lawsuit

German court tosses Qualcomm’s latest iPhone patent suit

Posted by | apple inc, China, Europe, Federal Trade Commission, Germany, Intel, iPhone, lawsuit, Mobile, patent, Qualcomm, smartphones | No Comments

Qualcomm has had a patent lawsuit against Apple dismissed by a court in Mannheim, Germany, as groundless (via Reuters).

The chipmaker had argued Intel -powered iPhones infringed a transistor switch patent it holds. But in an initial verbal decision the court disagreed. Qualcomm has said it will appeal.

In a statement, Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s executive VP and general counsel, said: “Apple has a history of infringing our patents. Only last month the Munich Regional Court affirmed the value of another of Qualcomm’s cutting-edge patents against Apple’s infringement and ordered a ban on the import and sale of impacted iPhones in Germany. That decision followed a Court-ordered ban on patent-infringing iPhones in China as well as recognition by an ITC judge that Apple is infringing Qualcomm’s IP. The Mannheim court interpreted one aspect of our patent very narrowly, saying that because a voltage inside a part of an iPhone wasn’t constant the patent wasn’t infringed.  We strongly disagree and will appeal.”

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment. Update: The company told us: “We are happy with the decision and thank the court for their time and diligence.  We regret Qualcomm’s use of the court to divert attention from their illegal behavior that is the subject of multiple lawsuits and proceedings around the world.”

The pair have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter and global legal battle in recent years, as Apple has shifted away from using Qualcomm chips in its devices.

Two years ago the FTC also filed charges against the chipmaker accusing it of anticompetitive tactics in an attempt to maintain a monopoly (Apple is officially cited in the complaint). That trial began early this month.

Cupertino has also filed a billion-dollar royalty lawsuit accusing Qualcomm of charging for patents “they have nothing to do with”.

While the latest court decision in Mannheim has gone in Apple’s favor, a separate ruling in Germany late last year went Qualcomm’s way. And earlier this month Apple was forced to withdraw the iPhone 7 and 8 from its retail stores in Germany, after Qualcomm posted €1.34BN in security bonds to enforce the December court decision — which related to a power management patent.

Although the affected iPhone models remain on sale in Germany via resellers. Apple is also appealing.

Qualcomm also recently secured a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of some older iPhone models in China. Again, Apple is appealing.

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Amazon Dash buttons judged to breach consumer rules in Germany

Posted by | Amazon, amazon dash, consumer protection, consumer rights, eCommerce, Europe, Gadgets, Germany, lawsuit, munich | No Comments

Amazon’s Dash buttons have been found to breach consumer e-commerce rules in Germany.

The push-to-order gizmos were debuted by Amazon in 2015 in an attempt by the e-commerce giant to shave friction off of the online shopping process by encouraging consumers to fill their homes with stick-on, account-linked buttons that trigger product-specific staple purchases when pressed — from washing powder to toilet roll to cat food.

Germany was among the first international markets where Amazon launched Dash, in 2016, along with the U.K. and Austria. But yesterday a higher state court in Munich ruled the system does not provide consumers with sufficient information about a purchase.

The judgement follows a legal challenge by a regional consumer watchdog, Verbraucherzentrale NRW, which objects to the terms Amazon operates with Dash.

It complains that Amazon’s terms allow the company to substitute a product of a higher price or even a different product in place of what the consumer originally selected for a Dash push purchase.

It argues consumers are also not provided with enough information on the purchase triggered when the button is pressed — which might be months after an original selection was made.

Dash buttons should carry a label stating that a paid purchase is triggered by a press, it believes.

The Munich court has now sided with the group’s view that Amazon does not provide sufficient information to Dash consumers, per Reuters.

In a press release following the ruling, Verbraucherzentrale NRW said the judges agreed Amazon should inform consumers about price and product before taking the order, rather than after the purchase as is currently the case.

It also expressed confidence the judgement leaves no room for Amazon to appeal — though the company has said it intends to do so.

Commenting on the ruling in a statement, Verbraucherzentrale NRW consumer bureau chief, Wolfgang Schuldzinski, said: “We are always open to innovation. But if innovation is to put consumers at a disadvantage and to make price comparisons more difficult, then we use all means against them, as in this case.”

