Free Expression Has Its Limits On Xbox Live

23 11 2010

We champion our First-Amendment right to free speech as a protection of our right to be who we want to be. Our choices reflect our values, and manifest themselves physically as representations of who we are.

Call of Duty: Black Ops allows its players to do just that; using a new feature called the Playercard Editor, users can choose between 480 images which can be layered on top of each other, with the options of coloring, moving, rotating, flipping, or resizing each image to create a unique and individualized graphic emblem.

Some of the many emblems Black Ops players can choose from to make their individualized playercard.

I’m frankly surprised that it took this long since the game’s release (two weeks) for someone to invoke Microsoft’s wrath on the subject of offensive emblems. Twitter user “JohnJohnson39923” questioned Xbox Live Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse whether or not it would be alright to use a swastika as a Call of Duty emblem “not to offend,” but because he/she “like[s] the design.”

Toulouse replied via Twitter, “Seriously dude?,” going on to say that any users using a swastika as an emblem will be banned from the Xbox Live network. Unfortunately for Toulouse, this statement brought out a caravan of the Internet’s anonymous warriors for free speech, citing what Toulouse referred to on his blog as “contrarian” viewpoints on the swastika and other well-known symbols.

Toulouse said the commentators suggested he should “apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox Live” because under “niche interpretations” symbols such as the Star of David and the Christian cross can be considered as vile as the swastika.

It’s too bad for those “Internet pundits” that Xbox Live is not a community to which United States free speech laws apply; it is a virtual community owned and operated by Microsoft Inc. It is therefore this organization that sets and enforces the rules by which members of the Xbox Live community abide.

Toulouse considers the policy “fundamental respect,” rather than political correctness. While he believes it’s “great” to have society reevaluate the swastika symbol, he wrote on his blog, “Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is not the right place to do that.”


Time for USCG to “shit or get off the pot.”

21 11 2010

Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer just put the kibosh on the US Copyright Group’s five-year plan to sue over 16,000 people for copyright violations incurred through sharing films online. While such copyright claims filed against online users are nothing new, the USCG has two huge, gaping holes in its litigation: to date, it hasn’t been able to provide the identity of a single individual user whom they are suing against (only users’ IP addresses), and it subsequently requested five years from the federal courts to do so.

This request was to be applied to the USCG’s cases for the films Far Cry and The Steam Experiment. Originally, Judge Collyer set the deadline to name defendants to July 2010, which was extended to November 18th; this time, the USCG requested 58 months time to name defendants in its cases. The extensive time frame comes at the behest of Time Warner, who as an Internet Service Provider complained about the cost of having to perform so many lookups for the USCG, and had a federal judge reduce its workload to 28 lookups a month, split between each case..

Judge Collyer responded by calling the request, “patently unfair and prejudicial to all John Does who have been identified by an ISP,” and gave the USCG until December 6th to come up with identities of those users included in its claim; any other IP addresses without names are exempt from the case.

A lawyer representing file-sharing defendants told Ars Technica that the order was “what it looks like when a judge starts to lose her patience,” and that Collyer wants the USCG to “shit or get off the pot.”

While it seems as though the USCG is just another bumbling, clumsy copyright troll, it allegedly knows a majority of the names behind the Far Cry and Steam Experiment cases; should this be true, those names will be given in court on December 6th.

Limegate Update: Revival at the Hands of “Piratical Monkeys”

15 11 2010

Yeah, this one is almost as insane as it sounds. In one of last week’s posts, I covered how LimeWire LLC was court-ordered to end its operations and shut down its peer-to-peer file sharing network. This was depressing news to many users (including myself) who have relied on LimeWire to handle our circumventive file acquisition needs over at least the last five years.

While I suggested in my post that BitTorrent technology may provide safe haven for those users that have no interest in paying $30 for a 1080p rip of James Cameron’s Avatar, a media liberation cyberpunk known only as “MetaPirate” led to the revival of the file sharing system by releasing LimeWire: Pirate Edition. According to Nate Anderson at Ars Technica, “LimeWire Pirate Edition builds on the old LimeWire codebase, but it removes LimeWire’s use of some centralized servers, the toolbar, in-app advertising, and software backdoors. It also enables all the features of the “Pro” version that LimeWire LLC used to sell as a premium product.”

