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.

The Free Bassel Campaign: STATEMENT ON THE DEATH OF BASSEL KHARTABIL

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, FreeBassel.org, 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

Trademark Law and Free Software

Even though I write about Intellectual Property Law a fair bit, the one thing I almost never talk about is Trademark Law, because Trademark is the one branch of IP that seems to be almost reasonable.

The idea is that when an entity adopts a name for itself or its product, it wants exclusivity. The justification for this is that the entity will be doing the hard work of building a reputation, and it wants to prevent any other entity from either taking unfair advantage of their good name by getting business through name confusion, and avoid being associated with (and possibly sullied by) projects, products or organizations it neither endorses or is affiliated with.

Groupon vs Gnome

Groupon had this idea for a POS tablet it chose to name “gnome.”

Understandably, the GNOME Foundation was not pleased.

To use the GNOME name for a proprietary software product that is antithetical to the fundamental ideas of the GNOME community, the free software community and the GNU project is outrageous. Please help us fight this huge company as they try to trade on our goodwill and hard earned reputation.”

Help the GNOME Foundation defend the GNOME trademark against Groupon!

Of course, in a sane world where trademarks are not only allowed to exist but are protected by law, Groupon should have backed down immediately.

In the real world if you trespass on someone else’s real property and get caught, when told to leave you must leave or you can be removed or arrested.

In the demented world of IP, Groupon trespassed on the GNOME trademark and was caught. Instead of gathering up it’s IP infringement and going home, the response appears to have been “This isn’t trespassing, this is the name we chose, and we won’t give up without a fight.”

In the copyright mad world we actually live in, the only way for the GNOME Foundation to fight this was to oppose Groupon’s Trademark Applications, requiring the outlay of large sums of money.  Oddly enough, free software purveyors generally don’t have large sums of money earmarked for legal battles. So naturally the GNOME Foundation had to launch a fundraising campaign to raise the estimated $80,000 it would need to opposing the trademark registration.

If a state is going to allow the existence of trademark law, it should not matter who is richer. In a sane world, Groupon would have backed down the moment it became aware of a conflict, because there would not have been any hope it would acquire a trademark that was already in use, and any Trademark Application process would have effective penalties to discourage specious applications.

Except there doesn’t seem to be any more sanity in Trademark Applications than there is in any other form of Intellectual Property Law. IP Law is always a gamble, and it always costs a lot of money. Without enough money, the best argument in the world can be drowned out.

Like any entity, GNOME had to jump through legal hoops — which surely cost money — in order to get the Trademark on it’s name. You would think that would provide protection. The problem is that it doesn’t. Like all IP law, the protection is only good until your money runs out.

The problem, of course, is that Trademark Law has become such a monster that if the entity doesn’t actively fight for its name, it can lose the right to use it.

Crazy.

But luckily the GNOME appeal to the Free Software Community must have achieved enough traction that Groupon felt the heat, because today I discover that Groupon has agreed to change its product name.

Proceeding in a campaign to commandeer the “gnome” name in the light of day could very well damage Groupon’s own reputation, so it has “decided to abandon our pending trademark applications for “Gnome.” “

So this should be cause for cheering, right?

what’s in a name?

JULIET
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo & Juliet, Act II, scene ii

When I started writing professionally, television production companies used de Forest Research to vet the scripts they produced, to ensure that things in their scripts — like character names — wouldn’t be a legal liability. Say your movie’s villain is a doctor who murders his patients. Now if there is only one human being alive in the world with this name, and that person is a doctor, he could suffer reputation damage and may very well sue the production company (and the writer) into oblivion. But if the name you’ve chosen for your murdering doctor is John Smith, there are sure to be so many doctors named John Smith that any reputation damage would be minuscule.

So the rule of thumb was that it was safest to use a common name like John Smith. or a name so uncommon nobody has it. In today’s Internet world, we can get a pretty good idea if a name is common or non existent through internet searches. (Note: be careful to search outside your default search engine because you want an unbiased search. If you’re making a movie, it’s still wise to hire de Forest.)

Reputation is just as important to human beings as it is to corporate entities or products. Yet there are many people in the world with the same name.  Maybe I’m just biased, but I think the reputation of a human being is far more important the the reputation of a corporate entity or a product. If a human being’s reputation is destroyed, a life is effectively destroyed.  And yet nobody suggests human beings should be obliged to have unique names that must be registered (as racehorse names are) and defended in court on pain of losing them.

