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Week in Review

By Chris Helsel

Congressional Hearings Address Net Neutrality

Two hearings this Wednesday, one in the House and one in the Senate, addressed a Republican proposal outlining the GOP's version of net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) is set to rule in late February on how it will regulate Internet providers. The Commission is expected to propose rules that treat the Internet like a public utility, granting equal access to all users and preventing providers from slowing any particular sites.

The Republicans, however, consider the FCC plan to be too strict and outdated - a GOP Representative recently described it as "the nuclear option." Instead, they argue that new legislation, not rigid FCC mandates, should determine how Internet access is regulated. This position is supported by cable providers and some wireless companies.

Proponents of the FCC plan counter that the GOP proposal contains major loopholes and is "a march to folly." The Obama administration has publicly supported the treatment of wireless and wired broadband service as a public utility, as called for under the FCC plan. This position is supported by online retailers, such as Amazon, and consumer groups.

While the two plans seem to be in stark contrast, the Senate hearing did offer a glimmer of hope that a compromise could be reached. At the hearing, Senator John Thune (R - SD), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said that he wanted to ensure that Americans had "unfettered access" to websites, and that the Republican proposal was not a final product, but rather an attempt to "find common ground and forge a permanent solution."

Observers expect that President Obama will veto any bill that does not have wide partisan support. Further, regardless of which plan is ultimately adopted, expect prolonged litigation. CTIA- The Wireless Association, which backs the GOP legislation proposal, has pledged to bring suit if the FCC were to act on its own, as the President wants it to. On the other side, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which favors the FCC's taking action, has vowed to challenge the Republican proposal in court if it were to become law.


NFLPA Files Grievance Against NFL Over New Conduct Policy

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA, Union) has filed a grievance against the National Football League (NFL, League), challenging the League's unilateral enactment of its new personal conduct policy.

The new policy, which was unanimously approved by NFL team owners on December 10th, came in the wake of numerous player arrests and criticism over the League's handling of those incidents. Specifically, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald faced accusations of domestic abuse, and Adrian Peterson missed the entire season following an arrest for child abuse.

The new policy contains a number of additional safeguards designed to ensure compliance with NFL conduct standards, as well as implements stricter discipline for certain violations. Specifically, it allows for the use of independent investigations into disciplinary matters, implements an element of leave with pay during investigations of alleged violent crimes, and allows the commissioner to appoint a panel of independent experts to participate in deciding an appeal.

The Union maintains that the policy is in violation of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and seeks a cease and desist order to enjoin its implementation. The Union emphasizes that "the NFL adopted the new Policy without the consent, and over the objections, of the NFLPA."

In response, the NFL released a statement this morning: "The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association. We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


New England Patriots Suspected of Intentionally Deflating Footballs to Improve Quarterback's Grip

During halftime of last weekend's American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game, NFL officials determined that 11 of the 12 footballs used by the New England Patriots (Patriots) in the first half were inflated two pounds per square inch below the level required by NFL rules (in the NFL, each team provides its own balls to be used while its offense is on the field). League rules require that balls be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch.

The rule exists because under-inflated footballs can provide a competitive advantage, as a softer ball provides a quarterback with a better grip - especially on cold days, such as last weekend's affair in Foxboro, Massachusetts. As demonstrated by its fierce opposition to New Jersey's efforts to legalize sports betting, the NFL is staunchly determined to protect the integrity of the game, and takes allegations of "cheating" very seriously.

In 2007, for example, the Patriots were discovered to have secretly videotaped New York Jets practices in order to decode the team's defensive signals. The NFL fined the Patriots $250,000, stripped the club of its 2008 first-round draft pick and fined head coach Bill Belichick $500,000.

Regarding the current under-inflation controversy - dubbed "Deflate-gate" by pundits - both Mr. Belichick and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady have denied any knowledge. Mr. Belichick told gathered reporters yesterday, "I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation ... I have no explanation." Soon after Mr. Belichick left the podium, Mr. Brady told reporters, "I don't know what happened. I have no explanation for it ... I didn't alter the balls in any way."

To the contrary, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, who now serves as a broadcaster for FOX, believes that the quarterback must have been behind it. "It's obvious that Tom Brady had something to do with this," Aikman said earlier this week. "For the balls to be deflated, that doesn't happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that."

