Bethesda Softworks Sues Mojang Specifications Over “Scrolls”

Scrolls is an upcoming fantasy game from Mojang Specifications whose owner is Markus Minecraft NotchPersson. It is a strategy-action game where you use magical scrolls to fight and on the outset is similar to the fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering and its derivatives. The Elder Scrolls is a series of fantasy Role Playing Games (RPG) from Bethesda Softworks. Now that we have the required data, let us get down to business.


On the fifth of August, Notch received a fifteen page letter from a Swedish law firm that represented Bethesda claiming that Scrolls infringes on the trademark of The Elder Scrolls. Considering that Bethesda’s games have little to do with scrolls (the last game had demonic gates sprouting up everywhere and your job was to destroy them, more or less) this came as quite a shock to gamers as well as Notch. However, he took it with a pinch of salt:-

First of all, I love Bethesda. I assume this nonsense is partly just their lawyers being lawyers, and a result of trademark law being the way it is.

IGN has contacted Bethesda reps for more on this issue from their side, but there has not been a comment from their side yet.

For now, however, the internet has already come up with ways to trivialize the issue, like the advance copy of Skyrim that apparently does not work on the drive (hint: it’s a real scroll) or who Bethesda will be suing next.

Are You Too Stupid to Cross a Street While on the Phone?

no-cell-phoneAccording to Carl Kruger, a state senator from Brooklyn, New York, you are too stupid to cross a street while talking on a cell phone. Therefore, Carl wants to save New York pedestrians by passing a law making it illegal to use an electronic device while crossing a street on foot. Some are calling it the iPod Bill.

deer-crossing-signA recent report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, blames a 0.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities on electronic distractions, such as mobile phones and iPods, even though the causes haven’t been proven. Maybe there are actually more people on foot because of the 8.2% New York unemployment rates? Maybe people are walking more to avoid the higher gas prices?

Like many bright politicians, Senator Kruger keeps an eye out for any potential problems that might kill any future voters. He was quoted by the New York Times as saying “We’re taught from knee-high to look in both directions, wait, listen and then cross. You can perform none of those functions if you are engaged in some kind of wired activity.

kruger-ny-state-senatorDid we elect officials like Kruger to protect us from common every day activities, instead of doing things like balancing the state budget? It’s possible that the Senator believes that the $100 fines collected from violators of this new law might offset the current $64.8 billion dollar New York state debt.

policemanThese fines might provide the money needed to hire more police. The additional police could patrol the crosswalks so that they can collect even more fees. The average New York municipal policeman’s salary is about $60, 000. The cop would only have to bust about 600 people a year to break even. That sounds reasonable, right?

If this law is passed and deemed successful, maybe we’ll start seeing even better laws. Should senators chew gum while walking?

Do You Want Big Brother Spying on You?

Back in 2006, the   U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, under the Bush Administration, called for new rules that would require ISPs and cell phone companies to collect more data (spy) on all of their users. It’s called Mandatory Data Retention. At the time, there was enough opposition to this idea that it never got far.

Recently, the  House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing to promote this controversial idea once more. Several members of congress have already proposed legislation on data retention, and support for it is coming from both Democrats and Republicans. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice is also expected to support forced data retention.

Currently, ISPs and phone services already keep transaction records for 90 days, in accordance with the 1996 Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act. After 90 days, the records are deleted, and some law enforcement agencies would like to see these records kept much longer.

Big-Brother-is-Watching-YouSince it’s obvious to many that this is another case of Big Brother is watching, how can these politicians justify their call for more intrusion into business’s and customer’s internet and phone traffic?

Most of this call to action is the result of law enforcement and defense agencies wanting longer retention periods, and politicians that want to look like they are tough on internet crime, such as child pornography. However, privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), see it as having bad unintended consequences for user privacy, First Amendment anonymous speech, and ballooning costs for retaining the information.

In my opinion, new laws requiring data retention are going to cause more problems than they solve.

Law enforcement agencies can already ask internet and telecom providers to collect extensive information on suspects. Collecting more data will help law enforcement and Homeland Security catch criminals and terrorists, but these new laws will treat all of us like suspects.

