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Legislating Loot Boxes

How much is Darth Vader worth?  This question has, in a roundabout way, caused some legislators and regulators to look at how video games make their money.  The recently-released video game Star Wars Battlefront II originally had a profit model which locked large portion of the game off behind timed barriers.  One estimate, for example, was that it would take roughly 40 hours to unlock the ability to play as Darth Vader.  This wait could be drastically reduced by purchasing loot boxes, which had a chance of containing in-game currency.  One estimate claimed that, under Battlefront II’s original pricing model, it would take, on average, over 4500 hours to unlock everything.  Conversely, the loot box payout structure would have given the same result for roughly $2100.  Although, as of this writing, the game’s publisher has scrapped this pricing model after a huge backlash, it brought the issue of loot boxes to the attention of the public and legislators.

Access to Open Records and Electronic Media

Imagine that you are a journalist producing online content for ESPN at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. Your editor assigns you to cover the return of the Auburn Tigers to the top echelons of college football and how the Alabama Crimson Tide, one of the perennial powers of the sport, returned to the College Football Playoff under controversial circumstances.

Smart Drones and FAA Regulations

Drone deliveries have already made an appearance in our online shopping experience. For example, Amazon Prime Air made its first delivery in December 2016 and has made even more ambitious journeys in the United Kingdom.  Before all of our parcels are delivered that way, however, there are several regulatory hurdles. The Federal Aviation Administration UAS operational rules require a pilot to operate the drone within a visual line of sight and limits flight times to daylight and twilight hours.  The FAA offers waivers for operators who could conduct flight safely; this provision is meant to allow commercial enterprises and other organizations to explore ways to make drone flight technology more safe and secure and to shape future regulations as drone use continues to expand.

Is future-food unknown?

As we are reminded of on a near-daily basis, the American lifestyle is not environmentally friendly. Not only do we need to stop using SUVs to cart our kids to soccer, we need to find more sustainable food sources. And in true American fashion, Silicon Valley has risen to the occasion and provided some entrepreneurial solutions.

The Google Decision: A [Brand Name Redacted] Bandage for Genericide

Aspirin. Escalator. Trampoline. Three generic words with seemingly nothing in common. Those words, along with many others, were once legally protected trademarks. When a company’s mark becomes the generic name for its product or service, it can lose its trademark registration which can be extremely damaging to the company. A recent 9th Circuit decision upholding Google’s trademark may help other trademark owner’s avoid suffering a generic fate.

Who is behind your screen(s)?

One of the most important privacy cases this decade is currently in front of the Supreme Court: Carpenter v. United States. This decision will define how law enforcement interprets the Fourth Amendment regarding an individual’s cellphone. The decision hinges on whether law enforcement can use “third-party” doctrine dating from the 70s, which states that disclosing information to a third party does away with any expectation of privacy. We’ve already seen this doctrine in action. It allows law enforcement to compel cell-service providers to give historical cell-site records, without a warrant, to track down a serial cell phone thief. If SCOTUS upholds the current doctrine, then police would have free reign to monitor individuals’ cell phone location with little to no oversight.

The Controversial Genome-Editing Technique CRISPR-Cas9

On February 15, 2017, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a ruling on a patent dispute about a genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9.  The Regents of the University of California, University of Vienna, and a scientist named Emmanuelle Charpentier (collectively “UC”) initiated this legal proceeding, called an interference, against the Broad Institute, Inc., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and President and Fellows of Harvard College (collectively “Broad”). The three-judge panel unanimously sided with Broad concluding, although temporarily, a legal battle closely watched by scientists, legal professionals and the biotechnology industry. On April 12, 2017, UC filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Blame it on the Robot?

Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind recently succeeded at designing a program capable of defeating some of the world’s best players of Chinese strategy game Go.  While this may not appear groundbreaking, the real triumph comes from the fact that while the programmers laid the ground rules, it was the program itself, AlphaGo, that taught itself to play.

Fake News in the News Yet Again

On January 11, 2017, the term “fake news” entered the mainstream discourse when Donald Trump, during his first press conference as President-elect, refused to take a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta and told him, “You are fake news.”  The source of that outburst can apparently be traced to a 35-page unverified document based primarily on memos complied by a former British intelligence operative that CNN had publicized.  President-elect Trump immediately blasted the report through his favorite medium of communication, tweeting, “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

Should Lawyers be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

There is a 3.5 percent chance that lawyers’ jobs will be automated. That statistic seems appealing to those of us in the profession—especially relative to the chances for other “skilled” professions like financial advisers (58 percent of automation) and accountants (94 percent). However, this figure does not stand for the proposition that lawyer’ jobs will remain unchanged as the tendrils of artificial intelligence (AI) wind their way into jobs once thought too complex to be done by machines.

