Contact lenses with circuits, lights a possible platform for superhuman vision – right here in my own back yard…
Guess which drug is illegal? – mark morford is god!
The Pirates Can’t Be Stopped – will that stop them from trying to defeat the pirates? only time will tell, but at this point, it’s not likely.
Banned From Church – more fun with jeezis
Contact lenses with circuits, lights a possible platform for superhuman vision
Jan. 17, 2008
Movie characters from the Terminator to the Bionic Woman use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs. Off the screen, virtual displays have been proposed for more practical purposes — visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go.
The device to make this happen may be familiar. Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.
“Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” said Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. “This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it’s extremely promising.” The results were presented today at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of Parviz’s now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. Other co-authors are Ehsan Saeedi and Samuel Kim in the UW’s electrical engineering department and Tueng Shen in the UW Medical Center’s ophthalmology department.
There are many possible uses for virtual displays. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle’s speed projected onto the windshield. Video-game companies could use the contact lenses to completely immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. And for communications, people on the go could surf the Internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see.
“People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about. Our goal is to demonstrate the basic technology and make sure it works and that it’s safe,” said Parviz, who heads a multi-disciplinary UW group that is developing electronics for contact lenses.
The prototype device contains an electric circuit as well as red light-emitting diodes for a display, though it does not yet light up. The lenses were tested on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no adverse effects.
Ideally, installing or removing the bionic eye would be as easy as popping a contact lens in or out, and once installed the wearer would barely know the gadget was there, Parviz said.
Building the lenses was a challenge because materials that are safe for use in the body, such as the flexible organic materials used in contact lenses, are delicate. Manufacturing electrical circuits, however, involves inorganic materials, scorching temperatures and toxic chemicals. Researchers built the circuits from layers of metal only a few nanometers thick, about one thousandth the width of a human hair, and constructed light-emitting diodes one third of a millimeter across. They then sprinkled the grayish powder of electrical components onto a sheet of flexible plastic. The shape of each tiny component dictates which piece it can attach to, a microfabrication technique known as self-assembly. Capillary forces — the same type of forces that make water move up a plant’s roots, and that cause the edge of a glass of water to curve upward — pull the pieces into position.
The prototype contact lens does not correct the wearer’s vision, but the technique could be used on a corrective lens, Parviz said. And all the gadgetry won’t obstruct a person’s view.
“There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation,” Parviz said. Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens, Parviz said.
A full-fledged display won’t be available for a while, but a version that has a basic display with just a few pixels could be operational “fairly quickly,” according to Parviz.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and a Technology Gap Innovation Fund from the University of Washington.
Guess which drug is illegal?
January 18, 2008
By Mark Morford
Over here we have a new drug. It has one particularly unfortunate side effect: It makes you fat. Or rather, fatter, given how most patients who take it are already quite overweight to begin with.
But that’s not all. Other nasty side effects include dizziness, confusion, sleepiness, severe edema (swelling and oozing), among others. What fun. But hey, at least it works, right?
Well, no, not really. It apparently works only about half the time, if that, and even then it doesn’t work very well and it certainly doesn’t actually cure anything or treat any of the potential causes of your illness or address any of the deeper biological/psychological issues at hand and, in fact, only “works” (they guess, but don’t actually know) by essentially numbing the central nervous system and therefore merely blocking out what your body is trying to tell you. Sort of like saying the light hurts your eyes and then taking a pill to make you go blind. There now, all better.
This new drug is called Lyrica. It’s from Pfizer, and it was just approved by the FDA to treat an awful, inscrutable condition known as fibromyalgia, an is-it-or-isn’t-it illness distinguished by all-over bodily pain the causes of which no one can figure and which few are really sure is even a real disease, per se, given that there’s no biological test to diagnose it and no way to accurately validate its existence and given that it has all sorts of seemingly unrelated, scattershot symptoms, like irritable bowel (another suspect ailment) and ringing in the ears and, well, just about everything else.
No matter. After years of doubt as to its effectiveness (and fibromyalgia’s existence), Lyrica has been approved, and fibromyalgia has been more or less legitimized. Pfizer stands to make billions, as do the other pharmco titans who are begging the FDA to let them make expensive new drugs to treat this strange condition that no one seems to understand — drugs which may actually exacerbate the condition — but which clearly has enough patients who seem to be suffering from it even though they might very well be suffering from something else entirely.
Ah, the pharmaceutical industry. Tremendous amounts of good, underscored by giant bolts of shameless, exploitive, predatory evil. Isn’t it fascinating?
Over here, another drug. This one’s been around awhile. World famous, beloved by millions, controversial for all the wrong reasons. It is currently very, very illegal. Producing and selling it in any quantity can result in severe punishment, years in prison.
It has been deemed highly dangerous, potentially toxic, even lethal, and for years the government and the Centers for Disease Control and your own mother have issued all sorts of lies and alarmist B.S. about it, like how it drains spinal fluid, induces brain aneurisms, makes you vote Libertarian. Which is not to say taking it doesn’t have its random dangers, but, you know, please.
