Monthly Archives: November 2013


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DailyDirt: Rediscovering Heirloom Plants

It turns out that many Americans aren’t paying much attention to the ongoing battle over labeling genetically modified foods. A recent survey by researchers at Rutgers University found that half of Americans know very little or nothing at all about GM … Continue reading

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TPP Defenders Take To The Internet To Deliver Official Talking Points; Inadvertently Confirm Opponents’ Worst Fears

The leaked TPP draft, pried loose from the “open and transparent” grip of the USTR, is generating plenty of commentary all over the web. After getting a good look inside, it’s little wonder the USTR felt more comfortable trying to push this through under the cover of darkness.

As the criticism of the push for IP maximalism mounts, the treaty’s defenders have leapt into the fray, hoping to assure everyone who wasn’t previously aware of the treaty’s contents (which is pretty much everyone) that there’s nothing to see here and please move along.

Mike recently broke down the ridiculous claims and posturing of the USTR’s “talking points.” Amanda Wilson Denton, counsel to the IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance) has showed up right on cue to “set the record straight” on the leaked TPP draft. Let’s see how well she followed the talking points. (Talking points in bold.)

The Draft Is Already Outdated

The only thing that can certainly be said about this draft is that it does not reflect the current state of the negotiations…

If it is what it purports to be, the draft reveals a snapshot in time of the ongoing work of the participating countries to hammer out an agreement in Intellectual Property Rights…

Sure, it’s only a “snapshot.” But unless everything’s changed since then, it’s a very representative snapshot of the involved countries’ stances on IP issues. Just because the work is “ongoing” doesn’t mean its improving.

What It Would Not Require: Changes to U.S. IP Law

While it is impossible to say right now what a TPP IP chapter would do, experience provides an answer for what it would not do — since the U.S. began negotiating FTAs again in 2000, no FTA has required a change to U.S. intellectual property law.

The U.S. proposals mirror the current duration of copyright in U.S. law. They track the provisions already agreed in previous FTAs regarding the technologies that rights holders use to control access to their works and limitations on liability to benefit ISPs, including the FTA agreed between the United States and Korea that entered into force in 2012…

In sum, the putative U.S. positions revealed in the leaked text would be consistent with U.S. law and prior free trade agreements approved by Congress, and most importantly would help to achieve better copyright protection among our trading partners…

While we understand that there are parties that don’t like present U.S. law and policy, this leaked text demonstrates a fealty to existing U.S. law, and not an abandonment thereof.

So, if you love current US IP law (and wish it would be expanded), you’ll love the TPP. If you don’t, well… get used to it. The US is running your IP show now, foreigners.

Denton does admit there is one change to existing US law, something only a maximalist would be happy to see — a provision that would allow rights holders to pursue criminal charges against those who “aid and abet” copyright infringement. Great news! That means you no longer have to actually infringe to be held criminally accountable. All you have to do is be adjacent to it.

The Only Real “News” – Many Bogus Claims Are Now Verifiably False.

The only real “news” in the leaked text is that various claims (e.g., TPP endangers Internet freedom, TPP is SOPA) are now provably false.

[T]he issue that generated controversy surrounding SOPA—website blocking through DNS blocking—is entirely absent from the text as recently noted by Ambassador Froman. Froman specifically raised the issue of “blocking rogue Internet sites from accessing the Internet from the United States” in a recent interview published in the November 18, 2013 issue of Washington Trade Daily. He stated unequivocally: “There is nothing in the Trans Pacific Partnership, zero, that has anything to do with that…”

Any comparison to SOPA/PIPA is completely inappropriate and inaccurate.

Comparisons to SOPA are valid because the leaks show the US is pushing a maximalist hard line, one that goes much further than most other countries are willing to go (Australia being the notable exception).

SOPA was a maximalist’s dream. Since a majority of Americans are not maximalists, the bill was tough to sell. The USTR knows this, which is why every aspect of these negotiations has been as secretive as possible. Simply stating the TPP is not SOPA because it isn’t exactly the same is a weak dodge. It has the same intent. The TPP will harm internet freedom the same way SOPA would have. Secondary liability will now be a criminal act, as Denton points out in her defense of the agreement.

