Google Wants SCOTUS To Call "No Copyright" On APIs. 77 Computer Mavens Agree.

 This is another update on a previous post.  We have written several times about the seesaw battle between Google and Oracle relating to the single issue of whether interfaces ("APIs") can be protected by copyright.  Oracle won the last round, which held that "Yes, Indeedy.  Copyrights are just peachy for interfaces.  However, we don't know whether the use is 'fair use'."  Yeah, I'm paraphrasing a bit but that's the gist.

Google has applied to the Supreme Court of the U.S. for a writ of certiorari.  If the Court grants such a writ, it merely means they will hear the case, not how they will rule.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the application for the writ and indicating how it is their position that it would be disastrous if the present ruling were to remain in effect.  Seventy-seven computer scientists, engineers and pioneers signed on to the amici brief.   Pay no attention to the fact that over 20% of the 77 are presently a Google "employee, consultant and/or director".  That may not have affected their position at all.

In any event, perhaps the Supremes will get around to this after they have decided whether a typo can cause several million people to go without health insurance or whether you can marry someone configured just like you.  Stay tuned.

Update On The Dark Net Rising.

 Yesterday, we chronicled the plight of Silk Road 2, a dark web site whose proprietor was arrested recently.  Today, we find out that this was a part of a much larger bust, labeled "Operation Onymous" by the Feds, Interpol and other cooperating agencies.  The marketing geniuses at the FBI used "onymous" because it was coined as a word in 1775 to mean the opposite of "anonymous".

In any event, apparently 17 people have been arrested and 451 domains of the .onion variety (so called because they are accessed through The Onion Router 'TOR' browser [see paragraph below before clicking on this link]) have been seized including the aforementioned Silk Road 2 and others named Cloud 9, Hydra, Pandora, Blue Sky, Topix, Flugsvamp, Cannabis Road and Black Market.  Some of those that they didn't get are Agora, Evolution and Andromeda.

There have been rumblings that the authorities have found a flaw in TOR that allows them to circumvent its supposed anonymity and that anybody that had downloaded TOR was suspect.  So, now you can decide whether to click on the link above.

Silk Road Redux-The Dark Net Rises (And Falls).

 This little blog had previously discussed the very interesting tale of Silk Road, an e-Bay kind of market place for much stuff that is not sold (openly) in polite society.  As indicated in that post, the proprietor of that start up has been arrested and awaits trial.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, another site had arisen to take it place and was very creatively named "Silk Road 2.0".  There was even forum chatter indicating the hand off of the control from the "Dread Pirate Roberts" to "Defcon".  I say "was" because the 2.0 site has met the same fate as the original.  The FBI has arrested a gentleman named Blake Benthall in San Francisco and charged him with multiple nefarious deeds all connected with the transaction of business in illegal drugs, fake IDs and money laundering and all connected with Silk Road 2.0.  You can read the very detailed affidavit of the agent and the criminal complaint against Mr. Benthall here.  A gentleman named Blake Benthall has Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts that may or may not be the same gentleman.  There is little to indicate such a connection except the interest in Bitcoins, the medium of  exchange for Silk Road and the fact that his Twitter account puts him in the same place that the FBI physically observed him to be in several instances.  Once again, this is unfortunate because if this is the Mr. Benthall involved, he, like Ross Ulbricht before him, seems like a cool dude.

One More Reason For Parents To Freak Out About Facebook: They Might Be Liable For What Their Kids Put On There!

 As if it weren't enough that all good 'Muricans had to be very afraid of The Ebola, ISIL, the repeal of the Second Amendment by Executive Order, being able to get affordable health insurance or having other people be able to marry their choice of mates, now they have to be afraid of being liable for texts or for libelous stuff that their offspring cut and paste on the Facebook.

A Georgia court, in a cast styled Boston et al v. Athearn et al, has held that there may be a question of fact sufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment in a case involving parents being sued for the Facebook shenanigans of their offspring.

It seems that Dustin (13 at the time) and Melissa created a fake Facebook page ostensibly for one of their classmates, Alex.  Dustin used a computer supplied by his parents and the family internet account to do this.  Dustin and Melissa posted altered and unflattering pictures of Alex and used the account to do status updates suggesting that Alex had racist views and was gay.  The impish scalawags also used the fake account to post comments on other classmates' Facebook pages that were graphically sexual, racist or suggested that Alex was taking drugs for a mental condition.  Kids will be kids, amirite?

