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


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!

Revisiting Edgar Allan Poe

On June 5th 2011 I wrote a blog article called “Theft by Copyright: C.T. Talman vs. W.S. Hartshorn” in which I looked at how copyright has served us in the matter of the most famous Edgar Allan Poe photograph.

Since the early form of photography (daguerreotype) was leading edge technology in Poe’s time, you might think there would be photos of Poe that anyone could use all over the Internet today.  After all, Poe died in 1849, so any photographs in existence should be well in the public domain.

Yet my Google image search only turned up one photo of Edgar Allan Poe that I would be free to reuse.   The implication being, of course, that every other photo of Poe claimed or implied the image was under copyright.

That just doesn’t seem right.

I just did the same search today, right now, and got the same result, only a single image of Poe “free to reuse”

Compare that with an Edgar Allan Poe Google Image Search (without the “free to use or share” license parameter) and you get pages and pages of Poe images. While a few are artistic remixes (and thus possibly copyrightable),  most are straight copies of the public domain photos, yet none are marked “free to use or share.”

Why is that, I wonder?

It isn’t Google’s job to determine copyright on the works shown on websites it indexes, yet I have to wonder why the Google image search did not return Poe’s photo on Wikimedia Commons? [Note to self: search images on Wikimedia Commons before Google Image Search.]

post script errata

Over the past year there have been additional comments made on my article, touching on copyright and the history of the specific daguerreotype.

the photographer

When I wrote the article, I understood the name of the the photographer written on the face of the photograph as the copyright holder to be C.T. Talman. Going back and looking at the current Wikipedia revisions, it seems someone with sharper eyesight or access to a better copy, has identified the name as C.T. Tatman.

I wasn’t entirely sure I believed that, particularly as one of the comments on my article was made by the descendant of a photographer named Talman. As it turns out, the American Library of Congress listing identifies the photographer’s name as Tatman, and notes “this record contains unverified, old data from caption card.”

I’ll accept this; it seems pretty authoritative to me.

the daguerreotype

Another important new thing I learned from comments on the article was that W.S.Hartshorn was actually Samuel Welds Hartshorn (1802 – 1885), according to Terry Alphonse. It wasn’t difficult to establish that this was factually correct, making it likely the initials on the Wikipedia entry had been inadvertently reversed.

On the basis of this, I was edited one of the Wikipedia pages to correct the reversed Hartshorn initials.


There are two different Wikimedia Commons pages I linked in the preceeding article. The first is a faithful reproduction of the famous Edgar Allan Poe photograph.

Wikipedia’s Edgar Allan Poe 2.jpg page credits the daguerreotype as having been taken by W.S. Hartshorn, Providence, Rhode Island, on November 9th, 1848 and the subsequent photograph as having been taken by C.T. Tatman.

The second image, which is derivative of the first, was created by a Wikipedian to clean up the image, but also carries additional information.  This Wikimedia Commons page credits Edwin H. Manchester as the actual photographer. The description identifies Edwin H. Manchester as a “photographer employed by the Masury & Hartshorn firm (second floor of 25 Westminster Street) of Providence, Rhode Island” and tells us that the daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe was photographed “on the morning of November 9th, 1848.”

But who actually created the original daguerreotype?

With these corrections, I found an interesting authoritative article on the subject of this image, known as The “Ultima Thule” Daguerreotype, on the fascinating The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore website. This article clears up my confusion over who actually created the original daguerreotype.

Everything agrees it was taken at the Providence, Rhode Island, daguerreotype studio of Samuel Masury and S.W. Hartshorn, by one of the studio’s camera assistants, Mr. Edwin Manchester.

When Masury and Hartshorn parted ways years later, brothers Edwin H. and Henry N. Manchester — both of whom had worked for the studio as camera assistants — took over the business, retaining the original Poe daguerreotype Edwin had photographed.

B.C. (before copyright)

At the time the daguerreotype was made, copyright did not apply to photographs. When later added, copyright was usually vested in the owner of the film and/or camera. Copyright, like the physical daguerreotype, would have belonged to the Masury and Hartshorne studio, even though an employee (the artist) took the picture.

It is quite possible C.T. Tatman could have later bought the business, which would explain his access to the original daguerreotype, and justify Tatman’s copyright notice. A reasonable business practice under the copyright regime may well have been for Tatman to photograph the original daguerreotype, affix the copyright notice to his negative, and then destroy the original. Such artificially induced scarcity would certainly have maximized Tatman’s profits.

I suspect we will never know.


Copyright has no respect for history or culture;
it is simply a state imposed monopoly concerned with controlling revenue for profit.


Image Credits

Both versions of the Ultima Thule Daguerreotype of Edgar Allen Poe [photographed by Edwin H. Manchester on November 9th, 1848, at the Masury and Hartshorn studio, in Providence, Rhode Island] mentioned in the article, can be found in the Wikimedia Commons, which exists to allow us to share digital works.

The absurdity of modern copyright law makes it difficult to find images we can use online. My advice in seeking out images licensed for reuse can be found in my techDITZ blog “Images You Can Use ‘article.

C-11 ~ What *are* TPMs anyway?

pie chart 61.9% voted "Yes" 28,57% "No", the rest don't know.

The majority of those Canadians who took my unscientific poll  understand (or think they understand) what DRM is.

Yet very few taking my poll had any idea what TPMs are.

