Post Free Speech

Namecheap’s savvy anti-SOPA marketing

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I’m impressed by how much gratis publicity and advertising has gotten via its anti-SOPA marketing (including the Wikipedia article I linked to; it didn’t exist 3 days ago), and completely unimpressed by the failure of approximately every other company to take advantage of the opportunity, which strikes me as easy social media gold. Communications department heads ought roll.

* pro-SOPA marketing failures made Namecheap’s action straightforward relative to companies not directly competing with Go Daddy. However, there are lots of other domain name registrars, none of which has done anything with Namecheap’s marketing savvy. Another registrar, (which I’ve used and recommended for some time, and has supported Creative Commons and other good causes), like Namecheap is donating a portion of domain transfers to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but doesn’t seem to be making a big deal of it, and their anti-SOPA blog post is rather tepid. Compare to Namecheap’s anti-SOPA blog post, which isn’t all that much stronger in terms of substance (contains genuflection to “intellectual property”), it is much more strongly worded and simply more effectively written.

One other company has a support-EFF-against-SOPA tie-in. That company, Zopim, provides website chat services, and doesn’t seem to compete with Go Daddy at all. I’m not interested, but never would have heard of them otherwise. Any company could do that.

(I see that sometime today two other small domain registrars have added support-EFF-against-SOPA deals. Good for Suspicious Networks and Centuric.)

What inspired to me write this post is that Namecheap isn’t only taking gratis publicity. They’re also running presumably paid ads as part of their anti-SOPA marketing campaign:

While trying to get the above ad to load again (noticed out of the corner of my eye but didn’t register until sometime after — I’m oddly trying to recover from ad blindness), I noticed another Namecheap ad, which if you’re already really tuned in, illustrates nicely the imperfect options available from a software freedom perspective for domain registration and other nearly commodity services.

Check out more anti-SOPA and pro-freedom actions.

*Isn’t the name “Go Daddy” ridiculous? That, coupled with a super cheesy website and company logo led me to disregard them long before they started shooting sexy elephants at gladiator events, or whatever got people upset before they supported SOPA.

A Toolkit for Anti-SOPA Activism: #13 (or #0?)

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent checklist of 12 things you can do to fight the U.S. Congress’ attack on the Internet. Most of them are tiresome rearguard actions against this particular legislation (though most can have secondary long-term effects of educating policymakers and the public about the harm of attacking the Internet). All this is necessary, please take action now.

Action #12 is long-term: contribute financially to the EFF so they can continue “leading the fight to defend civil liberties online, so that future generations will enjoy an Internet free of censorship.” Indeed, please do this too. I’ve recommended becoming an EFF member in the past, and will continue to do so. Actually I’m even more enthusiastic about donating to the EFF in 2011 than I was in 2005. In addition to playing an absolutely critical role in fighting SOPA, PIPA, and their ilk, the EFF’s small technical staff is working on some of the most important technical challenges to keeping the Internet open and secure. They are awesome!

There’s one more item that needs to be in every responsible digital freedom activist’s toolkit: the digital commons, meaning free and open source software and their analogues in culture, knowledge, and beyond. Using and consuming free software and culture is crucial to maintaining a free society. There are many reasons, some of which I mentioned recently at OWF, and with a bit more focus in a FSCONS 2008 presentation (slideshare, .pdf, .odp), but here’s one: imagine a world in which most software and culture are free as in freedom. Software, culture, and innovation would be abundant, there would be plenty of money in it (just not based on threat of censorship), and there would be no constituency for attacking the Internet. (Well, apart from dictatorships and militarized law enforcement of supposed democracies; that’s a fight intertwined with SOPA, but those aren’t the primary constituencies for the bill.) Now, world dominationliberation by free software and culture isn’t feasible now. But every little bit helps reduce the constituency that wishes to attack the Internet to possibly protect their censorship-based revenue streams, and to increase the constituency whose desire to protect the Internet is perfectly aligned with their business interests and personal expression.

Am I crazy? Seriously, I’d like to make the case for the commons as crucial to the future of free society more compellingly. Or, if I’m wrong, stop making it. Feedback wanted.

