Cyber-bullying by the copyright Gestapo

And though they’ll hunt you like a dog
Well they won’t take you alive
Because you make them piles of money
Stacked up twenty stories high
And the boys in every bar
Will not miss you when you gone
From A Heady Tale by The Fratellis

Whenever I write about copyright issues I like to set the record straight right off the bat. Having been a software developer for my entire career and a musician who records and produces music, I am not in any way opposed to the concept of copyright or copyright law. I’m certainly do not espouse the idea that all software wants to be free nor, much as I dislike the entertainment industry,  do I advocate torrenting music or movies to avoid paying. So having gotten that out of the way, I’m here to tell you that copyright enforcement is a whole other deal. Here in the US we must contend with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) who have apparently decided that it’s far easier to blame any decline in revenue on “piracy” and sue potential customers, or threaten to and hope to settle out of court, than it is to come up with a viable distribution model for the digital age. But this week our European friends get to share the pain and witness the quasi-legal shenanigans that Americans have come to know and loathe. In this story by Nick Farrell in the Inquirer we hear about an episode of what I think can best be described as cyber-bullying by a law firm in the name of copyright enforcement.

So far at least 150 innocent people have been wrongly targeted in a crackdown on illegal file-sharing that’s being conducted by the rogue law firm run amok, ACS:Law.

The outfit has sent out letters to thousands of Brits accusing them of ‘piracy’ – that’s copyright infringement to anyone not trying to whip up public sentiment for their own monetary gain – and offering them a chance to settle by paying about £500.

However, loads of people are being accused with what must be inaccurate information. One was a 78 year-old accused of downloading pornography and others are unaware of having done any downloading at all.

“My 78 year-old father yesterday received a letter from ACS Law demanding £500 for a porn file he is alleged to have downloaded. Apparently the poor bloke does not know what file sharing is and has never even heard of BitTorrent. Nor has he given anyone else permission to use his computer.”

Which? Computing estimates that up to 50,000 letters have been sent out and is outraged that too many innocent people are being wrongly accused. Matt Bath, technology editor of Which? told the BBC that innocent consumers are being threatened with legal action for copyright infringements they not only haven’t committed, but wouldn’t know how to commit. But many “will be frightened into paying up rather than facing the stress of a court battle.”

Andrew Crossley of ACS:Law admitted that some cases had been dropped although he declined to give numbers. He told the Beeb [BBC to us yanks] that the method used to detect the IP address used for illegal downloads was foolproof, although that really does not explain why some cases needed to be dropped.

But behold, there is a glimmer of hope in this story. I mean other than the wicked sick ego and reputation boost for the 78-year-old guy accused of torrenting porn – You go, grandpa! No, I mean that you really can’t get too worried about litigation originating from a group whose spokes-weasel actually says “the method used to detect the IP address used for illegal downloads was foolproof” out loud. In public. To the press. I mean seriously, I can only assume that ACS:Law lawyers are the same class of moron as Mr. Crossley. [Andy, dude! - one word: TOR].

But sadly I don’t believe that Mr. Crossley and the gang at ACS:Law are stupid. They know very well that such a statement is ludicrous on it’s face and that no one with any kind of technical expertise will believe it. You know, the kind of technical expertise it takes to illegally torrent copyrighted material. So ACS:Law knows very well that the only folks naive enough to fall for their threats are not capable of doing what they are accusing them of. And that, my friends, smells a whole lot like cyber-bullying to me.

Meanwhile we have this dubious report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) [Note: Web of Trust (WoT) rates this site BAD in vendor reliability and privacy so be careful if you follow this link] that claims to provide a basis for such egregious behavior by the copyright gestapo. This article in Sonic State reports it like so.

The IFPI report that 95% of all music downloads are illegal – and they say that “cooperation from Internet Service Providers holds the key to this problem.”

The IFPI made the announcement as part of their Digital Music Report 2009:

Piracy is the major barrier to growth of the legitimate digital music sector and is causing severe damage to local music industries around the world.

Three of the world’s biggest music markets, all heavily dependent on local repertoire – France, Spain and Brazil – have seen a sharp slump in the fortunes of their local music industries:

  • In Spain, which has one of the highest rates of illegal file-sharing in Europe, sales by local artists in the top 50 have fallen by an estimated 65% between 2004 and 2009;
  • France, where a quarter of the internet population downloads illegally, has seen local artist album releases fall by 60% between 2003 and 2009;
  • In Brazil, full priced major label local album releases from the five largest music companies in 2008 were down 80% from their 2005 level.

The report shows that, while the music industry has increased its digital revenues by 940% since 2004, piracy has been the major factor behind the overall global market decline of around 30% in the same period.

