Category Archives: Rights / Privacy


How to Deactivate the Geotag Tracking on an iPhone

I created this quick and dirty tutorial in response to a recent news report that, with a simple app download, the locational metadata embedded in our smartphone photos can be used to locate us, and more disturbingly, our kids.

Super quick fix: four or five clicks!

Artist Who Loves Mashup Culture Calls Current Copyright Law “The New Prohibition”

Copyright law, new distribution technologies, the creative process, and mashup culture meet in a dark alley. What will they look like when they emerge?

Andy Baio, spoke this month at a CreativeMornings meeting in Portland, Ore. and called the current state of copyright enforcement “The New Prohibition.” Baio, an avid technologist, digital entrepreneur, “Wired” columnist, and artist believes that the threat of copyright damages stifles creativity.

Portland/CreativeMornings - Andy Baio from CreativeMornings/Portland on Vimeo.

Along with partner Andy McMillan, Baio, who was involved with the startup of Kiskstarter, the online fundraising platform for independent artists, runs “XOXO,” one of Portland’s artisitic symposiums. Fifteen hundred tickets sell out within hours. He is passionate about building creative community.

Fresh from a copyright lawsuit himself, Baio understands, the artistic process, and has a fair grasp of fair use. He does not support the idea of intellectual property rights as they currently exist and believes they have a “chilling effect” on creativity.

In his presentation, Baio tells the story of his copyright suit. He thought he had a solid case for fair use, but ended up settling for $32,000 to avoid the potential $150,000  in potential statutory damages. To avoid maximum fines, most copyright suits, like Baio’s, are settled out of court. “It takes a lot of affiliate income to cover that,” notes Baio in his video.

“Cut, copy, paste. The ability to reuse and remix is so deeply baked into our tools, it’s rewritten our culture,” reads the introduction to the online video on LiveLeaks. “We learn to make great art by copying, and we participate in our culture by reusing and modifying what we see,” continues Baio.

The Law

The United States copyright law was originally passed in 1790 to “promote creativity by administering and sustaining an effective national copyright system.” Writers, painters, photographers, musicians, and performance artists depend upon the law to deter others from copying, claiming, modifying, distributing, or benefiting financially from their creativity.

The law allows “statutory damages” of up to $150,000 for works that are officially registered with the U. S. Copyright office.

Matt Stitzer, general counsel for IAC, the company that owns such well-known brands as and Vimeo explains how damages are awarded: “Statutory damages only apply with respect to registered copyrights, i.e., in the vast minority of cases,” Stitzer wrote this week via electronic correspondence. “For everyone else, copyright attaches at the point where the ‘original work of authorship’ is reduced to a tangible medium. For the latter class (unregistered works), it is difficult to prove damages,” Stitzer continues.

All this legalese used to be the terrain of artists, lawyers, and other artists. Now it belongs to every kid with an iPhone who uploads a video mashup (WARNING: graphic lyrics) to the latest Macklemore hit and every high school graduating class whose year-end video is accompanied by a Radioactive’s “Imaginary Dragons“or Nickelback’s “Photograph.”

From eternity past people have gathered together for storytelling. Today the phenomenon looks like kids gathered around electronics watching video and music content. Now they can create, upload, and share their own, becoming part of the dialogue. (Photo by Kaley Perkins)

Describing what he considers to be a “new era of frenetic self-promotion,” Stitzer writes, “It is difficult to envision the social exhibitionists among us defending the notion of self protection. Our concepts of copyright protection are bound to erode,” he believes.

The Derivative Nature of Art

Baio is less concerned with self-promotion than with the creative process itself. He joins a host of luminaries and students of literature who purport that all art is derivative. Austin Kleon wrote a book called, “Steal Like an Artist,” encouraging Creatives to copy and study works that resonate with them until they find their unique voices.

“All art is theft,” said Pablo Picasso. T. S. Eliot articulated it like this:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”

In his presentation, Baio provided as example the “Harlem Shake” mashup phenomenon found on YouTube. According to Baio, the first mashup was posted on Feb. 4. As of this writing (June 30), over 264,000 derivative clips showing up on in a YouTube search. Choosing one clip, Baio created a graphic, showing its derivative pedigree.

How consistent is copyright law with the creative process and how culture organically unfolds? Not very, believes Baio:

But the law hasn’t caught up with our changing values, effectively criminalizing the creativity of millions. Cover songs on YouTube, fanfic, mashups, and supercuts all violate copyright, and lawyers are starting to find new tools to discover and enforce infringement.”

ACLU Sues Head Spooks for Violating the Constitution

U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York coat of arms. (Public domain license, wikipedia.)

On June 11, four separate ACLU entities joined together to file a lawsuit with the Southern District of New York branch of the United States District Court against the five highest-ranking United States intelligence officials. The suit cites violations of the first and fourth amendments and the overstepping of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of revelations about the U.S. government’s surveillance program, PRISM, under which it has been collecting communication metadata of U.S. and foreign citizens from nine of the nation’s most trusted telecommunication and social media companies.

Lawmakers (44:02), whistleblowers, and global cyberchiefs warn of yet more disturbing privacy news in the days (and years) to come.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) justified the program as “good intelligence” and stated that [surveillance of American citizens] has been in effect since 2007 and that all members of Congress have been briefed on it. Advocates say that surveillance stops terrorism and fear they won’t have the intel they need to keep the country safe.

Senators Wyden (Ore.) and Udall (Colo.), both of whom serve on the U.S. Senate Select Committee for Intelligence, are critical of the program. They have asked Gen. Alexander, Director of the NSA, for evidence to back up his claims that the intel gathered with PRISM has stopped “dozens” of attacks. The senators are quoted in a press release on Wyden’s website:

“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation.”

In a phone interview, Lin Chany, a volunteer with the ACLU of Washington state, shared the organization’s view: “Since Nixon, the government has been using ‘national security’ as an excuse to spy on American citizens.”

The ACLU, a recent customer of Verizon, a telecommunication company that provides customer metadata to the NSA, explains that it is a “non-profit organization…providing pro bono litigation upholding civil rights and liberties based on the Constitution.” As such, it receives privileged phone calls from potential clients in matters of racial discrimination, gender issues and reproductive rights, whistle-blowers, journalists, and people bringing potential suits against the federal and state governments. (“Plaintiffs’ Allegations,” sections 24-27.)

The ACLU feels the extent of government surveillance will be “chilling” to its clientele. How safe would a government whistle-blower feel, for example, contacting a law firm to argue on its behalf for immunity if he felt that the government had could track him through his communications with that law firm?

The group is suing the top five intelligence officers who oversee the intelligence data gathering on the basis that the program threatens free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom from warrantless searches and seizures of private documents.

Nsa Phone Spying Complaint

The five named defendants are:

  • James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence who has “ultimate authority over all activity in the intelligence community;”
  • Keith B. Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service, oversees the NSA which conducts the “surveillance authorized by the challenged law;”
  • Charles T. Hagel, Secretary of Defense who, as head of the Department of Defense, has oversight of the NSA;
  • Eric H. Holder, Attorney General of the United States who has ultimate authority over the Department of Justice and the FBI; and
  • Robert S. Meuller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is responsible for applications made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”), and independent court formed in 1978 to oversee surveillance applications in foreign intelligence gathering operations.

“The ACLU’s mission here is to at least open public and congressional debate about privacy and surveillance issues,” said Chany. Mission accomplished.