Scotland Westminster

Scotland and the 2015 General Election

Two weeks from today, those who come under the designation of British will take to the polls to vote for the Members of the UK Westminster Parliament. There are exceptions to this of course, such as those who have already voted by post or by proxy, and those who won’t see the point in participating at all.

The number of people who end up lumped into the inaccurately labelled category of ‘apathetic voters’ is substantial, a phenomenon common in mature political democracies the world over. This often elicits protestations that the disengaged and disaffected should spoil their ballots rather than abstain, or that there is some sort of moral imperative to cast a ballot due to the sacrifices of those that have come before. These tired old arguments come around like the seasons, and have little discernible effect. The simple truth for many is that there is little point in taking even a symbolic stand if you don’t believe there is any real prospect of change.

This time may be different.

It can be easy to forget in amongst the laboriously prosaic campaigning, but this time we find ourselves at a genuinely exciting moment in British political history – whatever the outcome of the election may be. The old assumptions and expectations have been broken down in a way that few people would ever have predicted.

One of my earliest memories relating to the general election that didn’t just involve getting the day off school was when Tony Blair’s New Labour party were seeking to gain power from John Major’s Conservatives in 1997. The Daily Record displayed a headline that stated: ’18 Reasons We Need a Fresh Breath of Blair’, one for each year the Tories had been in power.

Back then it seemed like there might be real change afforded by voting for Labour, but of course, that seems almost laughable now. What was on offer was nothing more than the illusion of something different; a choice between two barely indistinguishable parties, cloaked in rhetoric and false promises. This was just the other side of the coin in a bleak partisan system where nothing really transformative ever took place. Nowhere else was this more keenly felt than in Scotland, where each successive election just seemed to confirm that voting had no impact upon the actual result.

Tony Blair and George Bush

Now, things seem fundamentally different. The far right has inevitably smartened up enough to present itself as a credible threat in the form of UKIP and Nigel Farage, simultaneously managing to make the Tories appear more rational, whilst also pulling them to promise more extreme action. The Lib Dems have all but completely extinguished their relevance as anything other than a party designed to prop up whoever is in power at any given time and needs a hand – the Parliamentary equivalent of a temp agency. Labour are having an existential crisis, faced with a complete meltdown in their traditionally safe heartlands… and not only do we now have televised debates, but the Greens and Plaid Cymru are represented on there as well (though why Patrick Harvie wasn’t included in Scotland is still a mystery).

Nigel Farage

Even the ever dependable First Past the Post system, so desperately lauded by the mainstream parties for its ability to produce sizeable majorities (and therefore allegedly ‘stable’ governments) has failed to achieve even that basic task. The irony of that is compounded by the fact that not only do we have a popular SNP government in Edinburgh, but that they have a majority under a proportional system designed specifically to prevent such a scenario from taking place. Ouch.

Nicola Sturgeon

It should not be underestimated how fascinating all of this is, especially when we remember the situation that our American friends are still trapped in. However, sadly the details are at risk of being nothing more than window dressing if it doesn’t actually have the potential to produce real change for people. Whether the Greens are getting on TV a bit more often is irrelevant if it remains the case that they cannot garner enough nationwide support to be in a position to actually make an impact. For many across the UK, this is still the reality they are faced with when deciding how to vote. This is not the case for those of us in Scotland.

Scotland Westminster

One of the main underlying issues around the debate over Scottish independence was a dissatisfaction with the status quo; a rejection of the helplessness of the Westminster system that favoured those already in positions of power. People were fed up of being stuck with the Hobson’s choice between red or blue – though it is extremely generous of me to imply that the Tories were ever actually really an option. For many who voted yes, there was a crushing resigned fear that the result would signify a return to the old situation, but it hasn’t. Rather than doggedly stick to supporting a single party in a system that offers no alternatives, for once we are able to vote in such a way that not only will it actually count, but in a way that could also bring about a genuine shift in politics across the UK. Hell, arguably it’s already happened.

For the first time, our ballot feels like it actually matters again, and that those in Westminster are having to sit up and take notice. You can’t tell the Scottish people that they will be better as part of the United Kingdom and then expect them to not want a seat at the head table.

