Friday, March 30, 2018

Music Modernization Act might actually help some wannabe music creators

In a post that could be correlated with my music and drama blog, I wanted to mention new legislation contemplated in Congress, a Music Modernization Act (HR 4706) to create a more robust and responsive system to compensate songwriters, composers and music publishers when the composers’ works are played on digital services like YouTube. 

Mitch Stolz of Electronic Frontier Foundation explains the act in a post here. The article does have some reservations in that the bill may favor establishe music publishers and distributors as opposed to self-published artists.   The article also mentions some other legislation that could politicize copyright in the direction of work an administration favors.
The article is critical of the bill’s picking winners with a Classics act, that strengthens copyright for recordings made before 1972 (when I was engaged in my own vinyl record collecting).

Monday, March 26, 2018

Multiple public safety and systemic security problems -- and foreign misuse -- threaten the environment that enables user-generated content; is "gratuitous speech" a problem? It's not just Backpage

This Monday morning, I give myself a pep-talk, maybe like the song “Soliloquy” in the musical “Carousel.” (Movies blog, Dec.. 30, 2016). 
I ask myself, what do I have to “sell” to real people, whose needs or wants are met if they pay for it  The endgame (rather like pawn promotion) comprises two or three major elements.  One is a couple of big music pieces of mine, the two large sonatas, with some smaller component miniatures – because they are post-romantic and address certain compositional problems, I think they could get an audience, if I could complete producing them technically (with some assistance). They could be real crowd pleasers.  Yup, I can fantasize about Poisson Rouge or 930 Club.  But they would go outside the usual loop of how works are commissioned (to give composers income) and that’s a problem right off the bat. 

Another component is the novel, “Angel’s Brother”, which I have finally started the charting off (to find any loose ends).  And the layered screenplay “Epiphany” of my three books as backstories to a sci-fi plot on a space station, with an outer plot setup that loosely resembles “Crypto” (which I supported and which is due this summer). Both pieces give an original take on "are we alone?" and answer "who are the angels?"' but by today's standards of intersectional political correctness may see, too elitist and exclusionary.  There isn't room for everybody on the ark, after all.

dSo, you ask, why do I keep blogging the news?  I have long seen that as a way to become known (and I think it has worked), as an alternate path to success since I missed out on the more usual opportunities from the music or film establishments.  But of course, that’s dicey.  We don’t want to see the world as a zero-sum game, but of course for new actors to succeed, the established companies and celebrities have to risk distraction from newbies with lower costs.

But I think I have established value as an independent commentator (quasi journalist), as I keep covering potential existential problems that the mainstream media sleeps on (for example, EMP) –  possible real threats that are no less real just because only conservative media pays attention to them. 

Succeeding will require a lot of focus and self-discipline on my part. It means a lot more travel, and not postponing trips that I know I need to get done, just because there is another demonstration in town. (That means staying connected when on the road, despite issues with the TSA and airline reliability.)  It is also, quite frankly, to function as another group’s “volunteer” or particularly to join in “action” with the supervision of other groups and their branding.  Making time for that was always a problem in the past when I was working in a conventional job full time, often with unpaid overtime;  it seems to have gotten harder now.

Such is part of the problem with various plans to regulate who can be heard on the Internet.  The threats are many.  Most recently, the Backpage scandal (the first major erosion of Section 230 or #CDA230), resulting in FOSTA (especially the March 19 post).  Others include net neutrality repeal (probably overhyped), but especially the “scandals” over mass abuse of our social media (especially Facebook recently) by foreign interests  In some cases, even local situations (like zoning or condo bylaws) could have the potential to be disruptive.  I spend a lot of time “watching my back” and this interferes with “getting done” – so that there really is more time for “others”.  "Doing the work" is one thing, but the idea of whether a self-deployment plan remains permissible is another. 

Yesterday, I put up review of a working session on free speech and the First Amendment at UVa and the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville (same blog as noted) with Nadine Strossen and John Whitehead. One idea that kept coming out was subject matter independence and viewpoint neutrality, as buttressed in what may be said and disseminated in the public square.  In fact, Strossen wants Facebook and social media sites to become neutral again in what they pipe to their users – although that could wreck their advertising business models. 

