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The Copyright Fights Over The Australian Aborigine Flag Continue To Demonstrate Copyright Insanity

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It's been nearly a decade since we last wrote about the Australian aborigine flag and the insane copyright issues surrounding it. That time, back in 2010, it involved the copyright holder of the flag forcing Google to edit the flag out of one of its famous Google doodles, where it had originally been included as part of an Australia Day celebration. The problem, as you might have guessed, is that the flag was designed in the early 1970s "as a symbol of unity and national identity" by Harold Thomas. Because it was the creation of a private individual, and not a government, Thomas claims to hold a copyright on the image. He didn't do much with that copyright for decades, while the flag became an established symbol for indigenous Australians. Then, suddenly, he discovered he held the copyright and started making use of it.Apparently, that's ramped up even more in the last few months after Thomas did a licensing deal with a clothing company, followed by the traditional "sending of the cease-and-desist letters."

In October 2018, Thomas granted WAM Clothing worldwide exclusive rights to use the flag on clothing. Late last week, it issued a series of cease and desist notices to several companies, including the AFL, which uses the flag on jerseys for the Indigenous round, and an Aboriginal social enterprise which puts the profits of its clothing sales back into Aboriginal community health programs.A spokesperson for WAM Clothing said it had been actively inviting any organisations, manufacturers and sellers who wish to use the Aboriginal flag on clothing to contact us and discuss their options.Until WAM Clothing took on the licence Harold was not receiving recognition from the majority of parties, both here and overseas, who were producing a huge amount of items of clothing bearing the Aboriginal flag, the spokesperson said.
Of course, some might argue that if you design a "flag" and declare that you did so "as a symbol of unity and national identity," and then allow that flag image to be used for decades in order to establish it as identifying indigenous Australians it is (1) kind of an obnoxious move to then register a copyright, license it and start sending out legal threats and (2) so blatantly obviously against anything having to do with copyright law. Thomas did not design the flag because of the incentives of copyright law, as even he admits. The idea that he then gets to benefit from that law that had nothing to do with incentivizing the creation seems quite ludicrous.Meanwhile, the mess has copyright lawyers in Australia suggesting that the government forcibly buy out Thomas' copyright:
Former CEO of the Australian Copyright Council Fiona Phillips says the legal status of the Aboriginal flag is a unique situation that requires a public policy solution.[....]The Aboriginal flag is not just an artistic work, it's a national symbol and is particularly important to Indigenous Australians, said Phillips, who has also worked at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and as a government adviser on copyright law.The government could seek to compulsorily acquire copyright from Mr Thomas on public policy grounds. They could buy him out for the rights.
Yes, the government could do that, and it would still be fairly crazy. It seems like a better idea is recognizing that if you push something out there as a symbol for all to use, and then decades later come back with copyright demands, the copyright claims should be laughed at, rather than made real. Tragically, Australia went in the other direction, leading to the present mess.

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posted at: 12:00am on 19-Jun-2019
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Site-Blocking In Australia Expanded Again To Include 105 More Sites, Including A Search Engine

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The Australian government approved an amended copyright law late last year that made subtle changes to what types of sites ISPs can be ordered to be blocked by the courts, and the process by which that order is obtained. Essentially, the changes amounted to allowing blocking of sites with the primary "effect" being copyright infringement, rather than the primary "purpose", along with an expedited process for getting additional site-blocking orders for sites that set up mirror sites to route around the blocks. Before the ink on the legislation was even dry, just as we warned, Village Roadshow and a bunch of American entertainment companies swooped into the court system to order blocks on all kinds of sites.And now it appears those groups were just getting started. After getting 181 domains blocked late last year, industry groups have decided to expand that with a recent request to block an additional 105 domains.

Soon after, the same companies (plus Australian distributor Madman and Tokyo Broadcasting) returned to court with a new application to block 79 “online locations” associated with 99 domains.The order appears to have changed slightly since the original application. It now lists 104 domains spread across 76 allegedly-infringing platforms. Many of the sites are well-known torrent and streaming services, including StreamCR, Torrenting, TorrentLeech, AnimeHeaven, and HorribleSubs, to name just a few.
It's a significant number of sites to be sure and it's all enabled by the change in the copyright law. It's worth keeping in mind that we're less than a year into the change in law, and the entertainment industry has already blocked something like 200 sites. Even if we were to stipulate the pirate-y nature of these sites, which we shouldn't, the speed at which this much wholesale blocking is being done is tremendous.On the topic of whether all the sites being blocked are pirate sites, at least one of those sites is attempting to defend itself.
It’s extremely unusual for any sites to mount any kind of defense against blocking but earlier this year, Socrates Dimitriadis – the operator of Greek-Movies.com – did just that.“My site is just a search engine that refers users to third-party websites,” he explained in a letter to the Court.That appears to have held no sway with the Judge. Greek-Movies is the 15th site listed in the injunction, with ISPs required to target its main domain (greek-movies.com) and/or its IP address 136.243.50.75, using DNS, IP address or URL blocking, or “any alternative technical means”.
This reveals the pernicious nature of the "purpose" to "effect" change in copyright law. There are simply no clear lines drawn here, which has now resulted in a site that does not host any infringing content being blocked under the argument that it's primary effect is still to effect copyright infringement. Precisely how long do you think it will take before someone in the music industry attempts to get YouTube blocked using that same argument? After all, there is a lot of infringement being done on YouTube, even though the primary purpose of the site is certainly not to commit copyright infringement. It sure seems like someone could do a statistical analysis of views and/or traffic on YouTube, mess with the data, and reach the conclusion that infringement is a primary effect of the site, no?Again, we're not even a year in. This is only going to get much, much worse.

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posted at: 12:00am on 19-Jun-2019
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We're Apparently Scanning Our TVs For Viruses Now

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We've noted for many years that (like so many "internet of things" devices) modern smart televisions have the security protection equivalent of damp cardboard. Not only are they often easily hacked (something intelligence agencies are super excited about since it gives them audio access to targets), but the companies that make them have been busted repeatedly for hoovering up user usage data (and even audio from your living room), and then failing to adequately secure it.This week, Samsung took a bit of heat for urging the company's TV customers to, for the first time, occasionally run an antivirus scan on their television sets. The Tweet was online online briefly before Samsung deleted it, apparently realizing it only advertised the fact that you shouldn't be getting viruses on your TV set in the first place:

That's amusing for several reasons. One, because customers wouldn't be getting viruses on their television sets if these products had even the most basic security protections, something TV vendors have failed at for years. Two, because it highlights how many modern televisions have become insanely complicated. Not because consumers necessarily want them to be insanely complicated, but because most TV vendors want you using their embedded streaming platforms and as opposed to a third-party streaming device (like Roku, Chromecast, or a game console).And of course they want you using their streaming platforms because they want to monetize your viewing and other profitable data. As a Vizio executive recently acknowledged, this can help subsidize the cost of cheaper TV sets. That creates a dilemma whereby the consumer is forced to pay a premium if they want a TV set that simply displays a god-damned image and doesn't hoover up their personal data:
The problem is if you've shopped for a TV lately, it's effectively impossible to find a "dumb" television that simply passes on signal from other devices. As in: they're simply not available at any meaningful scale, even if you were willing to pay a significant premium for them. Many people certainly are; most embedded TV OS platforms are kind of terrible, and users would rather buy a new streaming box (Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV) every few years than be forced to buy an entirely new TV set because the embedded streaming hardware becomes outdated (something TV vendors clearly would benefit from).While some set vendors might argue that dumb televisions don't exist because there's no market demand for them, the fact is they haven't even bothered to try. And they haven't bothered to try because they're fixated on accelerating the TV upgrade cycle and collecting and selling your personal usage data to a universe of partners. Which again, might not be quite as bad if these companies had done a good job actually securing and encrypting this data, or designing television OS' that didn't feel like they were barfed up from the bowels of 1992 GUI design hell.It's all kind of a silly circle dysfunction but pretty standard operating procedure in the internet of broken things era, where an endless list of companies now sell over-hyped internet-connected appliances, gleefully collect and monetize your data, but can't be bothered to adequately secure that data or provide consumers with clear options to avoid data collection entirely.

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posted at: 12:00am on 18-Jun-2019
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Appeals Court To Cops: There's Nothing Inherently Suspicious About Running From The Police

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just handed down a refresher [PDF] on a few legal issues, most notably what is or isn't "reasonable" when it comes to suspicion. Police officers thought an anonymous tip about a man carrying a gun and someone running away from them created enough suspicion to chase down Daniel Brown, stop him at gunpoint, and search him for contraband.Contraband was found, leading to Brown's motion to suppress. The lower court said this combination -- an anonymous report of a gun and Brown's decision to run when he saw the police cruiser -- was reasonable enough. Not so, says the Ninth Circuit, pointing out the obvious fact that a person carrying a gun can't be inherently suspicious in a state where carrying a gun in public is permitted.

