Pluralistic: 20 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Patent trolls spin their shakedown of covide testing tech: Monkey law firm hired by Softbank patent-trolls to use Theranos patents to attack covid testing engages in spin.
  2. Who Has Your Face? A short and sobering quiz from EFF.
  3. Judge overturns terrible copyright decision against Katy Perry: Sharpening up the "Blurred Lines" principle.
  4. Consumer Reports' covid-19 guide: Consistently the most reliable source of unbiased product info.
  5. Right to Repair during pandemics: Hospitals are the new farms: isolated, with systems that need to be fixed NOW.
  6. Republican senators told us everything was fine as they secretly panic-sold their stocks: But they made sure to clue in the donor class.
  7. Trump is outbidding state agencies for medical supplies: He says federal coordination would turn him into "a shipping clerk."
  8. Simon Pegg's coronavirus Sean of the Dead remake: "What's the plan?"
  9. Ifixit's new database of med-tech repair guides: They need your help.
  10. Open source hardware ventilator enters testing: From zero to prototype in 7 days.
  11. Dafoe's plague diaries: Party like it's 1665.
  12. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  13. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Patent trolls spin their shakedown of covide testing tech (permalink)

Remember the garbage-matrioshke of a story in which a Softbank-funded patent troll was using bogus patents bought from the wreckage of Theranos to shut down covid testing, through a firm that once claimed to represent a monkey for copyright purposes?

It gets worse!

Irell and Manella, the monkey lawfirm, has been claiming it's all a nonstory because their Softbank-backed patent-troll client offered a "royalty free license" to their garbage Theranos patent.

But this is worthless. Labrador (patent troll who make nothing but lawsuits) has offered a royalty-free license to only some of things that Biofire (biotech company that makes covid tests) needs, while banning the rest.

They're "offering to allow a royalty-free license for the COVID-19 test… [but] they’re still trying to block the technology that’s needed to run the COVID-19 test."

What's more, that license doesn't extend to other companies working on covid tests.

Even by the low standards of deceptive spin from predatory lawfirms, this is garbage behavior. Not as bad as hastening the extinction of the human race by blocking covid testing, but worse than anything you or I are likely to do in our lifetimes.

Who Has Your Face? (permalink)

Who Has Your Face? is a new interactive from EFF that tells you where the biometrics you had to give up – for a driver's license, say – have proliferated. We are in "perpetual lineups," our faces being continuously assessed by algorithmic guilt systems.

The project announcement delves into this in depth:

There is a stunning lack of transparency on biometric sharing. And the pandemic is making it worse – even as grifty beltway bandits are promising to use mass surveillance to prevent the spread of the disease…for a price.

It's time for a national ban of government use of facial recognition tech!

Judge overturns terrible copyright decision against Katy Perry (permalink)

Here's some rare good copyright news! A judge has overturned a copyright claim against Katy Perry that would have had her paying $2.3m because she recorded a song in which eight notes were similar to many other songs, including an obscure piece of Christian hiphop.

The ruling does not overturn the jury's finding of fact – that Perry's song had similarities to this other, obscure song – but rather, it overturns the legal principle that this similarity constitutes a copyright infringement.

And although the copyright trolls who came after Perry might appeal, this decision chips away at an even worse copyright precedent, the "Blurred Lines" argument that a pop song is illegal if it reminds the listener of Martin Gaye, even if it was not copied from a Gaye song.

One of the best things about this decision is that it cites the plaintiffs' expert witness's own testimony – the musicologist the copyright trolls hired basically admitted that this was not a copyright infringement.

This case is a victory for fairness and Fair Use, though Warner Chappell, Perry's publisher, has not covered itself in glory during this affair. Most notably, they attacked a prominent supporter of their cause with a fraudulent copyright claim.

(Image: slgckgc, CC BY)

Consumer Reports' covid-19 guide (permalink)

The most consistently reliable US source of unbiased product reviews and information is Consumer Reports, and now they've published a covid-19 guide.

Included: products believed to be effective at destroying the virus on skin and surfaces, guides to sanitizing your devices, how to work from home, what kinds of novel scams have popped up, and what to do if you feel unwell.

Right to Repair during pandemics (permalink)

Farmers lead in Right to Repair is because when you're isolated and need to get the crops in, you can't wait for a distant part or service tech to come to your site – that's why farms have workshops (even forges!).

Pandemic puts us all in situations like those farmers, with important things to do that can't wait for the authorized tech or official parts.

But especially, it puts hospitals in this situation.

That's why Right to Repair is so urgent at this moment.

The right person to decide whether a field repair should be attempted, and whether the repair is solid enough to rely upon are medical professionals, not the shareholders of med-tech companies or the lawyers who write their terms of service and patent applications.

Republican senators told us everything was fine as they secretly panic-sold their stocks (permalink)

The Senate and Congress have incredibly lax insider trading rules. They let elected politicians use the private information they glean from closed-door hearings and legislative planning sessions to take market positions that enrich themselves once the rest of us are clued in and start buying what they've sold or selling what they've bought. That's how GOP lawmakers cleaned up in 2017, buying up health insurance stocks before announcing the full-court press to kill Obamacare, which sent the insurers' stocks skyrocketing.

