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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: September 2010

September 28, 2010

Bogus Copyright Claims Used to Threaten Democratic Underground

Las Vegas - The online political discussion forum Democratic Underground is fighting back against a lawsuit filed by copyright troll Righthaven LLC, arguing in court documents filed Monday that the short excerpt of a news article at issue in the suit is a clear case of fair use.

Democratic Underground -- represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Winston & Strawn LLP, and attorney Chad Bowers -- was sued by Righthaven on August 10 for a five-sentence excerpt of a Las Vegas Review-Journal news story that a user posted on the forum, with a link back to the Review-Journal website. Righthaven has brought over 130 lawsuits in Nevada federal court claiming copyright infringement, even though they do not create, produce or distribute any content. Instead, they create lawsuits by scouring the Internet for content from Review-Journal stories posted on blogs and online forums, acquiring the copyright to that particular story from Stephens Media LLC (the Review-Journal's publisher), and then suing the poster for infringement.

As part of its lawsuit business model, Righthaven claims damages of up to $150,000 under the Copyright Act's statutory damages provisions and uses that threat to attempt to push defendants into a quick settlement. In the answer and counterclaim filed Monday, Democratic Underground asked the court to affirm that the excerpt of the article does not infringe copyright and is a fair use of the material, with no damages due to Righthaven.

"Democratic Underground is the largest independent discussion forum for liberals on the Internet. Thousands of people discuss and debate political issues on our site every day, particularly now during election season. Online discussion often requires quoting from news sources -- a legal fair use of the material," said Democratic Underground founder David Allen. "By targeting short excerpts of news articles with their sham copyright claims, Righthaven is chilling free and open discussion on the Internet."

Righthaven has claimed that its activities are intended to have a deterrent effect on the reposting of news stories online. But instead of allowing websites to remove or amend the content in question, Righthaven goes straight to court, seeking to profit by gaining sums far greater than any actual harm the newspapers may have suffered. Righthaven has already sued numerous noncommercial bloggers, such as Allegra Wong; political advocacy groups, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Inc.; and political parties and candidates, such as the Democratic Party of Nevada and Sharron Angle.

"Despite what Righthaven claims, it's hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "At the same time, Righthaven is trying to discourage the practice of quoting and linking that is both essential to the interconnected Internet and helps drive significant traffic to newspapers online."

For the full answer and counterclaim:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/righthaven_v_dem/AnswerandCounterclaim.pdf

For more on copyright trolls:
https://www.eff.org/issues/copyright-trolls

Contacts:

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

Corynne McSherry
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Related Issues:
September 17, 2010

EFF and PFF Urge Supreme Court to Protect Rights of Game Creators and Users

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) urged the United States Supreme Court Friday to protect the free speech rights of videogame creators and users, asking the justices to uphold a ruling throwing out unconstitutional restrictions on violent videogames.

At issue is a California law that bans the sale or rental of "violent" videogames to anyone under the age of 18, among other regulations. While the law was passed in 2005, it has never taken effect, as courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional. California appealed its loss at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court

In the amicus brief filed today, EFF and PFF explain how the current videogame content rating system empowers parents to make their own decisions without unconstitutionally restricting this new and evolving form of free speech.

"Videogames are fully protected speech, and both the 'violence' and 'interactivity' feared by California's law are expressive aspects of books, plays, and movies -- not just videogames," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "The government can't regulate speech content, even to protect children, if there are reasonably effective private rating systems and parental control tools that don't interfere with our First Amendment rights."

Every state law concerning violent videogames that has been challenged has failed First Amendment scrutiny in the lower courts. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has said that the industry's official labeling system is widely recognized and used by parents and is well-enforced in the marketplace.

"This case has profound ramifications for the future of not just videogames, but all media, and the Internet as well," said PFF President Adam Thierer. "We've had 15 years of fairly solid Supreme Court case law on new media issues. It would be unfortunate if they reversed that tide here."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/schwarzenegger_v/EFFPFFamicus.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/schwarzenegger-v-ema

For more on video games and digital rights:
http://www.eff.org/issues/video-games

Contacts:

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org

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September 15, 2010

Asks Appeals Court to Block Dangerous Expansion of Federal Statute

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to dismiss charges that would turn any employee use of company computers in violation of corporate policy into a federal crime.

In U.S. v. Nosal, an ex-employee is being prosecuted on the claim that he induced current company employees to use their legitimate credentials to access the company's proprietary database and provide him with information, in violation of corporate computer-use policy. The government claims that the violation of this private policy constitutes a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Following a decision issued just last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the District Court ruled against the government, holding that violations of corporate policy are not equivalent to violations of federal computer crime law. The government appealed to the 9th Circuit.

In an amicus brief filed in the case on Tuesday, EFF argues that turning mere violations of company policies into computer crimes could potentially create a massive expansion of the CFAA, turning millions of law-abiding workers into criminals.

"Companies' policies often prohibit personal use of company computers. The government's argument here would potentially turn employees into criminals if they check the baseball scores or update their Facebook statuses at an office where such a policy is in place," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Company policies aren't written with the care and precision that we require in a criminal statute. Instead, they are often vague, arbitrary, confusing and contradictory. It's not fair or reasonable to turn any violation of company policy into a crime."

The extension of the CFAA into company policies is only one of the places where EFF has been combating overbroad use of the statute to criminalize what are essentially breaches of contract. Over the last several months, EFF has filed amicus briefs in two other cases where the government attempted to use computer crime laws to turn a violation of a website's terms of service into a criminally punishable act.

