - Dozens of computer scientists urged an appeals court today to block the copyright claims over application programming interfaces (APIs) in the Oracle v. Google court battle, arguing that APIs that are open are critical to innovation and interoperability in computers and computer systems.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents the 32 scientists – including leaders like MS-DOS author Tim Paterson and ARPANET developer Larry Roberts – in the amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today. The group urges the court to uphold a decision from U.S. District Judge William Alsup finding that APIs are not copyrightable, explaining that Oracle's attempt to over-extend copyright coverage in its case against Google was irreconcilable with the purpose of copyright law and the nature of computer science.

"The law is already clear that computer languages are mediums of communication and aren't copyrightable. Even though copyright might cover what was creatively written in the language, it doesn't cover functions that must all be written in the same way," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels. "APIs are similarly functional – they are specifications allowing programs to communicate with each other. As Judge Alsup found, under the law APIs are simply not copyrightable material."

Furthermore, as the scientists explain in today's brief, the real-world ramifications of copyrighting APIs would be severe. All software developers use APIs to make their software work with other software. For example, your Web browser uses APIs to work with various computer operating systems so it can open files and display windows on the screen. If APIs are copyrightable, then developers can control who can make interoperable software, blocking competitors and creative new products.

"Without the compatibility enabled by APIs that are open, we would not have the vibrant computer and Internet environment we experience today, with new products and services routinely changing the way we see and interact with the world," said EFF Fellow Michael Barclay. "APIs that are open spur the development of software, creating programs that the interface's original creator might never have envisioned. We hope the appeals court rejects Oracle's appeal in this case to protect technological innovation."

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/node/74381

For the full list of signatories:
https://www.eff.org/cases/oracle-v-google/amici

Contacts:

Julie Samuels
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   julie@eff.org

Michael Barclay
   Fellow
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   michael@eff.org

May 30, 2013

Campaign Will Use Crowd-Power and New Law to Invalidate Patent Trolls’ Claim

San Francisco - The patent trolls have gone far enough: Starting today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is mounting a new, focused campaign to bust the dangerous patent that a Texas company has been using to shakedown podcasters. EFF intends to challenge the original grant of that patent before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by proving that the company, Personal Audio, did not really invent anything new.

Claiming it owns the patent that broadly covers podcasting technology, Personal Audio is the classic example of a patent troll that neither makes nor sells anything, but uses its patent as a weapon to threaten lawsuits and extort settlement fees. This particular troll has bullied prominent podcasts and podcasters, including How Stuff Works and Adam Carolla, in addition to smaller podcasters working out of their own homes.

"Patent trolls have been wreaking havoc on innovative companies for some time now," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels, who also holds the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. "But this particular breed of troll—targeting end users, small businesses, startups, and even individuals like podcasters for simply using everyday products—is a disturbing new threat."

EFF is partnering with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society to use a new legal tool against this patent called the "inter partes review," which was introduced by the America Invents Act. The first step is to identify "prior art," or published examples of similar or identical ideas, that existed before October 2, 1996. EFF is putting out a call today to the podcasting community to spread the word and help us collect the prior art we need to fight this dangerous patent. EFF is also looking for financial support to take on this challenge, which—even with pro bono help—will likely cost nearly $30,000.

"A podcaster working out of a garage is unlikely to have the financial resources to fight a lawsuit," said EFF Staff Attorney Daniel Nazer. "Patent trolls like Personal Audio know this and use the threat of ruinous litigation costs as a weapon. Defeating this patent at the PTO would put an end to Personal Audio's campaign."

Because of the deep and systemic problems in the American patent system, EFF is spearheading the Defend Innovation project to advocate for reform. EFF is asking the public to sign on to our petition at defendinnovation.org and to comment on seven recommended proposals we think would make the broken system work better for software. In the meantime, EFF is doing its best to rid the world of one more bad patent in the hands of a patent troll and help out podcasters who find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.

For more on the Save Podcasting campaign:

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/05/help-save-podcasting

For technical details of the search for prior art:

http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/3884/call-for-prior-art-system-for-disseminating-media-content-representing-episodes

Donate to fund this campaign:

https://supporters.eff.org/donate/save-podcasting

Julie Samuels
   Staff Attorney and The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   julie@eff.org

Daniel Nazer
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   daniel@eff.org

May 29, 2013

Draft Proposal from W3C Could Stymie Web Innovation

San Francisco - Today the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a formal objection to the inclusion of digital rights management (DRM) in HTML5, arguing that a draft proposal from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) could stymie Web innovation and block access to content for people across the globe.

The W3C's HTML working group is creating a technical standard for HTML5, an upcoming revision to the computer language that creates webpages and otherwise displays content online. The working group has accepted a draft that includes discussion of Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), which will hard-wire the requirements of DRM vendors into the HTML standard.

"This proposal stands apart from all other aspects of HTML standardization: it defines a new 'black box' for the entertainment industry, fenced off from control by the browser and end-user," said EFF International Director Danny O'Brien. "While this plan might soothe Hollywood content providers who are scared of technological evolution, it could also create serious impediments to interoperability and access for all."

DRM standards look like normal technical standards but turn out to have quite different qualities. They fail to implement their stated intention – protecting media – while dragging in legal mandates that chill the speech of technologists, lock down technology, and violate property rights by seizing control of personal computers from their owners. Accepting EME could lead to other rightsholders demanding the same privileges as Hollywood, leading to a Web where images and pages cannot be saved or searched, ads cannot be blocked, and innovative new browsers cannot compete without explicit permission from big content companies.