And as for Ambassador Froman’s claim that the TPP doesn’t provide for the blocking of “rogue sites,” former USTR employee and current analyst for the ITIF (SOPA’s “intellectual backer”) Michelle Wein actually points out that it does in her op-ed defending the proposal.

In addition, the text does not require ISPs to block access, but instead asks that they take reasonable steps: “Court-ordered relief to compel or restrain certain actions shall be limited to terminating specified accounts, or to taking reasonable steps to block access to a specific, non-domestic online location. [emphasis added]” Essentially, this means that courts cannot make ISPs financially liable for copyright infringement by their users, but can ask them to take steps to block access.

When the government starts “asking” ISPs to “take reasonable steps” (what does that even mean?) to block sites, it’s not a request. It’s a very forceful suggestion with potential legal implications, as most court ORDERS are. ISPs may not be liable for customers’ infringement, but they can certainly be held liable for not “taking reasonable steps” to block access. “Reasonable” is in the eye of the beholder, and what that means for ISPs is that courts will be making this call after they’ve already issued an order “asking” them to block sites.

What’s being witnessed here is the US attempting to make the world beholden to its rights holders. The TPP makes a mockery the last word in its title. There’s no “partnership” here. Just a country misusing its stature and economic power to rewrite international IP laws in servitude of a few select industries.

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Microsoft To Encrypt Data Center Links; Says NSA Hacking Would Be Unconstitutional

We were somewhat surprised to see Microsoft recently admit that in the wake of the revelation that the NSA had infiltrated the private data links between Yahoo and Google’s data centers that it had not yet decided to encrypt its own such links. Google had very quickly moved to encrypt those links and Yahoo has recently done so as well (though it took a little while). Now Microsoft is saying that it’s going to do the same thing.

While the revealed documents did not directly point to a similar infiltration of Microsoft, there’s reason to believe it was also compromised. Other Snowden documents mentioned in the linked article above note that Microsoft is listed as having data accessible under the same program, referred to as MUSCULAR. Perhaps more interesting is Microsoft making it clear that it believes any such infiltration would be a serious legal violation:

When asked about the NSA documents mentioning surveillance of Microsoft services, Smith issued a sharply worded statement: “These allegations are very disturbing. If they are true these actions amount to hacking and seizure of private data and in our view are a breach of the protection guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.”

Of course, just because something is a Constitutional violation doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s much of a legal remedy. Any lawsuit would immediately lead to claims of sovereign immunity and national security to try to kill off any such lawsuit. It’s the same thing the feds have done every time they’ve been challenged on this stuff. The only real way to deal with this is to make sure that the companies actually protect user data in a manner that makes it nearly impossible for the government to break in as it has in the past.

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EasyDNS Continues To Fight Bogus Website Seizures By City Of London Police After Verisign Issues ‘No Decision’

Back in October, we wrote about the absolutely ludicrous situation in which the City of London Police ordered registrars to take down a bunch of websites and point them to a page designated by the police (which pointed to some commercial services in London). There was no court order. There was no court involved at all. No one had been charged, sued, tried or anything. Just the City of London Police, their brand new “Intellectual Property Crime Unit” (set up at the urging of the RIAA), and a demand that the website domains be yanked and that the registrars bar them from being transferred out. While some registrars, such as the incredibly misnamed “Public Domain Registry,” caved immediately to the completely bogus request, EasyDNS strongly and publicly refused (telling the police to come back with a court order) while also questioning (1) whatever happened to due process and (2) how any registrar could do this when it clearly violated ICANN’s policy on transferring domain names.

Given this, EasyDNS went even further and filed a “request for enforcement” against Public Domain Registry, for locking the domains from being transferred out (and to EasyDNS). As EasyDNS notes, PDR’s decision to lock the domains, despite being asked to do so by the police, violated ICANN’s policies. ICANN’s policies are pretty straightforward: the only times a registrar can deny a transfer-out request is in a few specific cases. And “asked by random police” isn’t one. Instead there’s “court order by a court of competent jurisdiction.” But, again, there’s been no court order.

Given this, the fact that PDR is denying to transfer the domains to EasyDNS it seems like an open and shut case that PDR is violating the rules. Verisign, which oversees all of this, should have made quick work of this in telling PDR to get on with the transfers. Instead… it totally punted, issuing one of the most bizarre statements you can imagine:

Subject: TDRS Case 45337 – Decision Rendered/ No Decision [ ref:_00DA0Zmyt._500A0GS9Pe:ref ]

Please be advised that Verisign has completed its review of Request for Enforcement Case # 45337 and has rendered a decision of No Decision.

