Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tomcar sales using Bitcoin reveal some new norms

The Australian off-road utility vehicle manufacturer Tomcar has begun accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for its direct sales to customers. This example of Bitcoin’s expansion into the marketplace sends a few interesting messages, among them:

  • Sellers and buyers will be motivated to use the cryptocurrency for reasons other than anonymity: Tomcar’s stated reason for liking Bitcoin is to avoid credit card transaction fees and unfavorable international currency exchange rates.
  • Bitcoin plays a role in the supply chain, not just in transactions with the end user. Tomcar is paying some of its suppliers using Bitcoin. The Winklevoss twins say Bitcoin could become the currency for an entire country.
  • Payment gateway CoinJar (which Tomcar uses) is an interesting specimen. It’s not just the Brothers Winklevii who are investing in the Bitcoin marketplace.
  • The Silk Road shutdown was a good thing. Cryptocurrency lends itself well to a seedy marketplace. And those seeds, watered with unscrupulousness, will bear fruit of bad reputation. Tomcar’s founder hails Silk Road’s demise, since a lack of association with the unlawful will do the currency some PR good.

One can’t help but wonder whether there are some opportunities to reinforce some stereotypes when thinking about Tomcar and the people who would buy them. The off-road utility of the vehicles would come in handy in the post-apocalyptic world occasioned by the collapse of modern governments – the very entities running a monetary system that the Bitcoin enthusiast gladly wishes to circumvent.

How will we handle the legal issues of self-driving cars?

The technology to support self-driving cars is a reality. At this point the challenge is largely economic — it costs around $100,000 to equip a self-driving car with the sensors and other hardware to push it toward autonomy. Another challenge is social. We tie a lot of our identity to our cars and the freedom they afford. This freedom might as well be in our human DNA. There’s no one still living on the planet who knew a time before the automobile.

A third challenge is legal. And it’s much easier to ask the questions than to answer them.

  • How will we set the standards for hardware and software performance?
  • Should we adjust the speed limit?
  • How will we allocate fault when there is an accident?
  • Will the cost of insurance go down if there is less risk on the road?
  • Are we willing to give over so much information when our self-driving cars join the “internet of things”?
  • What protections will we give to automobile makers and the manufacturers of autonomous systems?

On that last question, legislative protection of entire industries is not unprecedented. Gun makers and internet service providers find protection from the unfortunate choices made by the users of their products.

In any event, the self-driving norm is emerging, and is bolstered by new data about how safe and cost-effective it is. There are big savings in terms of dollars and lives. The legal and social issues will have to sort themselves out.

Court okays firing FDNY lieutenant who posted 911 caller info to Facebook

Palleschi v. Cassano, — N.Y.S.2d —, 2013 WL 322573 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept. January 29, 2013)

Petitioner — an emergency medical services supervisor and lieutenant in the New York Fire Department — admitted that he posted a picture to Facebook of a computer screen containing confidential and privileged information about a 911 caller’s complaint of a gynecological emergency. The pic also showed the caller’s name, address and telephone number.

He added the caption, “[c]an’t make this up,” apparently for his 460 friends’ enjoyment.

Petitioner sought review of the Commissioner’s decision to fire him. The court affirmed the decision. If found that in light of the serious nature of the conduct, the penalty did not shock any sense of fairness.

Online terms of service were not effective to prohibit data scraping

CollegeSource, Inc. v. AcademyOne, Inc., 2012 WL 5269213 (E.D. Pa. October 25, 2012)

paint scraping

Plaintiff sued its competitor, another platform for providing online college transfer services. Among other things, plaintiff alleged that defendant breached plaintiff’s online terms of service, violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and was unjustly enriched by copying and “scraping” course catalog information from plaintiff’s service and using that collected data to populate defendant’s own database.

Defendant moved for summary judgment on these claims. The court granted the motion.

Breach of Contract

The court held that defendant’s scraping and collection efforts did not fall within the scope of plaintiff’s online terms of service.

Although certain of defendant’s employees had subscribed to plaintiff’s premium services (and thereby agreed to tems of service that prohibited data scraping), the documents and information defendants used were gathered through a different service. Plaintiffs provided a function called “CataLink”, through which colleges could link website visitors to documents stored on plaintiff’s server. End users clicking on those links would not be presented with any terms of service by which to be bound.

Plaintiffs attempted an unsuccessful workaround on this point, arguing that the terms for the subscription services bound users of all “Services” provided by plaintiff (including the separate CataLink services). The court rejected this argument, finding it possible that a typical user may never even have known he visited a CataLink link. Moreover, the court found, if plaintiff had intended its subscriber agreement to include CataLink, it did not make its intention clear.