EFF filed this objection as its first act as a full member of W3C. EFF's goal is to broaden the discussion of the consequences of accepting DRM-based proposals like EME for the future of the Web.

"The W3C needs to develop a policy regarding DRM and similar proposals, or risk having its own work and the future of the Web become buried in the demands of businesses that would rather it never existed in the first place," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen. "The EME proposal needs to be seen for what it is: a creation that will shut out open source developers and competition, throw away interoperability, and lock in legacy business models. This is the opposite of the fair use model that gave birth to the Web."

For EFF's full Formal Objection:
https://www.eff.org/pages/drm/w3c-formal-objection-html-wg

For more on DRM in HTML5:
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/05/eff-joins-w3c-fight-drm

Contacts:

Danny O'Brien
   International Outreach Coordinator
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   danny@eff.org

Seth Schoen
   Senior Staff Technologist
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   seth@eff.org

May 14, 2013

EFF Urges Protection of Defendants in Case Linked to Notorious Prenda Law Firm

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court today to stop a copyright troll's shakedown scheme in a case linked to the notorious Prenda Law firm.

The plaintiff in this case, AF Holdings, is seeking the identity of more than 1,000 Internet users that it claims are linked to the illegal downloading of a copyrighted pornographic film. Over the protest of the Internet service providers who received subpoenas for those identities, a lower court approved the disclosure of the names. The ISPs appealed, and today EFF filed a brief in support of that appeal. EFF is asking the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to help keep the legal process fair and balanced by requiring AF Holdings to simply show that it has a good faith basis for going after these defendants.

The case is one of hundreds being pursued around the country that follow the same pattern: a copyright troll looks for IP addresses that allegedly downloaded adult films via BitTorrent, files a lawsuit against thousands of Does based on those IP addresses, seeks to subpoena the ISP for the contact information of the account holder associated with that IP address, and threatens to name the alleged infringer in a copyright lawsuit, right next to the embarrassing title of a pornographic film. The Doe is then offered a chance to settle before the lawsuit is filed, usually for a few thousand dollars. The key to the business model is flouting legal procedure by suing thousands of unrelated people—located all over the country—in a single lawsuit. For the price of a $400 filing fee and some stamps, the troll can extract thousands of dollars in settlements.

"Once AF Holdings gets the names it's looking for, then it already has what it needs to put its shakedown scheme in motion," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "For the defendants, it will come down to risking being named in a lawsuit over a pornographic movie, or settling for less than the cost of hiring an attorney. As a matter of law and basic fairness, AF Holdings needs to prove that its case is on solid ground before putting more than 1,000 of Internet users in that kind of bind."

AF Holdings is one of a number of holding companies linked to Prenda Law, a firm that is facing serious questions about its use of stolen identities and fictitious signatures on key legal documents, and making other false statements to the courts. Earlier this month, a federal judge issued sanctions of more than $81,000 against Prenda and its attorneys and referred the matter to federal prosecutors.

"We're glad that judges are catching on to this abuse of the court system," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "But while the legal system tries to find answers about Prenda Law, AF Holdings, and other copyright trolls, it's important to remember that there are real people still being victimized by these unfair lawsuits in the meantime. We hope the appellate court will recognize that copyright owners have to follow the same rules as everyone else."

Also joining EFF's amicus brief are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/node/74213

Contacts:

Mitch Stoltz
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mitch@eff.org

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

May 6, 2013

Los Angeles Police Department and County Sheriff’s Department Must Release Data Under California Public Records Act

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC) today jointly filed suit against two Los Angeles-area law-enforcement agencies over their failure to produce records related to the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs).

Mounted on squad cars and telephone poles, these sophisticated camera systems read license plates and record the time, date, and location a particular car was encountered. EFF and the ACLU-SC filed requests with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department under the California Public Records Act seeking documents relating to policy and training on ALPRs, as well as a week's worth of ALPR data collected by the agencies in 2012. While the sheriff and police departments produced some materials, they failed to provide documents related to sharing information with other agencies, and neither agency has produced the data collected during the one-week period.

"Location-based information like license plate data can be very revealing," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "By matching your car to a particular time, date and location — and building a database of that information over time — law enforcement can learn where you work and live, what doctor you go to, which religious services you attend, and who your friends are. The public needs access to data the police actually have collected to be able to make informed decisions about how ALPR systems can and can't be used."

ALPRs can record up to 14,000 plates during a single shift. According to a June 2012 story in LA Weekly, the sheriff and police departments conduct, on average, approximately 22 scans for every one of the 7 million vehicles registered in Los Angeles County. As of June, the departments reportedly logged more than 160 million data points. While the police can use this technology to match license plates against databases to find stolen or wanted cars, the systems currently record and store information on every car, even where there's no reason to think a car is connected to any crime.

"Police can and should treat location information from ALPRs like other sensitive information. They should retain it no longer than necessary to determine if it might be relevant to a crime and get a warrant if they need to keep it any longer," ACLU-SC Senior Staff Attorney Peter Bibring says. "They should limit who can access it, who they can share it with and create an oversight system to make sure the limits are followed."

The complaint was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. EFF and the ACLU have asked a judge to issue a writ directing the agencies to hand over all requested records and award appropriate legal fees.

For the full complaint:

http://www.eff.org/document/aclu-sd-and-eff-v-lapd-and-lasd

Contacts:

Jennifer Lynch
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jlynch@eff.org

Peter Bibring
Senior Staff Attorney
ACLU of Southern California
pbibring@aclu-sc.org

JavaScript license information