Relatedly, the English Wikipedia community is considering a blackout to protest SOPA. Here’s the comment I left at the request for comment:

Support doing something powerful. I blackout would be that. I do have some reticence though. Making the knowledge in English Wikipedia and maybe other sites inaccessible feels a bit like protestors who destroy their own neighborhood. Sometimes necessary to gain attention and perhaps justice in the long run, but always painful and with collateral victims. Sure, visitors to Wikipedia sites can come back later or find a mirror, but just as surely, the neighborhood will recover. Maybe. Admittedly the analogy is far from perfect, but I wish there were something the Wikimedia movement could do that would have power analogous to a mass physical action, but avoid costs analogous to the same. Long term, I think fulfilling the Wikimedia vision is exactly that. In the short term, maybe a total blackout is necessary, though if there’s a a way to equally powerfully present to viewers what SOPA means, then let them access the knowledge, I’d prefer that. UI challenge? Surely some A:B testing is in order for this important action. I’d hope that at least some messages tested convey not only the threat SOPA poses to Wikimedia, but the long-term threat the Wikimedia movement poses to censorship.

Tiresome rearguard actions

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Watch out 2024!

Incorporates North Korea Mass Games by Peter Crowcroft and Hollywood Sign by Oreos, available under BY-SA (questionably in former case), but I’m claiming fair use. Result dedicated to the public domain.


Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I backed Novacut’s first, unsuccessful, Kickstarter campaign last year because I think that new tools for distributed collaborative creation and curation are important to the success of free culture (which I just said is a lame name for intellectual freedom, but I digress) and Novacut’s description seemed to fit the bill:

We’re developing a free open-source video editor with a unique distributed design:

  • Distributed workflow – collaboratively edit video with other artists over the Internet
  • Distributed storage – seamlessly store and synchronize video files across multiple computers and the cloud
  • Distributed rendering – seamlessly spread rendering and encoding across multiple computers and the cloud

I didn’t investigate whether Novacut had a feasible plan. My pledge was an expressive vote for the concept of new tools for distributed collaboration.

Novacut is making another go of it at Kickstarter, and it looks like they’ll succeed. I just pledged again.

However, I’m saddened by how much of philanthropy is not also carefully instrumental. The only low barrier way to move in this direction (I’d prefer futarchist charity) that I know of is criticism, so hats off to Danny Piccirillo for his criticism of Novacut fundraising. I’m further saddened that such criticism is not welcomed. I would be honored that someone found a project I am involved in or a fan of worth the time to criticize and thankful for the free publicity.

Now, I’m looking forward to see what Novacut delivers, and/or what Novacut ideas other video editor projects implement.

Speaking of delivery, I noticed today a new crowdfunding site targeting free software and Brazil, makeITopen. According to a writeup, it appears to have a couple interesting twists. Projects that do not reach their thresholds have donations not fully returned to donors, but only as credits within the system (unlike Kickstarter and others, where pledges are not collected until a project has reached its threshold). More interestingly, there is a process for donors to approve (or not) the software delivered by the project. This sort of thing is probably hard to get right, and I fully expect makeITopen to fail, but I hope it is hugely successful, and think that getting approval right could be very useful. At least for donors who wish to be instrumental.

Addendum 20110730: The best two comments on the Novacut criticism kerfuffle: Jono Bacon saying be calm, but onus is on Novacut to explain, and Jason Gerard DeRose (Novacut lead), explaining how Novacut’s intended high-end userbase demands a different program than do casual video editors, and that there’s plenty of scope for cooperation on underlying components. Congratulations to Novacut for meeting its Kickstarter threshold, and good luck to Novacut, (the working editor many critics advocated directing resources toward), and and Gnonlin (two underlying components in common). Onward to killing King Kong with FLOSS.

DRM as a competitive threat to free software?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

A Day Against DRM post. I posted another at Creative Commons.

Critiques of Digital Restrictions Management fall into about 10 categories:

  1. DRM causes various product defects
  2. DRM usurps people’s control of devices they own
  3. DRM discourages tinkering and understanding technology
  4. DRM discourages sharing
  5. DRM curtails various freedoms people would otherwise enjoy
  6. DRM encourages hostile behavior toward consumers
  7. DRM encourages monopoly
  8. DRM is technical voodoo
  9. DRM is business voodoo
  10. DRM presages more forms of attempted control, each with additional properties similar to those above, increasing the probability of a dystopian future.

Eventually I may link the above bullets to the relevant posts on DRM I’ve made over the years.

Defective By Design, a project of the Free Software Foundation, coordinates the Day Against DRM and various other anti-DRM actions. It is pretty clear that several of the problems with DRM listed above, particularly 2-5, are inimical to the FSF’s values. I sometimes think the linkage to core values of software freedom could be made stronger in anti-DRM campaigns, but these are not easily packaged messages. I also think there’s usually a missed opportunity in anti-DRM campaigns to present free software (and maybe free culture) as the only systemic alternative to creeping anti-freedom technologies such as DRM.

I began writing a post for Day Against DRM because I wanted to pose a question concerning DRM’s competitive threat to free software: how significant is it in today’s circumstances, and how significant in theory?

