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April 25 2012

09:56

#OccupyWallStreet protestor doesn’t own his tweets, judge rules

paidContent :: In a candid ruling, a New York judge said a protester can’t stop prosecutors from searching his Twitter account because he doesn’t own the tweets in the first place. Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. cited a “widely-believed” but “mistaken” notion about online privacy right.

Details - Continue to read Jeff John Roberts, paidcontent.org

April 23 2012

11:09

Ofcom to investigate Sky News over email hacking

Journalism.co.uk :: Broadcast regulator Ofcom is to investigate "the fairness and privacy issues" raised after Sky News admitted to having hacked emails on two occasions, for which it claimed there was editorial justification and a public interest. Earlier this month Sky News' head of news John Ryley confirmed that the broadcaster had authorised a journalist to access emails "of individuals suspected of criminal activity", insisting police were aware of their actions.

Continue to read Rachel McAthy, www.journalism.co.uk

Tags: Legal Issues

April 19 2012

05:07

Apple wants trial on e-book price-fixing: lawyer

Reuters :: Apple wants to go to trial to defend itself against U.S. government allegations that it conspired with publishers to raise prices of electronic books, a lawyer for the Silicon Valley giant said in court on Wednesday. Two publishers took a similar stance in the first hearing in Manhattan federal court.

Continue to read Grant McCool, www.reuters.com

April 18 2012

09:59

'Disastrous privacy implications': EFF joins two coalition letters opposing CISPA

EFF | Electronic Frontier Foundation :: Continuing our campaign against the cyberspying bill better known as CISPA, EFF has signed on to two coalition letters urging legislators to drop their support for the Rogers cybersecurity bill (HR 3523). One coalition is focused on the disastrous privacy implications of the bill, while the other identifies major government accountability issues it would introduce.

Continue to read Parker Higgins, www.eff.org

Tags: Legal Issues

April 12 2012

17:17

DOJ is likely to lose e-book antitrust suit targeting Apple

CNET :: The U.S. Justice Department's, or DOJ, legal pursuit of Apple for alleged e-book price fixing stretches the boundaries of antitrust law and is likely to end in defeat. Antitrust experts say feds have "far better case" for price fixing against publishers, three of which have settled, than they do against Apple.

Continue to read Declan McCullagh | Greg Sandoval, news.cnet.com

February 28 2012

07:24

Yahoo's friendly warning: Facebook, pay for patents or get sued

TechCrunch :: After years of positive relations, friendly blog posts, and referral traffic, Yahoo may have just been biding its time waiting to declare war on Facebook. Today it suddenly accused its former ally of infringing on 10-20 of its patents. It demands a settlement from Facebook or it says it will sue.

Continue to read Josh Constine, techcrunch.com

February 10 2012

19:16

Motorola Mobility fails to win 3G/UMTS-based injunction against Apple in Germany

FOSS Patents :: Apple's Mannheim jinx has been broken: this morning, Judge Andreas Voss of the Mannheim Regional Court announced that a Motorola Mobility lawsuit over a patent declared essential to the 3G/UMTS wireless telecommunications standard has been dismissed.

Continue to read fosspatents.blogspot.com

19:01

EU privacy rulings: 'huge consequences' for UK press

Journalism.co.uk :: Press freedom campaigners and lawyers acting on behalf of the media have welcomed two landmark European court rulings on privacy that justify media interest in celebrities' private lives. The judgments, from the European Court of Human Rights, tip the balance further towards the article 10 right to free speech, and away from the right to privacy (article 8) and will provide a new reference point for future privacy rulings in national courts.

Continue to read Paul McNally, www.journalism.co.uk

Tags: Legal Issues

January 27 2012

21:30

The Front Line of the U.S. Censorship Battle Is Behind Bars

A longer version of this post first appeared on MIT's Center for Civic Media blog.

In our ongoing quest to trace the outline of the phrase "civic media," we began the Center for Civic Media's 2012 lunch series with Paul Wright, editor and co-founder of Prison Legal News, and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, the non-profit umbrella which publishes PLN.

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PLN operates in a unique media environment, where the very act of distributing a magazine to their customers might first require winning a lawsuit. You see, their primary audience is made up of prisoners themselves. Prison Legal News is the longest-running publication put together with the help of people who are incarcerated, and since its first issue in 1990, it has become a critical resource for discussing issues facing these populations. It's an independent, monthly magazine that reviews and analyzes prisoner rights, court rulings, and news about prison issues. PLN focuses on state and federal U.S. prisons, as well as some international coverage. Paul himself has become a distinguished advocate on behalf of the U.S. population. Asked whether we could blog his talk, Paul responded, "Secrecy is the antithesis of publishing."