Amazon did not reply to questions about how it intends to respond to the court ruling in the short term, such as whether it will withdraw the devices or change how Dash works in Germany.

Instead it emailed us the following statement, attributed to a spokesperson: “The decision is not only against innovation, it also prevents customers from making an informed choice for themselves about whether a service like Dash Button is a convenient way for them to shop. We are convinced the Dash Button and the corresponding app are in line with German legislation. Therefore, we’re going to appeal.”

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Shareholder suit alleges Google covered up its sexual harassment problems with big payouts

Posted by | Alphabet, amit singhal, Android, andy rubin, Eric Schmidt, Google, John Doerr, Larry Page, lawsuit, Ram Shriram, Sergey Brin, sexual harassment, Sundar Pichai, TC | No Comments

Months after an earth-shattering New York Times investigation exposed Google parent company Alphabet’s $90 million payout to Android co-founder Andy Rubin, despite the accusations of sexual misconduct made against him, a Google shareholder is suing the company.

James Martin filed suit in the San Mateo Superior Court Thursday morning, alleging the company’s leaders deployed massive allowances to poor-behaving executives to cover up harassment scandals. Both Rubin and Google’s former head of search Amit Singhal, who peacefully left the company in 2016 amid harassment allegations that weren’t made public until the following year, are listed as defendants in the court filing. This is because the plaintiff is seeking a full return of the massive payouts awarded to the embattled former execs.

With charges including breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, abuse of power and corporate waste, per The Washington Post, the lawsuit asks for an end of nondisclosure and arbitration agreements at Google, which ensure workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. Martin is also requesting Google incorporate three new directors to the Alphabet board and put an end to supervoting shares, which gives certain shareholders more voting control.

The lawsuit also targets Rubin, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, chief executive officer Sundar Pichai and executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Former human resources director Laszlo Bock, chief legal officer David Drummond and former executive Amit Singhal are also named, as are long-time venture capitalists and Google board members John Doerr and Ram Shriram.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the release of the NYT report, Googlers across the world rallied to protest the company’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. The protestors had five key asks, including an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination, a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity and a clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously. Google ultimately complied with employees and put an end to forced arbitration; other tech companies, such as Airbnb, followed suit.

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Qualcomm patent dispute forces Apple to pull iPhone 7 and 8 from its stores in Germany

Posted by | Apple, Definers, Europe, Germany, iPhones, lawsuit, Mobile, patents, Qualcomm | No Comments

In more bad news for Apple, the company’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models are not currently on sale in its own retail stores in Germany.

This follows an injunction issued by a Munich court last month related to patent litigation brought by chipmaker Qualcomm that’s being enforced from today. The patent dispute concerns smartphone power management technology that’s used to extend battery life.

In December, the Munich court sided with Qualcomm, finding that Apple is infringing its patented power savings technology in the two models — granting a permanent injunction.

The court ordered Apple to cease the sale, offer for sale and importation for sale in Germany of infringing iPhones.

Apple has said it will appeal.

The Apple Germany website currently offers the newest models of the iPhone (the XS, XS Max and XR); and older models from 2014 (iPhone 6 and 6 Plus); 2015 (iPhone 6S and 6S Plus); and 2016 (iPhone SE). But buyers looking for 2016’s iPhone 7 or 2017’s iPhone 8 will be disappointed.

Yesterday Qualcomm announced it had posted security bonds totalling €1.34BN required by the court, enabling the injunction issued by the District Court of Munich on December 20 to be enforced.

The bonds are required to cover potential damages incurred by Apple should the judgment be overturned or amended on appeal. Qualcomm had said on December 20 that it would post the bonds “within a few days.”

In a statement yesterday the chipmaker also claimed the court had ordered Apple to recall infringing iPhones from third-party resellers in the market.

But at the time of writing, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models are still being offered by Apple resellers in Germany.

Amazon.de currently offers both handsets, for instance. Gravis, Germany’s biggest reseller of Apple products, also told Reuters it was still selling all Apple products, including the two models.

Qualcomm has also been pursing patent litigation against Apple in China and the U.S., and last month Apple appealed against a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of old iPhone models in China.

In that case, the patents relate to editing photos and managing apps on smartphone touchscreens.

In the U.S., Qualcomm has most recently accused Intel engineers working with Apple of stealing trade secrets.

