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This Week In Techdirt History: October 18th - 24th

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Five Years AgoThis week in 2015, the FBI was seriously dragging its heels on a FOIA request we filed, while we were looking at a recent terrorist bust by the agency that didn't seem to be very hampered by people "going dark", and Apple was in court fighting against demands that it unlock a phone. We took a look at how cable television is the exception to a pattern of decreasing prices for tech hardware and services, while the cable industry was still trying to explain how cord-cutting wasn't a real problem. And Tim Berners-Lee was speaking out about Facebook's plan to bastardize the internet with a limited free offering.Ten Years AgoThis week in 2010, there were a lot of shots fired in the legal war over commenters, with Google being ordered to turn over the IP addresses of YouTube commenters in one case just as a Canadian cop was filing another case with a similar demand, and a Broadway actor was also suing Twitter to unmask an anonymous tweeter — though perhaps the most fiery anger towards anonymity was from Gene Simmons who... wanted the nebulous online group Anonymous thrown in jail. Blizzard was employing a dubious copyright theory to go after cheat creators, an English heritage organization was making a beyond-dubious claim that it holds effective copyright on any and all photos of Stonehenge, and Joe DiMaggio's estate was trying to block the use of a photo of DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe with a threat that seemed like it might turn into a battle over questionable publicity rights — something we generally expected to fuel a growing category of IP trolling. There were developments in a few major copyright lawsuits too, with Righthaven losing to fair use in the first ruling to come down on its operation, the Golan case being appealed to the Supreme Court, and Viacom busting out the big guns for its YouTube appeal by hiring former solicitor general Ted Olson.Fifteen Years AgoThis week in 2005, the booming world of blogs was facing its first big spam crisis, while traditional news publishers were beginning to come to terms with how deeply they needed to rethink their operations for the internet. India joined the list of countries getting scared about Google Earth, though a tragedy in Pakistan was demonstrating how satellite images can be a good thing. Viral video makers JibJab were being awfully hypocritical about fair use and apparently failing to properly understand what it's for, while Craigslist was disappointingly fighting against scrapers and aggregators. And two of the biggest and most controversial internet names of the era were teaming up as Michael Robertson hired DVD Jon to hack for him.

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posted at: 12:00am on 25-Oct-2020
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Tom Lehrer, Still Awesome, Releases Lyrics Into The Public Domain

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Back in 2014 we had a post about Tom Lehrer and copyright. As you hopefully know, Lehrer, the unassuming retired math teacher, had a brief and massively successful music career, in part because all of his work is amazing. Years back, Buzzfeed had a fantastic article about Lehrer that is worth reading. That's what spurred my post about Lehrer and copyright, because in the Buzzfeed piece it became clear that Lehrer did not care one bit about retaining his copyrights.

