Americas

Anti-Scientology videos restored

The thousands of anti-Scientology videos which were removed from YouTube have been restored (via).

Over a period of 12 hours, YouTube received in excess of 4000 DMCA takedown notices, all of which were sent from an organization calling itself the American Rights Counsel, LLC. However, Scientology detractors associated with the group Anonymous noted that no such limited liability corporation exists in the U.S. and that the text of the takedown notices is virtually identical to previous efforts from Wikipedia contributor oschaper, thought to be someone named Oliver Schaper. Its possible that this individual was behind the notices, also filed by another apparently non-existent entity called ContentFactory America.

The Industry Standard is speculating that YouTube may be rethinking their process for handling DMCA takedown notices in the light of this flurry of bogus claims.

One of the most popular anti-Scientology channels, XenuTV, has been restored. Videos, like this interview with former Scientologist and actor Jason Beghe, were created by (and therefore copyright was owned by) the posters of the content:

4,000 Anti-Scientology Videos Yanked From YouTube

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting (via) that over a period of 12 hours between Thursday night and Friday morning, American Rights Counsel LLC sent out over 4000 DMCA takedown notices to YouTube, all making copyright infringement claims against videos with content critical of the Church of Scientology. Multiple accounts have been suspended as a result of this.

Whether or not American Rights Counsel, LLC represents the notoriously litigious Church of Scientology is unclear, but this would not be the first time that the Church of Scientology has used the DMCA to silence Scientology critics. The Church of Scientology DMCA complaints shut down the YouTube channel of critic Mark Bunker in June, 2008. Bunker’s account, XenuTV, was also among the channels shut down in this latest flurry of takedown notices.

Aisha update

Following the decision by Random House to pull The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel by Sherry Jones about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad after an American academic took exception to it, US literary prize the Langum Charitable Trust has said that it will refuse to consider titles (via) from the publisher until the book is published.

Random House has exhibited a degree of cowardly self-censorship that seriously threatens the American public’s access to the free marketplace of ideas, the trust said: We cannot pretend that this type of cowardice will disappear without serious remonstrance. Until The Jewel of Medina is actually published, The Langum Charitable Trust will not consider submissions of any books, for any of our prizes, from Random House or any of its affiliates.

In the UK, the book is set to be published. Independent UK firm Gibson Square will publish the book next month saying its release is imperative.

Martin Rynja, of Gibson Square, said there must be open access to literary works, regardless of fear.

He added: If a novel of quality and skill that casts light on a beautiful subject we know too little of in the West, but have a genuine interest in, cannot be published here, it would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages.

Dangerous music

Cuban authorities have arrested one of the islands leading punk rock musicians, Gorki Aguila of band Porno Para Ricardo. He is likely to be charged with dangerousness, which allow the authorities to detain people who are likely to commit crimes.

According to fellow band members, he was picked up by police at his home in Havana on Monday as the group were preparing to record their latest album.

The groups lyrics are often critical of life on the communist island.

The head of Cubas illegal, but tolerated, Human Rights Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, confirmed the detention and said that so far no-one has been allowed access to visit him.

Another member of the band, which was formed about 10 years ago, lead guitarist Ciro Diaz, said he was told by the police that the 39-year-old musician would face charges of dangerousness.

Under Cubas penal code, the charge covers behaviours contrary to the standards of communist morality.

Backdoor censorship attempt finally rejected

After a year long investigation, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has rejected (via) a disingenuous complaint by the Edmonton Council of Muslim Canadians against former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant over his re-publication of the Danish Muhammad cartoons.

Yasmeen Nizam, a civil litigation lawyer in Edmonton and a director of the council of Muslim Canadians, aid the council decided to bring a human-rights complaint because, unlike criminal hate-speech prosecutions, the publishers intent doesnt matter.

Fear stunts intelligent discourse

The Wall Street Journal (via) reports that Random House have pulled a historical novel by Sherry Jones about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad after an American academic took exception to it.

The publisher bought The Jewel of Medina last year as part of a two book deal and an August 12th publication date was set. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including one Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin.

Spellberg, It should be noted, is not a Muslim. But she decided to take offence on behalf of Muslims and called Shahed Amanullah, the editor of a popular Muslim web site.

After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didnt know anything about it [the book], but telling them, Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, Jewel of Medina she said she found it incredibly offensive. He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullahs email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims Hussaini Youth under a headline, upcoming book, Jewel of Medina: A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam. Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.

