Today the draft text of the U.S.-Europe free trade agreement, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leak reveals for the first time the current state of the text of 15 chapters and annexes, along with a confidential commentary from the European Union.
There's not much concerning digital rights issues in the current text, because text on most of those issues has not been tabled yet. The closest that we have is the Electronic communications/Telecommunications chapter, which despite its broader-seeming title, is almost entirely about the liberalization of the telecommunications sector, and raises few obvious concerns.
Everybody knows that the digital locks of DRM on the digital media you own is a big problem. If you’ve bought a digital book, album, or movie, you should be able to do what you want with it—whether that’s enjoying it wherever you want to, or making it more accessible by changing the font size or adding subtitles, or loaning or giving it to a friend when you’re done. We intuitively recognize that digital media should be more flexible than its analog forebears, not less, and that DRM shouldn’t take away rights that copyright was never intended to restrict.
Justice for Telecommunications Consumers Act Would Thwart Unfair Arbitration Clauses
What are you really agreeing to when you select “I agree” on a click-through contract? Whether you know it or not, you’re often agreeing to waive a host of fundamental rights. Want to buy a new mobile device? Click on an agreement that says you won’t modify the software on it. Going to the dentist? Sign a contract waiving your right to leave negative reviews online.
As the law stands now, patent owners have almost complete control over which federal district to file a case in. That’s a major problem. It lets patent owners exploit significant differences between courts, an advantage that the alleged infringers in patent suits don’t have. It effectively leads to outcomes being determined not by the merits of a case, but rather by the cost of litigation. Just last week, the Federal Circuit declined to fix this problem, leaving it up to Congress or the Supreme Court to act.
Earlier this year, an independent security researcher named Rotem Kerner came forward to disclose critical bugs in a digital video recorder that was integrated into over 70 vendors' CCTV-based security systems.
The vulnerability is a grave one. These DVRs are designed to be connected to whole networks of security cameras. By compromising them, thieves can spy on their targets using the targets' own cameras. In fact, Kerner was part of a team at RSA who published a report in 2014 that showed that thieves were using these vulnerable system to locate and target cash-registers for robberies.
With the country's largest state prison system becoming the latest jurisdiction to ban inmates from having a social media presence, censorship of prisoner's digital speech is expected to increase substantially in the weeks and months to come.
A big problem with policies like the ban implemented by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice—beyond the violation of people's free speech rights—is that the public is only starting to learn how common it is for social media platforms to take down inmate profiles. Facebook, for example, recently published for the first time the number of prisoner pages it has suspended: "53 U.S. prisoner accounts and 74 U.K. prisoner accounts where governmental authorities identified either unlawful access to our service or safety issues."
In a disappointing decision, Mexico’s Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Mexico’s Ley Telecom data retention mandates and its lack of legal safeguards. The challenge, or writ of amparo—a remedy available to any person whose rights have been violated—was filed by R3D.mx on behalf of a coalition of journalists, human rights NGOs, students arguing that Articles 189 and 190 of Ley Telcom violate the privacy rights of Mexican citizens. The articles compel the country’s telephone operators and ISPs, to retain a massive amount of metadata — including the precise location of its users — for 24 months.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act Tuesday May 10. The Act, passed in 2008, created what is now known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Last month we wrote about a discredited industry report that spread misinformation about the supposed costs of Australia adopting fair use into its copyright law. That document, commissioned by media and entertainment giants, had been written in anticipation of a recommendation for the adoption of fair use by the Australian Productivity Commission, a government agency tasked with improving Australia's capacity for production and innovation.
I remember the launch of iTunes in 2001. Hurrying home from the MacWorld conference in San Francisco, downloading the app, making a stack of CDs next to my Powerbook, ripping them as fast as my machine would go. Rip, Mix, Burn, baby!
The other thing I remember is how the media industry viewed iTunes: they hated it. They hated people using iTunes to rip CDs, they hated mixing and burning. The only reason they let the iPod/iTunes ecosystem live was because when they sued the company that made the first MP3 players, they lost.