And law provides recourse to slander and libel and fraud without requiring human beings to stick to a single name.  In fact, a good number of human beings have online pseudonyms as well. Certainly, name space collisions happen, but it doesn’t require human name registration.

Intellectual Property

The Free Software movement began as a way to fight for the existence of free (as in liberty) software. This movement was begun by programmers, because they didn’t want to lose the freedom to innovate and create. The Free Software Foundation fought against the application of Patent Law to software, because software is made up of mathematical formulas — the programmer’s raw materials — which should not be owned by anyone.

Ever.

By the same token, words make up our human languages; they allow human beings communicate. And as a writer, words are my raw materials. Which is why no one, no person, no entity, should be allowed to lay claim to ownership of a pre-existing word.

Ever.

Which is why this victory doesn’t sit well with me.
PD German Garden Gnome by Colibri1968


Image credit
German Garden Gnome by Colibri1968 has been released into the Public Domain.

Why I Don’t Support the Humble Bundle

my copyleft symbol

Even though I can’t be considered a gamer, I used to support the Humble Indie Bundle, because it supported free software and independent creators, and made it possible for creators to realize that a locked down patent encumbered copyright driven world was not the only option.

But even as free software and free culture supporters flocked to buy Humble Bundles, and incidentally made the Humble Indie Bundle wildly successful, somewhere along the line, the word “Indie” fell by the wayside, and they expanded into publications as well as games. But when they introduced a Microsoft bundle, it became apparent the people running this initiative weren’t as committed to the principals they espoused as they would like us to believe.

Unsubscribing from their mailing list but it doesn’t seem to work, so today I was horrified to receive a mailing for their new offering: The Humble Star Wars Comics Bundle.

I grew up with Star Wars; it has had a profound cultural impact on me. And all of the contemporary culture I grew up with is firmly locked up in copyright. Before I understood how copyright works, I actually thought Sonny Bono was a hero for championing more restrictive copyright law. But I’ve lived through the aftermath, and now I know better.

These days, I don’t go out of my way to find new copyrighted works. The only exception I make is for Independents… I will go to the local music festivals, and buy Indie CDs to support the artists. Funny thing, though; I almost never play them. Oh sure, I have lots of movies on DVD, and I even buy new ones, on occasion; and them only ever from remainder bins, because I think the worst thing we can do is to support the corporations that work so hard to strangle our culture.
So even though both my cultural history and my head are full of copyright encumbered creative works, I don’t need any more.

I do realize that not all Free Software supporters are equally committed to free culture. I will always disagree with Free Software champion Richard Stallman’s position on free culture, because it suggests free culture is somehow less important than free software. And The Humble Star Wars Comics Bundle proves me right.

Star Wars stopped being a creative work a long time ago: these days it isn’t a movie, it’s a “franchise.” And poor George Lucas was so desperate for a few billion dollars that he sold his franchise to Disney.  Disney is certainly the corporation most invested in the pursuit of perpetual copyright, the driving force behind the MPAA’s perpetual lobbying for increasingly onerous (and the criminalization of) copyright law — not only with the American government, but with any government it thinks it can influence. So we’ve seen laws like SOPA and secretive International Trade Agreements like ACTA being pushed and passed. Oh sure, Europeans took to the streets over ACTA anf the EU turned it down.   And around the world, Wikipedia led a fight against SOPA and it was stopped.  Sort of.

But.

Lots of other countries (like my own Canada) went ahead and passed ACTA anyway.  And there is no end to secret trade Agreements.  All the worst things are coming to pass.   Frankly, I would rather be writing a novel than this.   If things were left to muddle along at their own pace (as would happen if that mythic “free market” actually existed) I have no doubt that free culture would win in the end.  But those powerful special interests aren’t willing to run the risk of that happening. They aren’t willing to live and let live, their goal is total control.

And corporations have an unfair advantage in their war on human beings; they don’t get tired, and they can pursue their goals 24/7. And politicians, especially the unaccountable politicians common in winner-take-all “democracies” like ours, are easily influenced by such powerful special interests.

And our biggest failing is that we humans have other things to occupy us. You know, frivolous things, like raising our families, feeding our children, and sometimes even creating and sharing our own cultural works.

Which is why the too powerful corporate Special Interests are winning… far from being truly defeated, the worst things about CISPA and ACTA keep coming back.

And the formerly humble indie bundle is supporting this.  But I can’t.  And if you care about freedom, you shouldn’t either.