Spellberg also called Jane Garrett, an editor at Random Houses Knopf imprint (with whom she has a contract to write Thomas Jeffersons Quran). Ms. Garrett recorded the results of the conversation in an email on May 1st to Knopf executives.

She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence, Ms. Garrett wrote. Denise says it is a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue. Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP. (The Jewel of Medina was to be published by Random Houses Ballantine Books.) That day, the email spread like wildfire through Random House, which also received a letter from Ms. Spellberg and her attorney, saying she would sue the publisher if her name was associated with the novel. On May 2, a Ballantine editor told Ms. Joness agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

On a May 21 conference call, Random House executive Elizabeth McGuire told the author and her agent that the publishing house had decided to indefinitely postpone publication of the novel for fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims and concern for the safety and security of the Random House building and employees.

Sherry Jones has signed a termination agreement with Random House so her literary agent is able to seek another publisher.

Inventing offence

Mars has pulled a UK TV ad for Snickers featuring Mr T harassing a speed walker for being a disgrace to the man race after an American gay rights group called the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) complained that it was “offensive to gay people”.

The advert makes no reference to the speed walkers sexual orientation. So its a little presumptuous – to say the least – for the HRC to assume that all speed walkers are gay. Its utterly ridiculous, of course, for them to then take offence at their own imaginations.

US Court Calls COPA Unconstitutional. Again

Ten years after it was passed by US legislators, the free-speech-throttling Child Online Protection Act (COPA) took another blow this week as a federal appeals court upheld (via) an earlier ban on the statute.

The law, which has not taken effect, would bar web sites from making “harmful content” available to minors over the Internet. The act was passed the year after the Supreme Court ruled that another law — the Communications Decency Act — was unconstitutional in the landmark case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU challenged the 1998 law on behalf of a coalition of writers, artists, health educators and the publisher Salon Media Group.

ACLU attorney Chris Hansen argued that Congress has been trying to restrict speech on the Internet far more than it can restrict speech in books and magazines. But, he said, the rules should be the same.

Indeed, the Child Online Protection Act would effectively force all Web sites to provide only family-friendly content because it is not feasible to lock children out of sites that are lawful for adults, said John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy Technology, a civil liberties group that filed briefs against the law.

The courts ruling on Tuesday concluded that the Child Online Protection Act is unconstitutionally overly broad and vague and that it also violates the First Amendment because filtering technologies and other parental control tools offer a less restrictive way to protect children from inappropriate content online.

Arbitary and Capricious

A US appeal court has thrown out the $550,000 fine levied against CBS following Janet Jacksons wardrobe malfunction during 2004s Super Bowl.

Three judges ruled the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) watchdog acted arbitrarily and capriciously in levying the fine.

Although CBS, MTV and the performers all all apologised at the time, insisting the move had not been intentional, the FCC still went ahead and fined 20 CBS-owned TV stations the maximum penalty for indecency - $27,500 - each. This was the largest fine ever handed to a US broadcaster - all over nine-sixteenths of a second of nipple.

The FCC cannot impose liability on CBS for the acts of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, independent contractors hired for the limited purposes of the half-time show, wrote the chief judge on the panel, Anthony Scirica.

No statement on the ruling has yet been issued by CBS or the FCC.

New York pressuring ISPs into blocking Usenet

Usenet, one of the first internet discussion systems, is coming under fire from New York Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, who has convinced several major ISPs to close down access to dozens of newsgroups containing child pornography – and many more that dont.

Of Friday, Cuomo announced that ATT and AOL had agreed to eliminate access to 88 newsgroups. This follows similar promises from Time Warner Cable, Sprint, and Verizon. All five of these mega-ISPs have also agreed to rid their web servers of child pornography, as identified by the National Center for Missing Exploited Children (NCMEC).

It all sounds reasonable enough so far, but some of these ISPs have gone a lot further. Time Warner, ATT and AOL have all decided to extend their Usenet crackdowns well beyond the 88 groups flagged by the Cuomo.

ATT will eliminate direct access to all binary newsgroups - thats all groups that serve up full-blown data files and AOL have gone even further, announcing that they will block access to every newsgroup there is.

Yes, US lawmakers and ISPs must work to eliminate online child pornography. According the Internet Watch Foundation, an organization that fights the good fight in the UK, nearly 80 per cent of the worlds commercial child pornography is hosted on US servers.

But blocking access to large swathes of Usenet is hardly the right way to go. The pornography will only turn up elsewhere. And these ISPs - strong-armed by the New York AG - are bagging tens of thousands of newsgroups that contain nothing but perfectly legal content.

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