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White House makes good on patent reform promises

Time to fight the good fight folks.  It is no argument that patent reform has been long overdue for reform. Last year in July, the White House announced an initiative to take on legislative patent trolls. But like with anything the government does, we are just seeing movement on this promise now. The reforms promised last year were modest by EFF standards, but good no doubt for those seeking change in an already defunct system.

Of those promises last year was a number of executive actions. Functional Claiming for patent applicants would tighten, limiting those inventions to a specific way to completing a task. Transparency would be increased, forcing patent owners to update patent records at the Patent Office with real, actual owners. Limiting abuse to “end users” would be of high priority as well, with increased limits on who can be prosecuted for “intended use” of a given product.Outreach studies would also be created, allowing the government to work with members of the community to address serious flaws in the patent system itself. Lastly, imported goods would undergo strong enforcement of exclusion orders, clamping down on products that infringe U.S. local items. In addition legislative proposals were added to further help reform.

Not only is the White House making good on last year’s promises, it also plans to make progress with the Innovation Act, which outlines tools available for defendants to fight back and reclaim lost fees, a much needed improvement to the laundry list of patent system issues.  The innovation act also would aim to prohibit “trolls” from hiding behind mysterious “shell companies,” and other “owners” of bunk patents.

Of all these announcements, the “Been Sued or Gotten a Demand Letter” how-to portal page is the most beneficial to those being attacked by would-be evil trolls. The landing page should be an invaluable resource to those that, in the past, hadn’t the slightest of clues how to help themselves or their friends.  Think of the page a a “What do I do know” action site, to better help folks figure out what is happening them, and what they can do to resolve their dire situation.

One of the biggest issues I found lacking in the system is being addressed as well: broad and absurdly vague patents. This should shift the far stretching claims of what a patent does to what a patent actually is. Vague terms and topics will be of high scrutiny as well, with a potential glossary of terms to be implemented to improve consistency in verbiage.

The announcements herein layout some significant progress on the horizon for patent reform. But as with anything, tangible results must be seen as a result. Promising on something and actually delivering are two entirely different things. Significant opposition from heavy handed parties will be in play for sure, attempting to stamp out progress such as this. You can support the Innovation Act by heading over to the EFF’s landing page.

In the end, we must fight to protect the future of technology, both for ourselves, and our future children.

Source: EFF


US kills net neutrality, will it curb innovation?

Today, the court has struck down rules imposed by the Federal Communications Commission regarding Net Neutrality. The court argued that the FCC didn’t have the regulatory ability to treat ISP’s as common carriers, for they weren’t telephone companies.

Gigaom has more details on the ruling as well as listing winners and losers.

Speaking of winners and losers, the biggest losers in this is the consumer, and not just because of the ruling. The idea of throttling Internet traffic to prevent competition irks my Libertarian side quite a bit.

Unfortunately, there are those who prefer not to have competition or a market that’s truly free, but crony capitalism instead. So what could potentially happen with this ruling?

For starters, companies like Netflix may have to pay companies more just to be able to have their streaming service operate at an optimal level. Comcast won’t be able to discriminate against traffic due to an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission when it purchased NBC-Universal until at least 2017.

Companies such as Vonage may have more trouble competing with traditional phone companies as well as mobile providers due to throttling of data speed.  Even with deep pockets, paying to make sure a particular service plays nice on a given ISP’s network will inevitably cause the price of said service to rise.

Though the FCC would be able to change the rules in order to be able to enforce Net Neutrality, there is a question of whether or not it will do so.  At the moment, the regulatory agency appears to be taking a wait and see approach, though an appeal is possible.

I prefer free markets, as in ones that are truly free where competition can thrive. Like having a jogging buddy, it makes things more pleasant in terms of innovation. However, I’m noticing a trend in overly relying on politicians and bureaucrats.

Given the revelations of one Edward Snowden, I ask if such a move is prudent at this point. After all, advocacy groups are relying on the same bureaucrats who have been involved in blatantly violating the first, fourth, and fifth amendment rights in the United States in the name of “national security.”

Is it wise to look to these same people to keep Net Neutrality intact? The EFF was hesitant over the FCC attempting to impose such rules in the first place, because of the history of civil liberties violations.

Rebecca Jeschke, the Media Relations Director of EFF, said via e-mail:

EFF is not surprised at the court’s decision. There was much of value in the FCC’s Open Internet Principles, and we still think those principles are a good starting point for conversation. But we were deeply concerned that the FCC was attempting to claim broad authority to regulate the Internet.  No government agency should have that authority, so we are glad this decision clarifies that.  As we look towards the future, Internet users need to have a pragmatic and open discussion about ways to promote and defend a neutral Internet. In the meantime, ISPs must comply with their transparency obligations so that customers can see if their Internet providers are giving them the non-discriminatory service they expect and deserve.

