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We Got Our First DMCA! From the Ross Ulbricht Legal Defense Fund

Ross UlbrichtNearly a month ago, our man @SirFoxy published a great article on Ross Ulbricht entitled “How Ross Ulbricht, the Pioneer of Darknet Markets, Ended Up With a Life Sentence (Silk Road’s Seizure)”.

The piece was very kind to Ulbricht.

To be honest, it was a lot kinder than I would have been.  @SirFoxy chose not to get into the evidence that Ulbricht commissioned a series of murders-for-hire.  I mention this to illustrate how friendly to Ulbricht the article was.

@SirFoxy focused on the chronology of Ulbricht’s life and how the takedown went down.  It wasn’t a law-and-order, death-penalty-for-the-drug-dealer fire-and-brimstone piece, nor was it a OMG-free-this-poor-man, justice-for-the-oppressed rabble-rousing screed.  It told a balanced story step-by-step, start to finish, in @SirFoxy’s professional style.

It ended with an observation on the “war on drugs” and included a link to freeross.org where people could donate to his legal defense/appeals (now removed).

Seriously, how much more friendly can you get?

Then Came the DMCA

So today while reviewing our tickets I saw one titled ” IMPORTANT: infringement on copyrighted content”.

The ticket was opened by ‘info@freeross.org’.

This email is to serve as official notification of copyright infringement pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (”DMCA”) 17 U.S.C. § 512(c) (3).

Your website hosts a copyright-protected photograph owned by the Free Ross Legal Defense. We own the exclusive copyrights of the following photograph (link to the jpg removed).

The infringed copyrighted photograph can be found on the following webpage: https://lowendbox.com/blog/how-ross-ulbricht-the-pioneer-of-darknet-markets-ended-up-with-a-life-sentence-silk-roads-seizure/.

Upon receipt of this notice, we request that you expeditiously remove or disable access to the materials identified above as being the subject of infringement.

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

The photo in question was a picture of Ross Ulbricht and his then-girlfriend, Julia Vie.

If you want to see the photo, it’s not hard to find.  It’s on Reddit, CBS News, and a bunch of other sites.

It was probably on freeross.org at some point, but we’ll never know because freeross.org blocks archive.org’s Wayback Machine.  You can speculate in the comments below why they do that.

Anyway, as you can see, there is nothing defamatory or negative about the picture.

Fun Fact:  This Was Our First DMCA Ever

Yup!  Even pieces we wrote slamming hosts, telling people to avoid providers, and exposing frauds have not resulted in a single DMCA.  Not that they should have, but slimey people often use DMCAs as an attempt to try and keep themselves out of the news.

But here, on a very gentle piece, we got deflowered.

So is This Where Your Donations Go?

You have to wonder why an organization that is allegedly desperately fighting to free its leader and namesake would threaten a site that publishes a friendly article containing a donation link with a DMCA, particularly when the picture is widely used in the media and on sites around the Internet.

I mean, don’t they have better things to do?

Here’s something else interesting.

There’s another picture used in that article which shows the sentences the various Silk Road principals got.  That picture is used at this very moment on freeross.org.

No DMCA threats over that one.

Why This Picture?

Could this be a case where Julia Vie wants to distance herself from the Ross Ulbricht affair and asked freeross.org to enforce its copyright?

On the one hand, if you do a Google search for “Julia Vie,” the top hits are all about “Ross Ulbricht’s ex-girlfriend”.  Her name seems indelibly linked to his.

On the other hand, she appeared on CBS’s FBI Declassified Files TV show in November 2020.  If you read that page (which has that photo LEB took down!) you’ll find extensive comments by her detailing their relationship and why they broke up.

No one forced her to do that interview.

To be clear, Vie was not involved in the Silk Road site and was never charged with any crime.  She simply dated its mastermind.  I could understand how someone who was connected to a famous criminal by random chance would want people to stop talking about her as his ex-girlfriend.  She runs a photography studio and is a life coach at present.  A customer for either might google her name and hesitate.  But if so, why come back 7 years after the arrest and appear on a major network’s news show?

BTW is freeross – the owner of this photo – licensing this picture to CBS News?  They must be, even though that article was a lot more condemnatory than ours.  And ours offered a donation link.

It’s Weird.  And BTW, Ross Will Never Be Free Because He Attempted to Murder People and Admitted It

Remember how I said @SirFoxy was a lot more sympathetic to me?  Allow me to explain.

There’s a fair number of people that have opined that Ross’s sentence is overly harsh, though this sentiment is not nearly as universal as freeross.org would have you believe.

Those people are wrong.

The part that sunk him – both legally and morally – was the murders-for-hire.  freeross.org has a page arguing about this but it’s a mish-mash of opinions from editorials and ignores facts.  In fact it’s mostly factless, just quoting the Sixth Amendment and random opinions.

Here’s what they leave out: Ross Ulbricht admitted to hiring an assassin and paying him.

Imagine someone accused you of hiring someone to commit murder and you had never done such a thing.  You would be jumping up and down denying it.

Not Ross.

Here are some things the US Second Court of Appeals said:

Ulbricht does not mention his orders for the commission of those murders until his reply brief. Even there, he does not argue that the district court erred in concluding that he deliberately commissioned those murders; rather, he claims instead only that the murders did not support a life sentence because they did not actually take place.

