Skip to main content

EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: October 2007

October 31, 2007

Six Concrete Guidelines Aim to Balance Free Speech Rights and Copyright

San Francisco - Online video-hosting services like YouTube have ushered in a new era of free expression online, as well as vigorous copyright enforcement efforts. Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of leading public interest groups issued a "Fair Use Principles" document that sets out six concrete guidelines designed to minimize the collateral damage that copyright enforcement efforts may inflict on video creators who are "remixing" copyrighted material into new video creations.

Fair use is the copyright doctrine that permits unauthorized uses of copyrighted material for transformative purposes. Creators naturally quote from and build upon the media that makes up their culture, yielding new works that comment on, parody, satirize, criticize, and pay tribute to the expressive works that have come before. Consequently, much of the new "remix" creativity on video hosting sites like YouTube depends on fair use.

As part of their own "UGC Principles" effort announced last week, video hosting services and major media companies emphasized the importance of accommodating fair use. The "Fair Use Principles" released today propose detailed steps that content owners and video hosting services can take to make good on that promise.

"As video hosting services begin to implement copyright filtering technology, it is time to discuss concrete strategies to protect creative videos that remix material from movies, TV and popular music," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Our aim is to speak for the interests of the millions of amateur creators who are fueling the popularity of YouTube and similar sites."

Fair uses have been mistakenly caught up in copyright enforcement dragnets in the past. For example, earlier this year blogger Michelle Malkin's video about rapper Akon was erroneously taken down from YouTube after Universal Music Group (UMG) claimed copyright infringement. In that case, two excerpts from Akon music videos were embedded in a longer commentary about the rap star. Although UMG ultimately admitted its mistake, automated content filtering raises the possibility that commentaries like this might be blocked preemptively in the future.

With cases like this one in mind, "Fair Use Principles for User-Generated Content" describes six steps that service providers and copyright owners should take to minimize damage to fair use during copyright enforcement efforts. One key principle is "three strikes before blocking" -- verifying that the video matches the video of a copyrighted work, that the audio matches the audio of the same work, and that nearly all of the clip is comprised of that single work. In addition, if a video is blocked by a content filter, the creator should be given an opportunity to dispute the filter's determination.

To accompany the "Fair Use Principles" document, EFF has also posted a gallery of videos that could be jeopardized by automated copyright filters, in hopes that video hosting services and content owners will be able to test their filters against these fair use videos.

The coalition supporting the principles includes the Center for Social Media, School of Communications, American University; Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Washington College of Law, American University; Public Knowledge; Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School; and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. In addition, the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society contributed to the development of the document.

For "Fair Use Principles for User-Generated Video Content":
http://www.eff.org/issues/ip-and-free-speech/fair-use-principles-usergen

For the gallery of fair use videos:
http://www.eff.org/pages/UGC-test-suite

For more on fair use and free speech:
http://www.eff.org/issues/ip-and-free-speech

Contact:

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
fred@eff.org

Related Issues:
October 23, 2007

Patent Office to Take Second Look at Meritless Claims Threatening Mobile Information Access

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has won reexamination from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) of a bogus patent threatening mobile information access. The reexamination order is the third granted by the PTO after challenges from EFF's Patent Busting Project.

NeoMedia Technologies, Inc., claims to own rights to all systems that provide information over computer networks using database-like lookup procedures that rely on scanned inputs, such as a barcode. NeoMedia has used these claims to threaten and sue innovators in the mobile information space. But EFF's reexamination request, filed in conjunction with Paul Grewal and James Czaja of Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder, showed that the functionality covered by NeoMedia's bad patent was repeatedly included as part of prior patent applications from other companies.

"Overbroad and invalid patents threaten to chill important innovations, especially for startups and other nascent entrepreneurs," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "It's important that technology in the public domain stays there."

NeoMedia has the opportunity to file comments defending the patent before the PTO makes its final determination. However, the PTO has narrowed or revoked roughly 70 percent of patents it has decided to reexamine.

"Re-examination is an essential part of the patenting process," said Paul Grewal, a partner at Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder. "We are pleased that the Patent Office has decided to examine NeoMedia's efforts to claim for itself what the public has long enjoyed."

The successful reexamination request for the NeoMedia patent is the latest big victory for EFF's Patent Busting Project, which combats the chilling effects bad patents have on the public interest and innovation. So far, the project has helped kill a bogus patent covering a system and method of creating digital recordings of live performances. The PTO has also granted another EFF reexamination request for an illegitimate patent for online test-taking.

For the full reexamination order:
http://w2.eff.org/patent/wanted/order_granting_reexam_neomedia.pdf

For more information about the NeoMedia patent reexamination:
http://www.eff.org/patent/wanted/patent.php?p=neomedia

For more on the Patent Busting Project:
http://www.eff.org/patent/

For more on Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder:
http://www.daycasebeer.com

Contacts:

Jason Schultz
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jason@eff.org

Paul Grewal
Partner
Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder
pgrewal@daycasebeer.com

Related Issues:
October 17, 2007

Lawsuit Filed as Congress Debates Letting Industry Off the Hook for Illegal Spying

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, October 17, 2007

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) today, demanding any information about telecommunications companies' efforts to get off the hook for their role in the government's illegal electronic surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans.

