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Lessig and Demand Progress: Demand justice for our friend Aaron Swartz

By: David Segal Friday January 18, 2013 7:31 am


We spent Tuesday burying and mourning our friend Aaron. We’re sad, we’re tired, we’re frustrated — and we’re angry at a system that let this happen to Aaron.  Now we want to set upon honoring his life’s work and helping to make sure that such a travesty is never repeated.

Click here to demand justice for our friend Aaron Swartz.

We and Aaron’s friends and family have been in touch with lawmakers to ask for help, and several of them — who’ve worked with Aaron and Demand Progress on SOPA and other issues — are beginning to take action.  We’re asking them to help rein in a criminal justice system run amok. Authorities are encouraged to bring frivolous charges and hold decades of jail time over the heads of people who are accused of committing victimless crimes.

1) Representative Zoe Lofgren has introduced what’s been named  ”Aaron’s Law.”  It would fix a key part of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is one of the statutes under which Aaron was indicted.  We need to pass Aaron’s Law AND further amend the CFAA.

The CFAA makes violations of a website’s terms of service agreement or user agreement — that fine print you never read before you check the box next to it — a FELONY, potentially punishable by many years in prison.  That’s how over-broad this dangerous statute is, and one way it lets showboating prosecutors file charges against people who’ve done nothing wrong.

Aaron’s Law would decriminalize violating these agreements: They’re essentially contracts, and as with other contracts, disputes about them should be settled in civil courts rather than in out of control criminal trials under threat of decades of prison time.As currently written, Aaron’s Law alone wouldn’t have saved Aaron — there is still more to do to make sure that victimless computer activities are not charged as felonies — but this is a solid start that we can pass now and it’s a law he wanted to change.  Then we’ll keep pushing forward.

2) Additionally, we asked Congressman Darrell Issa — who controls the powerful Oversight Committee — to open an investigation into prosecutorial misconduct in Aaron’s case. Amazingly, he’s already responded and is dispatching a staffer to investigate the U.S. Attorney who was pressing charges against Aaron.

We want the inquiry to proceed, and to be broadened to include a more thorough investigation into rampant over-prosecution of alleged crimes with no victims — as in the case of what Aaron was accused of.  And we want those who abused their power to be held to account.

We loved Aaron — so many people loved Aaron — and his death is tragic.  We and others who were close to him are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and the calls for justice.  Thank you for joining us in that fight.

Click here to demand justice for our friend Aaron Swartz.


Day of Action Monday: Big Business Trying to Undermine Your Right to Resell Stuff You Own

By: David Segal Wednesday October 24, 2012 5:31 am

Million-member Internet activism group Demand Progress is gearing up for a day of activism on Monday in concert with the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Kirtsaeng v John Wiley & Sons case.

This vastly under-reported case has tremendous implications for millions of Americans and could undermine our ability to use sites like Ebay and Craigslist — or even hold old-fashioned garage sales. Monday presents a key opportunity to make sure more people know about the case, and put pressure on Congress before Big Business and their brigade of lobbyists convince lawmakers to side against the interests of average Americans and wrest from us the ability to resell things we’ve purchased if they happen to have been manufactured abroad, in whole or in part.

Demand Progress runs the website, which more than 100,000 people have used to email their lawmakers in support of the First Sale Doctrine’s application to all products — the notion that Americans should be able to resell the things they own.

Via said site, Demand Progress is urging Internet users to post ribbons and ball-and-chain icons on their websites on Monday to alert their visitors to the Kirtsaeng case and its implications, and to encourage them to contact Congress — as of Thursday morning, more than 2,000 sites had signed up to do so.

The case pits public interest groups and retailers against manufacturers, Hollywood, publishers, and the recording industry, as SCOTUS decides if we have the right to resell many of the things we own, from books to iPods to our cars and homes: The Court will determine if and how the First Sale Doctrine applies to products made abroad.

There’s something viscerally wrong about losing the ability to resell things that you own — and dare I say, un-American;. But it’s easy to make a progressive case in support of the First Sale Doctrine: If manufacturers hold more rights over products the make abroad, that increases the incentive to off-shore, which is bad for labor and the environment. Undoing or limiting the First Sale Doctrine would undermine reuse and recycling efforts and make it harder to build any sort of alternative, local, less-consumerist, less growth-based economy.

No matter how the Court rules, activists expect to fight a legislative battle come winter, as the losing party is likely to push legislation to reverse the Court’s decision.

NDAA: Hedges, Ellsberg et al Take To Social Media Today To Fight Indefinite Detention Law

By: David Segal Thursday September 27, 2012 5:12 am

With a few noble exceptions, the mainstream media has failed to give the critical issue of “indefinite detention” the attention it deserves. Today we launch an effort to “hack” around them, and make sure Americans know about this extraordinary threat to our civil liberties and the Obama administration’s attempts to fight a federal court’s finding that indefinite detention is unconstitutional.

