More on the Persecution/Prosecution of Aaron Swartz + JSTOR’s Role

January 15, 2013


 January 12, 2013 8:32 PM PST

Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

(Credit: Daniel J. Sieradski /Creative Commons: Flicker)


As the Internet exploded with anger over news that online activist Aaron Swartz had committed suicide on Friday, the subscription-only archive he was accused of hacking said late today that it “regretted” having been drawn to “this sad event.”


Swartz, a celebrated computer activist and programming prodigy, was fighting two-year-old charges that he stole 4 million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JSTOR, or Journal Storage, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. If convicted, Swartz faced a maximum of $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison after the government increased the number of felony counts against Swartz to 13 from 4.


Federal authorities alleged that Swartz broke into computer networks at M.I.T. to illegally gain access to JSTOR’s archive. But critics of the government said the Feds were unfairly trying to make an example out of Swartz. In a post today Prosecutor as bully legal scholar Larry Lessig wrote that “the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way.” 

Here is the text of the JSTOR release:


 We are deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him. He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit. 

We have had inquiries about JSTOR’s view of this sad event given the charges against Aaron and the trial scheduled for April. 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. At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to use by the owners and creators of that content. To that end.

Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service and a member of the internet community.l We will continue to work to distribute the content under our care as widely as possible while balancing the interests of researchers, students, libraries, and publishers as we pursue our commitment to the long-term preservation of this important scholarly literature. We join those who are mourning this tragic loss.

Aaron Swartz
Computer prodigy Aaron Swartz remembered
The suicide of an Internet activist sparks a movement on Twitter, the iPhone may be losing its cool with teenagers, and ends its unlimited plan.
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Join the conversation!Add your comment

This case once again shows the misplaced priorities of the US government. This is not an “Obama” or a “Bush” issue because this has happened throughout this nations history regardless of who sat in the White House.

A guy “steals” journals (a lot of which were probably funded with public money) and they throw everything they got at him. Bankers who take assassinate the economies of multiple continents with their addiction to gambling and greed are not only still free to do it again (except in Iceland where they are not divorced from reality) and handed even more money to do it with.

This guy was a genius and had all the makings of a technology titan until some folks who felt threatened by his intelligence and belief in the free flow of knowledge decided otherwise.

Posted by Belinus (260 comments )
January 12, 2013 8:56 PM (PST)Like (9) Reply Link Flag

That papers funded by public money are only accessible to a few elitists in an ivory tower is plain ridiculous. All of those institutions and journals like Elsevier should come before court and explain why they are holding back information that can benefit society and extorting money from people.

The fact a person committed suicide and the papers are still not in public domain is despicable.

Posted by okaythenxq (10 comments )
January 12, 2013 11:20 PM (PST)Like (4) Link Flag

Keep in mind, these articles he stole were probably not written for the general public, or were incomplete studies. The fees charged were probably as unreasonable as those charged for music or books – in other words, enough to pay the electric and internet bills, plus administrative costs.

JTSOR also released 4.5 million articles to the public for _FREE_ a few days before he committed suicide.

The fact that a person opted to commit suicide rather than continue to fight for their beliefs and freedoms is illogical, tragic, and hurtful to the family and friends he left behind.

Posted by solitare_pax (10354 comments )
Demand a Plan. Demand a Plan to stop Suicides and Mass Shootings. its not the guns,knives,ropes that are the problem. its the Pills.
Posted by BobHobby (4 comments )
January 12, 2013 9:09 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

You are making the assumption that people who do these terrible things have proper medical care, or are taking medications to begin with.

It can happen, and we will never know why; it is certainly not a new event. Google the Bath School Disaster and ponder how that could have happened prior to our modern problems.

Posted by solitare_pax (10354 comments )
January 13, 2013 2:27 AM (PST)Like Link Flag

Solitare_pax has indicated you have made an assumption in regards to your statement regarding the dangers of the pysch meds. Though I do not believe psych meds are an issue in this case, your point is an important one. As to pax who is spouting a much touted comeback to anyone who would dare to point a finger at the danger of these SSRI and Anti-Anxiety drugs… you put forth Bath School??? Wow, you are really digging back there aren’t you. Bath School was an opportunity taken by an opportunistic psychopath, you remember them… usually emotionally defective and devoid of feeling from early childhood. Very distinguishable from those who are known to be loving individuals that for no explicable reason go off their nut and everyone is standing around and scratching there heads saying “I don’t understand it, he seemed so sweet”. Andrew Kehoe was clearly a sociopath from a young age, his step mother burned to death after he threw water on her in a kitchen grease fire… Kehoe was high intelligence… he knew that would spread the fire on her. He was a highly trained electrician and the choice of the school was in fact opportunistic as he had been thrown a wiring job by the school, he killed his wife and blew his own house, self and the principle and more kids away when he blew up the truck he was sitting in. There is a huge difference between a serial killer and a spree killer…. your argument solitaire pax does not hold water. Be more original than using a common defense of pharmaceutical case, which by the way took place in 1927 and was carried out by a serial killer not a spree killer. There is a huge problem with these SSRI Drugs, it will eventually come out and you will eat your words.
Posted by Shimie1 (6 comments )
January 13, 2013 9:25 PM (PST)Like Link Flag

Posted by redneckhightech (24 comments )
January 12, 2013 10:05 PM (PST)Like (2) Reply Link Flag

Maybe if access to JSTOR was more widespread we wouldn’t have people writing about scholers and journels
Posted by whiskerbisket (56 comments )
January 12, 2013 10:14 PM (PST)Like (6) Link Flag
 You are forgetting one thing. When a scientist publishes something, he/she relinquishes all rights to that journal. This means that the data CANNOT be published or released elsewhere. Journals make money off of scientists b/c an article in a decent journal can cost several thousand dollars. You couple that with subscription charges from individuals and institutions and journals are making tons of money. What’s funny is that the grant money that is used to fund the publication usually comes from NIH, which is funded by our gov, which is funded by the people. Yet at the end of the day, the journal has the final say over the submitted data. If a scientist were to release the article as well, he could very well be sued by the journal.
Posted by offerPop5804698 (5 comments )
January 13, 2013 12:18 AM (PST)Like (3) Link Flag


Actually, nothing was “stolen” in that definition. No one lost access to JSTOR, no articles from JSTOR were removed, Swartz did not misrepresent himself as the author of those articles, etc.


You hit the nail on the head. The whole thing is a racket designed to make someone money with publicly funded research. And of course as technology and distribution methods evolve,this business model cannot really sustain itself as it once did.

That is why we see things like the disproportionate charges against this guy. Or laws that continuously extend copyright. It is all to protect dying business models.

Posted by Belinus (260 comments )
January 13, 2013 6:27 AM (PST)Like (7) Link Flag

Actually, it is the government’s fault. Keep in mind here that the victim of this “crime” is JSTOR. Throughout this JSTOR declined to press charges. They secured the data from Swartz once he was arrested and he assured them he had not copied it and that it would not be distributed. That was good enough for them. MIT could have at that point used its own powers to ban him from campus and that would have been the end of it.

But instead MIT, whose President Emeritus serves as a trustee of JSTOR’s parent, decided otherwise. Kind of makes you wonder about MIT’s commitment to academic freedom.

Posted by Belinus (260 comments )
January 13, 2013 6:37 AM (PST)Like (3) Link Flag
 @Belenius When it comes to money, there I no such thing as academic freedom. Academic institutions act just like the same greedy Wall Street bankers…Remember that these are the same institutions that turn out the same bankers and economists that brought the US and the taxpayers to its knees in the Financial Crisis…
Posted by FunGuy313 (105 comments )
January 13, 2013 7:33 AM (PST)Like (1) Link Flag

copying is not theft
Posted by ddetinamd (10 comments )
January 13, 2013 2:36 PM (PST)Like (1) Link Flag

And now he’s a martyr.
Posted by ExecutorOne (1 comment )
January 12, 2013 10:13 PM (PST)Like (2) Reply Link Flag

You are sadly correct.
Posted by Belinus (260 comments )
January 13, 2013 6:27 AM (PST)Like Link Flag

“Sorry, but it’s not the governments fault that Swartz decided to commit a crime”

YES, actually it IS and I should not even need to explain why because it’s so elementary, yet clearly there is a need to, but someone else will have to be Captain Obvious to you because I am not sure I can educate your profound ignorance without more ad hominems and foul language.

Posted by MyRightEye (1265 comments )
January 12, 2013 10:38 PM (PST)Like (5) Reply Link Flag

Regardless of ones opinion of the governments actions, and the causes of Swartz’s suicide, that just sounds like a copout. Indeed, plenty of ammo for ad hominems etc.
Posted by unknown unknown (1933 comments )
January 12, 2013 11:22 PM (PST)Like Link Flag

So I guess Rosa Parks should have just gotten to the back of the bus and kept her mouth shut eh? Or perhaps the colonists here should have just shut up and just accepted England’s rule?
Posted by Belinus (260 comments )
January 13, 2013 6:30 AM (PST)Like (4) Link Flag

Well the “victim”, JSTOR said leave him alone after Swartz surrendered the data he had to them with assurances it would not be copied or distributed. That was good enough for them and their attitude “let’s put this behind us”. MIT could have issued a no trespass citation essentially banning him from their campus. Problem solved.

But no, they had to use an array of charges to jail him for a jail term longer than most murderers get.

Posted by Belinus (260 comments )
January 13, 2013 6:40 AM (PST)Like (3) Link Flag

Robert Earl of Huntington
Lies under this little stone.
No archer was like him so good,
His wildness nam’d him Robin Hood,
Full thirteen years and something more
These northern parts he vexed sore:
Such out-laws as he and his men
May England never know again.

In this affluent society, where most people have nothing better to do, celebrate their lucky chances at pursuing childhood dreams, had a good time, enjoyed life, and die leaving no constructive contribution to society, having produced nothing for mankind.

