Showing posts with label online. Show all posts
Showing posts with label online. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Isn't it Time for the U.S. Supreme Court to Broadcast Oral Arguments?

It is 2014, and much of the planet is becoming technologically accessible online.

With respect to the U.S. federal government's daily operations, the Library of Congress' card catalog is available online, Congress' floor debates and Committee hearings are broadcast 24/7/365 on C-SPAN and online, the White House has an active website and even Pope Francis has a fully interactive website and Twitter account.

Yet, one branch of the U.S. federal government has crept more slowly into the 21st Century than others.

After 200 years of regular sessions, the routine oral arguments of attorneys before the United States Supreme Court remain a cloistered, closed-door affair, for the most part.

Audio recordings of all oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court are available to the public at the end of each argument week and are posted online.

However, all other recording devices are strictly forbidden by Court rules.  This issue made headlines recently, when a rare event occurred--a public protest inside the U.S. Supreme Court, recorded by a visitor armed with a hidden camera phone.

The unruly visitor who demonstrated was arrested, but the individual who recorded the session surreptitiously cannot be prosecuted, as the Court's rules do not carry the force of law.

Indeed, if put to a vote before Congress, it is not clear that the Court's preference for such closed door access would be affirmed by both Houses, or signed by the President.

Indeed, fourteen trial courts have been selected for a "pilot study" to evaluate the merits of television cameras in courtrooms, and some of the more technologically-savvy Courts of Appeal (such as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California) broadcasts their oral arguments online the day after they are held.

The Coalition for Court Transparency is a group of public interest and media organizations demanding open access to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Their compelling argument is that the Supreme Court's decisions affect the lives of Americans everywhere, and that a large majority of the citizenry believe the oral arguments should be televised.  (Their video clip is embedded below).

Perhaps it is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its rules and put the matter to a Congressional vote.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Will BitCoins Survive a Growing Crisis of Confidence?

We previously discussed brand owners' and law enforcement's collective concern that the virtual cryptocurrency known as the BitCoin could spur even more online lawlessness.

It would appear that those fears, at least for now, have been allayed by a number of developments.

First, in October 2013, the FBI shut down SilkRoad, one of the largest online marketplaces where narcotics, guns and counterfeit goods were openly traded using BitCoins.

Then, the People's Republic of China banned financial companies based there from handling any BitCoin-related transactions. Joining suit, Russia banned the currency, making it illegal to trade in any currency other than the official roble.

Both nations' decisions have led to a growing crisis of confidence in the realistic viability of the currency, even as ATM machines trading in BitCoins made their debut in Austin and Seattle.

Finally, Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based exchange where millions of dollars of investors' BitCoins are ostensibly stored, announced a freeze on any withdrawals of the currency, spawning protests outside the company's headquarters.

As of today, the rights to a BitCoin held by Mt. Gox was only $118, whereas a BitCoin sold on another still-functioning exchange was selling for $570.  Both represent a stark drop from the currency's recent high of over $1,000 in November 2013.

Still, speculators are continuing to invest many millions of dollars in the virtual currency, banking on a rebound. Some are even accusing Mt. Gox insiders of buying up the currency at the deflated price and re-selling them on other exchanges for a premium.

One thing is certain, if Mt. Gox enters a "death spiral," making it unable to pay back its investors, there is a real concern about the currency itself collapsing under its own weight.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tory Burch Gets Tough On Fakes

Today, Tory Burch got tough on fakes. The designer's company filed four new lawsuits against companies allegedly dealing in counterfeit Tory Burch products.  

WWD reports that four cases all deal with manufacturers and wholesalers of jewelry featuring hardware identical to the brand’s trademarked “TT” logo. 

Their legal team described the four cases as separate but “interconnected”, and chief legal officer Robert Isen emphasized that the designer has “long been vigilant in defending [its] intellectual property, and will continue to take counterfeiting and copyright infringement seriously.”