From Newsletter to National Publication

Prison Legal News started as a newsletter, in 1990, covering only Washington state's prisons. It was 10 pages and hand-typed for 75 subscribers. It launched into the publishing world with a $50 budget. The organization was completely volunteer-run until 1996. The first run of six issues ended up becoming a 22-year, 224-issue run (and still going). Some of their earliest subscribers are still with them -- a great sign for the publication's longevity, but a less great reflection of these subscribers' sentences.

PLN's perseverance has paid off: In 1990, there were 30 or 40 prisoners' rights news publications, but many have since ceased publishing. Prison Legal News has expanded its coverage as its subscriber base expanded. At one point, they realized they had more subscribers in California than in Washington, and that they had graduated to a national publication. Yet Paul considers himself one of the few people in print publishing these days who welcomes competition. He wishes there were other publications and institutions engaged in this work.

Prison Legal News is not light reading -- there's no horoscope, no advice column, just hard news and information. But that's what their customers want. An annual reader survey draws a 30-40% reader survey response, and the feedback is consistently asking for more useful information rather than lighter fare. There was a publication in the 1990s called "Prison Life," which covered prison life and the prison experience, and they were somehow surprised when they were unsuccessful, because prisoners would rather not read about this in their leisure time.

An expansion into book titles has focused on self-help and non-fiction reference books for prisoners, especially titles that aren't viable for traditional book publishers. Paul mentions books including "How to File a Lawsuit and Win," and books on hepatitis C (a dangerous health threat within the incarcerated population). There's great interest in books on health, including "Our Bodies, Ourselves," which Paul notes has been banned in some prison systems. They also provide "radical critiques of the criminal justice system", including edited volumes titled "The Celling of America," "Prison Nation" and
"Prison Profiteers." Paul notes that the books reach a different audience than the magazine, that there are people who prefer reading the long form of arguments.

Who Reads Prison News?

Prison Legal News is a niche publication. It's not trying to reach the whole incarcerated population of the U.S. It's targeting activists and lifers interested in improving prisons. Paul said they want to reach the activists, the 1% of people who make change. Men are 95% of the U.S. prison population, and make up a higher percentage of PLN's readership compared with women. Paul attributed this to the fact that women generally receive shorter sentences, and their subscribers tend to have long sentences ahead of them. Paul has found that it's the people who are in prison for a long period of time that make things happen. These are the lifers, the ones filing the lawsuits and organizing other prisoners. These are people who have accepted that prison is their life now, and who are working to do something to improve it.

There are around 7,000 subscribers to the print publication, but the reach is much broader. Reader surveys suggest that copies reach more than 10 prisoners each -- Paul estimates a readership of 80,000-90,000 readers. Additionally, the website gets around 100,000 visitors per month. The subscriber base includes judges, court officers, lawyers, journalists and academics, including Noam Chomsky, who Paul told us proudly was one of the first subscribers. All the big investment banks subscribe, Paul told us, because they follow news on the private prison industry. "I was happy when Lehman Brothers went under, but we lost a subscriber," he said. Lehman Brothers had been one of the biggest bankrollers of the private prison industry, so it was a happy day when they went down.

Publication Litigation

A big focus these days is making sure the target audience in prisons can actually receive the magazine. This requires extensive litigation. Prison Legal News has obtained consent decrees in nine states, ordering state prisons to deliver the magazine. PLN is currently litigating in New York and Florida to enable subscribers to receive their publication, both the magazine and the books they publish.

Almost every state's prison system has censored and banned the magazine at one point or another, Paul told us. The organization has won nine lawsuits, receiving consent decrees that order state prison systems to deliver the publications. The bans are generally pretextual. They're bans based on postal rates used to deliver magazines, or whether prisoners are allowed to pay for the magazine from their trust accounts. Sometimes there are arbitrary blocks on sending publications to prisoners in certain types of custody. In Washington, PLN discovered they needed to become an "approved vendor" and had a very difficult time figuring out "who's brother-in-law we had to work with" to gain "approved vendor" status, Paul said.