Nominations are now open for EFF's 25th Annual Pioneer Awards, to be presented this fall in San Francisco. EFF established the Pioneer Awards in 1992 to recognize leaders who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of technology. The nomination window will be open until 11:59pm PDT on May 17, 2016. You could nominate the next Pioneer Award winner today!
The Senate Judiciary Committee held an open hearing today on the FISA Amendments Act, the law that ostensibly authorizes the digital surveillance of hundreds of millions of people both in the United States and around the world. Section 702 of the law, scheduled to expire next year, is designed to allow U.S. intelligence services to collect signals intelligence on foreign targets related to our national security interests.
Just a few weeks after his death, some Minnesota legislators are using Prince’s name to ram through a dangerous publicity rights law that will give his heirs – and the heirs of any other Minnesotan – broad and indefinite rights to shut down all kind of legitimate speech and activities in perpetuity.
Defenders of the law will insist that there’s nothing to see here. After all, publicity rights laws aren’t new. The right of publicity is a recent offshoot of privacy law that gives a (human) person the right to limit the public use of her name, likeness and/or identity for commercial purposes like an advertisement. The original idea makes sense: using someone's face to sell soap or gum, for example, might be embarrassing for that person and she should have the right to prevent it.
The FCC may give consumers full control of their set-top box and that scares a lot of companies.
As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues working on breaking up the TV set-top box monopoly, the onslaught by large companies who have zero interest in promoting a competitive open technology environment has been fierce. Cable companies, the movie industry, the recording industry, and their parakeet allies are regularly misrepresenting the bounds of copyright law to Congress and the FCC in an attempt to secure powers that copyright law does not provide them.
Why are they doing this? Because they are hoping that the FCC will repeat the same mistake it has in the past when attempting to break up the TV set-top box monopoly, which is to leave them with enough control over the design and features of personal TV hardware and software so that choice becomes an illusion.
Once upon a time, there were two major browsers that virtually everyone used: Netscape and Internet Explorer, locked in a death-battle for the future of the Web. They went to enormous lengths to tempt Web publishers to optimize their sites to work best inside their windows, and hoped that users would follow.
Then, a game-changer: the open, nonprofit Mozilla browser spun out of Netscape, with the mission of putting users, not publishers, in charge. Mozilla defaulted to blocking pop-up ads, the scourge of the early Web. It was a step none of the major browsers could afford to take, because publishers were convinced they would go broke without them, and any company whose browser blocked pop-ups by default would alienate the publishers, who'd throw their lot in with the competition.
A series of bluegrass history lectures has become the latest victim of the bullying that is enabled by content filtering systems like YouTube’s Content ID.
Attorneys for the Oracle and Google companies presented opening statements this week in a high-stakes copyright case about the use of application-programming interfaces, or APIs. As Oracle eagerly noted, there are potentially billions of dollars on the line; accordingly, each side has brought “world-class attorneys,” as Judge William Alsup noted to the jury. And while each company would prefer to spend their money elsewhere, these are businesses that can afford to spend years and untold resources in the courtroom.
Michael Ratner, a friend of EFF who dedicated his life as a human rights attorney to fighting for justice, passed away earlier today.
Dear member of the World Wide Web Consortium's Advisory Committee,
You may have heard that over the past year we've been trying to insert legal safeguards into the Encrypted Media Extensions project at the W3C, which standardizes streaming video DRM. We've previously been opposed to the W3C adopting EME, because of the legal issues around DRM, and because DRM requires user agents to obey third parties, rather than their owners.
However, we think that there's a compromise that both DRM advocates and opponents should be able to live with.
I'm writing today to see if you will support us in an upcoming W3C vote on the charter of the Media Extensions Group, where we will be proposing this compromise.
This letter briefly describes briefly the problem, our proposed solution, and what you can do to help.
EFF is proud to introduce Certbot, a powerful tool to help websites encrypt their traffic. Certbot is the next iteration of the Let's Encrypt Client; it obtains TLS/SSL certificates and can automatically configure HTTPS encryption on your server. It's still in beta for now, but we plan to release Certbot 1.0 later this year.
As you may know, Let’s Encrypt is a certificate authority, co-founded by EFF, Mozilla, and researchers from the University of Michigan. With the help from many others, Let’s Encrypt is now one of the world’s largest certificate authorities, used by millions of people around the world to enable HTTPS on their website.
