Groklaw closing ends decade-long run atop the world of tech law journalism

Now-shuttered law blog first rose to prominence in 2003, during landmark open-source case.

The closure of Groklaw – the technology world's primary source of legal analysis for a decade – has sent shock waves across the Internet.

Citing the perceived impossibility of secure communication via the Internet, founder Pamela Jones wrote that the site – which relies heavily on correspondents and sources – would cease publication immediately.

[BREAKING: Tech legal news site Groklaw shutting down, citing email privacy concerns]

Jones, a paralegal who generally goes by PJ, started the site in 2003 as a way of explaining the legal issues in the world of technology to its less legally-knowledgeable inhabitants.

“I was forever reading /. [Slashdot] comments about legal news and most of the comments would be way off, and I realized that there is a hunger for someone to explain what it all means, what the process is, how things play out, to people who aren't in the legal field,” she told Linux Online in 2003.

PJ is a non-programmer who developed an appreciation for GNU/Linux software as “the only person in the small law firm where I then worked who was willing to learn enough about computers to set the office up and keep the boxes more or less running.” Restrictive usage licenses and security concerns on Windows machines quickly made her an enthusiastic supporter of free software.

Her sharp pen and astute legal analysis – always presented in as digestible a form as possible for those with little to no background in the law – quickly won PJ a following. It probably helped that software company SCO's now-infamous lawsuit against IBM, which metastasized into a sprawling, fiendishly complicated legal battle for the future of Linux, was filed just after PJ started Groklaw.

Analysis from Groklaw – which took its name from Robert Heinlein's sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land – quickly became required reading for anyone with an interest in the landmark SCO case, and cemented the site's reputation into the bargain.

PJ's unabashedly pro-open-source stance and often pugnacious style drew the ire of SCO, who apparently urged reporter Maureen O'Gara to expose the notoriously private Groklaw editor's identity. (The exposé only partially accomplished its aim, though it was more successful in drawing ire from Groklaw's supporters and much of the rest of the technology press.)

From there, Groklaw never looked back, continuing its coverage of the endless SCO lawsuits, and offering legal perspective on many more issues central to open-source software and intellectual property in particular and the technology sector in general. Along with the Oracle vs. Google lawsuit relating to Java copyrights, Groklaw also heavily covered the Apple vs. Samsung trial last year, and chronicled the jury controversy that followed.

The end of the line, however, was apparently the news that secure email provider Lavabit Softwarel would shut down rather than comply with U.S. government requests for private information.

“There is now no shield from forced exposure,” PJ wrote. “You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say?”

Electronic Freedom Foundation attorney Mark Rumold told Network World that Groklaw's shutdown is “a shame” but not unexpected.

“This is evidence of exactly what we've been warning about: the chilling effect that pervasive internet surveillance will have on our society,” he said. “At this point, it's no longer a hypothetical or academic discussion. People are changing and constraining their behavior online because they don't want to be monitored.”

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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