The coders behind LimeWire’s rerelease described it as, “A horde of piratical monkeys climbed aboard the abandoned ship, mended its sails, polished its cannons and released it FREE to the community to help keep the Gnutella network alive.”

LimeWire Pirate Edition, courtesy of Ars Technica.


In an email correspondence with Ars Technica, MetaPirate described his/her motives as, “Speaking for myself, the motivation is to make RIAA lawyers cry into their breakfast cereal… I hope the other monkeys have nobler intentions.” Believing in the perseverance of LimeWire as a symbol of free file exchange, MetaPirate says, “You can spend years and millions of dollars knocking something down, and it will just get back up. Not an equivalent, not a replacement, but the exact same thing. The Pirate Bay has really demonstrated the importance of that.” Fittingly, the tagline for the new software is, “You can’t keep a good app down.”

The LimeWire Pirate Edition site hosts a plethora of locations from which users can download the new software for Windows, Mac, and Linux, ensuring no user platform has to go without LimeWire’s services. The site’s “About” section claims, “LimeWire Pirate Edition is free, open source P2P software. It does not include any adware or spyware, and it cannot be remotely monitored or shut down.”

In Simply Recognizing The Problem, We May Find A Solution

10 11 2010

Literate techie manifesto Ars Technica grabbed my attention by questioning whether or not the Internet is dead. Intrigued, I read on.

While I was disappointed to discover another passive aggressive plea for net neutrality, it highlighted to me a notion I hadn’t previously considered in the great debate of the open Internet’s future: the very fact that the FCC has considered the possibility of the Internet someday not being open is a tremendous step in propelling net neutrality legislation.

The article, written by Ars Technica contributer Matthew Lasar, features excerpts of a letter written to the FCC praising them for considering the implications of prioritized data servicing. The group, referring to the letter as the “joint reply comments of various advocates for the open Internet,” lists over 30 members, including Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.

In December, the FCC wrote a proposal to supplement its Internet Policy Statement; said proposal included a provision banning Internet Service Providers from prioritizing traffic, as well as a transparency rule requiring ISPs to submit records of their network management practices. And that’s great.

However, the FCC still included in the proposal a section asking for comment on whether “managed or specialized services” should be allowed traffic prioritization. Such “specialized services” might include “telemedicine, smart grids, and eLearning applications,” but as Lasar also pointed out, it might include AT&T’s U-Verse.

The FCC also wanted feedback on whether or not prioritizing “specialized services” would stifle or stimulate investment in broadband technology, and whether or not traffic prioritization would leave enough bandwidth for the rest of user traffic on shared networks.

I think its fantastic that the FCC is contemplating these issues; don’t get me wrong. It confounds me though that when they have these provisions of the Internet Policy Statement already written and laid out, they insist on asking for feedback; it’s a sign of weakness and insecurity.

And now with the heavier Republican presence in Congress since midterms, the FCC canbe sure that their work with net neutrality is cut out for them.

However, Lasar manages to leave his piece on an optimistic note; he quotes excerpts from the letter addressed to the FCC, specifically such motivating bits like, “Transmitting packets without regard for application, in a best efforts manner, is at the very core of how the Internet provides a general purpose platform that is open and conducive to innovation by all end users,” and, “policy-making channels have not recognized the inherent value of the general purpose platform—and how this platform reflects the values of openness, free expression, competition, innovation and private investment.”

By highlighting these intensely American values represented by the idea of an open Internet, he describes the thought of net neutrality as “an intellectual time capsule.” Though it is bleak to think that net neutrality might be completely buried under the bullshit of today’s politics, it is at least positive to hope that it might be recovered and implemented by future generations with the knowledge they have of our times. Who knows, maybe it’ll be my generation.

Sinister Synergy

24 10 2010

Yet again TechCruch points out the errs of the world, as it is wont to do, in this piece chronicling the Wall Street Journal’s shoddy coverage of a Facebook privacy breach.

Ignoring the irony of bad reporting in the “information age,” TechCrunch’s coverage highlights the fact that MySpace, a NewsCorp entity, was deliberately left out of an article covering Facebook’s many issues with user privacy controls. Michael Arrington, the TechCrunch contributer covering the incident, points out that this is probably an effort directed by the WSJ and Myspace’s parent company, NewsCorp, in relation to MySpace’s concurrent relaunch of its social networking system.