Lawyers, plaintiffs, and civil liberties advocates involved in the Hedges v. Obama lawsuit and other activism to fight the NDAA – otherwise known as the “indefinite detention” law — are taking to social media today in two ways.

1) Several will participate in an “Ask Me Anything” conversation today, Thursday, at noon on the website Reddit. All are welcome to participate at:

Confirmed participants include Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, and Revolution Truth director Tangerine Bolen (all plaintiffs); lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer; and Demand Progress executive director David Segal.

2) Demand Progress has launched a detain-your-friend Facebook app. It allows users to spread the alarm about indefinite detention by “detaining” their friends Facebook profile pictures — overlaying prison bars upon them and posting info to their Facebook walls about indefinite detention and how to fight it. Internet users can visit to “detain” their friends.

Indefinite detention was passed as part of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and signed into law by President Obama on New Years Eve, 2011. It would allow the military to detain civilians — even Americans — indefinitely and without charge or trial.

The provision being fought (Section 1021 of the NDAA) suspends due process and seriously threatens First Amendment rights. Judge Katherine Forrest ruled entirely in favor of the plaintiffs earlier this month, calling Section 1021 completely unconstitutional and granting a permanent injunction against its enforcement..

The Obama DOJ has vigorously opposed these efforts, and immediately appealed her ruling and requested an emergency stay on the injunction – claiming the US would incur “irreparable harm” if the president lost the power to use Section 1021 – and detain anyone, anywhere “until the end of hostilities” on a whim. This case will probably make its way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Strikes Down Indefinite Detention: Tell Obama To Stop Supporting This Wretched Law

By: David Segal Wednesday September 12, 2012 10:18 pm


We just won the lawsuit against Obama et al over the indefinite detention provisions of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. These provisions represented a blatant violation of due process and First Amendment rights, and plaintiffs argued that they were already having a chilling effect on journalists and activists.

The NDAA included a clause which afforded the military the power to detain civilians — even Americans — indefinitely, without charge or trial, if they are accused of certain anti-state crimes or are accused of “substantially supporting” those accused of said crimes or forces associated therewith.    If that sounds tortuous and nebulous it’s because it is: What the heck does “substantially support” or “associated force” even mean?

You can urge Obama not to appeal the ruling by clicking here.

In a sweeping 112-page ruling (which I’ve not yet read in full) Judge Katherine Forrest issued a permanent injunction against the use of such powers.  Here’s Reuters:

A federal judge made permanent on Wednesday her order blocking enforcement of a U.S. law’s provision that authorizes military detention for people deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan had ruled in May in favor of non-profit groups and reporters whose work relates to conflicts in the Middle East and who said they feared being detained under a section of the law, signed by President Barack Obama in December.

Plaintiffs include Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tangerine Bolen, and others; Demand Progress and RevolutionTruth members have raised around $20,000 to support the lawsuit and used it to pressure lawmakers to revoke the provions in question.  We lost a relatively narrow vote in the House a few months ago, and the Senate will take up amendments to end indefinite detention in coming weeks.

We’re hoping the Senate will actually take this finding of unconstitutionality to heart and explicitly revoke the codification of the indefinite detention authority when the NDAA gets a vote in coming weeks.

This ruling required great fortitude on the part of Judge Forrest: She was appointed by Obama just last year.  After initially expressing concerns about the provisions in question — because they infringed on certain executive power, not because of all of the reasons above — Obama has consistently supported and defended them.  He signed them into law under cloak of darkness on New Year’s Eve and has aggressively defended them in court.

This’ll probably get appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court — but you can click here to urge Obama to stop protecting this awful law.

Filibuster Censorship: Ask Wyden To Read Your Name From Floor Of Senate

By: David Segal Tuesday November 22, 2011 10:52 am

Senator Wyden’s going to be reading names of censorship opponents from the floor of the Senate during his expected filibuster of the PROTECT IP Act. You can ask to have your name read — and ask your Senators to vote no — by visiting

The hope is that the uglier we make a prospective filibuster look, the less likely it becomes that leadership will call for a vote before Christmas break. It’s already passed through Senate Judiciary, and the understanding is that Reid wants to push for a vote soon, so he can claim a bi-partisan victory on a (bogus) jobs bill.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) would ruin so much of what’s best about the Internet: They will give the government and corporations new powers to block Americans’ access to sites that are accused of copyright infringement, force sites like YouTube to go to new lengths to police users’ contributions, and put people in prison for streaming certain content online.

Senator Wyden just issued this new statement on the fight against Internet censorship, and you can check out his call-to-arms video at

The filibuster affords senators an opportunity to stand up for what they believe in and there are few things I believe in more than ensuring that every American has a voice and an opportunity to get ahead.

Right now, the Internet gives every American that voice while making it possible for every entrepreneur, thinker and innovator to compete alongside the biggest and most moneyed interests.

