Lessig on Aaron Swartz: Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?

It has been an awful week. Together with Adib Kheir, who was a very important person to me, I am mourning with the entire Internet community the loss of  one of the bravest fighters for the open web, Aaron Swartz. Somebody who fought so much to keep the Internet an open place; somebody who -among millions of other great things he did – helped to start Creative Commons and successfully mobilized the web against SOPA.

This “kid” (he was only 26 yrs old)  committed suicide in his NYC apartment one week ago. Since then, the debate on the Internet about this tragic loss and the reasons behind it has been growing and growing.

I will try to come back on this and give more context to the readers of this blog who might not be all familiar with Aaron and his case.

But tonight I want to re-publish something that touched me deeply in my heart. It`s Lawrence Lessig`s latest post on Aaron, who he deeply loved. It is just heartbreaking. And it gives us a lot to think about..about law, moral, society, and love.

 

A time for silence

A week ago today, Aaron gave up. And since I received the call late Friday night telling me that, like so many others who were close to him, I have not rested. Not slept, really. Not connected with my kids, at all. Not held my wife except to comfort her tears, or for her to comfort mine.

Instead of rest, I have been frantically trying to explain, to connect, and to make sense of all of this. Endless emails responding to incredible kindness, phone call after phone call with reporters and friends, and the only solace I know: writing.

But none of that has made this better. Indeed, with every exchange, it only gets worse. I understand it less. I am angry more. I think of yet another, “If only I had …”

I need to step back from this for now. I am grateful for your kind emails. I am sorry if I can’t answer them. To the scores of people who write to tell me they were wronged by US Attorney Ortiz, I am sorry, that is not my fight. To the press — especially the press wanting “just five minutes” — I apologize. This isn’t a “just five minutes” story, at least from me.

There have been a handful of smiles this past week. My three year old, Tess, putting her arms around my neck, holding me as tight as she possibly could, promising me “the doctors will put him back together, papa, they will.” A screenwriter friend, grabbing me after a talk in New York, and pulling me into an argument about his next great film. And best of all, the astonishingly beautiful letter from MIT’s president, acknowledging — amazingly — at least the possibility of responsibility, and appointing the very best soul on that side of Cambridge to review and guide that great if flawed institution’s review.

But these smiles have been drowned by endless sadness, and even greater disappointment — and none more pronounced than the utterly profound disappointment in our government, Carmen Ortiz in particular.

I hate my perpetual optimism about our government. Aaron was buried on the tenth anniversary of the time that optimism bit me hardest — Eldred v. Ashcroft. But how many other examples are there, and why don’t I ever learn? The dumbest-fucking-naive-allegedly-smart person you will ever know: that guythought this tragedy would at least shake for one second the facade of certainty that is our government, and allow at least a tiny light of recognition to shine through, and in that tiny ray, maybe a question, a pause, a moment of “ok, we need to look at this carefully.” I wasn’t dumb enough to believe that Ortiz could achieve the grace of Reif. But the single gift I wanted was at least a clumsy, hesitating, “we’re going to look at this carefully, and think about whether mistakes might have been made.”

But oh Lucy, you’ve done it again.

Ortiz’s statement is a template for all that is awful in what we as a political culture have become. And it pushes me — me, the most conventional, wanting-to-believe-in-all-things-patriotic, former teenage Republican from the home of Little League baseball — to a place far more radical than I ever want to be. Ortiz wrote:

As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz,

Yes, Ms. Ortiz, you obviously can “only imagine.” Because if you felt it, as obviously as Reif did, it would move you first to listen, and then to think. You’re so keen to prove that you understand this case better than your press releases about Aaron’s “crime” (those issued when Aaron still drew breath) made it seem (“the prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain”). But if your prosecutors recognized this, then this is the question to answer:

Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?

His motive was political — obviously. His harm was exactly none — as JSTOR effectively acknowledged. But he deserved, your “career prosecutors” believed, to be deprived of his rights as a citizen (aka, a “felon,” no longer entitled to the political rights he fought to perfect) because of what he did.

Yet here’s the thing to remember on MLK weekend (even though my saying this violates a rule I believe in firmly, a kind of inverse to Godwin’s law, because though I believe these two great souls were motivated by exactly the same kind of justice, King’s cause was greater): How many felonies was Martin Luther King, Jr., convicted of? King, whose motives were political too, but who, unlike Aaron, triggered actions which caused real harm. What’s that number?