So what’s the solution? All that I ask is that you look in the mirror, for you are it.

Yes, there are people who meet behind closed doors and try to slice up the world for not just money, but control of particular markets. These same people feel a sense of power in doing so.

In the words of former CIA agent Robert Steele, “They only have power if you let them.”

After all, did the DeCSS court case involving 2600 Magazine stop individuals from being able to watch legally purchased DVD’s on their Linux-based systems?  Absolutely not!

Encouraging the use of Tor with VPN’s may be a step in the right direction. If an ISP has no idea what you’re doing, it makes it harder for them to throttle your usage.

The more people are on Tor, the faster it will get.

There’s also the possibility of creating grassroots ISP’s that could rival Google Fiber in terms of speed, but here’s the kicker; people have to be willing to go through with the idea.

The part of the equation that has been missing for a long time is the idea of people caring enough about each other to ensure that concepts such as Net Neutrality not only survive, but thrive.

Rules can be made over and over again. Unfortunately, rules have a tendency to change depending on who is in any given office.

That’s why it takes more than just “voting the bums out” to make the necessary changes for technological innovation.  The solution must start with you, the individual.


EFF responds: Mark Shuttleworth is still wrong

Last week Canonical sent a cease and desist letter to EFF staffer Micah F Lee asking him to remove the word Ubuntu from the URL as well as removed the Ubuntu logo from the site. Lee responded through an attorney who said that Canonical’s “request were not supported by trademark laws and interferes with protected speech.”

Though Lee was not required, by the law, to remove the logo he removed it.

There was heavy criticism of Canonical from the press and the Open Source community which supposedly forced the company to publicly apologize for the missteps.

While we believed the dust had settled, it did not. The entire episode raised some very serious issues over how companies can abuse the trademark laws to silence critics (though in this case it doesn’t look like Canonical had any malice.)

Lee who was backed by EFF so he had resources to fight back with Canonical and tell them that law is on his side. If there was an individual with no such resources, he would have caved in and shut down the website, even if Canonical had no legal grounds to stop him from doing so.

In a new blog post EFF says that Mark Shuttleworth was wrong on couple of counts when he defended that they need to protect their trademark.

EFF quotes Mark Shuttleworth:

[T]here are a number of trademarks around the Ubuntu name and logo which we are required to “enforce” or risk losing them altogether. … That means: … we actively monitor, mostly using standard services, use of the name and logo [and]we aim to ensure that every use of the name and logo is supported by a “license” or grant of permission.”

EFF while maintains that Shuttleworth did not mean any ill, also argues that he was wrong:

First, Canonical’s trademark “policy” does not and cannot trump the First Amendment. Imagine the impact on free speech if you needed a “grant of permission” from BP, Coca-Cola Amatil, or EFF before using one of their trademarks as part of speech criticizing their conduct. Fortunately, we don’t live in such a world. It is well-settled that the First Amendment protects non-commercial websites—like https://fixubuntu.com—that use trademarks to comment upon corporations and products. Whatever Canonical’s policy, no one needs to seek permission for “every use” of the Ubuntu name and logo.

Which means that anyone is free to criticize Canonical or Ubuntu using their name and logo, contrary to what Shuttleworth said.

The EFF explained why a trademark holder would worry about trademark. Here we have examples of ‘photoshop’ or ‘google’ the terms which have become verb. However, when Google word was added in a dictionary Google argued that the term should not mean searching the web, instead it should mean searching the web using Google. That was the case where the brand Google was at the risk of dilution. That’s where companies step in to protect their trademark.

EFF says:

Second, Canonical is not “required” to enforce its mark in every instance or risk losing it. The circumstances under which a company could actually lose a trademark—such as abandonment and genericide—are quite limited. Genericide occurs when a trademark becomes the standard term for a type of good (‘zipper’ and ‘escalator’ being two famous examples). This is very rare and would not be a problem for Canonical unless people start saying “Ubuntu” simply to mean “operating system.” Courts also set a very high bar to show abandonment (usually years of total non-use). Importantly, failure to enforce a mark against every potential infringer does not show abandonment.

EFF quoted  a court which explained that Shuttleworth and the team don’t have to go running around hunting on the web with its paralegal cannons.

The owner of a mark is not required to constantly monitor every nook and cranny of the entire nation and to fire both barrels of his shotgun instantly upon spotting a possible infringer.

EFF advised Canonical to chill:

We believe Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical when they say that the company did not intend to act like a trademark bully. This seems to be a case of mindless over-enforcement rather than malice. But this routine over-enforcement of trademark rights is unnecessary and feeds a censorship culture. As Judge Kozinski famously wrote, sometimes trademark holders must be “advised to chill.”

Lost in communication

Canonical needs to re-evaluate its communication. Lately most of the communication coming from Canonical is either hurting the open source community or hurting the image of Canonical.

