Supreme Court Rules it is Legal to Sell Imported Textbooks

The Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions last week that could have a significant impact on digital publishing and copyrighted products. The first ruling makes it potentially easier to import and sell textbooks from abroad, following a lawsuit involving a college student who was importing cheaper textbooks and selling them for a profit. The second decision makes it more difficult for plaintiffs in class-action suits to stay out of federal court. Continue reading Supreme Court Rules it is Legal to Sell Imported Textbooks

Will Cablevision Suit Against Viacom Impact TV Bundling?

Cablevision Systems sued Viacom this week, alleging antitrust violations and representing simmering tensions within the television industry about how TV channels are packaged and priced. The pay TV distributor alleges that Viacom forced it to carry and pay for more than a dozen less popular channels for the right to carry its more popular networks including Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central. Continue reading Will Cablevision Suit Against Viacom Impact TV Bundling?

Do Employees Have the Right to Discuss Work on Social Media?

Employees sometimes take to Facebook and Twitter to discuss work-related matters — and employers usually don’t like that. But according to federal regulators, employers don’t have a say in the matter. In fact, regulators are passing down orders indicating employers have to scale back on policies that limit what their workers can say online. Continue reading Do Employees Have the Right to Discuss Work on Social Media?

Study Shines Light On How Americans Feel About File Sharing

Americans oppose the use of disconnection and rate-limiting as penalties for illegal file sharing, according to a new survey from Columbia University research center, the American Assembly. With the support of Google, researchers Joe Karaganis and Lennart Renkema commissioned a public opinion survey about copyright enforcement attitudes and how consumers obtain media. The results may surprise you. Continue reading Study Shines Light On How Americans Feel About File Sharing

Year in Review: Top Tech Policy Stories of 2012

From Kim Dotcom and the rise of patent troll lawsuits to Apple v. Samsung and the public outcry against SOPA/PIPA, 2012 was a dramatic year in terms of copyright law, tech-related legislation and Internet policy. Response to the SOPA/PIPA bills in January helped set the tone as the debate in Washington raged, and consumers and companies took to the Internet in protest. At one point, politicians were flooded with a record eight million e-mails from regular Internet users in just a few days. So what were the top tech policy stories for 2012 — and how will they impact us moving forward? Continue reading Year in Review: Top Tech Policy Stories of 2012

Is Carrier IQ, Samsung and HTC Violating the Federal Wiretap Act?

  • After an Android security researcher discovered that CarrierIQ was capable of collecting personal information from SMS, emails, photos, keystrokes and URLs, the company has been the target of severe criticism.
  • Now, CarrierIQ faces a class action lawsuit — as do Samsung and HTC — for violating the Federal Wiretap Act.
  • Plaintiffs are demanding millions of dollars in penalties paid to users with the logging software on their devices.
  • The company vehemently denies the charges, restating that the software is used solely to help wireless operators provide optimal service by logging information concerning dropped calls and failed messages.
  • TechCrunch notes that no carriers face charges as of yet, but are likely to in the near future.

Editorials Respond to Proposed Legislation Regarding Online Piracy

  • According to an editorial in The New York Times, the House’s proposed Stop Online Piracy Act is too broad as it has provisions to cut off payments from providers such as Visa and ad networks like Google simply by filing a notice of infringement.
  • While the legislation is aimed at foreign websites like Pirate Bay, it could also be used against domestic websites covered by the Digital Milennium Copyright Act that has safe harbor provisions.
  • The editorial asserts that safe harbor provisions should be made available to foreign websites that abide by the DMCA. And a court order should be required before action is taken.
  • A related Los Angeles Times editorial suggests that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act both go to extremes in an effort to protect intellectual property.
  • The legislation could force companies to monitor their users’ behavior “turning them into a private security force for copyright and trademark owners.”
  • Infringement on popular sites like Facebook, Dropbox and YouTube are certainly opening them up to action in spite of safe harbor provisions now in force. The result would be less innovation to create the next YouTube and would have a potentially chilling effect on free speech.

Surveillance Catalog: Government Uses New Monitoring Techniques

  • Take a look at the toolkit for governments to legally monitor what people are doing on the Web. It’s an impressive catalog that includes hacking, intercept, data analysis, Web scraping and anonymity products. It makes one aware that nothing is safe from surveillance.
  • Hacking tools use techniques commonly used in malware.
  • Intercept tools can filter all traffic from the Internet backbone and determine which to forward to law enforcement.
  • Data analysis sorts, stores and analyzes information from a variety of sources including wired and wireless networks, surveillance, domestic and foreign agencies, tactical operations, etc. to build a complete profile of suspects or identify patterns across data sets.
  • Web scraping gathers and analyzes data from publicly available sources.
  • Anonymity hides the identity of investigators.
  • If governments are already using these tools, how long will it be before anyone can obtain them? WIll this imperil the confidence people have online?

Online Piracy: Controversial House Bill Proposed to Block Pirate Sites

  • The Stop Online Piracy Act was introduced in the House of Representatives last week.
  • “While sites that host and distribute pirated content continue to operate around the world, members of the House of Representatives are seeking a new legal method to shutting down access to copyrighted content,” reports Digital Trends.
  • The proposed bill would provide the U.S. Attorney General with the power to order search engines and ISPs to block sites that feature pirated content.
  • The Act is the House’s version of the PROTECT-IP Act introduced in the Senate that if passed, would enable the government or courts to monitor users and remove infringing websites from the global network, even without hearings.
  • Critics have used labels such as the “Internet Death Penalty” and “Great Firewall of America” to describe the proposal.
  • “The bottom line is that if it passes and becomes law, the new act would give the government and copyright holders a giant stick — if not an automatic weapon — with which to pursue websites and services they believe are infringing on their content,” suggests GigaOM. “That might make for the kind of Internet that media and entertainment conglomerates would prefer, but it would clearly be a much diminished version of the Internet we take for granted.”

DRM Effectiveness: Is Piracy a Pricing Issue or a Service Issue?

  • Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell has reiterated his take on the issue of piracy. Valve is the creator of game platform Steam that distributes games to a global community of 35 million players.
  • Newell believes that DRM does not work and pirates are not necessarily always seeking free content.
  • “One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue,” he says. “The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates.”
  • “Most games available on Steam are easily found in pirated form on the torrent sites,” writes ETCentric contributor Nick Nero. “Even if you buy the game, many users download the torrent because most DRM requires the disc to be present which slows down the game startup and level load/access times.”
  • “What keeps me as a Steam customer is their cloud service,” adds Nick. “I can download any of my games to another PC, I can backup my games to encrypted physical media, my game saves are stored in the cloud, and I can easily find my friends for mulitplayer. The service layer is what brings in the customers.”

Privacy Watchdog Groups Ask the FTC to Investigate Facebook Features

  • An association of privacy groups, led by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, has asked for a federal investigation into Facebook features that broadcast new information about users. The new partnerships with media platforms allow Facebook to acquire extensive data about user behavior.
  • “That information could also be made available to marketing companies for use in focusing advertisements, and potentially to government agencies interested in tracking people’s behavior,” suggests The New York Times.
  • In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, privacy advocates wrote, “frictionless sharing creates several privacy and security problems for users.”
  • Facebook responded by explaining its users have more control than what is being suggested. “Some groups believe people shouldn’t have the option to easily share the songs they are listening to or other content with their friends,” company spokesman Andrew Noyes communicated via e-mail. “We couldn’t disagree more and have built a system that people can choose to use, and we hope people will give it a try. If not, they can simply continue listening and reading as they always have.”
  • According to the article, “the FTC does not comment on whether it is investigating any company unless it has some results to release.”

