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Beating the drum

Alongside the projects for which it is best known – Firefox, Thunderbird, etc – Mozilla also has a major programme that it calls Drumbeat:

With Drumbeat, we’re moving beyond Firefox to build more things that make the web better, not just software. We're doing that by reaching out to new kinds of people – educators, filmmakers, journalists, scientists, artists – to work together on open projects and design challenges that build a better web and world. We did that with Firefox. Now we want to do it on a broader scale, with new projects and people like you.

Mozilla explicitly connects Drumbeat with keeping the web open on its donate page:

Mozilla is all about keeping the web open and free for everyone, everywhere. Our work is protecting the web from exploitation, centralization and control. When you contribute, you are too.

As you would expect, most of the Drumbeat projects have a clear link to open web technologies; but some are rather surprising, like MoJo (Mozilla + Journalism):

The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is a three-year initiative of the Knight Foundation and Mozilla to harness open-web innovation for journalism. Through a series of innovation challenges and community events, we will identity 15 fellows that will be embedded in leading newsrooms around the world. These fellows will create new tools, ideas, and news experiences that benefit both readers and newsmakers—all using open technologies.

What's interesting there is how open web technologies are being harnessed to create innovation in journalism, an area quite distant from Mozilla's traditional constituency. This is both a significant and indicative move. Another hint of what may lie in Mozilla's future was given earlier this year.

In the face of site blocking by ISPs, a Firefox add-on called MAFIAAFire Redirector was created. In itself, that's nothing unusual – there are thousands of such add-ons. But this one was different because it went far beyond simply providing a solution to a technical problem. Here's a post by Harvey Anderson, who works at Mozilla on legal and business affairs, explaining what happened next:

Recently the US Department of Homeland Security contacted Mozilla and requested that we remove the MafiaaFire add-on. The ICE Homeland Security Investigations unit alleged that the add-on circumvented a seizure order DHS had obtained against a number of domain names. Mafiaaire, like several other similar add-ons already available through AMO, redirects the user from one domain name to another similar to a mail forwarding service. In this case, Mafiaafire redirects traffic from seized domains to other domains. Here the seized domain names allegedly were used to stream content protected by copyrights of professional sports franchises and other media concerns.

Our approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order. Thus, to evaluate Homeland Security’s request, we asked them several questions similar to those below to understand the legal justification:

* Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)

* Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.

* Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down the Mafiaafire add-on is based?

As Mozilla received no answers to those questions (nor any court order backing up the demand), it refused to take down MAFIAAFire.

More recently, MAFIAAFire has been updated. TorrentFreak provides the background:

Today MAFIAAFire delivers a new release that aims to thwart the increasing censorship efforts in countries worldwide. Named "The Pirate Bay Dancing", the Firefox add-on undoes local DNS and IP blocks by routing users through a series of randomly picked proxies.

The MAFIAAFire team told TorrentFreak that the development of the plugin was partly motivated by SOPA and PIPA, the pending anti-piracy bills in the US.

"DNS and IP blocking is probably the most dangerous part of SOPA/PIPA in terms of ‘breaking the Internet’, so we tackled that first. We will be going after the other parts of SOPA in later releases but probably not in ‘our usual plugin form’ – the other parts require different solutions that we have already started work on", we were told.

Next: SOPA and PIPA

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