REASON FOR DECISION: Pursuant to Section 3.3.4 of the Registrar Transfer Dispute Resolution Policy, the data provided by the Respondent is inconclusive as to the issues presented.

Got that? Verisign reviewed everything and it’s issued its decision, which is no decision. How very Abbott and Costello of them. Furthermore, the “reason” is even more bizarre. Basically, PDR — the registry accused of violating the rules — did not provide sufficient data. Huh? That’s like saying that someone charged with a crime automatically gets off if they don’t provide the evidence against themselves, no matter what evidence the police have.

From here, it appears the process was:

EasyDNS: Here’s our request for enforcement with lots of evidence that PDR folded like a cheap card table when some power hungry police force told them to shut down sites and block transfers despite no court order. This violates ICANN’s transfer rules.

Verisign: PDR, what happened?

PDR Hmm?

Verisign: Well, EasyDNS, we are issuing a no decision decision, because PDR’s answer is inconclusive.

EasyDNS is going to continue to push the matter, however, because it notes the dangerous consequences of Verisign’s ridiculous non-decision.

We feel we have an obligation to push this to an appeal now, because otherwise it means that Registrars can arbitrarily slam the doors on outbound transfers, ignore any enforcement requests from the registry and then be granted decisions of “no decisions”, thus allowing them to simply keep the domains hostage.

Now there’s an easy way to reduce customer churn – to zero.

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Court Says Team Prenda ‘Flat-Out Lied’ To Court; Hits Them With $261k More In Attorneys’ Fees To Pay Up

Another court, another set of problems for Team Prenda: Paul Hansmeier, Paul Duffy and John Steele are certainly in trouble, and the damage just keeps adding up. Following yet another big loss for Team Prenda in Illinois, in Lightspeed Media v. Anthony Smith, we noted that Prenda’s ridiculous decision to sue Comcast and AT&T for failing to hand over names in that case was backfiring in a big way, since both of those companies asked for attorneys’ fees as well. Duffy, Hansmeier and Steele did their usual dance: filing motions arguing that none of them did anything wrong, that the ruling should be overturned, and (of course) that there was a violation of due process because they weren’t informed about these proceedings. This is basically the same crap they file every time.

Southern District of Illinois Judge Patrick Murphy is having none of that. In a scathing opinion he rips to shreds the arguments of Duffy, Hansmeier and Steele. Beyond noting the basic procedural deficiencies in their own filings (once again, they don’t seem to actually understand the law and just fling as much shit at the wall as possible, and the judge clearly recognizes this), he also appears to be well aware of the larger scam Team Prenda has been pulling. There’s a long discussion about the claim that Hansmeier and Steele weren’t properly served, in which the judge makes it clear this is simply beyond belief. Here’s just a snippet of a much longer discussion:

First and foremost, Steele’s claim that he never got notice of Smith’s motion for fees is baseless. A review of CM/ECF records reveals that notice of Smith’s motion for attorney fees (Doc. 61) went to numerous email addresses, including: [email protected]—an email address used by both Steele and Paul Duffy. Therefore, it is irrefutable that Steele had actual notice of Smith’s motion for attorney fees prior to the Court’s order granting the motion.

The judge also points out the tremendous evidence that Steele, Hansmeier and Duffy are working quite closely together on all of this anyway.

Aside from being from the same firm, there is other evidence suggesting these three men worked in concert with one another. First, Duffy, Steele, and Hansmeier used each other’s CM/ECF login information, and/or filed documents on behalf of one another. For example, both Steele and Hansmeier used Duffy’s CM/ECF login information to enter their appearances, or Duffy attempted to do so for them (See Doc. 11, 15); Hansmeier also used Steele’s CM/ECF login information to file his motion to continue, or Steele filed it on Hansmeier’s behalf (Doc. 73). Second, the similarities in documents filed by Duffy, Steele, and Hansmeier indicate an ongoing relationship. For example, in the instant motions to vacate/reconsider, the three men use identical formatting from the caption, to the font, and the signature block, and the substance is largely the same…

Then, of course, there’s the citation to the numerous other cases that have found against Team Prenda, and noted that those three are clearly in control. The judge also notes that even if they didn’t have notice, they clearly had notice in time for a later hearing and still their filings did not state any actual grounds for relief. Basically, the judge points out that they absolutely knew about all of this, and he won’t overturn the original decision because for all the shit they threw at the wall, none of it actually stuck.