It's not just PLN getting banned. In one case, in South Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union had to sue when a prison banned all books except the Bible. These pretextual excuses can get pretty absurd -- Paul is currently facing an argument that the staples used to bind the magazine might be used as dangerous weapons. While we think it's funny, these are the issues PLN is forced to litigate (marshal the resources to sue the government, and win). "Think of every magazine held together by staples, delivered by mail. TIME, Newsweek. We're the only publisher in America who routinely challenges this censorship," he said.

Many of these rules are designed to prevent prisoners from having material to read, far beyond PLN's magazine. It would help if other American publishers would join in the fight to ensure publications are able to reach prison populations. When an Indiana judge upheld a ban on gay publications "Out" and "The Advocate," Paul asked the publishers to file suit, because it would stand up better in court than a suit from a prisoner. But publishers aren't seeking the prison population. "They tell us that they're not part of our targeted advertising demographic," he said. For PLN, the core audience is prisoners, and there's no point in publishing if the core audience can't get it. In recognition of this, they realized that funding staff attorney positions was a priority.

I noted that some critics of PLN have argued that it's as much a litigation platform as it is a publication. Paul countered that "our initial goal was always just to publish the magazine. But we got to to the point where we're just consuming ever greater amounts of organizational resources just getting the magazine into prisons." Paul estimated that he can spend as much as 40% of his time focusing on being able to distribute the publication, rather than producing and editing it. "The editor should be worried about being (an) editor, not worrying about why one prison system or another is censoring content," he said. For there to be any litigation, the government has to illegally censor the magazine, then PLN has to sue, and then they have to win. "If you don't like the consequences, don't break the law," Paul said.

Isolation from Society

Restrictions on what can be sent in and out of prison harm PLN in another way: It makes it very hard to hear from the incarcerated. In some prisons, prisoners can no longer send or receive information beyond what fits on a postcard. Other layers of draconian restriction include rules that postcard communication has to be in ink, can't use a label, etc. These mechanisms tend to be arbitrary and are designed, Paul argued, to prevent prisoners from having communication to and from the outside world. His organization has challenged a couple of these successfully, with a couple more pending. Paul told us that they are trying to nip this trend in the bud before it gets entrenched.

"Part of the goal is to get prisoners information. But conversely, we want to hear from them," he said. The bulk of the magazine's content is provided by contributing writers, who are mostly prisoners, some of whom have been working with PLN for over a decade. In the hopes of ensuring widespread distribution of the information, PLN doesn't demand exclusive publishing rights -- and people are free to copy and disseminate the information.

This is an area of close overlap with one of the Center for Civic Media's projects, "Between the Bars." BTB is a blogging platform for prisoners that gets around the lack of Internet access by scanning and publishing letters to a blog, and then mailing comments back to the authors on postcards. In addition to helping the incarcerated publish to the web, it helps the rest of the U.S. population by ensuring that we are able to hear from these voices, who comprise 1% of our entire populace.

Prison News Online

The Internet has greatly improved the visibility of Prison Legal News. Paul told us he conducts 3-4 interviews a week about the publication and the issues it raises. He's fluent in Spanish and noted that there's a great deal of interest in these issues from programs in Colombia and Venezuela. One of his associate gives interviews in Russian media, which seems to have an endless appetite for stories about the U.S. prison system. Some have observed that the U.S. prison system must be pretty bad when the Russians enjoy making fun of it.

The online presence of the magazine has allowed PLN to build a publication library online, with more than 6,000 documents available in its Brief Bank. "We've got the biggest, and I would say, the best, repository of prison documents online," Paul said. As a result, PLN generally shows up in Google's first page for prison-related queries, except sometimes when the "Prison Break" program is on TV.

At the same time, few prisoners have access to the web from their cell. Six prison systems allowed web access in 1990, but by 2000, that number was zero. Paul noted that not one of the prisoners who took part in a program to learn to use computers receded.

Prisons can be a bit of a timeless place, said Paul, where the equipment you see is 50-60 years old. PLN's print publishing business still thrives here (advertising levels for the print magazine are actually going up), and web publishing is almost nonexistent. PLN hasn't figured out how to make money online, like other publishers. Its content performs poorly with online advertising. On the site, the news content is free, legal content is paid, and these fees cover basic staff time put into the site. Advertising and subscription income and book distribution bring in about the same amount. Payroll is the biggest expense. They get some foundation funding and donations, and when all of this revenue is cobbled together, it's enough to move forward.