Zero.

And how many was he even charged with in the whole of his career?

Two. Two bogus charges (perjury and tax evasion) from Alabama, which an all-white jury acquitted him of.

This is a measure of who we have become. And we don’t even notice it. We can’t even see the extremism that we have allowed to creep into our law. And we treat as decent a government official who invokes her family while defending behavior which in part at least drove this boy to his death.

I still dream. It is something that Darrell Issa and Zoe Lofgren are thinking along the same lines. On this anniversary of the success of the campaign to stop SOPA — a campaign which Aaron helped architect — maybe I’m right to be hopeful that even this Congress might do something. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe.

But for now, I need to step away. I apologize for the silence. I am sorry for the replies I will not give. Aaron was wrong about very few things, but he was wrong to take his life. I have to return to mine, and to the amazingly beautiful creatures who are trying to pull me back.

I will always love you, sweet boy. Please find the peace you were seeking. And if you do, please find a way to share that too.

18 January 2013 ·

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Silence

I havent been writing that much in the past few months cause sometimes silence is golden. I`ll probably start to post again now, since it is Ramadan and lots of things is happening. Musalsalat can be a good way to reflect on what is happening and why. Plus, I`ll try to add some features on “user generated ” musalsalat which I`ve found online and which sometimes are far more interesting than the ones produced for the TV screen.

Non ho scritto molto negli ultimi mesi perche qualche volta il silenzio e` d`oro. Probabilmente ricomincio a postare adesso, siccome e` Ramadan e sta succedendo di tutto. Le musalsalat possono essere un buon modo per riflettere su cosa succede e perche`. Inoltre, cerchero` di aggiungere dei pezzi sulle “user generated” musalsalat che ho trovato online e che spesso sono di gran lunga piu interessanti di quelle prodotte per la TV.

 

“Ruwwad”, an ongoing dialogue with the community

Thanks to @fadig and @toosketch today I had the opportunity to visit Ruwwad, an NGO which is situated in a poor area of East Amman, mostly populated by Palestinians. I spent hours and hours sitting and talking with Samar, Fares, Tareq, together with Eman and Issa from the Jordan Open Source Association.

The key, simple concept they are working on is: don`t give money or education to people according to what you like and think, rather ask them what they want. And make it sustainable. Not money, but rather a mindset which helps to build up an individual, a free-thinker, maybe a self-entrepreneur. Ruwwad is the first NGO I`ve met in the Middle East who doesn`t work within a sort of “welfare” or “subsidizing” mentality. It rather establishes an ongoing contact with the community of the people living in Jebel Nathif and asks them what they would need to improve their lives. And this way they have built a secondary school, the post office, a library, a children workshop, a ceramics workshop, a computer lab, places where  an ongoing process of continuous education is happening.

I wish all the NGOs who got subsidized by Western countries would do the same. Listen to people and to their needs, instead of jumping there with a top-down approach.

 

La flotta della vergogna

Ieri non riuscivo a credere alle foto, ai video, alle parole che arrivavano da Internet. Devo dire che, stando in Siria e non guardando televisione occidentale, il mio principale mezzo per informarmi e` il web, e da un paio di giorni sul mio Twitter feed leggevo solo di questa #Flotilla o #FreedomFlotilla che tentava l`”arrembaggio” sulle coste di Gaza per portare aiuti a gente che vive in un ghetto. Conosco personalmente alcuni di quelli che facevano parte della #Flotilla, come la giornalista Angela Lano, da anni impegnata a fianco della Palestina con Infopal, e Manolo Luppicchini, che conosco dai tempi dell`universita` e che, da Genova 2001 a Gaza2009, e` stato sempre in prima fila, telecamera alla mano, e sempre pieno di coraggio.

Ieri sera, da Damasco, ho passato ore  d`angoscia con Lorenzo al telefono dalla manifestazione che c`e stata a Piazza Venezia, che mi aggiornava se si erano avute notizie di Angela e Manolo. Per ore i loro cellullari hanno squillato a vuoto, per ora abbiamo temuto il peggio. Per fortuna invece pare che stiano “bene”, l`ambasciatore li ha visti, sono trattenuti dalle autorita` ma in buone condizioni, pare. Hamdullilah, mi dico, meno male che Angela e Manolo ce l`hanno fatta. Ma la colpa di queste altre persone, morte in un`azione umanitaria, per portare aiuti a un popolo sotto assedio?