But then the judge goes further. He calls them liars. He doesn’t dance around it. He flat out calls them on it.

The Court also finds that Duffy, Hansmeier, and Steele exhibited a “serious and studied disregard for the orderly process of justice.” …. These men have shown a relentless willingness to lie to the Court on paper and in person, despite being on notice that they were facing sanctions in this Court, being sanctioned by other courts, and being referred to state and federal bars, the United States Attorney in at least two districts, one state Attorney General, and the Internal Revenue Service. For example, at the November 13 hearing, Hansmeier skirted the Court’s direct questions, Steele made feigned protestations, and both flat-out lied about their association with Prenda Law, Inc. in the face of documentary evidence on the record in this case, and their sworn declarations in other cases.

In the end, the judge grants all the requests for attorneys’ fees, adding yet another $261,025.11 to the rapidly increasing total from other cases. I imagine it won’t end there, though it’s unlikely anyone will see any of that money. Instead, we’re all still waiting for the main act, when the criminal charges almost certainly arrive.

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Increasing European Moves To Block Access To Websites Accused Of Helping People Infringe Copyrights

In their obsessive war on piracy, the copyright industries have tried various approaches. For a while, the “three strikes and out” was popular, until it became clear that it was completely ineffectual. At the moment, the preferred method is to try to force ISPs to block access to sites holding material that infringes on copyright. The UK led the way, and has now made the whole process pretty routine, as a recent post on the TechnoLlama blog explains:

The blocking order follow a now familiar pattern established in 20th Century Fox v BT: lawyers for the film and/or music industry go to court against UK ISPs to try and obtain an injunction that will block access on those to a specific website. The subject websites are not included as co-defendants, and their guilt tends to be assumed, or dealt with separately. The websites are then blocked at the ISP level, meaning that any person who enters “” into their browser will receive a notice stating that the site is not available.

The fact that it is easy to circumvent these blocks doesn’t seem to worry the industry much: either the only concern is to make it hard for less tech-savvy users to access a site, or maybe a symbolic victory is all that is required. In any case, the approach is beginning to spread in Europe. For example, Switzerland is currently reviewing the operation of copyright in a digital world, and blocking content is likely to be one of the recommendations from the AGUR12 working group — following the usual heavy-handed hints by the USTR, as TorrentFreak explains:

According to a report obtained by NZZ am Sontagg, AGUR12 have concluded that Swiss Internet service providers should be forced to delete content if hosted on Swiss-based sites. Most controversially their final report, which is now being sent to the Justice Minister, states that ISPs should display warnings when users attempt to access unauthorized content sources while “obviously illegal sites” should be rendered entirely inaccessible.

As usual, that begs the question which sites are “obviously illegal.” Meanwhile, in Belgium, the authorities continue their forlorn attempt to shut down The Pirate Bay and its proxies:

The Supreme Court of Belgium has ordered local Internet providers to proactively search for Pirate Bay proxies, and block subscribers’ access to these sites. The order is one of the most far-reaching decisions when it comes to website blocking based on copyright infringement grounds. A spokesperson for Belgacom, one of the largest ISP, describes the verdict as disproportionate and unacceptable.

But perhaps the most important news on the Web blocking front concerns Europe’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Austrian Supreme Court had sought guidance on whether injunctions could be brought against ISPs whose users were accessing sites that infringed on copyright. As is usually the case, before the Court of Justice hands down its opinion, a kind of pre-opinion is given by the Advocate General (pdf), in this case Pedro Cruz Villalón. Here’s his view on the situation:

In his Opinion today, Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón takes the view that the internet provider of the user of a website which infringes copyright is also to be regarded as an intermediary whose services are used by a third party — that is the operator of the website — to infringe copyright and therefore also as a person against whom an injunction can be granted. That is apparent from the wording, context, spirit and purpose of the provision of EU law.