Staying Human

The acts of reading and writing are core to helping prisoners maintain their humanity, especially when everything else in these punitive systems is working to degrade that humanity. A publication like PLN lets prisoners connect with others, when the rest of the system is designed to isolate and alienate.

Paul is wary of the dehumanization that takes place before genocides and in prisons. We lose sight of the people in prison. We need to keep in mind that they're someone's father, someone's son, regardless of what they've done. When someone's been murdered in a prison, it's almost always that person's mother who calls PLN.

Paul closed his presentation by noting that he's now 264 issues into this project, and that since 1990, "everything to do with the criminal justice system, by objective or subjective standard, has gotten worse."

This post was written with Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT. For more information about PLN, see their Frequently Asked Questions and get in touch.

January 22 2012

19:09

Facebook Timeline and the Timeline.com trademark issue

Business Insider :: Back in September, Timelines.com filed a lawsuit against Facebook over the word "timeline." Facebook says that "timeline" is too generic of a word to trademark, while Timelines.com says that Facebook is about to destroy its business. Today, the two companies laid out a schedule of due dates for preliminary legal proceedings like fact reports and expert testimony.

Continue to read Ellis Hamburger, www.businessinsider.com

07:25

WikiLeaks - unfortunate trend to make court processes less open and transparent

New York Times :: This much is known: In its hunt for information about three people it believes to be associated with the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks, the Justice Department has sought to extract details about them and their communications on Twitter. What is not yet known is where else the Justice Department went looking. On Friday, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked a federal court in Virginia to reveal the names of the other Internet companies from whom the Justice Department solicited information.

Continue to read Somini Sengupta, bits.blogs.nytimes.com

January 21 2012

15:58

European Commission, Neelie Kroes: Defending media pluralism in Hungary

Europe.eu :: In 2011 the European Commission used the full extent of its legal powers to improve the Hungarian Media Law. The original version of that law could have breached fundamental rights and EU laws in four areas. Without hesitation I pushed for change and achieved those changes. These four issues comprise disproportionate application of rules on balanced information, application of fines to broadcasters legally established and authorised in other Member States, rules on registration and authorisation of media service providers and rules against offending individuals, minorities or majorities.

In taking this action the Commission abided by the binding principle that the EU can enforce fundamental rights only in areas subject to EU law, while in other respects this is the task of national courts and, if necessary, the European Court of Human Rights.

This left the Hungarian Constitutional Court to address matters of concern outside of EU law, which it did in a ruling on 19 December stating that media law “unconstitutionally limited freedom of the written press.” The judgement continues to be valid after the recent judicial changes in Hungary.

Some key elements of the judgement take immediate effect.  For example, the court has tightened the conditions under which journalists can be required to reveal their sources; while the Hungarian media authority cannot compel media outlets to hand over data. Other changes must be made by 31 May 2012, including removing the institution of the Media Ombudsman and removing the obligation for the written press to “respect human dignity” and not to use its content to invade privacy.

I urge the Hungarian authorities to respect this court ruling, and to implement it with the same speed and efficiency they applied to the Commission’s assessment on the EU law aspects of this media law.

[Neelie Kroes:] But I know that media pluralism and freedom cannot be defined and defended by laws alone. At the end of the day the successful practice of pluralism depends also on an atmosphere and a political culture that supports these ideas.

That is why we have followed up our legal demands on Hungary with an EU-wide high level group that is examining what media pluralism and freedom means in practice, and what can be done to improve the culture and law that supports it. That group is led by former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga of Latvia. We need to think seriously about whether the EU has sufficient powers in this area to meet public expectations about the defence of media pluralism.

Neelie Kroes is Vice President of the European Commission and responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe.

Above part is an excerpt of the original post - Continue to read Neelie Kroes, blogs.ec.europa.eu

15:32

Clay Shirky: Pick up the pitchforks: David Pogue underestimates Hollywood

Shirky.com :: Writing in his blog on the New York Times yesterday, David Pogue, one of the Times’ tech columnists, advises toning down the alarmist rhetoric over SOPA, suggesting that opponents of the bill (and its Senate cousin PIPA) should Put Down the Pitchforks. He takes particular issue with people who have criticized SOPA without actually understanding the text of the bill. Then, after this preamble, Pogue proceeds to offer an explanation of SOPA that makes it clear that he does not understand the text of the bill.

Continue to read Clay Shirky, www.shirky.com

15:28
06:40

January 18 2012

15:20

OpenCourt Coaxes Out More Data with Cooperative Coverage Day

A version of this post first appeared on the OpenCourt blog.

