July 20, 2011

Feds Indict Coder/Activist for Downloading Too Many Academic Articles (Infowar - Round 2?)

Per TPM, "coder turned activist" Aaron Swartz has been arrested and charged with "breaking into MIT's network and using an automated program to download more than four million articles from JSTOR, an online database of academic journals maintained at MIT between late September 2010 and early January 2011."

Swartz is the former executive director and founder of Demand Progress and co-founder of Bold Progressives, two orgs whose efforts I support, f.w.i.w. TPM also describes Swartz as a prodigy who "has been involved in building many aspects of the web that everyone uses on a daily basis, and concludes:

Demand Progress' Executive Director David Segal professed puzzlement at the Tuesday development. "This makes no sense," he said on the group's blog "it's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library."

"It's even more strange because JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they've suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute," he added.

But this could be a political statement from Swartz, since he's been a long-time activist on copyright issues. As the indictment notes, Swartz is a fellow at Harvard's Center for Ethics, where his mentor Larry Lessig is the director.

The indictment notes that Swartz could have accessed the research there, but chose instead to break into MIT's network.
(Emphasis supplied.) More at TPM (thanks, Donna!) and the Demand Progress blog.

The implication seems to be that Swartz may have acted in deliberate provocation – possibly to bring to a head the issue of whether information should, per the "Hacker Ethic," be free.

Swartz's act may in fact have been intended as the next salvo in the infowars.

UPDATE: Just got these links: to ask your FB friends to sign on in support or to tweet it.

FURTHER UPDATE: Swartz supporter dumps 18,592 JSTOR docs on Pirate Bay.
A 31-year-old American who says his name is Gregory Maxwell has posted a 32GB file containing 18,592 scientific articles to BitTorrent. In a lengthy statement posted to the Pirate Bay, he says that Tuesday's arrest of onetime Reddit co-owner Aaron Swartz inspired the document release.

"All too often journals, galleries, and museums are becoming not disseminators of knowledge—as their lofty mission statements suggest—but censors of knowledge, because censoring is the one thing they do better than the Internet does," he wrote.
More at ars technica.

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