In today’s circumstances, the use of DRM that does not support free software platforms by popular media services (currently Netflix is probably most significant; DVDs with DRM have always been a problem) seems like a major barrier to more people using free software.

In theory, it isn’t clear to me that DRM must be a competitive threat to free software adoption (though it would remain a threat to software freedom and nearby). If a mostly free software platform were popular enough, DRM implementations will follow — most obviously Android.

However, I would also hope the dominance of free software would create conditions in which DRM is less pertinent. I would love to see enumerated and explored the current and in-theory competitive threats to free software posed by DRM, and vice versa.

Federated Social Web Status[Net]

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Evan Prodromou just published his Federated Social Web top 10 stories of 2010. It’s a great list, go read — readers who aren’t already familiar with Prodromou, StatusNet,, OStatus, etc. probably will have missed many of the stories — and they’re extremely important for the long-term future of the web, even if there are presently far too few zeros following the currency symbol to make them near-term major news (just like early days of the web, email, and the internet).

I suggest the following additions.

Censorship of dominant non-federated social web sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) occurred around the world. While totally reprehensible, and surely one of the top social web stories of 2010 by itself, one of its effects makes it a top story for the federated social web — decentralization is one of the ways of “routing around” censorship. I’d love to have mountains more evidence, but perhaps this is happening.

Perhaps Evan did not want to self-promote in his top 10, but I consider the status of his company, its services, the software they run (all called ), and the community around all three, to be extremely important data points on the status of the federated social web, and thus inherently top stories for 2010 (and they will be again in 2011, even if they completely fail, which would be a sad top story).

I hope that Evan/StatusNet post their own 2010 summary, or the community develops one on the StatusNet wiki, but very briefly: The company obtained another round of funding and from the perspective of an outsider, appears to be progressing nicely on enterprise and premium hosting products. The StatusNet cloud hosts thousands of (premium and gratis) instances, and savvy people are self-hosting, mirroring the well-established pattern. The core StatusNet software made great strides (I believe seven 0.9.x releases), obtained an add-ons directory, and early support for non-microblogging features, e.g., social bookmarking and generic social networking (latter Evan did mention as a non-top-10 story; of course any such features are federated “for free”). By the way, see my post Control Yourself, Follow Evan for the beginning story, way back in 2008.

2010 also saw what I consider disappointments in the federated social web space, each of which I have high hopes will be corrected in the next year — perhaps I’ll even do something to help:

StatusNet lacks full data portability and account migration.

Nobody has yet taken up the mantle of building a federated replacement for Flickr.

Unclear federated social web spam defenses are good enough.

Nobody is doing anything interesting with reputation on the federated social web — no, make that, on the social web. This is a major befuddlement I’ve had since (2002), at least. had an excuse as the first “social network”, (1999) innovated, then nothing. Nothing!

Far too few people are aware of the challenges and opportunities of maintaining and expanding software freedom/user autonomy in the age of networked services, a general problem of which the federated social web is an important case.

Finally, a couple not-yet-stories for the federated social web.

Facebook and Twitter (especially Facebook) seem to have consolidated their dominant positions in nearly every part of the world, having surpassed regional leads of the likes of Orkut (Brazil and India), Bebo (UK), MySpace (US), Friendster (Southeast Asia), etc. and would-be competitors such as shut down (e.g., Jaiku and Plurk) or considered disappointing (e.g., Google Buzz). However, it seems there are plenty of relatively new regionally-focused services, some of which may already be huge but under the radar of English-speaking observers. An example is ,’s microblogging service, which I would not have heard of in 2010 had I not seen it in use at Sharism Forum in Shanghai. It’s possible that some of these are advantaged by censorship of global services — see above — and cooperation with local censors. Opportunity? Probably only long-term or opportunistic.

Despite their high cultural relevance and somewhat ambiguous status, I don’t know of many © disputes around tweets, or short messages generally. Part of the reason must be that Twitter and Facebook are primarily silos, and use within those silos is agreed to via their terms of service. I’m very happy that StatusNet has from the beginning take precaution against copyright interfering with the federated case — notices on StatusNet platforms are released under the permissive Creative Commons Attribution license (all uses permitted in advance, requiring only credit), which clarifies things to the extent copyright restricts, and doesn’t interfere to the extent it doesn’t. (Also note that copyright is a major challenge for the social web in general, even its silos — see YouTube, which ought be considered part of the social web.)

All the best to Evan Prodromou and other federated social web doers in 2011!

As demonstrated above, I cannot write a short blog post, which puts a crimp on my blogging. Follow me on StatusNet’s service for lots of short updates.