In Washington State, it is presumptively lawful to carry a gun. It is true that carrying a concealed pistol without a license is a misdemeanor offense in Washington. See RCW §§ 9.41.050(1)(a) (“[A] person shall not carry a pistol concealed on his or her person without a license to carry a concealed pistol . . . .”), 9.41.810 (explaining that any violation of the subchapter is a misdemeanor “except as otherwise provided”). However, the failure to carry the license is simply a civil infraction.
There was no reason for officers to assume Brown's gun was unlicensed. Since carrying a gun in Washington is "presumptively legal," the officers would have needed more info than they had to perform a stop to just to ask Brown for his carry license. The anonymous tip officers received said only that a YWCA resident had approached the desk and said they'd seen a man with a gun. No further information was given by the tipster.Faced with the weakness of the tip and the presumptive legality of gun ownership, the police then argued Brown might have been illegally "displaying" his gun to "cause alarm." But the court denies this argument -- first raised on appeal -- as being no better than assuming Brown's mere gun possession was enough to justify a stop.
Faced with this reality, the government now argues that the officers suspected that the manner in which Brown was carrying his gun was unlawful: it is “unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm . . . in a manner, under circumstances, . . . that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.” RCW § 9.41.270. Never mind that nothing in the record could support such a finding. No evidence shows that the resident was alarmed at the time she reported seeing the gun. There is no report that she yelled, screamed, ran, was upset, or otherwise acted as though she was distressed. Instead, the 911 call reported only that the resident “walked in” and stated “that guy has a gun.”
Finally, the government argued that Brown's decision to flee when he saw police officers was inherently suspicious. Again, the court says this is wrong. While fleeing officers can be suggestive of wrongdoing, it is only one factor and it's one heavily influenced by the deteriorated relationships many law enforcement agencies have with the communities they serve. The Ninth Circuit quotes Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who put this in his dissent from the Court's 2000 decision in Illinois v. Wardlow:
Among some citizens, particularly minorities and those residing in high crime areas, there is also the possibility that the fleeing person is entirely innocent, but, with or without justification, believes that contact with the police can itself be dangerous, apart from any criminal activity associated with the officer’s sudden presence.
The Appeals Court adds to this, saying not much has improved since Justice Stevens authored his dissent:
In the almost twenty years since Justice Stevens wrote his concurrence in Wardlow, the coverage of racial disparities in policing has increased, amplifying awareness of these issues. [...] Although such data cannot replace the “commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior” underlying the reasonable suspicion analysis, Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125, it can inform the inferences to be drawn from an individual who decides to step away, run, or flee from police without a clear reason to do otherwise. See id. at 133 (“Moreover, these concerns and fears are known to the police officers themselves, and are validated by law enforcement investigations into their own practices.” (footnote omitted)).
Attached to this paragraph is a footnote quoting the DOJ's investigation of the Seattle Police Department -- the one involved in the arrest at the center of this case. The 2011 report found the Seattle PD routinely deployed "unnecessary and excessive force" and engaged in "racially discriminatory policing."The court goes on to say this isn't just a problem with the Seattle PD, but law enforcement in general, which gives plenty of people all the reason they need to dodge interactions with law enforcement.
Given that racial dynamics in our society—along with a simple desire not to interact with police—offer an “innocent” explanation of flight, when every other fact posited by the government weighs so weakly in support of reasonable suspicion, we are particularly hesitant to allow flight to carry the day in authorizing a stop.
The public isn't obligated to stop just because an officer says, "Stop." In this case, the officers said nothing until Brown was already running. Lots of people have zero interest in talking to the police. Some don't want the hassle. Most don't enjoy the experience. And some suspect they'll probably end up arrested or dead, even if they haven't done anything wrong. If law enforcement doesn't like the way this decision breaks, it really can't blame anyone else for the public's reaction to the unexpected presence of officers. Even the tipster said she didn't want to talk to an officer because, according to the YWCA rep speaking to the dispatcher, she "[does not] like the police." Running from cops isn't inherently suspicious. Far too often, running from cops just makes sense.

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posted at: 12:00am on 18-Jun-2019
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