homeaboutarchivepodcastnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivepodcastmembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

kottke.org posts about legal

Tesla abandons their patents

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2014

Dang, Tesla just announced they’re letting anyone use their patented technology. CEO Elon Musk:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

Damn good move for a damn good reason. It’s impressive to watch this company in action.

Update: I read that last line quoted above again and perhaps “abandoned” is too strong a word. Glenn Fleishman notes on Twitter:

They did not abandon their patents. They aren’t apparently even licensing them. They are stating they won’t sue except defensively. The devil is in the details. Twitter released a complete framework of their policy when they announced the same thing.

Hopefully Musk and co. will clarify what they mean by “in good faith”.

And introducing: the billing block

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2014

This is called a billing block:

Billing Block

You find it at the bottom of movie posters and often at the end of movie trailers. In an Op-Art piece from last year, Ben Schott explains how the billing block is carefully constructed with information from contracts and legal agreements.

The content, order and format of the billing block are governed by two things: personal service contracts with cast and crew, and industrywide agreements with professional guilds — notably the Directors Guild of America (D.G.A.) and the Writers Guild of America (W.G.A.). Thus, while some elements of the billing block remain consistent, others depend of the type of film and on individual negotiations. That said, there has been a marked inflation in billing block credits. An “Ocean’s 11” poster from 1960 credited just three noncast individuals; the 2001 remake poster credited, coincidentally, 11.

Frere-Jones sues Hoefler

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2014

Oh, wow. Tobias Frere-Jones is suing his business partner Jonathan Hoefler over ownership of world-reknowned type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones claims he has been cheated out of his half of the company by his business partner, Jonathan Hoefler. In a blistering lawsuit filed today in New York City, Frere-Jones says he was duped into transferring ownership of several fonts, including the world-famous Whitney, to Hoefler & Frere-Jones (HFJ) on the understanding that he would own 50% of the company.

“In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all of the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded,” the suit claims.

The full complaint is here. A descendant of Whitney (Whitney ScreenSmart) is what you’re reading right now and I was an early beta tester of H&FJ’s webfont service. This is gobsmacking news…I have no idea what to think about it. What a sad and strange situation. (via @khoi)

Update: H&FJ has released a statement from their general counsel:

Last week, designer Tobias Frere-Jones, a longtime employee of The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. (d/b/a “Hoefler & Frere-Jones”), decided to leave the company. With Tobias’s departure, the company founded by Jonathan Hoefler in 1989 will become known as Hoefler & Co.

Update: According to a document filed with the New York County Clerk, the matter between Hoefler and Frere-Jones “has been settled”. No other details are available at this time.

Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk initiative found unconstitutional

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2013

A federal judge ruled this morning that NYC’s controversial stop-and-frisk practice violated the rights of “tens of thousands” of New Yorkers.

In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.

These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.

To fix the constitutional violations, Judge Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said she intended to designate an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution.

This is good news. Treating every young black male in the city like a criminal is not a policing strategy and it’s embarrassing it has gone on this long. This kind of thing, along with the recent NSA revelations and other issues, make me wonder if “innocent until proven guilty” is still something the US citizenry and its law enforcement agencies still believe in. (via @beep)

Update: Using data from the last half of 2013, the NY Times says ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Is All but Gone From New York.

Many who live and work in the neighborhoods say they see scant evidence of change, and some say the police are simply not reporting some or all of their stops. The police did not respond to requests for comment.

But something is clearly different: Misdemeanor drug and weapon charges, the most common arrests to result from a stop, are down considerably. Advocates say misdemeanor marijuana charges, which require that the drug is in plain sight, are a bellwether, because the police ordered thousands to empty pockets, and arrested them.

I’ll reserve judgement until the numbers from 2014 are in, particularly those post-Bloomberg.

Questlove: Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2013

The Roots’ Questlove has some powerful thoughts on the Trayvon Martin verdict:

I’m in scenarios all the time in which primitive, exotic-looking me — six-foot-two, 300 pounds, uncivilized Afro, for starters — finds himself in places where people who look like me aren’t normally found. I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct? In the beginning — let’s say 2002, when the gates of “Hey, Ahmir, would you like to come to [swanky elitist place]?” opened — I’d say “no,” mostly because it’s been hammered in my DNA to not “rock the boat,” which means not making “certain people” feel uncomfortable.

