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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: January 2009

January 29, 2009

Public Deserves Inside Look at File-Sharing Lawsuit Campaign

Boston - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court today to allow the live webcasting of a hearing in one of the thousands of lawsuits that have been brought against users of peer-to-peer file-sharing systems.

The District Court granted defendant Joel Tenenbaum's request to allow an upcoming hearing to be webcast on the website of the Berkman Center at Harvard. The record company plaintiffs have now asked the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the webcast.

"The record companies have long maintained that they brought these lawsuits against ordinary users to start a national conversation about peer-to-peer file-sharing," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "What better way is there for the public to learn what the record companies are doing than by seeing for themselves what happens in these lawsuits?"

In the amicus brief filed today, EFF -- representing a coalition of media and public interest nonprofits -- notes that the RIAA litigation campaign has elicited strong opinions and passions on both sides, making this case a good one for an initial experiment in webcasting federal district court proceedings. EFF's brief was also signed by Public.Resource.org and the Internet Archive, both of which have offered to host the webcast in addition to the Berkman Center.

Also joining EFF's coalition is Ben Sheffner of the "Copyrights & Campaigns" blog, who supports the views of copyright owners. Mr. Sheffner notes that, because he lives in Los Angeles, the availability of a live webcast would greatly enhance his ability to provide his readers with a full picture of what occurs at the hearing, without having to rely on accounts in other publications that he believes are biased against the plaintiffs.

Other signers to the EFF amicus brief include the Media Access Project, Free Press, and the California First Amendment Coalition.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently announced that it had stopped filing new lawsuits against individual file-sharers. Yet it is continuing to pursue thousands of ongoing lawsuits like the one against Mr. Tenenbaum in the federal courts. Over the last five years, more than 35,000 people have been targeted in the RIAA's litigation campaign.

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/inresonybmgetal/09-1090AmicusCuriaeBrief.pdf

For more on the RIAA's lawsuit campaign:
http://www.eff.org/riaa-v-people

Contact:

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

Corrected 1/29/09 to clarify that the Berkman Center does not represent Mr. Tenebaum. His counsel is the case is Charlie Nesson.

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January 29, 2009

Despite Obama's Order for Openness, Americans Still Kept in the Dark About ACTA

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is withholding hundreds of documents about a secret intellectual property enforcement treaty currently under negotiation between the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries.

In a pending federal lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge are demanding that background documents on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) be released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But the USTR has claimed that more than 1300 pages should be withheld because they implicate national security or expose the USTR's deliberative processes. The USTR has released only 159 pages for public viewing.

ACTA raises serious concerns about citizens' civil liberties and privacy rights. The contents and text of ACTA remain secret, but a document leaked to the public last year shows that ACTA could include stronger criminal measures, increased customs border search powers, and requirements for Internet service providers to cooperate with copyright holders. Some public suggestions from content companies have included requiring ISPs to engage in filtering of their customers' Internet communications for potentially copyright-infringing material, mandatory disclosure of personal information about alleged copyright infringers, and adoption of "Three Strikes" policies requiring ISPs to automatically terminate customers' Internet access upon a repeat allegation of copyright infringement.

"ACTA could lead to new invasive monitoring of Internet communications by your ISP and raises serious potential due process concerns for Internet users," said EFF International Policy Director Gwen Hinze. "Because ACTA is to be adopted as an Executive Agreement, it will bypass normal processes of Congressional oversight. Therefore, it is crucial that citizens have access to information about its contents in a timely manner. The USTR's decision to withhold documents that citizens are entitled to see as a matter of law prevents citizens from evaluating ACTA's impact on their lives and expressing their opinions to their political leaders before it's a fait accompli."

Despite the vast amount of relevant information that was withheld, the documents that were released disclosed some interesting information about ACTA, including records revealing U.S. government policy that ACTA documents should only be shown to government officials or others who work closely with a country's consultation process. The records also show that the U.S. government intends to "hold ACTA documents in confidence for a fixed period after negotiations conclude." But not everyone has been kept in the dark about ACTA. Officials from the USTR met privately with the major U.S. proponents of the treaty: the Global Leadership Group of the International Chamber of Commerce's Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy and the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy at least three times in 2008.

