The Public Domain Manifesto

Melanie Dulong writes that the concept of the Public Domain needs a re-awakening, framing it as not at odds with copyright, but setting it out as a manifesto behind the actions of Communia.

The Public Domain is the wealth of information that is free from the barriers usually associated with copyright protection. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created.

This definition is extracted from the Public Domain Manifesto, an output of Communia, a policy network developing and supporting a positive agenda for the Public Domain. In the context of copyright extension, this community of academics, activists and practitioners in business and non-profits want to protect the right to access and reuse culture, education, science and public information. The role of the Public Domain, already crucial in the past, is even more important today, as the Internet and digital technologies enable us to access, use and re-distribute information with no marginal cost.

As states above, The Public Domain Manifesto defines the Public Domain as the sum of knowledge and material which is free from copyright barriers and which can be used without restriction. Therefore, the Manifesto's definition encounters works which are no longer covered by copyright and the information, facts and data ideas which are outside of the scope of copyright protection. It also addresses works that are voluntarily shared by their rights holders, for instance through open licenses and the user’s rights created by exceptions and limitations to copyright: fair use in the US and fair dealing in the UK.

The Manifesto's definition is completed by policy recommendations aiming at protecting the Public Domain from legal and technical restrictions and strengthening it by bringing it back to the core of the creative process. Historically and conceptually indeed, Communia recalls that the Public Domain is the rule while copyright is the exception. Works that can be freely accessed and reused are the basis of the exercise of many fundamental human rights and values, such as the right to cultural expression and to education, freedom of expression, citizen democratic participation and economic and social innovation.

Based on the Manifesto’s recommendations, the Communia association has been issuing statements at the World Intellectual Property Association (WIPO), recommending further work on the public domain for voluntary dedication and the development of copyright registries. Members propose comments on recent legislative drafts. For example, Communia's policy paper on the proposal to amend the European Directive on re-use of Public Sector Information explains the suggested changes. The Communia paper asked for improvement on the conditions for re-use of public sector information which falls within the scope of the Directive, and calls for the inclusion of public domain content that is held by libraries, museums and archives, in order to allow the largest possible use of European heritage and public information.

Communia has been active as a European Thematic Network from 2007 until 2011 and then became an international association structuring its work around a set of 14 policy recommendations guiding its actions. For instance, in the field of cultural heritage, Communia advocates that the digital reproduction of public domain works must remain in the public domain. Museums should not include any contractual or technical limitations when making their collections available online. Publicly-funded digitization projects  must ensure that all digitized content is also publicly available online. Existing exceptions and limitations benefitting memory institutions need to be broadened to allow institutions to make available digital reproductions of those works that they hold in their collections, at least for non-commercial purposes.

The Final Report of the European Thematic Network provides a basis for action taken up by its successor, the Communia International Association, depicting a wide range of issues and proposing answers.

These thoughts are expanded on in the Communia collective book “The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture” which provides essays by academics, librarians, entrepreneurs, activists and policy makers illustrating the Manifesto through theoretical papers on copyright and concrete case studies of projects that have engaged with the principles of Open Access and Creative Commons licensing.

Proposals to dismantle restrictions to the Public Domain can also be applied to the issue of orphan works; those works which are locked because their right holders are unknown or cannot be located. The proposed orphan works directive has also been commented on by Communia members, based on the principles previously set up in the Manifesto, with a detailed comment on the proposal and blog posts commenting on the draft here and here. The orphan or hostage works problem and its treatment by EU and UK law have already been tackled on ORGZine in a previous article. However, the draft Directive focus should be widened beyond memory institutions: individuals and non-profit organizations such as Wikipedia provide a tremendous contribution to the preservation and access to cultural heritage.

Communia is opposed to legislative drafts and projects which threaten the Public Domain, and contribute to the definition of a positive agenda for copyright. After decades of measures, leading to more and more difficulties in using works, it is time to reform the copyright system towards more flexibility, for the shared benefit of all creators and members of the society. The purpose of Communia is to raise awareness on copyright systems current flaws and to propose possible paths for reform in order to enjoy the common wealth of culture and allow all to build upon it. The book aims at providing scholarship supporting these proposals, and at providing examples of successful implementation of these shared knowledge principles.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license available at


Melanie Dulong de Rosnay is a researcher at the Institute for Communication Sciences of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (ISCC), Paris and the president of the Communia International Association for the Public Domain, Brussels. Her research currently focuses on comparative public policy for open access to scientific data and public domain works, and on the transformation of legal regulation introduced by distributed architectures.

Image: Marrakech Museum – Museo, Morocco CC-BY-NC-SA Flickr: marcp_demoz

Bottom Dwellers

Wendy Grossman discusses Google’s decision to downgrade in its search results sites with an exceptionally high number of valid copyright notices. She analyses in the context of whether we concede the rights of free speech to computers' decisions -and how society must address this question.

 This week Google announced it would downgrade in its search results sites with an exceptionally high number of valid copyright notices filed against them. As the EFF points out, the details of exactly how this will work are scarce and there is likely to be a big, big problem with false positives - that is, sites that are downgraded unfairly. You have only to look at the recent authorial pile-on that took down the legitimate ebook lending site LendInk for what can happen when someone gets hold of the wrong side of the copyright stick.