This bad news that ISPs can be regarded as intermediaries is tempered slightly by the following:

The Advocate General is also of the view that it is incompatible with the weighing of the fundamental rights of the parties to prohibit an internet service provider generally and without ordering specific measures from allowing its customers to access a particular website that infringes copyright.

The Advocate General adds one other qualification:

It is for the national courts, in the particular case, taking into account all relevant circumstances, to weigh the fundamental rights of the parties against each other and thus strike a fair balance between those fundamental rights.

This is not the final ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union itself, which could take a completely different view of things, but that is unlikely. So we can probably expect to see even more Web sites blocked in Europe at the behest of film and music companies. That’s a huge pity. It imposes costs on ISPs that have nothing to do with the infringement, and it distracts copyright companies from the real solution: providing better access to legal offerings at fair prices.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Wall Street Journal Columnist Repeatedly Gets His Facts Wrong About NSA Surveillance

Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz wrote a misleading and error-filled column on NSA surveillance Monday based on documents obtained by EFF through our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Since we’ve been poring over the documents for the last week, we felt it was important we set the record straight about what they actually reveal.


Edward Snowden thought he was exposing the National Security Agency’s lawless spying on Americans. But the more information emerges about how the NSA conducts surveillance, the clearer it becomes that this is an agency obsessed with complying with the complex rules limiting its authority.

That’s an interesting interpretation of the recently released documents, given that one of the two main FISA court opinions released says the NSA was engaged in “systemic overcollection” of American Internet data for years, as well as committed “longstanding and pervasive violations of the prior orders in this matter.” The court summarized what it called the government’s “frequent failures to comply with the [surveillance program’s] terms” and their “apparent widespread disregard of [FISA court imposed] restrictions.”


[The documents] portray an agency acting under the watchful eye of hundreds of lawyers and compliance officers.

Again, this is not what the actual FISA court opinions portray. “NSA’s record of compliance with these rules has been poor,” and “those responsible for conducting oversight failed to do so effectively,” FISA court Judge Bates wrote in the key opinion released last week. In another FISA court opinion from 2009, released two months ago, the NSA admitted that not a single person in the entire agency accurately understood or could describe the NSA’s whole surveillance system to the court.

It’s true that the number of compliance officers at the NSA has increased in recent years, but as the Washington Post reported, so has the number of privacy violations.


These documents disprove one of Mr. Snowden’s central claims: “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email,” he told the Guardian, a British newspaper.

Here, Crovitz is setting up a strawman. Snowden wasn’t talking about the NSA’s legal authority, but their technical authority to conduct such searches. Snowden was likely referring to XKeyScore, which the Guardian reported allowed NSA analysts to “search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

We actually have a specific example that proves Snowden’s point. As the New York Times reported in 2009, an NSA analyst “improperly accessed” former President Bill Clinton’s personal email. More recently, we’ve learned that the NSA analysts abused the agency vast surveillance powers to spying on ex-spouses or former lovers.


The NSA also released the legal arguments the Justice Department used in 2006 to justify collection of phone metadata-the telephone number of the calling and called parties and the date, time and duration of the call.

Metadata collection is about connecting the dots linking potential terrorist accomplices. The Clinton administration created barriers to the use of metadata, which the 9/11 Commission concluded let the terrorists avoid detection. Since then, metadata has helped stop dozens of plots, including an Islamist plan to blow up the New York Stock Exchange in 2008.

Again, not true. As Intelligence Committee members Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall have continually emphasized, there is “no evidence” that the phone metadata program is effective at stopping terrorists. Independent analyses have come to the same conclusion. When called out on that number in a Congressional hearing, even NSA Director Keith Alexander admitted the number was exaggerated.

The only “disrupted plot” the NSA can point to that was solely the work of the phone metadata program was a case where a man from San Diego sent a few thousand dollars to the al-Shabaab organization in Africa in 2008. In other words, the metadata did not disrupt an active terrorist plot inside the US at all.


The declassified brief from 2006 made clear that such metadata “would never even be seen by any human being unless a terrorist connection were first established,” estimating that “0.000025% or one in four million” of the call records “actually would be seen by a trained analyst.”

