Rear Left

Sloppy Searching

Posted in Personal/Meta, The Law is an Ass by rearleft on May 10, 2009

I try not to be an alarmist, but you’d be paranoid too if you knew they were watching you.

Last week, my partner, baby daughter, and I got on a plane at Los Angeles International Airport bound for Sydney, Australia. I’ve spent most of the past decade in the US, and we plan on residing in Australia for the next couple of years. Between her stuff, my stuff, and the baby’s stuff we had a large amount of baggage that we were happy to pay the excess fees on because it was faster and cheaper to carry it with us than to pay for shipping. The biggest and heaviest thing on our two trolleys was a G5 tower in a Pelican case. After a fair amount of back and forth with the airline staff over whether or not they’d carry a case so heavy, I was very relieved to see it come around the baggage claim carousel in Sydney with all our other stuff.

Fast forward a week to this morning. I’d finally gotten together all the peripherals needed to get the computer up and running (monitor, keyboard, mouse, power adaptor). A friend had warned me to pull the hard drives out before the flight, and to carry them with me, because there was a small chance that they could jiggle around in transit and get damaged. In my rush to deal with everything on my way out of the US, I’d neglected to do that, so my heart sank when I powered up and saw the dreaded system folder question mark on startup.

blinkingmacquestion

(NB: not exactly like above, but it’s the best .gif i could find)

Trying not to panic, I tried starting up from the system install disk, but that looked like it wanted to install the operating system and I was afraid it would format the drives. Then tried starting up with the Applecare Tech Tool Deluxe disk, but that didn’t really do anything. Starting to assume the worst by this stage: jiggling damage might have occurred, or maybe some sort of demagnetization wiped the drives.

The tower has two drives in it: the factory installed startup drive and a 500GB internal drive that I put in to keep media on. Clutching at straws, I thought I’d try opening the tower up, pull out the media drive and seewhat happened. When I did this I noticed that the lever that holds the media drive in its bay was open. That was a pretty good tip off that some sort of search had been done on the computer that involved pulling the drives out. My suspicion was confirmed when I found that the reason the computer couldn’t find the system folder was that the startup drive had apparently not been plugged back in after the drives were pulled out!

The computer was on the same flight as us, and there was only about an hour between when I dropped the bags off at security and when we took off, so my assumption is that US border agents yanked the drives, copied them for a later search, and then very sloppily replaced them. Now, I don’t really have anything to be concerned about them finding on there, but it’s very disconcerting to think that they now have a copy of every email I’ve sent in the past few years, my address books, calendars, web histories, etc.

Last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous ruling on searches of laptops and other electronic devices at the US borders. That case involved a guy accused of bringing child pornography, but its effect is that searches are permissible on anyone’s devices with no requirement of suspicion of wrongdoing. I’d really like to know what they did with my data. I can only imagine some federal agent is poring over my emails and trying out search terms in the hope of nabbing a superterrorist mastermind.

I’ve always resisted the temptation to do a FOIA request, but I guess it might be time to try and get a grip on what their files on me look like now that they have all of mine.

Advertisements

YouTube Takedown, Part III

Posted in Media & Movements, The Law is an Ass by rearleft on April 22, 2009

FYI, Pipeline is now back online, but muted. Thanks for nothing, YouTube! (backstory here and here)

I’d take it down, but I’m afraid that YouTube could later construe that as me acknowledging some wrongdoing. So there sits half of the film. The implications of the Google corporation effectively making an edit to a film produced by young people earnestly trying to better the conditions of their communities are massive.

Q: If Content ID is a powerful enough search  and destroy tool to find Pipeline’s use of copyright material, why don’t they simply mute that section of the audio track?

A: Because it would be outrageous for YouTube to make an edit on a film based on their legal interpretation of a third party’s copyright claim.

So instead they cut the entire soundtrack off, leaving Pipeline eviscerated.

With the recent reporting around YouTube’s plans to move away from user-generated content and towards big money licensing deals, I get the impression that they’d be happy to see folks like us just get frustrated and walk away. This being the last week in my job, and no-one replacing me because of budget realities effecting all non-profits next year, it’s entirely likely that GAP will just move to Vimeo or Blip.tv and pray that those platforms  don’t start doing something similar. I’d rather see YouTube say they’re sorry and repost the video.

Tagged with: , , , ,

YouTube Takedown, Part II

Posted in The Law is an Ass by rearleft on April 2, 2009

Universal Music Group and YouTube continue to block the exhibition of Pipeline. In case you missed it, Part I of the story here.

Following a failed dispute through YouTube’s built-in process, I did a bit of searching around and found the requirements for a DMCA counter-takedown notice and dutifully fired off a letter to YouTube’s copyright department, hoping that they would recognize that this was a legitimate case of  fair use. They promptly acknowledged receipt of my letter, as they are required to do by the DMCA, and seemed to say in their response that the decision to put the video back up was out of their hands, but that they would forward my assertion of fair use to UMG. They even had the nerve to refer me back to square one, their own page advising how to respond to a takedown.