Image of Tony Blair and George Bush is in the public domain.
Image of Nigel Farage from Euro Realist Newsletter used under Creative Commons licence.
Image of Nicola Sturgeon from the Scottish Government used under Creative Commons licence.
Image of ‘Scotland Place – Westminster’ by me.

dmca

How to Submit (Valid) DMCA Takedown Notices

So you’ve discovered that a website is using something you’ve created without permission, and you want them to stop. The quickest route to make this happen is to submit a ‘DMCA takedown notice’, though the process itself can seem daunting if you’re not familiar with the language involved.

In short: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or ‘DMCA’ is a piece of American law that provides a mechanism for copyright holders to have allegedly infringing material taken down speedily from the Internet without having to resort to legal action – whilst also protecting the online service providers from liability for the actions of their users.

Should you wish to follow up on the unauthorised use of your works online, this guide will give an idea of what’s involved, and how to submit a formally valid notice. Having seen thousands of these takedown notices as part of my job, I know a fair bit about the quirks that are involved.

Things to Consider

Before submitting a DMCA takedown notice, there are some general things to bear in mind:

  • The DMCA is American lawAs a result, online service providers located outside of the US are not bound by its contents. There are similar provisions enacted in different jurisdictions, but generally the DMCA is seen as the industry standard. It is often the case that hosts will comply with valid takedown notices even if they technically are not required to by their local laws, but don’t expect bank on this.
  • Takedown notices do not prevent the spread of the material. Just because you manage to get something removed from one host, doesn’t mean that it won’t pop up again somewhere else – much like the ‘whac-a-mole’ game you see in American films. Sometimes giving attention to one instance of infringement can lead to a multiplication of the problem, rather than a solution. As a result, you need to question whether taking action will be worthwhile, or whether sleeping lions are best left undisturbed. This is relevant.
  • Not every use of copyrighted material is actionable. People are entitled to use copyrighted material without permission in certain circumstances, such as for the purpose of research, criticism, education, or news reporting; known as the ‘fair use’ doctrine. You have an obligation to consider this possibility before submitting a takedown notice for the use of content in which you hold a copyright interest.

The Takedown Notice

The DMCA takedown notice itself isn’t very complicated, but it does require a number of specific elements in order to be considered formally valid. It’s amazing how often people screw this up.

They are:

  • A signature from the copyright holder, or somebody who they have authorised to act on their behalf. This can either be a physical, or electronic signature.
  • An identification of the material that is being used without permission. In other words, what photograph, text, or other content is it?
  • An identification of where the infringing material is located. Where exactly is the content being used without permission? Include a direct link to the page where it exists, and be careful not to include dynamic URLs, as this can delay the process.
  • Details to allow the service provider to contact the complainant, such as address, telephone number, or e-mail address.
  • A ‘good faith belief’ that the material’s use is not authorised by the copyright owner, agent, or the law.
  • A statement that the notice is ‘accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorised to act on behalf of’ the copyright holder.

That’s all. There are various examples available on the web that add in a whole lot of extraneous information about the obligations of service providers and so forth, but legally this is not required. Whilst some smaller hosts may be intimidated this approach, the extra verbiage more often than not can seem as if the complainant is clutching at straws in a desperate bid to have material taken offline.

Some things that are worth noting:

  • You can have somebody submit the DMCA takedown notice on your behalf, if you would rather.
  • The signature must be of a person. This sounds obvious but in other words, you can’t sign your company name – it must be either yours or the third party acting as your agent for the submission.
  • Though some service providers specifically ask for it, the DMCA does not require you to provide all of your contact details. As a general rule, I would only supply the minimum necessary, and avoid giving up personal phone numbers and addresses This is particularly true as a copy of the notice can often then forwarded on to the user who published the material in the first place (depending on the policies of the host in question). An e-mail address should suffice.
  • If you do not want to supply your own details, the DMCA allows for you to submit a takedown notification through a third party agent, acting on your behalf.

A sample DMCA takedown notice is as follows:

Subject: DMCA Takedown Notification

To whom it may concern,

This e-mail is notification under USC 17 §512, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), of instances of copyright infringement operating on site(s) under your control.

The copyrighted work at issue is as follows:

** INSERT DESCRIPTION OF COPYRIGHTED WORK **

The unauthorized, and infringing copy is available the following URL(s):

** INSERT URLs WHERE THE COPYRIGHTED WORK CAN BE FOUND **

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

I demand that you expeditiously remove or disable access to the material in question.