The collected information will seriously clamp down on anonymous speech and whistle blowing. Do you trust the government to stop itself from trying to track down sources of leaked information or people who voice strong anti-government or opposition party speech?

Government and law enforcement won’t be the only ones able to access this data. How many websites are hacked every day? How many government agencies have data stolen from them? We’ve already seen what’s happened with WikiLeaks and government employees who get fooled into giving out information.

It will also make simple visits to legal sites more ominous. Would you want everyone to know you’d visited a site about STDs, mental health, bankruptcy, adult entertainment, or any other normally private topic.

Civil courts will be able to get access to this information. It could be used in divorce cases, to prove infidelity. It could be used in law suits to prove prior knowledge or associations.

The internet and telecom providers can handle the additional open-ended costs of mandatory data retention, since those costs will be transferred to the consumers. It will be the same as a new hidden tax. Smaller businesses, and start-ups may not be able to bear the added costs, thus reducing innovation, and killing competition with the big internet companies.

In summary, new data retention laws would be good for big government, law enforcement and big business. They would be bad for the average joe consumer, free speech and free association. If you don’t agree (or you hate freedom), you have the freedom to comment below.

RIM Gives India Access to Blackberry Messenger

RIM BlackberryThe stalemate between RIM and the Indian authorities finally seems to have ended. Research in Motion stated that it has provided solutions to Indian security agencies which will allow them to access data sent using Blackberry Messenger services.

The Indian Government had asked RIM to provide it access to Blackberry Email and Messenger services by January 31, 2011. While it has given the security agencies access to Blackberry Messenger data, it still hasn’t given them access to the Blackberry Enterprise Server.

“RIM continues to work closely with the government and RIM’s carrier partners in India…We are pleased to have delivered a solution well before a mutually agreed milestone date of January 31, 2011.”

“No changes can be made to the security architecture for BlackBerry Enterprise Server customers since, contrary to any rumors, the security architecture is the same around the world and RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers’ encryption keys” said the RIM update.

Even Nokia set up its Mail and Messaging servers in India recently, to allow law enforcement agencies to intercept email and messenger data.

via WSJ

California says “All Your Phones are Belong to Us” – No Warrants Needed

scales-justiceMonday, The California Supreme Court decided to allow police to search arrestees’ cell phones without a warrant. The ruling of the 7 Justices was a 5 to 2 vote in favor of this. The majority said that defendants lose their privacy rights for any items on them when taken into custody. (Source SF Chronicle)

cali-state-flagThe dissenting opinion was voiced by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar. She says this allows police “to rummage at leisure through the wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee’s person”.

Under current guidelines from the US Supreme Court, police are allowed to go through your wallet and other items. Should this right be extended to the data we carry on us? What happens when you are carrying not only a phone, but a laptop or tablet? Can they dig into these now without a warrant?

The American Civil Liberties Union hasn’t issued a statement concerning this decision yet. However, they have previously defended the rights of students in schools not to have their phone data seized by school officials. If they don’t defend the rights of an arrestee in this case, can they be taken seriously?

ohio-flagThe Ohio Supreme Court reached the opposite opinion in 2009, which forced police to get a warrant to search cell phones or other portable devices.

What do I think about this?

I now have one more reason to be proud that I live in Ohio, a state that defends my rights to carry personal data. I feel sad for the people of California. If taken to extremes, anyone there can now have all of their personal data seized, simply by being given a speeding ticket or jay-walking.

People of California read this post at How to Encrypt a cell phone.

FCC Regulators Impose Net Neutrality – What is it?

[United States]

fcc-sealOn Tuesday this week, a panel of 5 regulators in the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted to impose Net Neutrality rules on internet service providers. As you may know, the FCC is a U.S. agency that regulates communications of many types, such as telephone, cellular phone, radio, cable tv, wireless internet and others. The members of the commission are political appointees, and are not elected by a vote of any kind. The commission also enjoys a great deal of independence from Congressional authority.

