Cory Doctorow does not like censorship. He does not like his own work being censored.
Someone who knows Doctorow knows his popular blog on technology and culture, Boing Boing, and whoever reads Boing Boing knows Doctorow and his cohort of bloggers. The blogger and special advisor of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's online advocacy group has been writing on topics related to technology, piracy, security research, digital online rights and censorship for years. only at its intersection with freedom of speech and expression.
Yet this week, it seemed that his own freedom of speech and expression could have been threatened.
Doctorow revealed Friday in a blog post that Bird Bird, a scooter startup, had sent him a legal threat, accusing him of violating copyright and that his article was encouraging "illegal behavior" ".
In his letter to Doctorow, Bird asked that he take "immediately[s] down this offensive blog. "
Doctorow refused, issued the legal threat and returned with a letter of rebuttal from the EFF accusing the scooter's startup of making "unfounded legal threats" in order to "remove the blanket that it was not". Do not like it.
The whole debacle began after Doctorow wrote about how many abandoned Bird scooters can be easily converted into a "personal scooter" by exchanging his bowels with a plug-and-play conversion kit. Citing a first draft of Hackaday, these scooters can disable "all components of recovery and payment permanently" using the conversion kit, available for sale on eBay for about 30 USD.
In fact, Doctorow's blog contained only two paragraphs and, while not directly referring to the eBay list, cites the hacker who wrote about it in the first place – bringing interesting information to the masses in the form of bites Boing Boing in fashion.
Lead counsel Linda Kwak sent the letter – which EFF published today – claiming that Doctorow's blog "promotes the sale / use of an illegal product designed solely to circumvent protections. copyright of Bird & # 39; s. described in more detail below, as well as promoting illegal activities in general by encouraging vandalism and misappropriation of Bird's property. "The letter also falsely stated that Doctorow's blog" provides links to a website where the counterfeit product could be "purchased", since the article does not refer at any point to the buyable eBay conversion kit.
EFF Senior Counsel Kit Walsh fought back. "Our customer has no obligation to comply with your request to delete the article, and will not do so," she wrote. "Bird may not be thrilled that the technology exists to modify the scooters that it deploys, but it should not make unfounded legal threats to silence the reports on this technology."
The three-page rebuttal says that Bird used wrongly cited laws to justify his requests to Boing Boing to resign from the blog. The letter added that disconnecting and discarding a motherboard containing unwanted code in the scooter was not a circumvention because it did not bypass or modify Bird's code, which, according to the Copyright Act, is illegal.
As Doctorow himself wrote Friday on his blog: "If the motherboard exchanges were a bypass, selling a screwdriver to someone could then constitute a punishable offense of five years imprisonment." and $ 500,000 ".
In an email to TechCrunch, Doctorow said legal threats "are not fun."
"We are a small, tiny business, and although this particular threat is one that we have a lot of expertise on, it's always worrying to see a company with millions of dollars in the bank sending you a threat, even a fictitious one, like it. ," he said.
The EFF's response also indicated that Doctorow's freedom of expression "does not in fact infringe on any of Bird's rights," adding that Bird should not send a notice of withdrawal to journalists using "legal actions". unfounded, "says the letter.
"So, in a way, it does not matter whether Bird is right or wrong, when he claims that it's illegal to convert a Bird scooter into a personal scooter," Walsh said in a separate note. "In any case, Boing Boing was free to report it," she added.
What is strange is why Bird targeted Doctorow and, apparently, no one else – until now.
TechCrunch contacted several people who wrote and participated in blog posts and articles about the Bird Conversion Kit. Of those who responded, all stated that they had not received a legal application from Bird.
We asked Bird why the letter had been sent, and whether it was a single letter or if Bird had sent similar legal requests to others. When reached, a Bird spokesperson did not comment on the recording.
Bird spokeswoman Rebecca Hahn said the company was backing freedom of speech two hours after the publication of her article: "In the quest to limit illegal activities related to our vehicles, our legal team has spilled over and has sent a request for withdrawal to a member of the media. It was our mistake and we apologize to Cory Doctorow.
Too often, companies send out legal threats and demand to try to silence the work or findings they find critical, often using misinterpreted, incorrect or vague laws to get the most out of the internet. Some companies have been more successful than others, despite increased awareness, bug bonuses, and a general willingness to address security issues before they inevitably become public.
Now, Bird is the latest in a long list of companies that have threatened journalists or security researchers, alongside companies like the maker of drones DJI, who in 2017 threatened a security researcher who was attempting to report a bug in good faith, and the River City spam operator, who was pursuing a security researcher who discovered the spammer's exposed servers and a journalist who wrote about it. More recently, password manager maker Keeper sued a security reporter by arguing allegedly defamatory remarks about a security breach in one of his products. The case was finally dismissed, but no less than 50 experts, defenders and journalists (including this reporter) signed a letter asking companies to stop using legal threats to quell and silence the researchers safe.
This effort has pushed several companies, including Dropbox and Tesla, to double their protection of security researchers by changing their vulnerability disclosure rules to promise that they would not seek to prosecute hackers acting in good faith. .
But some companies have resisted this trend and adopted a more hostile, aggressive and regressive approach to security analysts.
"Bird scooters and other wharfless means of transportation are extremely controversial at the moment, largely thanks to a regulatory approach of" moving fast, breaking, "and it is not surprising that 'they want to control the debate,' said Doctorow.
"But in my opinion, this type of bullying speaks volumes about the general nature of society," he said.