But the other problem seems to be the way the public views the connection between content and the identity and apparent purposes of the speaker.  This idea has much less legal traction (in the COPA trial in 2007 in Philadelphia, the concept was called “implicit content”) than other better known ideas in tort and statutory law, but it does seem to appeal to populists.  The most obvious current example, for example, is that neo-Nazis should not be allowed to speak at all. (Hence, the Twitter Purge in December.)  But I am finding a much more subtle problem, the idea that individuals should not be allowed the floor unless they have a socially favorable purpose.  I could call this the "Pharisee Problem";  I’ve covered this before, in my DADT III book in February 2014 (the subtitle “Speech is a Fundamental Right; Being Listened to Is a Privilege”), and in other essays (“The Privilege of Being Listened to, back in 2005, which figured into that substitute teaching scandal I have talked about).  In fact, it seems that right after publication of DADT-III, the world seemed to take big turns overseas (with Russia, ISIS, and the BLM demonstrations at home), undermining Obama’s presidency and helping set up a “whitelash” that could allow Trump to win, after foreign elements continued to divide Americans, taking advantage of the aloofness of elites like me to what was really going on in the world of “street smarts”. (And, by the way, isn’t it chilling, in retrospect, what the Russian 2013 anti-gay law foreshadowed?)

The most glaring objection to my own style of speech is that it is “gratuitous”.  It doesn’t pay its own way and meet the needs of real people as customers.  Instead, it expects to be found passively from search engines and word of mouth (it often is, and this idea really worked well in the 1998-2003 time period) and affect policy and conceivable in some cases elections.  To some extent (most of all on the “gays in the military” issue and how I argued it, referring to military conscription in the past) it really worked.  It takes a great amount of work to maintain the blogs and content, as well as “watching my back”.  Of course, this is all “in retirement” (at age 74), rather like “in relief” (from the bullpen) in baseball, perhaps. 

Arguably, I could be “expected” to use my resources in retirement in collectively defined goals for others – volunteering (as supervised by others) and taking sides and joining groups for specific causes (the recent March for our Lives, however spectacular and compelling, is just still “one” issue that would take capital away from others).  I also know the argument, if I had kids (that is, previous intercourse with women – sorry, Stormy Daniels, I wouldn’t have been interested!) I would have more of my own “skin in the game” to take sides. (Look at the comment to  libertarian writer Timothy B. Lee here, it seems relevant.)  Yup, keeping my own “brand” separate from others could mean that other activist groups are weaker than they might otherwise be.  I am the low cost competition that the “Hollywood” of activism sees as a problem, disruptive to solidarity, even “counter-revolutionary”.  Yup, I see shades of Marxism in some of the bombastic “donate” and “take action” emails that I get, some of them sounding threatening, that I will be personally silenced soon.  (The emails from “Truth-out”, even though their articles are often provocative, are among the most offensive.)   Sometimes I get the impression a few people think that “I” am “the Russians”! . 
So, we come down to the idea that you could make the world “safer” and force more attention real-world help for the disadvantaged, if you limited the floor to speakers on the Internet.  Thought experiments and speculations abound.  But one “obvious” idea is requiring strict vetting of anyone before they have a social media account, or even their own domain name.  That could mean requiring not only identification the way banks do (and that is not absolutely foolproof, as we know, from identity theft scams), and possibly hefty personal liability insurance (see posting March 23).  That would shut me down, of course, and shut me up, and force me to “join up” and “enlist” (and “resist”) – although you might not like which side I choose.  In fact, the mechanisms to do and enforce anything like this are not very well set up (as I have covered on previous posts), fortunately.  And it’s pretty obvious that such a measure would destroy the value of many tech companies, as Wall Street sees them, and destroy a lot of tech jobs.  Many companies would indeed fold and disappear, inasmuch as they would no longer have workable business models.  This may sound like going back to the world of the early 90s and before, when self-distribution was not possible for most people.  It was a world where the well-established interests could keep out the newbies and force individuals to “rightsize” themselves by their rules (which labor unions and guilds loved).  This sounds a lot like China or perhaps Singapore today.  You can’t say, however, that an economy where individuals have less sway and are forced into enlistment can’t work.  Look at China’s success and disdain for western free speech.
But the challenges to the world of spontaneous speech as we know it are mounting (Facebook’s[not Backpage or Net Neutrality] strikes me as the most serious), and the real debate is more about who the speakers are than what the content is.  The permissive “Wild West” atmosphere has indeed allowed many bad actors to jeopardize the safety of the less well-off, and like it or not, that has become bad karma for the rest of us, including me. It's certainly possible to say that the idea that everyone of us can get recognition for our own "TV stations" and therefore need not share the goals of others in some kind of structure could turn out to be a grand illusion. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

YouTube expands ban on weapons material to include demos; may be to forestall more weakening on CDA230; seems motivated by Parkland and expanding gun debate

YouTube is jumping ahead on future downstream liability problems, and probably also on its relations to advertisers, by announcing it will tighten its ban on some material regarding weapons, especially sales and demonstrations of assembly.  Niraj Chokshi has a detailed story on p. B2 of the New York Times on Friday, March 23.  The Washington Post has a similar story by Allison Chiu.   Bloomberg was even more explicit that the new policy will ban demonstrations on how to build weapons.   It would be common sense to presume this includes other weapons like pressure cooker bombs (as in the Boston Marathon or possibly Austin incidents)
The policies will go into effect in early April.  Here is YouTube’s own TOS text. Note that YouTube bans links to such sites (selling or demonstrating firearms).
YouTube has long attracted criticism for censoring (or taking from advertisers) some content of a sexual nature, for example.  I thought we might see a statement by now from the company regarding FOSTA but it probably believes that its controls in place are already in compliance.

