Aereo: “Our Work is Not Done”

Aereo logoBy now, you have probably heard about the Supreme Court’s decision on the case called American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo. In short, the Justices voted 6 to 3 in favor of the broadcast industry. Justice Breyer’s opinion was supported by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Kagen, Kennedy, and Sotomayor. The Justices who dissented were Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas.

Within seconds after the decision was revealed, rage swept across the internet. The “Court of Public Opinion” clearly feels that the SCOTUS decision stinks. Those hoped to finally being able to “cut the cord” and get rid of their cable bill forever are not going to see that happen through Aereo right now.

In plain English, this is a case about copyright (at least, that’s how SCOTUS sees it). The basic idea is that if you make a work – such as a television show – you can get a copyright. No one else is allowed to “publicly preform” that work unless they pay you. Aereo doesn’t pay the copyright owners, so SCOTUS decided that what Aereo was providing was illegal.

The Justices did not choose to make a decision about some related, and important, concepts. They didn’t specify how the copyright laws apply to services that aren’t exactly like the cable companies. They felt that their decision regarding Aereo did not call into question of the legality regarding cloud computing. Personally, I think that Justices’ lack of clarifying about these concepts is going to lead to more lawsuits as companies fight about where the real boundary is between legal and illegal.

Aereo released a statement from CEO and Founder Chet Kanojia regarding the SCOTUS decision. Here are some key points from the statement:

“…Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States. And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those wh can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.”

“…We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done. We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”

Apple Offers iTunes Credits to Parents after Litigation

Apple LogoThere are so many apps out there that are intended to attract children. It is easy to see why parents are hesitant to let their children go ahead and buy whatever apps they like – especially if those apps allow for in-game purchases (using real money). What if your child does it without your permission?

A class-action lawsuit was filed in 2011 against Apple by 5 parents. The parents were upset because their children were able to purchase and download apps from Apple’s online store on the parent’s accounts without the parent’s knowledge or permission.

Earlier this year, Apple agreed to a settlement of this class-action lawsuit. It will end up costing Apple around $100 million. Apple has agreed to provide around 23 million affected customers with a $5.00 iTunes store credit.

Have your kids been downloading things from Apple that you didn’t give them permission to? You might want to read over the details of the settlement to see if you are eligible.

The settlement is specifically about apps or in-app purchases of game currency that were purchased by a minor without the parent’s knowledge or permission in the 45 days prior to May 2, 2013. If you qualify, you must file an online claim by January 13, 2014.

The settlement is only including qualified apps This means all apps from the App Store in the games category with an age rating of 4+, 9+, or 12+ that offer in-app purchases of consumable game currency.

Freedom of Speech in the UK

Law GavelIn the latest podcast, Todd rightly asks about the apparent lack of freedom of speech on social media in the UK. Undoubtedly, it’s a complex issue but it is becoming increasingly clear that the right to free speech is under threat here in Britain. In this post, I’ll look at some of the issues, but to start with, I am not a lawyer (thank goodness) and this doesn’t constitute legal advice.

Unlike the USA, the UK does not have a written constitution guaranteeing rights. The closest the Britain gets to this is the Human Rights Act (1998) which only came into force in 2000. The Human Rights Act is the embodiment in UK law of the European Convention on Human Rights (pdf).  The ECHR’s Article 10 provides the right to freedom of expression but as will be noted from part 2 of the article below, there are plenty of possible exceptions. I’ve embolden the part that is relevant to the discussion here.

“The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Obviously, the UK police do not pro-actively monitor social media looking for offensive posts. A complaint has to be received by the police based on someone taking offence at a posting on social media. The UK law has increasingly moved away from “offence intended” to “offence taken”. This was primarily done to increase the power of law in areas of discrimination, where people could avoid convictions by claiming that sexually or racially offensive language wasn’t intended in the way it was taken. Now the law supported those who were offended by the sexual or racial innuendo, regardless of intention. However, the “offence taken” law has grown out of its discriminatory roots to take hold in almost any area of offence.

Much as the compensation culture has grown, a similar one has arisen that “bad things” are always someone else’s fault and they have to pay. Although it started with physical hurt, this has gradually extended to psychological hurt and finally simple feelings. Instead of “sticks and stones will break my bones”, it’s “I’m going to tell on you.”

Finally, both the police and the legal system have increasingly taken a view of what’s legal and illegal rather than what is right and wrong. Consequently, instead of the police looking at the social media post with a bit of common sense and telling the complainant to grow-up, the police are now obliged to follow procedure and take up the complaint.