The major 2009 FISA court opinion released in September, that apparently Mr. Crovitz either didn’t read or conveniently left out of his piece, showed that the NSA had been systematically querying part of this phone records database for years for numbers that the agency did not have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” were involved in terrorism—as they were required to have by the FISA court. Of the more than 17,000 numbers that the NSA was querying everyday, the NSA only had “reasonable articulable suspicion” for 1,800 of them.

The FISA court concluded, five years after the metadata program was brought under a legal framework, that it had been “so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall…regime has never functioned effectively.”

These documents do not paint a picture of an agency with a clean privacy record and a reputation for following court rules, as Mr. Crovitz claims, and in fact, they show why it is vital Congress passes substantive NSA reform immediately. You can go here to take action.

Reposted from EFF

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The USTR’s Revolving Door With Copyright And Patent Maximalists Removes All Credibility

Tim Lee, over at the Washington Post’s The Switch, has an excellent, detailed look at why the USTR seems to think that patent and copyright maximalism is in the best interests of America. There are two key reasons, which I’ll paraphrase as (1) the empl… Continue reading

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GoldieBlox Pulls Beastie Boys Video, Promises To Drop Legal Dispute

This isn’t a huge surprise, but given all the publicity, Goldieblox has agreed to pull down the video that included the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls,” with an open letter to the remaining members of the band, saying that while they believe that their use was fair use, they wanted to respect the wishes of Adam Yauch and his strong desire not to see the band’s music used in commercials.

Dear Adam and Mike,

We don’t want to fight with you. We love you and we are actually huge fans.

When we made our parody version of your song, ‘Girls’, we did it with the best of intentions. We wanted to take a song we weren’t too proud of, and transform it into a powerful anthem for girls. Over the past week, parents have sent us pictures and videos of their kids singing the new lyrics with pride, building their own Rube Goldberg machines in their living rooms and declaring an interest in engineering. It’s been incredible to watch.

Our hearts sank last week when your lawyers called us with threats that we took very seriously. As a small company, we had no choice but to stand up for ourselves. We did so sincerely hoping we could come to a peaceful settlement with you.

We want you to know that when we posted the video, we were completely unaware that the late, great Adam Yauch had requested in his will that the Beastie Boys songs never be used in advertising. Although we believe our parody video falls under fair use, we would like to respect his wishes and yours.

Since actions speak louder than words, we have already removed the song from our video. In addition, we are ready to stop the lawsuit as long as this means we will no longer be under threat from your legal team.

We don’t want to spend our time fighting legal battles. We want to inspire the next generation. We want to be good role models. And we want to be your friends.


Debbie + Team GoldieBlox

A very strong argument can be made that the company should have communicated directly with the Beastie Boys and their lawyers prior to filing for declaratory judgment. But what many people who are commenting on this, who have little to no understanding of copyright law, don’t realize, is that filing for a declaratory judgment when threatened is both very standard and quite sensible. As the copyright maximalists are fond of reminding us, you often can’t know for sure if something is fair use until a judge says so. Frankly, it shouldn’t be this way. Fair use shouldn’t require a court to decide, but copyright maximalists have made it so. And, given that, if someone threatens you, the best way to make it clear that it’s fair use is to quickly get a judge to weigh in. That’s exactly what Goldieblox did, and it’s pretty standard in cases where someone is accused of copyright infringement.

As we’ve noted in multiple posts, there’s also a very strong argument that this is absolutely fair use. However, that doesn’t mean that Goldieblox needs to continue the fight. Pulling the video and the lawsuit may remove what would have been a very interesting copyright/fair use case, but as we ourselves have pointed out many times, just because you can go legal, it doesn’t always make sense to do so. The question of whether or not the Beastie Boys want their music in ads may be relevant to whether or not the original effort was “respectful,” but is not an issue in the fair use equation.

Which brings me to one final point on this. Many people have been arguing that “respect” is all about “permission.” This is a very dangerous view. As we’ve pointed out over and over again, permission-based culture is no culture at all. Creating art is about breaking barriers, building on those who came before and doing it in new and unique ways. The Beastie Boys themselves clearly recognized and did this themselves many, many times. Often, getting permission is impossible, and focusing on needing permission crushes fair use in dangerous ways. A healthy fair use doctrine has resulted in tremendous art, culture and innovation. Demanding permission in all cases would be stifling. It also leads to a thicket problem, that tends to benefit the gatekeepers of culture, rather than the actual creators and artists, many of whom rely strongly on fair use themselves.

