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February 2020
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Federal Agencies Are Still Abusing Their Favorite, Super-Vague FOIA Exemption Thousands Of Times A Year

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The Freedom of Information Act was supposed to result in, you know, the freedom of information. Obviously, not everything the government produces paperwork-wise can end up in the public's hands, but far more should be turned over to the public than has been.Using a proprietary blend of stonewalling and excessive fee demands, countless government agencies have managed to keep public documents away from the public. It takes a lawyer to win FOIA lawsuits, which may be why corporations are getting their hands on far more documents than American citizens.Exemption b(5) is, by far, the federal government's favorite. It's vague enough it can cover just about anything.

inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency
Sprinkle a little intra-agency imagination over a pile of paperwork and responsive documents suddenly become unresponsive and are removed from life support as soon as feasibly possible. FOIA lawsuits are the metaphorical families in the waiting room, begging Dr. Info to reconsider pulling the plug.Exemption b(5) has been used to withhold everything from State Department's "what a load of crap" Post-It note (attached to a Congressional proposal to designate Pakistan as a sponsor of international terrorism) to the CIA's files on the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.The abuse of this exemption may have peaked in 2013, when federal agencies used it more than 81,000 times. But things haven't necessarily improved in the last seven years. In 2018, (b)5 was still cited more than 60,000 times. The (otherwise considerable) drop in deployment may be due to 2016 legislation, as the Project on Government Oversight explains:
One possible factor in the reduced use of Exemption 5 since its peak in 2013 may be reforms instituted by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. One reform barred the use of the exemption for records more than 25 years old…
That would remove the CIA's strategic blockade of its Bay of Pigs docs. But there's plenty of info far less dated that still receives the (b)5 "get out of transparency free" card. Multiple investigations of ICE detention centers highlighted the inconsistent application of the feds' go-to exemption. Documents handed to NPR [on the left in the image below] by ICE contained plenty of information. The docs handed to POGO, however, contained only redactions and the b(5) excuse.
Somehow the same information was both able to be released and able to be withheld under exemption b(5). As POGO points out, the b(5) boilerplate makes zero sense when applied to the text released to NPR. This exemption isn't supposed to deny the public access to common sense conclusions.
It’s difficult to understand how these statements—that inadequate mental health care leadership leads to poor care, and that solitary confinement is the “most important issue” at this particular detention center—can be properly withheld under Exemption 5. There is no attorney-client advice, and no deliberation on a pending policy decision.
If this is repairable, it will take an act of Congress, just like it did the last time. This exemption is like qualified immunity for cops: why not toss it up against the wall and see if it sticks? Since it usually takes litigation to reverse agency non-judgment calls, the house -- which spends other people's money to stick it to the people -- almost always wins.

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posted at: 12:00am on 14-Feb-2020
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Rockstar Joins Other Publishers In Misusing Copyright Law To Go After Cheat Developers For GTA5

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For some time now, we've noted a troubling trend in the video games industry. That trend would be publishers trying to twist copyright law into a pretzel that allows them sue makers of cheat software for copyright infringement. This novel application of copyright law has been piloted by Blizzard and Epic Games in the past. Both company's theory of the case for copyright infringement revolves around their games being licensed instead of sold, with the EULA being broken by utilizing cheat software. If the EULA is broken and the cheat-maker still makes use of the game, they do so without a license. Therefore, copyright infringement.This, of course, is not how copyright law is supposed to work. Instead, the point of the law is to prevent unauthorized copying of the product, which is absolutely not the practical result of what these cheat-makers are doing. And, yet, the trend continues, with Rockstar Games winning a summary judgement in the UK against two individuals who developed cheats for Grand Theft Auto 5.

At the Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court, Rockstar and its parent company Take-Two Interactive filed a complaint against several people connected to the now-defunct “Epsilon” cheat. Epsilon was a so-called ‘mod menu’ which offered players significant advantages. The game companies reportedly shut down the cheat in 2018 and identified five men connected to it. They were accused of copyright infringement by creating and distributing the software.
Three of the five settled with Rockstar out of court. The other two, however, defended themselves by both noting that they included a disclaimer of liability to those making use of their software and that the tools they used to make their cheats are widely and publicly available on the internet. The court didn't buy either argument and found for Rockstar in summary judgement. The court did likewise on breach of contract (the EULA) and inducement to breach that contract, except on the former for one defendent, who is a minor.
All in all, the court ruled in favor of Rockstar and Take-Two, granting summary judgment for copyright infringement against the two men. This means that the case won’t go to trial.Both defendants were also accused of (inducement of) breach of contract and breach of contract. The court sided with the game companies here as well, except for the breach of contract claim against one of the two, who was a minor at the time of the offense.
Left unexamined appears to be why any of this is actually copyright infringement to begin with. And, if the court truly thinks it is, why the entire modding ecosystem isn't suddenly one big cesspool of copyright infringement. The law doesn't care whether a game is online or not. Either mods are appropriate fodder for copyright law or they are not.One wonders if companies like Rockstar understand the potential harm they are doing to their industry by going down this road.

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