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  1. US Congress passed the spending bill a few hours ago. The legislation package includes the CASE Act, which establishes a tribunal for small copyright claims. A proposal to criminalize streaming piracy services also passed as part of the omnibus bill. Earlier today Congress approved the 5,593-page spending bill. In addition to the necessary paperwork to keep the Government running, the bill also included COVID-19 relief measures and other last-minute additions. Copyright Proposals Passed These late additions include two controversial pieces of copyright legislation: the CASE Act and a new felony streaming proposal. Both were passed as part of the package with little to no discussion. The spending bill will now be sent to President Trump for a signature, after which it becomes law. This means that the two controversial copyright proposals are set to change how certain copyright infringement issues are handled. The CASE ACT The CASE Act, short for “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement,” establishes a copyright claim tribunal within the United States Copyright Office. This new board will provide an option to resolve copyright disputes outside the federal courts, which significantly reduces the associated costs. The tribunal aims to make it easier for smaller creators, such as photographers and songwriters, to address copyright infringements without starting an expensive lawsuit at a federal court. If targeted ‘infringers’ don’t want to participate, they have the choice to opt-out. Opponents fear that the new tribunal will trigger an avalanche of claims against ordinary Internet users. It would be an open invitation to copyright trolls as it allows them to file cases cheaply. Defendants risk potential damages of $15,000 per infringement, up to $30,000 per case. Trolls The public interest group Public Knowledge is disappointed with the passage of the bill, which it fiercely opposed. It was “forced into passage”, according to Legal Director John Bergmayer, and exposes ordinary citizens to steep fines. “The bill creates an opportunity for copyright trolls, who can file claims against small-time artists and individual internet users, and sets up a process that can deny defendants their usual rights. It is deeply problematic, and we will fight for its repeal,” Bergmayer says. It is worth stressing that the copyright trolls who go after file-sharers in court can’t easily exploit the new tribunal, as it has no subpoena power. This means that rightsholders can’t start a case against a “John Doe” who’s only known by an IP-address. Supporters of the bill have argued it will greatly benefit smaller creators and may also help people who are subject to copyright abuse. For example, by taking a DMCA takedown dispute to the tribunal instead of the federal court. Felony Streaming Proposal In addition to the CASE ACT, the felony streaming proposal was also passed with the spending bill. The foundations of this proposal date back to the SOPA and PIPA bills, but the most recent version, announced by Senator Thom Tillis last week, is much smaller in scope. The felony streaming legislation, titled the ‘Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020’, will allow law enforcement to prosecute pirate streaming services. This was complicated under current US copyright law, as streaming can only be charged as a misdemeanor, not a felony. The new proposal amends US copyright law by adding a section that allows commercial streaming piracy services to be targeted while leaving individual streamers out of the crosshairs. Specifically, the bill makes it unlawful to provide a service that’s primarily designed to show copyright-infringing content, has no significant commercial purpose other than piracy, or is intentionally marketed to promote streaming piracy. Twitch and YouTube The streaming felony legislation targets people or organizations that provide a “digital transmission service.” This means that it doesn’t apply to ordinary users who stream something on YouTube, Twitch, or any other streaming platform. This distinction between services and individual streamers is crucial as the opposition to previous bills focused on the fear that new legislation would send ordinary people to jail for accidentally streaming a copyrighted video or music track. The passage of the felony streaming proposal is an early Christmas present for major copyright holders who have complained about this gap in the law for years. The music industry is also pleased, both with the CASE Act and the felony streaming legislation. “The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act and Protect Lawful Streaming Act (PLSA) will strengthen creators’ ability to protect their works against infringement online, and promote a safer, fairer digital environment, which are particularly needed as the arts struggle to survive the pandemic,” RIAA and other music groups commented. Going Forward If President Trump signs the spending bill, which he is expected to do, wheels will be set in motion to create the small claims copyright tribunal. Details of when it can be used and how it will work will be announced at a later date. Time will tell how both pieces of copyright legislation will affect copyright enforcement. That applies to the small claims cases, but also to the streaming legislation, which could be the start of a broader crackdown on streaming services in US Courts. Source: TorrentFreak
