Tag: Copyright

Chipping Away

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is a rare politician who truly respects civil liberties. Many of them would burn the Bill of Rights in a second if they could. And in places of the world not covered by our Bill of Rights, the powers that be are eternally grateful that they are under no constraints. Almost all parties and philosophies agree on this: you, the citizen, can not be trusted.

Three stories to illustrate this popped up in my feed over the weekend.

First, Senator Leahy –one of the few exceptions to the general rule — has proposed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Video Privacy Protection Act. This would establish, once and for all, that law enforcement can not read your e-mail without a warrant. Most law enforcement agencies have interpreted the old ECPA, which predates e-mail, to not protect it. They often use the excuse that because your mail is stored on someone else’s server, they aren’t really rooting around in your papers.

As you can imagine, some people don’t like this:

But, of course, law enforcement freaked out and it appears that Leahy has backed down, delaying hearings on the bill for now (funny how he really wanted to push through PIPA despite massive public protests, but a few law enforcement people get upset about respecting the 4th Amendment and things get delayed). From Declan McCullagh’s coverage:

The delay comes two days after a phalanx of law enforcement organizations objected to the legislation, asking Leahy to “reconsider acting” on it “until a more comprehensive review of its impact on law enforcement investigations is conducted.” The groups included the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

[….] A person participating in Capitol Hill meetings on this topic told CNET that Justice Department officials have been expressing their displeasure about requiring search warrants. The department is on record as opposing such a requirement: James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, has publicly warned that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations.

Of course it would have “adverse impact” on criminal investigations. So do lots of things — but those are the rules law enforcement plays by in a free society. It’s not built to make law enforcement’s life easy.

Our civil liberties are not conditional on their being convenient to law enforcement. They are intrinsic to us as human beings; given to us by God, if you’re a religious person. Just last week, we saw that Barack Obama — the liberal Law Review Defender of the Little Guy — has tripled warrantless surveillance. And we’re supposed to wait until his ilk have their say before our e-mails our given even the thin protection of a warrant requirement (electronic warrants are rarely refused).

Oh, it gets better. Techdirt again on a former Register of Copyrights:

One of the reasons why we live in such an innovative society is that we’ve (for the most part) enabled a permissionless innovation society — one in which innovators no longer have to go through gatekeepers in order to bring innovation to market. This is a hugely valuable thing, and it’s why we get concerned about laws that further extend permission culture. However, according to the former Register of Copyrights, Ralph Oman, under copyright law, any new technology should have to apply to Congress for approval and a review to make sure they don’t upset the apple cart of copyright, before they’re allowed to exist. I’m not joking. Mr. Oman, who was the Register of Copyright from 1985 to 1993 and was heavily involved in a variety of copyright issues, has filed an amicus brief in the Aereo case (pdf).

Aero, in case you didn’t know, uses antennas to capture over-the-air broadcasts and then streams them to devices. The TV networks are suing, claiming this violates their copyright (cable companies have to pay them fees for over-the-air signals). I’m not entirely sure that the television companies are wrong here. I think it’s likely that they have the law on their side.

But … the idea that technology should have to be pre-cleared is insane. It’s, frankly, a communist idea. I’m not engaging in hyperbole. When my dad was finishing the War College, I helped him research a paper on why the US has such a huge technical edge on the Soviet Union. A big reason, he thought, was their relentless controlling and politicizing of all technology, which crippled innovation in the name of politics. Science and innovation thrive on an open market of ideas. In this case, Oman wants to cripple technology so that monied interests won’t have their toes stepped on.

But, the thing is, we are lucky to live in the United States. Something like Leahy’s bill is likely to eventually pass (although possibly compromised). Oman is a marginal figure. There’s danger, yes. But we always have the option of getting involved and forcing our politicians to respect the Constitution.

Over in Europe, they have no such shield. A EU working group’s memos on keeping terrorism off the internet have been leaked. Check it out:

* “Knowingly providing hyperlinks on websites to terrorist content must be defined by law as illegal just like the terrorist content itself”

* “Governments must disseminate lists of illegal, terrorist websites”

* “The Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002 of 27 May 2002 (art 1.2) should be explained that providing Internet services is included in providing economics instruments to Al Qaeda (and other terrorist persons and organisations designated by the EU) and therefore an illegal act”

* “On Voice over IP services it must be possible to flag users for terrorist activity.”

That might not sound unreasonable to some (it does to me). But keep in mind that who, precisely, is defined as a terrorist organization is highly politicized. For example, our government just decided that Mujahedeen-E-Khalq will no longer be classified as a terrorist organization despite clearly being one. But because they oppose the Iranian regime and have flooded Washington with money and lobbying, we’re going to look the other way.

Yeah, no way that will bite us in the ass.

But see the larger picture. If the EU authorities decides, to use a dopey example, that the Tea Party is a terrorist organization, people could be punished for having an old hyperlink on their blog. This is SOPA applied to terrorism.

