EFF in the News
If ASCAP proves its case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation of San Francisco says it could cost consumers and technically turn millions of ring tone users into copyright violators.
"Clearly they are pointing a finger at every consumer that is holding a cell phone that goes off in the park or at the beach," said Fred von Lohmann, the digital rights group's senior intellectual property attorney. "We may be annoying people, but we're not infringing copyright law."
"The implication was that anyone on the Internet would be a criminal if they filled out a website registration using a fake name or using the wrong age," said Matt Zimmerman, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"And I think that was a path the judge was not terribly interested in going down."
It isn't often that you find AT&T and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in agreement, but consensus has been reached on one matter: ASCAP's demand that wireless companies pay it license fees for ringtones is, well, ridiculous.
Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation told a federal court Wednesday that a publicly ringing phone is no different from a person humming a tune in an elevator, listening to music in a convertible, or singing Happy Birthday at a party in the park — all activities that are not considered copyright infringements.
Unsurprisingly, free speech advocates are applauding the decision. "The idea is, you hold the speaker responsible, not the soapbox," Electronic Frontier Foundation spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke told Reuters. "If you want any kind of social interaction on the Internet this is very important."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology and Public Knowledge joined in an amicus brief that argues against ASCAP in its lawsuit brought against mobile carriers for additional royalties for the public performance of ringtones.
Some consumer advocates said they were unimpressed with the new principles. Lee Tien, an attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that self-regulatory programs will not adequately protect privacy because consumers currently have no way of knowing their privacy has been compromised, much less complaining about it to an enforcement body.
"There's no good reason to expect self-regulation to work," Tien says, adding that companies currently compile dossiers used to target people based on behind-the-scenes data-crunching without explaining how specific information is being used.
"These wrongheaded legal claims cast a shadow over innovators who are building gadgets that help consumers get the most from their copyright privileges," the EFF said in a blog post.
Privacy experts lauded the move. Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney at non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the new options solve a long-standing issue. Some Facebook users often shared provocative photos and off-color comments with workers and casual friends, creating awkward situations.
"The new settings allow greater flexibility and control," he says. But he is concerned that even if users share intimate information only with close friends, it could leave them exposed if hackers break into accounts or the government requested access to the sensitive data.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with that logic and rejected the lawsuit (see this recap of its ruling by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a brief in support of Cablevision); when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, that ended the case. Now Cablevision is free to roll out this feature--and, more importantly, other companies can experiment with other video-recoding services that rely on network storage.