Neither is good.


Canonical Sends takedown notice to EFF staffer who criticizes Privacy of Ubuntu

Canonical has sent Micah. F.Lee, a staff technologist at EFF, a take-down notice for a website he started to educate people about fixing the privacy invasive feature Canonical has built in Ubuntu.

Lee started a website called fixubuntu.com, which he describes as “a place to quickly and easily learn how to disable the privacy-invasive features that are enabled by default in Ubuntu.”

He received an email from Canonical which asked him to practically shutdown the site as it uses the name Ubuntu in the domain and also showcases Ubuntu logo.

Excerpt from the letter sent to Lee:

We are really pleased to know your interest in writing about Ubuntu. But whilst we can appreciate the passion Ubuntu inspires, we also have to be diligent to ensure that Ubuntu’s trademarks are used correctly.

To keep the balance between the integrity of our trademarks and the ability to to use and promote Ubuntu, we’ve tried to define a reasonable Intellectual Property Policy. You can read the full policy at http://www.canonical.com/intellectual-property-policy. As you can see from our policy, to use the Ubuntu trademarks and and Ubuntu word in a domain name would require approval from Canonical.

Unfortunately, in this instance we cannot give you permission to use Ubuntu trademarks on your website and in your domain name as they may lead to confusion or the misunderstanding that your website is associated with Canonical or Ubuntu.

So, whilst we are very happy for you to write about Ubuntu, we request you to remove Ubuntu word from you domain name and Ubuntu logo from your website. We would highly appreciate if you could confirm you have done so by replying this email to us.

Thank you for your cooperation and we look forward to hearing from you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Lee argues:

The first thing I would like to say is my use of the Ubuntu logo and the word “ubuntu” in my domain name falls under nominative use. Although I’m perfectly within my rights to continue using both, I’ve decided to remove the Ubuntu logo from the website, but add a disclaimer—because it seems like a nice thing to do.

We have seen companies like Apple doing such things but this is the first time a company active in Open Source has gone to such an extent to shut down critics.

Lee wrote:

Sending a (very polite, which I appreciate) takedown request isn’t very much in the spirit of open source. If you’d like to improve fixubuntu.com in a more productive way, then I suggest you submit a patch. The code for fixubuntu.com is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License, and the code is hosted on Github. Pull requests are welcome.

Neither Mr. Lee, nor any other member of the public, must seek your permission before engaging in such constitutionally protected expression.

Lee responded with a letter from EFF attorney:



Staff Attorney Daniel Nazer says in the letter:

“While we appreciate the polite tone of your letter, we must inform you that your request is not supported by trademark law and interferes with protected speech,” the letter says. “The website criticizes Canonical Limited for certain features of Ubuntu that Mr. Lee believes undermine user privacy and teaches users how to fix these problems. It is well-settled that the First Amendment fully protects the use of trademarked terms and logos in non-commercial websites that criticize and comment upon corporations and products. Mr. Lee’s site is a clear example of such protected speech. Neither Mr. Lee, nor any other member of the public, must seek your permission before engaging in such constitutionally protected expression.”

It’s yet another wrong move from Canonical which will distance it further from its long time allies and the larger free software community.

EFF Raises Privacy Concern Over Online Search In Ubuntu 12.10

Ubuntu 12.10 met with some controversy before and after it’s launch. Initially it was about the inclusion of Amazon Ads and privacy in the latest edition of Ubuntu. Now, EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation, has also raised concern around data leak and Amazon ads. Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth earlier defended the inclusion of Amazon ads in Dash and stated:

We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root.

EFF doesn’t seem to fully agree. Mchah LEE of EFF writes:

Technically, when you search for something in Dash, your computer makes a secure HTTPS connection to productsearch.ubuntu.com, sending along your search query and your IP address. If it returns Amazon products to display, your computer then insecurely loads the product images from Amazon’s server over HTTP. This means that a passive eavesdropper, such as someone sharing a wireless network with you, will be able to get a good idea of what you’re searching for on your own computer based on Amazon product images.

A lot of users may not care about it, but anyone using his/her PC for something serious would be concerned. Your local search terms being sent to Ubuntu servers can pose many privacy related threats. The nature of the content sitting on your PC makes these searches even more dangerous. You could be an activist protesting against your repressive government and hold a lot of critical data on your PC and when you search such data the query will be send to Ubuntu servers.

EFF has a similar concern:

You could be searching for the latest version of your résumé at work because you’re considering leaving your job; you could be searching for a domestic abuse hotline PDF you downloaded, or legal documents about filing for divorce; maybe you’re looking for documents with file names that will gave away trade secrets or activism plans; or you could be searching for a file in your own local porn collection. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want any of these search queries to leave your computer.