While synergy was traditionally seen as a good thing in the eyes of the corporate media, we now (and doubtfully for the first time) bear its consequences. The Journal is known for being one of the world’s best newspapers, yet we find out that we are being denied critical information on a socially relevant issue to protect MySpace from bad press?

I call bullshit. This type of integration of agendas is what’s wrong with corporate media today; the interests of the corporate machine outweigh the obligations of its smaller, information-based subdivisions. It’s everything that’s wrong with the authoritarian theory of the media (in which society’s needs outweigh those of the individual).

Like Arrington, I can’t really close this one out with a solution, but I will admit that this is a sad state of affairs. I suppose the most we can do at this point is bitch and moan online, unless like Robert McChesney suggests, we completely revamp our media with a complete structural overhaul. Yeah, fat chance.

The End of Internet Trolling?

17 10 2010

Online message boards and comment threads have long standing reputations as being Thunderdome-like verbal war zones, with slanderous bombs and spiteful attacks lobbed in all directions on any variety of subjects. We can trace this behavior, often referred to as “trolling,” to online anonymity; the idea that users are not required to disclose any information regarding their identity in the cybersphere. But in the way that the evolving web often tends to, the vicious and offensive behavior of Internet trolls has seeped out from cyberspace in into reality.


Formula for an Internet Troll


Separate legal actions have been taken against Google by a model and a Columbia Business grad student to seek out the identities of online attackers, in efforts to bring their respective trolls to justice under defamation charges. While both “victims” used litigation to have Google provide the identities of their attackers, their cases diverge in terms of context.

The model, Liskula Cohen, squeezed the identity of blogger Rosemary Port out of Google after Port asserted on her account that Cohen was a “psychotic, lying, whoring… skank.” While a New York court sided with Cohen and forced Google to provide Port’s information, Julie Hilden believes Google “betrayed clients” by not siding with Port’s right to freedom of speech.

Hilden, a Yale Law graduate specializing in First Amendment litigation, admits that while the comments technically fall within defamation statutes, one must also question, “Could any reasonable person have read this material and truly believed, with any degree of confidence, that Cohen was literally psychotic, or truly a liar? Or, would they have read it in the way that that the blogger ultimately urged the court to read it – as an out-of-control, spewing rant expressing nothing but anger and dislike? I think the answer is the latter.”

Anne Salisbury, the lawyer that represented Port in this legal fracas brings up the notion that taking this type of legal action could stifle free expression online. She references a case in California in which a developer is suing Google to obtain the identities of journalists that wrote stories about a bribery scheme in which the developer was involved. She said, “Google has taken the position that unless it receives a written “motion to quash” the subpoena, it will release the information to the developer’s attorneys. Many people in the free speech community are alarmed at this potentially dangerous incursion, because of the belief that vigorous, honest discourse will be stifled by fear of retribution if personal, identifying information can be so easily obtained.”

There has to be a line drawn between legal frivolities such as Cohen’s battle against “skankblogging,” and more serious cases such as the one in California, and former model and Columbia Business grad Carla Franklin’s case against a cyberstalker.

Franklin asserts that in addition to anonymous harassing behavior including unwanted phone calls and emails, she had to deal with multiple YouTube “shrines” dedicated to her, using unauthorized video footage and photographs. According to her, the last


Carla Franklin has taken Google to court to bring her cyberstalker to justice.


straw was an anonymous comment posted on one of these YouTube videos, calling her a “whore.” A Manhattan judge ruled in her favor, ordering Google on Friday (10/15) to come up with the identity of Franklin’s attacker. Franklin has since posted her case at the online forum Free Speech Version 3 to promote online harassment awareness and argue for legislation protecting individuals from such violations.

The cases of Cohen and Franklin outline some of the issues we must now face in the era of completely anonymous global communication. While it has taken society centuries to arrive at the free speech standards we enjoy today in reality, we must begin to contemplate what restrictions, if any, should to be applied to the Internet. Hilden’s suggestion that the “reasonable person” would have known to take Port’s comments with a grain of salt shows recognition that people understand that the Internet is not meant to be taken as a solid source of information, just like Wikipedia is not to be taken as a solid source of information in writing a research paper. However, the rising trend of cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment have to fall into their own area of the law, not a legally inapplicable gray zone, to protect those who cannot fight trolls hiding behind anonymity.