EFF and Public Knowledge first made their FOIA request of the USTR in June of 2008. After the agency dragged its feet in responding, EFF and Public Knowledge filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC, in September of 2008. EFF plans to ask the court to stay further action in the case pending the release of new guidelines by the Attorney General implementing President Obama's January 21 memorandum stating that all agencies "should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government."

"We are disappointed with the USTR's response so far," said Public Knowledge Staff Attorney Sherwin Siy. "With the guidance of this new policy, we hope that the USTR will reassess its less-than-forthcoming compliance with our FOIA request and provide the public with the much-needed transparency and accountability about this important global agreement."

For the significant documents released under FOIA:
http://www.eff.org/fn/directory/6661/328

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/eff-and-public-knowledge-v-ustr

For more on ACTA:
http://www.eff.org/issues/acta/

Contacts:

Gwen Hinze
International Policy Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
gwen@eff.org

Eddan Katz
International Affairs Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
eddan@eff.org

Art Brodsky
Communications Director
Public Knowledge
abrodsky@publicknowledge.org

January 28, 2009

Michigan State University Clears Student Government Leader

East Lansing, MI - A Michigan State University (MSU) student government leader has been cleared of any charges of wrongdoing after the school falsely labeled her a spammer for sending out a political email to faculty members. MSU has also agreed to revise its Network Acceptable Use Policy to ensure that it is fair and constitutional.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represented the student, Kara Spencer, after she was brought before a disciplinary committee for sending an email raising concerns about a controversial change in MSU's school calendar to approximately 400 faculty members. MSU's "acceptable use" email policy bans political statements sent to more than 20-30 recipients without prior approval of university officials.

EFF argued that the school's email policy was an unconstitutional restriction on the university community's free speech rights and had begun preparing a lawsuit on Ms. Spencer's behalf. EFF was referred the case by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

"We're pleased that MSU has reversed course and will not only drop the charge against Ms. Spencer, but will reconsider its flawed policies," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "When a school's anti-spam policy requires students to get approval before they discuss school policy with school officials, it has plainly left the realm of protecting against spam and has violated the Constitution."

MSU will also work with Spencer as a member of the University Committee for Student Affairs to change the email policy so it will respect students' free speech rights. EFF has offered to advise as well.

"The email that I sent wasn't spam. It was part of an important conversation about university issues of common concern," said Spencer. "I'm pleased that MSU has finally recognized my right to express my views. Unconstitutional attempts to curb campus political activism aren't just illegal. They are counter-productive to universities' educational mission."

For previous coverage of this issue:
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/12/eff-fire-and-others-urge-michigan-state-respect-st

Contacts:

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

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

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January 15, 2009

Software Locks on Cell Phones Stifle Competition and Cripple Consumers

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is asking for the public's help in its new campaign to free cell phones from the software locks that stifle competition and cripple consumers. The campaign's website is FreeYourPhone.org.

Hundreds of thousands of cell phone owners have modified their phones to connect to a new service provider or run the software of their choosing, and many more would like to. But the threat of litigation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has driven them underground.

The DMCA prohibits "circumventing" technical protection measures used to protect copyrighted works. But many cell phone manufacturers and service providers build these software locks to protect their business models instead of copyrighted material.

"Apple locks its iPhone to AT&T and prevents users from installing any software that has not been pre-approved by Apple," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Consumers need a DMCA exemption to lift the cloud of legal risk that otherwise serves only to reduce competition and consumer choice."

Every three years, the U.S. Copyright Office convenes a rulemaking to consider granting exemptions to the DMCA's ban on circumvention to mitigate the consumer harm. EFF has already filed exemption requests with the Copyright Office addressing the issues, but the rulemaking proceeding also accepts public comments about the proposals.

"Companies are using the DMCA to threaten customers out of exercising their consumer rights," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "The Copyright Office needs to hear real stories about how these software locks frustrate consumers and developers."

On FreeYourPhone.org, people can sign EFF's petition to the Copyright Office and share their stories about cell phone frustrations. EFF will also help people officially submit those stories to the Copyright Office before the February 2 deadline. The Copyright Office will hold public hearings on the DMCA exemption requests in Washington, DC, and California in the spring, and the final rulemaking order will be issued in October.