Alex's parents contacted the school and Dustin admitted his transgressions.  His parents learned of this in May of 2011 and grounded Dustin for a week.  However, his parents did nothing to cause the fake account to be taken down and Alex's parents sued them in April of 2012, alleging, inter alia, that they were negligent in failing to supervise or control their child.   

Dustin's parents filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that as a matter of law, they were not liable because the actions that led to this took place before they were aware of it and therefore it was not foreseeable.

The Court held that there was a question of fact in that a jury might find that the failure to take any action to remove the offending material for several months after finding out about it was the proximate cause of some of Alex's injuries.  The Court therefore denied a portion of the motion for summary judgment.

It should be noted that this does not mean that the parents are liable, only that the question may be allowed to go to a jury and not dismissed early by the Court.  So, stay tuned to see how deep in the doghouse Dustin gets and whether he gets written out of the will.

Homeland Security Gets Kansas City Panties In A Knot.

You might know that it would take an article on unmentionables to get me back on the blog horse. Well, thanks DHS, for just such a push. It is reported that Homeland Security raided a Kansas City store and confiscated several dozen pairs of panties with the Kansas City Royals trademark on them.

OK, several questions: (i) Panties?; (ii) Homeland Security?; and (iii) Why Kansas City and not my Cardinals in the World Series? Oh, and what does this have to do with law and technology? More on that later.

First, Panties? A Kansas City shop had hand drawn the KC logo and a crown and printed them on ladies panties. Apparently, it was too similar to the actual Kansas City logo and this brought down the wrath of Major League Baseball, which manifested itself in a raid by a division of Homeland Security set up to police intellectual property right infringements. In the past this has sometimes been handled on a local basis by interdictions on the part of local or state police on tee shirt sales at concerts or illegal use of music in bars. However, apparently this is now a national security matter.

You may ask if counterfeit drawers are of such importance that it justifies a diversion of resources such as this. I might ask the same thing. DHS has a division set up to police this type of thing, primarily at the behest of the movie industry. It would have made more sense if the panties were Ebola laden or carried the ISIL logo. Anyway, a word to the wise. If panties can be confiscated, it is apparent that software or hardware and bio-medical equipment or compounds, whether carrying a trademark or not, could become subject to this treatment. That's when technology and law intersect and you don't want to be in that collision.

Interfaces ("APIs") Are Subject To Copyright. No, They're Not! Are Too! Courts Continue To Muddy Up The Water.

There are a mere 37 pieces of computer code that are the subject of this face off between the tech titans, Oracle and Google.  We have followed this case since its inception and you can review the history here, here and here.

In the latest installment, Oracle appealed a lower court ruling that held that application programming interfaces ("APIs") were not subject to copyright.  We thought that the issue might be settled.  Not so fast, my friend.  A three judge panel in the United Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has reversed and held that such APIs are indeed subject to copyright protection and the only question is whether Google's use is allowed under the "fair use" exception.  The panel remanded the case to the lower court for a determination of the possibility of such fair use.

After reading the very detailed opinion, the main facts to be gleaned are there was 7,000 lines of code involved, there were 37 different interfaces and the opinion is 69 pages in length.  There is much good discussion regarding the application of copyright law to interfaces and the fair use doctrine.  You should read it.  The law the court cites is extensive but some quibble with the application of such law.  Given past performance, the odds are even that the result will change on appeal.

Bitcoin, Everybody's Favorite Crytocurrency, Comes To A Bar Near You (Actually Near Us).

 We have flogged the Bitcoin phenomenon in this blog time and again (see here, here and here).  So when we learned that a bar (HandleBar) in the neighborhood of our office was installing the first ATM in the United States that handled Bitcoins, we were compelled to take a field trip to observe.  The ATM was turned on yesterday (Feb. 20 at 2 pm) so at 2:30 we took advantage of an 80 degree Austin afternoon to walk the short distance to HandleBar to see this miracle for ourselves.

When we arrived we found camera crews, on-lookers like ourselves, Bitcoin disciples and a queue of people seeking to use the technological wonder provided by Robocoin.  One of the Bitcoin disciples said that if I would open an account he would give me a part of a Bitcoin.  I downloaded the Android app Coinbase and he transferred 0.001 Bitcoin to me (apx. $0.64 based on yesterday's market).  I'm counting on a big upswing on this for my retirement.