Health-Apps: Increasing Danger for Data Privacy

Wearable fitness trackers and wellness app technology use innovation to let consumers quantify and track their health. One burgeoning trend is the smartwatch. Smartwatches are equipped to track exercise, heart rate, GPS location of the wearer, and just about anything else. … Amidst market competition and growing consumer interest in tracking individual health, the market for wearable smartwatches has grown almost 70% in 2017. This increased interest and flourishing market for health insights, has consequently inspired scientific innovators to turn their attention to fashioning technology that can track actual medical conditions — such as asthma — and that can diagnose diseases. While this innovation introduces much needed preventative healthcare apps that can be accessible to a high volume of the population, it also raises serious questions about data privacy and fraud that must be considered.

Equifax and What It Means for Cybersecurity

On September 7, 2017 Equifax announced a data breach that compromised the personal data of over 143 million Americans. Despite this breach occurring in May, Equifax did not find out about it until July, after which it waited until August to report it to the FBI and September to report it to the public. To make matters worse, Equifax had been alerted about a potential vulnerability in its system by the Department of Homeland Security in March of that year, yet took no steps toward implementing the suggested fix. As a result, millions of people have been put at risk of identity theft.

Tesla Unlocks Extra Range for Irma Evacuees: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

As Hurricane Irma headed toward Florida, thousands of people evacuated. Electric car owners were no exception, and some Tesla owners received an unexpected boon: a software update that unlocked the full range of battery power available on their vehicles, giving owners additional mileage in order to flee the coming storm. But Tesla’s actions also drew the eye, and the ire, of the internet community.

“I See You ICO”: The SEC Regulates Tokens

As a decentralized ledger, blockchain enables users to exchange digital assets — called tokens — without a middleman. The earliest tokens functioned as currency.  No entity issued this currency; instead, the algorithm underlying blockchain dispersed tokens to miners, compensating them for processing blocks.  As cryptocurrencies have proliferated, tokens have found broader uses. Now entities issue tokens to fund projects.

Should Domain Registrars Ban Hate Speech?

Although hate groups have organized online since the beginning of the internet, there has been an increased awareness of their activities since the deadly “Unite the Right” protest earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of the most prominent of these “white nationalist” websites calls itself the Daily Stormer, and was a home for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other “alt-right” groups online.  Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League had been pressuring domain registrar GoDaddy.com to drop the Daily Stormer as a customer.

The Looming Liability of ISPs

Internet service providers (ISPs) are traditionally protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) section 230 safe harbor for most copyright infringements committed by a user of their service. There are several stipulations that ISPs have to follow in order to get the safe harbor, one of which is to have a “repeat infringer” policy. This policy encourages ISPs to terminate services to users who use the services to repeatedly infringe another’s copyright. The statute lacks a definition of “repeat infringer,” and it is unclear exactly who decides when services should be terminated.

Can the FTC Protect Us From Fake News?

In September 2016, the Second Circuit handed down its decision in FTC v. LeadClick Media, LLC, holding the operator of an affiliate-marketing network liable for the fake news published by its affiliates. This case could serve as a tool in combatting fake news stories that have plagued social media and caused real-world problems (like Pizzagate) in recent years. While this Second Circuit decision is unlikely to solve the problem of fake news stories on social media, it is a step in that direction.

A New Dimension to the Gun Control Debate

During the recent election, the issue of gun control predictably served as a point of contention between the two candidates. Hillary Clinton advocated for “commonsense” regulations on gun ownership such as closing the gun show loophole. As expected, Donald Trump boasted of his NRA endorsement and asserted that he will protect gun ownership rights under the Second Amendment.

Streaming Video Without an Open Internet

On February 26, 2015, The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to enact a series of “Open Internet” protections. The three central rules prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking access to legal content, slowing internet speeds to certain websites, and favoring certain types of internet traffic over others. The 3-2 Commissioner vote was split along party lines; 3 Democrats voting to approve and 2 Republicans voting to reject.

Patent Agent Privilege

Should attorney-client privilege extend to communications between clients and patent agents? In March earlier this year, a split decision by the Federal Circuit answered this question in the affirmative. This is a unique extension of the attorney-client privilege due to the nature of the patent agent profession.

Getty Images v. the Public Domain: Who Really Wins?

The public domain offers teachers, graphic designers, and anyone trying to design a website on a budget the opportunity to use millions upon millions of images without fear of infringing on the original author’s copyright. The images can be reused in their entirety or be remodeled into something new.

Posts on the MTTLR Blog are editorial opinion pieces written by student-editors of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. The opinions expressed in these editorial posts are not espoused or endorsed by the University of Michigan or its Law School.

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