For more on the Free Your Phone campaign:
http://www.FreeYourPhone.org

Contacts:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

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

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January 14, 2009

Data Seizure Violates Constitution and Federal Law

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU of Northern California filed suit in federal court today to protect the privacy and free speech rights of two San Francisco Bay Area community organizations after the groups' computers were seized and the data copied by federal and local law enforcement. Both organizations, Long Haul and the East Bay Prisoner Support Group (EBPS), are publishers of information for social and political activists.

"We think the police should have treated us with the same respect due to any library whose public-access computers they suspected had been used for improper activity," said Jesse Palmer, a long-time participant in Long Haul operations. "Instead of asking for our assistance, they used their investigation as an excuse to break into Long Haul, search through our records, and seize our computers."

Long Haul is an all-volunteer collective that publishes a newspaper called Slingshot and provides community space, computer access, and a lending library of radical books to members of the public at its Infoshop in Berkeley, California. EBPS publishes a newsletter of prisoners' writings, distributes literature to prisoners, and occupies an office at Long Haul.

On August 27, 2008, University of California Police, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided Long Haul's space in Berkeley, searching public and private rooms and cutting or unscrewing locks that protected private offices. The officers removed every computer in the building -- including those behind the locked doors of the Slingshot and EBPS offices -- even though the federal Privacy Protection Act specifically protects publishers from search and seizure except in the most narrow of circumstances.

"The Slingshot and EBPS computers were clearly marked and kept behind locked doors," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Yet the raid officers broke into the offices to take information these organizations collected and relied on to publish information to their readership. This is a blatant violation of federal law and the First and Fourth Amendments, interfering with the freedom of the press."

The search was not based on any allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Long Haul, EBPS or their members, and there have been no arrests. The seized computers were eventually returned, but investigators likely copied the data and continued their illegal search of the information.

"As long as the government keeps the copies they made of these hard drives, they are continuing to violate the privacy of everyone who wrote or stored a document on the computers." said Michael Risher, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. "We filed this lawsuit to protect fundamental rights and to stop these illegal searches from happening in the future."

For the full complaint:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/longhaul_v_UC/longhaulcomplaint.pdf

Contacts:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

Rebecca Farmer
Media Relations Director
ACLU of Northern California
rfarmer@aclunc.org

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January 7, 2009

Patent Busting Project Now Six for Six

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has won reexamination of an illegitimate music patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). This was the sixth reexamination request filed by EFF's Patent Busting Project and the sixth time the PTO has granted EFF's request.

Seer Systems was awarded this patent for a system and method for joining different musical data types together in a file, distributing them over the Internet, and then playing that file. In the reexamination request, EFF, along with the law firm Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder, show that descriptions of this technology were published a number of times before Seer Systems made its claim—including in a book written by Seer's own founder and the named inventor of the patent, Stanley Jungleib.

"Mr. Jungleib encouraged others to use the techniques he described in his book and sought patent protection only after those ideas had entered the public domain," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Michael Kwun. "It's unfortunate that Seer Systems didn't call Mr. Jungleib's book and the other prior art we cited to the PTO's attention before the patent issued."

Seer Systems now has the opportunity to file comments defending the patent, and then the PTO will determine whether to invalidate the patent. The PTO has narrowed or revoked roughly 70% of patents it has decided to reexamine.

"Unmeritorious patents can place significant barriers in the way of innovation in the digital age," said Paul Grewal of the Day Casebeer firm. "The PTO quite rightly concluded that there are substantial questions of patentability raised by our request, and we look forward to the PTO's ultimate decision on this patent."

Students from the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School provided substantial assistance on this reexamination request, carrying out detailed research, preparing an initial claim chart, locating and analyzing a critical piece of prior art cited in the request, and drafting the prior art description that EFF posted on its website. The Seer patent being challenged is U.S. Patent No. 5,886,274, and the reexamination has been assigned the control number 90/009,299.

This reexamination request is part of EFF's Patent Busting Project, which combats the chilling effects bad patents have on public and consumer interests. So far, the project has killed one patent covering a system and method of creating digital recordings of live performances. Five more patents are under review by the PTO due to the Patent Busting Project's efforts.

For the full reexamination order:
http://w2.eff.org/patent/wanted/seer/seer-reexam-granted.pdf

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

Contacts:

Michael Kwun
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
michael@eff.org

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

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