So Ross admitted that he paid $730,000 to have five people murdered.  He would have been indicted on this charge as well, but once he was put away for life plus, the government saw no need to waste time and money on furher prosecutions.

And this isn’t one stray mention in that opinion.  It’s referred to multiple times as the reason he got a harsh sentence:

The district court found by a preponderance of the evidence that Ulbricht commissioned at least five murders in the course of protecting Silk Road’s anonymity, a finding that Ulbricht does not challenge in this appeal.

The fact that his hired assassin may have defrauded him does not reflect positively on Ulbricht’s character.

In light of the overwhelming evidence, discussed below, that Ulbricht was prepared, like other drug kingpins, to protect his profits by paying large sums of money to have individuals who threatened his enterprise murdered, it would be plainly wrong to conclude that he was sentenced for accidental deaths that the district court discussed only in passing in imposing sentence.

Ulbricht discussed those anticipated murders callously and casually in his journal and in his communications with the purported assassin Redandwhite.

As the district court stated in discussing Ulbricht’s journal entries concerning these projected murders, his words are “the words of a man who is callous as to the consequences or the harm and suffering that [his actions] may cause others.

Moreover, he attempted to commission at least five murders to protect his criminal enterprise. Those facts render his case distinguishable from those who committed other crimes using Silk Road or otherwise facilitated its operation.


His One Long Shot (Which Isn’t Going to Happen for Four Reasons)

Ross’s case has been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and he lost.  At this point his only hope is that some future US President will grant him clemency.  The President has an unlimited authority to pardon anyone.

There’s at least four reasons that is very unlikely to happen.

First, it has been US tradition going back to George Washington that a pardon is for those who show remorse.  It’s no surprise that it’s been used for political purposes sometimes (Richard Nixon is the most famous case) but that doesn’t apply here.  If you’re looking for a pardon, it’s expected that you admit your crimes and are remorseful.

Is that the case here?  No.  Ross’s letter to the court doesn’t talk about remorse for the damage he’s done to society and others, just that he was naive and doesn’t want to die in prison.  Maybe he could make future statements but to date he hasn’t.

Second, there is no political benefit to a President in pardoning Ross.  While in theory these decisions should be made objectively, theory often doesn’t match the real world.  A guy who grew up in an abusive home, was busted for drug dealing 30 years ago, and has been a model prisoner ever since is a good candidate for a pardon because it looks good for the President.  It’s hard to see how pardoning Ross would benefit a politican.

Third, Obama and perhaps Trump probably remembered the Ulbricht case.  I doubt Biden does.  Go forward a few Presidents and Ulbricht will have faded into obscurity.  There’s no top-down or external political pressure for a pardon and there’s unlikely to be such pressure in the future.

Finally, these pardon recommendations typically come up through the political and governmental machinery.  It’s not that the President reviews old cases in his spare time.  When his file does come up through routine procedure, the murders-for-hire are going to be strongly considered.  Ross wanted five people dead and paid nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to see that done.  All the stuff about how he was a nature-loving Boy Scout and such will be overshadowed by hiring an assassin, and that is going to be paperclipped to that file forever.

OK, freeross, We Removed the Photo

We replaced the picture with one from Wikipedia, which comes from a US government publication and is in the public domain.

So you can all rest easy now and file DMCAs with all those other sites.

And by the way the image for this article was made by Midjourney so if you don’t like it, you can get in the back of the long line of people suing them.




  1. This was well written and stinging rebuke, rightly earned.

    That said, I have always had a degree of sympathy for Ross Ulbricht.

    I have a stronger contempt for drug dealers today than I did in the naivety of my libertarian years, but whatever one’s the views on the legitimacy of the government’s drug policies, it’s worth considering that he was protecting more than profits in those alleged murders for hire.

    The idea that this was mere greed, I’m not certain is supported by evidence. Was he trying to avoid prison? Was he navigating some other obstacle in the inherently dangerous life of an outlaw? Was he enforcing the terms of a contract in the only manner available to one who cannot avail himself of the courts? Because, while these are hardly legal justifications, they are categorically different things in terms of mens rea than mere want of material benefit.

    And that, in part, is why sentencing in the federal system is so profoundly unjust. A man can be sentenced on the basis of conduct he was not charged with, and the government thus had no need to prove. Worse still, one can be sentenced on the basis of conduct for which they were acquitted by a jury!

    Recall the language in that quoted decision “preponderance of the evidence”.

    If you received a life sentence based on that very flimsy standard, which scarcely beats a coin toss, without so much as a jury to confirm it, just the say so of an unelected judge, you’d rightly be pretty pissed off about it.

    Meanwhile, that same federal government promotes the sexual grooming of children with pornography and “pride” in our public schools. It diverts resources from investigating human trafficking and child sexual exploitation to pursue fake persecutions of their political opponents in the name of fighting domestic violent extremism, oddly never seeming to notice this behavior in their own side’s extremists. The Biden sell our country out for profit, while Edward Snowden hides in a foreign land for selflessly exposing the malfeasance of his contracted employer. Drug dealers and murderers rule entire American cities with no fear of the law.

    But Ross Ulbricht challenged more than the law.

    He challenged the dollar.

    And that, my friends, the State cannot abide.

    June 29, 2023 @ 9:42 pm | Reply
  2. Szymon:

    wouldn’t this be fair use

    July 4, 2023 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

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