Death of an Internet Freedom Fighter

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian government some time after his disappearance in October 2015 in Damascus, Syria.

“Bassel Khartabil, also known as Bassel Safadi, was born in Damascus, Syria on May 22, 1981. He grew up to pursue an education and career in computer engineering. He was the co-founder of the collaborative research company Aiki Lab, and the CTO of the publisher Al-Aous. He served as the first project lead and public affiliate for Creative Commons Syria, and contributed to numerous Internet projects, such as Mozilla Firefox and Wikipedia.

“On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was arrested in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. For more than three years he was detained by the Syrian government at Adra Prison in Damascus. On October 3, 2015, Bassel was removed from his prison cell, and was sentenced to death by a Military Tribunal. We know now for a fact that Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian government some time in October 2015, and we are demanding to know the exact date he was tried and then executed. No information at all was provided to his family until July 2017. The details of his sentencing and execution, and the whereabouts of his remains, are unknown at this time.

“Bassel Khartabil is survived by his wife, Noura Ghazi Safadi, as well as his mother and father.


Creative Commons Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund

“At the request of Bassel’s family, Creative Commons is announcing today that it has established the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund to support projects in the spirit of Bassel’s work. Creative Commons is accepting donations, and has seeded the fund with $10,000. Bassel was our friend and colleague, and CC invites the public to celebrate Bassel’s legacy and support the continuation of his powerful work and open values in a global community.

Contributions to the fund will go towards projects, programs, and grants to support individuals advancing collaboration, community building, and leadership development in the open communities of the Arab world. The fund will also support the digital preservation, sharing, and remix of creative works and historical artifacts. All of these projects are deeply intertwined with CC’s core mission and values, and those of other communities to which Bassel contributed.

Visit the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund page for more on how to get involved. Learn more about Bassel and his work at Wikipedia,, EFF, BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera.”

— Announcing the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund

Here in the “free world,” extraordinary efforts to silence and shut down free software and free culture by large corporations are ongoing.  If software freedom was the unquestioned norm I have to wonder: would Bassel even have been arrested?

Today the EFF released these letters Bassel wrote from jail before he disappeared.

What an extraordinary young man.  My heart goes out to his family.

“Around the world, activists and advocates seek the sharing of culture, and open knowledge.

Creative Commons, and the global commons of art, history, and knowledge, are stronger because of Bassel’s contributions, and our community is better because of his work and his friendship.  His death is a terrible reminder of what many individuals and families risk in order to make a better society.”

— Creative Commons Statement on the death of CC friend and colleague Bassel Khartabil

Image Credit: Bassel Safadi by Joi Ito is released under a Creative Commons Attribution License


Stop Bill C-51

Sauron Says Stop Bill C-51
Yesterday I reblogged 33 other bloggers posts here, even though they are probably not free culture.  Although I try to keep Canadian politics in the  Whoa! Canada blog, limiting political articles on this blog to issues around copyright and free culture, Bill C-51 has crossed the line.  This law the Harper Government is planning to pass, (maybe today, probably this week) in the face of strong opposition from a clear majority of Canadians, will certainly have a devastating effect on Canadian Culture.  The removal of free speech protections will cause a massive chilling effect ~ self censorship ~ on all Canadian culture.

Some brave souls will continue to publish their art, just as the stubborn ones did in the early days of the Third Reich.  I realize many of you will think this hyperbole, but the parallels between then and now are striking.  I can tell you that I am not a brave soul, that’s why I am doing everything I can to stop this now.  I don’t want to see Canadian civil rights undermined to the point of meaninglessness, not just for myself, but for my family, and all the generations that will come after.

But if my little voice, in concert with all the other Canadian voices goes unheeded, although it will surely break my heart, I will continue to do as I always have; I will continue to follow the law.

But it isn’t law yet, so today I will share and reshare as much as I can manage.   Because I care.  Because it matters.



Smashwords Censorship: Unintended Consequences

Smashwords distributes eBooks created by self publishing authors to the various proprietary eBook platforms.

Recently PayPal has told Smashwords that it must:

“..remove fiction that contains themes of bestiality, rape and incest”

Smashwords Member Alert – March 5, 2012

Is censorship ever advisable?