The Battle of Copyright - CC-By 2.0 Christopher Dombres


Image Credits
My own Copyleft Logo for this blog (the copyleft symbol over my Russwurm Social “LR” monogram) is CC0

The Battle of Copyright” by Christopher Dombres, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

[Also:Thanks Charles!]

Clouds

cloudsFor some time now, people have been raving about how wonderful “the Cloud” will be/is. In the real world, clouds are made of water vapour, and they are usually positioned far above our heads in the sky.

In computer terms, a “cloud” is a place to store your digital stuff so you can access it anywhere with any device. Commercial clouds are not made of vapour, they are computer servers that somebody else owns. We can pay for the privilege of storing our stuff on somebody else’s servers. Such Clouds have never appealed to me because of my concerns about privacy and freedom.

But that was before it became possible to have a private cloud– a cloud that you control yourself.
kwlug logo
Monday’s KWLUG presentation will introduce personal clouds to anyone interested in learning about or having their own cloud — a free software DRM free cloud, there will be a KWLUG presentation at Bob Jonkman and Jeff Smith will be hosting an introduction and demonstration of OwnCloud and Jeff will be showing off a “Synology NAS device running the DS Cloud service”.
owncloud logo
I don’t know anything about DS Cloud service, but I have been using Owncloud for a while– it makes it easy to share, either with password protection, or in the clear. If I were to use Flickr to share password protected photos, the person I’m sharing them with has to have a Flickr account. If they don’t have an account, they’ll have to sign up for one (and give Flickr personal information) before they can see the images.

With Owncloud, there is no registration wall, and I can share access with anyone, even anonymous anyones. And, of course, the beauty part is that my data remains in my control. This is still pretty new software, and I understand there have been a lot of enhancements now… I’ll find out more tonight.

The presentation will be at St John’s Kitchen at 97 Victoria Street North in Kitchener, 7pm Monday October 6th, 2014.

LibreTea and Free Culture

When I began blogging in 2009, this was my very first blog. It was the place I established as my home base to get my bearings as I tried to figure out what’s what — and what I was doing here.

Yueh Tung Chinese Restaurant - Libre TeaAlthough I’ve been known to refer to this as my “personal blog,” it has never been what most people would consider “personal,” because although I share my personal opinions and ideas, I try to be mindful of the privacy rights of others, so very little in the way of personal information finds its way in.

Early in my blogging career I began learning about copyright, and as the implications began to sink in, this blog began to morph into a Free Culture blog, although I’ve only just now definitively identified it as such by renaming it.

Last weekend I attended the first ever Libre Tea in Toronto. You might be wondering what a #LibreTea might be, and the best explanation I can offer is that a Libre Tea is a social gathering for people who work for and support the idea of freedom.

(And who am I to resist such a brilliantly apt pun?)

This LibreTea was a joint gathering for Ontario LibrePlanet, Ubuntu and CryptoParty folk — three groups of who share an interest in freedom.

Some of the freedom fighters who attended the gathering are pictured below;

LibreTea Toronto

FREE CULTURE FILM FESTIVAL

And this weekend I presented a Free Culture Film Festival as part of the local Software Freedom Day Celebrations put on by KWLUG and The Working Centre.

The films screened at The Free Culture Film Festival qualify as free culture either because:

  • they are in the Public Domain or
  • they have been licensed to share.

This means you can legally watch and share them as you wish. Each film title is the link that will take you to a page where you can watch and/or download the movie online:

Charade (1963) Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn ~ Public Domain
Never Weaken (1921) Harold Lloyd & Mildred Davis ~ Public Domain
His Girl Friday (1940) Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell ~ Public Domain
Fleischer Studios animated “Superman” (1941) and “The Billion Dollar Limited” (1942)
Warner graciously made high definition copies of all of the the Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios Superman shorts online.
The Durian Movie Project: Sintel (2010) Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
Sita Sings The Blues (2008) originally released as Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike; now CC0

[It is not unheard of for media to be knocked off the Internet via specious DMCA Takedown notices. After all, such takedowns don’t require any pesky evidence and there are zero consequences to the DMCA applicant if peoves to be incorrect. If any of these links doesn’t work for you Drop me a line at laurel.l@russwurm.org]

FREE CULTURE FILM FESTIVAL poster - Charade (1963), Never Weaken (1921), His Girl Friday (1940), Fleischer Superman (1941, 1942)m Sintel (2010) and Sita Sings The Blues (2008)

Happy GNU Year

Happy GNU Year!


This virtual card is the best gift I can give my readers and online friends this holiday season. Not just because its the best and most awesome Happy GNU Year card you’re likely to find online, but because I created it entirely using free culture and free software.

