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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: April 2014

April 11, 2014

Shake Down of BitTorrent Users Abuses Justice System

Washington, DC - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will ask a federal appeals court at a hearing on Monday, April 14, to prevent a notorious copyright troll from obtaining the identities of more than 1,000 Internet users.

Speaking on behalf of EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, Public Citizen and Public Knowledge, EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry will urge the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a district court decision that allowed the plaintiff to seek identifying information for thousands of "John Does" without complying with basic procedural rules.

The coalition of public interest groups filed an amicus brief in May 2013 in support of several Internet service providers that are resisting subpoenas for user records. Representatives for those providers will offer the principal argument. However, the court took the unusual step of allowing amici to appear and argue as well.

AF Holdings, the plaintiff in the case, is seeking the identities of individuals that it claims may have illegally downloaded a copyrighted adult film. The case is one of hundreds being pursued around the country that follow the same pattern, which judges have described as "essentially an extortion scheme." A copyright troll looks for IP addresses that may have been used to download films (usually adult films) via BitTorrent, files a single lawsuit against thousands of "John Doe" defendants based on those IP addresses, then seeks to subpoena the ISPs for the contact information of the account holders associated with those IP addresses. The troll then uses that information to contact the account holders and threatens expensive litigation if they do not settle promptly. Faced with the prospect of hiring an attorney and litigating the issue, often in a distant court, most subscribers—including those who may have done nothing wrong—will choose to settle rather than fight.

AF Holdings is linked to Prenda Law, a firm that is facing allegations that it used stolen identities and fictitious signatures on key legal documents and made other false statements to the courts. AF Holdings will have an opportunity to address the court but has so far not designated a representative for the hearing.

WHAT: Oral Argument in AF Holdings v. Does

WHO: Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director, EFF

Benjamin Fox, Partner, Morrison & Foerster LLP, counsel for ISPs

WHERE: U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

625 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

WHEN: Monday, April 14, 2014 9:30 A.M. EST

For more information on our case, including the amicus brief: https://www.eff.org/cases/af-holdings-v-does

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

Related Issues:
April 11, 2014

Important Decision Impacts Constitutional Rights in the Internet Age

San Francisco - A federal appeals court overturned the conviction of Andrew "weev" Auernheimer, the computer researcher who was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) after he exposed a massive security flaw in AT&T's website.

Auernheimer was represented on appeal by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Professor Orin Kerr of George Washington University, and attorneys Marcia Hofmann, and Tor Ekeland. In an opinion issued this morning by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Judge Michael Chagares wrote that the government should not have charged Auernheimer in New Jersey, which had no direct connection to AT&T or Auernheimer.

"We're thrilled that the Third Circuit reversed Mr. Auernheimer's conviction," EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury said. "This prosecution presented real threats to security research. Hopefully this decision will reassure that community."

In 2010, Auernheimer's co-defendant, Daniel Spitler, discovered that AT&T had configured its servers to make the email addresses of iPad owners publicly available on the Internet. Spitler wrote a script and collected roughly 114,000 email addresses as a result of the security flaw. Auernheimer then distributed the list of email addresses to media organizations as proof of the vulnerability, ultimately forcing AT&T to acknowledge and fix the security problem.

Federal prosecutors charged Auernheimer and Spitler with identity theft and conspiracy to violate the CFAA in New Jersey federal court. Spitler accepted a plea deal, while Auernheimer unsuccessfully fought the charges in a jury trial. Auernheimer began serving a 41-month prison sentence in March 2013.

On appeal, Auernheimer's defense team argued that accessing a publicly available website does not constitute unauthorized access to a computer under the CFAA. They also argued that Auernheimer should not have been charged in New Jersey. At the time they were obtaining email addresses, Auernheimer was in Arkansas, Spitler was in California and AT&T's servers were in Georgia and Texas.

The court agreed with Auernheimer that charging the case in New Jersey was improper and reversed his conviction and ordered him released from prison. Although it did not directly address whether accessing information on a publicly available website violates the CFAA, the court suggested that there may have been no CFAA violation, since no code-based restrictions to access had been circumvented.

"Today's decision is important beyond weev's specific case," added Fakhoury. "The court made clear that the location of a criminal defendant remains an important constitutional limitation, even in today's Internet age."

For the opinion: https://www.eff.org/document/appellate-court-opinion

Contact:

Hanni Fakhoury
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   hanni@eff.org

April 11, 2014

Decision About “Innocence of Muslims” Video Could Be Disastrous for Free Speech

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to order Google to take down the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video while a copyright lawsuit—based on a claim that the Copyright Office itself has rejected—is pending. As EFF explains, the decision sets a dangerous precedent that could have disastrous consequences for free speech.

