Monday, October 29, 2018

It Is Now Legal to Circumvent DRM to Repair Your Own Electronic Devices

You can now legally repair many of the electronic devices you own. That was not the case before yesterday. Why?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is one of the methods companies use to prevent people from tinkering with the devices. As if it's not annoying enough when they design them in a way that it's impossible to take them apart without the special fancy tools that they produce.

Fortunately, on Sunday, new rules from the US Copyright Office took effect. Some important exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) were implemented. DMCA Section 1201 made it illegal to circumvent the DRM that prevents the modifying of most software-controlled products. The law was enacted in 1998. Now, a lot more products are software-controlled. So, exemptions were appropriate and necessary.

The Library of Congress and the US Copyright Office review the DMCA every three years and enact specific exemptions. Some important exemptions were made this year and took effect yesterday.

Specifically, now you can:

- Unlock new phones (not just used ones).

- Repair almost any type of home device, such as smartphones, home appliances and home systems.
- Modify software on motorized land vehicles.

- Have a third-party repair devices on behalf of the owner.

- Jailbreak voice assistant devices, such as Alexa-enabled gadgets.

So, that's a good victory for the "right to repair" movement. However, some proposals were rejected. You still can't repair game consoles, such as the PS4 and Xbox One.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

California Pauses Nation's Toughest Net Neutrality Law

Last month California passed the country's toughest net neutrality law. It was supposed to come into effect in January. However, the law is now on hold because on Friday California attorney general Xavier Becerra reached a deal with the DOJ to delay implementing the law until a federal lawsuit over net neutrality is resolved. That could take more than a year. In the meantime, Congress can pass a federal law to either restore the FCC rules or create new federal-level regulations to render the California law moot.

CA net neutrality law prohibits internet service providers from slowing down or blocking access to websites or charging companies like Netflix extra to deliver their services faster. California's law also outlaws some zero-rating offers, such as an AT&T offer that exempts its own streaming services from its wireless customers' data caps.

The law is based on Obama-era FCC net neutrality protections that the Republican-led FCC repealed earlier this year. Not only the FCC repealed them, it also declared that states are prohibited from passing their own laws to impose net neutrality restrictions. 

The DOJ filed a lawsuit against California within hours of its net neutrality law signed by the Governor. Several broadband and wireless industry groups joined the DOJ in arguing that CA law interferes with interstate commerce which only the federal gov't can regulate, not any one state.

Nevertheless, several other states moved forward with their own net neutrality laws. Attorneys general from 22 states and the internet browser company Mozilla have sued the FCC over the repeal of the rules.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Russia to Fine Google for Failing to Filter Blacklisted Sites

Roskomnadzor, Russia's Internet and media watchdog, has published its intention to fine Google for violating the federal law that requires search engines to block websites that are blacklisted by the watchdog.

Specifically, Article 15-8 of the Federal Law  "On Information, Informational Technologies and the Protection of Information" mandates search engine operators operating in Russia to block search results of Internet resources blocked in Russia. Search engine has 30 days to connect to Roskomnadzor's blacklist database. If it doesn't, a fine of up to 700,000 rubles ($10,000) can be imposed.

Roskomnadzor had requested Google to connect to the blacklist database but it failed to do so in 30 days. So, Roskomnadzor says that sanctions will follow. Full original text:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Epic Games Sues 'World Record' Cheaters

Another interesting Terms of Use and Copyright case in gaming going on now. "Fortnite" developer Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against two prominent YouTubers who sold software cheats that gave players "magical powers" such as ability to see through walls and aim shots automatically. That's how the defendant cheaters achieved the "world record" number of kills, according to the filed complaint. They sold cheat packages over the Internet. The "Lifetime of Cheat" option was included in the $299.99 package.

Defendants run the YouTube channel "Golden Modz." Cheats were demonstrated, promoted and sold there. Got tens of millions of views because the channel got big, 1.7M subscribers. At this time the videos promoting Epic's hacks are deleted.