I may be contacted on:

** NAME **
** ADDRESS **
** TELEPHONE NUMBER **
** E-Mail Address **

The following should be considered my electronic signature for the purposes of §512(c)(i):

** TYPE OUT FULL LEGAL NAME **

This can be downloaded over on Github.

PROTIP:

  • Don’t submit these DMCAs by post, or in PDF format. Unless you want to be really, really annoying (which you might!), this will only serve to slow down the actual process of getting your material removed, which should really be the priority.

The Process – What Happens Now?

Once you have submitted a valid DMCA takedown notice, the process is as follows:

  • The online service provider must act ‘expeditiously’ to ‘remove or disable access to’ the material that you have identified as infringing upon your copyrights.
  • The user who published the material has the option to submit a counter notice, asserting their right to legally use the material. At this point you will be notified, and if you do not give notification of beginning legal proceedings, the content in question will be restored between 10 and 14 days after the submission of the counter notice.

So there are a number of possibilities for what could happen:

  • Nothing. The service provider ignores your takedown notice, which can happen for a variety of reasons (such as their location outside of the US). At this point you are left with little option but to undertake legal action to have the material removed.
  • The material is removed by the service provider, and stays offline. The best possible outcome.
  • The material is removed by the service provider, but a counter notice is received shortly thereafter, leading to it being restored within the 10-14 day window unless you pursue legal action.

NB: This is not to be taken as legal advice.

photo-1421757295538-9c80958e75b0

Write Stuff Down: A Tale of a Locked Mobile

Yesterday I flew down to London to sit on a panel titled ‘Digital Dystopias: Civil Liberties In A Digital Age’, as part of the UK Liberty League’s ‘Freedom Forum’ of 2015.

The journey meant getting up at 5am, though really it was 4am as the result of clocks going forward… and heading back later on that day. I wasn’t able to get decently priced trains for the times that I needed to get there in time. I packed light, and didn’t bother to bring my laptop with me as I usually would for a trip like this.

Rather ironically, on my way to speak (partially) about the need to be aware where your data is being transferred online, I got an untimely reminder of my own over-reliance on my phone. Having switched it off for the flight, when it came back on I was prompted to type in the full password. This isn’t something I have to do too often, making use of the Touch ID facility, and it turned out I couldn’t remember what exactly it was. I had opted to avoid using the ‘simple’ code, which is really just a numerical pin number, as it was far too easy for people to read over my shoulder, then use it to ‘frape’ me or something equally uncouth. Back when I was in a band we used to punish each other for leaving our phones unlocked by sending multiple text messages containing the phrase ‘wanna see my weasel?’ to random numbers. This is something I wanted to avoid happening again.

The way things progress when you’ve forgotten your password, or at least, which variation will grant access, is this: You get a few chances, then you get locked out for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 6, then 15, then 60… then completely. Ouch.

This wouldn’t be too big a problem if I didn’t completely rely on the phone for uh, everything. The location of where I was meant to go for the conference? On the phone. The phone numbers of all the people who could help? On the phone. Since I like notebooks, I had luckily copied down some of my notes, as well as printed out my boarding pass – but I could just as easily have left the former in Evernote, and used the Easyjet app for the latter – and almost did.

I eventually persuaded somebody at an information desk in Victoria Station to Google the conference venue for me, and worked out where to go using the big ol’ printed maps. It didn’t help that the streets were closed off due to some huge stabbing incident the night before, so I had to wander around for a while before I got to the venue. But all was well.

Letting my wife know that I wasn’t dead was another matter. I couldn’t get in touch with her via any of the apps on my phone – obviously. I wondered about finding a good ol’ fashioned pay-as-you-go web machine (or a computer) to login to Facebook or something and drop her a message. However, that wasn’t the end of the complications. Even if I could find an Internet cafe (seriously, wtf do they call rental computers now?!), I couldn’t actually login to any of my services anyway. My passwords are all 30 odd characters long, randomly generated things that are stored in a secure database that is only available on my laptop or… my phone. Even if I could get into a backup of them somewhere, I would still need to verify my identify using two factor authentication. Also, on my phone.