In February 2015, Blogger had announced a policy banning sexually explicit images (and probably embedded videos) on its site. See my February 25, 2015 post.  Due to protests, Blogger withdrew the policy, that had been intended to go into effect in late March 2015.  Yet, during that waiting time, I had removed some embeds that required adult verification (by sign-on to a Google account), for which there were not very many. I have not added any more such embeds since then and have acted as if the policy were in place. 

I am a bit concerned about any policy banning hyperlinks.  I have made a lot of small videos on YouTube (and larger ones on Vimeo) but certainly nothing that violates these policies.  I presume the links policy could be applied to Blogger.  I don’t recall any such hyperlinks over the years, but there is no way to be sure, retrospectively.  There is a real issue with “meta-speech” – journalistic content intended to make the public aware of a particular underreported hazard.  Some persons could interpret such speech, especially from an “amateur” or non-established press sources, as “gratuitous” and intended to incite less intact individuals.  One of my blogs (the “cf” blogs) focuses on unusual threats to public safety, including, for example, EMP weapons, which are not often discusses and, contrary to a lot of impression, do not have to be nuclear.  Popular Mechanics had reported on these ironically just before 9/11, and then the topic was conveniently “forgotten”, except by some conservative sources (like the Washington Time in 2009).  There is plenty of material on YouTube on how to protect electronics from such weapons – which should not be confused with promoting or building such weapons – and I have indeed linked to some of this material on defending your own property against an unusual terror incident.  So far this has not happened – but it is vigilance from the media that can help prevent it.  YouTube bans on weapons material could harm keeping the public properly informed on how to protect itself.

There are speculative claims that YouTube will ban movie trailers that show gun activity, as well as video game trailers that do the same.  The latter is rather silly, as a lot of video games are animated and don’t present real life threat.  (See my movie review March 17 of the short film “Hecarim” which Reid Ewing provided:  technically excellent, and by no means real world.  Could this kind of material be banned?  Ridiculous.) 

YouTube, as may other platforms soon, seems to be taking action its own to send a message to Congress that it does not need to weaken Section 230 (or “CDA230”) protections on other public health and safety (and perhaps terror) hazards, beside sex trafficking – the most obvious right now being guns.  It may also be comforting advertisers, but many videos have no ads.  Mine don’t – you have to reach a certain unduplicated volume of users to be allowed to show ads anyway.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Craigslist and Reddit react to FOSTA; could some sort of mandatory reinsurance or bonding of speakers be coming to tech companies and users?