Until recently, it was uncontroversial that you could take books or music from your collection, and lend them, sell them, or give them away.
Rightsholders, however, have long tried creative ways to restrict your ability to do these things, as they believe it would let them make more money by either charging you for the privilege or simply by reducing “competition” from the sale or lending of used media.
Of course, making media less valuable for the purchaser would also hurt sales of that same media, but only if the reduction in value is apparent to purchasers. A seller could both maintain high prices and strip away the ability to resell or lend books if enough purchasers don’t notice at the time of sale that they’re getting less for their money.
AB 2880 will give state and local governments dramatic powers to chill speech, stifle open government, and harm the public domain.
All this week, EFF has been at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, debating with delegates from around the world at the 32nd session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). We could write an exhaustive report of the discussions at the meeting (tl;dr: proposals for a broadcasting treaty continue to edge forward, while rich countries remain at loggerheads with users and poorer countries about copyright exceptions for education and libraries). But what's more remarkable are the persistent themes that are recurring in these discussions, as well as the motivations of regional groups, rightsholders and individual countries that propel them.
We're pleased to report that Sony Music backtracked on its accusation of copyright infringement against the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association, and HVBA's educational video remains freely available to the public. But the music label’s response leads us to think that Sony's misuse of copyright and of YouTube’s automated enforcement system will continue.
This week, the Malaysian Parliament went back into session to consider a series of amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 that, if passed, will further chill online speech and worsen the Malaysian regime's persecution of journalists, bloggers, and activists. The amendments may pass as early as next week, even before the public has had an opportunity to see them. We've written about the planned amendments before, based on the scattered information we had about them from leaks and rumors, but local activists have brought to light another likely feature of the planned amendments that is equally or more concerning: a requirement to register political blogs and websites.
Court Orders Blue Spike to Explain Why It's Keeping the Public in the Dark
In a victory for the First Amendment and public access to court proceedings, a magistrate judge ruled in favor of EFF’s motion to unseal documents in a patent case in the Eastern District of Texas. This means that the patent owner in that case, Blue Spike, will no longer be able to shield from the public its arguments about how the defendant infringes its patents. Also, the court has indicated that it will publish public versions of important rulings that, until now, had been completely hidden from the public.
UPDATE: Facebook's general counsel posted a response to Sen. Thune's letter on May 23, 2016.
Visiting an art exhibit featuring works about the U.S. war on terror or going to a lecture about Islam wouldn’t be cause for worry—unless you found out that the government was monitoring and keeping track of attendees. At that point, some people would be spooked and stay away, sacrificing their interests and curiosity to protect their privacy, not look suspicious, or stay off a list some intelligence agency might be keeping.
The White House has been curiously quiet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership front, following its earlier fanfare about the agreement when it was signed in February. Yesterday with the release of the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC)'s almost 800-page report on the TPP's Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors [PDF], we can expect the rhetoric to be ramped up again, in attempt to sell the agreement to an increasingly skeptical Congress and public.
Don’t Give Up on Venue Reform
Dear Sen. Chuck Grassley,
Zen. The word has come to be associated with simplicity, intuition, and a sense of enlightenment. It originates from a branch of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation and self-reflection as the way to achieve enlightenment.
Naturally, given the cultural cachet of the word, it’s been adopted to various degrees by businesses and other organizations. One of these is Zendesk, maker of customer helpdesk software that businesses use to answer and resolve customer questions and complaints.
Over the last few months, Pakistan's Internet community has been fighting to stop the passage of one of the world's worst cyber-crime proposals: the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB). Thanks in part to the hundreds of messages sent to Pakistan's senators, they secured a major victory this week—public assurances from key members of Pakistan's Senate that they will oppose the bill in its entirety. There's still work to be done, but it's a strong sign that public opposition is working.
Authors around the world are realizing the benefits of sharing their work in new ways, finding new audiences by refusing to articipate in traditional methods of distribution and licensing. But a new proposal in Chile could undermine those choices, at least for Chilean creators.
