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California AG issues guidance regarding "do not track"

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Under California law, websites must tell the public if and how they track users’ movements around the Internet.

But the law, passed last year, doesn’t tell web companies exactly how they should report that information. It’s supposed to be part of each site’s privacy policy, but that’s it.

This week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a set of guidelines for how websites should report their tracking practices to users. It’s a far cry from actually forcing web companies not to track users at all. It could bring a little clarity to the situation.

Most web browsers have a “do not track” function that lets consumers state clearly that they don’t want their information and movements to be followed. Most websites, however, ignore that request, since tracking customers’ preferences has become central to the way many Internet companies make money.

The new guidelines, which are strictly voluntary, recommend that websites tell their users, in plain language, what personally identifiable information they collect, how they use it and how long they keep it. If a site ignores “do not track requests,” it should say so. And if it gives third parties access to users’ data, it should say that, too.

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Facebook says it will no longer share your activity by default

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Recently, Facebook made an important change to Instagram. Your Instagram likes will no longer be automatically shared back to Facebook. The same goes for photos posted to Instagram, unless a user taps the Facebook button in the app's sharing screen. The update effectively removes Instagram's ability to automatically share anything back to Facebook, and today, Facebook is announcing its plans to take the idea much further. Automatically posted stories from apps like Pinterest and popular Facebook games are going to show up less in the News Feed, and Facebook aid it will discourage developers from adding auto-posting to their apps at all.

Facebook's de-emphasis of "implicitly posted" stories, as the company calls them, follows Facebook's recent moves to upgrade the News Feed with higher-quality content. You might have already noticed fewer auto-posted stories in your News Feed. Facebook began automatically scrubbing out auto-posted stories in response to the aforementioned user feedback months ago, but today the company is making the act official.

Facebook has no plans to remove auto-posting from any apps, but the announcement is intended to serve as a warning to developers that implicit sharing isn't going to grow their app's user base like it once did. The social network wants to emphasize "explicitly posted" content going forward.

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A new revenue stream for songwriters: the marketplace for lyrics.

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What do you do when you do not know the lyrics to a song? Google it. The results are full of lyric sites that give you access to the lyrics of almost any song, many sporting a boarder of advertisements.

David Lowery, frontman and songwriter for Cracker and Camper van Beethoven, is taking action against the sites he alleges profit from song lyrics but do not pay royalties. After evaluating is primary sources of revenue on the Internet, he came to an interesting conclusion. More people were searching his lyrics than searching to illegally download his music. And he was not receiving any of that revenue. Last year, Lowery released The Undesirable Lyric Website List.

The National Music Publishers Association took notice, and announced that it would send take-down notices to the names on the list. Rap Genius sat at the top of that list.

In an interview with NPR's Planet Money, Rap Genius' founder, Ilan Zechory, said the site should not be on Lowery's list. Zechory argues that the site is more than transcribed lyrics. He says it is a social network: a discussion board for musicians and music nerds. He says artists love the site. Some notable musicians, like Nas and Rick Ross, comment on their own lyrics on the site.

Rap Genius recently announced that, despite its opinion that the site is fair use, it is going to pay rights owners. Zechory noted that it was easier than fighting with music publishers, who have been very successful in suits against other lyric sites.

Source: NPR's Planet Money: Ep. 537 - Hold the Music; Just the Lyrics, Please

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Samsung loses second round of patent battle vs. Apple

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2012's patent trial of the decade, which was all about whether some Samsung products were utilizing Apple's technology without licensing it, resulted in a billion dollar win for Apple. At the time everyone knew a second case, involving different patents and products, was getting underway. The trial for that other case is now over, and the jury has reached a verdict. In general terms, the verdict is not a complete win for either party, as Apple owes Samsung $158,400 and Samsung will have to pay Apple $119,625,000. That is a long way from the $6.2 million and $2.2 billion the parties asked for, respectively.

The result: Apple devices infringed one of two asserted Samsung patents, while Samsung phones and tablets infringed three of Apple's five asserted patents.

Apple received a complete victory on patent #5,946,647 - for a technology that enables links clicked in one application to open other applications (like a phone number in an email opening up in the phone app). The jury found that all ten Samsung products at issue infringed. That list includes the Admire, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S II, Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, Galaxy S II Skyrocket, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and Stratosphere. Apple was also successful with its slide-to-unlock patent (#8,046,721), but it was not a complete win. Only some Samsung products were found to have used it. Apple came up empty with two of its other patents: #6,847,959 (universal search), #7,761,414 (background sync). Patent #8,074,172 (word recommendation/autocomplete technology), was also at issue in the case, but presiding Judge Lucy Koh already found that Samsung devices infringed that patent on summary judgement back in January.

Samsung ended up winning on one for two claims. A very small number of Apple devices infringe patent #6,226,449 (camera and photo organization technology) but Samsung was unsuccessful in proving Apple infringed Samsung's patent #5,579,239 (covers some video transmission tech.)

The case isn't completely over. Expect there to be appeals filed on both sides.

