Category Archives: Law

Is CNN Calling For Curbs On Free Speech?



On July 23, 2010, CNN anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed on air the idea that bloggers should be somehow “held accountable” or perhaps regulated in some way. Here’s the video of that exchange.

It’s no secret that CNN and other so-called mainstream media outlets, both broadcast and print, have had for some time now an ongoing loss of viewers and readers. A number of traditional journalists from time to time have had and expressed an almost open hostility towards bloggers and the Internet. They perceive the Internet as a threat to their business models, and their vaunted self-appointed job as information “gatekeepers.”

If you look back over the past few years, almost every major story, particularly scandal stories, originated first on blogs. In many cases the mainstream media were dragged kicking and screaming into reporting stories. The clearly forged National Guard documents that ultimately ended up forcing CBS to fire evening news anchor Dan Rather comes to mind from a few years ago. Bloggers quickly picked up on the fact that the supposed National Guard documents had been typed up in the default template for Microsoft Word and then ran through a fax and/or copy machine a number of times to make the documents look dirty and/or old. The trouble was, Microsoft Word didn’t exist in 1973. If it weren’t for bloggers, this story would have likely never come to public light, and what is clearly a forgery and a made-up story would have passed into the public mind as the truth.

Should free speech be curbed? Should bloggers somehow be licensed or officially regulated in what is purportedly a free country? Should we be forced to get our news from “professional” or even “licensed” journalists?


Secret Trade Agreement To Criminalise Copyright Infringement



According to La Quadrature du Net and based on both official and  leaked documents, secret trade negotiations for ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) by the EU Presidency includes negotiating criminal penalties for counterfeiters and copyright-infringers, bypassing the normal legislative system and significantly increasing the scope of “trade agreements”.

My understanding is that within the UK counterfeiting goods and copyright infringment are generally considered to be civil offences and imprisonment is not normally an option (cf OiNK).  However, criminal offences can be punished by imprisonment.  Of course, I’m not a lawyer and I’ve no idea what other countries do.

To be fair, the criminal part of the legislation is clearly aimed at large scale copying of goods and films as it mentions “commercial scale” in a number of places (article 2.14).  There’s a certain part of me that says criminal gangs and organisations need to be dealt with by criminal penalties which is arguably a good thing.

However, this isn’t the point.  ACTA is a trade agreement and should not be dictating legal penalties.  The ACTA agreement is negotiated between the US, EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland, so it’s impact will be widespread and is likely to be adopted into law with little or no debate from countries’ elected representatives.  While we might agree with criminal penalties for criminal gangs, what will it be next time?  Prison for file-sharing teenagers?

Fortunately, the UK Government does appear to have come out against the change in the legislation.  In an interview for ComputerActive, a spokesman for the UK’s Intellectual Property Office said, “These are not appropriate penalties for copyright infringement.  Acta should not introduce new intellectual property laws or offences. Instead, it should provide a framework to better enforce existing laws.  The UK is opposed to the creation of new criminal offences at UK or EU level through Acta.”

The latest round of ACTA negotiation finished last week in Lucerne, Switzerland so further news may be forthcoming.


Broadband Basic Right In Finland



From the beginning of July, a 1 Mbit/s Internet connection will become a universal service in Finland.  Simply, this means that anyone who wants an Internet connection must be provided with one at a reasonable price by one of the 26 telecom operators.

This makes Finland the first country in the world to make Internet access a basic right and it’s interesting to compare this with the UK and France which have both threatened to cut-off the connections of persistent copyright infringers.

From a technical perspective, it’s not a big deal.  There’s already about 96% connection penetration in the country already and this means that there are only about 4000 properties that would need to be connected to achieve full penetration.

Personally, I think this is great step forwards.  1 Mbit/s isn’t super fast but it’s adequate and over time technology and commercial pressure will up the data rate.  However, the key point is that it’s a universal service or basic right enshrined in law, which means that it can’t easily be taken away.

There’s additional coverage over at the BBC.


Defamation Bill Introduced To UK Parliament



Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament. Photographed by Deryc Sands.

Lord Lester has introduced a Defamation Bill to the UK Parliament in order to clarify aspects of the the law regarding libel and slander.  One of its intents appears to be to clear up the current gray area for ISPs and forum owners with regard to defamatory postings and their responsibilities.

(This has been brought as a private member’s bill, which means that it’s not officially part of the Government’s legislative programme although it is seen as supportive.  The Bill will receive its second reading on 9th July which strangely is the first opportunity for the Bill to be debated and there’s a long way to go after that. You can read about the British legislative process here.)

Moving onto the geeky stuff, the Bill specifically refers to material stored “by electronic means” although any defence that the existing law didn’t cover the Internet has long been dismissed.

However,  the Bill does propose that there is a defence against defamatory action for “facilitators” provided that they remove the offending material with 14 days of being notified in writing.  A “facilitator” is considered to be someone concerned with “storage or transmission…of the content…and has no other influence or control”.  This is clearly aimed at ISPs, forum owners or any website that invites comments.  I would imagine it would also cover owners of websites that automatically show feeds from other sites.

On the other hand, “primary publishers” are authors or editors.  Interestingly an editor is defined as having “responsibility…for the decision to publish”.  This does raise one interesting question….if you are moderator and you approve a post which turns out to be libellous, it would appear that you may be classed as a primary publisher rather than a facilitator.  Hmm.

Other good points are that it appears that reports on scientific conferences will be protected (providing that they are “fair and accurate”) and the introduction of a “single publication” rule.  This means is that regardless of reprints or republications, the date of first publication is used for actions which can only happen once.  From an IT perspective, this means that ten year-old material downloaded today cannot create a fresh action (which is currently the case, apparently).

There’s some more comment courtesy of The Guardian newspaper, here and here.  And by the way, I’m not a lawyer.


I Hate Rumors, Yet I Hate Thieves Even More



*NOTE* Upon publishing this piece, another rumor had sprung up that Gizmodo paid $10,000 to gain access to the next generation iPhone.


There is one thing that really gets my goat when I read the news section – The inundation of  “Rumors”. One person says the right words on the right blog and everyone jumps on; Next thing you know, multiple articles on something that no-one has confirmation on.

With this weekend’s speculation took a new level as physical evidence of a certain Apple item was found. Instead of taking a couple pictures and reporting the item found, the device was dismantled and reviewed, then returned. We look at this as if it should be considered a criminal act, that is unless Apple takes full advantage of the rumors that happen…

Let’s review this weekend’s news – Someone was in a bar in California and all of a sudden looks down. They see someone else’s phone in a iPhone 3G phone case. Instead of taking that phone over to the bartender or police officer, they decide to open it up and see if they can rummage through to find a name. What they found was an iPhone that looked a little different than the current models. Could it be the next iPhone?

Well, that person then took the phone and somehow (since we don’t know the actual person that found it) Gizmodo got their hands on it and decided to disassemble the device. So would that be against the law to do?

Most people decide to use the “Finders, keepers – Losers, weepers” analogy. However, California has a statute on lost and unclaimed property. You can read the Civil Code Section 2080-2080.10 at Justica.com. Let’s take a look at the code and see how this applies.

The Civil Code:

Of course, before we move forward, I have to say I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I can only interpret the codes as best as possible. I have called a few law offices to try and get some clarification, but the understanding is this: a Civil Code is not a law, but can result in legal action of some kind. Now, with that said:

2080. Any person who finds a thing lost is not bound to take charge of it, unless the person is otherwise required to do so by contract or law, but when the person does take charge of it he or she is thenceforward a depositary for the owner, with the rights and obligations of a depositary for hire. Any person or any public or private entity that finds and takes possession of any money, goods, things in action, or other personal property, or saves any domestic animal from harm, neglect, drowning, or starvation, shall, within a reasonable time, inform the owner, if known, and make restitution
without compensation, except a reasonable charge for saving and taking care of the property. Any person who takes possession of a live domestic animal shall provide for humane treatment of the animal.

What does that mean? Well, simply put, you must make an effort to find it’s owner. You should not expect any compensation other than any charges you incur for taking care of the item. For example: If it was a puppy you found, you should be compensated if you bought dog food, a collar or any other item that keeps the dog safe while you look for the owner.

Keep in mind the most likely owner of this device is Apple. Let’s continue:

2080.1. (a) If the owner is unknown or has not claimed the property, the person saving or finding the property shall, if the property is of the value of one hundred dollars ($100) or more, within a reasonable time turn the property over to the police department of the city or city and county, if found therein, or to the sheriff’s department of the county if found outside of city limits, and shall make an affidavit, stating when and where he or she found or saved the property, particularly describing it. If the property was saved, the affidavit shall state:

  1. From what and how it was saved.
  2. Whether the owner of the property is known to the affiant.
  3. That the affiant has not secreted, withheld, or disposed of any part of the property.
    1. The police department or the sheriff’s department shall notify the owner, if his or her identity is reasonably ascertainable, that it possesses the property and where it may be claimed. The police department or sheriff’s department may require payment by the owner of a reasonable charge to defray costs of storage and care of the property.

Well that means if the property is over $100, you need to turn it over to the police within a reasonable amount of time. They will then hold said item for a 90 day period as they find the owner.  If you know who the owner is, you should disclose that.  The police would then begin the search. In 2080.3, it says if the value is over $250, the police would then increase the search by placing an ad in the paper. That is, unless they do know who the item belongs to. That, once again, would be Apple.

Disassembly:

So instead of taking this device to the proper authorities, it was given to Gizmodo, who decided to disassemble and research it. They said so here:

We’re as skeptical—if not more—than all of you. We get false tips all the time. But after playing with it for about a week—the overall quality feels exactly like a finished final Apple phone—and disassembling this unit, there is so much evidence stacked in its favor, that there’s very little possibility that it’s a fake.

They go on to say they have been contacted by Apple and that the company wants the device back. Of course, we don’t know if that happened before or after Gizmodo took the week to disassemble and review the item. I would venture a guess that it was after the fact, otherwise, the phone would be retrieved within a few hours and we would have seen pictures only. Even if  the iPhone was a fake –  That would be for Apple to determine, not Gizmodo.

Profiting by Loss:

While it’s not direct profit, Engadget (who first posted pictures) and Gizmodo are apparently profiting on this device. Not by reward, but by reporting. Ad revenues from users coming on the site to look at the supposed next gen iPhone.

The Rumor Mill as News

Of course, this brought the Apple rumor mill a buzzing once again. Not as bad as the iPad, but still just as annoying. Google news has this article on their top news stories of the day.

Fact: I scan the news everyday looking for items to talk about. I don’t think I’ve seen a day in the last 6 months where an Apple rumor has not been in the top news stories. Why is that? Do we not have good news to talk about?

If you look at the Top stories of the Nation, U.S. or Local, rumors are not present – especially not every day for over 6 months. It seems that the only place the rumor mill really churns is on the Tech side. That is a trend that needs to stop.

Does Apple push the Rumor Mill?

When the iPad rumor really hit in December, Apple stock went up to $209 a share – $6.94 in one day. Today it sits at $243 – Down from Friday’s $251 / share price. This new rumor could push up Apple – and other stocks. For instance, if Gizmodo was to have thrown down a “4G” word in their article (which they did not, but other sites like PCWorld did), I would venture a guess to see Sprint get a big boost in the market.

Let’s speculate for a second. What if, instead of “finding” the new iPhone, an Apple exec sat in a bar with someone and said “Here is the new prototype. Make sure you get this into a reporter’s hands.” They then set the wheels rolling for new anticipation of the next big Apple device.

While that statement cannot be confirmed or denied, the end result is the same – Apple continues to top the Tech news with rumors.

When the Rumors Stop, will Apple come tumbling down?