Unless we know how the inclusion of Google's copyright notice stats will work, how do we know what will be affected, how, and for how long? There is no transparency to let a site know what's happening to it, and no appeals process. Given the many abuses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, under which such copyright notices are issued, it's hard to know how fair such a system will be. Though, granted: the company could have simply done it and not told us. How would we know?

The timing of this move is interesting because it comes only a few months after Google began advocating for the notion that search engine results are, like newspaper editorial matter, a form of free speech under the First Amendment. The company went as far as to commission the legal scholar Eugene Volokh to write a white paper outlining the legal arguments. These basically revolve around the idea that a search algorithm is merely a new form of editorial judgment; Google returns search results in the order in which, in its opinion, they will be most helpful to users.

In response, Tim Wu, author of The Master Switch, argued in the New York Times that conceding the right of free speech to computerized decisions brings serious problems with it in the long run. Supposing, for example, that antitrust authorities want to regulate Google to ensure that it doesn't use its dominance in search to unfairly advantage its other online properties - YouTube, Google Books, Google Maps, and so on. If search results are free speech, that type of regulation becomes unconstitutional. On BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow responded that one should regulate the bad speech without denying it is speech. Earlier, in the Guardian Doctorow argued that Google's best gambit was making the argument about editorial integrity; publications make esthetic judgments, but Google famously loves to live by numbers.

This part of the argument is one that we're going to be seeing a lot of over the next few decades, because it boils down to this bit of Philip K. Dick territory: should machines programmed by humans have free speech rights? And if so, under what circumstances? If Google search results are free speech, is the same true of the output of credit-scoring algorithms or speed cameras? A magazine editor can, if asked, explain the reasoning process by which material was commissioned for, placed in, or rejected by her magazine; Google is notoriously secretive about the workings of its algorithms. We do not even know the criteria Google uses to judge the quality of its search results.

These are all questions we're going to have to answer as a society; and they are questions that may be answered very differently in countries without a First Amendment. My own first inclination is to require some kind of transparency in return: for every generation of separation between human and result, there must be an additional layer of explanation detailing how the system is supposed to work. The more people the results affect, the bigger the requirement for transparency. Something like that.

The more immediate question, of course, is, whether Google's move will have an impact on curbing unauthorized file-sharing. My guess is not that much; few file-sharers of my acquaintance use Google for the purpose of finding files to download.

Yet, in an otherwise sensible piece about the sentencing of owner Anton Vickerman to four years in prison in the Guardian, Dan Sabbagh winds up praising Google's decision with a bunch of errors. First of all, he blames the music industry's problems on mistakes "such as failing to introduce copy protection". As the rest of us know, the music industry only finally dropped copy protection in 2009 - because consumers hate it. Arguably, copy protection delayed the adoption of legal, paid services by years. He also calls the decision to sell all-you-can-eat subscriptions to music back catalogues a mistake; on what grounds is not made clear.

Finally, he argues, "Had Google [relegated pirate sites' results] a decade ago, it might not have been worthwhile for Vickerman to set up his site at all."

Ten years ago? In 2002, Napster had been gone for less than a year. Gnutella and BitTorrent were measuring their age in months. iTunes was a year old. The Pirate Bay wouldn't exist for some months more. Google was two years away from going public. The mistake then wasn't downgrading sites oft accused of copyright infringement. The mistake then was not building legal, paid downloading services and getting them up and running as fast as possible.


Wendy M. Grossman's Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series.

Image: Dancing Robot CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: spaceyjessie

How the Police should (or not) use Twitter

In the light of several recent cases of tweeted insults and criticisms causing police interference, Habib Kadiri makes some suggestions as to what the police should be doing when they spot abuse on Twitter.

 Unofficial media streams make for increasingly profitable sources of stories for the mainstream press, Twitter being the most prolific provider, albeit usually of fluff announcements and leaked details to inconsequential reports. But 2012 has seen reports of "trolling" rise to prominence on newsroom agendas across the country. It is now fashionable to spin a story from any user's tweeted insults at a celebrity, in turn raising the troll's profile to new heights of infamy. Andy Warhol might yet turn out to be right about everyone's 15 minutes, if only it involves fostering a climate of vicious put-downs and threats.

But then the police would have to step in and break things up and no-one wants that, least of all the police themselves, judging from Simon Reed's comments to the Times recently. Following on from the Tom Daley tweet story, the vice-chair of the Police Federation said that officers need guidance from the CPS or Attorney General on the issue of policing social media platforms like Twitter because at the moment they are 'having to make it up as they go along'.

Well, I hold neither of those positions, but I have never let my lack of authority get in the way of dispensing infinite wisdom to authority figures. So here are two things that I think might help improve the way rank-and-file officers use social media professionally:

1. Don't arrest trolls for making offensive comments on Twitter unless they have backed it up with the real and credible threat of violence towards their target.

