Archive for the ‘EFF’ Category

Twitter Deserves Continuing Credit for Defending Privacy in Harris v. N.Y.

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

gavel coming down on twitter birdFrom what I see, Twitter is doing a strong job of standing up for user privacy in the case of the criminal prosecution of Malcolm Harris. In that case (CMLP summary) New York prosecutors are trying to get Twitter to hand over information about Harris, who has been charged with disorderly conduct relating to an October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Yesterday, Twitter handed over the requested information pursuant to a court order.

There has been a lot of traffic suggesting that Twitter gave up rather than continue to fight (e.g., Betabeat: “Twitter Caves”). But that’s unfair. Twitter is trying to get review from a higher court. And the records they turned over are sealed until September 21, when another hearing is set.

Twitter has done the right thing. It is right for Twitter to resist. But it is also right for Twitter to comply with the court order to turn over the information. (Even though the court was plainly wrong to issue the order.)

What Twitter should do – and what it is doing in this case – is use all available legal process to protect user privacy. Twitter should not, however, violate the law in order to thwart the courts and prosecutors.

Many reporting on the case have said something to the effect that Twitter decided to turn over the information rather than face expensive fine for being held in contempt of court. (EFF said something similar in an otherwise great post on the case.) Saying that makes it sound like Twitter cheaped out. But, as I see, and as I would see it if I were advising Twitter, the problem is not the expense, it’s that refusing to comply with the court order means Twitter itself is violating the law.

It’s true that reporters will often take a contempt citation and go to jail to protect an anonymous source. When they do, it’s civil disobedience, and it’s often heroic. I hate to say it, but the stake are simply lower here. Anonymous-source-based journalism outed Watergate. It’s cultural and societal importance looms very large. Journalists have tried to get shield laws passed to prevent contempt being used to compel the identification of anonymous sources. And shield laws have been passed in many states. For the remaining gaps, brave reporters have often acted in defiance of the courts and the law to uphold free-press values.

The battle Twitter is fighting is different. It’s more of a general internet privacy issue, and while important, it’s a different ball of wax. It’s worth fighting for the cause in the courts, in the legislatures, and on the international level. But I’m not convinced there are fundamental rights here which necessitate disobeying court process.

SOPA Stopped – For Now

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Under a wave of phone calls and social-media attention, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) abruptly called an end to the hearings on SOPA, saying they would be rescheduled for the future. Lamar Smith is a toughie. So getting him to take a step backward is quite an accomplishment!

More:

Please Call Right Now to Stop SOPA

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

CALL NOW - Capitol HillThis is it. This is the time to make your voice heard on Capitol Hill before the disastrous Stop Online Piracy Act is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Go to EFF’s action page on SOPA and type in your zip code to instantly get the phone number of your rep. And you can bet I’ve called.

SOPA is a threat to blog freedom and internet freedom in American and abroad.

Make the call, and blog on!

Unfounded Allayances for a Misarchitected Law

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Huge pile of building rubbleMisarchitected.
(Photo: EEJ)

Over at Technology & Marketing Law Blog, Eric Goldman has written that the just-enacted California Reader Privacy Act may impose a new burden on individual bloggers who are on the receiving end of subpoenas. Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a leading public-interest law firm, doesn’t agree. Levy says that the phrase “commercial entity” in the bill could not be construed to cover individuals because, individuals can’t be “entities.”

In this post, I’m going to take issue with what Levy says, and I’m going to offer some things to bolster Goldman’s critique.

Let me note at the outset that Levy is a heavy-hitting litigator who fights the good fight. He’s on the right side of battle after battle, doing pro bono impact litigation that makes our world a better place. So, I’m certainly not at odds with Levy in the greater scheme of things. But I do think that Goldman points out a serious flaw in California’s new privacy law, one that is bad for bloggers, and one that’s worth dwelling on for a bit.

Also, I’m a California litigator. I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over California statutes. I’ve come to believe that California statutory law needs some watchdogging. So I offer my comments in that vein.

Here’s Levy’s argument that the statute won’t apply to individual bloggers:

… Professor Goldman ignores the limiting impact of the word “entity.” An individual is not an entity; rather, an entity is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as an organization whose identity is separate from its members.

First, while a dictionary can be helpful resource for readers stumbling across unfamiliar legal words, it is not, at least in my view, a particularly persuasive foundation for interpreting a statute. Regardless, however, I don’t think the definition that Levy cites excludes natural persons. If you look at the whole definition, it clearly says that an entity can have a separate legal existence from its members, but the definition doesn’t say that a natural person can’t be an entity.