Non ci sono parole per quest`orrore e per l`arroganza con cui viene perpetrato da uno stato che ha ormai perso ogni parvenza di legittimita` e che mi pare duro chiamare “democrazia”.

Comunque..e` una cosa troppo grande, troppo grave quella che e` successa..e il mondo non sa che fare..il mondo arabo non sa che fare..Damasco ieri sera era sospesa in un`atmosfera ovattata fatta di televisori che vomitavano #Flottilla e bandiere del mondo intero, allineate in fila, pronte per la Coppa del Mondo di venerdi` 11 giugno che tutti aspettano con ansia e che questi nuovi eventi rischiano di “rovinare” in un Medio Oriente che non ha mai pace..

I social media e le elezioni libanesi

Ripubblico qui sotto l’articolo apparso giovedi scorso su Nova, il bel supplemento de Il Sole 24 ore dedicato all’innovazione e alla tecnologia.

di Donatella Della Ratta

Per chi segue i cinguettii della rete, @sharik961 è il Twitter da tenere d’occhio alle elezioni libanesi del 7 giugno. Sharik -“colui che partecipa”- insieme al prefisso del Libano -il 961- è l’invito lanciato da “un gruppo di persone che amano il Libano e la tecnologia”.

Appartenenze politiche diverse, ma desiderio comune di “supportare la trasparenza nella politica libanese”, una delle più complesse al mondo, retta da un sistema elettorale che rende conto delle confessioni religiose. Wissam Badine della EastlineMarketing, che si è occupata di social marketing per molti partiti libanesi, osserva che il Libano online è “lo specchio della geografia offline del territorio, diversificata e frammentata. Incasinata, ma ricca”.

Lo stesso vale per la geografia politica, con i due schieramenti sfidanti – “14 marzo” e “l’8 marzo” – che raggruppano trasversalmente l’uno i musulmani sunniti di Saad Hariri e la destra cristiana delle Forze libanesi; l’altro Hezbollah, i comunisti, e il resto dei cristiani. Internet –Facebook per primo- è il campo di battaglia di queste diversità. Gli spot più cliccati sono quelli delle fazioni avversarie: “I libanesi sono curiosi, vogliono informarsi.. senza il web sarebbe impensabile far arrivare un messaggio politico sulla pagina del “nemico””, sottolinea Badine.

Internet fa anche da collante: Twitter impazza fra i libanesi che, a colpi dei 140 caratteri via web, cominciano a incontrarsi davvero. Sana Tawileh dell’incubator KuvCapital racconta che il “cinguettio” della rete produce scambi di idee e iniziative per un Libano “di tutti”, oltre le appartenenze politico-religiose. Sharik961 va in questa direzione, chiamando a raccolta i cittadini reporter per contribuire al monitoraggio elettorale.

La mappa raccoglie e gestisce le segnalazioni degli utenti grazie alla piattaforma Ushahidi, creata nel 2008 da attivisti africani per monitorare le violenze postelettorali in Kenya. Un progetto open source che aggrega i feed provenienti da cellulari, email, web, posizionandoli sulla mappa in tempo reale. Al Jazeera l’ha adottato per la guerra di Gaza, Sharik961 si prepara ad usarlo per l’election day. E per formare nuovi giovani cittadini reporter Rootspace -ong membro di Sharik961- ha lanciato Sawt as Shabbab (“la voce dei giovani”), come usare il web 2.0 per fare attivismo. Mentre SMEX, altra ong che partecipa a Sharik961, promuove un training sul web 2.0 rivolto alle aree rurali, e in lingua araba.

Nonostante la diffusione di inglese e francese, è infatti l’arabo a impazzare nella campagna elettorale. Ma quello “da chat”, traslitterato in lettere latine affiancate dai numeri che rendono i diversi suoni. Quello “à la libanaise” di Yamli.com, motore di ricerca di Habib Haddad, la nuova generazione libanese appena incoronata dal World Economic Forum.