In the end, I resorted to a payphone. Trying to locate one was amusing, with the people I asked for help looking at me as if I was mentally deranged, or a drug dealer, or both. To be fair, I’d probably have the same reaction in their position. The payphone was only slightly helpful though, as eh… I don’t know anybody’s numbers. Literally every single number of everybody I could get in touch with was stored in my phone. Mind when you used to remember them off by heart? Well, the only one that my memory would serve up was my gran and granda’s. Luckily, they were able to get a hold of my parents (in Amsterdam) via Skype, who then sent a message to Grace to let her know what had happened, and that I wasn’t lying in an alcoholic coma somewhere.

I did eventually find a computer in Gatwick airport, for what it’s worth – but it charged 10p for one minute of access to the Internet. I’m not sure exactly who they think will pay for that shit given there’s free WiFi everywhere – and WTFTENPEEPERMINUTE!? This isn’t the 90s when the web was a novelty.

So I had to suffer the injustice of a whole day with no Internet access, and no way to contact anybody. It was a weird experience, surrounded by thousands of people who were connected up to their eyeballs with a myriad of devices… yet unable to take advantage of any of it, even if I asked.

I think I’ll write things down more often.

Oh, as an obiter, I was told that I’d have to wipe my phone completely and restore from backup to get access back. This proved to be tricky as I had just gotten a new laptop, ergo… no backups. I discovered that if you go into Find My Phone online (if you have it enabled via the iCloud), that you can re-trigger the ability to insert your passcode again if you make the phone play a sound. Good to know for the future.

Can you smell the fear?

Clicky Steve:

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Better Together was supposed to mean that Scotland better listen passively, Scotland better do what it was told what was best for it. But Scotland isn’t listening any more. We no longer listen to those who don’t hear us. Scotland wants Home Rule. Scotland was promised Home Rule, we were vowed the closest thing to federalism it was possible to get. We were told that Scotland would have more self-government than any other devolved or autonomous administration. But we got control of road signs and unusable tax powers. So Scotland will use this election to take Home Rule.

The old rules of deference are dead, and we’ve learned that you get nowhere in this Union by being Miss Nice, by asking politely and patiently for things that the establishment refuses to recognise are ours. That’s the lesson Scotland learned from the referendum. We’re not asking nicely any more, and it’s scaring them. An entire nation cannot be marginalised. There’s more of us. They promised home rule, they didn’t deliver. So we’ll vote for parties which will take it from them.”

Originally posted on Wee Ginger Dug:

Can you smell the fear? It’s reeking, rising in a fog of incomprehension, wafting up from the sweaty furrowed brows of Unionist politicians, dripping from the pens of the metrocommentariat columnists. It’s the rank odour of a rotting and rancid Project Fear which is now eating itself, consumed in hubris, dissolving in its arrogance. Confused and lost by how events have turned against the winning side in the referendum. The wind has changed. It blows fair for Scotland.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Better Together was supposed to mean that Scotland better listen passively, Scotland better do what it was told what was best for it. But Scotland isn’t listening any more. We no longer listen to those who don’t hear us. Scotland wants Home Rule. Scotland was promised Home Rule, we were vowed the closest thing to federalism it was possible to get. We were told that…

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Blow Struck by WordPress.com Against Fraudulent DMCAs

Abuse of the American online copyright takedown system (DMCA) is rife. People frequently submit fraudulent notifications to online service providers in order to censor views that they disagree with, curbing legitimate freedom of expression. Examples include those trying to stifle negative reviews about their businesses or products, preventing political satire, and even inappropriately targetting the normative use of a trademark.

All too often, OSPs simply shrug their shoulders when confronted with these scenarios, and process the notices anyway in order to avoid losing their safe harbor protections. Even when alerted to what’s going on in specific circumstances, many choose a policy of non-intervention, rather than to defend their users.

The result of one of two cases which were filed by Automattic in response to fraudulent takedown notifications submitted concerning material posted by WordPress.com was released a few days ago, Westlaw citation: 2014 WL 7894441. The judgement concerned a notice sent by a group called ‘Straight Pride UK’, who objected to the publication of an e-mail interview which a journalist Oliver Hotham had conducted. Under §512(f) of the DMCA, Automattic were awarded a total of just over $25,000 in damages – $960 of which was for Hotham’s time.