  2. (SINGAPORE) — Singapore reportedly has passed a law criminalizing publication of fake news and allowing the government to block and order the removal of such content. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill passed Wednesday night by a vote of 72-9, a lawmaker with the opposition Worker’s Party, Daniel Goh, said on Twitter. The law bans falsehoods that are prejudicial to Singapore or likely to influence elections and requires service providers to remove such content or allows the government to block it. Offenders could face a jail term of up to 10 years and hefty fines. Opponents in Parliament said it gave government ministers too much power to determine what was false and broadly defined public interest. The Strait Times newspaper reported Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the orders to correct or remove false content would mostly be directed at technology companies, rather than individuals who ran afoul of the law without intent. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month defended the proposed law,saying many countries had them and that Singapore had debated the issue for two years. He rejected criticism the law could further stifle free speech in Singapore, which already has stern laws on public protests and dissent. “They criticized many things about Singapore’s media management, but what we have done have worked for Singapore. And it is our objective to continue to do things that will work for Singapore. And I think (the new law) will be a significant step forward in this regard,” he said on a visit to Malaysia. Speaking at the same news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned such laws were a double-edged sword that could be abused by governments to stay in power. Malaysia’s own fake news ban was rushed into law by the government Mahathir’s coalition ousted in a shock election result in 2018. Mahathir has promised to try to repeal the law, though a first attempt to do so failed. Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the law. It is a “disaster for online expression by ordinary Singaporeans” and a “hammer blow” against the independence of online news portals, said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director. Source
  3. Taking aim at ‘features that are designed to be addictive’ Image: Sen. Josh Hawley Snapstreaks, YouTube autoplay, and endless scrolling are all coming under fire from a new bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), targeting the tech industry’s “addictive” design. Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or the SMART Act, would ban these features that work to keep users on platforms longer, along with others, like Snapstreaks, that incentivize the continued use of these products. If approved, the Federal Trade Commission and Health and Human Services could create similar rules that would expire after three years unless Congress codified them into law. “Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley said. “Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.” Deceptive design played an enormous part in last week’s FTC settlement with Facebook, and Hawley’s bill would make it unlawful for tech companies to use dark patterns to manipulate users into opting into services. For example, “accept” and “decline” checkboxes would need to be the same font, format, and size to help users make better, more informed choices. “Social media companies deploy a host of tactics designed to manipulate users in ways that undermines their wellbeing,” Josh Golin, executive director of campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, said. At a hearing late last month, senators heard from a panel of experts on persuasive tech. Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, explained how platforms create products to increase the amount of time users spend on a site. “If I take the bottom out of this glass and I keep refilling the water or the wine, you won’t know when to stop drinking,” Harris told the committee. “That’s what happens with infinitely scrolling feeds.” Some companies, like Apple, already have tools that help users track how much time they’re spending on different apps and websites. If this bill were to become law, social media companies would be required to implement similar tools that track use across all of the devices a user owns. Source
  4. Draft bill proposes 10-year prison term for dealing in cryptocurrency A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security and is generally based on blockchain technology, a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency in the world. HIGHLIGHTS A draft bill has proposed 10-year jail term for people dealing in cryptocurrencies in India Besides making it completely illegal, the bill makes holding of cryptos a non-bailable offence A cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that uses cryptography for security and is generally based on blockchain technology Holding, selling or dealing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin could soon land you in jail for 10 years. The "Banning of Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill 2019" draft has proposed 10-year prison sentence for persons who "mine, generate, hold, sell, transfer, dispose, issue or deal in cryptocurrencies. Besides making it completely illegal, the bill makes holding of cryptos a non-bailable offence. A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security and is generally based on blockchain technology, a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency in the world. Given the high chances of cryptocurrencies being misused for money laundering, various government bodies such as the Income Tax Department and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) had endorsed banning of cryptocurrencies. The draft bill for banning cryptocurrency has been in the works for some time with Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg leading the exercise. While strict law would soon be in place to deal with people indulging in trade of cryptocurrency, India is likely to have its own digital currency. "A decision on the launch of Digital Rupee would be taken after consulting the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)," said an official. Source
