Eighteen months ago, we heard that the controversial proposed WIPO
Broadcasting Treaty was not on the radar of U.S. congressional
representatives. That has changed, thanks to
letters, and much hard work by
a broad coalition of public interest NGOs, libraries, ICT industry
groups and CE corporations . Late last week, the Chairman and the
Ranking Republican Member of the key Senate
Judiciary Committee weighed in. They
href="http://eff.org/IP/WIPO/broadcasting_treaty/letter_leahy_specter_pto.pdf">sent a letter to the Register of
Copyrights and Director
of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which make up the U.S.'s
delegation to WIPO, expressing their concern with how the current
The federal government has taken another step towards forcing you to carry a national ID in order to get on airplanes, open a bank account, enter federal buildings, and much more. But with state legislatures and Congressional representatives increasingly turning against the REAL ID Act, you can help stop this costly, privacy-invasive mandate -- voice your opposition now.
To his chagrin, EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl was forced to admit that he is in fact a great lawyer when he was awarded the prestigious California Lawyer of the Year (CLAY) Award for Media Law on Monday evening.
C-SPAN has announced that, effective immediately, its videos of Congressional hearings, White House briefings, and other federal events will be freely available for noncommercial copying, sharing and posting, so long as attribution is included (sounds like the Creative Commons by-nc license, but no confirmation on whether that's what they are using). According to the C-SPAN press release, the move recognizes that we're in "an age of explosive growth of video file sharers, bloggers and online citizen journalists."
Government accountability supporters throughout the country are preparing to celebrate the public's right to know during Sunshine Week (March 11-17), and it looks like Congress may have the same idea. On Monday, Reps. William Lacy Clay, Todd Russell Platts, and Henry Waxman introduced a bipartisan bill to make several requester-friendly changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which hasn't been significantly updated since 1996. Today the amendments got a thumbs-up from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and could be on the House floor as early as next week.
Improvements that H.R. 1309 will make to the FOIA include:
It looks like video sites are the new flashpoint in the battle against free speech online. Perhaps it is that many states control television broadcasts far more tightly than they control the press. Judges across the world clearly think they understand how to censor television - and are surprised when their attempts to do the same to video online don't work as effectively.
In January it was Brazilian judges who found themselves caught in a hailstorm of criticism when attempting to prevent all Brazilians from downloading a salacious video of a Brazilian celebrity. When the only method of obeying the order at local ISP's disposal was blocking all of YouTube from Brazil, Brazilian net users rose up and complained. The decision was overturned three days later.
EFF is calling for Congress to hold aggressive hearings on the FBI's domestic intelligence authority after the release of a Justice Department report [PDF] showing the Bureau abusing its power to collect telephone, Internet, financial, credit, and other personal records about Americans without judicial approval.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont, has said the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings into the report's findings. But the widespread abuse detailed in the report requires more than just a cursory examination.
"The Bureau's misuse of its intelligence authority is an ongoing critical problem," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Congress must use its investigative power to find out what's really going on at the FBI -- and then rein in the Bureau's investigative authority to where is was before the USA PATRIOT Act."
This week is Sunshine Week -a gentle name for celebrating the serious business of uncoveringsecretive government practices. Taking its cue from the famous line byJustice Brandeis that "sunlight is ... the best of disinfectants", thisyear's Sunshine Week reflects on a year of continuing efforts to increasegovernment visibility, and a renewed interest by the press, activists,and netizens in investigating its secrets.
Projects like our own Freedom of Information Act Lltigationfor Accountable Government (FLAG) project have been working hard touse statutory tools like FOIA and the Privacy Act to uncover the misuseof technology by the state. JoshRichman's overview of FLAG's work in several of Sunday's papershighlights the work our Washington office does, from uncovering theedges of the warrantless wiretapping program, to probing the connectionsbetween the NSA and Windows Vista's development.
Hollywood's desire to force DRM on TV fans doesn't stop at the U.S. border -- an international consortium of television and technology companies is devising draconian anti-consumer restrictions for the next generation of TVs in Europe and beyond, at the behest of American entertainment giants.
The FBI has blatantly abused a key PATRIOT Act provision and knowingly violated the law to spy on Americans' telephone, Internet, and other personal records, as documented in a report recently released by the Justice Department. Congress must rein in this egregious behavior, but it can't stop there -- the Bush Administration's unprecedented pattern of disregarding the law stretches far beyond the examples in this report. Tell Congress to defend your privacy now.