Okay… So let me get this straight. All of the music purchased and downloaded from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Walmart, Napster and Rhapsody plus all of the smaller independent music label sites like Matador Records and individual artist sites together make up only 5% of music downloads? And that 25% of the internet population of France downloads illegally? And this is what is responsible for the 80% drop in full priced major label local album releases in Brazil? I don’t know what those IFPI guys have been smoking but they’d sure have a better chance of convincing me if I had some too. I mean seriously how would you find out that a quarter of the internet population downloads illegally in France and how can you correlate that to local artist album releases fall by 60% between 2003 and 2009. Hello! This is the internet. It’s everywhere. Like lint. And the copyright gestapo. What’s worse is that these bozos (or is that beau zauxs) are trying to convince ISPs that they should collude with the copyright gestapo. And the really sad thing is that some ISPs are going to buy into this nonsense. Let’s be clear here. I sympathize with the musicians who have seen sales of their albums decline. And I also sympathize with their unemployed fans who can no longer afford to buy music. What I don’t sympathize with is the copyright gestapo and their cyber-bullying.

Keeping up appearances at CSU

This week my alma mater, Colorado State University, is engaged in a bit of bureaucratic theater that has once again thrust the city of Fort Collins into the national media spotlight. Ok flashlight. This article in the Denver Post covers it thusly.

Colorado State University today distributed a draft of its proposed weapons policy that would ban all weapons on the Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses, including guns being held by those with a concealed-weapons permit.

The issue became controversial late last year, when the CSU faculty voted for such a ban while student leaders voted against it. The CU Board of Governors will decide whether to implement the policy at their February meeting in Pueblo.

Drafted by campus administrators, the policy and its risk management approach is consistent with best practices of other colleges and universities, CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander said. It is essentially an extension of the current campus weapons policy banning weapons – including weapons owned by concealed-carry permit holders – in resident halls. The policy now expands those regulations to the entire campus with some exceptions.

So what problem does this proposed weapons policy address? Is CSU reverting to the wild west? Are gunfights erupting in classes and dorms? Are teachers and students threatened by gun-toting thugs? Well… not exactly. The raison d’être for this policy is best described in the preamble to the draft policy itself [emphasis mine].

Colorado State University recognizes that the possession, use, or display of Weapons on Campus should be subject to reasonable control to manage the increased risks associated with having Weapons on Campus, which is consistent with the best practices of other colleges and universities. Some of the data and analysis supporting those best practices are contained in the position statement dated August 12, 2008, by the Board of Directors of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, Inc. (“IACLEA”). According to that statement, the presence of students carrying concealed weapons would not reduce violence on campuses and that having such weapons may dramatically increase violence on campus arising from (a) the potential for accidental discharge or misuse of firearms at on‐campus parties or student gatherings, (b) the potential for guns to be used as a means to settle disputes, and (c) that campus police officers responding to a situation involving an active shooter may not be able to distinguish between the shooter and others with firearms. Colorado State University concurs with IACLEA’s position statement and believes that safety on Campus will be improved by reasonably controlling Weapons.

Ahh, I get it. This is one of those keeping up appearances kind of deals. For those woefully uncultured readers [in case there are any] Keeping Up Appearances is a British sitcom wherein the heroine, one Hyacinth Bucket – who insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet – is a social-climbing snob who passes her time visiting stately homes, hosting “executive” style candlelight suppers, and maintaining the integrity of her woodblock floor, wallpaper, and status in the community. Her aim in life is to impress neighbours, friends, and important people.

“Okay…,” I hear you saying, “so this policy only addresses potential problems, and mainly brings CSU in line with other colleges and universities. What’s wrong with removing guns from college campuses? And what does this have to do with security?”. Great questions. Glad you asked.

The problem is that this policy, like far too many security and anti-terrorism policies, does absolutely nothing except display political correctness. Aptly put by Shakespeare in Macbeth, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Manifestly, the danger of violence involving firearms on college campuses is real and present. Recall the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. In fact the 2008 IACLEA position statement referenced so prominently in the CSU draft policy includes this not-so-veiled reference to that incident in it’s potential threats: “campus police officers responding to a situation involving an active shooter may not be able to distinguish between the shooter and others with firearms“. Certainly sounds reasonable. Except for these inconvenient facts – the “active shooter” was already actively violating any number of state and federal laws and there were no “others with firearms” except those who would be exempt in the policy. In other words it does absolutely nothing but keep up appearances.  That and waste time with debate and media coverage diverting attention from the fact that CSU, other colleges and universities – and pretty much everybody else including me – have no idea how to address the real problem. Will this policy prevent a tragedy involving guns at CSU? No. Will it make CSU students and staff safer? No. Will it make CSU appear more concerned with campus violence? Bingo! A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing; but keeping up appearances.