Similarly, in an interview with the New York Post, former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Matt Leinart described the process by which quarterbacks and team equipment managers manicure game balls prior to kickoff:

"You go through the whole bag and you literally handpick them and say, 'This one is good, this one's too hard, put a little bit of air in that one, take a little bit out ... It's a full 20-minute process to make sure on Sunday you have the exact football you want to be throwing. Quarterbacks are very, very picky about how they want their ball and that goes on everywhere."

Mr. Leinart pointed out that in his experience, the process is confined strictly to the quarterback and the equipment manager, and he therefore believes that Mr. Belichick had no part in the decision to under-inflate the balls. "I listened to Bill Belichick and I believed every word he said," he said. "Not once did a head coach ever have any input in that."

In 2011, Mr. Brady acknowledged in a radio interview that he does in fact prefer to use underinflated footballs. "When (Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski) scores ... he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball. I love that, because I like the deflated ball."

NFL game balls are checked prior to games by the referee, and once approved they are stored in a bag on the sideline until an official calls for a new ball to enter the game. While on the sideline the footballs are not specifically guarded or watched in any way. NFL rules forbid the alteration of game balls post-inspection, and any person found tampering with the balls could face a $25,000 fine and potentially more discipline, according to ESPN.

The NFL has confirmed that the balls were, in fact, approved by the referee prior to Sunday's game. It remains unclear whether the Patriots' under-inflated balls were improperly approved by the referee or secretly deflated by club employees after inspection. The NFL investigation is ongoing, and the League office has not commented on what discipline, if any, the Patriots and/or Mr. Belichick may face.

The NFL announced today that its investigation began Sunday night, immediately after the game, and that it had conducted nearly 40 interviews to this point. However, the League has not yet interviewed any players.


Female Soccer Players Drop Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Regarding Artificial Playing Surfaces at 2015 World Cup - But Call it an Overall Victory

Following the announcement that some of the 2015 Women's World Cup games would be played on artificial surfaces (rather than natural grass), 84 women soccer players from 13 countries brought suit against the Canadian Soccer Association at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The suit alleged that artificial surfaces increase the risk of injury, and that the women's tournament should be played on similar surfaces to the men's. No men's World Cup game has ever been played on anything but grass.

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, maintained throughout that Canada was the best choice to host the 2015 Cup, and stressed that the organization shared the players' "desire and enthusiasm" to ensure the "best possible conditions to perform well."

The players involved in the suit, which include USA star Abby Wambach, believe that the suit, although ultimately dropped, had "lessoned the chance that such wrongdoing will occur in the future." They note that the "deplorable" artificial turf in British Columbia, where the final will be played, will be replaced, and that FIFA has agreed to host the 2019 Women's World Cup on all natural grass fields.

Ms. Wambach believes that the suit will have a positive lasting impact on women's sports as a whole. "I am hopeful that the players' willingness to contest the unequal playing fields - and the tremendous public support we received during the effort - marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women's sports," she said.


Israeli Man Arrested For Hacking into Artists' Computers and Stealing Unreleased Music

Last month, Madonna and her team were stunned to discover that the singer's personal computer had been hacked when nearly 30 new, unreleased (in some cases unfinished) songs surfaced online. She quickly hired a Tel Aviv-based firm that specializes in intellectual property theft and commercial leaks, which tracked the theft back to a 39-year-old man in Israel. The firm then conducted "undercover activity" and "surveillance" for a few weeks before turning the information over to the police.

This week, the Israeli police, working alongside the F.B.I., arrested the man. The police released a statement on Wednesday, confirming the arrest and detailing the suspect's criminal activity. According to the police statement, the man hacked the personal computers of numerous international artists, stole unreleased musical tracks, and sold them online.

This case highlights the ever-increasing issue of intellectual property theft online, and the subsequent leaking of that data. Major recent leaks have included the North Korean Sony hacking saga and the release of stolen nude photos of celebrities, among others.

In response to the leak of her music, Madonna decided to fast forward the release of her new album, "Rebel Heart," which had not yet been announced. Within days, six songs from the album were released for sale on iTunes, with the remainder of the album to arrive on March 10th.

Similarly, Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk suffered on online hack recently as well. Her new album, which had been announced just four days prior, leaked online in full last week. Although it was not due for release until March, she and her record label to decided to release the album online immediately.

Previously, artists would attempt to shut down leaks by employing so-called "web sheriffs" who stopped blogs from sharing the links. Given the vast expanse of the Internet, and the varying IP protection laws of different countries hosting the offending sites, such efforts were typically largely unsuccessful. Now, thankfully, the availability of an immediate official digital release allows artists to somewhat mitigate the damage caused by a hacker's theft of their material.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 23, 2015 6:54 PM.

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