Category Archives: Law

Looking for a Good Student Note Topic?

I think this qualifies: FTDI Removes Driver From Windows Update That Bricked Cloned Chips (via Slashdot).

As Ars Technica explains:

Hardware hackers building interactive gadgets based on the Arduino microcontrollers are finding that a recent driver update that Microsoft deployed over Windows Update has bricked some of their hardware, leaving it inaccessible to most software both on Windows and Linux. This came to us via hardware hacking site Hack A Day.

The latest version of FTDI’s driver, released in August, contains some new language in its EULA and a feature that has caught people off-guard: it reprograms counterfeit chips rendering them largely unusable, and its license notes that:

Use of the Software as a driver for, or installation of the Software onto, a component that is not a Genuine FTDI Component, including without limitation counterfeit components, MAY IRRETRIEVABLY DAMAGE THAT COMPONENT

The license is tucked away inside the driver files; normally nobody would ever see this unless they were explicitly looking for it.

The result of this is that well-meaning hardware developers updated their systems through Windows Update and then found that the serial controllers they used stopped working. Worse, it’s not simply that the drivers refuse to work with the chips; the chips also stopped working with Linux systems. This has happened even to developers who thought that they had bought legitimate FTDI parts.

Nice four-hander here: the rights of the end-user, the rights and duties of the vendor, the rights and liabilities of the legitimate parts maker, and the potential liabilities of Microsoft for serving up the malware-to-counterfeits via Windows Update.

Heck, it could be an article.

Update (10/28/14): Good semi-technical background info on this at Errata Security: The deal with the FTDI driver scandal.

Posted in Law: Internet Law, Student Note Topics, Sufficiently Advanced Technology | Leave a comment

Tip of the Iceberg

The NYT has a great story today, Miss a Payment? Good Luck Moving That Car on sub-prime loans for cars requiring that buyer accept installation of an immobilizer that can be operated by remote control by the lender’s agents. The article concentrates on ways in which these are being abused, e.g. immobilizing cars in traffic, far from home, when payments are not in fact late, and more.

It also hints at a group of legal issues, notably privacy (the GPS technology on which the immobilizer relies makes cars trackable by the monitoring company), and whether state laws on repossession — which require more notice, or more time between a missed payment and authorized action by the lender — should apply to a ‘virtual repossession’ or not. (Attention: Student note topic seekers. Doing this analysis in just one state would be a fine topic, and a social good.)

Then there’s the sociological aspects,

Beyond the ability to disable a vehicle, the devices have tracking capabilities that allow lenders and others to know the movements of borrowers, a major concern for privacy advocates. And the warnings the devices emit — beeps that become more persistent as the due date for the loan payment approaches — are seen by some borrowers as more degrading than helpful.

“No middle-class person would ever be hounded for being a day late,” said Robert Swearingen, a lawyer with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, in St. Louis. “But for poor people, there is a debt collector right there in the car with them.”

Missing, though, is the first thing that occurred to the cypherpunks when this technology first got mooted over a decade ago: How long until it is hacked? What happens when some bad guy starts war driving with a black box immobilizer causing accidents or other harms? And to what extent will the makers of the immobilizer be liable for those harms? Another good student note, at the very least.

[Note: Edited to add italicized line in second paragraph, which mysteriously got cut out before posting.]

Posted in Cryptography, Law: Privacy, Student Note Topics | Leave a comment

Best Disclaimer Ever?

The TV version of this otherwise endless and pointless commercial for KFC contains what may be the best disclaimer I have ever witnessed in the wild:

Professional. Do not attempt to eat chicken while doing a backflip on a motorcycle. You may choke.

Imagining that some lawyer got paid a lot of money for writing that just makes it funnier.

Posted in Tort | 2 Comments

Rental Cars as a Civilization Advance (Herein Also of the Valuation of Locks)

The ubiquity of rental cars are one of the great advances of human civilization. Think about it for a moment: you sign your name (and if you’re a member of a rental car company’s membership program, not even that) and you are given the keys to a vehicle that costs usually $20,000 or more. No questions asked. That’s a real hallmark of trust in markets and highly developed institutions.

via View from the Wing

I’ve wondered sometimes how we should treat the costs of locks.

On the one hand, you buy a lock, that is counted as part of GDP. Well-used locks genuinely make you safer; they add to your welfare function. A world in which you are allowed to have a lock, and can afford locks when you need them, is for you a better world than one in which you are not allowed locks, or they are priced out of your reach.

On the other hand, a world in which you need a lock is not as good a world in which, all other things being equal, you do not need a lock. If you could rely on something free — magic, social conditioning, hardwired biological morality — to secure your places and possessions, then you could save all that lock money and spend it on something else, raising your utility even further. So in this view, each expenditure on a deadbolt is a deadweight loss, a sign of a social and economic failure, a waste of resources that could more profitably be employed for something else.

Posted in Econ & Money, Law | 11 Comments

Palsgraf, Circa 1933

Torts mavens will like this posting about the immediate reception of Palsgraf v. Long Island R. Co., a Cardozo decision that is arguably the most famous US tort case about causation.

I happen to hate Palsgraf for all sorts of reasons, not least what I consider the opinion’s dishonesty, and try to teach it as fast as I reasonably can. Even so, or perhaps particularly so, it’s fun to read the account of what a contemporary hornbook, James M. Henderson’s Questions and Answers with Problems and Illustrative Matter on the Law of Torts, Based on all the Standard Text and Case Books made of it back in 1933.

This is an early effort from a promising legal history blog, noncuratlex.com, one that seems to offer just about the right mix of history, whimsey, and obscurantism.

Posted in Blogs, Tort | 1 Comment

Miami Law’s World-Class International Arbitration Law Program

I don’t think many people yet grasp just how good the University of Miami’s international arbitration law program is, both at the JD and LL.M level.

Consider that the lead international arbitration professor on our faculty, Jan Paulsson, was just rated the #2 international arbitrator in the world based on a peer reputation survey.

And if that wasn’t enough, the #1 international arbitrator in the world in that same survey, Albert Jan van den Berg, visits here every year as a regular Visiting International Professor. And the other regular and visiting professors in the program are quite eminent too.

Read more puffing here.

Admittedly, international arbitration is a relatively small field, which it can be tough to break in to. But it is growing. And we’re really, really good at it.

Posted in Arbitration Law, Law School | 2 Comments

A ‘Reform’ Much Worse than the Problem

I’ve signed a law professors’ letter opposing HR 3010, the so-called “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011.” Even by DC standards, this bill is unusually bad. The following summary, from Regulatory reform good for multinationals, yet bad for you, isn’t actually as alarmist as it sounds:

However, a thorough reading of the RAA leads to three conclusions. First, the bill will likely to dramatically drive up the cost of almost every rule-making process and budget of a federal agency. Second, federally elected officials will be stripped of their ability to responsibly lead our country. And third, the RAA is a highway to never-ending lawsuits by special interests against the federal government.

The RAA is designed to micromanage every federal agency in its efforts to create rules necessary to carry out legislation passed by Congress.

By doing so, it turns over 60 years of effective regulation promulgation under the Administration Procedures Act into a protracted process that will stretch the time needed for rule-making into decades. Federal agency budgets will need to be expanded by hundreds of billions of dollars to comply with the RAA and perform their usual functions of protecting the public and small businesses from unsafe products and practices.

… the legislation is a corporate lobbyist dream. It appears to have been written by corporate attorneys for corporate attorneys

Posted in Administrative Law | Leave a comment