Viacom has filed [PDF] a $1 billion copyright lawsuit against sued YouTube and its corporate parent, Google Inc. In other words, rather than embracing Internet innovation, Viacom has chosen to spend its money on legal fees to stifle new technologies. Not every copyright holder is being so shortsighted when it comes to YouTube -- CBS and Universal Music Group among others have already decided to license their content.
Online music radio stations may soon be in deep trouble due to a ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board. The ruling [PDF] means that the rates that most webcasters pay to license sound recordings will more than double over the next several years.
Most nonsubscription, noninteractive webcasters pay a royalty rate set by the government in order to license sound recordings (typically from record labels). This statutory license was setup by Congress in 1995 to ensure that online radio would not be left to the impossible task of clearing every song one at a time with each rights holder (traditional terrestrial radio broadcasters pay nothing for using sound recordings, but pay songwriters through three collecting societies: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC).
Last week, the Department of Justice Inspector General's office released a damning report documenting the FBI abusing its powers under the PATRIOT Act and violating the law to collect Americans' telephone, Internet, financial, credit, and other personal records about Americans without judicial approval.
It appears that not everyone at the DOJ got the memo. The DOJ's Life and Liberty website, a site dedicated to defending the honor of the PATRIOT Act during the re-authorization process last spring, still reads as if nothing has changed. Particularly in the light of the newly revealed truth, many of the quotes now seem (at best) naive.
Not content with wasting universities' resources via their usual tactics--i.e., flooding them with machine-generated complaints about file sharing--the major record labels are now demanding that universities help them shake down students.
The RIAA has asked universities and colleges to forward "pre-lawsuit" letters to alleged filesharers that promise a "discounted" settlement price if the student agrees to pay up immediately. Forwarding the letters saves the RIAA the trouble and expense of filing a lawsuit to obtain students' contact information--a savings that may be redirected to more lawsuits.
The House of Representatives has passed a bill that will make much-needed updates to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and strengthen the public's right to get records from the federal government. H.R. 1309, the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007, was approved yesterday by a considerable 308-117 margin. But the White House lashed out against the legislation, calling FOIA improvements "premature and counterproductive" in light of an 2005 presidential order requiring agencies to streamline their FOIA processes.
Line Noise, EFF's occasional podcast, is back with a new edition for Sunshine Week. David Sobel, EFF Senior Attorney and director of our FLAG project, talks about uncovering the secrets behind National Security Letters, government datamining, and exactly how big the FBI's file on the CIA is.
You can download this edition of Line Noise directly in player-friendly MP3 or patent-friendly Ogg Vorbis formats. Alternatively, cut and paste these links into your podcast aggregator to download new Line Noise programs as they appear:
A few weeks back, we wrote about how domain name registrar GoDaddy took offline Seclists.org based merely on an informal request and without providing any meaningful notice to the site's operator. Unfortunately, this isn't the only instance in which GoDaddy has carelessly ignored its users' rights.
In February, EFF was contacted by an anonymous owner of a parody and criticism website forum that allegedly exposes the financial corruption and domestic scandal of a local politician in Birmingham, Alabama. As part of a civil case in family court, an attorney representing the politician's girlfriend issued a subpoena to GoDaddy seeking the identity of the website owner, who was not a party to the lawsuit.
An article in the Guardian yesterday reported that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is using sophisticated technology from the U.S. as part of a campaign of kidnapping, torture, and even murder. At first, the target appeared to be radical Islamic groups (which is ironic, because the ISI was a key player in the ascendency of the Taliban in the first place), but soon enough the victims included people who were completely innocent, or guilty only of political opposition to the Pakistani regime. In the middle of this report is a description of how these agencies are using a lot of surveillance technologies that were given to them by the United States, in aid of this campaign:
Are you a student who knows how to cut code or find security holes? Want to get paid to spend a summer working to defend anonymity online? Thanks to Google's Summer of Code, the Tor Project in collaboration with EFF have positions for several students as full-time developers for the (Northern Hemisphere) summer of 2007. Apply for yours before March 24 and help us advance this state of the art of anonymous Internet communication tool! More details are available here.
The European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) meets today in Brussels to vote on the proposed EU Directive on Criminal Measures aimed at ensuring the enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights. The proposed Directive requires the 27 EU Member States to impose criminal sanctions for all intentional infringements of Intellectual Property rights done "on a commercial scale" and, more disturbingly, for aiding, abetting and inciting such intellectual property infringements.
If you're an independent filmmaker or dramatist, you may not have many chances to adapt the works of popular fiction writers. Intellectual property law doesn't make it easy, and the licensing fees alone can make approaching big name authors prohibitively expensive.