The first signs of reaction from the whole tech community to the quick passage of FOSTA/SESTA Wednesday during a snowstorm, and while the media was distracted by Facebook, came this morning when Craigslist told users it was eliminating personals. 
Craigslist was quite blunt that it saw the law as an existential threat to its type of business. 
Likewise Reddit eliminated some subreddits, including some related to weapons (not directly to prostitution) on the theory that SESTA-like laws regarding guns or weapons manufacture are coming down the pike.
 Ars Technica reports here (Cyrus Darivar).  The Verge (Vox), in a story by Thuy Ong, notes that some kinds of flirts were eliminated by Craigslist, including missed connections and glances, which are somewhat common on print gay papers.  I have certainly had “glances” on the Metro  (one in Sept. 2014 comes to mind particularly), but would never really want to follow up online.   Esquire also sums up the CDA230 problem.
I’ve also noted in the recent fallout from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, that the media discussion has been attacking Facebook’s practice of financially leveraging not only user information (likes, etc) for ads and “research”, but also the content itself.  The combination of new pressures on Section 230, DMCA (a few years after the SOPA battle), and the most of all, the idea that the Internet is flooded with spammy or fake “self-published” content, often generated by foreign bots, and often targeting less educated user groups, raises the idea of wanting regulate or hinder self-publishing as a whole.  Certainly the business models that have facilitated it for twenty years could become unsustainable under these pressures.  (CNN used the derogatory phrase of some bloggers “punching above their weight”, as if CNN itself were worried about a lower cost competition  -- Monday’s “Hollywood” post.)
The sex trafficking problem sounds relatively easy to isolate, certainly in the minds of those in Congress who voted for it overwhelmingly.  But surely a lot of other problems, especially having to do with terrorism and weapons (as Reddit and Youtube already expect), will come under similar attention in the next year.  In general, it will be much risker, in terms of downstream liability risk, for any but the largest businesses to host user-generated content in the future than it has been, and with ad revenue getting difficult (and with the new chaos over data “breaches” as with Facebook), it will be much harder for business models to support them.  We should not overlook that in this mix there are also some rather come arcane legal concerns over election campaigns and “indirect” donations by bloggers that had surfaced back around 2005 and have since been forgotten – here the lack of transparency of how content, even like mine, is paid for behind the scenes when it seems “free” to users could become legally important . Imagine if every blog had to provide a public CPA statement.
One could look to the insurance industry (with my twelve years in it) for ideas.  Reinsurance has been suggested (as by Susan Collins) as a way to fix the problems with Obamacare (or even replacing it).  A reinsurance idea could be proposed for tech liability, I suppose.  As I joked on Twitter today, I may sound like Jonathan Swift in making such a “modest proposal”, only to see somebody introducing it in Congress soon.  A corollary idea, particularly “Dangerous” (to borrow Milo Yionnapoulos’s trademark) would be to require speakers to have their own insurance or be bonded somehow.  (AUP’s of many hosting providers require indemnification by customers, but this has hardly ever been enforced.)  This follows on to a blog post here March 16, which referred to some commentary on Reason by “the Volokh Conspiracy” essentially on umbrella insurance today.  The insurance business is not set up very well to underwrite this kind of risk properly right now, and I think it has been approached in the property-casualty world carelessly with little attention to how the Internet works (familiar?)  There have been sporadic attempts to provide bloggers effective insurance, by NWU back in 2001, and then again in 2008 (ironically, just before the financial crisis), but as far as I know this has not worked very well.  But the idea sounds bound to come back again now. 

Update:  March 24

Rolling Stone reports on the effect of FOSTA on sex workers.   The site Cityvibe was suddenly closed, as I verified. You get the impression of just how politically motivated this legislation is. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Senate passes FOSTA as is; CDA230 erosion begins; unclear how tech platforms will react at first

At mid afternoon today, the Senate passed the FOSTA-SESTA bill presented here, without alteration, 97-2, despite passionate floor remarks from Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR). Here’s a typical story on “The Hill” by Harper Neidig.  Congress seems unconcerned about the “frivolous lawsuit” problem.  One of the biggest problems for any provider content moderation (especially without Wyden's amendment) would be "meta-speech" where filters cannot detect whether speech is "about" prostitution or actually trying to sell it. It's also not clear if "websites" are handled differently from social media platforms or hosting providers. 

The passage occurred on a snowy day when reporters were distracted by Facebook’s problems with Cambridge-Analytica, and with Mark Zuckerberg’s later (linked earlier today) and interview on CNN tonight.  Actually, the problems are interrelated.  I’d love to hear CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin talk about the Backpage problems and their contagion, in addition to Zuckerberg, Trump, Putin, and Stormy Daniels.  And, by the way, despite the “#DeleteFacebook” movement, I haven’t lost any “friends” today yet. '

The combination of erosion of downstream liability protections and questions about misuse of user data will create serious sustainability business model problems for many tech platforms. 


Here is my own policy statement on what actions I am taking now with comments on my sites. 

Update: April 13  

Trump has officially signed FOSTA (as of April 11).   I thought it had already been signed in late March.  So we may not yet know how all providers will react.  Elliot Harmon writes on EFF that Section 230 does not require platforms to be neutral (in response to some of the questions at the Zuckerberg hearings). 

Google News and its journalistic standards; Mark Zuckerberg makes a statement just now

I recently ran across the Google News Initiative, “Elevating quality journalism on theopen web” article. 
I also wasn’t aware that publishers could submit their work to Google News for consideration, as here

It would be hard to say whether they could normally consider only established news outlets.  They might prefer local news outlets. 

As a blogger, I generally try to connect the dots between different stories and issues, and indicate significance beyond the hard facts.

But I have also tried to emphasize reporting on events where I was present and was an eyewitness.  
These may be events I have gone to, but sometimes I may stumble onto them, as in New York City in September 2016 right after the attempted bombing on 23rd Street.  I missed being injured by that blast by about two hours as I had walked past it that evening.  One or two photos of mine appeared on evening news broadcasts in DC. 

It’s interesting to wonder if news standards would affect how stories are indexed in the search engine.  

