[Marxism] Aaron Zwartz and JSTOR

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 20 11:40:23 MDT 2011


(Looking back in retrospect, my ability to freely access JSTOR and 
Lexis-Nexis as a Columbia employee meant more to me than health 
insurance. I can understand why Swartz would want to make it 
freely available to the general public.)

NY Times July 19, 2011
Open-Access Advocate Is Arrested for Huge Download
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

A respected Harvard researcher who also is an Internet folk hero 
has been arrested in Boston on charges related to computer 
hacking, which are based on allegations that he downloaded 
articles that he was entitled to get free.

A federal indictment unsealed in Boston on Tuesday morning on 
charges that the researcher, Aaron Swartz, broke into the computer 
networks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to gain 
access to JSTOR, a nonprofit online service for distributing 
scholarly articles online, and downloaded 4.8 million articles and 
other documents — nearly the entire library.

Mr. Swartz, 24, made his name as a member of the Internet elite as 
a teenager when he helped create RSS, a bit of computer code that 
allows people to receive automatic feeds of online notices and 
news. Since then, he has emerged as a civil liberties activist who 
crusades for open access to data.

In 2008, Mr. Swartz released a “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,” 
calling for activists to “fight back” against the sequestering of 
scholarly papers and information behind pay walls.

“It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of 
civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft 
of public culture,” he wrote. One goal: “We need to download 
scientific journals and upload them to file-sharing networks.”

He also earned renown for downloading nearly 20 million pages of 
court documents for a project that put them free online. That 
brought Mr. Swartz under federal investigation. He was not 
indicted but later published the resulting F.B.I. file online.

He faces up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for 
charges related to wire fraud, computer fraud and unlawfully 
obtaining information from a protected computer. He surrendered to 
the authorities on Tuesday morning, was arraigned in Federal 
District Court and pleaded not guilty to all counts. He was 
released on $100,000 unsecured bond.

Institutions like colleges and libraries pay for access to JSTOR, 
which is then available free to their users. Supporters were quick 
to defend Mr. Swartz. David Segal, executive director of Demand 
Progress, an activist group that Mr. Swartz founded, said in a 
statement that the arrest “makes no sense,” comparing the 
indictment to “trying to put someone in jail for allegedly 
checking too many books out of the library.” An online petition 
gathered 15,000 signatures in just a few hours.

In an interview, Mr. Segal said that his comments went to the 
principle, not to anything Mr. Swartz might have done in obtaining 
the documents.

“I know him as a person who cares deeply about matters of ethics 
and government,” Mr. Segal said. “I don’t know about the matter of 
what has been alleged.”

Beginning in September of last year, according to the indictment, 
Mr. Swartz used several methods to grab articles, even breaking 
into a computer-wiring closet on the M.I.T. campus and setting up 
a laptop with a false identity on the school network for free 
JSTOR access under the name Gary Host — or when shortened for the 
e-mail address, “ghost.” When retrieving the computer, he hid his 
face behind a bicycle helmet, peeking out through the ventilation 
holes.

The flood of downloads was so great that it crashed some JSTOR 
servers, the indictment stated, and JSTOR blocked access to the 
network from M.I.T. and its users for several days.

Ultimately Mr. Swartz returned the hard drives containing the 
articles to JSTOR and promised that the material would not be 
disseminated.

“We are not pursuing further action,” the organization’s general 
counsel, Nancy Kopans, said; the organization said in a statement 
that the criminal case “has been directed by the United States 
Attorney’s Office.”

As for the comments from Mr. Swartz’s supporters that he had done 
nothing wrong, however, Ms. Kopans said, “It’s an unfortunate 
situation, but I think the facts speak for themselves.”

Mr. Swartz recently completed a 10-month fellowship at the Edmond 
J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard. “Aaron has never done 
anything in this context for personal gain — this isn’t a hacking 
case, in the sense of someone trying to steal credit cards,” said 
Lawrence Lessig, the center’s director. “That’s something JSTOR 
saw, and the government obviously didn’t.”

In a statement announcing the charges, a United States attorney, 
Carmen M. Ortiz, said: “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a 
computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, 
data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you 
sell what you have stolen or give it away.”

Carl Malamud, an online activist who worked with Mr. Swartz on the 
court-documents project, called Mr. Swartz “one of the Internet’s 
most talented programmers,” but said that “the JSTOR situation is 
very disturbing.”

In an e-mail exchange with a reporter, Mr. Malamud, who is engaged 
in a project intended to put all laws and government documents 
online, said: “My style, when I see a gate barring entry and that 
gate is sanctioned by the law, is to go up to that gate and pound 
on it hard and force them to open up. Others sometimes look for a 
back door.”

He added, “I’m not convinced that style is always effective, and 
it is certainly often dangerous.”

Nick Bilton contributed reporting.




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