The feud dates back further, though. Two years ago the FTC filed charges against Qualcomm accusing it of anticompetitive tactics in an attempt to maintain a monopoly in its chip business — with Apple officially cited in the complaint.

Cupertino also filed a billion-dollar royalty lawsuit against the chipmaker at the same time, accusing it of charging for patents “they have nothing to do with.”

The legal battle between the pair shows no signs of fizzling out, and has led Apple to reduce its reliance on Qualcomm chips — with Intel the short-term beneficiary.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the latest litigious development in Germany, but pointed to its statement from December 20 in which it takes a broad swipe at Qualcomm’s “tactics.”

In the statement, Apple also said resellers in the market would continue to stock all models.

It writes:

Qualcomm’s campaign is a desperate attempt to distract from the real issues between our companies. Their tactics, in the courts and in their everyday business, are harming innovation and harming consumers. Qualcomm insists on charging exorbitant fees based on work they didn’t do and they are being investigated by governments all around the world for their behavior.
We are of course disappointed by this verdict and we plan to appeal. All iPhone models remain available to customers through carriers and resellers in 4,300 locations across Germany. During the appeal process, iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models will not be available at Apple’s 15 retail stores in Germany. iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR will remain available in all our stores.

The sideswipe at Qualcomm’s “tactics” is perhaps also a reference to the use of a controversial PR firm, Definers, which — as we reported in November — sent pitches slinging mud at Apple seemingly on Qualcomm’s behalf.

Late last year Facebook confirmed it had severed its own business relationship with the PR firm after it was revealed to have used anti-Semitic smear tactics to try to discredit Facebook critics.

We’ve asked Qualcomm for comment on its use of the PR firm.

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How Fortnite’s dance moves sparked new lawsuits against Epic Games

Posted by | fortnite, Gaming, lawsuit, TC | No Comments

A growing cluster of actors, musicians and viral internet stars have Fortnite in their crosshairs. The smash hit third-person shooter is free to play but generates mountains of revenue through in-game microtransactions. Those purchases lure avid Fortnite players to spend real-life cash on virtual cosmetic items, like special character skins (today: a winter skiing set!) and, most importantly, dance moves.

Now, Fortnite creator Epic Games faces two new lawsuits over dance moves: one from actor Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton on the TV hit “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” in the 1990s and another from the family of Russell Horning, better known as “Backpack Kid,” who created a viral dance called “the Floss.” Horning’s lawsuit also names 2K Sports, maker of NBA 2K, for that game’s depiction of his dance. Earlier in December, rapper 2 Milly filed a lawsuit against Fortnite maker Epic over the game’s depiction of his dance move, the Milly Rock, which the game calls “Swipe it.”

Ribeiro’s lawyer provided TechCrunch with the following statement:

It is widely recognized that Mr. Ribeiro’s likeness and intellectual property have been misappropriated by Epic Games in the most popular video game currently in the world, Fortnite. Epic has earned record profits off of downloadable content in the game, including emotes like “Fresh.” Yet Epic has failed to compensate or even ask permission from Mr. Ribeiro for the use of his likeness and iconic intellectual property. Therefore, Mr. Ribeiro is seeking his fair and reasonable share of profits Epic has earned by use of his iconic intellectual property in Fortnite and as a result is requesting through the courts that Epic cease all use of Mr. Ribeiro’s signature dance.

Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP is also pursuing similar claims against Take-Two Interactive and Visual Concepts, developer of the NBA 2K series of video games, on behalf of Mr. Ribeiro.

Fortnite’s in-game dance moves are ubiquitous, both in-game and out — and that’s part of the problem. The game lifted its most popular dance moves from various online viral moments across the internet, TV, movies and music. In most cases the in-game dances are so well-loved because they copy their source material so precisely. While the game lifts these dances move for move, making them widely recognizable, it doesn’t refer to the source material directly and renames the dances with generic nicknames. In Fortnite, the “Tidy” dance is Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” dance, “Jubilation” is Elaine’s dance from Seinfeld, “Pure Salt” (not really a dance, some of these are just emotes) is from the Salt Bae meme, Psy’s Gangnam Style dance and so on. In the case of the Carlton dance, Fortnite gives a small nod to the dance’s origins by naming it “Fresh.”