Retaining the right to censor is an act of hate

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Nina Paley (I highly recommend all her animations and appreciate her free culture activism) has an idea called the copyheart:

Use it wherever you would use the ©copyright symbol. Instead of

© Copyright 2010 by Author/Artist. All Rights Reserved.

you could write

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

I love the sentiment. Mike Masnick thinks the copyheart is cool. Unsurprising, since he doesn’t appreciate public copyright tools. That’s a problem, since cool without the aid of rigorous public copyright tools fails to build a commons that everyone can use. We don’t need help with materials that can be used by those with a low level of legal exposure: that’s everything that isn’t held in secret.

Expanding on the problem: unfortunately one automatically obtains copyright the moment one produces an original expression in a fixed form (e.g., this blog post). Copyright is a poor name, for it isn’t the right to copy; rather it is the exclusive right to restrict others from making copies (including altered copies, performances, and an ever-growing list of nearby uses, essentially forever). Copyrestriction would be better. However, others aren’t restricted automagically (and when attempts are made to do so, restrictions are usually massively over-applied); the copyright holder must take action, must play the role of the censor. Censorright would be even more apt. Not granting rights to the public in advance means one is retaining the right to censor.

Why would Paley want something that grants the public no rights in advance, while complaining loudly about some Creative Commons licenses for not granting enough rights in advance? Probably because she’s skeptical of public licenses, period, claiming they legitimize copyright. I almost completely disagree: copyright exists, is automatic, and is ever-increasing in scope and restrictiveness; public copyright tools are just a reality-based response that allow opting out of some or all of one’s right to censor, can offer limited protection (in the case of copyleft) from downstream censors, and also signal that some or all of a censor’s right is not desired, and most importantly help build substantial projects and bodies of work that do not rely on censorship (eventually evidence has to matter).

Now Paley is well aware of these arguments, and addresses some of them in the Copyheart Manifesto (which is more like a FAQ) and elsewhere. She says that free licenses “aren’t solving the problems of copyright restrictions.” That’s something that needs debate. I’d argue they’re one of the few rays of light against censorship, and they are creating space for “solutions” to be developed (see “most importantly” previous paragraph). She even almost directly addresses the problem that copyheart-like mechanisms (Kopimi is very similar; “all rights reversed” is more opaque simple statement that has been used occasionally for decades that Paley notes):

Q.Is the ♡Copyheart legally binding?

A. Probably not, although you could test it:

Mark your work with the ♡Copyheart message.
Sue someone for copying it.
See what the judge says.

We really don’t think laws and “imaginary property” have any place in peoples’ love or cultural relations. Creating more legally binding licenses and contracts just perpetuates the problem of law – a.k.a. state force – intruding where it doesn’t belong. That ♡copyheart isn’t a legally binding license is not a bug – it’s a feature!

Sadly, when the right to censor is the automatic default, it is not using a legally binding license that perpetuates the problem, but I repeat myself. I appreciate offering the test above, but it is far too easy a test (though I don’t know how it would turn out). Takedown notices, other chilling effects, and just plain avoidance, are far more common than actual suits. A better test would be this:

  1. Mark your work with the ♡Copyheart message.
  2. Have someone else upload the work to Wikimedia Commons, not mentioning that you asked them to.
  3. See if the Wikimedia Commons community is willing to rely on your copyheart message to make and keep available your work.

One reason the work probably won’t remain on Wikimedia Commons (note I’d be very happy to be proved wrong) is that copyheart doesn’t clearly say that altering the copyhearted work is ok with the copyhearter. Permitting adaptation is a requirement for free culture; Paley agrees.

The situation may not be totally hopeless for copyheart. Kopimi started as an equally simple exhortation to copy. There are some works on Wikimedia Commons labeled as Kopimi (though I’m not sure how many if any are only relying on Kopimi; many works on Wikimedia Commons are multi-licensed), though the template used for Kopimi uploads on Wikimedia Commons goes beyond simple exhortation to copy:

This work is labeled as Kopimi, meaning that the copyright holder of this work does not only release it, but specifically requests that this work be used and copied for any purpose, including unlimited commercial use and redistribution. It is believed in good faith that a work classified as Kopimi is free to use in any way, including modification and the creation of derivative works.

Now it would be possible to take copyheart in this direction, say:

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying and adaptation are acts of love. Please copy and adapt for any purposes.

One may as well finish the job and back this sentiment with a rigorous legal tool that takes every step possible to rid oneself of the right to censor, worldwide:

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying and adaptation are acts of love. Please copy and adapt for any purposes without any restrictions whatsoever.