I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people’s safety and comfort first, before your own. You’re programmed and taught that from the gate. It’s like the opposite of entitlement.

Reading about this case and the reaction to it has been a series of gut punches this week.

Recapturing the Friedmans

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2013

Back in November, I posted about the effort of the filmmakers of Capturing the Friedmans to prove the innocence of one of the film’s subjects, Jesse Friedman. On Monday, a 168-page report released by the Nassau County District Attorney’s office found that there was enough evidence to charge and convict Friedman of sexual molestation of minors.

Friedman, his supporters and the makers of the Academy Award-nominated documentary have long maintained he was railroaded into pleading guilty to charges he molested 13 kids in the late 1980s, and were expecting the report to exonerate him.

It did the opposite.

Friedman, they found, was labeled a “psychopathic deviant” by his own shrink, and had actually sexually abused a total of 17 children.

“The District Attorney concludes that Jesse Friedman was not wrongfully convicted,” the blistering 172-page report says.

“In fact, by any impartial analysis, the investigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman … has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea adjudication as a sex offender.”

The panel said it interviewed three of Friedman’s now-adult victims. “Each confirmed that he was sexually abused by Jesse Friedman. Each told their separate story, marked by pain and recovery,” and “recounted years of shame and humiliation,” the report said.

The Washington Post has more. (via @DavidGrann)

Supreme Court: human genes not patentable

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2013

In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled today that human genes cannot be patented.

The case involved Myriad Genetics Inc., which holds patents related to two genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, that can indicate whether a woman has a heightened risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, said the genes Myriad isolated are products of nature, which aren’t eligible for patents.

The high court’s ruling was a win for a coalition of cancer patients, medical groups and geneticists who filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging Myriad’s patents. Thanks to those patents, the Salt Lake City company has been the exclusive U.S. commercial provider of genetic tests for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

The challengers argued the patents have allowed Myriad to dictate the type and terms of genetic screening available for the diseases, while also dissuading research by other laboratories.

Fuck yes. A defect in her BRCA1 gene is what caused Angelina Jolie to recently have a preventive double mastectomy. (via @tylercowen)

How does copyright work in space?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2013

When Commander Chris Hadfield covered David Bowie’s Space Oddity on board the International Space Station:

how were the intellectual property rights handled?

The song “Space Oddity” is under copyright protection in most countries, and the rights to it belong to Mr Bowie. But compulsory-licensing rights in many nations mean that any composition that has been released to the public (free or commercially) as an audio recording may be recorded again and sold by others for a statutorily defined fee, although it must be substantively the same music and lyrics as the original. But with the ISS circling the globe, which jurisdiction was Commander Hadfield in when he recorded the song and video? Moreover, compulsory-licensing rights for covers of existing songs do not include permission for broadcast or video distribution. Commander Hadfield’s song was loaded onto YouTube, which delivers video on demand to users in many countries around the world. The first time the video was streamed in each country constituted publication in that country, and with it the potential for copyright infringement under local laws. Commander Hadfield could have made matters even more complicated by broadcasting live as he sang to an assembled audience of fellow astronauts for an onboard public performance while floating from segment to segment of the ISS.

We live in a world where sending a guitar into space is trivial while ironing out rights agreements is the tough part. (via waxy)

Sandra Day O’Connor’s Bush vs. Gore mistake

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2013

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor now admits that taking on the Bush vs Gore case in 2000 was probably a mistake.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” O’Connor said during a talk with the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board on Friday. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’”

The case, she said, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less than perfect reputation.”

“Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision,” she said. “It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”

[Hair tearing-out noise]

Congressional gun control legislation is falling apart

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2013

Feeling totally depressed and sad and useless about this: the NRA wins again.

