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Jonathan Wallace's account of Michael Sims' destruction of

[From a public mailing-list posting ]
Date: Sat, 4 Nov 2000 16:49:46 -0500
From: Jonathan Wallace
Subject: The Censorware Project

I've been trying hard to avoid washing dirty laundry in public, but a couple of recent posts have raised the issue and I'd like to give an account of what happened to the Censorware Project (the site at is now offline). What we have here is the spectacle of a group member who volunteered to act as webmaster effectively closing a group which wants to continue, because the domain happened to be registered in his name.

The Censorware Project was originally an informal collective of six people who collaborated online to fight censorware: Seth Finkelstein, Bennett Haselton, Jamie McCarthy, Mike Sims, Jim Tyre and myself. After Seth left the group, the remaining five continued. Several of us had never met or even spoken on the phone, yet for some time--around two years as I recall--we had a remarkably easy collaboration. There was no funding, no hierarchy, no titles, not even project managers. Someone would suggest a project and take the responsibility for a part of it, others would sign up for other elements, and proceeding this way we got a remarkable amount of work done, including reports on X-Stop, Cyberpatrol, Bess and other products.

Even though two of us were attorneys--Jim and myself--we never incorporated the group or wrote a charter or any contracts among ourselves. Mike Sims was obliging enough to register the domain, just as other members paid for press releases and the other incidental expenses which came along.

Robert Frost said that "nothing gold can stay," and the Censorware Project was no exception. Over the summer, Mike Sims' reaction to a perceived slight was to take the site down for a week, exactly as Seth says in his mail. He sent us mail at the time saying something like "The Censorware Project is over." I replied to him that, given that the group was a collective and we all had an interest in its work product, the domain, and the goodwill it had achieved, the decision was not his to make. Sims did not reply.

Mike put the site back up a week later without explaining, let alone apologizing for, his actions. Given his continuing failure to answer any email from me (and I think from others) and the overall signs that Sims thought the group was exclusively his, I wrote him several emails requesting that he turn the domain over to Jamie or Bennett, as I felt we could no longer trust him to administer it. We also found out during that time that important email from people trying to contact us, including members of the press, was not being answered by Sims, nor being forwarded to other members.

I ultimately became exasperated that my name was listed as a principal on what had now become a "rogue" site I had no control over. Over about a five week period, I wrote Sims several more emails asking him to delete my name from the site if he wasn't going to transfer the domain. Again, I received no reply.

Today, Sims took the Censorware Project site offline again, with a message which says "Due to demands from some of the people who contributed, in however minor a fashion, to this site, it has been taken down." Judging from some email I received from him today, this means me.

Its a sad thing, both because we got some good work done and because some of the other members of the group were eager to continue and in fact have continued working, while deprived of the Censorware Project site, name, email aliases and public recognition. These further efforts are appearing on Bennett Haselton's Peacefire site, (I applaud the work but take no credit as I have not been involved in some time.)

On the page currently at Sims makes the following request: "If you are interested in volunteering to fight censorware, please contact me." One of the reasons I made this post was so that anyone considering working with Mike can make an informed decision.

[Update: In February 2001, the Censorware Project, of which Michael Sims no longer is a member, came back onto the Net as It died again from disinterest some years later.]

[Update: In February 2003, Jonathan Wallace rewrote and expanded this account, into another article
Michael Sims, Domain Hijacking and Moral Equivalency ]

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