History will ultimately absolve Aaron Swartz as it will Julian Assange and Bradley Manning for quite separate activities. If the world is to be free information must be liberated from those who would confine it and ration it only to those who can afford to pay. Aaron Swartz is a hero he died so that we could be free.
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LOS ANGELES TIMES (January 15, 2013)
Aaron Swartz saw a closed world and wanted to crack it open. His suicide by hanging in New York last week has reignited the conflict between the values of property possession and digital openness and intensified debate over the government’s determination to send him to prison.
In Swartz’s world, data constituted knowledge, and knowledge demanded to be shared. In service of that goal, he helped start Reddit, a news and entertainment website, and RSS, the information distribution service.
He was also a formidable hacker, which led to an indictment in Boston for wire fraud and the possibility of 35 years behind bars.
According to his girlfriend, aggressive prosecution and the embarrassment of asking friends for help and money as part of a defense campaign wore down Swartz, 26, who had a history of depression and was battling the flu.
“I was never as worried about him as the last few days of his life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the overreaching prosecution,” Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, 31, said in a phone interview from Chicago, where she’d flown for Swartz’s funeral. She added, “He couldn’t face another day of, ‘Have you done this, have you asked people for money.’ I think he literally rather would have been dead.”
On Monday, as a formality in response to his death, federal prosecutors dropped multiple felony charges against Swartz, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier, a spokeswoman said prosecutors wanted to respect the family’s privacy.
According to the indictment, sometime between September 2010 and January 2011 Swartz physically broke into a wiring closet at MIT, where he wasn’t a student or faculty member, to hack into the school’s networks so he could download millions of academic articles from an expensive database, JSTOR. Authorities said he repeatedly rebuffed the school’s and the service’s attempts to prevent his downloads and planned to distribute the articles for free on file-sharing services.
Prosecutors, plus legal experts such as George Washington University’s Orin Kerr, thought Swartz’s acts clearly broke U.S. law, which bans taking “property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses.”
Swartz likely could have accessed JSTOR from Harvard, where he was a member of the university’s ethics center, and which, like most universities, has access to JSTOR’s subscription service.
The act of snatching academic work was not an act of need, however, but apparently one of politics — an attack on the same law that Swartz himself had said contradicted common-sense values of openness and public stewardship.
In his 2008 “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,” Swartz wrote, “The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier*. ”
He added, “There is no justice in following unjust laws. 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. We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world.”
“Reed Elsevier” is one of two companies which collectively own the Law in the United States. The other company, Thompson-Reuters (formerly Thompson-West) along with Reed Elsevier collect statutes, regulations and case law from the various States input the compilations into computers, collate it and add notes and then turn around and sell the Law to lawyers and the very governments that produce it. So if you, or the lawyer you pay, want to know what the law is on any topic, you will have to pay one or the other, and sometimes both, of these companies for the privilege.