Ratings systems have long proved an effective method for preventing people from stumbling on material that they would find offensive. I grew up in a small rural community with a very strong religious presence. Still, our local video store had a back room where those so inclined could access material that might otherwise offend. There were also adult magazines nestled on the top shelves at the back of magazine racks in local variety stores. I know that because I clerked in such a store in high school, and I remember my profound shock the first time an Old Order Mennonite man arrived at the store in a horse drawn buggy and proceeded to purchase the latest issue of “Hustler.” But although I am quite sure that the elders of his church would not have been pleased, in a free society, adults must be accorded the right to choose for themselves.

Else we’ll certainly end up in a world very much like the one George Orwell tried to warn us against.

thumbnail ebook cover

Although not classed as erotica, my own debut novel, Inconstant Moon, actually deals pretty prominently with the crime of rape.  If I hadn’t already taken it off Smashwords myself (because I will not deal with PayPal) it could very easily have been one of the titles censored.

TechDirt considers that Paypal is just following orders Paypal Pressured To Play Morality Cop And Forces Smashwords To Censor Authors, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation is planning a legal challenge.

But in an email to Smashwords authors, founder Mark Corker indicates he is negotiating with PayPal, and although

“Many Smashwords authors have suggested we find a different payment processor. That’s not a good long term solution, because if credit card companies are behind this, they’ll eventually force crackdowns elsewhere. PayPal works well for us. In addition to running all credit card processing at the store, PayPal is how we pay all our authors outside the U.S. My conversations with PayPal are ongoing and have been productive, yet I have no illusion that the road ahead will be simple, or that the outcome will be favorable.”

— Mark Corker,  Smashwords Author/Publisher Update – March 2, 2012

So  readers and writers have been duly warned that Smashwords will cave to PayPal demands rather than switch payment providers should negotiations fail.   That’s a business decision, and Smashwords can legally make it, but make no mistake: PayPal will not be the entity censoring eBooks, that task will fall to Smashwords.

Unintended Consequences

Copyright "c"

Smashwords is an internet company operating in the United States, and as such is subject to the DMCA.

Under the DMCA, You Tube is not liable for copyright infringing material that users upload, because YouTube doesn’t create the videos, it simply distributes them online. So much material is uploaded to YouTube, the cost of YouTube having to police the content of its users would instantly put YouTube out of business. Thus the DMCA allows Internet companies like YouTube an exemption from responsibility for the content they distribute, because these companies can’t reasonably assess such content for legal infractions.

The DMCA defines such a distributor as a “safe haven” so long as it complies with the DMCA.   So YouTube only takes down material when it receives a specific DMCA take down notice.

Smashwords relies on its automated processes to do what it does, and so far, no human has had to go through and vet every submission. But by accepting this PayPal censorship directive, Smashwords would assume responsibility for the content of the books it distributes.

Seems to me, the unintended consequence of a Smashwords decision to censor the books it distributes would remove the “safe haven status” Smashwords enjoys under the DMCA. Which would mean that Smashwords will have no choice but to police every title it distributes, or else be legally liable for any alleged copyright infringements.

Copyright Update: C-11 and ACTA

Canadian DMCA logo

Fortunately Bill C-11 has not yet become law.


Unfortunately it is only a matter of time before our majority government passes this misguided “copyright modernization” legislation currently called Bill C-11.

[This is the exact same law that was called Bill C-32 by the previous Conservative Government. Earlier incarnations were known as Bill C-61: An Act to amend the Copyright Act (by the Conservatives), and Bill C-60: An Act to amend the Copyright Act (by the Liberals).]

Although Canadians have mounted waves of opposition against each succeeding incarnation of a “Canadian DMCA,” both Liberal and Conservative Canadian Governments have attempted to pass copyright legislation that’s clearly against Canadian interests.   Initially there was only supposition that the various drafts of a “Canadian DMCA” were produced in response to American pressure.  After all, the USTR has been spreading misinformation about supposed Canadian piracy for years, in spite of the fact that the American DMCA has not stopped American digital piracy levels from being far higher than ours.   Thanks to Wikileaks it is no longer an unsubstantiated guess: the Canadian government wants only to pass a Copyright Law that will make the American Government happy.

Four different Canadian Governments led by our two traditional ruling parties have tried to accomplish this, the previous efforts failed due to a combination of opposition and politics.

But this time it is different: our majority Conservative Government can pass anything it likes.