Jonathan Lethem, however, is one author who is eager to see his work adapted by others. The bestselling author of Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn has started a project called Promiscuous Materials, in which he has made several of his short stories available for adaptation into short films or one act plays by anyone who can afford the reasonable price of a dollar.
In an NPR interview, Lethem explained his reasoning:
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) helps protect the public's right to know, and new legislation would provide some much-needed updates to this crucial law. One open government bill has already passed the House -- make sure a similar one passes in the Senate.
H.R. 1309 and S. 849 [PDF] give federal agencies, like the FBI and the FCC, greater incentive to follow the law and make it easier for all FOIA requesters to access government documents. Among other reforms, the bills will help government watchdogs keep track of FOIA requests they've sent and ensure that more journalist requesters get preferred treatment under the law. The bills will also penalize agencies that don't respond to requests within the time limits set by the FOIA.
When it was sold to politicians in Brussels, the pitch for the directive on
criminal measures aimed at enforcing IP rights in Europe (IPRED2), was all
about commercial piracy and counterfeit goods that endanger health and safety.
The reality has turned out quite different. The current draft directive —
adopted yesterday by a key European Parliament committee — will criminalize a
wide range of activity that is currently lawful and has no connection to
public health or safety. This is happening despite warnings by digital rights and
consumer groups and tech industry bodies that the existing language was overbroad.
Our summary of the continuing problems:
- Deutsche Telecom Ditches DRM
Musicload, its European music download site says it is in
negotiations to develop alternatives to copy restrictions
because a whopping 75% of user complaints come from DRM!
- Lessig: "Make Way for Copyright Chaos"
Is the judiciary taking too central a role in copyright
- The Case Against YouTube, by a Viacom Lawyer
"And, above all, copyright law can welcome only those with
pure motives," says a lawyer for the infamously pure
The ACLU, EFF, and a coalition of plaintiffs achieved a victory for online free speech today when U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Reed ruled [PDF] today that a key Web censorship law violated the First Amendment and issued an order permanently blocking its enforcement.
Passed in 1998, the Child Online Protection Act ("COPA") sought to restrict minors' online access to "harmful to minors" material -- that is, material that's sexual and inappropriate for those under the age of 17. Congress enacted COPA after the U.S. Supreme Court found its predecessor, the Communications Decency Act ("CDA"), unconstitutional.
"What we need is a new law from Congress, a law written from the perspective of the consumer and the internet, rather than strictly from the perspective of the copyright holders. The copyright holders deserve protection for their intellectual property, but we deserve some clear rules that would allow us to make more use of the digital content that we legally purchase than we have now."
It's worth watching the whole video -- Mossberg makes a variety of good points about fair use and the dangers of the DMCA.
The latest development in the RIAA's long-running filesharing shakedown campaign--demanding colleges and universities forward "pre-litigation" settlement offers to their students--has placed academic institutions in an untenable position. If they don't pass on the letters or even make them available to students, they are arguably harming those students by depriving them of an opportunity to make a better deal. (Though most students are refusing that opportunity.) On the other hand, every letter passed on helps the RIAA save money on litigation costs (which can then go toward suing more people) and avoid judicial oversight of the shakedown process. If you are a university counsel who just received, say, 12 letters, you have to decide who you care about more--those 12 actual students or the hypothetical students that the RIAA will go after in the future?
Last night, three Internet superheroes received awards, and one even got a cape.
In a little-noticed report entitled Filesharing Programs and "Technological Features to Induce Users to Share," the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has decided to attack several leading P2P software applications for making user interface decisions that allegedly "dupe" users into sharing files unintentionally. In hyperbole that is all too familiar in Washington, DC, these days, the authors claim that P2P therefore contributes to terrorism, child pornography, identity theft, and (of course) copyright infringement. Its authors include Tom Sydnor, who while an aide to Sen.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is an amazingly powerful federal law, protecting interactive computer services by ensuring that the soapbox is not liable for what the speaker has said. Section 230's immunity to state law claims (typically defamation, but including all other lawsuits based on state laws) allows for many of the online services you know and love, including user product reviews, online auction feedback, internet dating services, message boards, classified ads, usenet -- the list goes on and on.
The Utah legislature has quietly passed a dangerous law allowing trademark owners to prevent their marks from being used as keywords to generate comparative ads. If this law takes effect, a company like Chevrolet couldn't purchase "sponsored link" space on the Google results page when a user types "Toyota" as part of a search query--at least if the latter term is registered in Utah as an "electronic registration mark."