"The trick for me has been to keep standing" - Pamela Jones of Groklaw

Groklaw is slang for “to really grasp the world of law”, or in Pamela Jones’s words, a “place where lawyers and geeks could explain things to each other and work together, so they’d understand each other’s work better.”

In this document, a lady well-known in the free world, Pamela Jones, delivers a short message of “thank you” on behalf of thousands of computer geeks and lawyers swarming around their unique online platform, groklaw.net. This sound file is a rare piece of digital history as one will otherwise only find drawings of her or texts by her, she had learned the hard way to be very protective of her privacy.

In 2003, Jones was working as a paralegal, a research assistant, at an US law firm. Being technically minded, she was able to help out fixing problems with the IT infrastructure and was proficient in using both operation systems, Microsoft and Linux. Next to researching cases she had also joined the emergent blogger movement when a major attack on the entire model of Free Software and its legal security was launched: The infamous lawsuit attack by Linux-vendor SCO on Linux and, later, IBM, a novel Linux partner. Their plan was to threaten all Linux users into paying some hundreds of dollars a year because SCO claimed to own the copyright to its historical predecessor, the Unix operating system.

In reaction, Pamela Jones, or “PJ” in short, saw the need to get hackers and lawyers to start talking and learning from each other. Yet the more results their common endeavor would produce, the more unscrupulous the attacks became. Not only is FUD a nuisance to deal with when publicly standing up for freedom in politics, but also in the world of software production. It implies for somebody to willfully create “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” against somebody else.

And when, not surprisingly, FUD attacks were soon after launched against her own person, the hackers at groklaw knew how to get her back. They launched a campaign proclaiming that they are “all PJ” and continued to collect counter-proof against the allegations made against Linux in court. Four long years after, in 2007, SCO’s case was finally dismissed, yet also a model of collective effort had been born. Meanwhile, other companies collaborating with the Free and Open Source Software economy like SUN Microsystems or Google got caught up in legal battles around copyright and software patents and found that people at groklaw to help them out as well.

In retrospect, Pamela Jones has been starting one of the most efficient, low-cost and influential examples of self-organized crowd sourcing intelligence in recent years. Every day, thousands of hackers kept on reading her articles, discuss options and collect details of computing history that were needed elsewhere. Especially the news section of groklaw has been used by many members of the Free World in order to keep track of important and funny ongoings, the ones that might actually matter.

Yet the story does not end here. Groklaw had helped to win the legal assault on Linux. Many other cases were pondered, many complicated problems researched and analyzed by many thousands of lawyers and programmers. Six years later, however, on August 20th, 2013, the platform is shut down with one decisive blogpost by Pamela. She starts off by writing about her experience of being robbed during a visit in New York. And she compares it to her change in feelings of groklaw since the Snowden documents revealed the ubiquitous spying on all online communication just some weeks before.

She quotes from the book Private Matters - In Defense of the Personal Life by Janna Malamud Smith that the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard Law School is hosting as a document for students to read:

The totalitarian state watches everyone, but keeps its own plans secret. Privacy is seen as dangerous because it enhances resistance. Constantly spying and then confronting people with what are often petty transgressions is a way of maintaining social control and unnerving and disempowering opposition.”

She does not activate the comment section. She recommends collab.net

The audio file conserves the recorded message by Pamela Jones on the occasion of groklaw.net receiving the Annual Free Software Award for Social Benefit 2007 by the Free Software Foundation, next to Harald Welte from gpl-violations.org.

  • Date of recording: Wed, 2008-03-19
  • Language(s) spoken:

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00:00 I am so sorry I can´t be there in person with you.

Because it is such a thrill to have groklaw recognized like this and I truly thank you on behalf of all volunteers who make groklaw work.

It is no exaggeration to say that I could not do groklaw by myself. In fact, when I started, groklaw was just a very small idea. In the early days, all I had in mind was to try to explain legal cases in the news to geeks.

It was only after readers showed up in great numbers and we all started to talk to each other and run ideas passed each other that we started to research and work things out together that I began to realize what groklaw could become. Mainly, a place where lawyers and geeks could explain things to each other and work together, so that they would understand each others work better.

That was a very exciting day. I have likened it working with a group to ´surfing the wave` and that is the closest description I have ever come up with.

01:00 The trick for me has been to keep standing, and also trying to find out which way to try to direct things. But any group work has a life of its own and appreciating that and letting it be that way is a very important piece.

Here we are and many years later being recognized for our work. And I want to thank everyone for their effort and consistent work, so many knowledgeable and skilled and willing people decided that it mattered to stand up and try together. How amazing the human brain is when you put thousands of them together it is just astonishing what can result.

What I am very proud of is that when I look at the members when we started with, overwhelmingly, they are all still involved with groklaw, still reading it, still helping, still researching.

And groklaw is still growing. I think that will be probably continue as we work more and more on finding prior art projects.

02:00 For me as an individual, ah, I can´t tell you how satisfying it is: you see an idea that you hope might work and then to implement it, and tweak it, and morph it, because other people show up with  ideas that are better than yours and add to yours, and then have people you care about and admire tell you that what you are doing matters.

I cannot think of a more satisfying feeling. So thank you very much for this wonderful feeling, for the validation and for the encouragement.



Recorded message by Pamela Jones on the occasion of groklaw receiving the Annual Free Software Award 2007 for Social Benefit by the Free Software Foundation, next to Harald Welte from gpl-violations.org.

Published March 19th, 2008