A few days later, this notice appeared on Pipeline‘s status page…

pipeline-dispute-unsuccessful1

…which is not even correct. The video has not been muted, it’s been taken down.

I understand I’ve probably earned Global Action Project a strike in YouTube’s shitlist. Two more and they take down our channel! My organization has no budget for hiring lawyers to take on these HUGE corporations, so I’m in the process of looking for someone to give us some proper legal advice and potentially write a heavier letter than my dinky form letter. I’ve written to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but I’m sure that they’re absolutely inundated with complaints like this one following YouTube’s recent takedown rampage. I’m hoping that this case stands out because of its implications for the entire youth media field.

If these corporations cannot be held accountable, the repercussions for youth producers and their educators, mentors, or facilitators  are remarkable. The laws might say very noble things about the safeguarding of public interest, but if it takes a team of lawyers and many hours of my work to deal with a benign case like this, then the protections in law are not worth a damn.

One of my tasks before I leave this job is to help develop internal guidelines for the handling of copyright material that is consistent with fair use provisions of the law. Unless I see some remedy to the situation in the next few weeks, I will be forced to advise that neither US copyright law, nor the guidelines developed by the Center for Social Media are what we should look to as our guide (unless the producers and their educators are prepared to go into battle over each instance). I’m not about to tell teenagers that the law will protect them when I am not at all convinced that it will. Similarly, the prospect of getting an exemption from DMCA for our organization, or even for the whole field would be unsatisfactory because I see no point in training young people in a method that is not applicable once they transition out of the educational setting.

And yes, we could just pack up and leave YouTube for another platform, but right now that’s where the audience is and there’s no guarantee that another platform won’t turn around and pull the same moves. For now I’ll contiue fighting this fight, because I’d love to set a precedent to save other people from having to deal with this nonsense. I’m afraid that what is really needed here is a humiliating loss for the corporations in the courts, preferably with a large sum of money attached to make them actually notice, and to offset some of the harm that this has done.

Tagged with: , , , ,

YouTube Takedown

Posted in The Law is an Ass by rearleft on February 23, 2009

pipelinetakedown

Returned to work from a month’s paternity leave to find that one of the videos from a few years back has been taken down (for the second time) by YouTube. The video, Pipeline, contains a Dizzy Gillespie track that Universal Music Group holds the copyright on. Apparently YouTube checks the waveform of uploaded videos against a database, and takes stuff down on behalf of the copyright holders. I disputed the original takedown on the grounds that the use of copyright material in the video is allowed as fair use, and YouTube made it “live” again, pending contact with UMG.

Now it’s been taken down again. I guess YouTube have determined, or UMG are asserting, that what this group of teenagers did is not fair use. It doesn’t even show up on youtomb, the awesome new takedown Valhalla from MIT Free Culture.

The Center for Social Media at American University in DC recently published widely accepted basic guidelines for both documentary filmmakers and media literacy educators for the use of copyright materials under fair use provisions that already exist in the law. Using these guidelines, I’m confident that Pipeline‘s use of the Dizzy Gillespie track is fine for a couple of reasons.

One of the four main classes of material that is generally covered by fair use is the use of copyrighted material in a historical sequence, which I think is an excellent description of this case.

Also keep in mind that this video was produced by a group of 15-18 year olds in an educational setting, so the provisions for distribution of works that are media literacy exercises should also apply.

Copyright material is in the first minute

(NB: much black at beginning. video begins at 25 seconds.)

If I get no joy after a letter to YouTube, we’re going to be looking for legal advice. I’m all sorts of riled up about this one! It’s just plain old mean!

Shame, YouTube.

Shame.

Tagged with: , , , ,

Union Rat Defeats New Jersey Township

Posted in Media & Movements, The Law is an Ass by rearleft on February 6, 2009

In a decisive victory for giant inflatable rats across the United States, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that a local law which was being invoked in an attempt to ban the use of the 20 foot tall inflatable rat violates the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers‘ right to free speech under the First Amendment.

The Court rightly noted that the giant inflatable is a form of media, and that to differentiate between one inflatable which promotes a car lot and another which promotes a labor dispute would be a value judgment on the content of the media, not its legitimacy as a form of communication.

5. The Court agrees with the dissenting Appellate Division judge that a sign ordinance that prohibits a union from displaying a rat balloon, while at the same time authorizing a similar display at a grand opening, is content-based. Under the ordinance, the authorization of a sign is justified only by reference to the person or entity displaying the sign. Because the sign ordinance favors commercial over non-commercial speech and because a violation of the ordinance is based on the purpose for which the sign is displayed, that ordinance is content-based. (pp. 12-13)

Tagged with: , , ,