MPR Reporter Accused of “Hacking”

Texas based Lookout Services has accused a Minnesota Public Radio reporter with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The reporter was doing a story about how Lookout had exposed the private data of a number of Minnesota consumers. Apparently doing your job as a reporter carries with it the risk of being a “hacker.”

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has both civil and criminal provisions and prohibits the “unauthorized access” of a computer. The phrase “unauthorized access” is pretty vague and has allowed prosecutions to go forward for such things as creating a phony Facebook account as Lori Drew had done to harass her daughter’s classmate. But unlike the Drew case, there is the new twist of a reporter doing the unauthorized accessing. So, which should be more important: a company’s right to be secure in its data, or a journalist’s right to discover and report? If the reports are true, perhaps a company should be expected to take reasonable security precautions before having CFAA remedies available.

See more at the MinnPost article.


Proposed “Loud Commercial” Regulation

I hate how TV commercials are about twice as loud as the regular programming. Nevertheless, I can’t see how this proposed legislation would be implemented effectively. From what I gather from this story at Yahoo! News, the FCC isn’t especially keen on the idea either.

HT to Slashdot.org


Innacurate Copyright Enforcement

From the Freedom to Tinker blog, Mike Freedman gives a good description of how BitTorrent works as well as how some companies are handing out Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices without much proof of any actual infringement.

“I am not arguing that copyright owners should not be able to take reasonable steps to protect their copyrighted material. I am arguing, however, that they should take similarly reasonable steps to ensure that any claimed infringement actually took place. When DMCA notices are accompanied by oaths under “penalty of perjury” and these claims are accepted as writ, as they have de facto become, there should some downside for agencies that demonstrably do not act in “good faith” to verify infringement.”

If you receive DMCA takedown that you believe is inaccurate, you can and often should push back. The linked story confirms my suspicions that many companies do not review notices of alleged infringement before they send them. It isn’t yet entirely clear to what extent the sender of a wrongful DMCA notice would be liable, but certainly there is a good case to be made that if they must act in good faith.

UPDATE: There is now a part two to the initial post


IPOs for Patents?

According to the CNN.com article, “The first financial exchange to sell patent-licensing rights, poised to launch early next year, is being greeted by both optimism and concern.” The concept is intriguing, especially considering that the costs associated with prosecuting, maintaining and enforcing patents can be as much as starting some companies.

Link to the story.

Hat Tip to Zies, Widerman, Malek for posting a link to this story on Twitter.


The 10 Worst Holiday Business Gifts

I came across this great bit of advice from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal and thought I would share.
I didn’t think it needed to be said that rotten food is a bad gift, but apparently it did since that made number 9 on the list.

Link to the slide show


Copyright Law and Rare Languages

The William Mitchell Law School’s Intellectual Property Clinic has undertaken a great project to help secure the rights to create translations of children’s books into Dakota and Ojibwe, two languages in danger of dying out. Hopefully, these translations will help to keep a big part of Native American and Minnesota culture alive.

One of the exclusive rights copyright law grants the authors is to have control over “derivative works” which includes translations into other languages. This can be a problem if you are working to preserve a language but must ask permission to translate. Publishers may not want to take the time to negotiate a translation if they don’t believe there will be a large market for those translations. As with many things in life, sometimes it just takes some dedicated people to keep pushing.

Here is a link to the story.


Happy Thanksgiving!


New FTC Guidelines for Bloggers Takes Effect December 1st.

Starting on December 1, 2009 the Federal Trade Commission’s new guidelines for testimonials by bloggers, Tweeters, Facebook-ers and others will take effect. These guidelines are set to help determine whether or not paid testimonials or endorsements are covered by the FTC Act. Bloggers who are paid by a company in exchange for a positive review of its products are making endorsements and may have to disclose any financial ties to that company.

Link to the FTC Press Release.
PC World’s Guide to the new guidelines


MinneBar was a success!

I just wanted to say that the MinneBar event hosted by Best Buy yesterday was a great success. There were lots of great presentations and discussions. But most of all, there seemed to be an excitement and energy about building a startup and technology community in the Twin Cities that I hadn’t felt or noticed before. Congratulations to everyone who helped make it happen!


Probelms with Contextual Advertising

Google, Yahoo! and others offer advertising services that can pluck words from a web page to create customized advertisements. Contextual Advertising as its called, is a really cool feature but there are some potential problems that companies considering online advertising campaigns should consider.

1. They can make you look bad.

See this Business Insider story about the worst Google Ads ever. The ad in question appeared with a news story about terrorists and offered a Terrorist Certification program. Probably not what the advertiser had in mind. I hope. This isn’t necessarily a legal problem, but it can be embarrassing and costly to correct. If you are using an algorithm to create your ads, you need to be aware of what that algorithm could create as output.

2. It could violate privacy laws

AOL was recently sued for its contextual advertising program because it was allegedly gathering private information in order to better target the ads. Many times the information gathered by these services are not tied back to any one particular user, but it is something to be aware of. Wired magazine recently ran an article about how easy it becomes to identify someone just by collecting a few facts. Zip code, employer, car model. . . none of these would identify you by themselves, but put a few of them together and very quickly you can have an individual identified.

3. It could be trademark infringement

Keyword based advertising is big business for search engines like Yahoo! and Google. Its also been a hot topic in trademark law. If you select a trademark to trigger your advertising, you could be infringing. Its even more certain that you would be infringing if you have that trademark appear in the text of your ad. Just about any word could be a trademark so context is important.

4. It could be false advertising

False advertising laws vary from state to state but can include anything that creates a misunderstanding with a consumer. If your ads are designed to grab words from web pages be sure you offer goods or services that you are now claiming to offer.

Contextual Advertising is a powerful tool and I think we will see much more of it rather than less. But like any powerful tool it should be handled carefully.