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Michael Sims, legal risk, and a code article proposal

[Context: This is a page which is part of accounts regarding What Happened To The Censorware Project ( , where Michael Sims hijacked the old site of Censorware Project,, and then maliciously replaced all the group's anti-censorware material with various attacks on previous and current Censorware Project members. Later he even made available to censorware companies, internal confidential legal material .

Note Censorware Project is currently defunct.

The following is the text of an article proposal I wrote to Slashdot. Michael Sims, who is employed as an "editor" by the very popular website Slashdot, claims it is proof of my bad character. I submit that it makes a good case study of censorware issues, my legal risks, and his role in increasing them. The proposal below was written the day before the start of a major Federal censorware law trial ("CIPA") . I was trying to figure out how to release certain censorware-related code. A few days before this Federal censorware law trial, when interest in censorware-related information was high, Michael Sims had turned the old Censorware Project website ( ) into a smear-site attacking me and others.

Here's my logic:

  1. Programmers have been sued for releasing censorware-related code.
  2. I want to release censorware-related code, but fear legal risk .
  3. Michael Sims had just betrayed legal trust, making available (at information to every censorware company which might want to sue me, details as to every decryption he knew I'd done. There's plenty of opportunities for further harm, including possible abuse of his editorial position at Slashdot.
Now, what aspect of the chain of reasoning here is wrong?
  1. Have programmers not been sued ?
  2. Does releasing censorware-related code carry no legal risk ?
  3. Did Michael Sims not just break trust and post detailed (at legally-sensitive information about my work?
A clever solution to this dilemma seemed to me to make my code release a Slashdot article , with full editorial approval. So I wrote a proposal for it. I didn't think it would actually work, but it appeared to be a neat way of solving the problem, in my deadpan sense of humor.

It is very frustrating that it seems the power of journalism lets Michael Sims sweep away all the legal issues by just calling a name, by saying Stalker! or Harasser!. I'm deeply worried about getting sued for my anticensorware work. In contrast he's charging me with doing wrong for writing in an article proposal, that I'm concerned that he might contribute to my being sued for anticensorware work.

You decide, but keep in mind the legal risk I am facing, for this volunteer free-speech activism.

Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2002 23:46:09 -0500
From: Seth Finkelstein <sethf[at-sign]>
To: malda [Slashdot chief, per editorial instructions below]
Cc: [Two Censorware Project lawyers, another lawyer, and two Slashdot editors]
Subject: Proposed Feature - Censorware description, along with testing code

> I want to write an editorial. What should I do?
> Before you get carried away, mail me a synopsis of your idea (put the
> text 'Proposed Feature' in the subject). That way I can tell you if it
> is something we would consider posting before you bother to write the
> whole thing.

With the upcoming CIPA trial about government-mandated censorware, I'd like to write something about censorware. I think I'm eminently qualified, as I won an EFF 2001 Pioneer Award for my anticensorware work , and was the key figure behind exposing what censorware actually blacklists.

I'm particularly interested in pursuing something related to releasing code. One of the things I've discovered is that N2H2's [note: rest of the paragraph redacted - N2H2 is a censorware company]

I've been hesitant to release this code, since I worry I'll be sued, and would face a lot of bad publicity. In fact, your infamous editor, Michael Sims, just breached confidentiality on Censorware Project legal material and posted a detailed legally sensitive internal message from Censorware Project attorney James Tyre, listing specific past decryptions I've done. All the details of which programs and what I did, in the words of Censorware Project's own lawyer. If you care, it's at (at

Anyway, my inspiration is that if you have an editor who does these vengeful actions, my best bet is paradoxically to go straight to the lion's den and offer you the story, so it becomes in part your legal problem to publish the actual code. This way any legal threats are both your problem and mine, rather than having situations such as one of your editors releasing damaging legal material about me just as one of the biggest censorware-related trials is about to get underway.

Let me know if you're interested in something along these lines. Of course, I'd be happy to write a standard editorial about my experiences fighting censorware, censorware internals, winning an EFF Pioneer Award for my work, commentary on the technical accuracy of the trial, or so on, whatever might be appealing. But I think it's very productive and unique to do something code-related.

Seth Finkelstein Consulting Programmer sethf[at-sign]

[I realized after writing the above, that someone might be confused as to: "How come you're complaining about Michael Sims releasing damaging legal material, when the information is on your website's Pioneer section?" So I then immediately added the following clarification]

Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 00:03:31 -0500
From: Seth Finkelstein <sethf[at-sign]>
Subject: Re: Proposed Feature - Censorware description, along with testing code

On Sun, Mar 24, 2002 at 11:46:09PM -0500, Seth Finkelstein wrote:
> as I won an EFF 2001 Pioneer Award for my anticensorware work

Small note of clarification - I only released all the Pioneer Award nomination material on this page after Michael Sims broke Censorware Project confidentiality, and publicly posted Censorware Project attorney James Tyre's internal message detailing all the decryptions I'd done. At that point, I figured since this information was being publicized in a negative context, I might as well publicize it myself in a positive context. Again, this leads to the idea behind my code/story proposal. better the legal risks be "our" problem than just "my" problem.

Seth Finkelstein Consulting Programmer sethf[at-sign]

I never got a reply. But then, I never really expected one.

There's a kind of catch-22 going on. Seemingly, once Michael Sims has named-called me, I'm forbidden from making any sort of article proposal to Slashdot - especially ever mentioning why I'm worried about what he might do, on pain of being convicted of his original name-calling. Somehow, the fact that Michael Sims hijacked the former Censorware Project website, , turning it into a platform dedicated to his personal attacks, doesn't tar him with the brush of being an obsessive harassing stalker. Yet if I make a Slashdot article proposal, and discuss how his revealing of legally sensitive information is a factor in how I'm trying to handle the legal risk of being sued , well, apparently that just goes to show my guilt. Sure, it's not a pleasant mention. But then, the prospect of my being sued by a censorware company isn't very pleasant either.

Note, in contrast to accusations, I never ask for Michael Sims to be fire'd. Now, I'd hardly shed a tear if that happened. But there would be absolutely no point for me to ask for that (call this making a virtue of necessity). What I did ask, is that given his record of actions which are untrustworthy and abusive, my legal risks for releasing anticensorware-related code be managed in a way with a Slashdot article so that I am insulated from having him cause me more legal problems. Rather than proof of stalking/harassing/etc. I think that's an exceedingly rational and fair request under the circumstances (it's of course Slashdot's unquestioned right to refuse).

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