It is my hope that — with your help – my colleagues in Congress will realize that a free and open Internet is something that we as Americans should celebrate and not allow those special moneyed interests to quash.

It is my hope that – with your help – my colleagues in Congress will realize that PIPA/SOPA are the wrong way to protect intellectual property because the price they exact on the Internet is too high.

With your help, I believe we can get that word out and prevent these misguided bills from every reaching the House and Senate floor, but if they do reach the floor you can count on me to stand up and make our voices heard.

This Weds: The Internet Fights Back — Please Join Day Of Protest Against “Internet Blacklist” Bill

By: David Segal Monday November 14, 2011 12:33 pm

This Wednesday, Congress is considering a law that gives the US government (and any private corporation) the power to block websites, remove them from search engines, and cut off their sources of funding.

Leading civil liberties and tech policy organizations are organizing an Internet-wide day of protest in response, inviting sites to turn their logos black and drive people to contact their members of Congress.  It’s called American Censorship Day ( and #USACensored on Twitter) and sites can participate by turning their logos black on Wednesday or by running “website blocked” splash pages directing users to contact Congress.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is calling the legislation “the end of the Internet” — and that’s barely an exaggeration.  The sites we use and love the most are the ones most at risk, and the basic principle of open access is under attack.

Insiders say that HR 3261 or the “Stop Online Piracy Act”– which enjoys the support of both parties, the Chamber of Commerce, drug companies, Hollywood, and even several unions — is likely to pass barring an unprecedented uproar from the public and the tech community.  The protest aims to create just that.

(We want as many sites as possible to participate, and we’re making it easy for them to do so: If you’re interested in taking part click here and email us at

SOPA is hurtling through Congress because it aligns a number of narrow corporate interests.  Hollywood wants the power to shut down entire file hosting sites and sue social media websites into submission.  Media companies want the power to block streams of sporting events.  Drug companies want the power to block Americans’ access to affordable drugs from Canadian pharmacies.  The net result?  America’s Internet could careen away from the principles of freedom and openness it embodies — and towards the likes of China’s, with the government and corporations blocking Americans’ access to large swaths of the web.

The End of Twitter and YouTube

By: David Segal Tuesday October 25, 2011 7:09 am
Bob Goodlatte (Photo: Brent Finnegan, flickr)

Bob Goodlatte (Photo: Brent Finnegan, flickr)

A bit of an emergency: The rumor all over Capitol Hill is that the House version of the Internet Blacklist Bill (PROTECT IP Act) will be introduced this week — probably tomorrow — by congressmembers Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and others.

Our allies on the Hill say the bill’s so bad that it could effectively destroy YouTube, Twitter, and other sites that rely on user-generated content by making the sites’ owners legally responsible for everything their users post. Nobody will want to take that risk, so these sites and others could be forced to shut down if it manages to pass as it stands.

Facebook, Myspace, and Google+ would be at risk. The cyberlocker and streaming provisions could affect your iPhone, Android, AmazonCloud, Pandora, Grooveshark and even your email accounts.

Our information is not from bomb-throwing activists, but rather the people who run some of the most established and respected civil liberties and tech freedom outfits, along with lobbyists for a few corporations that oppose the legislation.

The original PROTECT IP Act would give the government new powers to block Americans’ access to sites accused of copyright infringement. Its Senate form would enable censorship and generally stifle innovation online. (Which is why civil libertarians, tech activists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and Internet engineers have vocally opposed it.)  It’s being pushed by Hollywood, the Recording Artists, Pharma, and the Chamber of Commerce.  It was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and is being blocked by a ‘hold’ issued by Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Tea Party Patriots Slam PROTECT IP (Internet Blacklist Bill)

By: David Segal Monday October 3, 2011 12:41 pm

We keep hearing that we’re nearing a tipping point as we await introduction of the House’s version of the Internet Blacklist Bill — formally the PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA.

As was reported by The Hill, last week the Tea Party Patriots slammed the bill, citing an op-ed by Demand Progress that recently ran in the Oregonian:

THE LEDE: The opposition to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) Protect IP or PIPA Act got a lot broader this weekend when the Tea Party Patriots came out against the legislation on Facebook. The conservative umbrella group has almost 850,000 supporters on Facebook and linked to an editorial from Demand Progress executive director David Segal and Don’t Censor the Net executive director Patrick Ruffini on Saturday, arguing the coalition of political opposition from the right and left shows the bill is bad for consumers.

PIPA would give the government broad new powers to block users’ access to sites that are accused of copyright infringement.  Dems have taken the lead on the Senate side, but opposition by the Tea Party could be a huge factor on the House side, where we expect the effort to be spearheaded by Republicans Bob Goodlatte (VA) and Lamar Smith (TX).

More than 400,000 Demand Progress members have asked their lawmakers to oppose PIPA.If you’re not one of them yet, you can email your rep and senators by clicking here.