Attorney files brief defending Apple as a five-page comic

Watchmen it ain't, but the brief condenses complex arguments admirably.

The anti-trust case against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin, all accused of conspiring to fix ebook prices, thunders on, but one part of it is shortly to come to a close. Three of the originally accused publishers – HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster – agreed to settle with the Department of Justice in April this year, and that settlement is finally coming through.

The DoJ's proposed settlement would require the co-operating publishers to end their existing agreements with Apple, and would also block them from using agency pricing for two years. Agency pricing is the retail model, at the heart of the case, by which publishers set the price of their books and the retailer (in this case, Apple) takes a percentage of that. The DoJ alleges that this model, which stands in opposition to Amazon's method of paying a flat price per book and setting the price themselves, is the result of an anticompetitive cartel aimed at raising prices of ebooks.

Although three of the five publishers have agreed to settle, there are calls from a number of parties to block that settlement. Apple has argued that it's unfair if it goes through before the actual trial begins, in June 2013, and over 800 public comments were filed requesting that the Justice Department modify the settlement.

As a result, the District Court allowed two of the opposing parties to file amici curiae (friends of the court) briefs. The Authors Guild and Bob Kohn, a well known attorney who specialises in intellectual property, were deemed to be interested third parties, as were Barnes & Noble and the American Booksellers Association, who had previously been given permission.

The Authors Guild filed their five page brief on 15 August, but Bob Kohn's original attempt was rejected by Judge Denise Cote for being too long, and she gave him until yesterday to file a five page version.

How can one get a complex legal argument across in just five pages? The New York Times' Julie Bosman reveals Kohn's plan:

“I thought of the idea of using pictures which, as we know, paint a thousand words,” Mr. Kohn said in an e-mail.

He called his daughter, Katie, who is studying for her Ph.D in film studies at Harvard, who connected him with a fellow student, Julia Alekseyeva. After conferring with Ms. Alekseyeva, Mr. Kohn wrote the script and she drew the illustrations. (Judge Cote and Mr. Kohn play a role in the fictional narrative.)

The full strip – plus a page of footnotes, which all the best comics have – is embedded below, via paidContent.

Six panels from Kohn's comic.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.