CNBC was the first to break Mark Zuckerberg’s statement on Cambridge Analytica, just now, here. This is definitely reputable news. Zuckerberg will appear on CNN tonight. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Senator Wyden's amendment may limit FOSTA-SESTA and slow passage; WSJ expects Section 230 will get gutted on other politically sensitive issues

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, has introduced an amendment to FOSTA-SESTA which would relieve the “moderator’s paradox” built within the legislation, providing that reasonable attempts at moderation by a host do not necessarily mean that the provider should have known or detected sex trafficking.  John Samples of the Cato Institute explained this in a blog posting Monday March 18 here.  Samples refers to a detailed Techdirt article by Mike Masnick on Techdirt here. 
The wording of the amendment would say:

“The fact that  provider or user of an interactive computer service has undertaken any efforts (including monitoring and filtering) to identify, restrict access to, or remove material the provider or user considers objectionable shall not be considered in determining the criminal and civil liability of the provider or user for ny material that the provider or user has not removed or restricted access to.”

Note that “provider” and “user” are mentioned interchangeably. It’s not clear whether a web hosting service falls within the idea of “interactive” computer service because the hosting activity is more removed from “interaction” than is, say, social media.

Samples had earlier published a dire article, “The Death of an Open Internet”, Feb 27 here  in which he referred to a long analysis by Eric Goldman. 
Earlier Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal had “connected the dots” in an editorial  (“Facebook joins the club; Big tech is learning what it is like to deal with political risk”)  predicting the passage of SESTA this week and predicting much more similar legislation.  WSJ predicts synergy from Trump and 2018-elected Democrats in Congress in pouncing on liability exemption and socializing risk.
However, it appears that this editorial was written before knowledge of the Wyden amendment, which could slow down passage and cause one more round in the House.
Intuitively, it seems hard to see how Section 230 could protect Facebook if it deliberately manipulates which news items (among friends) users are most likely to see.  YouTube does a little of this by showing previews based on past behavior;  part of the question though would reside in whether algorithms really were "neutral" and considered only your own habits.  Independent blogs, on the other hand, simply display the same thing to everyone.  That's like saying a book author has no right to control who buys his book.
Indeed, the personal scuttlebutt that I deal with (as a visible blogger) all the time is pleading to join collective speech of others (even “intersectional” activism) and become much more personally involved with others in ways that would not have been welcome in decades past.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hollywood could find that gutting Section 230 (because of Backpage) could help defend its business model from low-cost competition; Does Section 230 protect Facebook over Russian meddling?

Electronic Frontier has been re-posting tweets with reminders for visitors to contact their Senators to defeat SESTA for some time, but Sunday night EFF published its best and most comprehensive (dot-connecting) article yet on the Backpage-Section 230 problem, by Joe Mullin, “How FOSTA could give Hollywood the filters it’slong wanted”.  
First, let me also mention that the article (before the usual “Take Action” button for calling Senators) does explain well the way Section 230 (dealing with most torts like libel) works “in sync” or in parallel to DMCA Safe Harbor (specifically for copyright infringement claims), although Section 230 does not have an actual corresponding provider takedown process for a libel claim. 
Mullin is recalling the debate over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy) at the end of 2011, which led to a day long protest (with a Wikipedia blackout) in January 2012.  Congress finally scuttled SOPA because of too many likely unintended consequences.  Hollywood seemed to want YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms (I guess (Facebook) to catch all pirated videos in advance before they could be put up.  Even today, sometimes there are low-quality copies of films that look illegitimate, with the videos often disappearing and accounts terminated according to YouTube “copyright strikes” policies.  It’s worth noting that there is controversy again (in a New York ruling) over whether bloggers could be liable for merely embedding copyright infringing material on other servers (Feb. 17).

The underlying concept, again, is that a service provider (for example, your hosting provider if you have your own domain and website) cannot possibly pre-screen every posting you could make for possible downstream legal issues – particularly for the common torts and particularly for copyright. If it had do, people simply would not be allowed to self-publish on the web because of the subsumed risk to others.  Things would get published only when they made money with paying publishers and were popular enough, or came from well-established and politically acceptable causes and organizations.  That’s more how it is in authoritarian countries like China and, for example, Singapore (Russia less so).  But that’s how things were in the US until the mid-late 1990s when the Internet opened up. And it looks like that's how Hollywood and maybe some legacy trade publishers would like it to be again. 

There were early fights over whether user-generated content needed to be screened for child appropriateness (the 1996 Communications Decency Act, largely struck down in 1997, and later the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, for which I was a litigant under EFF, finally struck down in Philadelphia in 2007).  But in 1996 Section 230 of the same CDA was established, and in 1998 the DMCA Safe Harbor mechanism was set up. Both of these laws largely shield service providers (ranging from shared web hosting to social media companies, to specialized classified ad sites – like Backpage, or Craigslist, to discussion forums) from downstream liability for user behavior.  But in some cases they are required to report credible information (from user complaints) about illegal behavior of users, like postings of child pornography and, even under current law, selling sex trafficking (of minors), to law enforcement.  But they only need to report retrospectively this when informed, not prospectively by screenig.  Congress seems to want to establish a “should have known” (like Reid Ewing’s “woulda-coulda-shoulda” line from his 2012 short film “I’m Free!”)  or “reckless disregard’ standard specifically for sex-trafficking conducted by users on their platforms.  A good question is whether “reckless disregard” would mean different standards for different kinds of providers.  A hosting provider like BlueHost is in much less position to know what I am doing than even Facebook.  Another question is whether “underlying conduct” refers to the provider or to the user.

