February 25, 2020

Archives for April 2005

"Censorship" Bill Lifts Ban on Speech

The House has now joined the Senate in passing the Family Movie Act; the Act is almost sure to be signed into law soon by the President. (The Act is bundled with some unrelated provisions into a multi-part bill called the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act. Here I’ll focus only on Section 201, called the Family Movie Act, or “FMA”.)

Some people who haven’t read the FMA, or haven’t thought carefully enough about what it says, decry it as censorship. In fact, it is best understood as an anti-censorship proposal.

The Register, under the headline “Congress legalizes DVD Censorship” summarizes the FMA as follows:

It will soon become legal to alter a motion picture so long as all the sex, profanity, and violence have been edited out, thanks to a bill called the Family Movie Act…

Let’s look at what the FMA actually says:

[The following is not an infringement of copyright:]

the making imperceptible, by or at the direction of a member of a private household, of limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture, during a performance in or transmitted to that household for private home viewing, from an authorized copy of the motion picture, or the creation or provision of a computer program or other technology that enables such making imperceptible and that is designed and marketed to be used, at the direction of a member of a private household, for such making imperceptible, if no fixed copy of the altered version of the motion picture is created by such computer program or other technology.

There is nothing here (or elsewhere in the FMA) that says you can only skip the dirty bits. The FMA says that you can skip any portions of the movie you like, as long as the portions you skip are “limited”. You can skip the clean parts if you want, as long as they make up only a limited portion, which may be the case for some movies. If the motion picture has commercials in it, you can skip the commercials. If you don’t like the soccer scenes in “Bend It Like Beckham”, you can watch the movie without them.

The soccer-free version of “Bend It Like Beckham” is speech. The FMA allows that speech to occur, by preventing a copyright owner from suing to block it. And the FMA does this in an ideal way, ensuring that the copyright owner on the original work will be paid for the use of their work. That’s the purpose of the “from an authorized copy” and “no fixed copy” language – to ensure that a valid copy of the original work is needed in order to view the new, modified work.

Let’s review. The FMA prevents no speech. The FMA allows more speech. The FMA prevents private parties from suing to stop speech they don’t like. The FMA is not censorship. The FMA prevents censorship.

Berkeley to victims of personal data theft: "Our bad"

Last week I and 98,000 other lucky individuals received the following letter:

University of California, Berkeley
Graduate Division
Berkeley, California 94720-5900

Dear John Alexander Halderman:

I am writing to advise you that a computer in the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley was stolen by an as-yet unidentified individual on March 11, 2005. The computer contained data files with names and Social Security numbers of some individuals, including you, who applied to be or who were graduate students, or were otherwise affiliated with the University of California.

At this time we have no evidence that personal data were actually retrieved or misused by any unauthorized person. However, because we take very seriously our obligation to safeguard personal information entrusted to us, we are bringing this situation to your attention along with the following helpful information.

You may want to take the precaution of placing a fraud alert on your credit file. This lets creditors know to contact you before opening new accounts in your name. This is a free service which you can use by calling one of the credit bureau telephone numbers:

Equifax 1-800-525-6285     Experian 1-888-397-3742     Trans Union 1-800-680-7289

To alert individuals that we may not have reached directly, we have issued a press release describing the theft. We encourage you to check for more details on our Web site at http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/security/grad. The following Web sites and telephone numbers also offer useful information on identity theft and consumer fraud.

California Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Privacy Protection:

Federal Trade Commission’s Website on identity theft: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/

Social Security Administration fraud line: 1-800-269-0271

Unfortunately, disreputable persons may contact you, falsely identifying themselves as affiliated with US Berkeley and offer to help. Please be aware that UC Berkeley will only contact you if you ask us, by email or telephone, for information. We recommend that you do not release personal information in response to any contacts of this nature that you have not initiated.

UC Berkeley deeply regrets this possible breach of confidentiality. Please be assured that we have taken immediate steps to further safeguard the personal information maintained by us. If you have any questions about this matter, please feel free to contact us at or toll free at 1-800-372-5110.

Jeffrey A. Reimer
Associate Dean

In a few days I’ll post more about my experience with the “fraud alert” procedure.

UPDATE 11:45pm – I should add that I gave Berkeley my ‘personal data’ when I applied to their computer science PhD program in 2003. (I ended up at Princeton.) Why, two years later, are they still holding on to this information?

Why Does Anybody Believe Viralg?

A story is circulating about a Finnish company called Viralg, which claims to have a product that “blocks out all illegal swapping of your data”. There is also a press release from Viralg.

This shows all the signs of being a scam or hoax. The company’s website offers virtually nothing beyond claims to be able to totally eradicate file swapping of targeted files. The “Company” page has no information about the company or who works for it. The “Customers” page does not mention any specific customers. The “Testimonials” page has no actual testimonials from customers or anybody else. The “Services” page refers to independent testing but gives no information about who did the testing or what specifically they found. The “Contacts” page lists only an email address. There is no description of the company’s technology, except to say that it is a “virtual algorithm”, whatever that means. Neither the website nor the Viralg press release nor any of the press coverage mentions the name of any person affiliated with Viralg. The press release uses nonsense technobabble like “super randomized corruption”.

The only real technical information available is in a patent application from Viralg, which describes standard, well-known methods for spoofing content in Kazaa and other filesharing networks. If this is the Viralg technology, it certainly doesn’t provide what the website and press release claim.

My strong suspicion is that the headline on the Slashdot story – “Finnish Firm Claims Fake P2P Hash Technology” – is correct. But it’s not the hashes that look fake, it’s the technology.