Congress is currently considering granting amnesty to the telecoms -- a blatant attempt to derail lawsuits aimed at holding the companies responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government. EFF represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, one of dozens of class-action suits accusing the telecoms of violating customers' rights by illegally assisting the National Security Agency with this domestic surveillance.

News reports have described an elaborate lobbying campaign by the telecoms to drum up support for legislation that would hold them unaccountable for their actions, and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has publicly voiced his support for amnesty. But McConnell's office has not yet responded to EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to disclose records about this lobbying activity.

"Congress is debating amnesty for the telecoms right now -- amnesty that could imperil judicial review of a very controversial government program, as well as threaten class-action lawsuits that impact millions of Americans," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "We deserve to know what kind of lobbying has gone on behind the scenes before lawmakers make this critical decision."

EFF's suit asks for the immediate disclosure of ODNI's telecom lobbying records, including any documents concerning briefings, discussions, or other contacts officials have had with representatives of telecommunications companies or members of Congress. This lawsuit comes just two weeks after EFF filed a similar FOIA suit against the Department of Justice for withholding records on telecom lobbying.

For the full complaint:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/foia_C0705278/ODNI_complaint.pdf

For more on our FOIA work:
http://www.eff.org/issues/foia

Contacts:

Marcia Hofmann
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
marcia@eff.org

Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
kurt@eff.org

David Sobel
Senior Counsel
Electronic Frontier Foundation
sobel@eff.org

Related Issues:
October 12, 2007

EFF Tells Congress About Hidden Costs of Dragnet Spying

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a congressional committee today that the government's illegal dragnet electronic surveillance opens the door to even more privacy violations for ordinary Americans.

The sheer volume of personal information collected and the databases in which that information is stored create a giant target for attackers who want to steal or expose Americans' personal data. In a response to questions asked of EFF by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn explained in comments submitted Friday that an increase in the number of databases introduces more points of vulnerability into the system, putting sensitive personal information from millions of people at risk.

"We have all heard about security problems with government databases. A report from the Department of Homeland Security found 477 breaches in 2006 alone," said Cohn. "The warrantless domestic surveillance going on now isn't just illegal -- it could expose your personal information to thieves and criminals."

The committee asked EFF for input as part of its review of the Protect America Act, deeply flawed legislation that broadly expanded the National Security Agency's authority to spy on Americans without warrants. Next week, the House is set to vote on the RESTORE Act, a bill designed restore the civil liberties lost under the previous law.

Since the committee had also sent a list of key questions to AT&T and the other major telecommunications firms about their involvement in illegal surveillance activities, EFF provided the committee information about the Hepting v. AT&T lawsuit. EFF represents the plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers, accusing the telecommunications company of violating their rights by illegally assisting the NSA's domestic surveillance. The Hepting case is just one of many suits aimed at holding telecoms responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government.

EFF also provided the committee with a legal analysis of the use of so-called "exigent letters" by the government to obtain information about Americans and about their "communities of interest," two topics also raised by the committee in its letters to the telecommunications carriers. EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work uncovered this illegal broadening of surveillance authority.

"We're pleased that the committee is interested in obtaining answers from the leading telecommunications carriers about whether they have been following the privacy laws protecting their customers' communications. Congressional oversight of the telecommunications companies' activities is long overdue," said Cohn.

For EFF's full comments to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:
http://eff.org/Privacy/Surveillance/FISA/committee_letter.pdf

For more on the class-action lawsuit against AT&T:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/att

Contact:

Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
cindy@eff.org

Related Issues:
October 5, 2007

Thomas J. Downey and Adam M. Eisgrau Will Work to Block Amnesty for Telecoms

San Francisco - As Congress debates letting the telecom industry off the hook for its compliance with illegal government surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has enlisted two veteran lobbyists to try to block amnesty for companies collaborating with the warrantless spying.

EFF is lead counsel for the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&ampT, one of many lawsuits aimed at holding telecommunications companies accountable for violating their customers' rights by illegally assisting the National Security Agency in domestic surveillance. The opportunity for this critical case to be decided by a judge is under serious threat as the White House calls for Congress to provide these companies with immunity for their role in the illegal program.

In an effort to preserve the courts' crucial role in protecting the privacy of all Americans, EFF will now take its fight against warrantless spying to Capitol Hill. Thomas J. Downey and Adam M. Eisgrau, both with decades of experience in Washington, have been retained by EFF to work to block amnesty for companies who break the law.

"While EFF generally does not engage in Washington-style lobbying, we need to make Congress understand the importance of letting our case against AT&ampT go forward," said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "By releasing the telecoms from liability, Congress would be permitting the widespread flouting of our laws by private companies entrusted with our most personal communications."

To help with EFF's "Stop the Spying" campaign:
http://www.stopthespying.org

Contact:

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

Related Issues:
JavaScript license information