The EFF article links to two letters of support from the tech industry from last autumn.  By late fall, we were getting feedback that the tech industry as a whole was comfortable that SESTA would be narrow enough to catch only ad sites.  That seems to have changed. 
One of the letters is from Oracle, the database company on Highway 101 south of San Francisco (I have stated in a motel right next to it once – this company used to be very influential on the IT job market), sent to Senator Bob Portman. Oracle suggests that even startups and smallc companies have screening technology not available in 1996 – like searching the Cloud (it is possible to identify child pornography from digital watermarks on known images in the Cloud now – people have been arrested this way).  Does this mean that a hosting company like BlueHost should routinely scan its servers for illegality?  Except for known digital watermarks (NCMEC in Alexandria VA) what else could it look for?  Oracle makes a leading statement at the end, that those who sell advertising (like bloggers using ad services like this one’s) must chip in and help stop sex trafficking. 
Then 21st Century Fox weighs in (funny, it’s never changed the 20 to a 21 in its trademark), as published in Variety:  “We believe that everyone who does business in this medium  has a civic responsibility to help stem illicit and illegal activity.” 
It’s easy to wonder where his is headed.  EFF’s article seems to bring up the idea that Hollywood objects not only to piracy but to the low-cost content (especially video and micro-budget films) that it imagines competes with its union and guild-supported films.  (The guilds like SAG do have special rules for low budget films, by the way.)   Mark Cuban once mentioned as much on his “Blogmaverick” (reinforced in an email back to me).  Given the commercial success of a “Black Panther” (and its political correctness) it’s hard to imagine that this should be an existential concern for Hollywood now.  But just last weekend, for the film “Love, Simon”, Fox provided a prologue where Robinson and Berlanti thank the audience for actually coming to a theater to see a (gay-themed) movie rather than couch-sitting at home and doing video.

There’s also the idea that, if someone has his own voice online, he owes something back and needs to pay off someone else’s prespecified agenda.  Sex trafficking is horrible, but so are a lot of other things (like recruiting terrorists).  What gives Oracle and Fox the right to dictate our own political priorities?  This sounds like it could go into expecting people to show intersectional volunteerism or “community engagement” before having their own voices online at all (an idea I hinted at in my 2014 DADT III book, “Speech is a fundamental right, but being listened to is a privilege”).  I seem to have started something.
EFF also shared an article from Jezebel (“The Slot”) about the plight of legitimate (consensual) adult sex workers, “#LetUsSuvive”, here

The scuttlebutt over Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica harvest operation (a kind of digital epilation) is certainly raising a different set of questions over Section 230 protection for social networks like Facebook. Blogs alone don’t raise that question, although blogs can “connect the dots” in novel ways and influence policy and maybe elections in asymmetric ways (as was known from a controversy over campaign finance in the early 2000’s). 

In an interchange on Facebook today on this very matter, a FB user suggested that bloggers be required to label their posts as opinion rather than news, as a matter of law!  That same user had suggested that "electronic media should be governed by the same controls and, dare I say, regulations, under which newspaper, TV and radio have operated."  All this was in reaction to another friend's post of an update on Cambridge in the Guardian, well, an op-ed by Ellie Mae O'Hagan, "Nobody can pretend Facebook is just harmless fun anymore", complete with a picture of Mark Zuckerberg's gams. 

Without the opportunity for unsupervised speech as I have engaged online since late 1996, I would be compelled to join to “take sides” in what I see as combative political tribalism, and let an activist group on one side or the other speak for me.  I do get offended at all these pleas for money from groups like Truth-Out:  some of their articles are interesting, but they seem to trying to bully (almost threaten) me into supporting them and letting them speak for me.  If I had to chose sides, I might not choose the side you want.

I don’t know how close SESTA is to a vote, and whether it has to be combined with FOSTA first, and whether there would be one more round of reconciliation between House and Senate first.  I would hope that the language would be narrowed further as to what some critical phrases mean in relation to different kinds of providers.   I also don’t know whether EFF has any plans to help users “assimilate” to the weakening of Section 230, which seems rather inevitable given the political climate – whether it plans gatherings on either coast.  I a trying to find out. 