Update May 26, 2016: Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) postponed marking up the Email Privacy Act. The committee website will provide further details on whether or not the bill will be marked up in June.
We announced Canary Watch a year ago as a coalition project to list Warrant Canaries and monitor them for changes or removal. Canary Watch was a joint project, with EFF, Freedom of the Press Foundation, NYU Law, Calyx and the Berkman Center.
Along the way, the project has been part of the massive popularization of the concept: we began with just eleven canaries listed, and now just a year later we have almost seventy. In the course of tracking those, we have learned many lessons about the different types of canaries that are present on the web, as well as what happens when a canary goes away.
Legislators in Rhode Island have advanced a dangerous bill that would duplicate and exacerbate the faults of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Four organizations joined EFF this week in signing a letter and supporting memo to state legislators explaining the bill's faults and why it should not pass.
This week new materials from the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) were released by Wikileaks, revealing that negotiators from around the world have been continuing to craft new rules that will affect all Internet users, without public scrutiny or consultation. One of the biggest surprises that dropped is a document containing new proposals, mostly from the United States, that will apply to all services. Some of these new provisions are relevant to the Internet and digital rights:
A jury unanimously and correctly found today that Google's use of 37 Java package names and some 11,000 lines of "declaring code" in its Android operating system was lawful fair use, showing once again that our robust fair use doctrine is doing the crucial work of ensuring copyright law doesn’t undermine innovation. This verdict comes after an earlier district court opinion finding the API labels in question uncopyrightable was reversed by the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
The Google verdict is an an important validation of the idea that developing interoperable software need not require permission or a license. As Google attorney Robert Van Nest said in his closing arguments, the law expressly endorses fair use—it's a right, not an "excuse," as Oracle attorneys had claimed.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the federal “anti-hacking” statute, is long overdue for reform. The 1986 law—which was prompted in part by fear generated by the 1983 technothriller WarGames—is vague, draconian, and notoriously out of touch with how we use computers today. Unfortunately, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Lindsey Graham are on a mission to make things worse. They've proposed (for the second time) legislation that fails to address any of the CFAA’s problems while simply creating more confusion. And they may try to sneak their proposal through as an amendment to the Email Privacy Act—the very same sneaky tactic they tried last year.
Industry Arguments Shouldn’t Deter the FCC from Unlocking Cable Boxes
True competition could finally come to the market for TV set-top boxes thanks to a new set of proposed rules from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under the FCC’s “Unlock the Box” rule, you’ll be able to use a device from any manufacturer to connect to your cable or satellite TV service.
Disappointingly—but not surprisingly—the cable industry has not responded well. Cable and satellite providers’ comments on the proposed rule have followed a predictable pattern: cable operators and their TV studio subsidiaries think that copyright law affords them complete control over the devices that we use to consume their content.
The anti-security proposal promoted by Senators Burr and Feinstein is “dead,” according to a Reuters report. The news agency spoke to sources within congressional offices, the administration, and the tech sector, who confirmed that the bill “likely will not be introduced this year and, even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing.”
Jason Cugle, if all goes well, will soon be able to continue to operate his mail-order business without fear of a spurious patent lawsuit. With any luck, so will thousands of other small businesses that are often targeted by one of the worst patent trolls around.
Jason runs Triple7Vaping.com, a small Maryland business that sells products online and ships them across the country. Jason doesn’t run a high-tech operation: a customer orders a product, Jason manually composes an email letting that customer know the order had shipped, and packages are then sent out via tracked USPS mail.
EFF and 44 Other Organizations Call for More Time to Respond
This month features not only a stupid patent, but also a stupid trademark to go along with it.
My Health, Inc. is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 6,612,985, which is entitled “Method and system for monitoring and treating a patient.” My Health also holds a trademark in the term “My Health.” My Health claims that it is “the only person or entity entitled to use... ‘My Health’ in commerce.”
This week, the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals—in a decision that impacts residents in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia—held that you have no expectation of privacy in historical location data generated by your cell phone. This decision, which follows decisions from four other federal appellate courts, means that now, in the vast majority of states, federal law enforcement agents don’t need to get a warrant to get access to this data from a cell service provider.