The game draws from a wide pool of source material, but black creators in particular have spoken out about Fortnite’s monetization moves. Black artists have a long history of seeing their work achieve broad mainstream popularity without commercial gain or credit to accompany it. When Chance the Rapper tweeted about Fortnite’s relationship to black artists in July, BlocBoy JB — creator of the dance the game calls “Hype” — endorsed the idea that artists like himself should be paid if Fortnite is making money from their moves.

Wat You Said We Need Dat Cash @FortniteGame @EAMaddenNFL https://t.co/hFRH0Db1Mx

— BlocBoy JB (@BlocBoy_JB) July 13, 2018

Fortnite’s default in-game emote is a dance that actor Donald Faison performs on the show Scrubs, and Faison has also taken notice.

Dear fortnite… I’m flattered? Though part of me thinks I should talk to a lawyer…

— Donald Faison (@donald_faison) April 1, 2018

Fortnite’s decision to animate its characters doing popular dance moves in and of itself isn’t new. Overwatch creator and Epic competitor Blizzard includes popular dance emotes in its own multiplayer shooter, and before that in multiplayer RPG World of Warcraft. In Blizzard’s case, the depiction of dance moves, some for sale via lootboxes, isn’t quite as on the nose nor does it mine current internet culture as thoroughly.

For example, the Overwatch character Junkrat does a version of the running man dance that looks a lot like a version of the dance by Will Smith’s character on “The Fresh Prince.” That dance was itself popularized by Janet Jackson in her “Rhythm Nation” music video.

Other Overwatch dance emotes are drawn from traditional Japanese dance and anime. In Blizzard’s classic game World of Warcraft, the blood elf characters feature dances culled from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” and Britney Spears music videos. In World of Warcraft’s case, these moves weren’t for sale in-game — the microtransaction model hadn’t yet really taken off during the game’s heyday.

Epic Games was likely aware that lifting these dance moves and selling them to gamers might cause a stir among some creators, but by that time it was probably already making too much money to care. Notably, the company faced a high-profile copycat accusation from the creator of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), a battle royale-style game widely understood to have inspired Fortnite’s gameplay. PUBG dropped the lawsuit in June of this year, likely after a substantial settlement.

Epic also appears to have quietly paid at least one creator to settle a potential legal threat. Dancer Gabby David, who created the Fortnite dance called the “Electro Shuffle,” appears to have settled with Epic Games around a year ago for the game’s depiction of her choreography, according to forum posts and her Twitter account. Epic Games declined to comment to TechCrunch about the details of the settlement.

All three individuals suing Epic Games over Fortnite dances are being represented by intellectual property lawyer David L. Hecht and we’re likely to see more artists and internet stars signing on with Hecht before this is all over. We don’t know Epic’s next move, but as some players have suggested, it would be easy enough for the gamemaker to add some kind of tie-in crediting the creators for their dances. Epic happily partners with entertainment companies and even the NFL for sure to be lucrative in-game promotional crossovers, so it’s tough to say something like this would be out of place in the game.

Given the complexity of copyright law and the fact that none of the individuals holds copyright of their respective dances, it’s not clear if any of the latest legal action against Fortnite’s creators will hold water. Still, given its deep pockets — Epic just raised a $1.25 billion round two months ago — settling a handful of small lawsuits over the game’s well-loved dance emotes is a small price to pay for Fortnite’s colossal success.

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2 Milly files a lawsuit against Fortnite maker Epic Games over dance move

Posted by | epic games, fortnite, Gaming, lawsuit, Startups, TC | No Comments

Rapper 2 Milly is suing Epic Games over Fortnite’s use of his dance move, the Milly Rock.

The lawsuit claims direct infringement of copyright, contributory infringement of copyright and violation of the Right of Publicity under California Common Law, among other things.