A man charged with selling drugs inside the courthouse. A woman said to have shoplifted $5 worth of barbeque chicken wings. A man charged with multiple counts of raping a child with force. A longtime Drug Court participant booted from the program for taking a non-narcotic pill (still against the rules). Everyone brought back to court owing fees or victim restitution in previously dismissed cases. A man on psychotropic medication charged with shoplifting a Stop and Shop cart full of meat and pulling a knife when confronted in the parking lot. A naked hiker in the Blue Hills whose defense to lewd behavior is being raised as a naturist. OUIs. Restraining order hearings. A wife sectioning her husband for alcoholism.

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OpenCourt has been streaming public court hearings from the First Session courtroom in the Quincy District Court in Massachusetts since May of 2011. We've received feedback about how our viewers use and value the footage, and we realize it would be useful to show more of the court's daily business -- not just the cross-section that comes through the First Session.

While holding to our goal to carve a plausible model for other courthouses, we've often asked ourselves how we and other journalists around the country could do a better job shedding light on a bigger portion of the iceberg's tip, and not necessarily using as much expensive technology.

In other words, just how much business does all of Quincy District Court do in a single day? How can we more fully capture the breadth of cases heard, day in and day out?

Cooperative Coverage

To help answer these questions, last month we hosted a cooperative coverage event at the court, an open invitation to citizen and traditional journalists alike to help us gather notes about everything that transpires in the building's six public courtrooms.

Our combined notes, which you can read here on our blog -- gathered between myself, our producer Val Wang, two Patriot Ledger reporters, two Harvard Berkman interns, one State House News reporter, and three citizen journalists -- are inevitably incomplete. But we hope this coming together shows more fully the wide array of hearings before the court, the sheer volume of cases, and the fact that this is all happening every day, outside of normal public view.

We realized it's easier than you might think for loosely affiliated citizens to collaborate on a one-off project (read: Twitter + Google Docs).

There were unsurprisingly a wide variety of cases. Some rough tallies: Assault & Battery (15, of which 3 were labeled as domestic violence), disorderly conduct (4), trespassing (3), resisting arrest (1), uninsured and/or unlicensed motor vehicle operation (5), speeding (3), shoplifting (5), larceny over $250 (1), receiving stolen property (2), distribution of an illegal substance (3), section 35 (1), sealed record request (3), interpreter needed (1).

This day was exceptional not by any standard of caseload or substance, only that more of us were there to see it and relay stories. For me and Val, the longer we're in court streaming, the clearer it is that we're sitting on a relatively unchecked sociological goldmine.

Opening Court Data

These notes from last month's experiment are, at the least, a compelling glance at the river of data flowing through our local courts every single day.

At best they offer a new angle on approaching larger questions: How do we get to a place where public court data is more accessible? Why aren't the stats being tracked more extensively and automatically in the name of scientifically diagnosing societal ills?

The Boston Globe recently published an extensive three-part series on Massachusetts drunken driving prosecutions, which undoubtedly required massive reporting energy. While that energy will always be required for strong narrative journalism, shouldn't reporters and the public at large alike have easier access to court proceedings to begin with? Wouldn't the state be better off if tracking the operation of its courts didn't require the Herculean effort of a crack, paid investigative team?

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this possible. Our aim at this point, as always, is to provide a window into the everyday landscape of our legal system. Beyond that, we hope efforts like this lead to smarter methods to inform and awaken the public -- to be a better radar for a community's prevalent crimes.

What do you think? What do you see? What should we do differently if we host another event like this?

January 16 2012

20:35

NBC Universal "is not at all neutral" - SOPA and conspiracy theories

New York Times | Media Decoder :: A pair of bills (SOPA, PIPA) that would strengthen antipiracy laws — and that could essentially censor the Internet, according to heavyw eights like Google — have received scant coverage from the major television networks. The parent companies of the TV networks are among the chief supporters of the bills, having lobbied Congress to write them in the first place. Those two facts, taken together, have caused conspiracy theories to flourish online about corporate interference in news coverage.

[Chris Hayes, Up:] (NBC Universal) is not at all neutral in this legislative battle.

