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EFFector - Volume 16, Issue 21 - Stop the DirecTV Dragnet!

EFFector       Vol. 16, No. 21       August 16, 2003

A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation     ISSN 1062-9424

In the 260st Issue of EFFector:

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Action Alert: Stop the DirecTV Dragnet!

Satellite TV giant DirecTV has sent ominous letters to an estimated 100,000 individuals, accusing them of purchasing "pirate access devices" and threatening to haul them into court for stealing television channels. The letters tell the unlucky recipients that the prospect of an expensive legal battle will go away if they pay up, usually to the tune of $3,500. Yet, in too many cases, the targets of the letters never intercepted DTV's signal; they're only guilty of owning smart card technology. This dragnet is catching innocent security professionals, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs. Without proof of a violation of law, DTV's unsubstantiated threats to sue are an abuse of the legal system.

As if that's not bad enough, DirecTV has filed over 9,000 lawsuits against purchasers of smartcard technology, employing an army of lawyers to squeeze even more costly settlements out of individuals nationwide. Ask your Members of Congress to initiate an investigation into DirecTV's misuse of the law and blatant disregard for the public's right to use technology.

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UCITA Abandoned by Its Parent Organization

Major Step Toward Defeating "Shrinkwrap" Law

On August 1, 2003, the primary sponsor of the overarching state law proposal called the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) announced that it would no longer push state legislators to pass the controversial law.

UCITA was developed by vendors of proprietary, closed-source software to "clarify" the laws that govern the license agreements that come with virtually every piece of software and every online service. These agreements are governed by state contract laws, which often have not been updated to reflect the realities of software transactions.

Unfortunately, in "clarifying" the law, software vendors crafted UCITA to be a one-sided proposal that favors vendors over users at almost every turn. EFF is a member of AFFECT, a coalition of groups opposing UCITA, and has spoken out against the measure for several years now.

Although the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), the main sponsoring entity for UCITA, has abandoned the measure, the fight is not yet entirely over. UCITA remains the law in Maryland and Virginia, and software vendors like Microsoft and AOL are sure to press for similar one-sided interpretations of contract law in the future. However, this announcement is certainly a resounding victory and a warning to those who would push similarly unfair proposals onto the public.

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Federal Court Spurns Recording Industry Enforcement Tactics

Rejects Music Sharing Subpoenas Sent to MIT, Boston College

Boston, MA - A Massachusetts district court dealt the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) a serious setback on August 8 by rejecting its Washington, D.C., subpoenas for the identities of Massachusetts students. For the moment, MIT and Boston College need not respond to the RIAA demands.

"This ruling requires the recording industry to file subpoenas where it alleges that copyright infringement occurs, rather than blanketing the country from one court in D.C.," said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer. "The court ruling confirms that due process applies to Internet user privacy nationwide."

Massachusetts District Judge Joseph Tauro granted requests from MIT and Boston College to reject RIAA subpoenas demanding identities of students the RIAA claims are violating copyright. The subpoenas are part of a nationwide effort by the RIAA to identify and crack down on alleged copyright violators using peer-to-peer (P2P) software to share music on the Internet.

"We urge other colleges and Internet service providers to take similar steps to protect their users' privacy," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "ISPs should notify users whose information is sought and fight against improper subpoenas."

Pacific Bell Internet Services has filed suit in California complaining of the threat to subscribers' privacy and the burden on Internet service providers. The RIAA has reportedly filed more than 2,000 subpoenas through the D.C. court and has announced plans to sue file-sharers later this month.

EFF offers an online database users can check to see whether their identities have been subpoenaed by the RIAA. EFF urges concerned citizens to learn more about ways to make filesharing legal while getting artists paid as part of the Let the Music Play Campaign.

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Activist Gets Year in Jail for Hosting, Linking to Bomb Info

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Sentence Doesn't Match Crime

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) criticized the sentencing of political activist Sherman Austin on August 7th to one year in jail for hosting a website describing bomb-making and for linking from his RaiseTheFist.com website to that website.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson sentenced Austin to triple the sentence term the prosecutor had recommended under a binding plea bargain agreement, along with three years of probation. He faces strict restrictions and monitoring of his use of computers, a $2,000 fine for restitution, and a prohibition from associating with any person or group that "espouses violence or physical force as means of intimidation, or achieving economic, social, or political change."

"Although settled with a plea bargain, Sherman Austin's jail sentence for distributing bomb-making information raises serious First Amendment questions," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "Leaving aside the question of the constitutionality of the bomb-making information distribution law, a year in jail and the onerous probation conditions Austin now faces are out of sync with the character of the alleged crime."

Although information on how to make bombs is commonly available in libraries, universities, and on the Internet, the U.S. Justice Department charged Austin under a law sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and passed by Congress that prohibits "distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction with the intent that such information be used in furtherance of a federal crime of violence." A charge related to possession of the components of a Molotov cocktail was dropped as part of the plea bargain agreement.

Austin, who took a plea bargain rather than face a potential 20 years in jail due to enhanced terrorism penalties, said yesterday he intends to surrender to the authorities on September 3 to begin serving his prison sentence.

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Freedom Fest Thanks

EFF's Freedom Fest 2003 was a great success this year with over 1,000 people in attendance at the bandshell in Golden Gate Park to enjoy fantastic music and a variety of performers, to celebrate the free exchange of creativity and to learn more about EFF.

We would like to thank:

Karen Omholt, Mountain Girl Garcia, Box Set, Noelle Hampton, Austin Willacy, Colin McGrath, Lasana Bandele, Ashley Foster, Technomania Circus, Willy Bologna, Fran Eckland, Eleanor Ruckman, Cat Hare, KFOG, Peter Finch, Ty Semaka, Juma Ventures/ Ben and Jerry's Ice-cream, JK Sound, Action Rentals, and everyone else who contributed in any way to the festival.

Thank you!

For more information (including performer bios), please visit the EFF Freedom Fest 2003 page.

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Deep Links

Deep Links features noteworthy news items from around the Internet.

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Staff Calendar

For a complete listing of EFF speaking engagements (with locations and times), please visit our online calendar.

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