But it's not just Congress and the Senate! Lawmakers have a long tradition of laundering their insider information for politically connected types: rich donors, lobbyists, party bosses.

It's no surprise that Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr [R-NC] secretly sold off $1.7m of his stocks after being briefed on coronavirus, even as he was publicly reassuring people that Trump was right, it was no biggie, and everything would be fine.

Not just Burr, either. Even as he was publicly claiming that coronavirus would fizzle, he was briefing North Carolina's elite $10,000/person members that they, too, should be panic-selling before us plebs got wind of the real scale of the crisis. The secret recording of that meeting has Burr saying "There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic."

That's what he told plutes. Here's what he was saying for public consumption: "he United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus."

It wasn't just Burr, either. Other GOP senators who panic-sold while telling us that Trump had it all under control and nothing bad would happen include Kelly Loeffler [R-GA], Ron Johnson [R-WI], and Jim Inhofe [R-OK].

This insider trading is so egregious that it might have actually breached the Senate's farcically loose rules. AOC is calling for Burr to resign.

Trump is outbidding state agencies for medical supplies (permalink)

Trump has refused to coordinate federal procurements of emergency supplies for states, saying the fed is not "a shipping clerk" for state governments.

Now, state agencies are routinely getting outbid by FEMA when they try to buy things like masks.

Trump brought Mass Gov Charlie Baker onto a FEMA videoconference to boast about his performance, only to be told that Baker's officials had been outbid by FEMA. Three times.

Baker (to Trump: "I’ve got a feeling that if someone has the chance to sell to you and to sell to me, I am going to lose on every one of those."

Trump: "Prices are always a component of that also. And maybe that’s why you lost to the feds, OK, that’s probably why."

Simon Pegg's coronavirus Sean of the Dead remake (permalink)

Gorbless Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for this delightful coronavirus-themed reenactment of "the plan" call from Shaun of the Dead.

Ifixit's new database of med-tech repair guides (permalink)

The latest Ifixit project is a database of indepedent repair manuals for medical devices:

They need your help to improve it. If you have photos, manuals, etc related to medical device repair, please submit them:

They're carrying on the work of Frank's Hospital Workshop, an amazing, one-person site based in Tanzania:

Ifixit turns crowdsourced photos, tips and guides into easy-to-read, consistently formatted, tested manuals that are aimed at both laypeople and skilled technicians.

As supply chains break and parts and technicians become scarce, hospitals need to carry on their long tradition of effecting field repairs on their own – but these repairs may need to be longer-lived and serve more urgent needs than ever before.

Open source hardware ventilator enters testing (permalink)

7 days ago, a group of open source hardware enthusiasts put out an open call for help in designing OSHW ventilators. After contributions from 300+ engineers, med techs and researchers, they have a prototype ready for testing.

Ireland's Health Services Executive, which regulates medical devices, is evaluating the prototype.

The group has since changed its name to "the Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies community" and has broadened its focus to "masks, sanitizer and protective face guards."

Dafoe's plague diaries (permalink)

I spent 13 years in London, off Pitfield Street (named for the plague pits that still line it), near Bunhill Cemetary (a "hill of bones" made from the plague dead). Bunhill has some incredible inmates, including Thomas Bayes, but also Daniel "Robinson Crusoe" Dafoe.

Dafoe was five in 1665, when the bubonic plague came to London. It made an impression on him. 57 years later, he published "A Journal of the Plague Year," featuring his recollections of the time.

This excerpt, dealing with the economic terrors of the city shutdown – and the ways these exacerbated the health crisis – bears reading now.

The economy froze up: sailors couldn't sail, so shipwrights couldn't build, so tavern keepers couldn't pour, so brewers couldn't brew. Centuries later, it's pretty familiar stuff.

But this longer excerpt is even more fascinating and relevant. As the plague loomed, people hallucinated angels and devils, sought out prophecies, blamed it on foreigners, and sought out scapegoats.

They were terrified that they would die, that they would be cast out, that they would be denied care, that they would be left to die. They panicked, and it spread.

Also eerily familiar sounding.

Dafoe says out that the only reason London survived is that it had a crude safety net, which kept absolute chaos at bay.

People lost their jobs, or panicked thinking they would, and left the city, carrying plague through the land.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Yahoo! bought Flickr!

#10yrsago Peter Watts may serve two years for failing to promptly obey a customs officer

#5yrsago Suspicious people, American Airlines edition

#1yrago Sponsor of the "Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act" sues Twitter cow-account for $250 million

#1yrago More Than 130 European Businesses Tell the European Parliament: Reject the #CopyrightDirective

#1yrago California's Right to Repair Bill, killed by Big Ag and Apple, has been reintroduced

#1yrago Health industry lobbyists are posing as "ordinary citizens who don't want Medicare for All"

#1yrago IBM supplied surveillance gear to Davao while Duterte was mayor and cheering on the city's police-linked death-squads

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Slashdot (, Geekologie (, Geoffrey MacDougall (

Currently writing: I've just finished rewrites on a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I've also just completed "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel next.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: The Masque of the Red Death and Punch Brothers Punch

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: