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Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee covers technology policy, including copyright and patent law, telecom regulation, privacy, and free speech. He also writes about the economics of technology. He has previously written for Ars Technica and Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter or send him email.

Brian Fung

Brian Fung

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on electronic privacy, national security, digital politics and the Internet that binds it all together. He was previously the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic. His writing has also appeared in Foreign Policy, Talking Points Memo, the American Prospect and Nonprofit Quarterly. Follow Brian on Google+ .

Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government. She also delves into the societal impacts of technology access and how innovation is intertwined with cultural development.

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Posted at 04:15 PM ET, 06/26/2013

Group finalizes treaty to expand book access for world’s blind community

Negotiators at the World Intellectual Property Organization have finalized terms on a copyright treaty that would provide more book access to the world’s blind and visually impaired.


Blind singer Stevie Wonder, right, promised to perform for negotiators when they finalize the treaty. (Michael Loccisano - GETTY IMAGES)
The treaty makes it legal to make copies of copyrighted material accessible to the blind community by converting it to formats such as Braille books, audio recordings or large-print books without first having to seek permission from copyright holders in every instance.

Advocates for the visually impaired say that fewer than one percent of all the world’s books are accessible in these formats. The treaty would make it possible for converted texts in a given language to be available in multiple countries.

As The Washington Post has reported, the treaty had run into some trouble between advocates and organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America. At issue were provisions dealing with fair use and the implementation of a “three-step test” that would have prevented groups from converting works if it interfered with a copyright owner’s ability to profit from the books. The two factions clashed over whether the treaty could wind up affecting other types of copyrighted material, such as movies or videos.

The full text of the treaty, which was finalized Wednesday at the WIPO Diplomatic Conference in Morocco, has not been released publicly. But leaders of a coalition that has been fighting for blind access to published material declared victory over the MPAA and a corporate coalition in winning U.S. and international support for the pact.

“We are very happy with the agreement,”said James Love, of Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit that has advocated for the treaty. He and others expressed a mix and amazement and pleasure over the result. He said that final language blocked efforts by the motion picture industry to apply new tests for exceptions to copyright rules.

Carrie Russell of the Library Copyright Alliance said the librarians group applauds “the world delegates for approving a treaty that makes it possible for every visually-impaired person around the world to have fair access to reading materials.”

The MPAA and the National Federation for the Blind also hailed the treaty’s final language in a joint statement issued Wednesday.

”We are pleased that the negotiations in Marrakech have resulted in a treaty that we believe will significantly increase access to published works for the blind and visually impaired,” MPAA president Christopher Dodd said in the statement. “Working collectively, and with goodwill, we have created a vehicle that will serve a meaningful and important purpose for many years to come.”

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind said: .“This historic treaty, the first-ever international instrument specifically addressing the needs of the world's blind, will dramatically increase access to published works and the empowering information and ideas that they contain by a community that has traditionally experienced barriers to obtaining the world's knowledge.”

Negotiators said they expect the treaty to be formally adopted and signed by the end of the week.

Last week, blind singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder promised that he would perform for the WIPO negotiators once the treaty was completed. According to the World Blind Union, the multiple Grammy award winner will honor his pledge on Friday at the treaty signing ceremony and celebration in Marrakesh.

Hayley.Tsukayama@washpost.com

By and  |  04:15 PM ET, 06/26/2013 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 02:16 PM ET, 06/21/2013

The Circuit: FAA considers relaxing in-flight gadget rules

FAA may relax in-flight gadget rules: The Federal Aviation Administration is said to be considering draft regulations that would allow passengers to use some electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

The draft report, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, does not address the use of cellphones on airplanes. Any changes to that policy would have to be evaluated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has been a vocal proponent of relaxing these rules, said in an e-mailed statement Friday that she was heartened to hear about the reports.

“It’s good to see the FAA may be on the verge of acknowledging what the traveling public has suspected for years — that current rules are arbitrary and lack real justification,” McCaskill said.

Softbank, Sprint: Softbank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son told Reuters that he’s confident that the Japanese firm’s acquisition of Sprint will be completed next month. Dish Network had also been courting Sprint, but said in a filing Friday that it has officially decided to “abandon its efforts” to acquire the nation’s third-largest carrier.

Meanwhile, Dish is fighting Sprint for the acquisition of Clearwire, prompting Sprint to raise its bid for the smaller carrier to $5 per share to win over Clearwire shareholders.

