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October 2018
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Vizio Customers Get A Pittance In Settlement Over Snooping Televisions

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As we frequently note, most of the "smart" products you buy are anything but intelligent when it comes to your privacy and security. Whether it's your refrigerator leaking your gmail credentials or your new webcam being hacked in mere minutes for use in massive new DDoS attacks, the so-called "smart" home is actually often dumb as nails and potentially hazardous. So-called smart-televisions have been particularly problematic, whether that has involved companies failing to encrypt sensitive data, or removing features if you refuse to have your daily viewing habits measured and monetized.Last year Vizio joined this not-so-distinguished club when it was discovered that the company's TVs had been spying on users for the last several years, starting back in 2014. Vizio's $2.2 million settlement with the FTC indicates that the company at no time thought it might be a good idea to inform customers this was happening. The snooping was part of a supposed "Smart Interactivity" feature deployed in 2014 that claimed to provide users with programming recommendations, but never actually did so. Its sole purpose was to hoover up your data and help Vizio sell it, without your express consent.Vizio was also hit with a class action lawsuit over its actions, and the finishing touches on a settlement are just getting hashed out now. Lawyers representing consumers in the case state Vizio secretly tracked and sold the usage habits of around sixteen million Vizio owners for around three years. They're demanding a settlement of $17 million and a promise from Vizio that this won't ever happen again:

"Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Vizio will establish a $17 million settlement fund that will deliver money directly to consumers who bought Vizio Smart TVs that were subsequently connected to the Internet between February 1, 2014 and February 6, 2017. Vizio has also stopped tracking what is displayed on its Smart TVs unless a consumer consents to this tracking after receiving a prominent notification. And Vizio will delete the remaining contested viewing data in its possession."
What this actually means for consumers is a bit less impressive. Ars Technica took a closer look at the court filings in the case and found that consumers are likely to get all of somewhere between $13 and $31 for the inconvenience of being spied on without their permission. Lawyers will, unsurprisingly, get significantly more:
"When it's all said and done, new court filings submitted on Thursday say each of those 16 million people will get a payout of somewhere between $13 and $31. By contrast, their lawyers will collectively earn a maximum payout of $5.6 million in fees."
On the plus side, insiders tell Ars Technica that the $17 million being doled out is more than Vizio made from selling this data, which usually isn't the case in other similar failures of trust (especially by cellular carriers, who'll often be fined millions for privacy violations that potentially netted them billions). And while Vizio's promises are good and all, many argue we need stronger public deterrents for companies that fail to respect user privacy, starting first and foremost with efforts to include privacy and security oversights in product reviews.

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posted at: 12:49am on 16-Oct-2018
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African Nations Rife With Illegitimate Collection Societies: Nigeria Files Criminal Complaint Against COSON

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You may recall that we have discussed the complete chaos that is copyright collection societies in Kenya over the past few years. At issue in Kenya is that the country has multiple collection societies, which are overseen by a government sanctioned body that can request to look at their books to make sure artists are being paid appropriately, and officially licenses the collection societies themselves. Some of those collection groups have apparently not felt the need to respond to requests for oversight, leading the government to pull or not renew their licenses. Instead of being the end of the story, a number of those collection societies continue to threaten people and collect royalties anyway, acting essentially as an illegal extortion outfit.Kenya is not the only African nation going through this, it seems. Across the continent on the opposite coast, the Nigerian Copyright Commission has been going through similar issues, specifically with a collection group called COSON.

The Nigerian Copyright Commission has filed a criminal charge against the Copyright Society of Nigeria, its Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji, and principal officers for carrying out the duties of a collecting society without the approval of the Nigerian Copyright Commission.The NCC, in a statement signed by its Director-General, Afam Ezekude, and made available to our correspondent on Tuesday, said, “In Charge No FHC/L/338C/18, filed on October 8, 2018 at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, the accused persons were alleged to have performed the duties of a collecting Society by demanding and collecting royalties from Noah’s Ark of 9 Sowemimo Street, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.”The commission also accused COSON of carrying on the business of negotiating and granting licences on behalf of copyright owners without its approval, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under sections 39 (4), (5) and (6) of the Copyright Act Cap C 28 Laws of the Federation of Nigerian 2004.
This is now becoming a trend, with collection societies in several African nations simply and rather brazenly carrying on the business of shaking down businesses for music licensing fees, even beyond the point of their being legally allowed to do so. Frankly, given the copyright collection industry, this is not a huge leap to take. These societies already have many of the hallmarks of extortion rings, with their undercover "patrons" at businesses and their threat letters that might as well begin with, "Nice business you have there. Be a shame if anything happened to it."But what this really shows, more than anything else, is how many of these copyright collection groups are devoid of any interest in the law, in the artists they represent, or in acting with even a modicum of ethical standards. Instead, these are money-making operations, and that money-making doesn't stop just because the law says they have to.