From the filing:

Defendants capitalized on the Milly Rock’s popularity, particularly with its younger fans, by selling the Milly Rock dance as an in-game purchase in Fortnite under the name “Swipe It,” which players can buy to customize their avatars for use in the game. This dance was immediately recognized by players and media worldwide as the Milly Rock. Although identical to the dance created, popularized, and demonstrated by Ferguson, Epic did not credit Ferguson nor seek his consent to use, display, reproduce, sell, or create a derivative work based upon Ferguson’s Milly Rock dance or likeness.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the Milly Rock. Rock dwellers can check it out below:

On Fortnite, the dance is called the Swipe It, and it looks like this:

Back in July, around the time that Fortnite unveiled the Swipe It dance, Chance the Rapper pointed out that Epic Games tends to use in the game dance moves popularized by famous artists. These emotes cost money, and heavily contribute to the hundreds of millions in revenue that Epic Games pulls in on a monthly basis via its free-to-play game.

Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes. Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them. Imagine the money people are spending on these Emotes being shared with the artists that made them

— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) July 13, 2018

Moreover, the default emote on Fortnite is the relatively famous little routine from actor Donald Faison on the show Scrubs.

Dear fortnite… I’m flattered? Though part of me thinks I should talk to a lawyer…

— Donald Faison (@donald_faison) April 1, 2018

This lawsuit is particularly complicated considering that it’s over a dance move, which is difficult to lock down with copyright. The Verge reported that this lawsuit is the first of its kind, in that it challenges the gaming industry’s use of pop culture as for-profit virtual items. NPR reports that the U.S. Copyright Office “can’t register short dance routines consisting of only a few movements or steps with minor linear or spatial variations, even if a routine is novel or distinctive.”

That doesn’t mean there is no way to protect choreographic works. Those works, however, must be defined as “a series of dance movements or patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive compositional whole,” according to NPR.

Concluding the 22-page filing is a request for injunctive relief, which would bar Epic Games from using 2 Milly’s likeness in the game, as well as financial compensation for the use of the Milly Rock dance.

We reached out to Epic Games and will update the story if/when we hear back.

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Bumble drops its $400M lawsuit against Match, but this battle isn’t over

Posted by | Apps, bumble, dating apps, lawsuit, Match, Mobile, Social, TC, Tinder | No Comments

Bumble and Match’s ongoing legal battles are continuing today. According to a statement released by Match Group this morning, Bumble is dropping its $400 million lawsuit against Match, which had claimed Match fraudulently obtained trade secrets during acquisition talks. However, Bumble is preparing to refile its suit at the state level, we’re hearing.

If you haven’t been following, the two companies have been doing battle in the court system for some time after Match Group failed to acquire Bumble twice — once in a deal that would have valued it at over $1 billion.

Bumble claimed Match then filed a lawsuit against it to make Bumble appear less attractive to other potential acquirers. Match’s suit claims Bumble infringed on patents around things like its use of a stack of profile cards, mutual opt-in and its swiped-based gestures — things Tinder had popularized in dating apps.

Bumble subsequently filed its own lawsuit in March 2018, this one claiming that Match used acquisition talks to fraudulently obtaining trade secrets. It says this is not a countersuit, but its own separate suit. (This is the one being discussed today by the companies.)

Match says it wasn’t served papers for Bumble’s suit. But Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe had said they delayed serving papers to give Match a chance to settle.

After a failure to settle, Bumble announced on September 24, 2018 that it would be serving Match, and shared news of its IPO plans. The $400 million suit claims Match had asked for “confidential and trade secret information” in order to make a higher acquisition offer for Bumble, but that no subsequent offer came as result.

Match says Bumble asked the courts to drop its lawsuit just a few weeks after this announcement, and believes the whole thing is just a PR stunt around Bumble’s IPO.

Match today says it’s not opposed to the lawsuit being dropped. But it is now seeking declaratory judgements that will force these issues to be litigated in the right forums, it says. Match is looking for a judgement that would force this suit to be litigated in the Court of England or Wales.

It points out that Bumble had filed its state petition in Dallas County, rather than respond with counterclaims to Match’s suit in the Western District of Texas — “less than 100 miles from Bumble’s Austin headquarters.”

It asked the case to be transferred to federal courts in the Western District, where its IP case is pending.

Now, Match says that Bumble is asking the courts to drop its claims against Tinder’s parent company.

“We’re not opposing their request to dismiss their own claims, but we’re seeking declaratory judgements that will force these issues to be litigated in the right forums,” says a Match spokesperson. “As we say in section 132 of the amended counterclaim: ‘Match will not simply wait until Bumble decides whether or not it wants to pursue these claims – likely in connection with Bumble’s next media blitz. Match intends to litigate these baseless allegations now, and Match intends to conclusively disprove them.’”