The only possible way to stop it is for public outcry.  The problem is that most Canadians still don’t know this is happening or why it is important or what it will do.  The mainstream media coverage has not helped raise awareness because their corporate masters have a vested interest; after all, the MPAA and RIAA (through its branch plant formerly known as CRIA) have a very long reach.

TPM, DRM, Digital Locks

DRM technologies attempt to give control to the seller of digital content or devices after it has been given to a consumer. For digital content this means preventing the consumer access, denying the user the ability to copy the content or converting it to other formats. For devices this means restricting the consumers on what hardware can be used with the device or what software can be run on it.

Wikipedia: Digital rights management

The single reason that Bill C-11 will be so devastating is that it sets TPM (Technical Protection Measures) as the most powerful element of Canadian copyright law.   TPMs (also known as copy protection) are the main weapon used in the DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) arsenal, and are commonly referred to as “Digital Locks” in Canada.

Whatever you call it, it will be terrible for Canadians.   It won’t matter if a person has legally purchased a copy of an eBook,  game, a movie or music, if Canadians need to circumvent TPMs in order to read, play watch or listen to our own legal copies, we will be breaking the law.  If I want to watch a movie DVD on my Linux computer, I won’t be able to.  Linux users will be forced to switch to Apple or Windows operating systems of they want to watch their DVDs.  If I want to format shift any digital media I’ve purchased so that it will play on the device of my choosing, I won’t be able to without breaking the law.

Does this mean it will be illegal to have my printer’s ink cartridges refilled with off brand ink? Probably. I was foolish enough to buy a printer that has computer chips in its printer cartridges. The chip tells the printer not to work because a certain amount of ink has been used or the printer cartridge is too old. Bypassing that programming may well be considered circumvention of the manufacturer’s technical protection measures. After all, to be protected under the new Bill C-11 Copyright Law, TPMs won’t have to be tied to any actual copyright infringement or criminal wrongdoing.

This is not a good thing for consumers.

Once this law is passed, I imagine that it will be only a matter of time before every digital device and most software destined for the Canadian market will be tightly locked in DRM.  Further, as a self publishing Canadian writer, my further concern is also that digital locks may well be used to limit distribution of my own work.

Why did Canada sign ACTA?

The speed with which digital innovation and the Internet have set the world on end is unprecedented; even Malcolm Gladwell, one of Canada’s brightest sons doesn’t get it. So I’m inclined to think that the largest problems is that most of our government doesn’t understand the issues.

It is unreasonable to expect elected officials to understand everything. They are only human, after all, and so they can’t. What they must do, is to find out about each issue as it arises, and the fastest way to do this is to consult with the experts. The problem that has arisen is that the experts governments the world over rely on when forging laws to govern this new technology are the mainstream media. And the mainstream media has a clear and present interest in both copyright and and controlling technological innovation.

It is very possible that C-11 is intended as a law to allow Canadian compliance with the dreadful ACTA Trade Agreement.

The world wears Mouse ears and reads ACTA attacks Internet is the La Quadrature Du Net ACTA Logo

ACTA is one more offensive against the sharing of culture on the Internet. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is an agreement secretly negotiated by a small “club” of like-minded countries (39 countries, including the 27 of the European Union, the United States, Japan, etc). Negotiated instead of being democratically debated, ACTA bypasses parliaments and international organizations to dictate a repressive logic dictated by the entertainment industries.

ACTA, a blueprint for laws such as SOPA and PIPA, would impose new criminal sanctions forcing Internet actors to monitor and censor online communications. It is thus a major threat to freedom of expression online and creates legal uncertainty for Internet companies. In the name of trademarks and patents, it would also hamper access to generic medicines in poor countries.”

La Quadrature Du Net

Although Canadian negotiators were included in the secret ACTA treaty negotiations, sitting members of parliament and the public were deliberately kept in the dark as to what ACTA was about. Although ACTA is supposed to stand for “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agrement” the prime reason for its secrecy was the copyright law provisions.

Among those who are aware of ACTA, its agenda is believed to be that of the American movie and music industries. These Industries have been investing unprecedented amounts of time and money in attempts to coerce sovereign nations around the world to enact copyright laws beneficial to their special interests.

In spite of the fact that the final round of ACTA negotiations failed to achieve consensus in the secret negotiations, some time later Canada went ahead and signed the treaty anyway. The European Parliament signed ACTA a few days after the SOPA protest, but it must pass a plenary vote this summer before it will be official.

Oh! Canada: Memo to World: Stop ACTA Now!

Stop The Canadian DMCA

NO Canadian DMCACopyright law has always been concerned with Intellectual Property, but Bill C-11 strays into the realm of physical property. A law that prevents citizens from making personal use of our own legally purchased media on the digital devices of our choices strays beyond the realm of intellectual into the realm of physical property. Making all circumvention illegal is equivalent to putting citizens in jail for breaking into our own home of we’ve inadvertently locked ourselves out.

Bill C-11 is *not* in the Canadian interest.

More information can be found in my Oh! Canada article
“Bill C-11 Backgrounder: A Brief History of the Canadian DMCA” and What to do about Bill C-11 ?

Technical Aspects: check Russell McOrmond’s Conservative Copyright Bill C-11

Legal Aspects: Michael Geist – latest post includes the video short Strombo’s Soapbox: My Take on Bill C-11

Bill C-11 Status

Keep up with the status of this problematic draft legislation by checking LEGISinfo.

Netizens Day


— citizens of the Internet —
It’s long past the time when the natural rights of netizens were claimed.

screen capture of what my site will look like when it goes dark

Wednesday January 18th marks an Internet wide protest made by netizens who have vowed to make our sites go dark for some or all of the day.

Here are 10 reasons you should take action against SOPA

There are a ton of websites going dark include, but are not limited to, Wikipedia osnews, Tor, Tumblr., Cheezburger, Reddit … and many of us ordinary people are doing it too (or trying).

Even though I am a Canadian. these laws will impact badly on Canada and Canadians, so I plan on joining in the protest, as are many people all over the world.

How to do this:

How to: ‘Go dark’ on Jan 18 to fight SOPA/PIPA has info on making your WordPress or Facebook page go dark

If you host your own website and have access to your index.html file, you can replace it temporarily with the code found here:

I do realize that the ability to participate is predicated on being able to handle the technical stuff. Not everyone can do it… I have been playing around with it and been unable to make the index thingie work on … so maybe I won’t be able to get it done. I never did manage to make the banner work on my Tumblr page either.

We’ll see. If I can’t manage it, I will think of something.

Because it is time. We can’t let this one go.

Whatever happens, forever more, January 18th will from henceforth be NETIZENS DAY.

Stand up for Netizen Rights!

Here’s a terrific SOPA Protest song: The Day the LOLcats died:

Thanks to 1111aether for coining the phrase NETIZENS DAY.

Dear Wikipedia: The Death of Mark Duggan is Notable

Wikipedia logo

I frequently use Wikipedia as a reference, particularly for breaking news. As a blogger, I link to supporting articles, because linked information adds depth.

broken links

I hate broken links, so I try to avoid linking to The Globe and Mail, for instance, because they started locking older articles behind a paywall. That deliberately breaks links that work when I post the article [unless the reader pays ransom].

I am quite certain that I’ve linked to Wikipedia more than any other website, and so I worry because deleted Wikipedia articles will result in broken links.

Broken links are bad for blogs, and while online news outlets often don’t understand this, Wikipedia ought to. As a blogger, when I link to something, I expect it to stay there. As an Internet user, it is annoying to follow a link to get more information, only to discover that the original article has been removed. The only time any Wikipedia entry should be deleted is if it is fraudulent.

The Wikipedia page Death of Mark Duggan is flagged for deletion. There is a huge argument raging about whether or not Mark Duggan’s death is notable.

Mark Duggan holding two fingers to his nose, this is currently the most common photo of the slain young man online

I’ve never been to the UK, never met Mark Duggan in life.

Yet over here in Canada, I know Mark Duggan’s name, the tragic circumstances of his death, and the aftermath precipitated by it. People I talk to online are directly affected. It strikes me as absolutely ludicrous that this Wikipedia page might be deleted.

Wikipedia is “self-correcting;” which means if a contributor gets something wrong, other interested folks will step in and correct it. This has resulted in some surprisingly high levels of accuracy. Wikipedia is a creation of volunteers, so it isn’t perfect. It depends on co-operation. And unfortunately, as with any volunteer organization, internal politics exist. Which is why many perfectly good articles are deleted — because someone deems them unimportant.

