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An open letter from bunnie, author of Hacking the Xbox
From: Jeffrey Walton <noloader () gmail com>
Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2013 03:04:21 -0400

The letter with the book's download. His work was an awesome technical
achievement, and I think his letter is even more important.


No Starch Press and I have decided to release this free ebook version
of Hacking the Xbox in honor of Aaron Swartz. As you read this book, I
hope that you’ll be reminded of how important freedom is to the
hacking community and that you’ll be inclined to support the causes
that Aaron believed in.

I agreed to release this book for free in part because Aaron’s
treatment by MIT is not unfamiliar to me. In this book, you will find
the story of when I was an MIT graduate student, extracting security
keys from the original Microsoft Xbox. You’ll also read about the
crushing disappointment of receiving a letter from MIT legal
repudiating any association with my work, effectively leaving me on my
own to face Microsoft.

The difference was that the faculty of my lab, the AI laboratory, were
outraged by this treatment. They openly defied MIT legal and vowed to
publish my work as an official “AI Lab Memo,” thereby granting me
greater negotiating leverage with Microsoft. Microsoft, mindful of the
potential backlash from the court of public opinion over suing a
legitimate academic researcher, came to a civil understanding with me
over the issue.

It saddens me that America’s so-called government for the people, by
the people, and of the people has less compassion and enlightenment
toward their fellow man than a corporation. Having been a party to
subsequent legal bullying by other entities, I am all too familiar
with how ugly and gut-wrenching a high-stakes lawsuit can be.
Fortunately, the stakes in my cases were not as high, nor were my
adversaries as formidable as Aaron’s, or I too might have succumbed to
hopelessness and fear. A few years ago, I started rebuilding my life
overseas, and I find a quantum of solace in the thought that my
residence abroad makes it a little more difficult to be served.

While the US legal system strives for justice, the rules of the system
create an asymmetric war that favors those with resources. By and far
one of the most effective methods to force a conclusion, right or
wrong, against a small player is to simply bleed them of resources and
the will to fight through pre-trial antics. Your entire life feels
like it is under an electron microscope, with every tiny blemish
magnified into a pitched battle of motions, countermotions, discovery,
subpoenas, and affidavits, and each action heaping tens of thousands
of dollars onto your legal bill. Your friends, co-workers, employers,
and family are drawn into this circus of humiliation as witnesses.
Worse, you’re counseled not to speak candidly to anyone, lest they be
summoned as a witness against you. Isolated and afraid, it eventually
makes more sense to roll over and settle than to take the risk of
losing on a technicality versus a better-funded adversary, regardless
of the justice.

The US government is far and away the best-funded and fearsome enemy
in the world, and copyright law has some unusually large, if not
cruel, penalties associated with it. I never knew Aaron, but I feel
that the magnitude of the bullying he was subjected to is reflected in
his decision to end his life.

I echo Larry Lessig’s notion that the US legal system needs a sense of
shame. To an outsider like me, it seems that certain prosecutors in
the US government are obsessed with making a name for themselves at
the expenses of the individuals they pursue. Winning cases gains them
the recognition and credibility needed for promotions and assignments
to ever higher profile cases. For them, it’s not about justice—it’s
about victory and self-aggrandizement.

This system of incentives contributes to the shameless bullying of
individuals and small entities who have the guts to stand up and do
something daring. Individuals are robbed of the will and strength to
fight for what they feel is right, as the mere act of prosecution can
be as much a punishment as the verdict. As a result, I fear that the
era of civil disobedience may be coming to a close.

As people, as individuals, as hackers, we need to oppose this trend
and continue to do what we feel deep down in our hearts is right.
While Aaron's story came to a tragic end, I hope that in this book you
will find an encouraging story with a happy ending. Without the right
to tinker and explore, we risk becoming enslaved by technology; and
the more we exercise the right to hack, the harder it will be to take
that right away.
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