After Sandy Hook, after twenty children were shot and killed at a place where they should have been safe from all harm, there was some optimism among supporters of gun control: perhaps now, finally, both Democrats and Republicans could see the light — and the suffering-and revive the assault — weapons ban. It was a futile hope.

Less than a week after Adam Lanza shot up an elementary school, it was already basically clear that an assault-weapons ban could not pass Congress-that it probably couldn’t even get through the Democratic-controlled Senate, never mind the House. So it was hardly a surprise when, three months later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the ban would be removed from a larger gun-control package that is making its way through the upper chamber and given a separate vote that it will not survive. The scale of the defeat suffered by the ban’s supporters, though, is shocking. This wasn’t a close call; it was a body blow.

I haven’t forgotten Sandy Hook. We drive by there every time we go to Vermont. I think about those kids almost every day. Sometimes when I think about them, I close my eyes and see my 5-year-old son cowering in the corner of his classroom as a black-clad figure toting a machine gun bears down on him. And then the tears come. I can’t stand that this is what America is; that we trade our children’s lives for the opportunity to purchase items specifically invented for killing. I can’t stand it. It’s pathetic and embarrassing and barbaric.

Junior Seau’s family sues NFL over concussions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2013

The deceased former NFL player’s family joins more than 6000 people who have sued the NFL over head injuries in the past few years.

“We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE,” the family said in a statement released to the AP. “While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.

“We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations.”

Plaintiffs are listed as Gina Seau, Junior’s ex-wife; Junior’s children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of Seau’s estate.

The lawsuit accuses the league of glorifying the violence in pro football, and creating the impression that delivering big hits “is a badge of courage which does not seriously threaten one’s health.”

It singles out NFL Films and some of its videos for promoting the brutality of the game.

Seau is a pretty boldfaced name…I wonder what effect this will have on public perception, etc.

Legal analysis of Bilbo’s contract in The Hobbit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2013

In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins signs a contract with a company of dwarves to serve as their burglar in their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from a dragon. Lawyer James Daily analyzed the contract in detail for Wired.

Even in the book’s version we see an issue: the dwarves accept Bilbo’s “offer” but then proceed to give terms. This is not actually an acceptance but rather a counter-offer, since they’re adding terms. In the end it doesn’t matter because Bilbo effectively accepts the counter-offer by showing up and rendering his services as a burglar, but the basic point is that the words of a contract do not always have the legal effect that they claim to have. Sometimes you have to look past the form to the substance.

See also How valid is the implied legal advice in Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”?

Obama announces plan to reduce gun violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2013

At a press conference today, Vice President Biden and President Obama introduced their plan to reduce the nation’s gun violence. Here are main points:

Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.

Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.

Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.

Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.

Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.

Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

End the freeze on gun violence research.

Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.

Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.

Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.

Here’s the press conference in its entirety:

The NY Times has an overview of their remarks.

US prison population on the decline

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2013

A wee bit of good news about American prisons for a change: after rising each year since the mid-1970s, the US incarceration rate has declined each of the past three years.

Prison Stats 2012

I hereby submit my nomination for the most underreported public policy story of the past year: The continuing decline in the number of Americans who are behind bars or on probation/parole. Both the change itself and low level of attention it has garnered are worthy of reflection.

At the time of President Obama’s inauguration, the incarceration rate in the United States had been rising every single year since the mid 1970s. The relentless growth in the proportion of Americans behind bars had persisted through good economic times and bad, Republican and Democratic Presidents, and countless changes in state and local politics around the country.

If a public policy trend with that much momentum had even slowed significantly, it would have been merited attention, but something far more remarkable occurred: The incarceration rate and the number of people under correctional supervision (i.e., including people on probation/parole) declined for three years in a row. At the end of 2011, the proportion of people under correctional supervision returned to a level not seen since the end of the Clinton Administration.

Commenters over at Marginal Revolution dug into the report a bit more and the decline may have a lot to do with things like state budget cuts and less to do with things like fewer/shorter prison sentences.

Senator Moynihan’s bullet tax

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2012

In an editorial for the NY Times in 1993 called Guns Don’t Kill People. Bullets Do., US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described a bill he introduced in the Senate which would have levied a 10,000% tax on hollow-point bullets.

“So far this year, 342 New Yorkers have been killed by stray bullets. And in the past few days, two young women were shot in their pregnant bellies.” A. M. Rosenthal wrote that on this page last Tuesday, the day of the Long Island shooting. By Thursday there were 11 more homicides. If we are to stop it, or come anywhere close, we have to get hold of the ammunition.

On Nov. 3, I introduced a bill that would levy a 10,000 percent tax on Winchester hollow-tipped “Black Talon” bullets, specifically designed to rip flesh. (Colin Ferguson, the suspect in the Long Island shootings, had some 40 of them.)

The tax would effectively raise the price of Black Talons from $20 a box to $2,000. On Nov. 22, 19 days after my bill was introduced, Winchester announced that it would cease sale of Black Talons to the public. Which suggests that the munitions manufacturers are more responsive than the automobile companies were a generation ago. It is also important to note that in 1986 Congress banned the Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullet, which penetrates police body armor. The Swedes are now making a new kind of armor-piercing round. We got that banned in the Senate version of this year’s crime bill without a murmur.

The Long Island shootings Moynihan refers to resulted in the deaths of six people and the injury of nineteen more. (via @Rebeccamead_NYC)

The shifting meaning of the Second Amendment

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2012

Ezra Klein asked Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional scholar, about the Second Amendment. Amar responded with two artworks that illustrate how the meaning of the Second Amendment has shifted over the years.

In a nutshell, almost everything ordinary Americans think they know about the Bill of Rights, including the phrase ‘Bill of Rights,’ comes from the Reconstruction period. Not once did the Founders refer to these early amendments as a bill of rights. We read everything through the prism of the 14th amendment — including the right to bear and keep arms.

The Fourteenth Amendment has a lot of parts, among them the definition of citizenship, Civil War debt, due process, and equal protection. Amar wrote more about the interplay between the 2nd and 14th Amendments for Slate in 2008.

But the 14th Amendment did not specifically enumerate these sacred privileges and immunities. Instead, like the Ninth, the 14th invited interpreters to pay close attention to fundamental rights that Americans had affirmed through their lived experience-in state bills of rights and in other canonical texts such as the Declaration of Independence and landmark civil rights legislation. And when it came to guns, a companion statute to the 14th Amendment, enacted by Congress in 1866, declared that “laws … concerning personal liberty [and] personal security … including the constitutional right to bear arms, shall be secured to and enjoyed by all the citizens.” Here, in sharp contrast to founding-era legal texts, the “bear arms” phrase was decisively severed from the military context. Women as well as men could claim a “personal” right to protect their “personal liberty” and “personal security” in their homes. The Reconstruction-era Congress clearly understood that Southern blacks might need guns in their homes to protect themselves from private violence in places where they could not rely on local constables to keep their neighborhoods safe. When guns were outlawed, only outlaw Klansmen would have guns, to paraphrase a modern NRA slogan. In this critical chapter in the history of American liberty, we find additional evidence of an individual right to have a gun in one’s home, regardless of the original meaning of the Second Amendment.

My American Lemonade

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2012

In October 2011, after 20 years of living legally in the United States, Atanas Entchev and his 21-year-old son were detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, given orange jumpsuits to wear, and held for 65 days. Entchev is writing a book about his experience called My American Lemonade.

Day after day from my bunk, I listened to the immigration stories of my roommates. We all had one. Mine involved over 20 years of countless dollars spent on lawyers who would help me navigate the paperwork and court dates necessary for immigration, based on my request for political asylum. Meanwhile I strived to be tops in my field, starting with a presidential certificate from George H. W. Bush and receiving an Outstanding Professor designation from INS, ICE’s predecessor agency. I started my own company, paid taxes, and raised two children here. But that obviously wasn’t enough. I had failed at giving me and my family what we wanted most: U.S. citizenship. I dug deep, used what my family had taught me about resolve and hope, and thought a lot about my past to remind myself why I’d left Bulgaria. Why I’d bothered. The irony was especially palpable to me lying in that bunk, recalling the moment I knew for sure I must leave.

Entchev is one of kottke.org’s most thoughtful readers…he’s been sending email, links, and typo corrections regularly for more than four years now. From what I understand, he’s completed a book proposal consisting of the first three chapters and is looking for an agent. If you can help him out in that regard, drop him a line.

Hilarious grand jury testimony

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2012

David House testified in front of a grand jury about his potential association with Bradley Manning. On the advice of his lawyer, he took the fifth on every question except his name and birthdate.

PM: Mr. House, are you involved with the Bradley Manning Support Network?
DH: I invoke.
PM: Did you respond in the affirmative when asked by the FBI if you had heard of known WikiLeaks associate Jacob Appelbaum?
PM: I would like to state for the record that Mr. House is not answering the question and is instead taking notes.
DH: I invoke.
PM: Do you intend to answer any of my questions, aside from your date of birth and your name?
DH: I invoke.
PM: Is that because of the phalanx of attorneys present here today?
Court Stenographer: I’m sorry, the what of attorneys?
PM: Phalanx… the phalanx of attorneys.
DH: As to the phalanx of attorneys, I invoke.

I had no idea grand jury testimony could be so amusing. I love that House offers to help with the presentation display when the DOJ attorneys are having trouble making the image bigger.

Supreme Court upholds Obama’s healthcare act

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2012

I’m surprised and mostly pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Court’s ruling means, that unless Congress acts, in 2014 all Americans will be required to purchase health insurance in the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system since the Great Society. The Court, according to early analysis, redefined the mandate as a tax, skirting some Constitutional questions but offering a dramatic affirmation to Obama’s key initiative.

Update: Josh Marshall speaks for me here.

This is an imperfect law. But what’s most important is that it provides a structure under which the country can make a start not only on universal coverage — as an ethical imperative — but on doing away with the waste and inefficiencies created by the chronic market failure of the US health insurance system. Again, that matters. And I suspect that there’s no going back.

NFL concussion lawsuit

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jun 09, 2012

On Thursday, 80 lawsuits against the NFL related to brain injuries and concussions were combined into one complaint and filed in Philadelphia. The suit also names helmet maker Ridell, and if I’m reading the article correctly, 2100 former players are involved in the case.

Former running back Kevin Turner, now suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, said:

The NFL must open its eyes to the consequences of its actions. The NFL has the power not only to give former players the care they deserve, but also to ensure that future generations of football players do not suffer the way that many in my generation have. For the longest time, about the first 10 years after I retired in January 2000, I thought I had just turned into a loser overnight. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was a very scary proposition — until I found out there were a lot more guys just like me. I find they had been through some of the same struggles. I realized this is no longer a coincidence.

Back in February, we linked to a Grantland piece by economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier about head injuries leading to the end of the NFL. In their version, injuries to high school and college students result in lawsuits making the sport prohibitively expensive to offer to their students (along with a perception that it’s too dangerous for kids to play).

Is this case the beginning of that timeline? Depending on what comes out in the lawsuit, one (unjust) popular opinion will be that the players should have known they were playing a dangerous game and they were handsomely rewarded to boot. It’s not really a fair opinion, but people love their football. (You can see evidence of this in the comments to the ESPN article linked at the top.) A best case scenario, I would think, would be for the NFL to settle with some sort of acknowledgement of the issue. Not lip-service, but actual changes to current policies and future support for former players.

In happier NFL news, Trick Shot Quarterback, Alex Tanney was signed yesterday by the KC Chiefs. Regardless of setting the NCAA Division III record for passing with 14,249 yards, the NCAA record for touchdowns with 157, and only throwing 30 interceptions in college, Tanney had gone undrafted.

Texas executed an innocent man

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2012

Antonin Scalia once said that no one had ever been executed in the US for a crime they didn’t commit. Well, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review is devoting its entire spring issue to the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez. Their investigation reveals that another Carlos, Carlos Hernandez, actually committed the murder.

Many other glaring discrepancies also stand out in the DeLuna case. He was put on death row largely on the eyewitness testimony of one man, Kevan Baker, who had seen the fight inside the Shamrock and watched the attacker flee the scene.