As Mathew Ingram notes, fair use is something worth fighting for, and while Goldieblox made the reasonable decision not to continue this fight, we should be extremely wary of attempts to shut down and close off fair use for the sake of both our culture and innovation.

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School Firewalls And Their Blocks On ‘Gay/Lesbian Issues’

While I don’t disagree that they have their place, the practical application of internet content filtering software and hardware seems to suck when it’s applied large-scale. There are several reasons for this. The general category blocking that’s done when settings are low flat out doesn’t work. Some inappropriate content will be blocked while some won’t be, with the same holding true for appropriate content. Yay. And, gosh, wouldn’t you know it, but kids are generally really good about getting around the filters we adults put in place. And even when government groups that should know better have the best of intentions, they often end up blocking sites that shouldn’t be blocked out of a misplaced sense of prudishness. That’s how you end up getting WiFi on the Maryland Amtrak, but don’t you go reading about gay topics (non-pornographic) because that’s just icky icky.

It gets more interesting in schools, because everyone’s sensitivity jumps up a notch when children are involved and because there’s entirely too much sensitivity from different groups of parents who instill different values, religious traditions, and morals in their kids. I get that. If you’re a strict Christian, you may teach your children the strict dogma about homosexuality. That’s absolutely your right. That isn’t the argument. Like, at all. But here’s the fun question: exactly how verboten is the topic of gay marriage or homosexuality going to be in our schools now that the topic is regularly discussed on the news and amongst our lawmakers? And how is that question going to butt up against the way webfilters work, are programmed, and utilized by schools?

Here’s one example of how this is done wrong. Full disclosure: Paul France is both a teacher here in Illinois and a very close friend of mine, but what happened when he wanted to look into teaching tools to discuss the recent marriage equality law passed in our state provides a partial look into why webfilters need to make some changes.

As a teacher of young children, and in light of Illinois’ recent ruling on gay marriage, I decided that I wanted to find out if there were any resources or news articles that would be relatable to and appropriate for children.

Now, while I can appreciate that not everyone will agree, I would hope that many/most will think that discussing current events and a major law being passed in our state would be a good topic of discussion amongst school children. After all, they live under this law. More importantly, as France notes later in his post, this was to be an open discussion with no push on telling kids they should “agree” with the law. It was purely a teaching moment. Unfortunately, in his search for appropriate resources, he came across a webfilter message that said sites were blocked as a “forbidden category: gay and lesbian issues.” Er, what? Here is part of what he sent to the manufacturer of the webfilter:

Same-sex relationships are not inappropriate for children; the physical and explicit nature of sex is, and an article related to same-sex marriage does not always mean there will be sexually explicit content. Having said this, the website that I visited did, in fact, end up having some content that would be inappropriate for children. However, this content should have been more correctly coded as Forbidden Category: Sexual Content.

In my mind, it would be like filtering an article with explicit photos on slave mistreatment in the 1800s as “African American Issues.” Of course, we would not want children to see disturbing photos depicting violence; however, we would code them as Forbidden Category: Violence.

If you happen to view homosexuality as a negative, which is again your right, you might find this to be nit-picky…until you read that second paragraph. Because he’s exactly right; gay and lesbian issues are no more a legitimate target for a block than African American issues. Sexual content should of course be blocked on school networks (assuming it isn’t gobbling up sex-ed class material as well), but that’s not what we’re talking about. In what world is blocking “Gay and Lesbian Issues” appropriate? That’s sending all the wrong messages about how children in schools (and the rest of us too, by the way) are supposed to be engaging in an educational dialectic. Banning the topic gets nobody anywhere. This isn’t about pushing anything, it’s about having a discussion in a secular public school system.

Let’s try something new. Let’s open up our minds, accept that there are many diverse viewpoints, and come to terms that we don’t all agree. Let’s have a discussion, encourage debate, and promote divergent thinking. I think we’ll all be better off for it in the long run.

I’ll add to that a couple of things. Parents, give yourselves credit for your parenting. Mere discussion isn’t going to change the values you’ve taught your children. And let’s also give our kids some credit. I think they can take on more serious topics than we imagine, no matter which side of this or any other argument you might be on.

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