“There’s a battle going on right now. A battle to define everything that happens on the internet in terms of traditional things that the law understands. Is sharing a video on BitTorrent like shoplifting from a movie store? Or is it like loaning a videotape to a friend. Is reloading the webpage over and over again like a peaceful, virtual sit in? Or a violent smashing of shop windows. Is the freedom [to] connect like freedom of speech? Or like the freedom to murder.” — Aaron Swartz
This was the crux of a speech Aaron Swartz delivered entitled “How We Stopped SOPA” this past summer, the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” You may have heard about Aaron’s passing last week in a quick mention on the radio or on your favorite online news site, but those blurbs don’t do him justice.
You’ve probably heard he was a young computer genius. He helped to start Reddit, Creative Commons, and other websites and organizations. He had an instrumental role, at the age of 14, in creating the RSS (Really Simple Specification), the foundation that modern blogging and podcasting is built on. You may have heard he was a passionate activist, founding Demand Progress, co-founding the PCCC, Rootstrikers, Open Library, reading and writing voraciously. You’ve probably heard he took his own life this month, at the age of 26, just weeks before his impending trial.
Recently, Aaron had developed a program to mass-download articles from JSTOR, a digital library of scholarly research. Despite some reports, he didn’t need to gain unauthorized access or “hack” anything to do so: Aaron had access to JSTOR as a Harvard Fellow, and he installed his small program on the MIT’s famously open network, which he also had the right to access. Contrary to what you may have heard, he did not share the copyrighted material he downloaded from JSTOR, and he gave the material back when he was asked. Many have speculated as to what Aaron intended to do with the articles, but that ultimately doesn’t matter, because his intentions aren’t what got him in trouble either.
What landed Aaron in hot water was violating JSTOR’s Terms of Service agreement, one of those little text boxes with pages of legalese that appears when you install iTunes, sign up for Amazon, or join Facebook, where we all checkmark “I Agree” without actually reading what we’re agreeing to. That box constitutes a binding contract.
To be clear, Aaron didn’t become a target because he had broken into a network or stolen files—Aaron was federally indicted because he had violated JSTOR's TOS. JSTOR had written a limit to the number of articles one person is allowed to download, and Aaron exceeded that limit. What I am getting at is – and I cannot stress the absurdity enough – Aaron was indicted on federal charges for downloading too many articles that he had free, legal access to! That is why our government, his government went after him and charged him with multiple felonies.
Under the Computer Fraud and Abuses Act (CFAA), violating a Terms of Service or End User License Agreement is a felony. It’s the only private contract you can serve time in a federal penitentiary for breaking. Congress passed the CFAA in 1986, before most Americans had a computer at home, before broadband, before it was even possible to view images on the web.
Although JSTOR declined to sue Aaron for his breach of contract, under the CFAA, the federal government has the right to pursue criminal prosecution. Carmen Ortiz, the US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, brought charges against Aaron that could send him to federal prison for 35 years, serve him fines totaling $1 million in addition to his legal fees, and permanently brand him a felon, all for the “crime” of downloading more scholarly articles than he was supposed to.
Imagine if you were sent to federal prison for breaking your lease, even if your landlord declined to press charges. Imagine if it was a felony not to return your rental car on time, even if you call the company to arrange an extra fee. Imagine serving 35 years in federal prison if you quit your job without two weeks’ notice.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California has introduced a bill aptly titled, “Aaron’s Law” to amend key provisions of the CFAA, including the section of the law that declares it a felony to violate a Terms of Service agreement, the section of the law that affected Aaron and everyone who uses online services like you and I.
Lofgren introduced the bill on Reddit – something I’d like to think Aaron would appreciate, not just because he helped to create the site, but because she was seeking feedback from the active, online community on her proposal, exactly the kind of democratic power of technology that Aaron spent his life trying to bring us.
To be honest, passing this bill is just one small step we can take to get us closer to the world Aaron envisioned, where technology is used to expand our freedoms and rights instead of restrict them. There is so much work that needs to be done on these issues! Still, Aaron’s Law is an important step in the right direction. As members and staff of DFA, an online progressive organization governed by these arcane and misguided laws, if we can take part in creating this change, I think we must.
When we lost Aaron, we lost a hero in this battle. To make up for his loss will take more than a single one of us, but together with other groups working on these issues we can make a difference. Now is the time, we all need to raise his banner and continue Aaron’s fight to secure our rights and freedoms in the digital age.
