Thursday, February 08, 2007

Boom scare neon lights: the case for the prosecution unhinged

Scott Moss, a law professor at Marquette University Law School, dissects the bomb scare case against the two men arrested for putting up neon light signs promoting a cartoon.

"The criminal law the prosecutors cite declares it a felony to "place any hoax device ... with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person." It defines "hoax device" as one "that would cause a person reasonably to believe … [it] is an infernal machine[,] ... [a] device for endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both, by fire or explosion...."

In other words, the prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants -- two guys hired by marketers for a cartoon show -- actually intended to create a bomb scare by putting up those light boards. The prosecutors also have to prove that reasonable people would've thought the light boards were bombs...

Here's one thing the two men are guilty of doing: They ticked off a lot of important public officials who now are deeply embarrassed that they virtually shut down a major city after mistaking lit-up cartoons for the Second Coming of Osama. Those officials' upset is understandable, but fortunately, in this day and age, embarrassing even the most well-intentioned mayor doesn't justify felony charges -- at least not in America...

My bet is that we will see a quick guilty plea to some exceedingly minor charge -- perhaps the underwhelming charge of "disorderly conduct," which the Attorney General already has thrown in along with the felony bomb scare charges. Procuring a plea to a minor offense is a common tactic of bad-egg prosecutors who bring legally dubious but politically necessary felony charges.

That sort of prosecutorial overreaching is exactly what happened to wrongly prosecuted Chinese-American physicist Wen Ho Lee.

In 1999, Lee was arrested and locked in pretrial solitary confinement for almost a year on serious national security charges -- leaking nuclear secrets to China. When the charges proved baseless, the government, rather than just admit error and free Lee, instead negotiated a plea of "guilty" on a trivial charge of not following proper procedures for handling sensitive information.

Wen Ho Lee and the Boston Two are victims of one of the darkest possibilities in our criminal justice system: prosecution as political persecution, when politicians and police need a scapegoat for their own failures."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CIEL Reprot on IP and sustainable development

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has released a new report Intellectual Property Bilateral Agreements and Sustainable Development:THE CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTATION


"This paper examines the development of strategies for developing country officials, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders with respect to the implementation of intellectual property provisions in bilateral and regional free trade agreements. In particular, the paper aims to raise awareness of the continuing pressure for higher intellectual property protection during the implementation and annual review of bilateral trade agreements, as well as to outline the opportunities created by the diverse options for implementation to “claw back” policy space."

CIEL’s Intellectual Property and Sustainable Development Project works with non-governmental organizations and developing country governments to include sustainable development concerns in current multilateral and bilateral rules on intellectual property.

Jobs disses DRM and the music cos

Steve Jobs has called for an end to DRM on legitimate music download sales. Good for him. Cory is pleased:

"This is a big day -- a huge day. If Steve Jobs comes through with his promise to offer DRM-free music from artists who will allow it, we're at the beginning of the end of the DRM wars. I look forward to the day when the iTunes Music Store catalog shows a little warning icon next to those few holdout tracks sold with DRM, a skull-and-crossbones to tell you that you're about to buy some poisonous bits.

Especially if Steve follows this up by offering iTunes videos -- especially the Pixar movies, which he directly controls as the single largest shareholder in Disney -- without DRM!"

Update: All the usual suspects report widely on this, John Markoff in the NYT being one.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Princeton join Google book search


"Princeton joins Google's book-scanning project

About 1 million books in Princeton University's collection will be made available online through Google Inc.'s book-scanning project, the school announced Monday.

The university library will work with the Google's Book Search Library Project over the next six years to digitize books that are a part of the public domain and no longer under copyright, according to a school news release."

Gorbachev to to Gates: Show mercy for pirate


"Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Monday asked Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to intercede on behalf of a Russian teacher accused of using pirated software in his classroom.

In an open letter, Nobel Peace Prize winner Gorbachev said the teacher, Alexander Ponosov, who is from a remote village in the Urals, should be shown mercy because he did not know he was committing a crime.

"A teacher, who has dedicated his life to the education of children and who receives a modest salary that does not bear comparison with the salaries of even regular staff in your company, is threatened with detention in Siberian prison camps," read the letter, posted on the Web site for Gorbachev's charitable foundation."

Microsoft declined to intervene according to the NYT:

“Mr. Ponosov’s case is a criminal case and as such was initiated and investigated by the public prosecutor’s office in Russia,” said Microsoft, whose European operations are based in Paris. “We are sure that the Russian courts will make a fair decision.”

Update: John Pallatto - Sentenced to the Intellectual Property Gulag

Conservatives formally promise to scrap ID cards

The Conservative Party website had this yesterday;

"David Davis has written to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, giving formal notice that an incoming Conservative administration would scrap the Government's costly ID card project.

And the Shadow Home Secretary has warned of the financial dangers of the Government signing contracts to set up the ID card scheme when it faces cancellation if the Conservatives are returned to power at the next election.

In his letter, Mr Davis asked what provision, if any, has been made in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early cancellation of the scheme; with a similar letter fired off to likely major contractors, warning them of the Party's intentions. "

They're also reportedly promising to oppose the government's plans to extend the detention without trial period beyond the current maximum of 28 days.

German court outlaw unauthorised remote police searches of computers

From the NYT:

"A German court on Monday ruled that police cannot remotely search criminal suspects' computer hard drives over the Internet without their knowledge.

The decision of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe bars police from using the online ''Trojan horse'' method, which involves using a computer program to search through remote hard drives over an Internet connection, unless parliament passes a law explicitly allowing it."

Neon lights cartoon promotion cost $2million compensation

Well, the neon light cartoon promotion scare has cost Turner Broadcasting and the marketing firm involved $2 million in compensation payments. A simple cost benefit calculation will probably have determined the decision, given that a couple of million dollars is peanuts to these companies but the sheer irrationality of the whole episode makes you wish someone would have the gumption to stand up and say it. Sadly that would involve taking on costly legal action, as well as a slight risk of losing at the end of the day.

Judge orders release of former White House aide's secret testimony

From AP via Findlaw:

"WASHINGTON-Audio recordings of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's secret grand jury testimony will be released publicly after they are presented at his trial, the judge at Libby's trial ruled Monday.

In a victory for the news media, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he has concerns about releasing the recordings while the case is under way, but he has little choice under the law as applied in the federal court system in Washington, D.C."

Apple settle with Apple

The latest round in the ongoing trademark dispute between Apple Computer and the Beatles'Apple Corps Ltd has been settled.

"The new settlement replaces the companies' 1991 agreement, and gives Apple Inc. ownership of all the trademarks related to "Apple." In addition, Apple Inc. will license certain of those trademarks back to Apple Corps for their continued use.

This settlement ends the ongoing trademark lawsuit between the companies, with each paying its own legal costs, and Apple Inc. will continue using its name and logos on iTunes."