While Lehrer has made startlingly little effort to ensure a future for his work, a handful of superfans have filled in the gap. One is Erik Meyn, a Norwegian who manages the Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel on YouTube, a feed of performance videos and playlists that has received more than 10 million views since 2007. Meyn originally posted content to the channel without Lehrer's permission and called him from overseas in December 2008 to apologize, a conversation he later posted on the Tom Lehrer! Facebook page. An excerpt:
TL: Well, you see, I'm fine with that channel.EM: You're very kind. But my question is: Who in your family will take care of your copyright and your songs in the distant future?TL: I don't have a family.EM: OK, but what do you think will happen to the channel and your songs? And if you have someone who will act on your behalf, could you give them my name in case they'd want the channel taken down?TL: Yes, but there's no need to remove that channel.EM: I was just wondering what will happen in the future, because you're certainly going to continue to sell records.TL: Well, I don't need to make money after I'm dead. These things will be taken care of.EM: I feel like I gave away some of your songs to public domain without even asking you, and that wasn't very nice of me.TL: But I'm fine with that, you know.EM: Will you establish any kind of foundation or charity or something like that?TL: No, I won't. They're mostly rip-offs.
And then later, Lehrer talks about how he doesn't even care about his masters any more:
In 2011, Morris was rummaging through the Sparks Street basement, and alongside the collection of books and records Lehrer referred to as his Noel Coward shrine were two boxes marked masters. They were, to Morris, the holy grail. These were the original recordings of the 1959 album More Songs by Tom Lehrer: the orchestral session and outtakes and Lehrer's recordings. Morris offered to help Lehrer remix them from half-inch tapes into stereo recordings.Well, why don't you just take them with you? Lehrer said.I was like, 'Are you kidding?! These are the master copies!' Morris recalled. I was just trying to reassure him, I'll be very careful with them, I won't let them fall in the wrong hands, I'm not going to distribute copies to anyone without your permission.I don't care! Lehrer told him. They're not worth anything to me.
Lehrer clearly sees that he doesn't need to retain the copyrights and try to squeeze extra profits out of the works (of course, it helps that he never gave up the copyrights and masters to giant record companies). And I loved the fact that he said he was "fine with that" when told that his songs were given away to the public domain.Of course, all of that is just talk in an article. Which is why it was exciting to see earlier this week that Lehrer's website has announced that all of his lyrics should be considered in the public domain:
I, Tom Lehrer, and the Tom Lehrer Trust 2000, hereby grant the following permission:All the lyrics on this website, whether published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted, may be downloaded and used in any manner whatsoever, without requiring any further permission from me or any payment to me or to anyone else.Some lyrics written by Tom Lehrer to copyrighted music by others are included herein, but of course such music may not be used without permission of the copyright owners. (The translated songs may be found in their original languages on YouTube.)In other words, all the lyrics herein should be treated as though they were in the public domain.In particular, permission is hereby granted to anyone to set any of these lyrics to their own music and publish or perform their versions without fear of legal action.
If you want to be technical, under US law there is no "official" way to move things into the public domain like this. You can only make an effective license not to sue about it, which is what Lehrer has done. And good for him.And while at this time it's just his lyrics, it sounds like he's looking to figure out how to do something similar for the compositions as well:
This permission applies only to the lyrics on this website. Most of the music written by Tom Lehrer will be added gradually later with further disclaimers.
Of course, it's notable that at the time he made most of his recordings, you could only get a federal copyright for the composition and not the sound recordings. Some later recordings, however were released in the 2000s (and sometimes by other companies) and I imagine the copyright situation with those recordings may be a bit more complex. Still, putting the lyrics in the public domain is something worth celebrating.And, thus, in celebration, I'll embed Tom Lehrer performing "Who's Next?" in the hopes that other musicians will embrace this (even though the song is actually about who will next get the nuclear bomb).


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posted at: 12:00am on 24-Oct-2020
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Content Moderation Case Studies: Facebook Removes Militia Event Following A Shooting (August 2020)

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Summary: Following the shooting of Black man Jacob Blake by Kenosha police officers, protests erupted in the Wisconsin town.As law enforcement attempted to rein in the damage, citizens aligning themselves with private "militias" discussed taking action during the civil unrest.Some of this organizing began on Facebook. A Facebook "event" created by the Kenosha Guard account (and promoted by conspiracy theorist/far right website Infowars) possibly caught the eye of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois with his weapons to the protest/riot occurring less than 30 minutes away in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Before the night was through, Rittenhouse had killed two residents and injured one other.Facebook finally removed the "event" posted by the Kenosha Guard account -- one the account referred to as a "call to arms." Posts by the group asked "patriots" to "take up arms" against "evil thugs." The event was deemed a violation of Facebook's policy regarding "Dangerous Individuals and Organizations." Facebook also claimed it could find no link between the account and this event and Kyle Rittenhouse.Some viewed this response by Facebook as too little too late. Someone had already apparently heeded the call to "take up arms" and had taken people's lives. According to a report by BuzzFeed, the event had been reported 455 times before Facebook removed it. Four moderators had responded to multiple flaggings with a determination that the event (and the account behind it) did not violate Facebook's rules. During an internal meeting with moderators, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted the company should have reacted sooner to reports about the event.Decisions to be made by Facebook:

  • Should moderators be given more leeway to remove events/accounts/pages (at least temporarily) that have generated hundreds of complaints, even if they don't immediately appear to violate policies?
  • Would a better/more transparent appeal process allow moderators to make more judgment calls that might address issues like this more expediently by allowing them to make mistakes that can be undone if no violation occurred?
  • How does the addition of more forms of content to the "unwanted" list complicate moderation efforts?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Does the seemingly constant addition of new forms of content to "banned" lists invite closer government inspection or regulation?
  • Is a perceived failure to react quickly enough an impetus for change within the company?
  • Are policies in place to allow for judgment calls by moderators? If so, do they encourage erring on the side of caution or overblocking?
  • Does taking credit for actions not actually performed by Facebook make it appear more focused on serving its own interests, rather than its users or public safety in general?
Resolution: The event flagged by hundreds of users was ultimately removed but not by Facebook, as was earlier reported. The group that posted the event took it down following the shooting in Kenosha. The company appears to realize this delay may have contributed to events that unfolded in Kenosha and has put policies in place to make things clearer for moderators.

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posted at: 12:00am on 24-Oct-2020
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FLVTO.biz Petitions SCOTUS To Hear Jurisdiction Argument In Stream-Ripping Lawsuit

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While the music industry's war on stream-ripping sites -- sites that have perfectly legitimate and legal uses -- continues, it's true that this is a war in which one side has almost universally surrendered. Facing legal opposition with well-funded industry groups, most stream-ripping sites simply close up shop when staring down litigation. But Russia-based FLVTO.biz has been an exception. We first wrote about the site's decision to defend itself back in early 2019. At that point, the owner of the site, Tofig Kurbanov, had successfully argued in a Florida court that the United States legal system had no jurisdiction over his site, given that it operates in Russia and makes no effort to entice American patronage.It was a sensible ruling. After all, why should anyone want websites in one nation to be subject to the laws of every other nation's laws just because the internet is designed to be international? And, yet, the RIAA labels appealed the ruling and got it reversed. The case was sent back to the lower courts where it was supposed to once again proceed, except that Kurbanov's team has asked the Supreme Court to consider its jurisdiction arguments once more.

Those plans were then confirmed last month back at the Virginia court where the lawsuit began, which is considering the case anew following the Fourth Circuit ruling. Kurbanov’s lawyers have asked the district court to pause the ongoing proceedings there pending their application to the Supreme Court.That application was submitted earlier this week. It argues that the top court should consider the case, because some Supreme Court style consideration is required on the issue of whether or not “the ‘due process clause’ of the United States Constitution is violated when a foreign citizen is subjected to personal jurisdiction based entirely on: (1) his operation of a website that is popular both within the United States and worldwide, but which is not specifically aimed at the United States; and (2) minor internet-based and internet-initiated transactions entered into by the foreign citizen entirely from outside the United States”.
This is indeed just the sort of important due process argument in the age of the internet that a sober SCOTUS should be weighing in on. And, while we could get lost in the legality of it all, common sense really should rule the day here. Does American law have jurisdiction over foreign entities not making any real effort to do commerce on American soil or does it not? And, if so, what precedent does that set for every other nation out there in terms of how American-based businesses conduct business over the internet?Shall legal pornography websites in America be subject to the more prudish laws of other nations? Should news organizations in America face litigation from countries with far fewer press and free speech protections? Hell, should American entities legitimately selling RIAA label music themselves face threats from countries with obscenity laws and the like?
Evan Fray-Witzer said: “If you operate a website that is popular, then you’re subject to jurisdiction anywhere – and everywhere – that people access the website. And that’s not a precedent that anyone should want to stand, because if Kurbanov can be dragged into court here from Russia, then any US citizen who creates a popular website can expect to be dragged into court anywhere in the world”.The lawyer also told Torrentfreak that the major labels should support his client’s bid to get the Supreme Court to provide clarity on this issue.“If the record companies are so certain that the Fourth Circuit got this question right, then they should be anxious for the Supreme Court to take up the case”, he added. “We invite them to join our petition and ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on these crucial jurisdictional questions. But I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so”.
It can be hard for the labels to see past the ends of their own noses, but they should realize that they could truly be biting themselves in their own asses if SCOTUS refuses to hear this case and this precedent gets set. The internet is international, but American laws are not.

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Oct-2020
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