"Innocence of Muslims" sparked protests worldwide in the fall of 2012. For a time, its anti-Islamic content was even linked to the violent attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, although that was later refuted. An actress named Cindy Lee Garcia, after being tricked into appearing in the film for just five seconds, claimed she held a copyright in that performance. She sued Google for copyright infringement and asked the court to order Google to take the video offline. The district court refused, noting that it could not restrain speech massed on nothing more than a highly debatable copyright claim. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that the copyright claim was not strong, but nonetheless ordered Google to take down all copies of the video. It even issued a gag order, preventing Google from talking about the controversial decision for a full week.

"This video is a matter of extreme public concern–the center of a roiling, global debate," EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry said. "The injunction in place now means we can still talk about the video–but we can't see what we are actually talking about. While the injunction stretched the First Amendment beyond its intent, the gag order snapped it in half. It delayed the public and the press from discovering this unprecedented copyright decision, and prevented others from challenging the ruling."

In an amicus brief filed today, EFF argues that the full appeals court must reconsider the earlier decision in order to protect free speech in the debate over the film and also to safeguard the future of free expression online.

"This decision means that any number of creative contributors–from actors to makeup artists to set designers–could be entitled to royalties and even control over the distribution of works they were paid to contribute to," said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. "Such a rule would stifle creative expression for big studios and amateur filmmakers alike. While we can understand Garcia's desire to distance herself from this film, copyright law is not designed to address the harm she suffered by suppressing the global debate on a matter of public concern."

The American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, New Media Rights, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries joined EFF in this brief.

For the full amicus brief:

https://www.eff.org/document/garcia-v-google-amicus

For more on Garcia v. Google:

https://www.eff.org/cases/garcia-v-google-inc

Contacts:

Nate Cardozo
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   nate@eff.org

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

Related Issues:
April 9, 2014

New EFF Project Tackles Electronic Medical Records and Inherent Risks to Your Privacy

San Francisco - The digitization of medical records is being pitched to the public as a way to revolutionize healthcare. But rapid technological innovation and lagging privacy laws are leaving patients – and their most sensitive information – vulnerable to exposure and abuse, especially in this age of "big data." The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is launching a new medical privacy project today to identify the emerging issues and to give advocates the information they need to fight for stronger protections for patients.

"You assume that the decision about when to disclose medical data – like if you've had an abortion or have a serious heart condition – is yours and yours alone. But that information may be circulated in the process of paying for and providing treatment, or as part of mandated reporting," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "As the American medical establishment moves towards complete digitization of patient records, it's important to take a hard look on what that means for everyone's privacy, and what we should do about it."

EFF's project explores the unsettled areas of medical privacy law and technology, including a primer on how law enforcement might get access to your health information, or how the government might be able to collect it by claiming that it's necessary for national security. There's also a detailed discussion of public health reporting systems and how federal health laws give patients some rights but take others away. EFF will add more topics in the months to come.

"Genetic testing provides a striking example of some of the challenges we face with protecting medical data. Genetic data is uniquely identifiable and can be easily obtained from cells we shed every day," says EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman. "But we have weak laws protecting this highly sensitive data."

EFF's work on the medical privacy project is supported by a grant from the Consumer Privacy Rights Fund of the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

For EFF's full medical privacy project:
https://www.eff.org/issues/medical-privacy

Contacts:

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

Rainey Reitman
   Activism Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   rainey@eff.org

Related Issues:
April 2, 2014

Copyright Law Shouldn't Control How and Where Viewers Watch TV

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed an amicus brief in American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, a case before the United States Supreme Court that could have a lasting impact on broadcast technology and viewers' ability to choose how and when they watch their favorite television programs. Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, and Engine Advocacy all joined the brief, asking the Supreme Court to leave room for innovation in digital technology.

Through Aereo, consumers rent access to a unique TV antenna that is connected to the Internet, allowing them to stream free-to-air shows privately on their connected computers and devices. Perceiving a threat to the television industry, four broadcasting networks sued Aereo, claiming the company violated copyright law by making a "public performance" of the programs without a license. Both a federal trial court and an appellate court ruled in Aereo's favor; EFF is asking the Supreme Court to do the same.

"The networks would like the court to expand copyright law far beyond what Congress intended," EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz said. "The networks' interpretation of the law would strip away the commercial freedom that led to the home stereo, the VCR, all manner of personal audio and video technology and to Internet services of many kinds."

In the new brief, EFF argues that Aereo does not make "public performances," but rather provides a way for individual users to make "private, personal transmissions," which are not covered by U.S. copyright law. In constructing the law this way, Congress intended to leave room for new businesses outside of the media conglomerates to create new innovation in personal video technology.

"The stakes in this case are bigger than just the survival of one startup company," said Stoltz. "Broadcasters want the Supreme Court to give them control over any technology that touches a TV signal. But copyright was never intended to do that."

For the full Supreme Court brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-20

Contact:

Mitch Stoltz
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mitch@eff.org

Related Issues:
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