Though they might have thought they were sneaky, Republicans' gerrymandering is obvious in this graphic showing six swing states and that – by their colors – should have voted overwhelmingly for Romney in November. But did they? Nope, all six went to Obama.
Check it out:
The Republicans have divided up the state into wiggly congressional districts that split up the Democratic urban population centers and make the states look much redder than they really are. The House delegations from these states are not representative of how Democratic these states are. Republicans were able to steal away seats from the Democrats and Progressives in these states
Plus, they are now trying to change the way electoral votes are allocated in Presidential elections, making it by districts instead of by popular vote. They made up districts to suit themselves and now plan to rig the next Presidential election to get what they want.
They must realize that the majority of Americans find the Republican Party ridiculous, prejudiced, and stuck in the past. If you can't win fairly, cheat, right? Wrong. The Tea Party faction of the GOP is driving it off the rails, and the lack of enthusiasm for voting in Midterm elections has allowed it to do just that. Do you live in one of these states, or know someone who does? Tell us about your experiences in the comments, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to keep track of our progress getting rid of the Tea Party in 2014. We can do it with your help. It's a little while off, but we can't forget how important Midterm elections are. Don't forget to vote! Let's get some sanity back in our government.
Yesterday, Obama’s Second Inauguration captivated American’s across the country. One of the best surprises came with the President’s address to the American people. Through the course the speech the Obama recaptured the hope of 2008. Yet, one of the most personal progressive values was the call for equal rights and marriage equality:
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Barack Obama is the first president to ever directly call for marriage equality in an inaugural address. In fact, he is the first president to ever use the word “gay” in such a speech. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President Obama aptly spoke of the 1969 Stonewall riots tying them to the same struggles faced in the civil rights and women’s suffrage movement.
The LGBT community is incredibly elated by the news. Activists who have long supported the president feel at last they’ve been heard. In an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, Inaugural poet, Richard Blanco expressed how “simply amazing” it was. As an openly gay man, Blanco faced conservative prejudices who refused to be part of this inauguration because of him. However, President Obama’s speech was uncompromising and bold, he strongly advocated for equality and did not shy from his values. For many American families across the country this marked the first time that their equal rights were addressed on a historic stage such as this.
Today, we look forward to supporting the President as he brings about progressive change. The speech has re-energized the people and our commitment to social change and justice is stronger than ever.
Jon Stewart is at it again with his excellent analysis of Republican hypocrisy. In the wake of the President's gun safety press conference there has been a lot of talk, some making good points, others not so much. Let Jon break it down for you:
The same people who call for the government to just enforce the existing gun laws – Todd Tiahrt and the NRA, especially – have managed to completely neuter the ATF's ability to do just that. When will this hypocrisy end? How much more of it can we take? The Tea Party Congress, backed by the overreaching Washington lobbyists, is crippling our government's ability to do its job.
What do you like most about Stewart's analysis? Tell us in the comments, and share your thoughts with us about gun safety, the NRA leadership, or any other political issue currently on your mind. Our members keep us moving forward. Follow us on Twitter,like us on Facebook, and keep up with our work in the progressive movement.
As President Obama presents his orders to fight gun violence the National Rifle Association launches a new spiteful pro-gun campaign. The ad goes beyond the issue and personally attacks the President and his family for maintaining security for his daughters the President. See it for yourself here:
No one has ever had the audacity to call out any past President for protecting their families with high security. The tactics used here are horribly wrong and desperate. Moreover, the NRA has crossed a serious line by going after President's children. Obama has stated he, like many American families, remains skeptical as to whether guns in the nation’s public schools would effectively make them safer. It is clear that NRA is no longer protecting gun owner’s rights or supporting the second amendment for that matter. The NRA today is paid big-money to support the interests of gun manufacturers. The “Stand and Fight” campaign is a desperate attempt to discredit the President’s fight to end gun violence. A Forbes’ headline says it all: “Not Your Father’s NRA Goes After Obama Children In Disturbing Television Ad.”
We look forward today as President Obama announces his plans for comprehensive gun reform. Calling for an end of gun violence is more critical than ever. The time is now. Sign our petition here for Congress to act. We can no longer stand by, the gun violence must cease. Today Obama said, “The only way we can change is if the American people demand it." Let us know what you think about the President’s plan and the battle for gun safety.