Aaron Swartz’ suicide last week was connected in unfortunate ways to the library world. He was being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts for putting a computer in a wiring closet in a library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and setting it up to automatically download scholarly articles from the library’s JSTOR subscription database. After Mr. Swartz was charged with a crime, JSTOR declined to press their own charges and wrote over the weekend that, “The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge.” But federal prosecutors persisted, charging Mr. Swartz with felonies under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which could have resulted in up to 35 years in prison.
OPLIN is an agency of the state government of Ohio, and as such, we have often experienced government policies and procedures that overlook common sense and doggedly enforce the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit of the law. Such narrow-minded bureaucracy often crushes innovation. Sometimes it crushes innovative people. When applied to laws that seek to limit access to information on the Internet, it also has the potential to crush the very idea that is the foundation of the public library: that information should be freely shared with the public.
- A data crusader, a defendant and now, a cause (New York Times/Noam Cohen) “The belief that information is power and should be shared freely — which Mr. Swartz described in a treatise in 2008 — is under considerable legal assault. The immediate reaction among those sympathetic to Mr. Swartz has been anger and a vow to soldier on. Young people interviewed on Sunday spoke of the government’s power to intimidate.”
- Prosecutor as bully (Lessig Blog, v2/Lawrence Lessig) “From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The ‘property’ Aaron had ‘stolen,’ we were told, was worth ‘millions of dollars’ — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.”
- Aaron Swartz, American hero (Washington Post Wonkblog/Tim Lee) “Swartz took an aggressive, perhaps even reckless, course in his promotion of public access to information. The federal courts lock public documents behind a paywall on a Web site called PACER. When the judiciary announced a pilot program to provide free PACER access to users at certain public libraries, Swartz saw an opportunity. Using credentials from one of the libraries, he used an automated program to rapidly “scrape” documents from the PACER site. He got more than 2 million before the courts noticed what was happening and shut down the libraries program.”
- RIP, Aaron Swartz (Boing Boing/Cory Doctorow) “He also founded a group called DemandProgress, which used his technological savvy, money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights. DemandProgress’s work was one of the decisive factors in last year’s victory over SOPA/PIPA, and that was only the start of his ambition.”
A Twitter campaign under the hashtag #pdftribute had as many as 500 tweets per hour over the weekend, as Twitter users posted links to PDFs of scholarly articles in tribute to Mr. Swartz.