Unjust Enrichment

The court held that plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim was preempted by the Copyright Act. Plaintiff asserted that defendant was unjustly enriched because it copied and displayed on its website course descriptions from plaintiff’s catalogs, and in doing so derived a financial benefit. And plaintiff argued that the facts in this case differed substantially from those required to state a claim for copyright infringement, in that defendant had misrepresented, or had taken in an underhanded way. But the court found that these elements (misrepresentation and acting underhandedly) did not avoid preemption. Nor did the element of “benefit conferred” defeat preemption, since a copyright infringer always accepts the benefit of the copyrighted work.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The court found that defendant did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, because the documents alleged to have been copied were available to the general public. And since plaintiff obtained the documents using the CataLink service — which, as discussed above was not subject to the terms of service — there were no contractual restrictions to define “without authorization” or “exceed[ing] authorized access” as used in the CFAA.

Image courtesy Flickr user fontplaydotcom under this Creative Commons license.

The day I met Neil Armstrong

I spent an afternoon with Neil Armstrong in July 1985, when I was 10 years old. He was my childhood hero. The day I met him was, up to that point, the biggest day of my life. So it has been particularly poignant for me to learn of his death earlier today.

Back then I was really into — or should I say, obsessed with — space flight and astronomy. And I had some nerd cred. My parents gave me an awesome telescope and I was among the first in my community to spot Halley’s Comet when it came around. I went to Space Camp the summer after Challenger exploded. I built and launched model rockets. I read every book about astronomy in our local library. Inspired by Gus Grissom and by Charlie Walker, NASA astronauts who hailed from my county in Indiana, I was set on being an astrophysicist and traveling into space one day. That determination was what made me resilient (or maybe just oblivious) to the jeers I got when I wore my blue NASA flight suit to school one day in fifth grade.

My parents’ good friend Ned Boyer was a fraternity brother of Neil Armstrong’s at the Phi Delt house at Purdue back in the 50′s. Ned and Neil had stayed in touch over the years, and when Ned saw how much I loved space flight and astronomy, and how I idolized the NASA astronauts, he arranged for our families to travel to Lebanon, Ohio to meet Neil.

We met Neil and his then-wife Janet at the historic Golden Lamb restaurant in Lebanon. We sat at a long table for lunch, with Neil at one head of the table, and me at the corner of the table, at his right hand. I asked him the battery of simple-minded questions that a 10 year old geeky kid would ask, like how he would describe the dust on the moon as his boot sank in. I remember also asking him about his and David Scott’s emergency undocking from the Agena during Gemini 8 — a topic on which I imagine he was interrogated less frequently than Apollo 11. In the years since meeting him, I’ve often reflected on what questions I would ask him from a mature perspective, like how does one deal with the profundity of the singular accomplishment of being the only human in the history of the world to ever have the distinction of being the first to step foot on a celestial body other than the Earth.

After lunch we decided to go see the local YMCA which at that time was either new or newly-renovated. I’m not sure of the details, but I know Neil was involved in that project somehow. Here’s the awesome part of that — I rode in the back seat of his beige station wagon while he drove us there. I remember thinking to myself how incredible it was that I was being transported at that moment by the Commander of the Eagle — the very person who uttered those eternal words, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” We hung out there at the YMCA for awhile longer. That’s where the picture of him and me you see above was taken.

Neil’s family issued a statement earlier today requesting that we should “honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty.” To say he was modest is an understatement. Though he was one of the most famous people in the world — and indeed one of the most important people in all of history — he never sought to capitalize on his celebrity.

Today we lost one of the most important historical figures of our age. I put Neil Armstrong’s significance in the same category as that of Christopher Columbus. Until today we were all contemporaries of the man who accomplished one of the most meaningful things ever. Now he precedes us. Godspeed, Neil!

Social media angle on SCOTUS healthcare decision

I’ve seen three interesting social media issues arise in the hours following the Supreme Court’s decision this morning on Obamacare:

1. Premature enunciation and the ensuing bruhaha

In a rush to report on the extremely complex decision, CNN’s website briefly stated that the healthcare law had been overturned. [Screenshot] Folks on Twitter were quick to pounce, and it still seems to be kind of flying under the radar that FOX News’ side-scrolling ticker got it wrong too. The comparisons to Dewey Defeats Truman are obvious. The picture below by @garyhe captures this notion visually.

But there are a couple important differences in modern and social media versus the 1940s.

Because of the faster means to get the word out, there is even more pressure for a media outlet to be the first. (The same kind of pressure, felt by a humble blogger like me to be among the first to analyze the issues herein is making it difficult for me to type right.) And members of mainstream media are not just competing against other mainstream media participants. As @roncoleman tweeted, “[t]he central role of @SCOTUSblog in this discussion is the truly historical event occurring today.” (@SCOTUSblog’s coverage of the decision was driven largely by the work of 81-year-old Lyle Denniston.)

And it’s easy to forget that mistakes in reporting can easily be undone. Unlike the paper in the Dewey Defeats Truman situation, which had to literally stop the presses, reset the type, print out new stacks of papers and physically deliver them hours later, the CNN website was changed immediately with little human effort. And the fact that CNN got it wrong couldn’t have harmed anyone, given that there were millions of commentators on Twitter to instantly lampoon it, thereby drawing attention to the error.