Every time a story like the Tom Daley incident occurs, or various spats involving footballers, we are implicitly asking ourselves 'how offensive can we really be?' We might not like the answer to the question in the end, because if it turns out that, say, everyone's a little bit racist, then the courts will be full of racially-aggravated public order offence cases in no time.

But maybe the police should take reports of a nobody sending poorly articulated (and spelt) threats to celebrities with a pinch of salt.

Of course, that ‘nobody’ could take offence at what I have just said. So theoretically I am also open to abuse in return. But that is my problem to handle as I see fit. Unless, of course, the person abusing me online actually makes plans to target my whereabouts, so s/he can assault me, or send me bombs through the post. Then it might be useful for me to call the police.

It just so happened that Tom Daley was hurt by the comments. But he dealt with the situation simply by retweeting them to the world; possibly the classiest way to shame a troll. If you think what you whispered to me is so clever, maybe it ought to be shared with the rest of the class.

Of course, if Tom had felt sufficiently harassed, he probably would have contacted the police instead,  as beautician Clare Bernal did, repeatedly. I would be surprised if the police - in conjunction with authorities such as HM Prison Service and the UK Border Agency - did not already have the powers (RIPA, The Malicious Communications Act 1988) to track stalkers who appear to game the justice system in order to plan attacks on their targets.

2. Please don't use social media (or any other technological advances) as an excuse for curbing freedom of speech.

Some of us have been campaigning to stop this happening for years, under the time-honoured adage of protecting our civil liberties. Yes, it is a shame that the quality of human communication is often vastly inferior to technological advances in the industry. However, the use of Section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act alone absolves the police of having to test the credibility of every threat on a case-by-case basis. It allows officers to throw the book at any harmless individual deemed to have caused offence simply by their clumsy use of words. The swiftness with which Daley's troll was derided was punishment enough to shame him into apologising, sort of. But he definitely felt remorseful well before the long arm of the law caught up with him.

So if Simon Reed still has to ask for help in judging what Twitter trolling should be acted upon, then it proves that current legislation causes at least as many problems as it was intended to solve. Any subsequent policy will be wholly ineffective. Besides, by his own reckoning, the police might not have the resources to deal with trolls that way.


Not that having the resources would make it okay. The media have the resources to cover these incidents as news in the first place. But that is another story. Maybe for an article advising journalists on what constitutes a newsworthy tweet, perhaps?


Habib Kadiri usually operates under the moniker of heakthephreak, mainly @heakthephreak and

Image: Twitter Bird Toy CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Riku Lu

Fandom: Open Culture Vs. Closed Platforms

Francesca Coppa is a founder of the Organisation for Transformative Works, a group run by fans who aim to preserve fan-fiction and other fan works. She writes about how the commercialisation of the internet has galvanized fandom and why what they do is important.

When fans celebrate, critique, retell and re-envision mass media stories, they create their fanworks without any of the commercial restrictions that give mass media stories their shape. As a result, fan culture gives us noncommercial versions of mass media stories. Imagine, for example, Batman or The Avengers as an indie film, as an explicitly erotic literary fantasia, as a screwball comedy, as a heroic song cycle. Fans don't need to get their stories approved by the networks, they don't have to worry about going over budget, and they don't need to make sure their films translate in the international market. Rather, fans can tell whatever story they want for the sheer pleasure of doing so: if movies and TV and big publishing is the storytelling supermarket, then fandom is the storytelling crafts market.

Fans have used many different technologies over the years to create and share fan works. Fans used mimeograph and photocopy machines to publish zines in the years before the internet, and they used film stills, VHS tape, and DVDs to make and distribute video before YouTube. More recently, fans have embraced the social networking platforms of Web 2.0; in fact, Web 2.0's primary accomplishment has arguably been the mainstreaming of fandom's participatory culture. More people than ever are creating fan fiction, art, and video, and even people who don't identify as fans "like" actors on Facebook or post .gifs of them on Tumblr, follow celebrities on Twitter or subscribe to their favorite band's YouTube channel. It's never been a better time to be a fan!

But while the tools of Web 2.0 have improved many aspects of fandom, they also pose some dangers to fan culture. The social networks of Web 2.0 are mostly for-profit, commercial enterprises; the web is no longer the loose network of university and government servers it was twenty years ago. Fans used to roll their own code and make their own webpages; now others own the ground beneath their feet. And the priorities of these businesses may or may not be the priorities of fans. Fans were early adopters of social networks and so were also quick to grow wary of them. Some platforms have adopted fan-unfriendly policies; others are happy to host fans and fanworks so long as it's profitable and convenient to do so, though they won't stand up for fans' underlying free speech or fair use rights. Few sites have any genuine commitment to fans or their works per se; as the video streaming site Imeem announced before abruptly removing all fanworks and other amateur videos from their site, "Simply put, there's no ROI [return on investment] for us in UGV [user-generated video]." And in fact, many fans resent being characterized as mere "users" when they see themselves as creators. Fans value their creative and discursive works, as well as their communities and networks.