Apple antitrust: Apple’s antitrust trial in New York has drawn to a close, as The Washington Post reported, and a ruling isn’t expected for at least two to three months.

The ruling could have broad implications for other Internet firms, the report said. The case illustrates the Obama administration’s desire to create clear rules for these technology firms, which have been operating in a largely unregulated industry.

If Apple is found liable, the company has said that it is prepared to appeal the ruling. Some experts, the report said, say they believe this case could potentially reach the Supreme Court.

Apple wins patent case in Tokyo: A Tokyo District Court judge ruled that Samsung had infringed on an Apple patent dealing with the visual effects used on touch-panel screens.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the judge has neither ruled on a damage amount nor given an indication of when he may provide one.

Hayley.Tsukayama@washpost.com

By  |  02:16 PM ET, 06/21/2013 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 12:53 PM ET, 06/20/2013

The Circuit: Google given three months to change privacy policy in France

Google privacy policy: Google faces a possible fine from French authorities if it does not change parts of its privacy policy within three months.

Regulators from the French agency CNIL said Thursday that Google must clarify its policy to tell users what data it collects, its reasons for collecting it and how long it retains data. The search engine giant must also set reasonable limits for storage and get users’ permission to store cookies on their devices.

Google responded in a statement Thursday that its privacy policy “respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the authorities involved throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward.”

Apple trial wraps up: Apple’s e-book trial in New York City is set to wrap up Thursday, and the case not only has implications for the e-book market but also for other Internet firms looking to provide multimedia products to consumers, The Washington Post reported.

Antitrust experts say that the case will set an important precedent and possibly some first-time boundaries for Internet firms that are increasingly becoming the portals to online entertainment, the report said.

Attorneys will end three weeks of testimony with an estimated five hours of closing statements.

LinkedIn returns after ‘DNS issue’: LinkedIn’s Web site was inaccessible to some users Wednesday due to a “DNS issue,” the company said on its Twitter feed.

In an update posted to the company’s Web site, the firm said that the problems were not related to “malicious activity of any kind” and that the site has now returned to normal.

“We believe that at no point was any LinkedIn member data compromised in any way,” the firm said in its post.

Microsoft softens DRM stance: Microsoft announced Wednesday evening that it will change the policies regarding connectivity and digital rights management for the Xbox One console.

The changes, the company said, were in direct response to reaction from the gaming community, which responded badly to limits on how users could share games and that the console be connected to the Internet at least once every 24 hours.

The firm said that the console will no longer require an Internet connection to play offline Xbox One games and said that it will not place restrictions on players’ ability to share, rent and resell games.

FTC on patent trolls: Federal Trade Commission chairman Edith Ramirez said Thursday that the FTC should study the costs and benefits of patent assertion entities — companies whose main focus is on collecting royalties from patents.

She said she believes the commission should use its authority to conduct industry studies to look at these companies and added that the commission “stands ready to enforce the antitrust laws” as necessary when PAEs assemble patent portfolios in a manner that could harm competition and consumers.

“PAE activity raises tough competition policy and enforcement issues that defy a one-dimensional answer,” Ramirez said in prepared remarks.

Ramirez made her remarks in a speech at the National Press Club Thursday.

As The New York Times reported, lawsuits from these companies accounted for 60 percent of the patent lawsuits filed last year, up from 29 percent two years earlier.

On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to the FTC urging Ramirez and the agency to be more aggressive in pursuing enforcement action against these firms and to create a Web site that would allow small businesses to report abuse.

Yahoo, Tumblr complete deal: Yahoo chief executive officer Marissa Mayer said Thursday that the tech firm has officially completed its acquisition of Tumblr and reaffirmed that the blogging platform will operate as its own entity.

As promised, Tumblr will continue to operate as a separate business, led by David Karp as CEO,” Mayer wrote on Yahoo’s own Tumblr page. “Their product roadmap, their team, and tone will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators and curators alike to do what they love best: create.”

Hayley.Tsukayama@washpost.com

By  |  12:53 PM ET, 06/20/2013 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 03:35 PM ET, 06/19/2013

The Circuit: Firefox moves forward with Do Not Track

Firefox moves ahead with Do Not Track: Mozilla officials aid Wednesday that they will move ahead with plans to block third-party cookies by default, The Washington Post reported.