Wikipedia goes Creative Commons BY-SA!

After a consultation vote held in the past few weeks within its worlwide community, Wikipedia has finally voted in favour of publishing its content under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

This is a great news that contributes even further to foster the cooperation among organisations as Free Software Foundation, Wikimedia Foundation and Creative Commons and to create a larger worldwide community who cares about knowledge sharing and culture. Mabrouk to everybody!

This is the press release coming from the Wikimedia Foundation:

May 21, 2009

San Francisco, California — Earlier today the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees passed a resolution that will bring about significant changes to the way the content of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikipedia, will be licensed. This resolution follows a vote among the international Wikimedia community. More than 17,000 votes were cast, with strongest participation in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Italian, and Chinese. 88% of all voters who expressed an opinion supported the change.

All Wikimedia content can be used for any purpose, as long as proper credit is given and modifications are made available under the same terms. This open access approach to copyright is supported using a license which explicitly grants everyone those freedoms. The decision will result in all of the Wikimedia Foundation’s projects moving from the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) to the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) as their primary content license. The GFDL, which has served Wikipedia since its inception, will continue to be supported where possible, but not to the detriment of interoperability.

The licensing change means that all Wikimedia project content will be more interoperable with existing CC-BY-SA content and easier to re-use. “The volunteers who work on Wikimedia projects have very strongly supported making their contributions available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) in addition to the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL),” said Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees Chair, Michael Snow. “Updating our license terms will support Wikimedia’s charitable mission, by making our projects legally compatible with others that have chosen the CC-BY-SA license. Our free information and educational content can be shared more readily and will be easier for everyone to use.”

Wikipedia has historically been licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which was developed for software documentation by the Free Software Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Richard Stallman, with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users. At the time of Wikipedia’s inception in 2001, it was one of the few licenses available for works other than software which focused on granting freedoms to re-use and re-distribute information.

Since their creation in 2002, the Creative Commons licenses have provided a practical and simple means for authors to choose licenses that grant broader freedoms than publication under normal copyright. They have since seen strong adoption in science, education, photography, music, and many other areas. Major search engines, photo sharing sites like Flickr, universities, archives and libraries have all begun supporting the Creative Commons licensing model, and the idea of a culture which grants broad freedoms to remix and re-use information has become mainstream.

Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons, offered the following comment on the announcement of the licensing decision: “Richard Stallman’s commitment to the cause of free culture has been an inspiration to us all. Assuring the interoperability of free culture is a critical step towards making this freedom work. The Wikipedia community is to be congratulated for its decision, and the Free Software Foundation thanked for its help. I am enormously happy about this decision.”

Because Wikipedia’s license was chosen by project founder Jimmy Wales when Creative Commons hadn’t yet been created, Wikipedia’s early commitment to free sharing and free re-use has actually worked against legal interoperability. Moreover, because the GNU FDL was designed for software documentation, some of its requirements (such as the requirement to include a copy of the license text with each copy) have encumbered re-use of Wikipedia content. The licensing update was possible because the Free Software Foundation agreed to modify the GNU Free Documentation License in November last year.

As the decision to re-license was approved by both the Wikimedia volunteer community and the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the organization is now taking steps to update all its licensing terms through June. With the dual-license system in place, content can be be further re-used under either the GFDL or the CC-BY-SA license, but the GFDL will be dropped from content objects where this is necessary to support remixing it with existing CC-BY-SA content.

Royal Film Commission/Creative Commons workshop in Amman going great

I am currently out in Amman, fourth day of the online media creativity workshop, the join effort between Royal Film Commission of Jordan and Creative Commons.

The students are great, very active and creative and I think everybody is enjoying the training. Joi (Ito), CEO of Creative Commons, is teaching the students how to use online tools to create stuff and promote it. He has been a great teacher, full of passion and energy -as usual!-. Since he is also a great photographer, he has put a lot of nice pics on his Flickr photostream. He also wrote a very nice post on his blog and I’d love to thank him too, for all the energy he put in this and also for the fun we all had in the past days. Thanks also to the students, the SAE people and the great staff of Royal Film Commission, Mohannad and Nada that made this possible and Mais who is our angel..

For who’s interested to follow live we set up a blog and Twitter tagged with#rfconlinemedia.

RFCworkshoprfc2