In all four cases, Burch is seeking “unspecified damages and injunctive relief.”  In other cases previously filed by Tory Burch, the defendants were cybersquatters, primarily based in China, and (as in most cases like it) only a portion of the damages were recovered by seizing PayPal accounts and other assets.

This time, the defendants include a California boutique, two New York-based companies, and a Chinese company with a New York showroom and frequent tradeshow presence, the latter of whom showed the spurious goods to a private investigator.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Online Currency Exchange Indicted By Feds for Laundering Over $6B

The operators of a global currency exchange ran a multi-billion money-laundering operation online, an Internet hub for criminals trafficking in everything from stolen identities to child pornography, federal prosecutors in New York announced today when an indictment was unsealed in federal court.

Liberty Reserve, the currency exchange, allegedly operated beyond United States and international banking regulations in what prosecutors call a shadowy netherworld of virtually anonymous cyberfinance.

Liberty Reserve traded in "virtual currency," and provided anonymous and accessible banking services increasingly sought by criminal networks, including counterfeiters, law enforcement officials claimed.

The charges were announced at a news conference by Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  The charges detailed a complicated system designed to allow people to move sums of money around the world with virtual anonymity, according to an indictment, which was unsealed in federal court in Manhattan today.

Over a seven year period, Liberty Reserve was allegedly responsible for laundering billions of dollars, having conducted over 55 million transactions that involved customers all over the world, including more than 200,000 in the United States, according to federal prosecutors.

Just as PayPal revolutionized how people shop online, Liberty Reserve sought to create a similarly convenient way for criminals to make financial transactions, law enforcement officials explained.

“As alleged, the only liberty that Liberty Reserve gave many of its users was the freedom to commit crimes — the coin of its realm was anonymity, and it became a popular hub for fraudsters, hackers and traffickers,” Mr. Bharara said at the news conference. 

“The global enforcement action we announce today is an important step toward reining in the ‘Wild West’ of illicit Internet banking. As crime goes increasingly global, the long arm of the law has to get even longer, and in this case, it encircled the earth.”

Liberty Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 by Arthur Budovsky, who renounced his United States citizenship in 2011, and was arrested in Spain on Friday. He was among seven people charged in the case; five of them were under arrest, while two remained at large in Costa Rica.

In addition to the criminal charges, five domain names were seized, including the one used by Liberty Reserve. Officials also seized or restricted the activity of 45 bank accounts.

Prosecutors cited “blatantly criminal monikers” used by Liberty Reserve clients, like “Russia Hackers.” Essentially, all a customer needed to open an account was an e-mail address.

While Liberty Reserve was incorporated outside the United States, federal officials used a provision in the Patriot Act to target the organization and other financial institutions with whom they conducted business. It was the first time the provision had been used to prosecute a virtual currency provider.

Liberty Reserve did not take or make cash payments directly and instead used “third-party ‘exchangers,’ ” according to the indictment. These exchangers would take and make payments, and then credit or debit the Liberty Reserve account, allowing Liberty Reserve to avoid collecting any banking information on its clients and not leave a “centralized financial paper trail,” the indictment also said.

The exchangers, the indictment said, “tended to be unlicensed money-transmitting businesses without significant government oversight or regulation, concentrated in Malaysia, Russia, Nigeria and Vietnam.”

The people who accepted Liberty Reserve’s currency were “overwhelmingly criminal in nature,” according to the indictment.

“They included, for example: traffickers of stolen credit card data and personal identity information; peddlers of various types of online Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes; computer hackers for hire; unregulated gambling enterprises; and underground drug-dealing Web sites,” according to the indictment.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Online Electric Car Sales May Be Banned in North Carolina: Consumer Protection or Corporate Protectionism?

Tesla Motors Headquarters in Silicon Valley
/ Wikimedia Commons
Fox News is reporting that an effort is underway in the North Carolina legislature to effectively prohibit the Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors car company from directly selling its popular electric cars online to consumers located within the Tarheel state.