This drug is famous for producing incredible feelings of euphoria, openness, warmth and love and happiness in almost everyone who takes it. It is staggeringly effective, non-addictive, and when taken somewhat responsibly and with a slight hint of intelligence, has very few, if any, notable or permanent side effects.
Its positives border on miraculous. It can effortlessly break down long-held psychological barriers, remove obstacles to communication and stifled emotion, make patients/users feel open and happy and much better able to handle stress, anxiety, all manner of trauma.
It gets better. Some of the deeper emotional breakthroughs it produces last for weeks, months, or forever. Truly, entire loving relationships have been launched based on the deep bonding and raw emotional honesty a couple discovers while on it, and in many cases, those feelings become the foundation for long-term marriages (or, by way of the same raw honesty, encourage the end of unhappy, dying ones).
Oh yes — this drug also frequently induces profound, life-changing spiritual awakenings, can eradicate neurosis, increase feelings of empathy and forgiveness and peace and overlay it all with an increased love of music and sensual pleasure.
Thank God it’s illegal.
This drug, as you’ve already guessed, is MDMA, or ecstasy. It has finally, after years of governmental ignorance and lack of balls/foresight/integrity in the psychiatric community, earned tacit approval for a precious handful of clinical psychiatric trials. Initial results? Turns out this scary illegal drug just might work wonders for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Gosh, really?
Yes. As reported by the Washington Post and the Guardian, as far as PTSD alone is concerned, some docs already see MDMA as potentially life-saving, a true wonder drug, which might even be administered to all our traumatized U.S. soldiers. Which could be good news indeed, given how an estimated 24 million Americans suffer from PTSD, whereas only a fraction of that number claim to have fibromyalgia.
Oh, but there are problems. Major drawbacks. Terrible, unspeakable, anti-American issues that seriously trouble our drug-addled nation.
Foremost: MDMA is not patented. Its formula is not owned by anyone. Hence, no single company (or handful of companies) stands to make billions from its potential legalization and the government cannot tax it and organized religion cannot control the power it has to help you totally reject its inane dogma, and they all really, really hate that.
What’s more, millions of people already take MDMA recreationally, for the sheer pleasure and joy of it, making it a huge threat to all authority everywhere, because God knows we can’t have lots of people feeling peaceful and empathetic and nonviolent, as opposed to fearful and victimized and angry and sick sick sick, all those things governments and religions rely on to keep you meek and beaten down and in check.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a dangerous oversimplification, Mark. Read the literature! Ecstasy is scary! People can overdose! “Moderation” is not in America’s DNA! With the possible exception of extreme PTSD cases, we should probably keep MDMA illegal forever — you know, just like that other toxic, wildly addictive drug that causes thousands of deaths every year, along with liver disease and violence and spousal abuse and trauma and impaired judgment and unwanted pregnancy and frat boys and which you can order as much as you want right now in any bar in the world. Oh wait.
Maybe it really is just that simple, just that odious. One drug, nasty and of hugely questionable value, essentially designed to numb your body and mock your spirit and shut you down like a land mine shuts down a cat, is legal. Another drug, relatively safe, enormously effective in how it opens you up like a flower and pours white hot life straight down your throat and helps you feel God without forcing you to kneel before, well, anything at all, is violently illegal. And thus doth the brutal irony of the capitalist machine floweth over once again.
It is, you could say, just another tale of the tense, vicious battle ever raging between the government/corporations/church, all of whom seek to control and profit by murdering any notion you may have that you might be far more powerful, divinely connected, empathetic than you imagine, and the humane, common-sensical universe of peaceful reality. Do you know that fight? Do you ever sense that common sense is losing? I have a suggestion for something you might want to try.
The Pirates Can’t Be Stopped
A teenager hacked into the outfit charged with protecting companies like Sony, Universal, and Activision from online piracy—the most daring exploit yet in the escalating war between fans and corporate giants. Guess which side is winning.
February 2008 Issue
by Daniel Roth
From: Ty Heath [MediaDefender]
Sent: Wednesday, June 6, 2007 7:02 p.m.
Subject: pm webserver
The 18.104.22.168 pm webserver has been compromised […]
As a side note, please do not ever use the old passwords on anything.
The first time Ethan broke into MediaDefender, he had no idea what he had found. It was his Christmas break, and the high schooler was hunkered down in the basement office of his family’s suburban home. The place was, as usual, a mess. Papers and electrical cords covered the floor and crowded the desk near his father’s Macs and his own five-year-old Hewlett-Packard desktop. While his family slept, Ethan would take over the office, and soon enough he’d start taking over the computer networks of companies around the world. Exploiting a weakness in MediaDefender’s firewall, he started poking around on the company’s servers. He found folder after folder labeled with the names of some of the largest media companies on the planet: News Corp., Time Warner, Universal.
Since 2000, MediaDefender has served as the online guard dog of the entertainment world, protecting it against internet piracy. When Transformers was about to hit theaters in summer 2007, Paramount turned to the company to stop the film’s spread online. Island Records counted on MediaDefender to protect Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album, as did NBC with 30 Rock. Activision asked MediaDefender to safeguard games like Guitar Hero; Sony, its music and films; and World Wrestling Entertainment, its pay-per-view steel-cage championships and pudding-wrestling matches.
MediaDefender’s main stalking grounds are the destinations that help people find and download movies and music for free. Sites such as the Pirate Bay and networks like Lime Wire rely on peer-to-peer, or P2P, software, which allows users to connect with one another and easily share files. (See what movies, television shows, and music are most downloaded.) MediaDefender monitors this traffic and employs a handful of tricks to sabotage it, including planting booby-trapped versions of songs and films to frustrate downloaders. When the company’s tactics work, someone trying to download a pirated copy of Spider-Man 3 might find the process interminable, or someone grabbing Knocked Up might discover it’s nothing but static. Other MediaDefender programs interfere with the process pirates use to upload authentic copies. When Ethan hacked into the company, at the end of 2006, MediaDefender was finishing an exceptional year: Its revenue had more than doubled, to $15.8 million, and profit margins were hovering at about 50 percent.
Ethan and I had first started talking over an untraceable prepaid phone that he carried with him. He eventually agrees to speak in person, as long as I protect his identity. (Ethan is a pseudonym.) We meet after school, in a bookstore that he says is near his house. He hands me a flash drive containing documents that I was later able to independently verify as internal, unpublished information belonging to MediaDefender. He also pulls out a well-creased sheet of paper bearing my name, the first five digits of my Social Security number, a few pictures of me, and addresses going back 10 years. “I had to check,” he says. Then he asks me about another Roth he has been researching; it turns out to be my brother. “I was just starting to dig in to him,” he says. “There’s a lot there.” Ethan is a handsome kid, with broad shoulders and a preppy style, and is unfailingly polite, cleaning up the table after I buy him a coffee and patiently walking me through the intricate details of Microsoft security procedures.
Ethan explains to me that the Christmastime break-in didn’t proceed very far. While logged into MediaDefender on one computer, he chatted on another with some hacker friends to see if they knew anything about the firm. But the conversation quickly shifted to other exploits the group wanted to pull off on that cold evening—cell-phone hacks, fake pizza deliveries, denial-of-service attacks—and Ethan moved on.
In the spring, however, he decided to explore the company again. Over the next few months, Ethan says, he figured out how to read MediaDefender’s email, listen to its phone calls, and access just about any of the company’s computers he wanted to browse. He uncovered the salaries of the top engineers as well as names and contact information kept by C.E.O. and co-founder Randy Saaf (with notations of who in the videogame industry is an “asshole” and which venture capitalists didn’t come through with financing). Ethan also figured out how the firm’s pirate-fighting software works. He passed on his expertise to a fellow hacker, who broke into one of MediaDefender’s servers and commandeered it so that it could be used for denial-of-service attacks.
Ethan continued to log in to MediaDefender about twice a week throughout the summer of 2007. Usually, he’d head down to the basement office after his S.A.T. prep classes. After a while, his friends grew tired of hearing about his stunts inside Monkey Defenders, as he began to call the company. And eventually, he himself got bored. So in September, he decided to give the entire thing up, but not before he and a few fellow hackers pulled a prank: They grabbed a half-year’s worth of internal emails and published them on the same file-sharing sites prowled by MediaDefender. A comment posted with the messages read, “By releasing these emails we hope to secure the privacy and personal integrity of all peer-to-peer users. The emails contains [sic] information about the various tactics and technical solutions for tracking P2P users, and disrupt P2P services…. We hope this is enough to create a viable defense to the tactics used by these companies.” It was signed MediaDefender-Defenders.
A few days later, Ethan and his friends put more material online. One file contained the source code for MediaDefender’s antipiracy system. Another demonstrated just how deep inside the company they had gone. This file featured a tense 30-minute phone call between employees of MediaDefender and the New York State attorney general’s office discussing an investigation into child porn that the firm was assisting with. (MediaDefender refused to comment for this story.) The phone call makes clear that the hackers had left a few footprints while prowling MediaDefender’s computers. The government officials had detected someone trying to access one of its servers, and the hacker seemed to know all the right log-in information. “How comfortable are you guys that your email server is free of, uh, other eyes?” an investigator with the attorney general asked during the call.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, we’ve checked out our email server, and our email server itself has not been compromised,” the MediaDefender executive said.
But, of course, it had.
“In the beginning, I had no motivation against Monkey Defenders,” Ethan tells me. “It wasn’t like, ‘I want to hack those bastards.’ But then I found something, and the good nature in me said, These guys are not right. I’m going to destroy them.”
And so he set out to do just that: a teenager, operating on a dated computer, taking on—when his schedule allowed—one of the entertainment world’s best technological defenses against downloading. The U.S. movie industry estimates that it loses more than $2 billion a year to file sharers; the record industry, another $3.7 billion. “Piracy,” intoned Dan Glickman, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America trade group, to Congress in late 2006, “is the greatest obstacle the film industry currently faces.” Instead of figuring out whether there is a way to make online distribution work—to profit from downloading—the industry has obsessed for years with battling it. Yet it took only a few months for Ethan to expose just how quixotic that fight has become.
From: Randy Saaf
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 9:24 p.m.
To: [various MediaDefender employees]
Subject: Fw: .edu filtering
Team Universal is curiouse [sic] if we have any historical data over the last 3 months that show whether .edu IP addresses on p2p have gone down. They want to see if their lawsuits are getting students to stop using p2p (take a moment to laugh to yourself). Let me know if anyone has any ideas.
When Saaf co-founded MediaDefender in 2000, Napster was at the height of its popularity. The file-sharing service was wildly popular on college campuses, where students used speedy broadband lines to amass huge music collections. The Recording Industry Association of America, the music-business trade group, considered Napster to be its No. 1 problem. Saaf thought he had a way to contain it. He invited Cary Sherman, then an R.I.A.A. executive and now its president, to drop by the startup’s cramped Claremont, California, offices. As soon as Sherman walked in, he heard a yet-to-be-released Madonna track blaring from a set of speakers. “He was shocked,” says Ron Paxson, one of the company’s co-founders. “We showed him how we could block it from getting out onto the internet.”
Over the next few years, the firm grew as downloading flourished and terrified entertainment execs turned to it for help. The content-wants-to-be-free chant of the internet generation began reverberating in the nightmares of music moguls—and then of executives further and further up the entertainment industry food chain. As broadband speeds increased and data storage got cheaper, it became easier and faster for anyone with a passing interest in pop culture to trade larger files like TV shows, movies, and software.
The technology for trading them also kept improving. When the record industry shut down Napster in 2001, a drove of oddly named services took its place: Ares, eDonkey, Grokster, Kazaa. In 2002, a lone programmer working at a table in his dining room invented BitTorrent, a technology that made file sharing even faster and more efficient. Within a few years of its creation, BitTorrent activity accounted for nearly 20 percent of all internet traffic. Between 2002 and 2006, the file-trading audience nearly doubled, with an average of more than 9 million people sharing files at any given time, according to BigChampagne, a company that monitors P2P traffic. The firm estimates that more than 1 billion songs are traded each month, a number that has more or less remained constant as the trading of feature films and TV shows has exploded.
Yet it has been difficult to quantify the damage supposedly wreaked by downloading. In mid-2007, economists Felix Oberholzer-Gee, from Harvard, and Koleman Strumpf, from the University of Kansas, published the results of their study analyzing the effect of file sharing on retail music sales in the U.S. They found no correlation between the two. “While downloads occur on a vast scale,” they wrote, “most users are likely individuals who in the absence of file sharing would not have bought the music they downloaded.” Another study published around the same time, however, found there was, in fact, a positive impact on retail sales, at least in Canada: University of London researchers Birgitte Andersen and Marion Frenz reported that the more people downloaded songs from P2P networks, the more CDs they bought. “Roughly half of all P2P tracks were downloaded because individuals wanted to hear songs before buying them or because they wanted to avoid purchasing the whole bundle of songs on the associated CDs, and roughly one-quarter were downloaded because they were not available for purchase.”
Still, the entertainment industry believes it knows a bad guy when it sees one and has reacted to file sharing exactly as a character in one of its thrillers or shoot-’em-up games would: with a full-frontal, guns-a-blazing assault. For the past few years, the R.I.A.A. has employed MediaDefender’s competitor, MediaSentry, to trace people uploading music so that the trade group can sue them. The R.I.A.A. and the M.P.A.A. have worked to get government on their side: In 2007, the organizations lobbied to water down a California bill designed to crack down on pretexting—the practice of using false pretenses to get personal information about someone. The M.P.A.A. argued that laws against pretexting would cripple its antipiracy efforts by imperiling “certain long-employed techniques to obtain information.” In November, the groups lobbied the House of Representatives in support of a bill to make federal funding for universities partially contingent on how effectively they rid their campuses of file sharing.
“This is not Napster,” says Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul who heads the Weinstein Co., a MediaDefender client. “Online piracy has got to be stopped. The biggest spear in the neck of the pirates will be (a) being vigilant, (b) prosecuting, and (c) in a way, making fun of them, finding a way to say, ‘That’s not cool—that’s anything but cool.’ If you had people who the young people respect in this industry—Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Shia LaBeouf—if these guys did public service announcements that said, ‘Don’t steal, stealing’s not cool,’ I think you can go a long way toward stopping this.” Weinstein says that if Democrats maintain control of Congress and gain the White House, he’ll flex whatever political muscle he has acquired by being a major donor to achieve one thing: “Tougher, more stringent piracy laws.” Does he see any use for P2P systems? “No.”
Certainly, the few attempts that entertainment companies have made to accommodate downloaders have come across as halfhearted and have turned out dismally. Five major movie studios—Sony, MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., and Universal—sank $150 million into a cumbersome film-downloading service called Movielink, rolled out in 2002. In August, they unloaded the unit to Blockbuster for $6.6 million, after concluding that few consumers had the patience to master a technology that didn’t match the ease or quality of that being offered by the pirates. NBC and News Corp. are optimistic about Hulu, a site that offers new and archived TV fare, but the shows contain unskippable ads and can’t be downloaded, a disadvantage in this era of DVRs and iPods. All this comes after years of the music industry’s blundering around for solutions. “The music companies were put on earth to make the video companies seem like visionaries,” says Michael Gartenberg, research director of analysis firm JupiterResearch.
So the entertainment business lives by the motto “If you can’t join them, beat them.” As with all wars, of course, escalation most benefits the arms merchants. In 2005, the music portal ArtistDirect purchased MediaDefender for $42.5 million, making Saaf and his remaining co-founder, Octavio Herrera, multimillionaires at age 29. To retain the two men, ArtistDirect paid them an additional $525,000 each and gave them easy-to-hit bonuses that would keep their income at about $700,000 a year each. And the clients continued to come, even though those inside MediaDefender could see they were losing ground.
From: Jonathan Perez [MediaDefender]
Sent: Friday, June 22, 2007 6:33 p.m.
To: [various MediaDefender employees]
Subject: Sicko Torrents Results 6/22
Attached are today's internal testing results for Sicko. Our overall effectiveness did improve. However, we still have no presence on Pirate bay which is a site they are likely watching as it was mentioned in the AdAge article they referenced.
>From: Ethan Noble [Weinstein Co.]
>Sent: Friday, June 15, 2007 10:41 a.m.
>To: [various Weinstein employees]
>Subject: Re: Piracy—this is a real
>This is AdAge's main story today and
>they talk about ThePirateBay.org
>having [Michael Moore's Sicko] so I
>did a quick search and there are a
>couple of copies of the film on there
>right now. MAYBE and HOPEFULLY
>those are our guy's 'fake' versions…
Before Ethan started toying with MediaDefender, the company’s biggest problem was a tall 29-year-old Swede named Peter Sunde. He and two partners run the most popular file-sharing site, the Pirate Bay. It draws about 25 million unique visitors every month; dozens of new movies, games, and TV shows pop up each hour. The R.I.A.A.’s international counterpart refers to the site as the “international engine of illegal file sharing.” The Pirate Bay doesn’t host any of the actual content; it just lists it and supplies the BitTorrent files that let people connect with each other in order to share their libraries.
Sunde lives in a tranquil suburb of Malmö, Sweden, once the country’s shipbuilding capital. Today, he’s dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt embroidered with a mushroom from the videogame Super Mario Bros. He opens the MacBook Pro in his living room and starts reading a recent email from an attorney representing Prince and the Village People: “?’The owners of the Pirate Bay willfully and unlawfully exploit and misappropriate both Prince’s and the Village People’s intellectual property and infringe on their rights of publicity,’ blah, blah, blah. ‘Regardless of Pirate Bay’s wishful thinking and erroneous public-relations position on its website that U.S. intellectual property laws are inapplicable,’ blah, blah, blah, ‘the Swedish government may not be able to protect you.’
“I was reading this yesterday, and I started laughing so hard,” Sunde says, swiveling in his chair. “They’re going to reach our company? We’re not even a company.” The partners run the site more as a hobby: There is no registered trademark and minimal overhead. The Pirate Bay is basically just the domain name and a website. Sunde then reads me the reply he is about to post. “For fuck’s sake,” it begins, “get your facts straight,” and becomes more insulting from there.
Sunde is a bit of a philosopher when it comes to what his site does. As he sees it, the Pirate Bay is simply delivering a service to consumers, giving them the entertainment they want when they want it. He motions to the home theater he has rigged up: “Just look at this. I have my own cinema. When I watch a movie, I’d rather be here with a blanket and a girlfriend than at the cinema with a lot of people that are annoying. And that has nothing to do with file sharing. The technology is here for us, so why shouldn’t we do it?” As far as Sunde is concerned, Hollywood should stop attacking him and start listening. According to him, consumers don’t care about how Hollywood wants to schedule its releases—movie theaters first, then pay-per-view, and so on. They want the content when and where it’s convenient and comfortable. Is that so hard to understand?
Sweden is a file sharer’s heaven. Its laws protect internet service providers from being sued for what passes through their networks, which gives them little incentive to turn downloaders over to groups like the R.I.A.A. or the M.P.A.A. The country is one of the most wired in the world, with high-speed-internet penetration as high as 75 percent in some areas and an average broadband speed that’s nearly five times faster than that of the U.S. And as a rule, Swedish authorities have never been that interested in going after a bunch of websites that didn’t seem to be doing anyone any real harm.
Nonetheless, Hollywood tried lobbying Sweden to do something about the Pirate Bay. In May 2006, partly at the prodding of the M.P.A.A., 52 Swedish police barged into multiple locations, including the Stockholm offices of the I.S.P. run by Sunde’s partners, Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij. Police confiscated 186 pieces of computer equipment and hauled in Svartholm and Neij for questioning. Sunde, who was at home in Malmö, learned about the raid from an email. He quickly downloaded the entire site to his home computer—source code, images, everything—finishing just as the last server was shut down in Stockholm. Three days later, he had the site back up and running, and soon thousands of supporters were turning up at pro-Pirate Bay rallies throughout the country. (The Swedish police have yet to bring charges, though the lead investigator promised in the fall to do so by the end of January—nearly two years after the raid, a delay highly unusual in Sweden.)
Sunde could handle the cops—one of the country’s top attorneys immediately signed on to defend the Pirate Bayers. MediaDefender and the rest of the antipiracy firms presented a trickier problem. Even as police officers were preparing their blitz, the Pirate Bay guys were trying to figure out who was already attacking them online. Users complained in message boards and chat rooms that certain files failed to download fully and some that did were pure garbage. Sunde and his partners eventually traced some of the files back to a few hundred IP addresses—the series of numbers assigned to any device connected to the internet in order to identify it.
First, Sunde started blocking IP addresses from servers that appeared to host fake or corrupted files—MediaDefender had thousands of such computers hidden in server farms around the world—and then he blocked all the IP addresses originating from MediaDefender’s headquarters. If MediaDefender wanted to search to see whether a client’s files were accessible through the Pirate Bay, well, they’d just have to do it from home. Finally, Sunde started messing with his enemy: When MediaDefender tried to upload a torrent—the vital file that coordinates the download process—to the Pirate Bay, MediaDefender would get a notice that there had been a database error, requiring it to start the process over again. As far as the folks at MediaDefender could tell, the problem was with the Pirate Bay and not with the fact that its IP addresses had been detected. It would spend the rest of the day trying and trying to complete the upload. Sunde had managed to turn one of MediaDefender’s tricks back on itself.
But for Saaf and Herrera, the Pirate Bay was just one of many problems. The two men had always been technically savvy, but now they were vastly outnumbered by the swarm of pirates and programmers collaborating to improve file-sharing technology. MediaDefender’s IP addresses were exposed so quickly that the company was forced to buy new banks of numbers each month; at one point it considered using its employees’ home connections to get fresh IP numbers. MediaDefender’s year-over-year cost of doing business jumped 28 percent in the first quarter of 2007. Even worse, its parent company was dealing with the fallout from an S.E.C. inquiry into its accounting practices. To placate the government, ArtistDirect had restated its earnings, which triggered a clause that put into default the $46 million in debt the company had taken out to pay for MediaDefender.
Saaf and Herrera couldn’t afford to have the wheels come off their division, which accounted for two-thirds of ArtistDirect’s revenue. Worried about the efficacy of its piracy countermeasures, executives sent flurries of emails about how to stage-manage product demonstrations. In one instance, Universal Music Group was in the middle of negotiating a contract renewal worth more than $3.5 million with MediaDefender and wanted to test how effective the firm’s tactics were. MediaDefender tried to persuade Universal to use a downloading program called µTorrent, which had been prone to falling for MediaDefender’s tricks. In a note to Universal, Saaf hailed µTorrent as “the most popular” in the industry. A month earlier, when µTorrent developers appeared to be fixing the hole that MediaDefender had exploited, one of Saaf’s underlings sent out an email asking if MediaDefender’s engineers had come up with a plan B. “Randy will ask you very soon, so I’m just trying to preempt a shitstorm,” he says.
From: Jonathan Lee [MediaDefender]
Sent: Wednesday, July 4, 2007 9:26 a.m.
To: Octavio Herrera, Randy Saaf, Ben Grodsky, Jay Mairs
Subject: Fw: hahahha
We have such a lovely fan base.
----- Original Message -----
>From: David White
>Sent: Wednesday, July 4, 2007 6:04 a.m.
>To: [email protected]
>HAHAHAHAHAHA Digg got your site
>killed, thats what you guys get for
>trying to entrap people. MUSIC AND
>VIDEOS BELONG TO THE PEOPLE!!!!!
>quit trying to trap people downloading
>and suing then [sic], MEDIA
>DEFENDER SUCKS […]
At some point, MediaDefender’s clients were going to notice that Saaf was getting schooled by a bunch of amateur coders and by “the douche,” as Saaf referred to Sunde in an email. The solutions devised by Saaf and his programmers were invariably ferreted out by the file-sharing community. In early July, a user at Digg, a heavily trafficked social-bookmarking site, put up a link to an item showing that MediaDefender was behind a new online video site called MiiVi. Bloggers accused the company of running a honeypot to trap pirates who were uploading protected content. Saaf quickly pounded out an email to his senior staff: “This is really fucked,” he wrote. “Let’s pull MiiVi offline.” Ethan says he was behind the leak that led to the Digg post, and of course, he kept up his forays until that weekend in mid-September when he decided to show off his work.
After the company’s internal affairs were made public, Saaf and Herrera spent the next few weeks trying to reassure everyone in the entertainment business that their antipiracy efforts were still effective. At a digital music conference held in L.A.’s Roosevelt hotel in early October, the men walked the halls, collaring colleagues and clients to explain what had happened and how they intended to bounce back from the hack. One way was with cash: Within weeks, the company shelled out $600,000 in service credits and another $225,000 to pay for legal advice.
Reading the purloined MediaDefender emails on the computer screen in his Malmö living room, Sunde realized there might be another method he could use to fight back against MediaDefender. The messages made it clear that Saaf and Herrera had put considerable energy into trying to degrade his work. Sunde called a lawyer to ask whether MediaDefender’s actions were legal in Sweden. Then Sunde emailed the Swedish inspector who had raided the Pirate Bay’s office—who else knew the operation better?—and informed the inspector that he wanted to bring charges against MediaDefender’s clients: Sony, Universal, Atari, and others. Not only had they paid a company to break the Pirate Bay’s terms of service—which forbid companies from tracking usage, logging IP addresses, or doing anything disruptive—but MediaDefender had created code specifically for hacking into the Pirate Bay’s system. “As long as what you’re doing is legal, why should you be attacked by someone using illegal methods?” asks Sunde. The Swedish police have yet to press charges.
Of course, as with many a popular movie, the underdog always mounts a comeback. And recently, some other pirates have also chosen to fight instead of run. After the M.P.A.A. filed a lawsuit against several websites in 2006, the file-sharing portal TorrentSpy countersued for illegal wiretapping, saying the trade group had amassed evidence by hiring a hacker to obtain internal documents. (A judge dismissed the countersuit; TorrentSpy is considering an appeal.) And Sunde is heading up an initiative in the file-sharing community to develop a more secure, less traceable version of BitTorrent. The new protocol, tentatively called SecureP2P, got a boost through Ethan’s work: Because programmers were able to view the blueprints for MediaDefender’s technology, they will be able to design an even more effective countertechnology.
From: Randy Saaf
Sent: Wednesday, May 2, 2007 1:11 p.m.
To: [various MediaDefender employees]
Subject: digg story on hd dvd crack
Look how ape shit the digg community went over the hd dvd crack code post getting pulled from the site.
People sure love their pirated movies
However Saaf and his crew intend to mount a comeback, it’s clear that the war against downloading is escalating. “Hollywood is not burned out on silver-bullet technologies the way music is after years of defeat,” says Eric Garland, C.E.O. of BigChampagne. “It’s just 1999 for video, and the gold rush may be on now.” In December, the ratings giant Nielsen announced its plans to enter the piracy-fighting business with a new service that would place traceable fingerprints on copyrighted media.
Perhaps, though, the entertainment business has it wrong. Downloaders aren’t thieves; they’re just rabid fans. But for the industry’s perspective to change, it would have to trample long-held business practices. Hollywood would have to toss out its ability to stagger the opening of films across different media. It would also have to abandon technologies like the encryption used on HD-DVDs to prevent them from being copied or even played on certain machines. (A hacker cracked the encryption in January 2007.) And record labels would have to stop suing downloaders and continue to find other sources for revenue, like ringtones. But for the most part, the Weinsteins of the world see fighting as the only way forward.
“What should a police department do when it turns out there’s been a burglary?” asks Rick Cotton, the general counsel of NBC Universal and the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy. “Should the police department give up, close its doors, and say this is an impossible task? No. That’s silly.
Still, a few months after the MediaDefender-Defenders played their prank, there was a sign that some in Hollywood might be shifting their thinking. A new independent movie called Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth showed up on one of the file-sharing sites in November. The film’s producers had no idea it had even been pirated; all they knew was that suddenly its popularity was skyrocketing. Their websites received 23,000 hits in less than two weeks, and the film’s ranking among the most-searched-for movies on the internet movie-tracking site IMDB went from 11,235 to 15. Eric Wilkinson, the film’s co-producer, wrote a fan letter to the site responsible for driving traffic to the pirated film: “Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download….?People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the Net!” He requested that fans buy the DVD as well and added, “In the future, I will not complain about file sharing. you have helped put this little movie on the map!!!! When I make my next picture, I just may upload the movie on the Net myself!”
When I try reaching Wilkinson, though, I’m told that the producer is not available. Instead, the movie’s director, Richard Schenkman, returns the call. “Eric was clearly being sarcastic,” Schenkman says about the offer to upload the film. “That’s why he put in the exclamation points.” I tell him his partner certainly sounded enthusiastic about file sharing. “Look, I have mixed feelings about this,” Schenkman replies. “As a filmmaker, I love that people love the movie and have seen the movie. But as a person who literally has a hunk of his own life savings in the movie, I don’t want to be ripped off by people illegally downloading the movie. Some of these downloaders want to believe they’re fighting the man. But we’re all just people who work for a living.” He acknowledges, however, that DVD sales of the film increased after the leak, and that people have even been pledging money on a site the filmmaker set up to accept donations in markets where the DVD isn’t for sale. “I’m not saying I have the answers,” Schenkman says.
Meanwhile, Ethan has moved on to other companies. He and his friends have a few targets in mind that don’t happen to be in the entertainment industry. He told me he’d also like to quit the business altogether but hasn’t been able to give up the rush it brings. No doubt, other kids are hunkering down over their keyboards to see if they can’t replicate the MediaDefender-Defenders’ work. And some pirate is finding new ways to disseminate the material. Eventually, Hollywood will no longer be able to continue fighting its enemies at the expense of its customers. If they can’t beat them, they’ll finally have to join them. That is, if they want to keep having customers.
Banned From Church
January 18, 2008
By ALEXANDRA ALTER
On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. “And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P.”
Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs. (Listen to the 911 call1)
The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey’s real offense, in her pastor’s view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he’d charged her with spreading “a spirit of cancer and discord” and expelled her from the congregation. “I’ve been shunned,” she says.
Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.
The revival is part of a broader movement to restore churches to their traditional role as moral enforcers, Christian leaders say. Some say that contemporary churches have grown soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches where pastors preach self-affirming messages rather than focusing on sin and redemption. Others point to a passage in the gospel of Matthew that says unrepentant sinners must be shunned.
Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the “care and correction” of church elders. Last week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church’s financial records.
First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 1,000-member congregation, expels five to seven members a year for “blatant, undeniable patterns of willful sin,” which have included adultery, drunkenness and refusal to honor church elders. About 400 people have left the church over the years for what they view as an overly harsh persecution of sinners, Pastor Jeff Noblit says.
The process can be messy, says Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., which began disciplining members in the 1990s. Once, when the congregation voted out an adulterer who refused to repent, an older woman was confused and thought the church had voted to send the man to hell.
Amy Hitt, 43, a mortgage officer in Amissville, Va., was voted out of her Baptist congregation in 2004 for gossiping about her pastor’s plans to buy a bigger house. Her ouster was especially hard on her twin sons, now 12 years old, who had made friends in the church, she says. “Some people have looked past it, but then there are others who haven’t,” says Ms. Hitt, who believes the episode cost her a seat on the school board last year; she lost by 42 votes.
Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline — about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.
In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database. Peggy Penley, a Fort Worth, Texas, woman whose pastor revealed her extramarital affair to the congregation after she confessed it in confidence, waged a six-year battle against the pastor, charging him with negligence. Last summer, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed her suit, ruling that the pastor was exercising his religious beliefs by publicizing the affair.
Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of “spreading the spirit of Satan” because she gossiped about her pastor. A district court rejected the case, but the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the woman’s appeal on the grounds that the letter labeling her a sinner was circulated beyond the church.
Advocates of shunning say it rarely leads to the public disclosure of a member’s sin. “We’re not the FBI; we’re not sniffing around people’s homes trying to find out some secret sin,” says Don Singleton, pastor of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Talladega, Ala., who says the 50-member church has disciplined six members in his 2½ years as pastor. “Ninety-nine percent of these cases never go that far.”
When they do, it can be humiliating. A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church’s lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.
Gossip and Slander
Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking “action against the church and your preacher.” The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.
“People couldn’t believe it,” says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.
The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church’s charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church’s quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church’s bylaws. “She’s one of the nicest, kindest people I know,” says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. “But she won’t be pushed around.”
In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. “This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread,” it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church’s constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had “made things right here at Allen Baptist.”
She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff’s officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.
“It was very humiliating,” says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. “The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, ‘You robbed a church?’ and I said, ‘No, I just attended church.’ ”
Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.
About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.
Current members say they support the pastor’s actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. “He’s a very good leader; he has total respect for the people,” says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because “the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination.”
Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read “What Would Jesus Do?” She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about “infidels in the pews,” according to reports from those present.
Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.
In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.
Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey’s case, calling it a “private ecclesiastical matter.” He did say that while the church does not “blacklist” anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. “A lot of times, flocks aren’t willing to submit or be obedient to God,” he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. “If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership.”
In Christianity’s early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.
Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.
Since Mrs. Caskey’s second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.
Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.
“I don’t intend to abandon that church,” Mrs. Caskey says. “I feel like I have every right to be there.”