Yet when Baker was interviewed 20 years later, he said that he hadn’t been that sure about the identification as he had trouble telling one Hispanic person apart from another.

Then there was the crime-scene investigation. Detectives failed to carry out or bungled basic forensic procedures that might have revealed information about the killer. No blood samples were collected and tested for the culprit’s blood type.

Fingerprinting was so badly handled that no useable fingerprints were taken. None of the items found on the floor of the Shamrock - a cigarette stub, chewing gum, a button, comb and beer cans - were forensically examined for saliva or blood.

There was no scraping of the victim’s fingernails for traces of the attacker’s skin. When Liebman and his students studied digitally enhanced copies of crime scene photographs, they were amazed to find the footprint from a man’s shoe imprinted in a pool of Lopez’s blood on the floor - yet no effort was made to measure it.

“There it was,” says Liebman. “The murderer had left his calling card at the scene, but it was never used.”

Even the murder weapon, the knife, was not properly examined, though it was covered in blood and flesh.

Other photographs show Lopez’s blood splattered up to three feet high on the walls of the Shamrock counter. Yet when DeLuna’s clothes and shoes were tested for traces of blood, not a single microscopic drop was found. The prosecution said it must have been washed away by the rain.

Awful. See also Cameron Todd Willingham.

Paul’s Boutique would be impossible today

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2012

Matt Yglesias argues that because of the way copyright is viewed by the public and interpreted by lawmakers and the courts, making an album like The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique would be nearly impossible today.

The death on Friday of Adam Yauch, best known as the Beastie Boys’ MCA, surely sent many of us back to old albums we may not have heard for a while. And anyone who threw on Paul’s Boutique, the Boys’ best album, was surely struck by the sense that they don’t make records like that anymore. That’s not just because tastes and styles have changed. The entire album is based on lavish sampling of other recordings. “Shake Your Rump,” which leads Slate’s #MCATracks playlist, features samples of 14 songs by 12 separate artists. In all, the album is thought to have as many as 300 total samples. The sampling gave Paul’s Boutique a sound that remains almost as distinctive today as it was when it was released in 1989.

Perhaps the main reason-and certainly the saddest reason-that it still sounds distinctive is that a rapidly shifting legal and economic landscape made it essentially impossible to repeat.

The bootlegging veteran

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2012

Hyman Strachman is one of the biggest bootleggers of Hollywood movies. He’s also 92 years old, a WWII veteran, and gives his movies away to American troops serving overseas.

“Big Hy” — his handle among many loyal customers — would almost certainly be cast as Hollywood Enemy No. 1 but for a few details. He is actually Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife. And he has sent every one of his copied DVDs, almost 4,000 boxes of them to date, free to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the United States military presence in those regions dwindling, Big Hy Strachman will live on in many soldiers’ hearts as one of the war’s more shadowy heroes.

“It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” Mr. Strachman said, acknowledging that his actions violated copyright law.

Twitter introduces the Innovator’s Patent Agreement

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2012

Twitter has developed something called the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, which is an agreement between the company and its employees that their patents won’t be used in offensive lawsuits (as opposed to defensive lawsuits).

The IPA is a new way to do patent assignment that keeps control in the hands of engineers and designers. It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.

This is a significant departure from the current state of affairs in the industry. Typically, engineers and designers sign an agreement with their company that irrevocably gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work. The company then has control over the patents and can use them however they want, which may include selling them to others who can also use them however they want. With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.

Red Hat has had a similar policy in place for many years.

Self-deportation

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2012

The bulk of the Jan 27th episode of This American Life was about Alabama’s tough new immigration laws.

Last Summer, Alabama passed HB56, the most sweeping immigration bill in the country. It’s an example of a strategy called “attrition through enforcement” or, more colloquially, “self-deportation” — making life so hard on undocumented immigrants that they choose to leave the country. But as reporter Jack Hitt found, the new law has had lots of other unintended consequences.

