Is Craigslist the victim of a witch-hunt?

In the aftermath of a horrible murder by someone who is now routinely referred to as “the Craigslist killer,” the online classified site has been coming under increasing pressure from both the government — which has been waging a prostitution-related crusade for some time now — and others who see the service as somehow complicit in these kinds of crimes. Venture capitalist and blogger Jeff Nolan, for example, says in a recent post that Craigslist “has a problem” and should find some way to deal with it, and suggests that both founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster don’t seem to care much, or want to do anything about it.

“Instead of waiting for a community solution to a problem that will only get worse, Newmark and Buckmaster should be taking a leadership position and driving effective change to combat crime taking place on Craigslist.”

Jeff seems like a smart guy, but I couldn’t disagree more with his post. As far as I can tell, Craigslist has been doing everything it can to remove posts that are linked to criminal behaviour, whether prostitution or anything else, and they appear to have bent over backwards to co-operate with the attorneys-general from a number of states when it comes to imposing fines on wrong-doers and other strategies for limiting that kind of behaviour. What more could they possibly do — turn over their server log files to the authorities? Let Craigslist become an arm of the government?

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Motorola: First-sale doctrine — what’s that?

I would take this one with a large grain — perhaps even a boulder — of salt, but according to a report in The Register, wireless-handset maker Motorola is planning to get buyers of its new, ultra-expensive Aura handset to sign something saying they won’t sell the device on eBay. The report (from the usual unnamed source) says that buyers would be required to sell the handsets back to Motorola if they didn’t want them any more. This has drawn scoffs from a number of commenters at Gizmodo and elsewhere, and rightly so, since such a policy would almost certainly be a breach of the so-called “first-sale doctrine” (in the United States, at least).

In a nutshell, the first-sale doctrine — which was originally created to cover patented items, but has since been extended to cover copyrighted material as well, such as records and CDs — prevents a patent-holder or manufacturer from extending their control over an object or piece of content beyond the first sale of that object or content. In other words, “the first unrestricted sale of a patented item exhausts the patentee’s control over that particular item.” This is to allow buyers of CDs and other products to sell them through second-hand stores, or to loan them to friends.

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New Zealand: Three strikes and no Internet

BoingBoing has a link to a blog post by a New Zealander who sat in on a meeting with New Zealand officials, a meeting ostensibly about getting their input on the country’s proposed copyright legislation, and in particular a so-called “three strikes” rule, which would force Internet service providers to cut off users after warning them twice about copyright infringing behaviour. But as it turns out, the minister wasn’t there to hear any input about why such a rule is either a) wrong, b) stupid or c) wrong — she was there to chew out critics for even suggesting any such thing, and to tell them the law is going through regardless.

She began by strongly expressing her anger that we had complained to her at this stage in the proceedings. None of us, she said, had been to see her before this on this topic. When we protested that we had worked with the Select Committee, which had removed this provision – and balanced it with one which made licence holders liable for false accusations – she said that this was completely inappropriate of the Select Committee, because Cabinet had already decided this was going ahead.

When the group of which Colin Jackson was a part tried to protest that it wasn’t easy to tell for sure whether people were engaging in copyright infringement, the minister said it worked for child pornography; when her critics pointed out that child pornography was a federal crime and copyright infringement was a civil matter, she said that was irrelevant; when they said that removing people’s Internet access was all out of proportion with the alleged offense, she said that New Zealand’s cultural industries were being decimated and something had to be done.

As bad as Canada’s Bill C-61 is — and as Michael Geist continues to point out, it is pretty bad — it’s not nearly as bad as that. Yet.

Comments more like slander than libel

Shane Richmond at the Telegraph has news of an interesting ruling from a British High Court judge, in a case that involved allegedly defamatory comments posted to an online discussion group about investing. In his decision, Mr. Justice Eady said that even though some of the comments on the investment forum amounted to “vulgar abuse,” they were much more like slander — in other words, much more like nasty remarks that are made to someone in person — than they were like libel (which usually involves writing or publication). As he put it:

“[Such comments] are rather like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or ‘give and take’.”

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Drop that mouse! It’s the copyright cops

(Note: This is cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Are you sure that all of the songs on your iPod were legally acquired? What about the music or movies or other digital content on your laptop? You could be subjected to some nasty questioning next time you cross the border, if a new international trade body has its way — and your ISP might decide to rat you out to the government as well.

According to a leaked document (available at Wikileaks and also at IP Justice), Canada and a number of other countries are planning to create a NAFTA-style body that would police copyright, and would be empowered to seize and/or destroy property without a court order. This agency — whose creation wouldn’t have to be approved by the legislature, according to some reports, because it deals with international trade matters — would also have the power to force Internet service providers to divulge information about their customers without requiring a warrant.

Past attempts by the Canadian record industry to compel ISPs to produce such information failed when the courts ruled that the Canadian Recording Industry Association didn’t have the authority to request that kind of private personal data.

The proposed multi-country agreement (which reportedly involves the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and South Korea) is called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. In addition to the ability to force ISPs to provide customer info, the agreement would also give border guards the right to inspect laptops, cameras, iPods and other devices for any illegal digital content, and would allow them to take action without requiring a complaint from a rights-holder. The agreement would permit guards and others to conduct “ex parte” searches of property or individuals, meaning a lawyer would not have to be present.

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