To quote Epic's claim, "Nobody likes a cheater. And nobody likes playing with cheaters." They ask the court to order the cheaters to:
- stop cheating
- turn over their profits
- pay Epic's atty fees & costs

So, does Epic have a case? I think it does. They can prevail on two separate legal grounds here:

1) Copyright infringement. When you create smth artistic (like a game), others can't just use it to sell/promote their own stuff without your permission.  "Fair use" exception would not apply if you're trying to make $$ using others' IP for free w/o permission.

2) Violation of the game's Terms of Use. When you sign up for a game and click smth like "I Agree to the Terms of Use"- that's a legally binding contract. That stuff that hardly anybody reads before agreeing to is legally binding unless is contains some extremely unfair terms buried in the fine print somewhere. But requiring game users not to cheat is fair. Especially if the defendants are making good money doing it. So, the Terms of Use should stand as a contract which the defendants breached. Epic's ToU specifically stated that users can't cheat, modify the game, use any part of it to sell/promote anything.

Monday, September 24, 2018

NY Times Sues FCC for Hiding Evidence of Russian Role in Ending Net Neutrality

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

On Thursday,  the New York Times has filed a lawsuit that alleges that the Federal Communications Commission has unlawfully hid data concerning its system for gathering public input about its unpopular plan to kill net neutrality amid signs of Russian manipulation of the comment procedure.

As the Times attempted to investigate possible influence by Russia after a large number of comments were linked to Russian emails, the newspaper submitted numerous Freedom of Information Act requests which were all turned down bu the FCC.

The FCC voted last year to end net neutrality, upending the American internet system. The change allows internet service providers to block, slow down, or charge extra for certain content.  As many as 2 million comments were fraudulently submitted in other people’s names without their knowledge, and the system was overrun with bots.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Europol: Ransomware Biggest Cyberthreat in 2018, State-Sponsored Cyberattacks on the Rise

Europol has released its 2018 Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) report. The key findings are:

Ransomware retains its dominance
This is expected to continue in the near future, even though the growth of ransomware is beginning to slow. In addition to attacks by financially motivated criminals, there is an increase in state-sponsored ransomware attacks. Mobile malware has not been extensively reported in 2017, but this has been identified as an anticipated future threat.

DDoS continues to plague public and private organisations
Distributed-Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are used not only for financial benefits but for ideological, political or purely malicious reason. This type of attack is not only one of the most frequent (only second to malware in 2017); it is also becoming more accessible, low-cost and low-risk.

Production of CSEM continues
The amount of detected online Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM), including Self-Generated Explicit Material (SGEM), continues to increase. Although most CSEM is still shared through P2P platforms, more extreme material is increasingly found on the Darknet.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Airbnb to Comply with EU Demands to Change Terms & Improve Price Transparency

On September 20, 2018 the European Commission has issued a press release stating that Airbnb has committed to complying with the EU consumer authorities' demands presented to the company in July. 

Specifically, Airbnb has agreed by the end of 2018 to make changes to their terms and conditions and improve price transparency by:

- presenting the total price of bookings, including extra fees, such as service and cleaning charges. When it is not possible to calculate the final price in advance, they have committed to clearly informing the consumer that additional fees might apply.

- clearly identifying whether an offer is made by a private host or by a professional, as the consumer protection rules differ for each.

-  making it clear that consumers can use all the legal remedies available and in particular their right to sue a host in case of personal harm or other damages. The proceedings can be brought against Airbnb before the courts of user's country of residence.
- informing consumers when the company decides to terminate a contract or remove content and will offer to consumers the right to appeal and to compensation if appropriate.

EU Warns FB to Change "Misleading Terms of Service"

The EU threatens sanctions against FB if it fails to better spell out to consumers how their data is being used. Věra Jourová, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality,  on Thursday warned FB that she will call for sanctions if it fails to change its “misleading terms of service” by the end of the year. “I am becoming rather impatient. We have been in dialogue with Facebook almost two years... I want to see not progress—that is not enough for me. I want to see results.”