"A district court has already made the correct decision here, and ruled that these indictments are contrary to law," said Hofmann. "We're urging the appeals court to affirm that important decision, and reject this dangerous expansion of the CFAA."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/us_v_nosal/NosalAmicusFinal091410.pdf

Contact:

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

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September 14, 2010

Open Letter from ACLU-NC and EFF Calls for Answers About Controversial RFID Program

San Francisco - The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are calling for answers to critical privacy and safety questions that loom over a controversial federal program to track preschoolers with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips at George Miller III Head Start program in Richmond, California.

In an open letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, ACLU-NC and EFF are asking officials to disclose what technical and security measures are used by the system to safeguard the privacy and safety of preschoolers, as well as what data is collected, how long it is retained, and who has access to the information. The letter also calls on officials to publicly address why and how the government decided to track Head Start students, and if the government plans to expand such tracking.

"This program allows for far more invasive surveillance than is required for attendance and other record-keeping for a Head Start program," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "We want to know how and when privacy and security issues were considered in the development of this program, and how many other schools will be pressured to implement this system."

ACLU-NC and EFF are calling on officials to ensure that there is a process in place to protect the privacy and safety of schoolchildren, to make sure parents are fully informed about the privacy and safety risks of RFID technology, and to provide for an opt-out program for concerned parents.

Concerns about RFID privacy and safety in California schools came up just five years ago, when an elementary school in Sutter, California attempted a similar program. The plans were scuttled when parents realized the risk to their children. In response, California lawmakers in 2007 overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring that any RFID program in schools include education campaigns for parents and be completely voluntary. While Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not sign the bill into law, it's clear that there is widespread concern about this technology.

"Public schools should not be chipping students now and asking questions about privacy and safety later," said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California. "Parents should not have to pay for Head Start with the privacy and safety of their preschoolers. It's time for some answers about why federal stimulus funds are paying for expensive, intrusive, and potentially insecure school tracking programs."

The RFID program was launched this school year at the school with funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

For the full open letter:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/rfid/RFIDletter_full.pdf

For more on RFID:
http://www.eff.org/issues/rfid
http://www.aclunc.org/issues/technology/don't_chip_our_rights_away.shtml

Contacts:

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org

Nicole Ozer
Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director
ACLU of Northern California
nozer@aclunc.org

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September 8, 2010

Conference Set for September 14-17 in Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania - Experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will address security, openness, privacy, and other issues at the United Nations' Internet Governance Forum (IGF), set for September 14-17 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

This is the fifth meeting of the IGF, which was established to discuss public policy issues related to Internet governance on a global scale. Approximately 1,500 government policymakers, technologists, politicians, and others will attend.

EFF experts will participate in nine workshops in Vilnius, including "The Future of Privacy," with EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston and EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodriguez, who is also a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group that helped plan the meeting. Also on the agenda is "Governance of Social Media," with EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl and "Why We Need an Open Web," with EFF International Affairs Director Eddan Katz.

For a complete schedule of EFF's participation in IGF see http://www.eff.org/calendar/2010/09/14/eff-united-nations-internet-governance-forum.

WHAT:
United Nations' Internet Governance Forum

WHEN:
September 14-17

WHERE: Lithuanian Exhibition Centre LITEXPO Laisves pr. 5 LT-04215 Vilnius, Lithuania

For more on the IGF:
http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/
http://www.igf2010.lt

Contact:

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

September 2, 2010

Case Could Discourage Websites from Responding to Help Requests

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of public interest groups and law professors have asked a California appeals court to protect craigslist from a lawsuit that could spur websites to be less helpful in responding to complaints about user behavior.

In Scott P. v. craigslist, Inc., the plaintiff complained about a series of craigslist ads he said were written by impersonators. While craigslist removed the ads within minutes of his phone calls, the plaintiff sued, contending that craigslist broke a promise to "take care of it" when the impersonators posted additional ads. In cases like these, federal law -- specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- shields Internet forums like craigslist from liability. Section 230 was designed to encourage parties to pursue action against those who created the questionable content instead of the platform that hosted it. But the California Superior Court has ruled that this case can continue because of the plaintiff's allegations that craigslist said it would help.

Craigslist filed a writ petition with the Court of Appeal for the State of California Wednesday, arguing that the trial court should have dismissed the case because of Section 230's protections for forum hosts. In an amicus letter filed today in support of craigslist, EFF argues that the lower court reasoning could create a hole in Section 230, discouraging forum owners from helping users.

"Section 230 was a deliberate effort by Congress to encourage service providers to find innovative ways to self-regulate," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Yet craigslist is facing the prospect of extended litigation because it tried to do just that. Allowing this litigation to continue could result in websites being less helpful to users with complaints."

Additionally troublesome is the specter of further lawsuits, which could convince other Internet innovators not to host user content at all.

"Congress created Section 230 to allow for online interactivity without a flood of lawsuits. But this case could undermine the immunity that the law created," said Opsahl. "If litigation can survive merely because a plaintiff asserts that the site made a vague promise, sites may decide that allowing comments or user generated content is not worth the legal exposure. Then we'll lose the vibrant online environment that Section 230 helped create in the first place."

Joining EFF in the letter to court were the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Citizen Media Law Project, and law professors Eric Goldman, David S. Levine, David G. Post, and Jason Schultz. Separately, a group of Internet companies, including Yahoo!, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Linkedin filed another amicus brief in support of craigslist.

For the full amicus letter:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/craigslist_v_sup/EFFletter9210.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/craigslist-v-superior-court-california

Contact:

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

Related Issues:
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