The ongoing commercialization of the Internet, and the ways in which private companies do and do not consider issues of fair use and free speech, has galvanized fandom in many ways. Some fans have gotten politicized around issues such as net neutrality, online privacy, and intellectual property reform, including a strengthening of fair use rights and the public domain. Others have called for fans to take control back from corporations by creating their own social networks. Buttressed by larger cultural trends like the open source movement (which promotes the making of collaborative, free software code) and the free culture movement (which advocates the creation and distribution of free content), many fans have banded together to create their own online spaces.

The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), which I helped to found in 2007, is one of these fan-owned spaces. Created in the context of ongoing attempts by startups new and old to profit from fandom's networks and legendary productivity, the OTW is an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to preserving fan works and fan culture. The OTW is organized on the model of public radio: all our projects are free to use and supported by member donations. We have no sponsors and accept no ads. Our flagship project is the Archive of Our Own (AO3), an open source, fan-designed and fan-coded archive of digital fanworks hosted on an ever-increasing number of fan-owned servers; other projects include Fanlore, a wiki where fans can document fan culture in their own words, and Transformative Works and Cultures, an open access, peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to publishing articles about fan works and culture.

The OTW has also partnered with the Special Collections Library at the University of Iowa to create the Fan Culture Preservation Project to preserve analog fanworks like zines, convention flyers, memorabilia, photographs, VHS tapes, and other artifacts. In this, the OTW is only continuing the longtime practice of fans, who have carefully preserved and archived their fanworks over the years. Fans laboriously typed up zine stories for online preservation in the years before scanning was easy. They remastered VHS videos with DVD footage, and created any number of online archives before the AO3 came along. Like members of other artistic communities, many fans believe that their works should be available to future generations. Someone is always seeing Star Trek or reading Sherlock Holmes or buying Detective Comics for the first time, and fan-made stories and art interpreting and transforming these universes should be there for them to enjoy. But these works will only be protected if they – and the free speech and fair use rights that make them possible – are valued.

Francesca Coppa is a professor of English and film studies at Muhlenberg College and a founder of the Organization For Transformative Works. She's also a long-time fan. Follow her tweets at @fcoppa.

Image: CC-BY-NC-SA Flickr: thom

Wiped Out

Wendy Grossman looks at last week’s story of how journalist Matt Honan had his Google, Twitter and AppleID all stolen and data destroyed– and walks through how he was so thoroughly hacked and what the best solutions and preventions are from this.

 There are so many awful things in the story of what happened this week to technology journalist Matt Honan that it's hard to know where to start. The fundamental part - that through not particularly clever social engineering an outsider was able in about 20 minutes to take over and delete his Google account, take over and defame his Twitter account, and then wipe all the data on his iPhone, iPad, and MacBook - would make a fine nightmare, or maybe a movie with some of the surrealistic quality of Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985). And all, as Honan eventually learned, because the hacker fancied an outing with his three-digit Twitter ID, a threat so unexpected there's no way you'd make it your model.

Honan's first problem was the thing Suw Charman-Anderson put her finger on for an Infosecurity Magazine piece I did earlier this year: gaining access to a single email address to which every other part of your digital life - ecommerce accounts, financial accounts, social media accounts, password resets all over the Web - is locked puts you in for "a world of hurt". If you only have one email account you use for everything, given access to it, an attacker can simply request password resets all over the place - and then he has access to your accounts and you don't. There are separate problems around the fact that the information required for resets is both the kind of stuff people disclose without thinking on social networks and commonly reused. None of this requires fancy technology fix, just smarter, broader thinking

There are simple solutions to the email problem: don't use one email account for everything and, in the case of Gmail, use two-factor authentication. If you don't operate your own server (and maybe even if you do) it may be too complicated to create a separate address for every site you use, but it's easy enough to have a public address you use for correspondence, a private one you use for most of your site accounts, and then maybe a separate, even less well-known one for a few selected sites that you want to protect as much as you can.

Honan's second problem, however, is not so simple to fix unless an incident like this commands the attention of the companies concerned: the interaction of two companies' security practices that on their own probably seemed quite reasonable. The hacker needed just two small bits of information: Honan's address (sourced from the Whois record for his Internet domain name), and the last four digits of a credit card number, The hack to get the latter involved adding a credit card to Honan's account over the phone and then using that card number, in a second phone call, to add a new email address to the account. Finally, you do a password reset to the new email address, access the account, and find the last four digits of the cards on file - which Apple then accepted, along with the billing address, as sufficient evidence of identity to issue a temporary password into Honan's iCloud account.

This is where your eyes widen. Who knew Amazon or Apple did any of those things over the phone? I can see the point of being able to add an email address; what if you're permanently locked out of the old one? But I can't see why adding a credit card was ever useful; it's not as if Amazon did telephone ordering. And really, the two successive calls should have raised a flag.

The worst part is that even if you did know you'd likely have no way to require any additional security to block off that route to impersonators; telephone, cable, and financial companies have been securing telephone accounts with passwords for years, but ecommerce sites do not (or haven't) think of themselves as possible vectors for hacks into other services. Since the news broke, both Amazon and Apple have blocked off this phone access. But given the extraordinary number of sites we all depend on, the takeaway from this incident is that we ultimately have no clue how well any of them protect us against impersonation. How many other sites can be gamed in this way?

