Intellectual Property and the Internet/Electronic Frontier Foundation

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization based in the United States. Its stated mission is to:[1]

  • Engage in and support educational activities which increase popular understanding of the opportunities and challenges posed by developments in computing and telecommunications.
  • Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches which will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.
  • Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media.
  • Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.
  • Encourage and support the development of new tools which will endow non-technical users with full and easy access to computer-based telecommunications.

The EFF is supported by donations and is based in San Francisco, California, with staff members in Washington, D.C. They are accredited observers at the World Intellectual Property Organization[2] and one of the participants of the Global Network Initiative.[3]

EFF has taken action in several ways. It provides funds for legal defense in court, presents amici curiae briefs, defends individuals and new technologies from what it considers baseless or misdirected legal threats, works to expose government malfeasance, provides guidance to the government and courts, organizes political action and mass mailings, supports some new technologies which it believes preserve personal freedoms, maintains a database and web sites of related news and information, monitors and challenges potential legislation that it believes would infringe on personal liberties and fair use, and solicits a list of what it considers patent abuses with intentions to defeat those that it considers without merit.

History[edit | edit source]

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Foundation[edit | edit source]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was formed in July 1990 by John Perry Barlow and Mitch Kapor in response to a series of actions by law enforcement agencies that led them to conclude that the authorities were gravely uninformed about emerging forms of online communication,[4] and that there was a need for increased protection for Internet civil liberties.

In April 1990, Barlow had been visited by a U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in relation to the theft and distribution of the source code for a series of Macintosh ROMs. Barlow described the visit as "complicated by [The Agent's] fairly complete unfamiliarity with computer technology. I realized right away that before I could demonstrate my innocence, I would first have to explain to him what guilt might be." Barlow felt that his experience was symptomatic of a “great paroxysm of governmental confusion during which everyone's liberties would become at risk”.

Barlow posted an account of this experience to The WELL online community and was contacted by Mitch Kapor, who had had a similar experience. The pair agreed that there was a need to defend civil liberties on the internet. Kapor agreed to fund any legal fees associated with such a defense and the pair contacted New York lawyers Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman about defending several computer hackers from a Harper's magazine forum on computers and freedom who had been the target of Secret Service raids.[4] This generated a large amount of publicity which led to offers of financial support from John Gilmore and Steve Wozniak. Barlow and Kapor continued to research conflicts between the government and technology and in June 1990 Barlow posted online the influential article entitled "Crime & Punishment" in which Barlow announced his and Kapor's plans to create an organization to "raise and disburse funds for education, lobbying, and litigation in the areas relating to digital speech and the extension of the Constitution into Cyberspace."[citation needed]

This generated further reaction and support for the ideas of Barlow and Kapor. In late June, Barlow held a series of dinners in San Francisco with major figures in the computer industry[citation needed] to develop a coherent response to these perceived threats. Barlow considered that: "The actions of the FBI and Secret Service were symptoms of a growing social crisis: Future Shock. America was entering the Information Age with neither laws nor metaphors for the appropriate protection and conveyance of information itself."[5] Barlow felt that to confront this a formal organization would be needed and hired Cathy Cook as press coordinator and began to set up what would become the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was formally founded on July 10, 1990, by Kapor, Gilmore and Barlow. Initial funding was provided by Kapor, Wozniak, and an anonymous benefactor.[6][7]

In 1990, Mike Godwin joined the organization as the first staff counsel. Then in 1991 Esther Dyson and Jerry Berman joined the EFF Board. By 1992 Cliff Figallo became the new director of EFF-Cambridge and in December 1992 Jerry Berman became Acting Executive Director.

Early cases[edit | edit source]

The creation of the organization was motivated by the massive search and seizure on Steve Jackson Games executed by the United States Secret Service early in 1990. Similar but officially unconnected law-enforcement raids were being conducted across the United States at about that time as part of a state-federal task force called Operation Sundevil. However, the Steve Jackson Games case, which became EFF's first high-profile case, was the major rallying point where EFF began promoting computer and Internet-related civil liberties. In 1993, their offices moved to 1001 G Street in Washington, D.C. That same year Big Dummy's guide to the Internet, an Electronic Frontier Foundation publication, was made available for free download.

EFF's second big case was Bernstein v. United States led by Cindy Cohn, where programmer and professor Daniel J. Bernstein sued the government for permission to publish his encryption software, Snuffle, and a paper describing it. More recently the organization has been involved in defending Edward Felten, Jon Lech Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov.

Expansion and development[edit | edit source]

In early 2010, EFF released this poster in celebration of its founding 20 years before.