It gets worse:

* “Internet companies must allow only real, common names.”

* “Social media companies must allow only real pictures of users.”

Our governments are trying to do this, too, under the duck blind of “anti-bullying” legislation. The real reason is that they don’t like anonymous criticism; some have openly admitted this. I’m sure that criticizing local authorities under your own name will never result in any legal harassment or “three felonies a day” searching for some obscure law you’ve violated.

* “At the European level a browser or operating system based reporting button must be developed.”

* “Governments will start drafting legislation that will make offering… a system [to monitor Internet activity] to Internet users obligatory for browser or operating systems…as a condition of selling their products in this country or the European Union.”

Yes. Because no one could ever get another browser.

The counter-terrorism agency is mad … that their plans have been leaked. In fact, you’ll find that is often the case. The people who wish to destroy our freedom hate it when their real plans and ideas become known.

SOPA showed us that we are powerful when we want to be. But we must remain vigilant. We can not rest on our laurels while Congress, the EU or anyone is in session. Because the freedom-eaters never rest.

Don’t Steal, How Hard Is That?

Obeying the laws of the land is not difficult. Most are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator so that doing what the law requires is pretty effortless. The fear of jail or taking money away from you (in the form of fines) is typically sufficient in garnering compliance. Most habitual offenders count on “the odds” for motivation, they have to get from point A to B, speeding gives them extra time (the reward) and the odds of getting caught (the hammer) are slim. When a speeder or reckless driver blows by me, I don’t get indignant, I just get out of their way, knowing that habitual offenders always get theirs in the end.

The same dynamic works for internet thieves. Pirating tunes or movies is theft, no rationalizing or equivocating, it is stealing plain and simple. The excuse that everyone does it, which is wrong, or that those big rich music companies expect us small timers to skim off the top, that is why they charge so much for CD’s, is mere conscious massaging to mitigate culpability. But soon, more eyes may be watching your internet activities:

Internet users who share pirated movies and music online may soon be getting an unpleasant surprise: Warnings from their cable and phone providers that detail alleged copyright infringement and threaten to slow their Web connections if they don’t stop.

The new so-called Copyright Alert System was created by a coalition of major film studios, record labels and Internet-service providers, who agreed to guidelines for identifying and notifying Web users who violate copyrights.

Among the ISPs that have pledged to implement the new policy are Comcast Corp., AT&T Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.

The cooperation between media and technology companies represents a shift in a relationship that had been a contentious one. Media companies have accused ISPs and computer makers of turning a blind eye when people used technology to make illegal copies of songs and movies. But as illegal movie downloaders started to strain their networks ISPs grew more willing to clamp down.

Figures, ISP’s only care about legalities when their business is being effected. Of course, if the did away with the “all you can eat” concept and went to metered plans like what most phone companies do, then even downloading stolen goods would not be bothersome to them.

On it’s face, this does not appear all the odious to me, and a possible revenue stream for the government (more on that later), but as usual, the devil is in the details. First off, nobody likes being spied on, I like to watch naked midget wrestling but do not care to have that in the public purview. Although if I understand the procedure correctly my proclivities for sans clothed diminutive sized grabbing should still be safe:

Contractors working for the RIAA and its film-industry counterpart, the Motion Picture Association of America, will use software to monitor file-sharing services like BitTorrent. When they find a user offering a copyrighted movie or song for others to download, they will send the user’s ISP a notice that includes the person’s Internet address and other details, including information about the file that’s being offered.

Each time a user is caught offering copyrighted material, that user will get an increasingly strident warning from his ISP. After four such written warnings, the user’s Internet connection might be slowed. Suspected repeat offenders might also be redirected to an educational webpage about copyrights.

Gee, rap my knuckles with a ruler, these guys mean business. For all the moralizing about fighting thievery, this new policy does nothing really to any habitual offender, it offers no real stick, no disruption of service, no reporting to authorities, just a threat of being redirected to an educational web page.

The problem is that casual offenders see nothing happening to habitual offenders so there is no incentive to do the right thing. Having the big media companies suing the offenders is also nuts, too costly, and very rarely would they recoup their legal fees for the process. Since ISP’s will now have a list of those offenders and all the details (dates, times, titles of pirated movies, and bandwidth usage) how about some regulatory arm of whatever government agency that monitors this stuff sending the offenders a ticket in the mail, say for a hundred bucks, for theft of proprietary property. That would get people’s attention. Much like what cities do in installing red light cameras at busy intersections in an attempt to generate revenue (not that I’m for this practice, mind you, but it does happen). All this talk about the deficit and the need to bring in more money, fine those people. They know they should not be doing it, let’s bring some consequences into the mix.

So, is this more government intrusion that everyone rails about? Is this Copyright Alert System a good or bad idea? What about bringing some justice to those that thieve proprietary property over the internet, should anything happen to them? I know less about the intricacies of the internet and how it works then most but clearly understand that just because you can do something does mean that you should or that there are not legal ramifications for that act.