The main idea around Net Neutrality is that internet service providers should provide open and unrestricted access to all of their customers. In the past, providers such as Comcast have slowed down access to certain types of information such as Bittorrent streams. Net Neutrality is also proposed to stop the service providers from charging extra money based on band-width use. Others are saying that Net Neutrality isn’t enough, and all internet access should be free to the public.

While the ideas behind Net Neutrality sound beneficial to the average consumer, many people have raised concerns that any government involvement is going to clamp down on the inherent freedom of the internet. As we’ve seen already, governments are the worst abusers of internet freedom. Countries such as Iran, North Korea and China are famous for imposing severe restrictions on data entering their countries. The U.S. government has already shown a heavy hand when they shut down over 80 websites for copyright infringement, and tried to shut down the WikiLeaks web site.

Internet freedom and privacy organizations are typically afraid to support any regulation of the internet, even inside the U.S. borders. For example, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has serious questions:

What is the basis for the FCC’s authority, and is there a reasonable limiting principle to it? Is the basis on which the FCC is claiming it can regulate, one that has real limits for future decisions … ?

Personally, I have to oppose the idea of Net Neutrality. Allowing the FCC or any government body to regulate access to the internet is risky. Once they get in, it’s nearly impossible to keep them out. Technology changes, companies come and go, but government commissions and regulations seem to last forever.

The internet is not broken, and it doesn’t need fixed.

We’ve seen the internet service providers respond to criticism. They will typically do what their customers want them to do. We vote with our money. If we don’t like a provider, in most cases, we can switch to another. I fear the real possibilities of biased political involvement and corruption.

Unfortunately, we may not have any further choice on this issue. The FCC, which isn’t responsible to any American voter, may succeed in it’s bid to regulate the internet inside the United States.

Here is a video from Reason.TV that explains my feelings on this issue a little better than my words.


If you don’t agree with my position on Net Neutrality … feel free to comment below.

Homeland Security is Now Working for the Recording Industry?

homelandIf you have been trying to smuggle bombs into the USA, you can feel a little less pressure now. It looks like the US Homeland Security services have gotten bored trying to find real terrorists and are now looking for websites hosting pirated music and videos.

According to FoxNews and TorrentFreak, Homeland Security has taken down over 80 domains on the internet. The sites were taken down because of copyright violationsof various types. According to the articles, no legal take-down notices are issued. Basically, the domain name is stolen from the owner, with no warrants or legal action needed by the US Government.

TorrentFreak mentions that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have recently spent more than $1.8 million dollars lobbying the US House and Senate. They want to make it even easier to take down offending websites in the future, by way of a pending bill called Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act(COICA).

It looks like the combination of the recent WikiLeaks controversy and the money from MPAA/RIAA are paying off. The US security agencies are becoming more like their counterpart agencies in China. If they don’t like a website, a simple phone call will take it down.

I don’t know about you, but I will feel much better as I walk bare-foot through the airport to get a personal pat down by the TSA. I’ll be perfectly safe from people carrying pirated MP3 files on their iPods.

It’s so reassuring to know that my tax dollars support Homeland Security’s new job; keeping the internet safe from terrorist file hosts.

Canada to Legalize Bypassing of DRM in a New Bill

Canada has planned on releasing a revised copyright modernization bill for too long and finally, the suspense is over. The bill has been passed and should get overwhelming response from software pirates and anti-DRM activists all over the world.

The new bill has legalized bypassing of DRM and has created many loopholes which can be easily exploited to create legalized copies of protected material. CD copying is now legal given you own the original source. Infringement damages have been slashed to one third. This comes as a relief against the last bill which was blamed to have been created “in the image of the US DMCA” and enforced stricter rules.

We had covered the notice and takedown policy of DMCA in the US. However, in the Canadian version, we instead have a “notice and notice” system. This move protects the ISP from being harassed by the authority issuing the takedown and getting involved in the case. The ISP only needs to forward a copy of the notice to the website and the dispute stays between the two ends without involving the ISP.

Finally, this is just a bill and there is time before it is made into a law. It is sure to undergo heavy amendments under pressure from the tech industry and it will be interesting to see what form it takes finally.