Brief Update:

It appears that FOSTA "as is" was entered into the Senate schedule on Friday March 16, but that doesn't predict how long it will take to come to a vote.  Skopos Labs gives it a 49% chance of passage in that form. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

How "well-intended" brilliance may have helped Trump with Facebook metadata (the Cambridge Analytica Caper)

The UK site “The Guardian” (which, by the way, keeps bragging that it hasn’t yet put up a paywall but asks for money) has a book-length article ("The Cambridge Analytica Files" by Carol Cadwalladr)on the story behind the “hack” (so to speak) of Facebook by Cambridge Analytica and the role of 28-year-old (now) gay Canadian computer nerd Christopher Wylie of Facebook, and how Steve Bannon “mis”-used it.  

Wylie has a mind that reminds one of world chess champion Magnus Carlsen – until you realize that even Carlsen one time lost in 22 moves with White to a “patzer” grandmaster.  (I use "brilliance" in the title of this post: in chess, a "brilliancy" is usually a sacrificial combination that ends a game with a forced checkmate.)

Let’s add on this diversion that another former chess world champion, Garry Kasparov, now speaks up for human rights and told Anderson Cooper that he feels safer from Vladimir Putin living in New York than in London.

There’s the whole thing about the harvesting of Facebook data, as if it were a kind of shameful digital epilation. Apparently it was legal to use Facebook friends’ meta data for academic purposes, not for profits, and most of all not to manipulate elections.  The information seems to relate to “friends” of people who had taken personality tests or surveys.

There is some question legally on how you can limit information released legally at first.  Maybe you can call it a trade secret.  Maybe there is copyright or patent law that limits its reuse. 

Wylie, like Milo Yiannopoulos, seemed dismissive of “intersectionality” and seemed to want to find a way to keep the more authoritarian “dangerous” aspects of the Left out of politics.  He sees liberals as not “conscientious” about facts or logical reasoning.
Here is the New York Times story by Matthew Rosenberg et al. 

Sean Illing gives a detailed explanation for Vox, and notes near the end that there is no direct evidence connecting Camridge and the Trump “team” to the Russians.  It’s “smoke without fire” or “hot air”.  Still, you really wonder how surveys and associated "like" can predict gullibility to highly biased "news" and why so many users were so easily fooled, Amy Chua's tribalism allowed for. 
Here is Facebook’s statement on the suspension of Cambridge Analytica. No mention of the Russians or the election here. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Homeowner's insurance may cover Internet libel, but is this a good idea for everyone?

On March 14, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote about the incidental coverage of libel (and other torts like invasion of privacy) insurance on personal blogs or social media that comes from homeowner’s insurance, sometimes.  This opportunity may also apply to some renters’ policies.
Volokh warns that the coverage might not apply if the blogger earns any ad revenue at all from the blog, as from Adsense or Amazon associates, or other networks.  Expanding on this, it would seem not to apply if the blogging is itself a “career’ or a form of self-employment that supplements a business or is a business in its own right – an opportunity that “Blogtyrant” has often promoted (and that I have covered here before).  That would be true of me, who has made news blogging and some fiction as a “second career” at age 74 now.
This coverage is more likely to come with an umbrella policy.  I’ve noted before that some auto insurance policies will not give maximum coverage even for auto accident liability without offering umbrella coverage, a nexus or coupling that seems illogical.  Intellectual property risk is very different (and harder to underwrite) than is property or medical risk as usually experienced in the past (especially pre-Internet).  I’ve also discussed “media perils” insurance here before (like back in 2008).
Volokh mentions the variability of state law. Politicians in various states could be wary of requiring umbrella-like coverage on ordinary property insurance policies, because such a requirement could have unintended consequences, of cancellation or declination of ordinary property or even auto insurance to consumers who blog – something that might not even come up until applying for an auto loan or mortgage. It’s not a good idea for the law to connect unrelated ideas just out of misplaced generosity to voters. Some good libertarian thought.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Charlottesville videographer sues conspiracy theorists, expanding the legal scope of defamation into implicit content; now Fox gets a deserved legal bodyslam over Seth Rich

Brennan Gilmore, who recorded video of the car striking and killing a bystander at the neo-Nazi rally and protest in Charlottesville in August, is suing several Internet conspiracy theorists (including the Alex Jones Channel  -- at least two companies and several individuals) for defamation in Virginia courts.  He explains this in his own words in the Washington Post here.  Rachel Weiner and Abby Ohlheiser summarized the litigation in an article in the Post Metro section on p. B5.

The attorney Andrew Mendraia said, “We don’t think the First Amendment protects blatantly defamatory speech that inspires violence and hatred of victims of terrorist attacks.”

