May 23, 2005


iLaw, the Berkman Center's Internet Law Program, is being held again on June 22-24 in Cambridge, MA. Lawrence Lessig says: "The program is great fun, and you even get to live in the dorms! ... But I'm just (one of) the teachers. There are scholarships and group rates, so ask."

Last year, I was generously accepted to attend, and I had a very good time. Not the least because both Lessig and Zittrain praised my work to the entire audience (not every moment of my activism has been unhappy - just the overwhelming majority of them). I also put a lot of effort into the pre-class discussion forums, and that was apparently well-regarded.

But that was then, this is now. A year later, I'm in a much more unfavorable position with regard to the Berkman Center. A short version of the story: I had (very reluctantly!) done an extensive "Greplaw Interview" with a Slashdot-like site they sponsored. I was *asked* about censorware history and I related some of my tales of woe. Mike Godwin, an extremely well-known civil-liberties lawyer, took exception to, well, let's say, my description of his role in the historical account. *Months* later, he applied what he called "moral suasion" to the Berkman people, which I conjecture a non-lawyer would term saber-rattling about a libel lawsuit. In order to appease him, the Berkman Center then changed my interview to editorially feature various vicious smears. Quoth lawyer Peter Junger (thanks!):

It would be interesting to see what would happen if Seth should now threaten to sue the Berkman Center and Harvard for defamation. - --So interesting that I would be willing to donate a thousand dollars towards the legal expenses of such a suit and spend some time working on the briefs and pleadings.

The event deserves a long follow-up someday, which I've never been able to complete because it's so incredibly painful. But it was a major activism turning-point for me, that I had no good future in civil-liberties work. It wasn't the only turning-point, by far. But, e.g. it was pretty much the reason I didn't go to the open Berkman conference on "Votes, Bits and Bytes". In fact, I've never gone to an event there since. And I suspect it sealed my fate against ever becoming a Berkman Fellow (not that my chances were ever all that high, but between slim and none, slim then left the building).

So, regarding iLaw, it's problematic. One the one hand, there's the argument as to why let the poison kill? But on the other hand, the poisoned well can't be wished away. I wonder, do lawyers or A-lister's really get along after such actions? "Sure, you were blowing me off then, violating the pledges made to me about my interview, putting Harvard's name and credibility behind smears against me, simply because it was the least trouble - until some countervailing legal firepower on my side changed the equation. But these things happen. I sue you, you sue me, we're a happy family". Maybe that's another reason why law/policy just isn't for me.

Someone could say writing this post only makes things worse. Call that a further twist of the problem.

I suppose the "head" answer is what's done is done, and as the saying goes: "Remember, no matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are - sometimes the dragon wins." But the "heart" rebuttal is that doesn't make it any easier to bear.

[Comments off for this post, because I don't want to deal with trolls or misguided critics who might as well be trolls - if someone feels they need to reply, send email (I'll turn on comments for extraordinary cases of right-of-reply, but I hope that won't be necessary)]

[Update: I should have noted the back-and-forth was eventually "resolved" by a kind of moral equivalence of removing the editorial defamation AND the material Mike Godwin found objectional from me. Overall, per above, the result of the whole situation was enormously costly to me.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on May 23, 2005 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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