Bumble responded this morning by saying it plans to continue to defend its business against Match.

“Match’s latest litigation filings are part of its ongoing campaign to slow down Bumble’s momentum in the market. Having tried and failed to acquire Bumble, Match now seems bent on trying to impair the very business it was so desperate to buy,” a Bumble spokesperson says. “Bumble is not intimidated and will continue to defend its business and users against Match’s misguided claims.”

It declined to comment on how, but we understand that the change from a state court system to federal courts is in play here. Bumble wanted to litigate at the state level, which means it has to dismiss its claims in the federal courts. Match could then accurately say Bumble’s lawsuit is being dropped, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Bumble’s plans have changed.

We understand that Bumble is preparing to refile its case in the state court system, but it hasn’t done so yet, because the court has to allow them to first dismiss this suit.

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Google files appeal against Europe’s $5BN antitrust fine for Android

Posted by | Android, antitrust, app developers, Apps, competition commission, competition law, EC, Europe, european commission, european union, Google, lawsuit, Margrethe Vestager, Mobile, play store, smartphone, smartphones, Sundar Pichai | No Comments

Google has lodged its legal appeal against the European Commission’s €4.34 billion (~$5BN) antitrust ruling against its Android mobile OS, according to Reuters — the first step in a process that could keep its lawyers busy for years to come.

“We have now filed our appeal of the EC’s Android decision at the General Court of the EU,” it told the news agency, via email.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on the appeals process.

Rulings made by the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg can be appealed to the top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, but only on points of law.

Europe’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, announced the record-breaking antitrust penalty for Android in July, following more than two years of investigation of the company’s practices around its smartphone operating system.

Vestager said Google had abused the regional dominance of its smartphone platform by requiring that manufacturers pre-install other Google apps as a condition for being able to license the Play Store.

She also found the company had made payments to some manufacturers and mobile network operators in exchange for them exclusively pre-installing Google Search on their devices, and used Google Play licensing to prevent manufacturers from selling devices based on Android forks — which would not have to include Google services and, in Vestager’s view, “could have provided a platform for rival search engines as well as other app developers to thrive”.

Google rejected the Commission’s findings and said it would appeal.

In a blog post at the time, Google CEO Sundar Pichai argued the contrary — claiming the Android ecosystem has “created more choice, not less” for consumers, and saying the Commission ruling “ignores the new breadth of choice and clear evidence about how people use their phones today”.

According to Reuters the company reiterated its earlier arguments in reference to the appeal.

A spokesperson for the EC told us simply: “The Commission will defend its decision in Court.”

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Newly legal 3D-printed gun blueprints targeted by state lawsuits

Posted by | 3d printing, defcad, defense distributed, firearms, Gadgets, Government, gun control, guns, lawsuit, Opinion | No Comments

Hot on the heels of the effective legalization of 3D models used to print firearm components, 21 states have filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government, alleging not only that decision is dangerous but also that it’s illegal for a number of reasons. But the lawsuit may backfire via the so-called Streisand Effect, further entrenching the controversial technology.

Earlier this month brought the news that the U.S. government dropped its case against Cody Wilson and his companies dedicated to the proliferation of 3D models of firearm parts. There are still restrictions on how guns can be made and sold, but the files containing 3D data and allowing people to print components seem to have been determined not to fall under those rules.

This was unwelcome news for those in favor of stricter gun control laws, a group apparently including the attorneys general of 21 states. Bob Ferguson, AG for Washington, announced that his team would be leading a lawsuit intended to block the federal actions that legalized this particular form of data.

“These downloadable guns are unregistered and very difficult to detect, even with metal detectors, and will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history. If the Trump Administration won’t keep us safe, we will,” he said in a press release issued today.

They allege that the administration needs the Defense Department to sign off on the decision, and that Congress needed to be notified 30 days in advance. The decision is also held (owing to a lack of on-record citations or consultations) to be “arbitrary and capricious,” and thus illegal under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Tenth Amendment also gives states the right to regulate firearms, and the filers say that the federal action deprives them of this right and is therefore unconstitutional.

That’s all well in order, but the danger posed by these files is overestimated, as is the ability of the government, state or federal, to curtail their distribution. If this lawsuit is successful, it will have little or no effect on 3D printed guns at all.

