Deregulating the legal profession: Only a matter of time
Why do lawyers have a monopoly on the legal system? It certainly doesn't serve the poor, who are disproportionately the victims of crime and the ones arrested for committing crimes. (Brookings Institution Hamilton Project, April 28, 2014) Forbes' George Leef explains in a September 18, 2014, article.
Stanford Law School professors Deborah Rhode and Lucy Buford Ricca state in a May 2014 Fordham Law Review symposium that nonlawyers outperform lawyers in the United Kingdom in terms of results and client satisfaction on such matters as welfare benefits, housing, and employment. Similar results have been found in studies in the U.S. on performance of lawyers and nonlawyer specialists in bankruptcy and administrative agency hearings.
Legislators at both ends of the political spectrum are considering statutes that would prevent anyone from being punished for providing legal services except in the case of fraud. When a person is accused of defrauding a legal client, the party who claims they were defrauded may sue, but the state bar association would lack standing to bring suit.
The legal industry is certain to have a well-reasoned response justifying the certification system, similar to professional standards in medicine, accounting, and engineering. The Bar isn't going anywhere any time soon. However, people should have reasonable options in legal services.
Legal justification for NSA spying comes from Reagan-era executive order
Alex Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union writes in a September 29, 2014, article that the U.S. National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other agencies cite as their authority for indiscriminate spying on U.S. citizens an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago.
According to Abdo, Executive Order 12333 imposes the sole contraints on foreign intelligence activities by U.S. agencies. It is also said to be the authority for spying conducted by the agencies inside the U.S. The key distinction between EO 12333 and two other frequently cited authorities -- Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendment Acts -- is that there is essentially no Congressional oversight of the executive orders, which are issued and implemented by the executive branch.
The government points to the threat of terrorism as justification for its sweeping surveillance program, but the ACLU points out that the government acts much more broadly than necessary to achieve the goal of fighting terrorism. The group cites as a primary concern the potential for the government to conduct economic espionage under the auspices of the anti-terror surveillance activities.
Adding to the threat of government surveillance overreaching is the convoluted definition of "collecting" used by espionage agencies. In the parlance of the intelligence community, information is "collected" only when it is used in a government investigation or cited in an official report. That means the information "gleaned" from the spying isn't reported as "collected" unless it is specifically reused by the government in an official publication. As the government intelligence handbook states, "collecting" is construed as "gathering, plus...."
Hackers target game developers, U.S. Army classified helicopter software
Ars Technica's Megan Geuss reports in a September 30, 2014, article that four hackers stole credentials and other information from Microsoft and other popular game developers in an attempt to steal money and intellectual property relating to the XBox One, Epic Games' Gears of War 3, and other games.
The hackers also stole information from the U.S. Army about the Apache helicopter training software built by Zombie Studios. Two of the four defendants have pleaded guilty and face prison terms of up to five years. According to the Guardian, at least one of the men charged strongly refutes the goverment's claim that the intellectual property they stole is valued at $100 million.
Have they checked out computer-game revenues lately? $100 mil is chump change.
The Turtles take on Sirius/XM... and win lost royalties for oldies
Tricky thing about music royalties: Just because there's no way to collect 'em doesn't mean you don't owe 'em. As Jason Horst reports in the October 1, 2014, JDSupra Business Advisor, federal copyright law applies only to music that was "fixed" beginning in 1972.
The Turtles' music isn't covered, but SiriusXM, Pandora, and other digital services have been playing Turtles music without paying royalties. The U.S. District Court ruled the songs are covered by California copyright law. SiriusXM, Pandora, and other services use SoundExchange to track songs played and collect/pay digital royalties. The problem is, SoundExchange doesn't track all pre-1972 songs.
It might require a date with the Supreme Court for satellite radio and the Turtles to be Happy Together. (Experts' consensus: The services simply stop playing pre-1972 tunes. We lose, the services lose, the Turtles lose, but I never again have to hear the lyric, "Elenore gee I think you're swell, and you really do me well. You're my pride and joy, et cetera." For this they get money?
Spyware-software makers face indictment... finally!
For only the second time, the federal government has indicted someone for selling software that surreptitiously records phone calls, texts, and other information from a cell phone. Wired's Kim Zetter reports in an October 1, 2014, article that the indictment bodes ill for other spyware and stalkerware purveyors.
The app that was the subject of the indictment is StealthGenie, which runs on iPhones, Android phones, and Blackberries. The program records phone calls, captures text messages, and collects other data off the phone without being detected by the user. The person who installed the software can view the information online.
A spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence stated that the products are marketed to jealous husbands using graphic, misogynistic imagery. So-called legitimate spyware is generally sold to organizations with the assumption that the programs will be used on computers owned by the organizations or accessed with the permission of the owners.
The spyware apps are clearly illegal: they work by being installed surreptitiously on the target phone or device and to operate without detection by or permission of the owner/user. In addition to wiretapping laws, the government could charge the software marketers with conspiracy under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or Stored Communications Act, according to Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
U.S. patent system inhibits innovation?
They're not the first researchers to posit that the U.S. patent system actually discourages innovation, but Alberto Galasso of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Mark Schankerman of the London School of Economics may be the first to have quantified the degree of innovation inhibition.
Corporate Counsel's Lisa Shuchman writes in an October 3, 2014, article (registration required) that the researchers examined more than 1,000 patents from 1983 to 2008 and found a correlation between subsequent citations (successes) and instances when at least one claim was invalidated. When the patent monopoly was no longer in effect, the original idea generated many more innovations.
When an idea is locked by a patent, there's no financial incentive to use it, and in fact there may be significant financial and other incentives not to use it. But rather than being perceived as anti-patent, the researchers claim the results indicate the government should work to facilitate licensing in those areas in which patents constrain innovation.