Friday May 4th was the International Day Against DRM. Although Canada has been talking about changing copyright law for well over a decade, DRM (Digital Rights Management, or Digital Restrictions Management) isn’t even mentioned in Bill C-11, the draft legislation currently before parliament.

pie chart: 77.27% said NO 9.9 13.64% were NOT SURE and 9.09% said YES

Interestingly enough, many Americans are just as confused by the acronym TPMs as Canadians are, because, especially in the tech sector, TPM is more often an acronym for Trusted Platform Module.

If you search for “Technical Protections Measures” on Wikipedia, you will be redirected to the “Copy Protection” page.    And oddly, although people talk about “Technical Protection Measures” the language in Bill C-11 is actually “Technological protection measures.”

Wikipedia will tell you that there is no “Technological Protection Measures” page, but provides a list of search results. Unsurprisingly, the first on the list is the Digital Rights Management page, which is appropriate since “Technical Protections Measures” or TPMs are pretty interchangeable with DRM.

Curiously, DRM is not mentioned in the American Digital Millenium Copyright Act either. The phrase “technological measures” is used to describe DRM in that bit of legislation.

`Sec. 1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems …
(3) As used in this subsection–

`(A) to `circumvent a technological measure’ means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner; and

`(B) a technological measure `effectively controls access to a work’ if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Bill C-11 defines TPMs thus:

“technological protection measure” means any effective technology, device or component that, in the ordinary course of its operation,

(a) controls access to a work, to a perform- er’s performance fixed in a sound recording or to a sound recording and whose use is authorized by the copyright owner; or

(b) restricts the doing — with respect to a work, to a performer’s performance fixed in a sound recording or to a sound recording — of any act referred to in section 3, 15 or 18 and any act for which remuneration is payable under section 19.

Bill C-11

Short answer: TPM is Bill C-11 legal language for DRM.

If Bill C-11 becomes law as written, it will become illegal to circumvent DRM, even if the DRM is “protecting” work that does not infringe copyright.   Work that is in the public domain. Work that qualifies as fair dealing. Work that is licensed to share. Work that doesn’t infringe copyright.

Bill C-11 will give DRM super powers in Canada.

If Bill C-11 becomes law, I expect DRM will appear on everything destined for the Canadian market.

WSIC (Waterloo Students for the Information Commons) has set up a DRM/TPM wiki

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.

When is Pepper Spray Appropriate? #OccupyCanada

Black and white photo Text says OCCUPONS MONTREAL

The Occupy Montreal Protest continues, with a recent donation of arctic rated tents. Tolerance seems to be the city of Montreal’s policy.

black and white photo of protesters

Today conservative Superior Court Justice David Brown, himself a former Bay Street Lawyer, is expected to decide the fate of St. James Park’s Occupy Toronto encampment.

I understood that judges were at least expected to present the appearance of impartiality, and that a judge that was too close to a case was expected to recuse himself when such conflict arose. since the Occupy movement is a condemnation of the financial policies of Wall Street/Bay Street, it would seem a given that a jurist with a corporate Bay Street background like Justice Brown’s would recuse himself at the outset. Yet he did not.

“Every protest group all of a sudden has its own park. At the end of the day, where do I ride my bike?”

Justice David Brown

Still, the Justice elected not to evict the protesters on Friday, exhibiting an awareness of the situation on the ground. I wonder if the horrible events of US Davis in California, and the resultant surge in public opinion as a direct result, might affect his decision today. Laws and justice are supposed to reflect society’s mores after all.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

hot to handle

The first time I beheld a green pepper was in a home economics in the ninth grade. I thought they were cute; but smelled bad and tasted awful. I have never understood why people like to eat hot peppers, but clearly they do.

One year I grew hot peppers which won first prize in a local fair. I dried some, and canned some as gifts. But the thing I wasn’t prepared for was that just handling them puts the oil on your hands. I learned the importance of thoroughly washing your hands after I made the mistake of picking jalapeño peppers and then rubbing my eyes. It only happened once, and it hurt. I remember the pain very well. Never again.

But it didn’t kill me.

So like most people, I had no idea that pepper spray could be lethal.

It is especially hard on people with asthma because it is an inflammatory agent, and Wikipedia tells us that it can cause “…uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes.”

When I was a child, I didn’t know a soul with asthma. As an adult, they are everywhere. So it seems to me that pepper spraying people is playing with fire.

In other parts of the world, citizens are allowed to carry cannisters of pepper spray on their person for self defence.

Not in Canada; here pepper spray is a prohibited weapon. Unless you’re in law enforcement, then you are allowed to spray it for “crowd control” Pepper spray was lobbed at Toronto’s G20 protesters last year.

This weekend’s inappropriate police pepper spraying of peaceful protesters at California’s UC Davis campus has triggered outrage around the world this weekend.

Pepper spray is increasingly used, not as self defence, but as a means of physically punishing peaceful protesters.

Deborah Blum’s Speakeasy Science article looks at the history, use and effects of pepper spray. It is not a pretty picture.

Pepper spray is banned for use in war by Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention which bans the use of all riot control agents in warfare whether lethal or less-than-lethal.[18] In the US, when pepper spray is used in the workplace, OSHA requires a pepper sprayMSDS be available to all employees.[citation needed]
Wikipedia: Pepper Spray: Legality

If pepper spray is too terrible to use in war, why are authorities using it on peaceful protesters?

Pepper spray is never appropriate.