This would be an important concept:  defamation usually is understood as something that leads to job loss, or end of a relationship, or reputation damage.  This time it includes making someone a target of others whom the speaker knows is likely to be incited.  (The issue could border on “implicit content.)  As a practical matter, I’ve had to think about this idea a lot since 9/11.

Update: March 15: 

 If that isn't enough, Fox is getting sued by the Seth Rich family for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and judging from National Review's narrative, it looks like the conspiracy theorists took over. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

EFF focuses on "reckless disregard" language in new letter to McConnell, Schumer in Senate on SESTA/FOSTA

India McKinney, who used to work on “The Hill” is the point person now for the latest letter from Electronic Frontier Foundation dated March 12, 2018 to Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer on SESTA, link here.  There is an embedded Scriptd PDF. 

The letter narrows the focus on the idea of “reckless disregard” by any provider of the possibility that some users (statistically at least if there is a large customer base) could be trying to sell sex trafficking in disguise.

I don’t yet have a feel for when SESTA could come to a vote, or exactly how it will import FOSTA (the additional language on prostitution).  If someone knows, please comment.
As I’ve noted, the idea of “underlying conduct” (of whom) also matters.  I wonder if monitoring of payment portals could be expected.  
EFF’s “StopSESTA” site has added some “expert testimony”, especially from small Internet businesses, on the problems caused by downstream liability.
How does this work in Europe. UK, Canada, Australia?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Honest Ads act could make paid Internet ads conform to rules for broadcast; the ease of radicalizing people with fake news

More threats to free speech abound. Another Wall Street Journal editorial, this time about the Honest Ads Act, bipartisan and sponsored by Mark Warner (D-Va), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John McCain (R-AZ) would impose new disclaimer and notifications for paid political ads on social media.  The name of any American citizen sponsoring the ad would have to be published.

There is also a downstream liability issue for political ads, covered by a 1964 decision New York Times v. Sullivan.

It's good to review the earlier controversy over blogging and campaign finance reform a dozen year ago, here

The WSJ points out that overall Russian spending on social media ads was small compared to overall spending.  Interesting that on Twitter conspiracy theorists seem to have fewer followers and follow fewer people.
On P. 6 of the NY Times Sunday review, Dinan Aral (“Gray Matter’) describes “How lies spread online.”
On the same page, note Zeynep Tufekci, “You Tube, the Great Radicalizer”. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Can a "bad review" get a DMCA takedown notice? Hollywood wants all sites to screen for copyright with content-id

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a bizarre story about Sebastian Tonczak’s electronic music video channel, one video which has hours of white noise that he created and yet received five DMCA takedown notices, story.  Eventually the claimants took the advertising revenue on his own white noise.

I think my own music, which is postromantic, won’t have this problem, but this is a good story to read as I aim to get back to making a performable version of my third Sonata and putting a performance on YouTube or Vimeo.

In 2016 Eliot Harmon had reported that lobbyists wanted to make a Google-style content-id mandatory for all hostings of video.

And now a game developer gets a DMCA notice merely for a bad review (which is not copyright infringement, although sometimes review sites draw threats regarding libel for reviews – Section 230 again) of “Super Seducer”.  

Apparently SESTA could come up for a vote soon (EFF sent out another warning Sunday night), amd this is Sen. Bob Portman's "reassurance" in the Wall Street Journal.


The NRA gets a "cease and desist" for using an outdoor sculpture in a public space in Chicago in an ad or film Whatever you think of the NRA's position on guns, I think the NRA had a right to use it.  A picture or mention showing up on my blog doesn't mean the subject endorses me (that's closer to publicity rights than copyright).  Washington Post story by Phillip Kennicott here.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Youngest adults are getting away from social media

A third of Millennials say that they are quitting conventional social media, especially Facebook and Twitter (that is, those media that act as publishing forums – they kept Snapchat, which I don’t use), UK story. Medium weighs in on this more deeply.  There is a real trend with those born (or maybe conceived) in 1994 or later (23 or younger).

I am the reverse.  I like using social media as a passive publishing forum, and keeping some of my social relationships off line (maybe about 50-50).  Not everyone needs to be a friend or follower on my Facebook or Twitter accounts.  I haven’t gotten into Instagram much – time.  And I don't need to have Facebook pimp me to send birthday greetings or run "other people's" fundraisers.  

There’s another problem – so many people don’t trust even “reputable” “mainstream” media outlets, even with conventional fact checking and more rigorous publication processes. 

There is a problem – when to become receptive to the outside world outside your own bubble or tribe or extended family --- when it can really affect you.
You can invert that idea and understand how the doomsday prepper thinks – self-sufficiency (within the family unit) is a mandatory virtue, which helps feed the Second Amendment debate.