Overall, these changes in the law and approaches to policing now mean that abusive and offensive comments are taken much more seriously than before.

Let’s take a look at three cases that show the variety of circumstances.

The first tweet to come to widespread notice was Paul Chamber’s tweet in response to his local airport being shut because of snow. “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your (expletive deleted) together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” He was initially found guilty in May 2010 of sending a “menacing electronic communication” but fortunately eventually won his challenge in July of this year. The whole incident was farcical and made the law look stupid.

The second isn’t a tweet but a T-shirt worn in response to the shooting of two police officers that said, “One less pig perfect justice”, pig being an abusive slang term of the police. Barry Thew was jailed for four months for this, but many would have seen this as political commentary, particularly as it was about to be revealed that the police covered up their incompetence in a sporting disaster in which 96 people died by disgracefully blaming football fans killed and injured in the incident.

And finally, Britain has been embroiled in child sex abuse scandal involving a well-loved (but now dead) BBC TV personality. In the wake of this, a living person was named on Twitter as being a paedophile when he was wholly innocent and completely blameless. He’s now suing everyone who repeated the lie unless they apologise.

As can be seen, it’s a complex issue with both the freedom of speech under threat and the rights of others needing to be protected. The Crown Prosecution Service has recognised that there is potentially a problem and is intending to consult with the legal profession and social media companies. The Director of Pubic Prosecution, Keir Starmer, QC, has said that “People have the right to be offensive, they have the right to be insulting, and that has to be protected.

In a recent statement about another tweeting case, the DPP said, “Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors but also by others including the police, the courts and service providers. The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.

There’s hope yet.

Courtroom Gavel photograph courtesy of Bigstock.

Ohio Attorney Found Guilty of Creating Digitally Altered Images for Use in Court

An Ohio attorney and former state prosecutor who describes himself as a “computer expert” has been found guilty of creating fake child pornography images in an effort to defend people accused of child pornography in two separate court cases.

Dean Boland purchased two stock images and digitally altered them to appear sexually explicit.  On Friday the Sixth Circuit Court found Boland guilty after the FBI became aware of him and began investigating his court use of the faked, explicit images.  Boland had used the images to argue two cases in Ohio and Oklahoma, saying that it was “impossible for a person who did not participate in the creation of the image to know [the child is] an actual minor.”

In 2007, the parents of the children in question became aware of Boland’s activity and filed civil suits against him.  The Sixth Circuit Court found that he put “six-year-old Jane Doe’s face onto the body of a nude woman performing sexual acts with two men.”

The federal judge has awarded the families $300,000 in damages after Boland argued that he was immune from any civil law suits because he had only created the images for use in court, never distributed them beyond the court room, and was protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of expression provision.  The First Amendment actually doesn’t protect individuals from the use of obscene speech.

Frankly, I can’t believe this case dragged out as long as it did, given the cut-and-dry look of it.  Boland could have easily used  altered images of adults or virtual images, both of which would have fit within the law, but he instead chose to alter images of real children and now he has paid the price for his actions.

Image: Court Room by BigStock

Apple, Samsung and a Third Way for Patents

Samsung LogoWhen I heard the verdict on the Apple v. Samsung case, I was angry. Angry with Samsung for copying, angry with Apple for suing, angry with jurors for naivety, angry with the legal system for letting itself be a pawn. Over the weekend, I’ve mellowed a little but I’m still concerned about the impact it will have on consumers.

Apple is not a great first inventor. It didn’t invent the PC, the GUI, the digital music player, the smartphone or the tablet: I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to educate themselves as to who did. Apple is great at design, marketing, timing and extracting value from suppliers, partners and customers. Absolutely no doubts there and they have the bank balance to prove it.

Android LogoThe word on the street was that Apple was looking for a $30 licensing fee to cover the use of the patents. As a consumer, I think that’s a rip off when compared to the overall price of the device. None of those patents are intrinsic to the device and I would happily have a phone or tablet that doesn’t have those features. Multitouch and pinch-to-zoom is over-rated generally, and as for the bounce-back, it’s a waste of CPU cycles.

Obviously there are two possible outcomes from an Android perspective. Either the patents are circumvented and Android users get an arguably lesser experience or the manufacturers stump up the licensing fees.

But there is a third way…Wouldn’t it be great if, as an Android consumer, one could choose whether to avail of certain patents or not? You could accept the Apple licensing and pay the extra $30 or else decline and get the non-infringing version. How brilliant would that be and it would let the market decide which patents are valuable and which aren’t.

