Support Aaron Swartz

Support Aaron Swartz by signing the on-line petition. Yet another abuse of copyright law.

I don’t know anybody who is fond of JSTOR. It’s a shame that here in the future, bodies of work built on a substantial amount of public funding can have such high barriers of access. I feel that barrier especially now that I’m out of academia; it’s very hard for me to do literature searches without paying an arm and a leg. Fact of the matter is that academics tend to be law-abiding citizens, but who makes the law, and is it right? Without asking questions or raising challenges, they are herded like sheep to be shorn. Kudos to Swartz for putting himself out there and taking the charge against the status quo.

10 Responses to “Support Aaron Swartz”

  1. JW says:

    When I was a student, I hated the fact that access to important documents was denied to people who could use them, because the only realistic way to get at them was to be in university. Now, as someone with publications, I still think the same. Education is vital, but it does not need to be done through the monoliths that are deemed to to be credible. To deny access to huge amounts of information, much of which was publicly funded, to the vast majority of the population is, quite simply, wrong.

    I applaud Mr Swartz for bringing this into the light for more to see.

  2. Ian says:

    It does suck that academic papers, theses and other works are for-pay in a supposedly open system that encourages peer review.

    I would like to see Swartz account for his repeated evasion of network blocks and unauthorised entry into a network closet. I hope that these reports are inaccurate.

    I support Swartz’s motive, but in the event that the reports *are* accurate, I cannot support his methods.

  3. Fred says:

    Swartz isn’t being charged with illegally accessing JSTOR, he’s being charged with illegally accessing MIT’s network. Do a little bit more research before you post trollbait like this.

    • bunnie says:

      Yes, I realize what the legal charge is, it’s stated as such in the news reports. Perhaps my choice of words was poor. When I give him kudos for taking the charge against the status quo, I meant “charge!” as in the battle call, not as in the legal process.

      JSTOR is an example of what can happen because copyright has an unnatural duration. The abuse of copyright law refers to the fact that it’s accepted to charge people for works that are decades old, the fact that these works aren’t in the public domain already, etc. etc. iirc, copyright term was originally 14 years’ duration in the US, but it’s been greatly extended through special interests and lobbying. Quite a charged topic, as you can see (and now the word “charge” has been used in four different meanings in two paragraphs).

      I regard Swartz’ access to MIT’s network as a form of civil disobedience in the Internet age. The use of criminal charges to prosecute Swartz in this case is akin to the arrests of MLK for holding demonstrations without protest permits and breaking loitering laws. Challenging established law is incredibly difficult, because it’s hard to simply pick out one law and challenge it without falling afoul of a dozen other statutes.

      Of course, if in the details Swartz was wantonly destructive or damaging to the infrastructure, that goes beyond civil disobedience; however, having gone to MIT myself and done plenty of roof and tunnel hacking, I don’t assume that accessing a network closet implies damage or destruction, or even criminal behavior. That was in the good old days, I suppose…but given today’s chill around cyber-attacks, I’d almost say gaining physical access to a network closet is a more traditional and legally “understood” approach to making the point rather than engaging in behavior that can get you marked as a terrorist or be declared as an act of war.

  4. Malcolm says:

    “Aaron’s methods were reckless and counterproductive. For starters, walking into someone’s networking closet and hooking your equipment up to a switch without permission is almost never OK, and it’s definitely not OK if the objective is to evade the network owner’s previous attempts to block you from the network. The conflict between Aaron and JSTOR led to the entire MIT campus being cut off from JSTOR access for several days, doubtless affecting the productivity of hundreds of MIT scholars.”

    • JW says:

      “The conflict between Aaron and JSTOR led to the entire MIT campus being cut off from JSTOR access for several days, doubtless affecting the productivity of hundreds of MIT scholars.” Well, as collateral damage goes that is hardly serious, is it? These scholars were reduced to the same level as those outside the ivory tower. Is it too much to hope that they might see that complaining that they couldn’t freely access that which they consider themselves entitled to is part of the point?

      At the very least, the scholars should realise that they are only a server glitch away from not having access to JSTOR – no workarounds, no alternative access – and start campaigning for a more flexible system.

  5. Andrew says:

    JSTOR is a non-profit, and they serve universities far better than almost every other scientific publisher out there. The fees universities pay, which really are not very much, supply JSTOR with the funds they need to do their publishing work. JSTOR is even cheaper for libraries:

    If you want to make JSTOR free for anyone anywhere, find a better way to fund it!

    PLOS can offer their papers for free only because they charge researchers a large amount (several thousand USD) to have their papers published.

    I wonder if Aaron’s goal was to be arrested. A programmer of his caliber could easily throttle down his programs to not cause a DOS and furthermore grab different addresses to look like semi-regular traffic.

    • bunnie says:

      aye, my guess is there is a method to his madness.

      Re: funding, there’s a lot of free/freemium websites out there that serve very heavy content, such as streaming video. JSTOR hosts PDFs, a few hundred kilobytes each, to a highly targeted market backed by money to spend through research budgets; and the average browsing time on their site should be quite high, especially if you’re doing a lit search.

      Entire genome and protein databases are available with free and open access, and my guess is that they have much higher computational, storage, and bandwidth demands over JSTOR. Heck, wikipedia beats JSTOR as far as technical requirements go.

      I think that if it weren’t for the current state of copyright law, a free and open solution would comfortably exist.

  6. james says:

    As far as I’m concerned someone who deliberately hides his face behind a bicycle helmet (!) when breaking into a networking closet in order not to get caught does not deserve any support, no matter what he tried to accomplish. His indictment starts off slow, but somehow what he did escalated into a crime –

    • Jan says:

      Wow, that is complete BS right there. Do you work for MIT or JSTOR? Or why is wearing bicycle helmet to hide face such sin? If you have helmet problems, better get away from cyclists…

      So the document you linked keeps talking about stealing documents, As we all know copying digital data is not theft, since you don’t take the original away and the price of copying such data is practically zero. So I don’t understand how can they claim loss of $5000 in value by downloading it to his personal computer (still not distributing/sharing it!) They must have really expensive ISP tariff!

      The general question is why would someone be prevented or even fined for spreading knowledge from academic journals? Is the objective to keep people dumb and uninformed? Why are you still persecuted for downloading journals which are clearly past the copyright protections (like those he put on torrent)? Wouldn’t you expect to have free, unrestricted, public access to such documents?

      It’s really mind-boggling how far those copyright laws went, they even prevent sharing human knowledge such as research papers or academic journals, which are clearly not harmful or sensitive information. You know that free spreading of our knowledge, the basic human instinct, worked very well for thousands of years, only to be stopped in last few decades by some greedy people who only care about profits and nothing else. The same applies to SW patents. Sadly, this will help the USA to get rid of the world leading position in research and innovation. You’ll see which model works and which not in just few years, now enjoy the bits what you still have left.