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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

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Monthly Archives

May 30, 2008

Who Pays MediaDefender to Disrupt Peer to Peer Networks?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Could it be? Say it with me. That'd be... The Cartel.

OK, so I'm not about to start a new career as a singer-songwriter. Which is probably good since I'd probably be foolish enough to give away my own recordings of my own performances for free and if I used BitTorrent for that then I could be the one getting DoSed.

But that's in the hypothetical future. Here in the real present, it's a company called Revision 3. This company uses BitTorrent to distribute its own high-quality digital shows. This past weekend they were subjected to a SYN-flood attack that brought down their servers. The flood was specifically aimed at the port they use for their torrent tracking server.

In a brief blog snippet on CNET, Elinor Mills asked who would want to bring down Revision3? Good question - it's not a well-known company with lots of aggrieved foes. Yesterday, Jim Louderback posted an extensive dissection, including amusing explanations for newcomers describing what a SYN-flood attack is.

Apparently the attacker (MediaDefender) made no attempt to hide its actions. In fact, the company has previously been exposed - by its own leaked emails - as a deliberate miscreant on peer-to-peer networks. So it's not too surprising they're still at it.

But according to Louderback's posting, the company admitted to worse, including "abusing Revision3's network, over a period of months." Excuse me, isn't that illegal? You know, Company A steals Company B's resources to make a profit - what do we call that? Theft? Fraud? Or just Cartel business-as-usual? Louderback points out that DoS attacks are illegal computer fraud and abuse and claims that the FBI is "looking into" the matter.

My cynical side says this won't amount to a hill of beans, but one can still hope.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse

May 23, 2008

Did Microsoft (over)Implement the Broadcast Flag?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Sherman, set the wayback machine to 2005! No, I'm not talking about the Internet Archive's Wayback machine. I'm talking about traveling back in time to late 2005 when the 'net was buzzing - angrily - about a Cartel proposal to require DRM to be embedded in every broadcast signal. The end of 'free' TV? No more time-shifting allowed? You remember that.

In the end, the Cartel got half a pie. There's a flag, but the FCC explicitly stated that it wasn't supposed to prevent home recording. Even "redistributing it within the home or similar personal environment as consistent with copyright law" is allowed. That's a quote from the FCC's rulemaking on the issue (helpful PDF from our friends at the EFF).

So why are we talking about this again? Well, it seems that Microsoft's Vista Media Center suddenly started refusing to record over-the-air digital content broadcast by NBC. Here's a screen capture provided by the EFF, which is trying to raise the profile on this incident:
Vista shows 'Recording Cancelled' message over American Gladiators

According to Greg Sandoval at CNET, Microsoft has admitted that it implemented the Broadcast Flag and is claiming that it's based on FCC rules. Duck and cover! Duck and cover!

Aside from being just blatantly wrong in its justification, MSFT's admission raises a host of questions. First, it seems likely that the broadcast flag wasn't just added to Vista Media Center recently. So why did it just become visible? One possibility is there's a bug somewhere - certainly wouldn't be the first time. But nobody's claiming this was an error. Another possibility is that NBC asked for recordings of its popular programs to be blocked. Or maybe the flag on those programs was erroneously set. So far NBC is mum, claiming to be looking into things.

My cynical take on it is that they're waiting to see how many people notice and complain. If they get a lot of bad stink they claim it was an error, apologize, and move on. If this blows over then they can feel they have a green light to block home recording any time they want, at least for people foolish enough to use Vista as their DVR.

MythTV, anyone?

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

May 14, 2008

Does the RIAA Have Legal Legs?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I don't blog much about the minutae of the cascade of digital music-related lawsuits in part because there are people who obsessively blog these things and I've lost patience with it over the years. One place that hasn't lost patience and generally does a very good job with the details is Recording Industry vs The People.

Yesterday they published an entry that caught my eye because it goes to the heart of something I've been wanting to see for a while: someone is trying to kick the legs out from under the set of suppositions that the RIAA are using to sue the pants off everyone and anyone.

Here's a short list of things the RIAA would like us to believe and have (by and large) gotten judges to agree with:

  • You are not allowed to make MP3 copies of tracks on CDs you legally own

  • Placing MP3s into a file directory that might be accessed from outside your computer is equivalent to giving away copies

  • An IP address is equivalent to a personal identifier

There are more, of course, but let's focus on these for a moment as we've further developments to discuss in Atlantic v. Howell, a case I pointed to in December of last year. At that point, there was contention over whether the Cartel were backtracking on the question of whether CD owners have the right to rip their own CDs.

Well now we a judge rejecting the RIAA's motion for summary judgement in the case. If the judge had bought into the RIAA's premises above the case would've been another slam-dunk win for the Cartel. Instead Judge Wake appears to be ready to change his earlier stance and agree with the defendants (and their EFF counsel) that simply placing copies in a directory is not a "distribution". This is key because if there's no distribution then there's no copyright infringement.

Furthermore, there's a good question to be argued as to whether the defendants are even the ones who put that MP3 file there. Such an issue would be settled by a trial, but the RIAA doesn't want trials. Its jihad is based on filing and rapidly settling thousands of these lawsuits. Having them go to trial would prove time-consuming, risky, and expensive even if the Cartel won.

For a large variety of reasons, the Cartel can't afford to wage this war in the court trial dockets. It needs to be conducted in the mass, scalable fashion whereby the threat of the judiciary is used to extort payment from consumers... err, victims... err, named defendants.

Despite the amount of time this case has already dragged out, it's still in the very early stages. As Eric Bangeman pointed out in his ars technica story on the denial, Judge Wake's reasoning is at odds with other judges' decisions on similar issues. For the great majority of cases, the RIAA is being successful in its jihad. My guess is that they'll argue this case a little further to see if Judge Wake can be swayed back. If he continues to rule against them, they'll drop the case before it goes to trial - they have no incentive to get an actual verdict on the books against them and an appeal would be even more expensive. So long as the tide continues to run in their favor, the Cartel can keep going even if it has to drop a case now and then. To truly kick the legs out from under them would require an act of Congress or a decision by a much higher-level court. Neither will happen soon.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

May 5, 2008

Help Cory Help Others

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Cory Doctorow has structured an interesting...something around his book Little Brother. I don't know what to call this - it's part charity, part pay-for-value-received, part experiment.

The idea is that Cory gives away this book - it's online for free. But there are people (true fans, maybe?) who want to donate to Cory in return for the value they receive with this book.

Cory doesn't want direct donations, not least because he doesn't want to cut his publishers out of the loop. In the donation page linked above he points out that they add significant value. So what he's proposing is a method for people to get copies of the book into the hands of teachers and librarians, who otherwise might not have funds for it or who might have to pay out of their own pockets. Librarians or teachers who want to receive free copies put in requests and they're matched up with people who want to donate. Cory and his staff are apparently donating their time and administrative effort to coordinate the giving.

This is my little signal boost for a guy who seems to keep showing how giving away his books makes things better.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People