Consumer protection is the ostensible rationale offered by the state's legislators who have introduced a bill that would effectively require that a franchised local dealership actually sell the electric cars to consumers.
Tesla's Roadster / Wikimedia Commons

Tesla is known for setting up showrooms that display and allow inspection of the sample electric cars, but the actual sale of the car is transacted entirely online.  By cutting out the franchised dealer as the "middleman," Tesla effectively removes local dealerships from the process.  Reportedly, as many as 80 Tesla electric cars have already been sold to North Carolina residents.

Tesla says that its time-intensive customer service model just won't translate well to franchised dealers, and that most consumers would laugh at the notion that they're better served by the existing system, which requires an unnecessary local transaction. Tesla said the dealers' true interest is maintaining total control over the retail auto industry.

Experts note that Tesla could try to lobby for a federal law or seek a ruling from federal courts that would apply across the U.S. That strategy could include making a case based on the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, which says only Congress can regulate interstate commerce.  Courts have also held that the Constitution forbids localities from discriminating against out-of-state companies, solely to protect locals.

However, the car company would need to prove that the legislature was targeting it specifically when it passes the proposed law, and that the consumer protection rationale is a pretext.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Will Bitcoins Spur Even More Online Lawlessness?

Much has already been written about the rise of a new digital currency, the Bitcoin. To some commentators, the Bitcoin is a new type of gold, representing the emergence of a borderless online world, free of annoying governmental interference and ridding the world of obsolete local currencies. To others, the Bitcoin represents just another bubble, or at worst, is the latest shift to a lawless, online "wild west."

But what is Bitcoin exactly? The Bitcoin is a digital currency based on an open source cryptographic protocol and not managed by any central governmental or financial authority. Bitcoins can be transferred through a computer or smartphone without any intermediate financial institution.

The value of a Bitcoin has fluctuated wildly, leading some to speculate that it is the conceptual equivalent of tulip bulbs in Holland in the seventeenth century, which witnessed the absurd valuation of the flowers' roots.

Apart from its sheer novelty, one part of the allure of the Bitcoin is that it can be used in transactions on the black market for all manner of contraband such as drugs and weapons. Another "benefit" to the Bitcoin is its ability to avoid governmental regulations. Consequently, it has become a hacker's dream come true.

Since each Bitcoin transaction is largely independent of any financial institution's intermediary involvement, it becomes difficult if not impossible for governments to restrict or regulate Bitcoin trade as they would traditional currency flow. 

Recently, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) issued a formal statement clarifying the scope of various recordkeeping requirements in the Bank Secrecy Act to different types of Bitcoin transactions.

One relevant question raised by some Intellectual Property owners is to what extent an increase in online Bitcoin transactions will even further complicate current efforts to regulate online commerce.

The answer is uncertain. However, given the challenges already involved in ensuring international banking compliance comports with intellectual property rights, the Bitcoin promises only more headaches ahead.

Ironically, the Bitcoin itself is already reportedly being counterfeited, and hackers are stealing them from online "wallets," raising questions about how realistic expectations are that it could possibly function as an actual currency.

Pfizer to Sell Viagra Direct to Consumers Online, Blames Counterfeiting

Pfizer, Inc. is reportedly preparing to sell Viagra-brand sildenafil citrate tablets online directly to consumers, without the need for a pharmacist.

A prescription from a licensed medical doctor is still required. CVS Caremark Corp. will fill the orders made on the company's website, Pfizer said.

Pfizer attributes the unusual move to the prevalence of online counterfeiting, according to a recent story in the L.A. Times.

Online pharmacies have proliferated in recent years, selling fake versions of Viagra and other brand-name drugs at low prices and with no prescription needed.
Viagra has become one of the most popular drug products to counterfeit given its high price and the embarrassment some men experience ordering the drug from a local pharmacy.  
When announcing its move to include online sales, Pfizer cited a recent study that found as few as 3% of websites selling prescription drugs were legitimate pharmacies selling genuine goods.
Viagra is one of Pfizer's top drugs, posting $2 billion in worldwide revenue last year.