Ultimately, the most important thing, as Jack Schofield writes in his Guardian advice column is not to rely on one service for everything. Honan's devastation was as complete as it was because all his devices were synched through iCloud and could be remotely wiped. Yet this is the service model that Apple has and that Microsoft and Google are driving towards. The cloud is seductive in its promises: your data is always available, on all your devices, anywhere in the world. And it's managed by professionals, who will do all the stuff you never get around to, like make backups.

But that's the point: as Honan discovered to his cost, the cloud is not a backup. If all your devices are hooked to it, it is your primary data pool, and, as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak pointed out this week it is out of your control. Keep your own backups, kids. Develop multiple personalities. Be careful out there.


Wendy M. Grossman's Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series.



Image: CC-BY-2.0 Flickr: Yutaka Tsutano

Digital Solidarity at the Olympics

Although there has been criticism of digital censorship at the Olympics, Camille Brown celebrates the reverse -the online solidarity and voices for female athletes competing for the first time in this Olympics.

 The Olympic sporting prowess has been incredible over the past weeks, and it has been absolutely gripping to watch athletes exercising the most impressive skill and dedication, courage and for the most part, good spirit. It’s been enjoyable, but whilst so much progress has been made, there are a few elements of the Olympics relating to democracy and digital rights where there is still some way to go. I’m going to focus on the amazing positives of progress towards equality this year - Saudi women being allowed to participate for the first time. Whilst I am perturbed by the fact that there are issues surrounding the list of banned expressions, the restrictions placed on athletes relating to their use of social media, and the reported deleting of videos from YouTube, I will be focusing on the progress towards democratic ideals that has been made during this year’s Games.

 In terms of digital rights, it is point 19. 6.3 of the Olympic ticket holders’ Terms and Conditions that is most ambiguous - whilst you are allowed to take images, video and sound recordings for domestic purposes, you cannot upload videos or sound onto social media networks - if you only use your social media network privately, then where does the ruling stand on this? On another note, it’s fascinating that you are not permitted to bring in a flag from a country not participating in the Olympics. Whilst I cannot imagine it happening, it bemused me as to why it could be an issue, even if it were a flag of a country with many political and civil difficulties that are perhaps being overlooked by the world,  there is no rationale provided for this.

Whilst these issues stir up serious questions, especially the legislation relating to banned expressions, I want to focus on gender and censorship, and the progress that has been made this year. The Olympics are all about equal representation, and I am thrilled to see that Arab women who were previously not allowed to represent their country are now becoming fantastic athletes and, not only that, they are speaking about it confidently and proudly online. The Guardian have an album of photographs from the Hey’Ya ( translates as ‘Let’s Go’) exhibition currently running at Sotheby’s in London, as well as interviews with Arab female athletes. It is joyous to see that these women are not being censored in their moments of Olympic glory. This is the most thrilling issue to do with democracy and censorship during this Olympics. Not only are women from Saudi Arabia able to participate this year, but Arab women from Brunei to Qatar, who also sent women to the Olympics for the first time this year, are standing in solidarity with each other. This is strongly evidenced in the Internet’s positive waves of digital democracy. There has been a wall of solidarity emerging through Twitter for the women: a hashtag that reportedly translates as “Olympic Whores” has been overridden by supporters of the female athletes, demonstrating their support and encouragement for the progress of equality. Twitter has been a very exciting place for the defence of the athletes, and it is inspiring to see floods of support. Their participation has encouraged heated online debates -and debates are so important as it is only through discussion that eyes can be opened to see that women’s equal participation in sport is essential for the progression of democratic values, and in this instance, Olympic values.

Whilst sport for women in Arab countries has a long way to go, this is progress. It is made difficult for women to participate in sport within Saudi Arabia, but the fact that two women athletes participated in the Olympics this year will inspire a generation of young girls. They will see the solidarity messages and calls for equality on social media, though it is up to them to believe that they can do it too. This year has given them the opportunity to see that they could be sports role models of the future and, with the support and solidarity which we can all give through digital means, the opportunities will arise for women to make decisions about the future of equality in sport. Freedom of speech has triumphed here and, now that Saudi Arabia has lost its status as the only country to not allow women to participate in the Games, the digital censorship of solidarity for Arab female athletes will not succeed or silence those who wish for human rights and gender equality to succeed.

Image: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Aslan Media

Is Hacktivism a Genuine Form of Protest?

Graham Armstrong discusses the ethics of hacktivism; addressing the issues of whether it can be a form of censorship and whether this style of protest is effective and, most importantly, legitimate.

In the online age of uncertain digital rights, it’s crucial for individuals to take a stand and raise awareness of the issues that affect all of us online. There’s several ways within the online world to demonstrate and raise awareness of causes such as e-petitions or social networking groups, but one of the more controversial methods is hacktivism. The term hacktivism is a portmanteau of the words hacker and activist which tends to refer to the use of unauthorised computer access to further an agenda, usually political or social. Hacktivism itself can be a fairly dubious issue, for all the power it can grant hackers of varying shades of grey, it could potentially be an effective tool for promoting an important agenda.

Is hacktivism effective?

It's very difficult for activists in small numbers to bring awareness to the issues that they campaign against. It's tempting for activists to pull stunts in order to raise awareness of their cause; take the instance of Eddie Gorecki and Jonathan Stanesby, two members of Fathers 4 Justice, who scaled the Royal Courts of Justice dressed as Batman and Robin. Their protest managed to gain national recognition in the press, which rather successfully raised their profile. Days later two-thousand supporters marched in London with a tank!

So perhaps hacktivism is just that – the gimmick that raises the profile of a cause. Anonymous hacktivists have used the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), a tool for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, to take down several websites of organisations supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act. The Department of Justice website was taken down as well as those owned by the FBI, MPAA, RIAA. Was it effective? Well SOPA failed, didn't it?

That said, I wouldn't attribute the success of the anti-SOPA campaign to Anonymous taking down websites. At most, I could imagine people trying to access those sites being irritated that “heir internet isn't working properly.” Many of the examples of hacktivism I've seen are preaching to the converted; this style of hacktivism does not seem to do much to engage with the public beyond creating momentary annoyances.

I believe that most of the attention to the anti-SOPA campaign came from the blackout of prominent websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and Craigslist. This seemed a brilliant strategy to confront end-users with the effects of censorship, perhaps more-so than a '500 Internal Error' web page.

However, aside from black-outs, there is also the case of internet vigilantes such as 'The Jester' who put a lot of effort into disrupting the websites of alleged terrorist organisations. As of late, he's also helped to put behind bars several 'script-kiddies' who disrupted the UK anti-terrorist hotline as well as disrupt the activities of Anonymous group LulzSec. If there's such a thing as hacktivism in action – that's it!

Is hacktivism ethical?

On the face of it, a lot of DDoS attacks can seem to simply be retaliation – an eye for an eye. I've never been comfortable with that stance. To me, activism should be about rectification rather than revenge. So can hacktivism ethically meet this criteria?

It could be seen that hacktivism in the form of website take-downs and take-overs is a method of censorship. Denying access to information from groups with opposing viewpoints could be seen as dodgy behaviour, however I'm not ready to brand this as censorship. I feel that censorship is a very strong term describing the suppression of ideas; this sort of website blocking is more comparable to graffiti than book burning. These actions often take websites offline for a few hours, nothing serious enough to cause lasting damage but just enough to raise attention to a cause. Consider as well that this behaviour could be a form of disobedience in refusing to accept services as-is; that perhaps attacks like these are comparable to blockading buildings like the recent protest in Mexico against biased TV reporting or even the Occupy movement.

It’s easy enough to imagine however that the owners of these websites won’t see having their own content effectively blocked as a legitimate act of protest. It’d be all too easy for groups of organised hackers to pick on somebody whose livelihood depends on their web presence. It’s unlikely to be that bad; targets of hacktivist attacks tend to be large multi-national corporations like Visa, to whom a few angry nerds with a DDoS script pose little risk. But the key question as to whether these attacks are justified does not have a blanket answer; it will always depend on the specific case.

A tactic that certainly should be of concern to digital rights campaigners is document dropping or as it’s referred to: “dox drops”. This is the practise of hackers stealing personal, or otherwise private, information pertaining to individuals and publishing it to the web. Personal details of executives of the pro-copyright lobby were published to the world as part of Anonymous’ Operation Payback. Clearly that was a breach of individual privacy and served no purpose for pursuing an agenda, other than an incitement of retaliation.

I feel this comes down to an argument of “does the ends justify the means?” If we consider that using hacktivist methods could disrupt terrorist networks or promote a particular cause or ideology, are we willing to accept that it's ok? At the end of the day, hacktivists have to accept that it's as important for those they disagree with to share their opinion as it is for those they oppose.

So is hacktivism a genuine form of protest?

I’ve spent a while thinking about this but I believe that yes, hacktivism is a genuine form of protest. Clearly from the attention that has been given to causes utilising hacktivist methods it seems fair to say that hacktivism can be effective. I find it debateable though as to whether hacktivist methods can create sympathy for a cause, it’s difficult to ascertain the helpfulness of hacktivism for a particular cause. I do believe that it is entirely possible for hacktivist methods to be used in a justified and ethical way.

The serious nature of hacktivism necessitates that it be one of the final options of protest for when all other methods have failed. It’s a rather aggressive tactic that’s more likely to intimidate and aggravate rather than promote progressive discourse between two parties. Failing that, clever clogs hackers will no doubt find a way to promote their message.

Graham Armstrong is a computing student, with interests in free software and social media, as well as a real ale advocate. He tweets as @LupusSLE

Image: Fathers 4 Justice CC-BY-NC-SA Flickr: minifig

Germany Sets New Record for Waving Anti-Privacy Legislation Through Parliament

Milena Popova explains the story of Germany's new contraversial legislation on personal data.