New Werner Herzog film on the death penalty

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2011

It’s called Into the Abyss and it opens today. Trailer is here:

There’s an interview with Herzog about the film on the Tribeca Film Festival site and Ebert gave it four stars.

Christopher Hitchens on capital punishment

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2011

From Lapham’s Quarterly, Christopher Hitchens on capital punishment in America.

Since then no country has been allowed to apply for membership or association with the European Union without, as a precondition, dismantling its apparatus of execution. This has led states like Turkey to forego what was once a sort of national staple. The United Nations condemns capital punishment-especially for those who have not yet reached adulthood-and the Vatican has come close to forbidding if not actually anathematizing the business. This leaves the United States of America as the only nation in what one might call the West, that does not just continue with the infliction of the death penalty but has in the recent past expanded its reach. More American states have restored it in theory and carried it out in practice, and the last time the Supreme Court heard argument on the question it was to determine whether capital punishment should be inflicted for a crime other than first-degree murder (the rape of a child being the suggested pretext for extension).

Hitchens, as you may have guessed, pins much of the blame on religion…after all, the US is the most (or only?) fundamentalist country in the West. (via ★interesting-links)

Confessions of a “Rape Cop” Juror

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2011

Gothamist is trying something new: long-form articles available for a small fee ($2-3) on the Kindle or as a PDF. The first one in the series is a real corker…Confessions of a “Rape Cop” Juror, a piece written by a member of the jury that acquitted two NYPD officers charged with raping a young woman in her East Village apartment.

The former cop sprang from his chair and rushed toward me, and before I could step back, the stocky arms of the ex-boxer were curled around my shoulders. To my left, I saw a crowd of faces; to my right, a place setting. One knife, one fork, and one dull spoon wrapped in a white cloth napkin — not much help if he started strangling me. The arms tightened, and then the high-pitched, soft-spoken voice I recognized from the witness stand whispered, “Thank you.”

My chest sank with a long exhale, and a whirlwind of high-powered suits and smiles rose from their glasses of Cabernet. They floated toward me with outstretched hands and watery eyes, the aroma of freshly baked focaccia robiolas mixing with their cologne. One floor below, diners in this Murray Hill Italian restaurant chattered away ignorant of the strange encounter at the top of the back staircase. The man hugging me was supposed to be the monster I had spent seven weeks analyzing and seven days judging. This was Kenneth Moreno, Rape Cop.

I haven’t read the piece but The Awl’s Choire Sicha has:

It’s a fascinating read, and I mean that in a very honest sense. In large part it’s about how unbelievably important jury service is in America, and about how we treat those accused of crimes. Whether you like the verdict or not, or whether you like the case presented by prosecutors or not (SIGH), this view into the thinking and process of the jurors is really valuable.

Our broken patent system

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2011

Finally got around to listening to the excellent episode of This American Life on patents: When Patents Attack! The episode surveys the state of the US patent system, using Nathan Myhrvold’s smarmy Intellectual Ventures as a hook to tell the story.

In polls, as many as 80 percent of software engineers say the patent system actually hinders innovation. In other words, it does exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. It doesn’t encourage them to come up with new ideas and create new products, it actually gets in their way.

The Economist chimed in as well, saying that the American patent system is “a travesty which threatens the wealth and welfare of the whole world”.

At a time when our future affluence depends so heavily on innovation, we have drifted toward a patent regime that not only fails to fulfil its justifying function, to incentivise innovation, but actively impedes innovation.

Aaron Swartz indicted on charges of “wire fraud, computer fraud” etc.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2011

Swartz is known around these parts for being a programmer, long-time blogger, early employee of Reddit, and legal enthusiast. Nick Bilton, writing for the NY Times Bits blog:

Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old programmer and online political activist, was indicted Tuesday in Boston on charges that he stole over four million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JSTOR, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. (Read the full indictment.)

The charges were filed by the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen M. Ortiz, and could result in up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

In a press release, Ms. Ortiz’s office said that Mr. Swartz broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet. Mr. Swartz apparently then accessed the M.I.T. computer network and stole millions of documents from JSTOR.