The Free Software Foundation‘s GNU operating system led to the adoption of the gnu as its symbol.  Free software is incredibly important for a host of reasons, and yet I very much suspect it wouldn’t exist at all any more but for the efforts of Richard Stallman and the FSF.  I highly recommend that you use free software as much as possible, not just because it’s usually free of charge (gratis) but far more importantly, because it respects our personal freedom (libre).

The penguin “Tux” is the mascot of the Linux kernel, is the heart of the free and open source software operating systems we use today. (MacOS and Windows are the non-free software used in personal computing devices (computers, cell phones, tablets, PVRs &tc.)

Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)) LicenseIf you click on the card, you’ll find a higher definition version suitable for printing.  And you are allowed to print it, because this card carries a free culture license, specifically a Creative Commons  Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License  This license gives you the freedom to use this creative work in any way you like, even commercially, with only 2 restrictions.

  1. The “Attribution” restriction means you must credit the creator(s) as specified.
  2. Second, whether printing it out and selling physical copies, mailing it to you your friends, or modifying it to create something completely different, it must carry the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License, or a similar license that requires attribution perpetuation of the license terms.

Attribution is simply giving credit where credit is due. I try to provide attribution for everything I use, even work in the public domain. The “share-alike” part of the license exists to prevent creative works from being removed from free culture and locked behind copyright.

Below you can see the steps that led to this card. Click on any of the images below for a larger/printable version.

Happy GNU Year Green (cc by-sa)Modified "Powered By GNU/Linux" Free Software  sticker set Happy GNU Year STENCIL

On the left is my first try, which I like a lot. It could make a good poster, but it’s too difficult to see and read in small formats because it’s too cluttered.

In the centre is the “wallpaper” background I devised. I modified the Powered by GNU-Linux sticker set originally created by deviantdark and published on deviantArt  under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License.  There are many free software operating systems not included, so I added Trisquel and centOS when I made up the wallpaper background. You can download the printable sticker sets from the deviantART Powered by GNU-Linux page and make your own sticker for your computer.

On the right is the first draft of the red card. I loved the simplicity of Rasmus Olsen‘s gnu meets penguin titled GNU/Linux licensed Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) that I found on Flickr.  I altered the image by bringing the penguin close enough to touch noses with the gnu, and stood them both on the lettering. In the final version, I changed the lettering because it was hard to read when the wallpaper was added.

CORRECTION: Rui Damas is the originator of the GNU/Linux artwork I reused, and it was actually released under the GNU Public License. I’m not entirely sure what that does to my licensed usage. [Thanks to Mike Linksvayer for pointing that out!]

Free Software & Free Culture

It’s no harder to learn to use free software than it is to learn to use a windows computer or a Mac.  Many Apple and Windows users are already using free software with Firefox or OpenOffice (I prefer LibreOffice).  The coolest and best ebook conversion software is called Calibre (it comes with a good e-reader so you can read eBooks on your computer).  And of course my favorite blogging software, WordPress is free software.  Wikipedia runs on free wiki software (which is why there are wikis popping up all over) and if you’re into video production, you could so worse than the amazing Blender 3D animation software or Kdenlive for video editing.  You can use social networking with GNUsocial and Friendica.   If you do switch to free software, the biggest difference you’ll notice is that you don’t have to pay for things again and again and again.  Other advantages include better security and a much lower incidence of spyware and other malware.

It was difficult for me to unlearn Photoshop so I can learn to use GIMP, but I keep trying.  I still look for a lot of the features where they would be in photoshop, but its getting easier.  I have yet to find anything Photoshop can do that can’t be done in GIMP; the challenge is finding out how to do it.   That’s why I’m so pleased I made this card entirely with GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) on my computer, which is currently runs on Linux Mint in a MATE desktop environment that has the  Ubuntu Studio plug-in.

As the copyright maximalists successfully lobby to lock up more and more of our culture for longer and longer terms, the importance of free culture has become more apparent.   Sites like the Flickr photosharing site and deviantArt make it easy for users to give their work Creative Commons licenses, so they are often the easiest places to find images licensed to share.

All versions of my GNU year card are licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) License.  If you’re interested in finding out what free culture is out there, I’ve been growing a list of Free Culture resources (in the right sidebar).    And if you have some spare cash left over from last year, please consider making a donation to the two non-profit organizations that have been instrumental in ensuring the continued existence of free software and free culture:

The Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons

And have a Happy GNU Year!