Continue to read Brian Stelter, mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

January 13 2012

15:20

Why Unions Should Not Support SOPA

A version of this post first appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

I was supposed to speak on a panel about SOPA recently with the Northeast chapters of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. It was to serve as an educational discussion for local members, but at the national level, both unions have already officially endorsed SOPA. I spent the weekend preparing remarks, but the panel has been postponed, or possibly canceled, on account of AFTRA and SAG failing to provide representatives to discuss the bill. I can only hope this is an indication that they're reconsidering their public support of one of the least American bills to gain serious traction in Congress, as a number of other companies have done in the face of public backlash.

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The thing is, unions should never have supported this bill to begin with. At their best, organized labor is one of the most surefire ways to create a more equal, sustainable instance of capitalism.

They are the people who brought us the weekend and ended domestic child labor, a more recent phenomenon than we might like to admit. In recent times, the middle class has been under siege for years by politicians erasing taxes on the rich while simultaneously cutting benefits for the poor. Unions have the power to make things more fair, and as a result, they're under constant attack.

But at their worst, unions can behave as reactionary organizations that respond purely to the financial interest of their members, or even just their employers' commercial interests, at the expense of the general good of society. It appears that disruptive technology we know as the Internet is putting them in this position. National unions' stances on net neutrality, and now SOPA, have created a fault line between progressives who cherish free speech and unions focused on short-term paychecks rather than long-term investments in democratic communications. The Occupy movement has worked together with organized labor, for example, but wouldn't support this train-wreck of a proposal for government censorship (see the comments on the AFL-CIO's blog post mentioning SOPA as but one example).

costs outweigh benefits

Granting the government the power to create arbitrary blacklists and extralegal censorship will cost society at an order of magnitude more than union members stand to benefit. SOPA would break the Internet and set up a censorship regime that circumvents existing legal channels to serve one industry's financial desires. Bastardizing the technical infrastructure of the Internet and forcing payment system providers and search engines to cut off service to an organization without a trial is extralegal, and a misuse of these channels. One thing that's been somewhat lost in the uproar over SOPA is that legal channels are already in place to enforce anti-piracy law. As the MIT Center for Civic Media's Ethan Zuckerman pointed out to me, U.S. law already permits seizure of domestic domain names that are used for piracy, and 150 domains were seized in November alone. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is already U.S. law, and entertainment companies have spoken to its effectiveness.

The Writers Guild of America West has realized some of the implications of SOPA, and although the group is still concerned about piracy, has since come out against the bill in meetings with members of Congress:

They discussed concerns with the bill's implications for competition and an open Internet. Although the WGAW strongly supports combating piracy, the competition, First Amendment, and due process concerns the bill creates must be addressed.

But other, larger, unions remain behind the legislation. I can't be the only person who was surprised to see several top unions, including the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), SAG, and AFTRA, on the list of organizations supporting SOPA. I'm not sure how SOPA or PIPA would help the actual members of these unions, other than further enrich their employers' CEOs. But the AFL-CIO stands up for it.

I sympathize with the members of these unions, because it's plausible that online piracy is hurting their livelihoods. But a Congressional Research Services report found that the absolute number of jobs in the entertainment industry has actually increased since 1995, and disputes some of the other numbers the entertainment companies and unions are using in their letter to Congress.

It's also possible that many of these jobs are going away because their employers have based their businesses on the sale of physical goods, and haven't done a great or timely job of adjusting to obvious consumer shifts in consumption of content. Their very industries, represented by the trade groups these unions have aligned themselves with, such as the MPAA and the RIAA, have relied for years on reselling "Star Wars" and Beatles albums to the same customers every time the physical format changes. Digital content has brought about the era of the hit single and unlimited streaming, both of which break from the "you must buy this entire album" business model. This is a natural market shift that has nothing to do with piracy. I think it's important to consider that the disruptive technology these trade groups are railing against isn't just file-sharing. They've failed to adapt to simpler, legal shifts in their customers' preferences. (For more on this point, see "Why the Movie Industry Can't Innovate and the Result is SOPA," recommended by my friend Ted Fickes).

Even with regards to piracy, the director of business development at Valve, which sells expensive, pirate-able computer games as convenient digital downloads, said it best: "Pirates are underserved customers.When you think about it that way, you think, 'Oh my gosh, I can do some interesting things and make some interesting money off of it.'" Rather than partner with entertainment trade groups to stifle innovation at an unprecedented scale, creative unions should be working with web startups to enrich the emerging creative-as-producer business models.

how sopa hurts free speech

Besides the financial arguments around piracy and business models, SOPA could hurt unions' ability to organize and negotiate in other, more profound ways. To quote Matt Browner Hamlin, a senior fellow at Citizen Engagement Lab and former deputy director of New Media at the SEIU:

The Internet is a medium of communication and organizing that is evolving in ways we can't predict. It is a democratic medium where you don't have to be a massive corporation to have your voice heard. We should promote the ability of workers to engage in this transformative medium and empower them to find ways to use it to help themselves on the job. SOPA would fundamentally change how the Internet works and thus disempower workers from creating and sharing ideas, from organizing for their rights, and from having a counter-balance in the fight against the boss.