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Update: Downloading General Mills coupon could mean you can't sue company

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Update: In a blog post on the General Mills site posted late yesterday, the company said it would be reverting back to its old legal terms. "We rarely have disputes with consumers –- and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled," the company's blogpost said. "Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful. But consumers didn’t like it." Read what led up to this below.

Food giant General Mills, maker of many breakfast cereals and such brands as Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, is making headlines after adding language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, join it in online communities such as Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest, or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could arguably be a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use binding arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

In language added Tuesday after The New York Times asked it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.

The change in legal terms, which occurred shortly after a judge refused to dismiss a case brought against the company by consumers in California, made General Mills one of the first major food companies to seek to impose so called “forced arbitration” on consumers.

Read the original article from the New York Times.
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Aereo moves ahead with PR push before Supreme Court Trial

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The US Department of Justice and almost every major broadcaster have accused Aereo of violating copyright laws. So far, courts have sided with Aereo. In five days, the Supreme Court will get the final word.

Today, Aereo launched its own lobbying effort in the form of a website named "Protect My Antenna." It makes arguments for Aereo's position and compiles various legal documents for the public to read. "We remain steadfast in our conviction that Aereo's cloud-based antenna and DVR technology falls squarely within the law," Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said in an email to users announcing the site.

It's no suprise that broadcasters are upset with Aereo's live TV service. Here is how the service works: Customers pay a yearly fee to access a dedicated antenna at one of Aereo's locations and it includes DVR functionality. Users access the content online via streaming. So why are the broadcasters upset? The channels that Aereo carries show licensed content. The companies that broadcast that content want their licensing fees.

The US Department of Justice argues that Aereo is violating copyright law by re-broadcasting content from the big broadcasters and other OTA signals.

The case is scheduled for April 22nd.

Source: Protect My Antenna

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Google changes Terms of Service and there is little you can do about it

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Most GMail users are now aware that Google has been scanning users' emails for advertising data. Some users are upset that Google has yet to inform users directly about this practice. Google currently faces several lawsuits due to this. The company may have just avoided trouble by updating its terms of service to clearly state what it is doing. If you read through the lengthy text, you'll see that Google now explicitly states that "automated systems analyze your content" for the sake of advertisements, customization and security.

Google tells Reuters that the move is based on feedback from the "last few months" and should provide "even greater clarity" to users. Although true, few people read the terms of service at all.

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UK Electronic label Ministry of Sound sues Spotify

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UK electronic music label Ministry Of Sound has sued Spotify for copyright infringement based on Spotify Playlists that reproduce MoS compilations. It's at the heart of the electronic music remix culture and is likely to affect both free and Spotify Premium users, as well as streaming music apps who let users create playlists from within the app.

The fight may determine the future for user-generated capabilities in streaming music service mobile apps, since Spotify playlists are one of the main features of its service. If users have "rules" around what playlists can be made through Spotify playlists and the others, how is that handled? Do users take responsibility for copyright infringement or does Spotify pay some sort of blanket licensing to cover the cost?

"What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together: a lot of research goes into creating our compilation albums, and the intellectual property involved in that. It's not appropriate for someone to just cut and paste them," said Ministry of Sound chief executive Lohan Presencer when speaking to the Guardian.

The future of user-generated content on such services will depend on the outcome of this case and many like it.

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Marvel settles Ghost Rider copyright case

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Gary Friedrich Enterprises, LLC et al v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc, et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 08-cv-01533

Marvel Comics agreed today to settle a lawsuit by a writer who sued over the copyright to Ghost Rider.

If finalized this agreement would resolve five years of litigation brought by former freelancer Gary Friedrich who claimed he created the motorcycle-riding vigilante.

Ghost Rider, who first appeared in comic books in 1972, has since gone on to be the central character of two films since 2007 starring Nicolas Cage.

The settlement follows a decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to revive the lawsuit. A trial judge had previously dismissed the lawsuit, finding the rights to the character belonged to Marvel, owned by Walt Disney Co.

In a letter to Judge Katherine Forrest on Friday, Friedrich's lawyer said that his client and Marvel "have amicably agreed to resolve all claims between, among, and against all parties." Forrest previously suspended deadlines in the case while the parties finalize the settlement.

Friedrich began considering legal action against the comic book company in 2004 when he learned of an impending movie adaptation. He sued Marvel for copyright infringement, claiming that he owned the character and its use in films as well as toys, video games and other merchandise. Marvel argued that while Friedrich contributed ideas, the comic was created through a collaborative process.

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Google Makes Google News In Germany Opt-In Only To Avoid Paying Fees Under New German Copyright Law

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Despite its "Defend Your Net" campaign last year, Google was unable to prevent changes to German copyright law that may mean it has to pay up for news excerpts it indexes. The company announced that unlike the other 60 countries where Google News operates by relying on sources to opt out of inclusion by request, robots.txt file or meta tags, it's requiring German publishers to opt-in.

According to Google, it's providing six billion visits per month to publishers worldwide as a free service, not something it should have to pay for. As TechCrunch points out, the issue comes as a result of the new German law that allows search engines to continue to publish snippets of news without paying, but isn't clear about just how much information that can include.

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