The link is to the backing legally rigorous tool, CC0.

Speaking of censorship, the EFF has been doing a fantastic job in fighting many of its forms. Please join them in saying no to censorship.

Not only does EFF fight censorship, they also retain almost no right to censor works they produce. They use a Creative Commons Attribution license, which only requires giving credit to make any use (well, any use that doesn’t imply endorsement). You should also join them is saying no to censorship in this way — no to your own ability to be a censor.

You should also make annual donations of $ to both CC and EFF, and send ♡.

Yet Another Biaxial Political Spectrum

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Thought of while microblogging (emphasis added):

@glynmoody … I find it nice that movement gelling on both govt-skeptic and market-skeptic sides eg and

As one moves toward increasing skepticism of both mechanisms, one might focus more on institutional design (wherein there is a huge space for exploration: two areas I’ve occasionally rambled about are commons and futarchy, both applicable to arrangements across state and market), as everything is broken and needs fixing. If one is much more skeptical about one mechanism than the other, one will assume the more confidence-inspiring mechanism will adequately check any problems of the other — e.g., so-called Masonomics:

At the University of Chicago, economists lean to the right of the economics profession. They are known for saying, in effect, “Markets work well. Use the market.”

At MIT and other bastions of mainstream economics, most economists are to the left of center but to the right of the academic community as a whole. These economists are known for saying, in effect, “Markets fail. Use government.”

Masonomics says, “Markets fail. Use markets.”

Presumably the prototypical Masonomist on the above spectrum would be far on the left (extremely skeptical of the state) and in the middle (somewhat skeptical of markets), leading such a person to always favor market solutions (the state being a lost cause), with more emphasis on the design of market institutions than someone merely confident in the market and skeptical of the state might. Schools of socialism that roughly mirror Masonomics must exist — “Governments fail. Use government [carefully].” — I just don’t know their names, so I put “rational socialism” on the spectrum.

It seems that from many places on the spectrum, one might beneficially increase skepticism of one’s preferred mechanism, so as to focus on making that mechanism work better, and thus “win” more in the long term. Admittedly, this might seem an awful tradeoff for an activist focused on bashing (whatever they see as) evil in the short term. Further, one genuinely interested in improving the world as opposed to making ideological points might focus on improving mechanisms that make criticism and improvement of all mechanisms easier (nothing remotely new about this observation) — these are public goods that facilitate the provision of more public goods.

Completely coincidentally (noted while writing this post), died today. His name is associated with a fairly well known . Nolan also founded the strategically unsound U.S. Libertarian Party. If it mattered at all, and weren’t in bad taste, I’d suggest it die with him!

Copyright restriction

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Ethan Zuckerman writes:

Under US law, pretty much anything you write down is copyrighted. Scrawl an original note on a napkin and it’s protected until 70 years after your death.

Note: None of this post should be taken as criticism of Zuckerman. I’m just using his sentence as a foil. He is a great blogger, the above is a great post of his, which furthermore talks about the great work of some of my colleagues…

In what sense is the hypothetical scrawl above “protected” by copyright? A scrawl might be protected by a glass case or digitization, or even (somewhat remotely) by secure property rights in napkins, glass cases, and computers.

No, copyright restricts the ability of others to use representations of the scrawl legally, without obtaining permission from the scrawler or a party the scrawler has transferred this right to censor to.

Which brings us to another inaccurate phrasing, which has many variations, all along the lines of “copyright is the right to … a copyrighted work” where the ellipsis are filled by words like “publish”, “distribute”, or “perform”. Not true! Copyright is not required to have the right to publish a work, or public domain works would be illegal to publish. Instead, copyright is the right to legally restrict others from publishing, distributing, performing works.

So use of the term ‘copyright protection’ (2,930,000 Google hits) instead of ‘copyright restriction’ (19,300 Google hits) is a peeve of mine and seeing copyright equated with censorship a small joy.

Free speech vs. at least one patent (and copyright)

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

The ACLU has filed a brief (pdf) in the U.S. patent case called Bilski (a case I understand the End Software Patents project is watching closely) making a free speech argument against the patent in question.

I’m especially pleased that the ACLU brief makes two obvious but rarely stated points. One:

At the most basic level, it is apparent that because the First Amendment post-dates the patent clause in Article I, it modifies the patent clause.

Patents and copyright are covered in a , which for reference says “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”


Thus, the definition of “useful arts” clearly excludes music, art, and literature, all of which represent unpatentable matter clearly also protected by the First Amendment.

Unpatentable, but why not uncopyrightable too?

Via Gavin Baker.