Of course, the chances of it happening are slim but remember Google and Samsung, you read it here first.

Apple Fires First Salvo Back at the DOJ Ebook Antitrust Suit

DOJThis week Apple responded to the DOJ e-book antitrust charge by throwing down the gauntlet. Basically they ripped apart each and every one of the DOJ charges against Apple.  Their first shot was directed against the DOJ contention that before Apple entered the e-book market it was a market with a “robust price competition”. Apple was quick to point out in their response that at the time Apple entered the market Amazon sold 90 percent of all e-books. This, according to Apple clearly shows there was no pricing competition in the e-book market prior to their entry.

Apple had no problem throwing the publishers under the bus when they stated if there was any conspiracy by the publishers, Apple had nothing to do with it and in fact had no knowledge of it. Apple said that the DOJ is concentrating too much on the increase in price and does not give enough credit for the growth in the number of e-book titles, and the types of e-books that are now available since Apple entered the market. The introduction of the iBook allowed for features such as color pictures, videos and audio innovations that were not available through the Amazon Kindle. Apple said that the DOJ offers no proof that the agency model that Apple uses harms the consumer. That there was and is nothing illegal about this model and that it has been around for quite a while.

Now that the first salvos by both sides have been fired, it is clear that this maybe a long battle. The US District Court has refused to throw out the class action suit brought by 31 states in a case similar to the DOJ. Apple continues to stand its ground and all indications are that it has no intention of backing down. Apple clearly has the money and the will to fight the case as far as it will go.  This is one case where the consumer could end up losing no matter how the case goes.  There is no doubt that the introduction of the iBook has forced the e-book market to innovate.  However this same innovation has also caused the rise in the price of ebooks.

All Your .com Are Belong To US

In the latest cyber moves by the Dept of Homeland Security against a Canadian on-line gambling outfit, it’s been confirmed that if it’s a .com domain, it falls under US jurisdiction, regardless of where the servers are, where the company is incorporated or who the domain registrar is.

Strangely for the “Land of the Free”, Americans aren’t allowed to gamble on-line but this didn’t stop Bodog, a Canadian-based on-line gambling site with the domain bodog.com, from aggressively marketing its services to US citizens. As a result, Bodog’s four owners have been indicted (pdf) on various internet gambling charges.

Almost everything to do with this organisation was out of harm’s way in Canada – the company, the owners, the servers, the domain registrar – so the DHS took the step of forcing Verisign into doing the dirty work. Verisign manages the .com infrastructure and they removed (pdf) some of the key linking records to the bodog.com domain, thus putting the domain off the net.

In this instance, it can be hard to feel any particular sympathy with Bodog as it appears that they did what they did knowing that it was illegal. Regardless, though the point is now made that a .com can be taken off the internet pretty much because the US doesn’t like it. Selling holidays to Cuba – you’re gone. Trading with Iran – you’re off-line. Evolution is a fact – you’re history.

If you or your organisation has a .com, you’re now under US jurisdiction, and if you think this is bad, imagine what it would have been like if SOPA had been enacted.

UK to Rewrite Copyright?

Channel 4 News is reporting that the British Government will put forward changes to the UK’s archaic copyright laws on Wednesday. Format shifting for both music and video is expected to become legal as will sharing  with family. Parody works will gain protection.

The proposals will be announced by Vince Clarke Cable, Business Secretary on Wednesday, and while file sharing using peer-to-peer and similar technologies will remain illegal, the legalisation of format shifting will allow companies like Amazon and Google to offer online music services which store copies of the owner’s music collection. This is currently illegal under British law which is why none of the current offerings are available here.

The protection to parody works (spoof music videos) is also good news as several popular songs such as Newport State of Mind have struggled to stay on-line in the UK where parody doesn’t have the protection it might in the US.

Overall, very welcome news for consumers in the UK and fingers crossed that the proposals don’t get too watered down before they become law. More news on Wednesday.

Are We All Thieves?

The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.

USB 3.0 On It’s Way

Jeff Ravencraft from the USB Implementers Forum discusses the deployment of USB hardware interface standards, including USB 3.0 as well as wireless USB. So-called “Superspeed” USB, or USB 3.0, can operate up to 10 times faster than current USB 2.0 connections. USB 3.0 ports can supply up to twice as much power as USB 2.0 ports, which is important for charging many of today’s portable devices more quickly.

Mr. Ravencraft also discusses the certification process that USB devices and device manufacturers must go through in order to be able to legally display the respective official USB logos.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com.

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