At any rate, dictionary definitions are really beside the point. The fact is, there’s a plentitude of legal precedents considering “entity” to embrace an individual person. For instance, many statutory schemes explicitly define “entity” to embrace an individuals. One prominent example is the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. See, 11 U.S.C. § 101(14).

Moreover, courts have plainly used the word “entity” to refer to an individual person. In discussing what the word “individual” meant, for instance, New York’s high court held, “An individual is one entity, one distinct being, a single one, and when spoken of the human kind means one man or one woman.” People v. Doty, 35 Sickels 225, 1880 WL 12385 (N.Y. 1880).

In defining “sole proprietorship,” a D.C. court used the word “entity,” saying, “A sole proprietorship is an entity that is so identified with its owner that the business either must undergo a fundamental change or cease to exist upon the owner’s death or retirement.” Hunter Innovations Co. v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Connecticut, 605 F. Supp. 2d 170, 173 (D.D.C. 2009).

Levy makes other arguments, however:

The statute itself confirms this construction, in that it limits any disclosure (voluntary or compelled) to a “government entity,” but limits compelled disclosure to “any person, private entity, or government entity.”

This is a helpful argument, one which I find somewhat persuasive. But it’s not the end of the matter. The fact is, “person” under the law frequently includes such entities as corporations. Often – I would even say most of the time – when the law means an individual human being, and not things such as corporations, the law uses the term “natural person.” In fact, a neighboring section of the California Civil Code, Section 1798.3, says that “‘individual’ means a natural person” and “‘person’ means any natural person, corporation,partnership, limited liability company, firm, or association.” If “person” includes “corporation,” that arguably makes the term “private entity” redundant of “person,” except that ”person” might embrace a public corporation (i.e., a corporation with publicly traded shares), whereas, perhaps, “private entity” would not.

All of this going around in circles, of course, just illustrates that this statute is poorly drafted. It’s another home run by the folks in the California Legislature. I wish someone would come up with a ballot initiative to force the California Legislature to employ a huge army of well-paid staff to draft and analyze legislative language. It would be worth every penny. The alternative is half-baked text or the made-to-order work product of lobbyists. (Although, with the ACLU, EFF, and (ahem) Google lobbying for this, you’d think made-to-order language would have been pretty good.)

Okay, let’s go on to Levy’s next argument:

A similar understanding that an individual is not an entity is shown by the fact that “government entity” is defined to include any “state or local agency” or “any individual acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of a state or local agency.” If “government entity” included individuals, this last clause would not be needed[.]

Hmmm. I get exactly the opposite out of that. By including individuals within the term “government entity,” the legislature, it seems to me, shows that it understands individual persons to qualify as a kind of entity.

Levy’s bottom line:

So the individual blogger is plainly off the hook as a “commercial entity.” A corporation that blogs, yes. A partnership blogs, yes. But not an individual.

I very much disagree with the phrase “plainly off the hook.” I’d go with “arguably.” Levy makes a fine argument. But, in my mind, that’s all it is: an argument. Take it from me – a member of the California bar who has spent approximately eleventeen bazillion billable hours researching and briefing issues of California statutory interpretation: This is not an easily-disposed-of issue.

But while we are on the subject of phraseology, I note that Goldman’s word for describing the new statute is “misarchitected” – a word which, technically speaking, doesn’t seem to exist. That’s not a knock on Goldman. To the contrary, as I’ve pointed out before, I think it’s part of the job of a law professor to use big words and to even make up new words. Every once in a while, I slip a big, nonexistent word by law-review editors. And count me on board with this one. I’m already thinking about how I can stick misarchitected into one of my working manuscripts.

In the meantime, when it comes to the Reader Privacy Act, I simply do not find Levy’s allayances persuasive. Thus, I must offer the California Legislature my regretulations on a job not-super-well-done.

Later this week, I’ll explain my biggest problem with the Reader Privacy Act.

More from me:

Yikes! Is My Blog Regulated By California’s Reader Privacy Act? Is Yours?

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Looking up at the California capitol dome on a sunny day
The California Capitol. (Photo: EEJ)

Well, this is terrifying.

Eric Goldman, in a new blog post, hypothesizes that California’s newly enacted Reader Privacy Act could be read to impose statutory requirements on bloggers. The law requires “book services” to give notice to persons who are the target of a personal-information-seeking subpoena served on the book service. In other words, if someone throws a subpoena at an online book service in order to find out what books someone is reading, the book service has to first reach out to that someone before turning over the information.

So far, that doesn’t sound too bad.

But where Professor Goldman gets alarmed … (Let me just pause to note that while I would feel comfortable calling Eric Goldman by his first name, if I start saying “Eric argues” or “where Eric gets alarmed” on this blog, people are going to think I’m talking about myself in the third person. And while I’m generally okay with people thinking I’m a bit eccentric, I don’t want people thinking I’ve got the mindset of a marginal presidential candidate who is slowly losing touch with reality.)