And so the Death of Mark Duggan article is flagged for deletion: apparently, some Wikipedians claim it is not “notable.”

Call me crazy, but any event that precipitates days of rioting in a democracy seems worthy of note.

notable searches

The Google front page (citing: About 7,100,000 results (0.16 seconds) of a “Mark Duggan” search today turned up results starting with Tottenham & Wood Green Journal: ‘Why I clash with police’ by man who grew up with Mark Duggan and ends with the American ABC Television: What Happened to Mark Duggan, The Man Who Sparked the London Riots? This, in spite of the fact that the name, and page is also shared by a number of “established” people named Mark Duggan:

The Wikipedia article Death of Mark Duggan is the fifth listing, in itself an indication of “notability.”

A Bing/Yahoo search (citing “3,810,000 results”) results generates a page of search results entirely devoted to the dead young Tottenham man, with the “notable” Wikipedia article Death of Mark Duggan placing eighth.


Back in the days when encyclopedia space was limited by the physical constraints of paper and ink and binding, notions of “notability” would have helped to determine what subjects to exclude. Not because the information was bad, but because the encyclopedia needed to appeal to enough people to be able to generate funds to pay for itself. Because what was considered notable to residents of one geographical area was not necessarily notable to others, different encyclopedias grew up in different countries.

Is the problem one of space? Is Wikipedia so close to capacity? The Wikipedia article Death of mark Duggan runs 1053 words, and the argument on the Wikipedia Wikipedia Articles for deletion: August 8th: Death of Mark Duggan runs 7425 as I write this. The argument for deletion takes up seven times as much space as the article flagged for deletion. This suggests any limitation based on space restrictions in today’s world of low cost digital storage would be artificial.


There’s a page about the controversy Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia. What it boils down to is some people want to limit the contents of Wikipedia based on the purely subjective basis of “notability.”

I know a few very active Wikipedians, but so far have only contributed a single Wikipedia page (relatively uncontroversial. largely untouched), which entitled me to attend a Wikipedia meeting at Toronto’s Linux Caffe that sought to determine interest in a possible Toronto Chapter. There was a lively discussion about “deletionists,” the consensus was opposed to wanton deletion, and many had stories about expert contributors who have ceased to contribute because of the deletion frenzy.

Writing a Wikipedia entry was hard work for me, not least because I had to learn the rules and the physical format.

It seems to me that anything that triggers the creation of a Wikipedia entry is “notable” to the contributor. Knowing that the hard work I might invest in future contributions could be deleted because someone else deems it not “notable” is a huge deterrent. Why should I bother? If I have information to share, I can blog it, because then I know it will still be available when someone needs the information a year from now. I don’t know that about Wikipedia. Investing time and energy in contributing to Wikipedia is one thing; having to spend time arguing why it shouldn’t be deleted is likely to drive away potential contributors. Destruction is always easier than creation.


Deletionism is a form of censorship exercised by some people who choose to impose their priorities on others.

While I defend your right to decide what is notable to you; I categorically reject your attempt to define what is notable or important to me. Is Wikipedia in the business of sharing information or censoring it?

If a Wikipedian doesn’t like an article, they needn’t visit it. However, if they manage to have articles deleted, others seeking the deleted information — people who would find it notable — will forever after be deprived of accessing the information.

I suggest that power struggles and bullying should have no place in Wikipedia.

subjective or objective?

I had the idea that Wikipedia aspires to be what I always imagined Asimov‘s Encyclopedia Galactica to be, a reference storehouse “containing all the knowledge accumulated” – which means including every fact.

Facts are facts. They are not good or bad, notable or not, until we apply our subjective biases.

In order to be a truly objective and comprehensive reference, Wikipedia must cease trying to decide what is important, because importance is variable.

If Wikipedia is to become a truly universal resource, it needs to dispense with any possibility of this kind of editorial censorship. History may be written by the victors, the bullies or the ruling class; but an encyclopedia should never be.

If it is true, if it exists, if it happened, it should be included in Wikipedia. What isn’t important today, might be tomorrow. Or next week.

A week ago, Mark Duggan was still alive. Today, his death has shaken the world.

Image Credit: Wikipedia © by Terry Foote & released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License