“The status quo – which currently ensures public safety and national security by prohibiting publication of firearm design files on the Internet – should be maintained,” reads a letter sent from a number of AGs to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and AG Jeff Sessions.

At the risk of dipping into an extremely charged debate and sensitive political topic (I’ve added the “Opinion” tag just in case), the status quo does no such thing. It must be said that if effective gun control is the goal, there are far more important steps to pursue. Loopholes abound in existing regulations, for instance gun show purchases of unregistered firearms and “80 percent lowers,” which are a quite legal method for creating them.

Furthermore, any attempt to remove something from the internet is doomed to failure, as we have seen again and again, often enough that the phenomenon has its own nickname, the Streisand Effect. Workarounds for illegal content are numerous and effective, and presumably the type of person interested in printing their own gun will not be shy about using a VPN or torrent site. If anything, a concerted effort to remove something from the internet usually causes that thing to be permanently maintained online as a sort of middle finger to the authorities. It’s not in the internet’s DNA to forget.

While it’s true that outlawing the 3D models would give prosecutors and investigators more to work with, the nefarious actors of the world haven’t been waiting with bated breath on the outcome of the previous lawsuit. Criminals, terrorists, foreign adversaries and so on in the first place don’t even need these files to obtain or create unregistered guns in the first place, nor would their being illegal deter them in the least.

The lawsuit may, it is true, tie up and possibly bankrupt Wilson and his supporters, but that’s not much of a victory and certainly doesn’t make anyone safer. Unfortunately this particular demon isn’t going back in the box.

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Court victory legalizes 3D-printable gun blueprints

Posted by | 3d printing, defense distributed, Gadgets, Government, guns, lawsuit, Security | No Comments

A multi-year legal battle over the ability to distribute computer models of gun parts and replicate them in 3D printers has ended in defeat for government authorities who sought to prevent the practice. Cody Wilson, the gunmaker and free speech advocate behind the lawsuit, now intends to expand his operations, providing printable gun blueprints to all who desire them.

The longer story of the lawsuit is well told by Andy Greenberg over at Wired, but the decision is eloquent on its own. The fundamental question is whether making 3D models of gun components available online is covered by the free speech rights granted by the First Amendment.

This is a timely but complex conflict because it touches on two themes that happen to be, for many, ethically contradictory. Arguments for tighter restrictions on firearms are, in this case, directly opposed to arguments for the unfettered exchange of information on the internet. It’s hard to advocate for both here: restricting firearms and restricting free speech are one and the same.

That at least seems to be conclusion of the government lawyers, who settled Wilson’s lawsuit after years of court battles. In a copy of the settlement provided to me by Wilson, the U.S. government agrees to exempt “the technical data that is the subject of the Action” from legal restriction. The modified rules should appear in the Federal Register soon.

What does this mean? It means that a 3D model that can be used to print the components of a working firearm is legal to own and legal to distribute. You can likely even print it and use the product — you just can’t sell it. There are technicalities to the law here (certain parts are restricted, but can be sold in an incomplete state, etc.), but the implications as regards the files themselves seems clear.

Wilson’s original vision, which he is now pursuing free of legal obstacles, is a repository of gun models, called DEFCAD, much like any other collection of data on the web, though naturally considerably more dangerous and controversial.

“I currently have no national legal barriers to continue or expand DEFCAD,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This legal victory is the formal beginning to the era of downloadable guns. Guns are as downloadable as music. There will be streaming services for semi-automatics.”

The concepts don’t map perfectly, no doubt, but it’s hard to deny that with the success of this lawsuit, there are few legal restrictions to speak of on the digital distribution of firearms. Before it even, there were few technical restrictions: certainly just as you could download MP3s on Napster in 2002, you can download a gun file today.

Gun control advocates will no doubt argue that greater availability of lethal weaponry is the opposite of what is needed in this country. But others will point out that in a way this is a powerful example of how liberally free speech can be defined. It’s important to note that both of these things can be true.

This court victory settles one case, but marks the beginnings of many another. “I have promoted my values for years with great care and diligence,” Wilson wrote. It’s hard to disagree with that. Those whose values differ are free to pursue them in their own way; perhaps they too will be awarded victories of this scale.

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