So, anyway, as I was saying, where Professor Goldman gets alarmed is in looking carefully at who qualifies as a “book service” and who is therefore is obligated under the new law:

Let’s look closely at who is required to comply with the law — recognizing that the statute has a private cause of action that will be enforced by a rapacious privacy plaintiffs’ bar.

What?!? A “rapacious” plaintiffs’ bar?!? In CALIFORNIA?!?!? I can’t believe that. Anyway, as Goldman was saying …

[C]learly this covers Amazon and other online book retailers. But in this day and age, what is a “book” and, more importantly, what isn’t? The statute defines a book as:

paginated or similarly organized content in printed, audio, electronic, or other format, including fiction, nonfiction, academic, or other works of the type normally published in a volume or finite number of volumes, excluding serial publications such as a magazine or newspaper

… [W]hat about blogs? Are they “book services”? Before you discount the latter, consider that many blogs are, in fact, paginated (at least in the URL–see Blog Law Blog as an example).

Isn’t that awesome? I did a nested double-blockquote! Who knew you could even do that? Hey, wait a minute! That’s ME he’s talking about! AIYEEEAAHHH?!?!? There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and finding out that the California legislature has just done something that might expose you to private plaintiffs’ actions.

But wait, I can actually breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m pretty confident I don’t count as a “commercial entity” under the law. And since I’m not a commercial entity, the law’s requirements don’t apply to me.

But what about you, dear reader? Does your blog have advertisements on it? Even AdSense or Amazon affiliate links could, in Goldman’s view, possibly expose a blogger to “commercial entity” status.

And that’s just one more reason not to have ads on your site. As I said in regards to the question of whether having an ad-bearing blog imposes tax liability (in a post that my WordPress installation faithlessly labeled “page 1075“):

My advice for most bloggers is this: Dump the ads. Why bother putting ads on your blog unless it is going to make you substantial amounts of money? Ads clutter up blogs. They look terrible, and they are often for products that are either ridiculous (like herbal cures) or kindov depressing (like life insurance). That detracts from a user’s experience. And if ads cause you to have legal trouble – and even trying to figure out if you have legal trouble is a kind of legal trouble – then you should flush them down the drain.

I’ll have more to say on California’s Reader Privacy Act in posts this week. I’ll weigh in on the debate between Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen and Goldman about whether an individual can be an “entity’ under the new act. I’ll also explain my biggest problem with the new law.

Where Can a Blogger Get a Lawyer Around Here?

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

A person identifying himself as a friend of blogger Crystal Cox asked in a comment to yesterday’s post where Ms. Cox could find legal counsel. That’s a great question that a lot of folks have. And I am happy to say I have a number of places to suggest for any beleaguered blogger looking for a lawyer to throw them a lifeline:

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society has created, as one of its many projects, the Online Media Legal Network, a network of lawyers, law firms, and law clinics willing to represent qualifying media clients for free (pro bono) or at reduced rates. The list of members reveals a bunch of heavyweights, including Manhattan media-law powerhouse Debevoise & Plimpton. Not only have they represented the New York Times, but they even employed the author of Blog Law Blog as a summer associate back in the late 1990s! How’s that for a claim to fame? Of course, there are a bunch of other stars on OMLN’s roster as well. To get started in seeking representation through OMLN, read up on their process and requirements. They can’t help everyone, but it can’t hurt to ask.

There’s also the 800-pound gorilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the granddaddy of public-interest law firms for electronic media. The EFF explains on their website how they select clients and how to contact them about possible representation. If you can get the EFF to represent you, that’s completely fansmashtic! But know ahead of time: Many will apply, few will qualify.

A more general source of information about getting represented can be found in the Citizen Media Law Project’s guide to finding legal help. Information there will help you learn about looking for pro bono representationgoing pro se (representing yourself), or, if it comes to that, hiring a lawyer (as in, paying them money).

Of course, if your problem is the opposite – if you are looking for someone to sue you – then Blog Law Blog recommends, por supuesto, BLOGGING! Especially effective is blogging about people or organizations (1) who are well-off enough to hire a lawyer, and (2) who are not already the target of a torrent of criticism.

So, my friends, lawyer up, and BLOG ON!

Happy Labor Day, Bloggers

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Double dump truck in Seattle at construction site

Happy Labor Day to everyone in the United States and in Canada (Labour Day, for you guys).

If you don’t have the day off, and you find yourself blogging at work, check out the EFF’s Blogger Guide on labor law.