  5. US lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require large companies to audit machine learning-powered systems — like facial recognition or ad targeting algorithms — for bias. The Algorithmic Accountability Act is sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), with a House equivalent sponsored by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY). If passed, it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to create rules for evaluating “highly sensitive” automated systems. Companies would have to assess whether the algorithms powering these tools are biased or discriminatory, as well as whether they pose a privacy or security risk to consumers. The Algorithmic Accountability Act is aimed at major companies with access to large amounts of information. It would apply to companies that make over $50 million per year, hold information on at least 1 million people or devices, or primarily act as data brokers that buy and sell consumer data. These companies would have to evaluate a broad range of algorithms — including anything that affects consumers’ legal rights, attempts to predict and analyze their behavior, involves large amounts of sensitive data, or “systematically monitors a large, publicly accessible physical place.” That would theoretically cover a huge swath of the tech economy, and if a report turns up major risks of discrimination, privacy problems, or other issues, the company is supposed to address them within a timely manner. The bill is being introduced just a few weeks after Facebook was sued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which alleges its ad targeting system unfairly limits who sees housing ads. The sponsors mention this lawsuit in a press release, as well as an alleged Amazon AI recruiting tool that discriminated against women. And the bill seems designed to cover countless other controversial AI tools — as well as the training data that can produce biased outcomes in the first place. A facial recognition algorithm trained mostly on white subjects, for example, can misidentify people of other races. (Another group of senators introduced regulation specifically for facial recognition last month.) In a statement, Wyden noted that “computers are increasingly involved in the most important decisions affecting Americans’ lives — whether or not someone can buy a home, get a job or even go to jail. But instead of eliminating bias, too often these algorithms depend on biased assumptions or data that can actually reinforce discrimination against women and people of color.” A couple of local governments have made their own attempts at regulating automated decision-making. The New York City Council became the first US legislature to pass an algorithmic transparency bill in 2017, and Washington state held hearings for a similar measure in February. Source
  6. The Illinois Keep Internet Devices Safe Act would have empowered average people to sue big companies for recording them without consent, but industry association lobbying defanged it. An Illinois bill that sought to empower average people to file lawsuits against tech companies for recording them without their knowledge via microphone-enabled devices was defanged this week after lobbying from trade associations representing Silicon Valley giants. On Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon—makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively—and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out. In the bill’s original form, users could file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office that could lead to penalties of up to $50,000. But after technology trade associations, led by the Internet Association objected, claimed that the state’s definition of a “digital device” was too broad, and that the Act would lead to “private litigation which can lead to frivolous class action litigation,” the bill was scaled back. In its current, neutered form, the bill provides exclusive authority to the Attorney General to enforce the Act, which means regular citizens won’t be able to bring forward a case regarding tech giants recording them in their homes. Matt Stoller, a research fellow at Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly advocacy group, shared the lobbying groups’ statements on Twitter. Just this week, a report from Bloomberg detailed how Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to listen to commands spoken to its line of Echo speakers in order to improve its Alexa digital assistant, sometimes even after users opt out of having their data used in the program. Amazon workers reportedly heard the terms people were searching for online, private conversations, and unsettling situations like a potential assault—all connected to the user’s Amazon ID number and personally identifying information like their name. The bill arrived in Illinois’ House of Representatives today, but unless Illinois’ Attorney General makes privacy violations an active priority, it’s not likely the bill will provide much more protection for consumers. Source
  7. Pakistan’s Upper House this week began debating a new bill seeking to establish a National Cyber Security Council, an agency the nation feels is needed in the wake of Edward Snowden's myriad revelations about NSA surveillance. The Cyber Security Council Bill 2014 was presented by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed on Monday with the aim of creating a body to draft policy, guidelines and strategy on cyber security issues according to international best practices, in line with Pakistan Today. As well as working to counter emerging online threats, it will also try to facilitate better communication and information-sharing between government and private sectors. To help achieve this, members of the proposed council would apparently be drawn from both sectors.There’s very little information on the proposals on the Senate web site, but Pakistan Today has the following from Sayed: Given the clear and present danger of threat to Pakistan’s national security related to cyber warfare, as demonstrated by revelations of intrusion into privacy and spying by overseas intelligence networks, and given the context that cyber warfare is currently being weighed actively in the region where Pakistan is located, it is imperative that Pakistan take institutional steps to combat this threat. Pakistan’s security concerns, of course, are not limited to possible NSA spying. Hacktivists purportedly from the Islamic republic frequently trade online attacks with those from arch rival India, and occasionally further afield. While lawmakers in Islamabad talk about “major non-traditional, non-military threats the country is facing” from the likes of the US, they should also probably focus more scrutiny on their own government. The latest Enemies of the Internet report from Reporters Without Borders called out the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for its increasingly prolific attempts to blacklist URLs and filter web content. YouTube is still blocked over 18 months after being taken offline in the republic after controversial video The Innocence of Muslims appeared on the site. Source
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