Digital rights is a mix of a number of very diverse issues. Most of us come to digital rights campaigning from one of these issues and then take on others as our passion, but there will always be one or two areas that we are just not particularly interested in. For a long time, ID cards has been one of those for me.
I find your attitude to ID cards is highly likely to depend on the cultural and political context you come from. A South African friend I spoke to recently saw them as a positively good thing - in apartheid South Africa having an ID card was a confirmation that you were a full citizen. Of course in some ways this just highlights the huge potential for abuse, but you can see where they’re coming from. As for me, having grown up in a number of countries where compulsory ID and the data collection that goes with it was the default, I was actually surprised this wasn’t the case when I moved to the UK. Legislation recently passed in Germany - one of those countries that lulled me into a false sense of security on the issue - highlights further possible abuses of centralised data collection by the state.

German citizens and residents have been obliged to register key data, including primary and any secondary residences, date of birth and similar, with the authorities since at least 1980. Due to Germany’s federal structure [PDF, German], the detailed regulations and infrastructure for this registration had originally been managed at a state rather than federal level. As part of German reunification in the 1990s, the federal government gained more power over registration regulations, however in practical terms it was still down to the state to implement federal regulations. The latest update to registration regulation, therefore, was intended to give federal institutions full control and establish a unified infrastructure for the management of registration data. Additional measures for the protection of citizens’ data, over and above the existing, fairly haphazard provisions, were part of early drafts of the bill but were reversed after lobbying from data brokering companies. The draft which was finally nodded through the Bundestag allowed the state to sell citizens’ data to private companies unless they specifically opted out and even removed an originally planned online opt-out process.

It is almost as if the Bundestag - the lower house of the German Parliament - had been trying to pull a fast one. Two readings of the bill, including votes, took only 57 seconds in total. Only 27 out of over 600 members even turned up, the remainder being too busy watching the Euro2012 semifinal match between Germany and Italy. This actually beats Britain’s own abysmal record on the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill, where at least a handful of MPs bothered to speak out against the controversial measures.

Yet contrary to all national stereotypes, once the football was over, the German people noticed what had been done behind their backs. With an increasingly visible Pirate Party, now represented in four state parliaments, digital rights are very much a hot topic in Germany and the bill as passed provoked a huge outcry both in social and mainstream media. This was followed by strong criticism from European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship Viviane Reding.

What followed was a political farce in which the German government, which had after all being responsible for the bill in the first place, was suddenly ”distancing” itself from the legislation. All eyes are now on the Bundesrat - the upper house - to fix this mess. In the meantime, those of us not too bothered about citizen registration and ID schemes have something to think about.

Milena is an economics & politics graduate, an IT manager, and a campaigner for digital rights, electoral reform and women's rights. She is also a member of ORG's board and continues to write for the ORGzine in a personal capacity. She tweets as @elmyra

Image: CC-BY-SA Andy Ducker

Evidence of online copyright infringement? Who did that...

Consumer Focus has published an expert report by Dr Richard Clayton on online traceability, Saskia Walzel follows the trail of his analysis.

Last week Consumer Focus published a technical expert report by Dr Richard Clayton on online traceability and more specifically, how to collect robust evidence of copyright infringement through peer-to-peer filesharing networks. The report was commissioned by Consumer Focus earlier this year to advise Ofcom on what evidence standards it could and should include in its Initial Obligations Code, which implements the Digital Economy Act 2010’s graduated response.

An IP address on its own is not evidence that a copyright infringement has been committed. It is the background information which links the IP address to the uploading and downloading of copyright protected works on peer-to-peer filesharing networks that makes it evidence. In his expert report, which Consumer Focus published under the title Online traceability: Who did that?, Dr Clayton describes which systems and checks copyright owners should follow in order to ensure that they correctly identify an IP address and the time of the alleged infringement.

Establishing the IP addresses of an internet connection that has allegedly been used for copyright infringement is only the first step in the Digital Economy Act 2010 process – the IP address must be correctly matched by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to a subscriber account, the subscriber is then notified that a copyright owner has lodged a “copyright infringement report”, and the subscriber has to work out whether to appeal such a notification. Under the Digital Economy Act 2010, a subscriber appeal will be upheld if the subscriber, that is the bill payer for an internet connection, can show that it was not the subscriber who personally committed the alleged infringement, and that the subscriber took “reasonable steps” to prevent others from infringing.

Dr Clayton therefore describes which systems need to be implemented to ensure IP addresses are correctly matched to subscriber details by the ISP, and Dr Clayton considers how a subscriber may ascertain which computer or individual was responsible for a particular infringement on their internet connection.

It is no longer the case that an internet connection is only accessed through one family computer in the household. Instead, a multitude of laptops, netbooks, smartphones, tablets and e-readers now typically connect to a households wireless router. Dr Clayton concluded that on a technical level subscribers are not able to identify which computer may have been used to commit an infringement on their internet connection. Neither can they establish who was on the keyboard by technical means. This is because routers which enable multiple machines to connect to the same internet connection do not store the network address translation (NAT) information which allocates private IP addresses internally to different machines.

Ultimately, without the NAT information, the subscriber is, on a technical level, not able to disprove the accusation that the infringement was committed by a computer within the household, or more precisely, their own computer. In a court, the copyright owners would have to prove their case, it is not the subscriber who has to disprove the allegation. But the small number of cases against consumers for infringement involving peer-to-peer filesharing that have been brought in UK courts have not been fully fought. They have either settled or been determined at the summary judgment stage.