Yelp CEO Speaks Out on Google Monopoly: We Had No Choice

  • This week’s Senate hearings on “The Power of Google: Serving Customers or Threatening Competition?” barely scratched the surface, suggests CNNMoney.
  • “What Google did to Apple — copying Apple’s touchscreen operating system and offering it to Apple’s competitors for free — never came up,” indicates the article. “Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) used much of their time to suck up to Google chairman Eric Schmidt, practically begging him to bring Google’s fiber-to-the-home experiment to their states.”
  • However, testimony from Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, was compelling, especially in regards to his take on the search giant’s apparent new mission.
  • “Let’s be clear. Google is no longer in the business of sending users to the best sources of information on the Web,” explained Stoppelman. “It now hopes to become a destination site itself for one vertical market after another, including news, shopping, travel, and now, local business reviews. It would be one thing if these efforts were conducted on a level playing field, but the reality is they’re not.”
  • “The experience in my industry is telling,” he added. “Google forces review websites to provide their content for free to benefit Google’s own competing product, not consumers. Google then gives its own product preferential treatment in Google search results.”
  • Stoppelman suggested the company’s actions were essentially part of an ultimatum: “Google first began taking our content without permission a year ago. Despite public and private protests, Google gave the ultimatum that only a monopolist can give: In order to appear in Web search, you must allow us to use your content to compete against you. As everyone in this room knows, not being in Google is equivalent to not existing on the Internet. We had no choice.”

Report: Is Innovation being Stifled by Frivolous Lawsuits of Patent Trolls?

  • Looking at a database of over 1,600 patent troll lawsuits compiled by Patent Freedom, a team of Boston University researchers estimate that these suits have cost companies some $500 billion since 1990. These costs include not only legal fees and payouts to plaintiffs, but indirect costs such as employee distraction, legal uncertainty, and the need to redesign or drop key products.
  • The authors of the study also estimate that the original inventors received less than 10 percent of the “defendant’s lost wealth.”
  • Additionally, they found that software patents accounted for approximately 62 percent of the lawsuits (while a mere two percent of suits were related to drug or chemical patents, and only six percent involved mechanical patents).
  • The article concludes that the patent system is becoming a disincentive to innovation. “These results are important because the patent system is supposed to reward companies who invest in innovation,” suggests Ars Technica. “Yet thanks to the growing blizzard of frivolous patent lawsuits against technology companies, the patent system is actually becoming a net disincentive to innovation, especially software. We hope Congress and the Supreme Court are paying attention.”

More Piracy News: Grand Jury Indicts Five in Illegal Movie Download Service

  • A federal grand jury has returned indictments against five people associated with the website. The indictments include one count of conspiracy and five copyright infringement counts.
  • The individuals were charged with engaging in illegal downloads of Hollywood movies following investigations conducted by several federal agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security and Justice.
  • “From February 2008 until June 2010, allegedly offered users the ability to illegally download infringing copies of copyright-protected movies and television programs,” reports Home Media Magazine. “Many of the movies offered on the website still were playing in theaters, while others had not yet been released.”
  • According to the article, the site allegedly offered access to copyrighted movies and TV shows for free, with increased access to a greater content selection for users who would donate at least $25. In addition to “donations,” the website generated revenue through advertising.
  • “The action today marks one of the first such prosecutions of an illegal download and streaming site — indeed, one of the most notorious infringing sites on the Internet until it was shut down by law enforcement,” said Mike Robinson, EVP of content protection and chief of operations with the MPAA.

Darwin Award: How the FBI Discovered an Actor Uploading Movie Screeners

  • In April, the FBI raided the apartment of Screen Actors Guild member Wes DeSoto who was suspected of uploading Hollywood pre-release screeners to The Pirate Bay.
  • DeSoto had reportedly uploaded torrents including “The King’s Speech,” “Rabbit Hole,” “127 Hours,” “The Fighter” and “Black Swan” (the actor had access to DVD-quality screeners via the use of special codes on iTunes).
  • According to reports, DeSoto has now agreed to plead guilty to breaching the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 (for “Black Swan”) and possibly faces three years in prison.
  • The actor’s IP address was apparently discovered by Deluxe Webwatch using Google after DeSoto responded to criticism in The Pirate Bay’s comments section. According to Torrent Freak: “After several users questioned the authenticity of the file, mf34inc weighed in with ‘SAG now send out iTunes download codes for screeners’ and the utterly priceless ‘I’m a SAG member and thought i’d share these.'”
  • The article describes in detail how “an almost unbelievable series of amateurish mistakes” helped the FBI work its way from Deluxe Webwatch’s initial discovery to DeSoto’s apartment.

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