a shot over the bow – Aaron Swartz indicted for … downloading articles from JSTOR?

I saw this post circulating around facebook and, of course, the word “library” caught my eye. The Boston Globe has a longer explanation about what all the kerfuffle is about, but still uses words like “hacking.” The Demand Progress blog, the organization that Aaron directs, has this statement and some additional blog posts. The New York Times seems to have the most comprehensive explanation of what happened when and has the text of the indictment.

What we do know is that the US Government has indicted Aaron Swartz [who you may know around the internet for any number of things] for, apparently and allegedly, downloading 4mil articles from JSTOR without (I think?) the proper credentials. Aaron turned himself in. At issue are many points of JSTORs terms of service and what sort of access is given to guests of the university. As Aaron is a net activist, I’m certain this is some level of intentional move on his part, I’m quite curious to see where it goes.

Update: JSTORs official statement, Wired article with more details

7 comments for “a shot over the bow – Aaron Swartz indicted for … downloading articles from JSTOR?

  1. 19Jul11 at 9:00

    With Wikileaks, Anonymous, the “phone hacking” in England, and so on, there’s a sense of dread among powerbrokers in the financial, military, and political sectors around anything involving “hacking”.

    Obviously, most people don’t really have a sense of the differences between Stuxnet-level hacking and “walked into an unlocked room and plugged into a spare ethernet cable” “hacking”. And, of course, there’s a host of media outlets that are all-too-eager to hype it up to the public and sell ad space, with no real incentive to steer people away from FUD. (I don’t know the particulars of Aaron’s situation … just giving two opposite ends of the spectrum.) Just trying to get to my point:

    I suspect that the government wants to present themselves as being on top of “hackers”, to reassure citizens that the US’s data structures and computer systems are safe from meddling or attack (both foreign and domestic). Perhaps that’s what you were getting at with your “shot across the bow” title. I hope they don’t make an example of Aaron, but the fact that they made this a federal criminal charge, rather than, say, a civil charge of contract violation (or something similar) … that doesn’t bode too well. Like you, I’m curious to see what happens with this.

  2. Stephen Michael Kellat
    19Jul11 at 10:24

    From all I’ve seen tracking stories and reactions today..Mr. Swartz is very much so being made an example of. Information may want to be free but there are still costs in the production and dissemination of it.

  3. 20Jul11 at 9:10

    JStor is one of my favourite databases… it is! Liked the note in the Globe/Metro explaining how expensive it is as well. People (or “street people” as Alan Smith would say…) don’t realize the cost of these databases.

  4. Iain Stuart
    24Jul11 at 2:32

    As an independent scholar I dislike the fact that it seems impossible to access JSTOR except through Universities where I have library access. as for the cost – well in most cases JSTOR seems to be getting the articles for free. It is in my case as the journals I contributed them to are on JSTOR. Much as I like the idea of JSTOR they are a bit hypocritical in claiming their support for scholarship.

  5. 27Jul11 at 3:59

    Did you see the indictment itself? http://web.mit.edu/bitbucket/Swartz,%20Aaron%20Indictment.pdf He went to some pretty dramatic extremes to gain access and avoid detection. Took down all of JSTOR for the whole MIT community for several days. Took down all of JSTOR itself at one point. Of all the DB vendors to go after, I wouldn’t have picked JSTOR first–I’m guessing it was just the easiest for his bot to rip the articles. I didn’t love the NYT article. I thought it was pretty soft on the criminal aspect. I wondered if the reporter had actually read the indictment. Maybe it’s just because I used to work at MIT that I feel personally offended? Why didn’t he do it at Harvard, where he had access to all the JSTOR db as a Fellow in the Harvard University Center for Ethics ? Why go over to MIT? Because they had an open access policy for the public. Seems wrong.

    Meh. I’m

  6. vanhellslinger
    04Aug11 at 2:51

    The Relevance of Labeling Copyright Laws as Communism

    I suggest that the understanding lies in finding some relevance, and not just some metaphor, cliché, or parody. However, I am prone to saying, “a spade, is a spade”, and for me to associate the absolute negative and evil with communism/socialism, there must accompany the parallels of logic, demonstrated by obvious labels, however offensive they be to some. The key words are fitting, and behavior, and by understanding that behind every communist is the dictatorship. One might say, that communism doesn’t exist, the default representation being the dictator, who historically has offered us insight to such a degree, that one can find legitimacy in decrying these tyrants as closet capitalists, as they plunder the proletariat for lavish personal lifestyles. The suppression of art and invention, controlled by the government, or the dictator, is demonstrated equally, they both are similar, and yes there is some capitalisms, and superficial levels of commitment to justice, honor, and Godliness, however the old proverb, appears readily applicable, “what is good for the goose, isn’t always good for the gander”. Unfortunately Mr. Varmint(fictitious character), you are right about the lack of volume, as there is a plethora of variables and factors that need to be addressed to understand copyright and patent issues, but this is just a simple blog site, and limited by space and time. I suppose the same could be said with my associating communism with capitalism. It easily is a subject that flies beyond the simplicity of the “Capitalist Parable”, how can a communist country like China be the biggest capitalist on the block?

    One can easily demonstrate, using China as the example, to observe that intellectual property laws serve the interest of the communist party. The dictatorship can suppress free speech under the guise of protectionism, after all they don’t want art and invention that might incite the people to violence. Is there much difference between an author or inventor in a communist country that performs ambivalently for the party and people, and a capitalist equivalent that uses high priced lobbyists and lawyers to secure market dominance, and offers the excuse, “we are only protecting our property rights and stimulating creativity”? They both will exhibit representatives of successfully managed works, and in the form of propaganda, that being anybody able to manipulate either system of government.

    And like Einstein’s Half Dead Cat, the quantum mechanics of government control leads towards the socialist state, that being bigger government, and government drones controlling free enterprise, all for their share, the socialist pension plan. Which explains the enormous amount of money the U.S. Copyright Office takes in each year. In 2009 they took in 273 million dollars in licensing and royalty fees. So the government knows it has a good thing going with controlling IP, each year they dig a new hole to bury the loot, in the form of laws and amendments, rules, and programs, etc, where they can build their army and hide the truth, and that is, in the end they will use IP laws to quash free speech. The government operates the biggest con game in the world with IP laws. Talk about “opiate of the masses”, billions of people actually believe that copyright laws are protecting their art and inventions. Perhaps it is the Occam’s Razor of the masses, that we accept the simplest of logic as correct, either way the communists have found the “Achilles Heel’ of human logic, and with them in control of IP we will see the downfall of civilization.

    With that in mind, I once again salute, Aaron Schwartz, freedom fighter, front line soldier in the war against communist lunacy, and a defender of Gods laws of free enterprise. God Bless you Aaron, may he protect you from the evil ones that are in league with Mephistopheles!

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