A very good question to ponder. In the last 5 years, it seems Apple does have advantage when it comes to making rumors become news. We hear of rumors from other tech companies, but no one has had staying power than Apple has. So if Apple cannot spin a good rumor for a product, could we see the company start to take a major dive?

The Good Rumors with the Bad

Some of those rumors in the past never came to fruition. Remember the clamshell iPhone? How about the iPhone mini rumors – They even had a story where China was making mini phone cases in anticipation. I wonder if that company is still in existence…

The iPad rumor actually was around for over a year before Steve Jobs showed it off to the public. It didn’t really ramp up until December of 2009, where more confirmations could be made. However, if January 27 was to have come and gone without an iPad announced, we could have seen a different outcome – One where investors would be really upset.

While my humble opinion is that I don’t care for the rumor mill, it seems to drive the tech industry. Whereas someone can take another’s intellectual property and rip it apart before returning it, then they should face consequences to said actions. Google should stop allowing these rumors in their news feeds (unless they turn into actual news, example: If Gizmodo was charged for dismantling the device they found).

Alas, rumors – Especially Apple rumors – will continue. People will continue to “obtain” not-yet released items and report them. We will read and discuss. Rinse and repeat.


British Schizophrenic Jailed for Encryption



Britain has some of the most draconian security laws of the “free” world.  Many of these laws are brought in under the guise of fighting terrorism and paedophiles (which are always guaranteed vote winners) and of course, if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to worry about.

Unless you’re an schizophrenic amateur scientist with a distrust of the authorities and you refuse to hand over the encryption keys (passwords) to your USB memory sticks.   That’ll cost you an initial 13 months in jail followed by detention in a secure mental unit at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Ok, so the case is slightly more complex but the heart of the matter is that this person had done nothing wrong before he was detained by police returning to the UK from France on suspicion of terrorism because he had a model rocket, though the rocket was without its explosive motor.  From that point on, it was a downward spiral.

And how many terrorists and paedophiles have been sent to prison using the same law.  Zero.

The whole sorry tale is at The Register.


Whose Book is it Anyway



Have you looked at your  Amazon  Kindle recently, well if you purchased the book 1984 by Orwell on it, it’s no longer there. That is right, Amazon removed it remotely at the bequest of the publisher. This was first reported by David Pogue of the NY Times in his article  Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others.  This isn’t a book that people downloaded illegally from bittorent, no they purchased it on the Amazon site legally.  It seems that the publisher of the book decided that they didn’t want to be on the Kindle anymore, so Amazon removed all books by that publisher from the Kindle.  Including those that Kindle owners had already purchased.  Amazon did refund the money, but that is really not the point.    If it had happen to me I would feel like I had been violated and my house had been broken into.  I think that Amazon is too willing to give into the publishers, and that this will hurt them in the long run.

The question this brings up is who really owns an electronic book or any book for that matter.   Many authors and publishers would say that they own the rights to their works,  and that they should decide what the consumer can and can’t do with their works.   Most consumer on the other hand believe that once they buy a book it is theirs to do as they please. They can lend it to a friend, sell it at a used book store, give it to charity etc.  However if you brought that same book on a Kindle, there  is no mechanism to lend it to a friend or to sell it. There is certainly no reason technologically speaking that sharing couldn’t be allowed. The reason it is not is that the publisher don’t want it, they are afraid of loosing money and control. Most people accept this as a limitation of the Kindle, and are willing to live with it.  However, I  doubt  that most consumer, think that the publisher’s right should extend to them having the right to remove a book that the consumer brought legally.  Whether the publisher has their work on the Kindle is up to them, just as they have the right choose which brick and mortar bookstore they sell it  at.   Therefore they have the right to remove their books  from the Kindle  store just as they would from a brick and mortar store.   That is where  their rights should end though, they should not have the right to take that book from me once I brought it. Whether I purchased the book electronically or  in the real world.   However, the rights of consumers, publishers, and authors have not been fully determined in the digital age.   It may take years  for the law to catchup with the technology.  In the mean time though it maybe a good idea to keep that real world copy of your favorite book, just in case.  Clearly this will not be the last time a situation like this comes up.

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