The organization was originally located at Mitch Kapor's Kapor Enterprises, Inc offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By the fall of 1993, the main EFF offices were housed in Washington, D.C., headed up by Jerry Berman. During this time, some of EFF's attention focused on the business of influencing national policy, a business that was not entirely palatable to parts of the organization. In 1994, Mr. Berman parted ways with EFF and formed the Center for Democracy and Technology. EFF moved offices across town, where Drew Taubman briefly took the reins as director. In 1995, under the auspices of director Lori Fena, after some downsizing and in an effort to regroup and refocus on their base support, the organization moved offices to San Francisco, California. There, it took up temporary residence at John Gilmore's Toad Hall, and soon afterward moved into the Hamm's building at 1550 Bryant St. After Fena moved onto the EFF board of directors for a while, the organization was led by Tara Lemmey. Just prior to the EFF's move into its new and present offices at 454 Shotwell St. in SF's Mission District, long-time EFF Legal Director Shari Steele became, and remains as of late 2010, the Executive Director. In the spring of 2006, EFF announced the opening of an office in Washington, D.C. with two new staff attorneys.[8]

DES Cracker[edit | edit source]

Further information: EFF DES cracker

By the mid-90s the EFF was becoming seriously concerned about the refusal of the US Government to license any secure encryption product for export unless it utilizes key recovery and claims that governments cannot decrypt information when protected by DES, continuing even after the public breaking of the code in the first of the DES Challenges. They coordinated and supported the construction of the EFF DES cracker, using special purpose hardware and software and costing only $210,000.[9] [10] This brought the record for breaking a message down to 56 hours on 17 July 1998 and to under 24 hours on 19 Jan 1999 (in conjunction with

The EFF published the plans and source code for the cracker.[11] Within four years the Advanced Encryption Standard was standardized as a replacement for DES.

Activities[edit | edit source]

Litigation[edit | edit source]

EFF booth at the 2010 RSA Conference

The EFF regularly brings and defends lawsuits at all levels of the US legal system in pursuit of its goals and objectives. Many of the most significant technology law cases have involved the EFF, including MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., Apple v. Does, and others.

Awards[edit | edit source]

The EFF organizes two sets of awards to promote work in accordance with its goals and objectives:

The EFF Pioneer Awards are awarded annually to recognize individuals who in its opinion are "leaders who are extending freedom and innovation on the electronic frontier."[12] In 2009, the honorees were Limor Fried, Harri Hursti and Carl Malamud

The EFF Cooperative Computing Awards are a series of four awards meant "to encourage ordinary Internet users to contribute to solving huge scientific problems," to be awarded to the first individual or group who discovers a prime number with a significant record number of decimal digits. The awards are funded by an anonymous donor.[13] The awards are:

  • $50,000 to the first individual or group who discovers a prime number with at least 1,000,000 decimal digits – Awarded April 6, 2000[14]
  • $100,000 to the first individual or group who discovers a prime number with at least 10,000,000 decimal digits – Awarded October 14, 2009[15]
  • $150,000 to the first individual or group who discovers a prime number with at least 100,000,000 decimal digits
  • $250,000 to the first individual or group who discovers a prime number with at least 1,000,000,000 decimal digits.

Support[edit | edit source]

The foundation receives support from its board members[16] John Buckman (Chairman), Pamela Samuelson (Vice-Chairman), John Perry Barlow, Lorrie Cranor, David J. Farber, Edward Felten, John Gilmore, Brewster Kahle, Joe Kraus and Brad Templeton. The organization often receives additional pro bono legal assistance from Prof. Eben Moglen.

On February 18, 2004, the EFF announced that it had received $1.2 million from the estate of Leonard Zubkoff.[17] It will use $1 million of this money to establish the EFF Endowment Fund for Digital Civil Liberties.

In April 2011 George Hotz donated $10,000 the remainder of his legal defense money in his case against Sony.

The agitprop art group Psychological Industries has independently issued buttons with pop culture tropes such as the logo of the Laughing Man from the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (with the original Catcher in the Rye quotation replaced with the slogan of Anonymous), a bleeding roller derby jammer, and Rosie the Riveter on a series of buttons on behalf of the EFF.[18]

Charity Navigator has given the EFF an overall rating of three out of four stars, and four for its financial efficiency and capacity.[19]

In literature[edit | edit source]

The EFF is featured in Dan Brown's techno-thriller novel Digital Fortress. The book was released in 1998, the same year as the EFF DES cracker was built.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. "Electronic Frontier Foundation Mission Statement". Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  2. "WIPO Electronic Frontier Foundation". Archived from the original on June 3, 2006. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  3. "Participants". Global Network Initiative. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  4. a b Jones 2003, p. 172
  5. Barlow, John. "A Not Terribly Brief History of the Electronic Frontier Foundation". Retrieved Jan 12, 2010. 
  6. "Formation documents and mission statement for the EFF". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  7. Lebkowsky, Jon (1/11/97). "TechnoPolitics". Archived from the original on November 10, 2006. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  8. McCullagh, Declan (April 27, 2006). "EFF reaches out to D.C. with new office". CNET Archived from the original on February 26, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  10. "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "DES Cracker" Machine". Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  11. Electronic Frontier Foundation (1998). Cracking DES - Secrets of Encryption Research, Wiretap Politics & Chip Design. Oreilly & Associates Inc. ISBN 1-56592-520-3. 
  12. "EFF Pioneer Awards". Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  13. "EFF Cooperative Computing Awards". Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  14. Bishop, Katina (April 6, 2000). "EFF Gives $50,000 to Finder of Largest Known Prime Number". Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  15. Knoll, Landon (April 6, 2000). "Record 12-Million-Digit Prime Number Nets $100,000 Prize". Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  16. "Board of Directors". 
  17. "EFF: Internet Pioneer Gives Over $1.2 Million to EFF to Defend Online Freedom". Archived from the original on March 1, 2004. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  18. "Home". Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  19. "Electronic Frontier Foundation rating at Charity Navigator". Charity Navigator. 

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]