Captain Underpants and the Traumatizing Titillation of the TSA

I’ll admit it. I’ve read every one of Dav Pilkey’s epic novels featuring Captain Underpants (the defender of all things pre-shrunk and cottony) and the rest of the crew from Jerome Horwitz Elementary. So when the Christmas underwear bomber incident hit the news, well it was just too easy to adopt the sobriquet for the hapless wannabe suicide bomber. While I’d like to take credit for the idea, I saw it first in tweet from @sectorprivate. But once again I digress.

When Captain Underpants attempted his incredibly inept act of terrorism and lit his privates on fire (that had to smart!) it was followed immediately by the requisite hand-wringing, blameshifting and calls for resignation of leading bureaucrats and political appointees from the opposing political party. In other words, same circus different clowns. The one actionable item that came out of this little in-flight weenie roast was a truly choice bit of expensive security theater. Full-body scanners. Yep, now we’re going to add that to the list of indignities heaped upon air travelers. This has raised privacy concerns within the air traveling public world wide. Witness the German “fleshmob” protesting against the use of full body scanners.

The underwear bomber’s Christmas Day attack has prompted calls for the increased use of full-body scanners at airports that would strip-search passengers down to their naked bodies.

So to protest the use of the so-called Nacktscanner (naked scanner), members of the Pirate Party in Germany organized a “fleshmob” of people who stripped down to their skivvies last Sunday and converged on the Berlin-Tegel airport.

It seems like everyone is worried about some TSA voyeur leering at naked images of them. But having spent a ridiculous amount of time in airports this last week I have several observations to make.

Observation the first – For every air traveling babe there are at least 50 bovines.
Observation the second – A similar ratio of hunks to heifers exists.

Therefore I posit that the real victims of the Nacktscanner are the TSA employees who will be forced to monitor them. I don’t know about you, but I think that it would take less than an hour of closely watching images of the air traveling public in the altogether before I was ready to poke out my own eyes. So if the public doesn’t like them and I can’t imagine anyone on the front lines of the TSA who is waiting breathlessly for them, then what exactly is the point?

Perhaps this is a new TSA plan to develop Super TSA Agents, figuring that if you can withstand a rotation of staring at a full-body scanner then you can handle anything – a real dead-eyed killer. Or maybe they can use them as a diciplinary device – “Jenkins, if you don’t pat down those passengers faster it’s the naked scanner for you!”. Or maybe even an HR screening mechanism – “So Mr. Smith, you would really enjoy being a full-body scan monitor? Sorry, pervert! Try politics or management”.

Being a “circle of life” kind of guy, I could really appreciate the symmetry of making Nacktscanner monitoring part of the punishment for Captain Underpants. Real biblical in a “reaping what you sow” kind of way. He should be forced to monitor high resolution scans of airline passengers in the buff all day every day for the rest of his life. While strapped to a chair so he can’t prematurely end the sentence. But that would truly be cruel and unusual punishment.

The naked truth is that we should just bag the whole lame idea of full-body scanners. But that wouldn’t make for very good theater now would it.

Web 2.0 Miranda

don’t say a word or we’ll surely expose
that it’s you who are wicked and vile
anything you say will be used against you
and now it is you here on trial
from Don’t Say a Word by Cici Porter

For a long time now I’ve tried to get folks to realize that there is nothing private or protected about social networking. To wit, these posts here and here. In case you think I’m overreacting you should check out this post by Sharon Nelson in the {ride the lightning} blog.

Recently, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said that the company has created a team led by a former FBI employee to manage requests for information in criminal cases. According to Noyes, a big part of the job is explaining the applicable laws and the limitations on access to Facebook user information. He said that Facebook strives to respect the balance between law enforcement’s need for information and the privacy rights of citizens.

To be fair to Sharon’s point in the post, judges are increasingly ruling on the side of individual privacy in cases with requests to make social network content discoverable or admissible. But the fact that the number of such cases have increased to the point that FaceBook needs a team to “manage requests for information in criminal cases” is my concern. It almost seems like this has progressed to the point that every social networking site should display your Miranda rights prominently. In actual fact FaceBook does display, albeit not terribly prominently, something like that in their Privacy Policy.

We may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law. This may include respecting requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law under the local laws in that jurisdiction, apply to users from that jurisdiction, and are consistent with generally accepted international standards. We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect ourselves and you from people violating our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts or other government entities.

Twitter has a similar statement in their privacy policy.

We may disclose your information if we believe that it is reasonably necessary to comply with a law, regulation or legal request; to protect the safety of any person; to address fraud, security or technical issues; or to protect Twitter’s rights or property.

So what’s the big deal? These Web 2.0 site have to comply with the law just like everybody else. Exactly. So think about that the next time you want to post a photo of that truly epic party. You know, the one with the funny pictures of you and your peeps totally hammered and passing the bong. Or maybe that post where you really let everyone know how you feel about your sleazy ex. Just remember that you have been “Mirandized”. Sort of. And to the extent you have any rights you didn’t waive by using the social network.