The Commission flagged the following issues with the FB's Terms:

- insufficiently explicit about how the platform monetizes users’ data. E.g., directing users via hyperlinks to Facebook’s “data policy” (which has more details) is not clear enough for EU consumers.

- granting the company a perpetual licence to user generated content even after a user quits Facebook. I don't think this is true, though. There is no perpetual license to user generated content in FB Terms anymore. Sec. 3 of the Terms states that, "[y]ou own the content you create and share on Facebook...  and nothing in these Terms takes away the rights you have to your own content." FB does grant itself a limited, non-exclusive license to user content. "[W]hen you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos)... you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform." However, users can terminate this license to FB by deleting content. "You can end this license any time by deleting your content or account." So, there is no perpetual liecnse to user generated content.

- not being clear on its obligations to remove user generated content and/or suspend or terminate an account.

- lack of an appeal option for consumers in some cases.

- FB can unilaterally change its terms of service. The Commission states that this is contrary to EU consumer legislation which identifies as unfair terms that enable “the seller or supplier to alter the terms of the contract unilaterally without a valid reason which is specified in the contract”.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Summary: US-Russia Sanctions Law

U.S. State Dept. has announced new sanctions against Russia. U.S. claims Russia is behind the nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy in the U.K. in March. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement. The ruble fell 5% against the dollar on Thursday. Stocks in Russia plunged as much as 9%, led by state banks and national airline, Aeroflot, that risks losing access to U.S. markets if the sanctions escalate.

The latest sanctions ban any attempts by an American company to obtain an export license to sell anything with a potential national security purpose (gas turbine engines, electronics, integrated circuits and testing and calibration equipment). While the list of prohibited items is elaborate, the actual amount of exports affected by the latest sanctions is small because the Obama administration had already banned exports to Russia that could have military purposes. However, the law requires stricter measures (listed below) if Russia fails to prove that it is no longer using chemical weapons.

The sanctions are mandated by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, a U.S. law that requires action over the use of chemical and biological weapons. The law requires the U.S. President to impose certain sanctions against foreign persons if he determines that they knowingly contributed to the efforts of a country to acquire, use, or stockpile chemical weapons.

The measures announced Wednesday are the first tranche of sanctions mandated by U.S. law. A second tranche of sanctions would take effect within three months unless U.S. President certifies to Congress that Russia has met three conditions:

1) ceasing the use of chemical and biological weapons;

2) credibly assuring the U.S. that it won’t use such weapons in the future; and

3) submitting to inspections by international observers to ensure compliance.

If Russia does not comply with either of the three aforementioned requirements, U.S. President is required to impose at least three of six types of additional sanctions (although he has discretion over their severity):

1) opposing any loans or other assistance to Russia by international-development banks;

2) barring U.S. banks from issuing loans or extending credit to the Russian government;

3) prohibiting exports of goods and technology to Russia;

4) restricting imports of Russian goods;

5) downgrading or suspending diplomatic relations with Russia; and

6) termination of air carrier landing rights.

A first wave of Western sanctions against Russia since its annexation of Crimea in 2014 have wiped out half of the ruble’s value, reduced investment in the energy sector and crippled national aluminum giant United Co. Rusal PLC.

Monday, July 23, 2018

'Meddling' Russian Firm Relies on Trump Nominee to Get the Indictment Dismissed

A Russian company indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for meddling in the 2016 election is relying on an opinion by Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to get the indictment dismissed.

Concord Management and Consulting was accused of paying $1.25 million a month to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian "troll farm," to sponsor divisive political ads on social media. Concord has filed a motion to dismiss, claiming its advocacy is consistent with the decision of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Specifically, Kavanaugh’s 2011 decision in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, barred foreigners from supporting or opposing particular candidates, but did not restrict advocacy on broader political issues. Kavanaugh also said that a requirement that a defendant act “willfully” before imposition of criminal penalties “will require proof of the defendant’s knowledge of the law.

Accordingly, Concord argues that, “Foreign nationals are not barred from issue advocacy through political speech such as what is described in the indictment—they are only precluded from willfully making expenditures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.”