Harvesting IP addresses of peer-to-peer filesharing networks as evidence for copyright infringement is an untested technology, which has not been fully scrutinised by UK courts. No authoritative guidance on how to collect robust evidence of copyright infringement exists. In order to assist the ongoing technical and legal debate on traceability online, and in particular the detection of online copyright infringement by consumers, Consumer Focus has publish Dr Clayton’s report with only slight editorial amendments under an Open Government Licence.


 Saskia is policy manager at Consumer Focus responsible for copyright policy. She tweets as @SaskiaWalzel

Image: CC-BY-NC Flickr: Scott Schiller

Retcons and Reversals

Wendy Grossman looks back at this week’s real-life Internet-related news, showing that it has seen so many retcons and reversals, that if it were a TV series, the showrunner would demand that the writers slow the pace.

 Reversals - in which a twist of plot or dialogue reverses what's gone before it - make for great moments in fiction, both comic and tragic. Retcons, in which the known history of a character or event is rewritten or ignored are typically a sign of writer panic: they're out of ideas and are desperate enough to betray the characters and enrage the fans.

This week real-life Internet-related news has seen so many of both that if it were a TV series the showrunner would demand that the writers slow the pace. To recap:

Reversal: Paul Chambers' acquittal on appeal in the so-called Twitter joke trial is good news for everyone: common sense has finally prevailed, albeit at great cost to Chambers, whose life was (we hope temporarily) wrecked by the original arrest and guilty verdict. The decision should go a long way toward establishing that context matters; that what is said online and in public may still be intended only for a relatively small audience who give it its correct meaning; and that when the personnel responsible for airport security, the police, and everyone else up the chain understand there was no threat intended the Crown Prosecution Service should pay attention. What we're trying to stop is people blowing up airports, not people expressing frustration on Twitter. The good news is that everyone except the CPS and the original judge could accurately tell the difference.

Retcon: The rewrite of British laws to close streets and control street signs, retailers, individual behavior, and other public displays for the next month, all to make the International Olympic Committee happy is both wrong and ironic. While the athletes are required to appear to be amateurs who participate purely for the love of sport (no matter what failed drug tests indicate), the IOC and its London delegate, LOCOG, are trying to please their corporate masters by behaving like bullies. This should not have been a surprise, given both the list of high-level corporate sponsors and the terms of the 2006 Act the British Parliament passed in their shameful eagerness to *get* the Olympics. No sporting event, no matter how prominent, no matter how much politicians hope it will bring luster to their country and keep them in office, should override national laws, norms, and standards.

In 1997 I predicted for the top ten new jobs for 2002. Number one was copyright protection officer, which I imagined as someone who visited schools to ensure that children complied with trademark, copyright, and other intellectual property requirements. Today, according to CNN and the New York Times, 280 "brand police" are scouring London for marketers who are violating the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 by using words that might conjure up an association with the Olympics in people's minds. Even Michael Payne, the marketing director who formulated the IOC's branding strategy, complains that LOCOG has gone too far. The Olympics of Discontent, indeed.

Reversal: Eleven-year-old Liam Corcoran managed to get through security and onto a plane, all without a ticket, boarding pass, or passport, apparently more or less by accident. The story probably shouldn't be the occasion for too much hand-wringing about security. The fixes are simple and cheap. And it's not as if the boy got through with 3D printer and enough material to make a functioning gun. (Doubtless to be banned from Olympic events in 2016, alongside wireless hubs.

Retcon: If you're going to (let's call it) reinterpret history to suit an agenda, you should probably stick with events far enough back that the people are all dead. There is by now plenty of high-quality debunking of Gordon Crovitz's claim in the Wall Street Journal that government involvement in the invention of the Internet is a "myth". Ha. Not only was the development of the Internet largely supported by the US government (and championed by Al Gore), so was the of the rest of the computer industry. That conservatives would argue this wasn't true is baffling; isn't the military supposed to be the one part of government anti-big-government people actually like? Another data point left out of the (largely American) discussion: the US government wasn't the only one involved. Much of the early work on internetworking involved international teamwork. The term "packet" in "packet switching", the fundamental way the Internet transmits data, came from the British efforts; its inventor was the Welsh computer scientist Donald Davies at the UK's National Physical Laboratory. Not that Mitt Romney will want to know this.

For good historical accounts of the building of the Internet, see Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon's Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1998) and (especially for a more international view) Janet Abbate's Inventing the Internet. As for the Romney/Obama spat over who built what, I suspect that what President Obama was trying to get across was a point similar to that made by the writer Paulina Borsook in 1996: that without good roads, clean water, good schools, and all the other infrastructure First Worlders take for granted, big, new companies have a hard time emerging.

It's all part of that open, free infrastructure we so often like to talk about that's necessary for the commons to thrive. And for that, you need governments to do the right things.


Wendy M. Grossman's Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series.

Image: CC-BY-SA Gary Knight

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Schmidt Happens

Wendy M. Grossman responds to "loopy" statements made by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in regards to censorship and encryption.

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