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posted at: 12:49am on 16-Oct-2018
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This Week In Techdirt History: October 7th - 13th

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Five Years AgoThis week in 2013, the US government shut down. Former CIA director Morell used that as an excuse to skip an NSA surveillance review board meeting, while James Clapper warned that failing to pay the agency's mercenary contractors might lead to security problems. The TSA similarly used the shutdown as an excuse for letting a nine-year-old sneak on to a flight, and a lawsuit by tech companies over NSA surveillance was put on hold. Outside the government, some folks were having fun with the shutdown, such as the Russian pirates offering to host the NASA website, someone submitting a bug report to GitHub describing how "government occasionally shuts down", and Good Old Games started offering some free thematically-appropriate games to furloughed government workers.But hey, at least Congress's members-only gym was deemed essential and kept open.Ten Years AgoThis week in 2008, it was still the early days of the global financial crisis. Many self-serving and/or bizarre explanations popped up, blaming things like short selling and Wikipedia edit wars or, most strangely, flickering computer screens (according to author Tom Wolfe). Cooler heads took a closer look at the real causes: leverage and derivatives and a toxic, complex financial system.Meanwhile, bogus stats and arguments were coming strong from the US Chamber of Commerce and members of congress in a push to get the president to sign the bill creating a copyright czar. At the same time, a judge ordered an injunction against Real's DVD copying software and for some inexplicable reason kept it secret, then extended it.Also, long before the Snowden leaks and following Congress's capitulation on warrantless wiretapping, early leaks were already documenting NSA surveillance abuse.Fifteen Years AgoThis week in 2003, as we took a look at the role of music retailers in the industry's failure to adapt, the record companies were trying to ape the success of DVDs by adding "extras" to CDs. That's extra content — not extras like BMG's new DRM system, which a researcher discovered could be defeated by holding down the shift key while inserting the disk. SunnComm, the company that made the laughably useless DRM, naturally announced plans to sue the researcher for besmirching their good name — but reversed course in less than 24 hours in the face of public outcry. The software industry, on the other hand, was just beginning to dip its toe into the waters of a DRM approach that would gain much more traction (even while still being quite easily circumvented): product activation codes.

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posted at: 12:49am on 14-Oct-2018
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Warner Media Opposes Trademark Filed By Actual 'Wicked Witch' Over Its Wizard Of Oz Trademarks

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Thanks to the convoluted nonsense that is copyright law, readers here will likely be familiar with the insanity that is intellectual property rights revolving around The Wizard of Oz. Thanks to some of the works being in the public domain, some of them being under copyright, and the courts mostly treating all of this on a case by case basis, it's fairly clear at this point that basically nobody knows who is allowed to do what with anything associated with The Wizard of Oz. Usually, issues relating to the work revolve around this axis of confusion.But that's less the case when it comes to trademark issues. For all of its flaws, trademark law is blessedly limited to public confusion and true competition within a specific market. That's what makes it bewildering that Warner would bother to oppose the trademark application filed by a pagan priestess for her "Wicked Witch Mojo" brand.

Turner Entertainment Company has filed an opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to stop witch and Pagan elder Dorothy Morrison from trademarking her brand name ‘Wicked Witch Mojo.” Turner Entertainment, a subsidiary of AT&T’s WarnerMedia, serves as the copyright holder for a large library of productions made by its sister subsidiary Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (aka, Warner Brothers), that includes The Wizard of Oz (1939).Morrison said, “I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that Turner Entertainment could have A] been allowed to trademark the phrase ‘Wicked Witch,’ and B] that they had accused me of deliberately weakening their trademark.” She said that, after the shock wore off, she was just angry. “It occurred to me that if Turner saw fit to go after me, there was nothing to stop them from going after anyone in the magical community who’d ever used that phrase. And I couldn’t, in good conscience, allow that to happen,” she explained.
And so she contacted a lawyer and there is now a case pending. Warner's lawyer apparently discussed the case with her lawyer, refused to budge on the opposition, and suggested that she could be sued for copyright as well for using some imagery in her branding, specifically red-heeled shoes on her business cards. That, and of course, the characters that Warner claims are being referenced in her name and branding.And that's where we get right back into the confusing bullshit.
Morrison’s attorney Richard Bullock argues otherwise, saying that these images and words recall the books, not the movie. Bullock writes, “The marks are derived from the writings of L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its various sequels.”He also argues that Turner’s trademarks are only limited to certain product areas, and that Turner is not likely to be moving into the metaphysical arena; nor will Morrison be producing products for the mainstream toy or clothing markets, and other industries specified within Turner’s trademarks. Bullock wrote that there would be “no likelihood of confusion.”
The latter part referencing the trademark oppositions are almost certainly valid. Nothing in Morrison's actual trade dress brings The Wizard of Oz to mind at all, regardless of its various forms. Certain references to that work, such as her online marketplace being dubbed "The Flying Monkey Express" can be said to reference the books, not the films. And that really only matters on the copyright question, for which a suit hasn't been filed. On the trademark piece, it really should be enough that Warner isn't in the religion business. With no crossover of marketplaces, there is no serious concern for public confusion.So, in the end, we have a large company trying to push around a real life wicked witch over a specious trademark claim. Warner executives should be thankful, I suppose, that Morrison doesn't have an actual army of flying monkeys to set upon them.

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posted at: 12:48am on 13-Oct-2018
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