2. It’s not just law professors who can be constitutional scholars

@jonathanwpeters observed the profundity of how the discourse on Twitter had become erudite by simply noting: “June 28, 2012: the day that “Commerce Clause” trended on Twitter.” But maybe that eruditeness is just a facade. @jbtaylor gives us a warning: “Brace yourself. Everyone on Twitter is about to become a Constitutional scholar.”

3. Everyone’s a comedian and all the world’s a comedy club

Probably the best part of the social media response to the decision is the humor. Here are a few of my favorite tweets that look at the farcical side of this:

  • “Remember when John Roberts botched the President’s swearing-in on Inauguration Day? I think they’re all good now.” (by @johnsberman)
  • “I felt a sudden disturbance in the Law, as if millions of nascent law review articles cried out, and were suddenly silenced.” (by @timhwang)
  • “Tea Party just turned into a massive kegger as the last spare change has gone to buy all the beer left in St. Louis ‪#wow‬ (by @mimizhusband)
  • “Now that that’s over who wants to grab a Coke and watch some porn” – Clarence Thomas (by @platypusjones)

Should a person who sends a text to a distracted driver be responsible for the ensuing wreck?

There is an interesting personal injury case pending in New Jersey that highlights an interesting question about responsible use of SMS technology. A guy allegedly hit a motorcycle, severely injuring its two riders, because he was distracted by a text his girlfriend had sent. The motorcycle riders sued the girlfriend who sent the text.

girl sending text message

Even the plaintiffs’ lawyer admits (in this interview) that most people would not be willing to pin responsibility on someone who was not present to cause an accident and injury. But because of the unique facts, namely, that she apparently knew her boyfriend was driving, she became “electronically present” with him in the vehicle.

One of the things the plaintiffs will have to show is that the text proximately caused the accident. In New Jersey, the jury (if the case gets that far) will be asked to find whether the plaintiffs’ injuries are so connected with the negligent actions of the girlfriend that it is reasonable to hold her responsible. Answering that will require the jury to examine whether it was foreseeable that her sending the text would cause that wreck.

What do you think?

Photo credit Ed Yourdon under this license.

FourCast 112: The Nanobots Made My Brain Do It

A little bit off topic — hope you don’t mind…

I had a great time being on FourCast yesterday (video embedded below) with hosts Tom Merrit and Scott Johnson, and with Shannon Morse. We talked about encountering rogue planets with subterranean life, nanobots affecting thoughts and feelings, and heads up displays that keep you from getting lost in your car.

Impostor bids in online auction sufficient allegation of interrupted service under CFAA

Yoder v. Equipmentfacts, 2011 WL 2433504 (N.D.Ohio June 14, 2011)

[This is a post by Jackson Cooper. Jackson graduated from DePaul University College of Law in May 2011 with a certificate in intellectual property and information technology law. Jackson also recently passed the Kentucky bar exam and will begin practicing soon. You can find him online at jacksonccooper.com or follow him on Twitter at @jacksoncooper.]

The plaintiffs here were an auction company and a firm employed to assist them with running a private online auction.  They sued the defendant, a firm previously employed by the auction company to assist them with running online auctions.  The plaintiffs  alleged violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, stemming from the defendant’s unauthorized access to a private auction conducted by the plaintiffs after the defendant’s relationship with the auction company was terminated.  According to the plaintiffs, the defendant made unauthorized access to the auction system using an administrative user name and password to post negative comments, and later impersonated a customer in order to place fraudulent bids as that customer.  The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendant, posing as a customer, won auctions for over one million dollars of equipment and failed to pay on those winning bids.

The defendant asked the court to dismiss the CFAA claim, challenging the plaintiffs’ pleadings on the issue of “loss” as defined by the CFAA. The CFAA defines “loss” as “any reasonable cost to any victim, including the cost of responding to an offense, conducting a damage assessment, and restoring the data, program, system, or information to its condition prior to the offense, and any revenue lost, cost incurred, or other consequential damages incurred because of interruption of service.” Plaintiffs alleged lost commission resulting from the defendant’s fraudulent bids and resulting failed auctions.  Defendant claimed that the small scale sabotage as at issue here did not satisfy the “interruption of service” requirement, and therefore could not support the claimed violation of the CFAA.

The court, noting the lack of a definition of “interruption of service” in the statute and the lack of case law dealing with disruptions of this type, treated the issue as one of first impression.  The court concluded that the disruption alleged here was sufficient to support the “interruption of service” requirement in the CFAA.

The court found that the defendant’s alleged “intentional disruption of even a portion of the online auction” constituted an interruption of the service of the site. Although the auction system was not taken offline by defendant’s alleged activities, the court found that thwarting individual transactions and the resulting denial of service to plaintiffs and their customers was an interruption as envisioned by the statute.