January 13, 2013 6:55 AM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

The PR statement released by JSTOR are completely hollow. This situation could have been easily avoided, yet now, after the fact, they wish they could have done more. Hey JSTOR, how about you release those 4 million documents to the public in honor of Aaron and in recognition of your faults! Oh what? Too much red tape? Too difficult? Stuff your public statement and do what is right!
Posted by Jonathan_Mclaren (1 comment )
January 13, 2013 7:25 AM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

I see many people here overlooking the moral questions of this issue and focusing soley on the legal issues.

It is possible that the copyright laws developed for a world of printed books cannot be applied fairly to a digital world. Copyrights should be ended and any material partaly funded by public money in anyway, however slight, should be in the public domain. Period.

The law may disagree, but it seems clear that in this case the law is wrong and should be changed. Unfortunatly, they big money wants it this way, so it shall remain unchanged.

Posted by Justin_az282 (1 comment )
January 13, 2013 8:30 AM (PST)Like (2) Reply Link Flag

JSTOR needs to be put out of business now.
Posted by symbolset (924 comments )
January 13, 2013 9:35 AM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

January 13, 2013 1:30 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

In reply to your comment that this might “play well to the Internet blog/twitter set,” …I respectfully refer you to the comment later in the chain I just made:
…And in fact, if you don’t agree with that sentiment then you’re plain wrong. And any publishers and or government departments or programs that fund or part-fund research efforts and agree with the status quo whereby large numbers of academic research papers still are not published to free and open access journals/websites are wrong too!
Posted by mistersoft (6 comments )
January 14, 2013 9:07 AM (PST)Like Link Flag

January 13, 2013 2:33 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

Given this is CNET, doubtless quite a number of you have felt the anger that results from trying to find scientific or technical information that was generated and created by public funding, only to have that demand of “300$ for access” thrust in your face. The idea that data created by taxpayer money is not available freely to all is simply a slap in the face for everyone. The entire purpose of hiding this data behind demands for money is NOT to get that fee but to ensure the death of the “backyard inventor”. Big universities and big business know they’ve been shot down many times in the past by the small researcher or inventor who works from home, and this is one way to stop that from happening. When we all had to go to the college library to do our research we were more or less on an even footing, but now the universities and business people pay the fees to access the knowledge, while the small researcher has to beg or take unneeded classes or plead his way into JSTOR or LEXUS or otherwise stop all work and concentrate on simply finding the information they need, much of which is not available save online. Aaron Swartz did not kill himself as some form of blind chance accident of a damaged mind, he was hounded to create an example of what would happen to anyone who dared to argue that research which was funded by the public, published and peer reviewed in public journals should actually be made available to the public in a modern and timely manner. Rise up sheep and look about you. There is a determination to enforce ignorance upon you that even the blind can see.
Posted by old1953 (2 comments )
January 13, 2013 3:18 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

PS: I find it fascinating that there are only two comments here from people who’ve done actual research, and both say the information should be made available freely. As for the “it would cost so much” argument, get a life. Offer it to Google and see how fast they have it up for no charge but ads for scientific equipment on the right hand frame.
Posted by old1953 (2 comments )
January 13, 2013 3:29 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

Aaron paid the price for these papers to be freed. Set them free that we may build progress from them entering our culture as he intended.
Posted by symbolset (924 comments )
January 13, 2013 9:59 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

(slightly sorry for the use of capitals, but..)
ANY ACADEMIC PUBLICATION, PEER REVIEWED OR OTHERWISE, EVEN IF IT’S OSTENSIBLY PUBLISHED VIA A FOR-PROFIT PUBLISHING GROUP – SHOULD BE EASILY AND FREELY AVAILABLE TO THE INTERNET -OR AT THE VERY LEAST- THE FUNDING-COUNTRY AT LARGE- IF THE WORK LEADING TO SAID PUBLICATION WAS IN-ANY-OR-PART-WAY FUNDING BY PUBLIC MONEY. ; END-OF-STORY. want to do private research, and publish in ‘private'(paid-for) Journals, fine, do it. But secure your own private non-public source of funds. completely. This is the only fair way people. The only democratic way.
Posted by mistersoft (6 comments )
January 14, 2013 8:57 AM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

JSTOR comes out after the kids death with this statement? How absurd and disgusting. They should have come out strongly with public statements against this case before it go this far.
Moveover, how can a not for profit set up by the Mellon foundation keep the rights to intellectual property that should be in the public domain? Just because something is a law doesn’t make it a good law.
Boycott JSTOR and overturn their hold on what belongs to the US public. Until we get past this kind of knowledge hoarding we will not reach the potential of the human race. Letting overpriced, outdated education institutions keep a death grip on human knowledge through mechanisms like JSTOR is unenlightened and regressive. Stop JSTOR and it’s ilk now.
Posted by AlonzoHope (1 comment )
January 14, 2013 3:57 PM (PST)Like Reply Link Flag

This is true. And the part that the incumbent $$ powers don’t want people talking about. People seem to forget that art and knowledge existed before copyright and records and credit and cash. If we are to evolve as a species it has to get past the money eventually. Money is a distraction from what we could have actually become by now if we weren’t so busy feeding the greed.
Posted by yodelion (3 comments )

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