The full indictment is here (PDF, via @delfuego). Non-PDF version is here. The whole thing is worth a read for the technical detail of how the “hack” was allegedly perpetrated:

26. This time around, Swartz circumvented MIT’s guest registration process altogether when he connected to MIT’s computer network. By this point, Swartz was familiar with the IP addresses available to be assigned at the switch in the restricted network interface closet in the basement of MIT’s Building 16. Swartz simply hard-wired into the network and assigned himself two IP addresses. He hid the Acer laptop and a succession of external storage drives under a box in the closet, so that they would not be obvious to anyone who might enter the closet. January 4 through 6, 2011

27. On January 4, 2011, Aaron Swartz was observed entering the restricted basement network wiring closet to replace an external hard drive attached to his computer.

28 On January 6, 2011, Swartz returned to the wiring closet to remove his computer equipment. This time he attempted to evade identification at the entrance to the restricted area. As Swartz entered the wiring closet, he held his bicycle helmet like a mask to shield his face, looking through ventilation holes in the helmet. Swartz then removed his computer equipment from the closet, put it in his backpack, and left, again masking his face with the bicycle helmet before peering through a crack in the double doors and cautiously stepping out.

Here’s a statement from Demand Progress, an organization founded by Swartz, about the case (via @aaronsw). This is a very different take from the indictment.

Moments ago, Aaron Swartz, former executive director and founder of Demand Progress, was indicted by the US government. As best as we can tell, he is being charged with allegedly downloading too many scholarly journal articles from the Web. The government contends that downloading said articles is actually felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison.

“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal; “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

“It’s even more strange because the alleged victim has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal added.

James Jacobs, the Government Documents Librarian at Stanford University, also denounced the arrest: “Aaron’s prosecution undermines academic inquiry and democratic principles,” Jacobs said. “It’s incredible that the government would try to lock someone up for allegedly looking up articles at a library.”

JSTOR, the document storage service allegedly accessed by Swartz, released a statement on the case (via @delfuego):

Last fall and winter, JSTOR experienced a significant misuse of our database. A substantial portion of our publisher partners’ content was downloaded in an unauthorized fashion using the network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our participating institutions. The content taken was systematically downloaded using an approach designed to avoid detection by our monitoring systems.

The downloaded content included over 4 million articles, book reviews, and other content from our publisher partner’s academic journals and other publications; it did not include any personally identifying information about JSTOR users.

We stopped this downloading activity, and the individual responsible, Mr. Swartz, was identified. We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed.

The criminal investigation and today’s indictment of Mr. Swartz has been directed by the United States Attorney’s Office.

As for what Swartz was planning to do with all these documents, it’s not difficult to guess…he’s done something like this before (this isn’t actually a very good guess…see the update below):

Those courts, with the help of the Government Printing Office, had opened a free trial of Pacer at 17 libraries around the country. Mr. Malamud urged fellow activists to go to those libraries, download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could get to them.

Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old Stanford dropout and entrepreneur who read Mr. Malamud’s appeal, managed to download an estimated 20 percent of the entire database: 19,856,160 pages of text.

Then on Sept. 29, all of the free servers stopped serving. The government, it turns out, was not pleased.

A notice went out from the Government Printing Office that the free Pacer pilot program was suspended, “pending an evaluation.” A couple of weeks later, a Government Printing Office official, Richard G. Davis, told librarians that “the security of the Pacer service was compromised. The F.B.I. is conducting an investigation.”

Lawyers for Mr. Malamud and Mr. Swartz told them that they appeared to have broken no laws, noting nonetheless that it was impossible to say what angry government officials might do.

Twice bitten, indictment? Is that how the saying goes?

Update: This is a more accurate guess as to what Swartz wanted with the JSTOR documents: analyse the documents as part of his on-going work with “the corrupting influence of big money on institutions”…and *not* to free non-copyrighted information from an inefficient gatekeeper as with the PACER data. From the front page of his web site.

He is the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics, especially the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion. In conjunction with Shireen Barday, he downloaded and analyzed 441,170 law review articles to determine the source of their funding; the results were published in the Stanford Law Review. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.

The Stanford Law Review article is available here.