But I Trust Ubuntu!
It’s not just Ubuntu which gets access to this data. The legal notice added to Dash in 12.10 clearly states that by using Dash you agree to these terms and your search data along with your IP address will be send to third parties. So, all your keystrokes will be sent to Ubuntu servers and 3rd parties including, but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, BBC and Amazon. Now your data and usage is bound by the privacy policies or those 3rd parties and Ubuntu is not responsible for it. You will have to check the privacy policies of individual parties to get more information on how they handle your data.

EFF says that:

Canonical is not clear about which third parties it sends data to and when, but it appears that many of these third parties only get searched in certain circumstances. Ubuntu’s new Online Accounts feature lets you authorize Ubuntu to use your accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Flickr and other services for Ubuntu apps. Dash will likely search these services for photos, documents, and other content only after you’ve authorized Ubuntu to use them.

After feedback from beta testers and the larger open source community, Canonical made the necessary changes and added an option to disable online searches of data. One can also remove the shopping lens from Ubuntu. But looking at Ubuntu’s core user-base many may not even be aware of such features or that they are giving away their keystrokes to 3rd parties and to Canonical. Online search should have been an opt-in option and not opt-out, many open source advocates like Jan Wildeboer suggest.

The father of the free software foundation Richard M Stallman also expressed concerns about Ubuntu’s Amazon move. This access to user’s search queries can create new risks for users. Governments may ask Canonical to hand over user data in cases like so called piracy or protest. The more access Canonical have over user’s data the more risk there is for it being asked to hand over such data.

The best thing for Ubuntu to do is to disable the ‘online search’ by default. A activist, sitting in Syria, downloads Ubuntu, thinking no one can see what he is doing on his PC, he could be putting his life at risk. Wikileaks people running Ubuntu will be putting their lives as risk since they may not know that a new feature has been added which is sending their search queries and information to 3rd parties.

So, here are a few things that EFF wants Ubuntu to do:

  1. Disable “Include online search results” by default. Users should be able to install Ubuntu and immediately start using it without having to worry about leaking search queries or sending potentially private information to third party companies. Since many users might find this feature useful, consider displaying a dialog the first time a user logs in that asks if they would like to opt-in.
  2. Explain in detail what you do with search queries and IP addresses, how long you store them, and in what circumstances you give them to third parties.
  3. Make the Search Results tab of the Privacy settings let users toggle on and off specific online search results. Some users might want Amazon products in their search results, but never anything from Facebook.
  4. We love that Ubuntu is bold enough to break new ground and compete directly with the large proprietary operating systems, but please make sure that you respect your users’ privacy and security while you’re doing it. Windows and Mac users are used to having their data sent to third parties without their express consent by software companies that are trying to maximize profits for their shareholders. Let’s make sure Ubuntu, like the GNU/Linux operating system at its heart, remains an exception to this.

Canonical is quite open to feed-back and always responds to such concerns so we can expect right moves from Canonical.

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America Heading Towards The Internet Dictatorship?

The entertainment industry which is failing to keep up with the innovation and is relying on Flintstones model is conspiring with the US congress to break the Internet and freedom on the web.

After the Protect IP bill, the US congress is now working on yet another dangerous bill — SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), which is apparently a disguise to give unlimited power to Hollywood to break the Internet and shutdown any website without any trial.

EFF fears that the bill will target three primary sites and may force shutdown – Flickr, Vimeo and Etsy. One of the primary targets is Mozilla, the foundation behind Firefox and Thunderbird.

EFF writes, “Proponents of the latest disastrous IP bill , the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) insist it only targets the “worst of the worst”: so-called “rogue” foreign websites that profit from pirating U.S. intellectual property. But the broad definitions and vague language in the bill could place dangerous tools into the hands of IP rights holders, with little opportunity for judicial oversight.  One very possible outcome: many of the lawful sites you know and love will face new legal threats.”

According to OpenCongress:

This bill would establish a system for taking down websites that the Justice Department determines to be dedicated to copyright infringement. The DoJ or the copyright owner would be able to commence a legal action against any site they deem to have “only limited purpose or use other than infringement,” and the DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site. It would also make unauthorized web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a possible penalty up to five years in prison.

This is a dangerous bill and if passed will not only give unlimited power to Hollywood, but also break the Internet.

EFF is expecting an ‘explosion of opposition to the Internet Blacklist Bill. All major tech companies have come out opposing the bill including Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay, Yahoo, AOL and Mozilla explicitly came out against both SOPA and PROTECT-IP in a letter to the ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

The worst part is that the US Congress is conspiring to pass the bill without giving the opposition any chance.

It’s time for you  to oppose the bill, as you can see we have put a bar of censorship on Muktware logo. If you want to join the opposition, please visit Amecican Cencorship and get your code now. If you live in the US, write to your representative and oppose this dictatorial bill.