The outcome was a ‘default judgement’, as the defendant’s (unsurprisingly) didn’t turn up to the hearing, despite being served properly through the standard international processes. It’s unlikely that either Automattic or Hotham will ever see any of the money, so it is largely a symbolic victory. However, it should not be dismissed too quickly, as the case highlights a number of important issues:

  • The DMCA is frequently abused, with few consequences for those who misrepresent their copyrights
  • Taking action against this abuse is expensive, and happens extremely infrequently
  • Enforcing damages against those from outside the US is difficult, and so there is a hole in the remedies available where those who abuse the system fall into this category
  • Even where organisations or individuals are resident in the US, major online service providers do nothing about the fraudulent notices they receive that could be actionable
  • In order for damages to be awarded, material must be removed as the result of a misrepresentation. There are no consequences for fraudulent notifications that are caught by diligent service providers first – at their own risk

The DMCA is a blunt tool that has an incredible power to silence dissenting voices without recourse. The only way in which this is going to change is if service providers begin to stand up against the abuses, using the considerable resources as their disposal – both to further the conversations in this area, and also to take legal action where possible.

Transparency: I am a Community Guardian for WordPress.com.

 

Being a Night Person

Clicky Steve:

Paul articulates something of what I’ve struggled with for a long time as well – being a night person in a work world that favours early birds.

Originally posted on The Old Fashioned:

I’m not a morning person. I’ve made halting attempts at being one…but only because I thought I needed to. I’m now lucky enough to work at a place where I don’t have to pretend anymore. I can work when I’m most productive – and for me that’s often at night.

Why? Apparently it’s because that’s my “chronotype”…I just read a great New Yorker article that explains what that is, and also confirms something I’ve long suspected. That to be most productive, you should just embrace your inner time preference, rather than fighting it. If you’re a night person, find a way to work at night. I’ve been doing that more lately, and having some very productive days. It’s nice to finally have some hard science to back me up…

I got in touch with my real work rhythm in college. Left to my own devices, I’d not schedule classes before…

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DMCA Rejection Retaliation

Every day WordPress.com receive a sizeable number of DMCA takedown notifications, and every day I personally reject a fair number of them for being incomplete, invalid, or fraudulent.

Many of those who find their takedown notifications being rejected are displeased with the decision, used to service providers choosing to automatically process them, shifting the burden of proof onto the user, rather than take on the risk of liability for themselves. Unsurprisingly, this displeasure is often most aggressively expressed by dedicated third party agents whose sole business model is based on scouring the web for potentially infringing acts, and who get paid per removal. Some people may say that with a results-driven financial incentive to have material taken offline, that there is more of a chance for the DMCA process to be used inappropriately – but that’s something you’ll need to make your minds up on independently.

Yesterday a colleague let me know about one such organisation that had evidently found some of their notifications rejected in the past, who had then chosen to take to Twitter to voice their displeasure about me doing my job.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 23.49.14

The image they linked to was of me, lying on the grass clutching a bottle of Buckfast – the weekend of the Queen’s Jubilee, if memory serves correctly.

The one they used wasn’t really very good quality though, so here’s a higher resolution one incase they want to try again:

crail

I’m not entirely sure what they were trying to achieve to be honest. It’s not as if pictures of me intoxicated are really all that hard to find, after all. My occasional penchant for Buckfast isn’t exactly a secret at Automattic either, given that I did my first annual ‘flash talk’ at the all-company Grand Meetup in Utah on the ol’ tonic wine.

Somebody (who shall remain nameless) suggested we reply to say:

Even smashed on Bucky, Clicky Steve knows more about the DMCA than RemoveYourMedia

Which is so beautiful it almost brought a tear to my eye.

That wasn’t the only tweet they aimed at me though.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 23.49.26

It’s pretty bizarre that they would choose to use that case about Napster to illustrate the potential liability for service providers guilty of contributory infringement, since there are far more recent, compelling, and relevant judgements they could have made their point with. Ah well, better luck next time, eh? As far as I’m aware they never actually sued after these bold statements on social media, but maybe they’re still preparing the paper work.

At the end of the day, whilst this has given me a hearty chuckle before I turn in for the night, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s not only petty, but ridiculously unprofessional. Making ad hominem attacks on employees of a company for rejecting your legal demands is pretty sad. If I was a copyright holder, I wouldn’t be too impressed to find the agency I had employed to protect my intellectual property deploying tactics like this. Then again, it might be a bigger deal if they had more than 1200 followers…

In the world of the DMCA, there’s only one thing dumber than submitting bogus takedown notifications, and that’s having a tantrum on Twitter when your bogus takedowns are rejected.