Another friend and SEIU veteran, Joaquin Guerra, points to echoes of this same debate from 2007, when the Communications Workers of America stood in the way of discussion on net neutrality. It was another recent example of a union standing on the wrong side of free speech to benefit their employers, and I guess, by trickle-down economics, themselves:

The topic was net neutrality, the idea that the Internet should not be controlled by telephone and cable companies. It was nowhere to be seen at the conference. The reason, according to a conference organizer, is that "the unions" have a problem with net neutrality.

"The unions" in this case is basically one union, the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Like it or not, CWA is the key to whether the Internet will continue to be open, or whether the telephone and cable companies will turn it into an instrument under their control. The prospects are not encouraging.

To put it more strongly, given the influence the union wields with Democratic legislators in Congress and in state houses, the prospects are downright discouraging. Democrats who traditionally take progressive positions on issues are also Democrats who don't want to cross organized labor. When there is a conflict, labor wins. And if labor is allied with the company, it's no contest. CWA and, to a lesser extent, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), could free Democrats to vote for a free and open Internet. But in a demonstration of the Stockholm syndrome, they won't.

I do sympathize, because disruptive technologies are truly disruptive. They can eliminate entire categories of employment virtually overnight. As my brothers and I emailed about what to get each other for Christmas this year, it struck us that we no longer needed to spend much on entertainment gifts. We get most of our music from Spotify, our video from Hulu and Netflix, and all of our book requests were followed by, "Used is fine. Get it for a couple of bucks on Amazon." My brother joked, "How anyone makes money in this country in 10 years is beyond me, but I suppose we can all buy handmade jewelry and chocolates from one another."

It's not clear where the next gravy train is. If I knew the answer, I'd go start that company. Plenty of people are starting these companies. But an important thing to keep in mind is that you can't un-invent technology. John Philip Sousa's railing against the gramophone and the entire concept of a recorded music industry didn't prevent those technologies from defining the 20th century. But, importantly, it also didn't eliminate the allure or the market for live music.

The answer to disruptive technology is not to employ the United States government to enact SOPA. Rather than help their companies collect collateral damage on younger companies that have made the Internet a prosperous, profitable, and relatively open creative space, unions should look seriously at alternatives to SOPA in fighting online piracy. I doubt that regulation is as viable a solution as creating compelling legal businesses around the globe, but if a law must be passed, the OPEN Act might be a better place to start. You can read some pros and cons for this approach over at TechDirt.

SOPA is good for one group, and one group only: members of Congress raising cash from the entertainment and now, by necessity, tech industries.

Members of the unions still supporting SOPA (the AFL-CIO, SAG, and AFTRA) should make it an internal issue, immediately, to persuade their leadership to take their name off this bill.

Image courtesy of Flickr user yoshiffles.

07:07

10 years later cleared of defamation - French landmark case: A new dawn for investigative journalism?

journalism.co.uk :: At the end of last year the French courts finally ended a long running legal battle which saw Denis Robert, an investigative journalist cleared of defamation 10 years after he first reported on Clearstream, a financial institution based in Luxembourg. The landmark ruling stated that although the work of journalist Robert contained inaccuracies, the thoroughness of his investigation and the public interest in the story outweighed the defamatory claims. The case has already been used as a legal precedent.

[Court ruling:] When dealing with a debate in the public interest, press freedom allows the possible use of a degree of exaggeration, or even of provocation, in remarks.

Continue to read Marianne Bouchart, www.journalism.co.uk

January 09 2012

09:41

Bangladeshi student to be prosecuted for Facebook post

memeburn :: A Bangladeshi high court has ordered police to prosecute a student for sedition after he wished for the death of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Facebook. The same court handed Jahangirnagar University teacher Ruhul Khandakar a six month jail sentence last week for contempt of court after he failed to respond to repeated summonses to explain his Facebook posting.

Continue to read staff reporter, memeburn.com

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