While this all was interesting, we found we could not use Bitcoins directly to buy beer at Handle Bar.  We would have to have used the ATM to convert to dollars and then bought libations.  However, we could transfer money to Beirut almost instantly without fee or restrictions.  This failed to impress the smoking hot lady drinking and working in her Daytimer at the upstairs bar or maybe it was just me.

The ATM was located in the back of the bar in a dimly lit alcove.  The shape of the ATM and the activity of the people surrounding it was eerily reminiscent of the first monolith and ape scene (see above) in the movie 2001.  Maybe this is our guidepost to the next evolutionary step in money.  They are going to have to fix that beer purchase thing though.

Our Little Blog on LexBlog Gets Cited On LexBlog. How Meta Is That?

Changes At Our Place.

Nothing is as inevitable as change and all good things must come to an end.  We've all heard and used these platitudes.  The same is true with our firm.  Our good friend, partner and founding member of this firm, Stuart Hiserodt, has been offered and has accepted a great position with Centex Systems.  Centex Systems is a leader in the fast emerging field of electronic health records and health insurance exchanges. 

Stuart will be a great asset to Centex.  We miss him here but wish him the best in his new endeavor.

We will change our name to Stanfield Law for the time being.  You can see our marketing creativity continues unabated.

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Following The "Silk Road". Where Exactly Was That Supposed To Go?

Originally, the Silk Road was a series of routes over which commerce traveled in Asia beginning over 2,000 years ago.  Silk, gold, technology, religion and diseases (e.g. bubonic plague) were carried and exchanged over the Silk Road.

Fast forward to the present day and the Silk Road was, until recently, a website accessible only in the deep web and only by TOR (The Onion Router), a network and browser designed to preserve your anonymity on the web.  Silk Road was the brainchild of fellow Austinite and former neighbor Ross Ulbricht.  Ross was a 2002 graduate of West Lake High, a school that I pass every day coming to work.  His Facebook page is still up and he seems like a pretty cool guy.  We even have a mutual Facebook friend.

However, when I visited Silk Road before the feds closed it in September and arrested Ross on Oct. 2nd of this year, I found that you could purchase most any kind of drug I had ever heard of and many that I hadn't.  Since I have a background in Pharmacy, that's a wide range of stuff.  Cocaine, Ecstasy, black tar heroin and 'shrooms were in abundance.  Apparently, you could also arrange for murder by hire and Ross is accused of that in regard to one of his clients on Silk Road supposedly threatening to expose everybody unless certain conditions were met.

The medium of exchange on Silk Road was Bitcoin, our favorite virtual currency.  When Ross was arrested, the FBI seized over $3,000,000 in Bitcoins belonging to Silk Road customers.  They were also trying to get an estimated 600,000 Bitcoins from Ross' personal Bitcoin wallet.  That's about five percent of all the Bitcoins presently in existence.

All in all, a very sordid story, including the allegation that Ross went by the pseudonym of the "Dread Pirate Roberts", which comes from my favorite movie "The Princess Bride".

So how does a 20s something, suburban, white bread guy go from wake boarding on Lake Austin to being one of the biggest drug dealers (or at least the facilitator) in the world ?

Apparently Ross is brilliant (degree in physics at the Univ. of Texas, graduate work at Penn State), a libertarian fan of Ron Paul and idealistic and naive.  On his Facebook page he wrote an essay on "Thoughts On Freedom".  On his LinkedIn page, he described an idealized version of Silk Road, when he wrote:   "Now, my goals have shifted. I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and agression amongst mankind. Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force."

He apparently viewed Silk Road as beneficial because it was a place where people could obtain illegal drugs without the concomitant hazard of having to deal directly with a drug dealer.  Regardless of your view on drugs and their use, it would seem to be preferable if people didn't have to risk their life to obtain them.

In the end, despite his brilliance and perhaps because of his naivete, he got sloppy and used his real name and address in obtaining fake passports and made other mistakes that enabled his arrest.  This could have been a family member of any of us (assuming any of us has anybody that smart in our gene pool) and we would have been simultaneously amazed at  his drive, ambition and success and aghast at what he has wrought.