Thanks to the National Labor Relations Act, workers in the U.S. who are fired for blogging about how lousy their workplace is may be protected under federal law. (An example is an ambulance company who fired a worker for griping about work on Facebook, and then was given the smack down by the National Labor Relations Board.)

You know what they say, work is the curse of the blogging class. So read up on what you can get away with, and blog on!

Freedom House Report on Censorship-Circumvention Tools

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Report coverFreedom House has released a report called Leaping Over the Firewall: A Review of Censorship Circumvention Tools. China, Iran, Burma, and Azerbaijan are particular focuses.

The EFF Deeplinks blog gave the report a somewhat lukewarm review.

Of course, we can all agree that anything that helps people living under oppressive regimes to obtain a measure of free exchange of ideas is a good thing.

Two EFF Arguments Against Righthaven

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Joe Mullin at paidContent.org discusses two challenges brought by the EFF to Righthaven: that Righthaven shouldn’t be eligible for attorney’s fees, since it is a made-for-litigation business entity, and that Righthaven has no right to a turn-over of defendants’ domain names.

European Parliament Votes Today on Gallo Report

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Logo of the European ParliamentToday the European Parliament will vote on the Gallo Report [scribd], which recommends strengthening intellectual-property enforcement, including through “non-legislative” measures.

Prepared by French MEP Marielle Gallo, the report has been criticized as a vehicle for laundering lobbying points of the entertainment industry. Although ostensibly aimed at file sharing of movies and music, there is concern that its heavy-handedness could have a detrimental impact on the expressive activities of netizens, such as blogging.

There is also concern that the Gallo Report’s adoption would be seen as a green light for aggressive measures being considered in connection with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, currently the subject of closed-door international negotiations. (EFF on ACTA.)

Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement opposing adoption of the Gallo Report.

Jason Chen Getting His Stuff Back

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

EFF’s Deep Links blog reports that the county prosecutors have now withdrawn the warrant they obtained to search Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen’s home during Apple’s desperate attempt to claw back its lost iPhone prototype: San Mateo D.A. Withdraws Controversial Gizmodo iPhone Warrant.

That means Chen will get all his stuff back. In April, members of the Silicon Valley’s R.E.A.C.T. law-enforcement task-force seized four of Chen’s computers and two servers from his home. (My posts: here, here, here, here, here, and here. All the posts together here.)

It’s ironic looking back at it all. Apple was so keen to protect the secrets of its G4 iPhone before the big product launch date. And now the ultrahyped gadget has turned out to be a total dog. Maybe Apple should have lost more prototypes in bars. That way, perhaps they would have gotten wind of the phone’s call-dropping problems when there was still time to change the design.

And this sad news just out today: The Associated Press reports via the NY Daily News: iPhone factory worker commits suicide over lost G4 prototype.

Google Nabs EFF Lawyer Fred von Lohmann

Monday, July 12th, 2010

THR, Esq. reports that Google has grabbed star public-interest copyright lawyer Fred von Lohmann from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to join up as senior copyright counsel.

Previously, I linked to one of von Lohmann’s posts on the EFF Deep Links blog about how music bloggers can keep from getting into trouble with litigious record companies.

Google is usually on the public-interest side of copyright battles. Indeed, in my opinion, Google has done more than anyone else in contemporary times to push back against the unceasing expansion of copyright entitlements. But it’s a mistake to think that Google is a charitably minded do-gooder. Google pushes back against copyright because it’s usually in its interest to do so. But make no mistake, Google is ready to assert copyright in dubious ways when doing so is in itself interest. (See, e.g., the Google Books settlement, my takes here and here.)

In 2005, von Lohmann wrote a blog post for EFF in which he described his “conversion moment.” It was in 1994 when he read John Perry Barlow’s essay, The Economy of Idea, which includes this passage, quoted by von Lohmann: “The greatest constraint on your future liberties may come not from government but from corporate legal departments … ”

Google’s a fantastic company, and I congratulate von Lohman on his new job. There’s no shame in working for a for-profit company – I’ve done a lot of that myself. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with moving from public-interest work to for-profit work. None at all. But von Lohmann is the latest in a string of public-interest-minded IP lawyers that have been hired by Google. And that gives me pause. They can’t all go. We still need great public-interest copyright lawyers. Now more than ever.

[Cross-posted from Pixelization.]

EFF White Paper on 12 Years of the DMCA

Friday, June 25th, 2010

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently released a white paper titled Unintended Consequences: Twelve Years under the DMCA.

The paper includes a description of how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was asserted by calculator manufacturer Texas Instruments against three bloggers who posted about how to hack a TI calculator. The legal threat under the DMCA was interesting because no alleged piracy was even involved.

The EFF also has issued a smart-looking pdf of the white paper.