The non-profit organization makes the Firefox browser first eluded to the possibility in February that it would block cookies. That prompted complaints from advertising executives who said such a policy would substantially harm online advertising revenues.

According to the report, Mozilla also is planning to add limits on cookies placed by sites to which users intentionally navigate. That features is still in testing phases.

Google challenging gag order: Google on Tuesday asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide the public with more information on what data it is forced to share with the government.

As The Washington Post reported, the unusual legal filing came after days of discussions between technology firms and the U.S. government about what details the companies can release in the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program.

In the filing, Google invoked the First Amendment guarantee to free speech and said that the current rules governing what it can report about these requests are too vague.

“Google’s users are concerned about the allegations. Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities,” the filing said.

International regulators ask for more info on Google Glass: International privacy regulators have asked Google for more information on privacy issues that may be raised by its Glass headset, and requests that Google engage in a “real dialogue” about the product, said Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Stoddart is one of several international data protection and privacy officials who signed the letter, along with commissioners from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Israel, Switzerland and the European Union’s Article 29 Working Party.

Last month, member of Congress also sent a letter to Google asking about privacy concerns.

Google said in a statement that it was “thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues. Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology.”

Apple adds HBO, ESPN to Apple TV: Apple announced Wednesday that it will be bringing video content from HBO and ESPN through their video apps to its Apple TV set-top box.

The HBO Go and Watch ESPN video apps will be available directly through Apple TV to customers with a subscription to the channels, Apple said in a statement. The company also announced partnerships with Sky News, the anime, Japanese and Korean video site Crunchyroll, and the music and concert-focused Qello channel.

The partnerships with HBO and ESPN are major additions for Apple TV — a successful but not heavily promoted product that the company’s executives still refer to as a “hobby.” 

Hayley.Tsukayama@washpost.com

By  |  03:35 PM ET, 06/19/2013 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 01:18 PM ET, 06/18/2013

The Circuit: NSA head says over 50 plots disrupted by surveillance programs

NSA head says plots stopped by surveillance programs: In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander said that surveillance programs have stopped at least 50 potential “terrorist events” since the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, The Washington Post reported.

He said he would provide details of those 50 examples to lawmakers in a classified setting, the report said. Thus far, the NSA has publicly disclosed four cases in which the surveillance programs prevented plots.

Reports from The Washington Post and The Guardian newspaper have outlined the large-scale Internet and telephone surveillance programs undertaken by the NSA in the past several years.

FCC nominee to face Senate committee: Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee for his nominations hearing Tuesday.

According to testimony obtained by The Washington Post ahead of the hearing, Wheeler — a former tech and telecom lobbyist — will focus on his industry experience to illustrate how well he understands the tech industry.

The hearing begins at 2:30 p.m. and will be live-streamed.

Sprint sues Dish over Clearwire bid: Sprint on Monday filed suit against Dish Network, saying that the satellite firm’s bid for Clearwire is illegal.

Sprint currently owns a majority stake in Clearwire, and claims that the Dish offer “violates the rights of Sprint and other Clearwire stockholders” under stockholder agreements and Delaware law.

Dish is also making a bid for Sprint itself, which counters an offer from the Japanese mobile carrier Softbank.

E.U. digital privacy: In a letter to William Kennard, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, European Digital Rights executive director Joe McNamee wrote the group is disappointed with “regard to recent revelations” about the PRISM program and the United States’s “behavior” during discussions about new proposed policies regarding data protection in the European Union. Kennard met with the group Tuesday.

McNammee said the “widespread untargeted surveillance” that is reportedly a part of the PRISM program can have chilling effects on free speech and communication, and that the group has come to “expect better” from the United States.

McNammee also asks that the United States stop what he called “intervention” into discussion over data protection laws in Europe.

“We stress that the United States has the right to make its views known in this process — but it has to stand behind its statements,” McNammee wrote.

FTC head Jon Leibowitz to law firm: Davis Polk & Wardwell announced Monday that former Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz will join the firm as a partner in the Washington, D.C. office.

Leibowitz, who stepped down from his FTC leadership role earlier this year, will join the firm’s antitrust team and “provide counsel in the developing area of privacy law,” the firm said in a statement on its Web site.

Hayley.Tsukayama@washpost.com

By  |  01:18 PM ET, 06/18/2013 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

 

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