MIT on Aaron Swartz’s death

I — and a few thousand others — got an email today from MIT’s (new) president, Rafael Reif responding to the news that internet activist (and much else) Aaron Swartz had committed suicide.  (BJ threads here and here).

In a public statement, Swartz’s family and partner explicitly condemned both the US Attorney’s office and MIT for their actions in response to Swartz’s use of the MIT network to download JSTOR documents:

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office and at M.I.T. contributed to his death.” (as quoted in The New York Times)

Some folks in yesterday’s threads asked me what I knew/thought of MIT’s involvement in Swart’s legal peril.  My answer is that I don’t know what MIT did (I thought I knew more than I actually do, but that’s another problem).   I now expect to know more — as promised in Reif’s response to both Swartz’s death and the question of MIT’s role as a possible contributor to that loss:

…Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.

I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.

I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.

I’ve nothing really to add, except this.  While I don’t know President Reif well, he’s someone I respect very highly, partly for his willingness to listen to difficult answers.  I think here we see the measure of that commitment.  I know that the phrase “internal investigation” seems almost certain to be an oxymoron, but  you can measure the seriousness with which Reif is responding to this loss by his choice of the leader of that inquiry, Hal Abelson.  I don’t know Hal well either — I’ve only met him a few times.  But I do know this:  there is simply no one better than Hal to lead an reckoning on the interplay between MIT and Swartz.  From his “stodgy biography” (sic!):

“He is a leader in the worldwide movement towards openness and democratization of culture and intellectual resources. He is a founding director of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Free Software Foundation, and a director of the Center for Democracy and Technology — organizations that are devoted to strengthening the global intellectual commons.”

Hal is ferociously smart, and, as I’ve seen in my few encounters, utterly without fear or favor.  I’m not sure how much we at MIT will feel comfort at what we learn through his efforts; I do feel confident indeed that it will be of great value.

 






169 replies
  1. 1
    👽 Martin says:

    Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office and at M.I.T. contributed to his death.

    This is unquestionably true, however it’s also completely common. We’ve constructed a culture where every action needs to go 5 paces farther than necessary on the assumption that even in justice, we have to sacrifice something to reach an outcome. It’s maddening.

  2. 2
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Tom, as you and the rest of the M.I.T. community learn more about this from the Abelson Inquiry, please keep the B.J. community informed. I’m one of those who never knew Aaron Swartz by name until a day or so ago, but find myself grieving his death and the personal and legal circumstances that may have contributed to it.

    Both Reif and Abelson sound like good guys.

  3. 3
    mclaren says:

    Shorter version of MIT’s statement:

    “We’re going to cover our asses with the usual bogus internal investigation, while we continue to deep-throat the military-police-prison-surveillance-torture complex so hard the back of our head caves in, because the sweet sweet river of gold from all those military DARPA grants keeps MIT running.”

  4. 4
    General Stuck says:

    From what I can gather, JSTOR was crystal clear that it did not want the government to prosecute Swartz. Apparently, MIT was not quite as clear on that, and the theory is that gave Ortiz the room to continue on, after both parties had dropped their own civil suits against Aaron.

    After reading some of Mr. Swartz’e comments on his on going depression problem, he probably should not have engaged in civil disobedience, as folks that do that, no matter the rightness of their cause, have to be mentally prepared to face the law.

    And even though initial charges by a prosecutor rarely end up being what is plead to. And the same if those charges end up in a jury’s hands, a depressed person is going to fixate on the worst that could happen. And even though Aaron would have likely only spent months, or maybe up to year in prison, in medium security, a clinically depressed person is going to latch onto and ruminate over a possible sentence of 35 years/

    Very very sad story all around. As for the feds choosing to prosecute this dubious case for any kind of serious crime, it should be clear that the Obama DOJ has been taking intellectual property theft very seriously, rightly or wrongly so. In all sort of venues. But that does not excuse this US attorney’s hard ass attitude for this kind of thing when it is an activist involved, that is not doing it for money. How many times has the O’Keefe character got caught doing illegal shit for his videos, say like trying to tap a sitting US senator’s phone, and got off scott free?

    But of course, we do have Barack Obama causing all sorts of bad shit to happen.

  5. 5
    👽 Martin says:

    @mclaren: Just curious – is there a single institution or individual on this planet that isn’t evil in your view? You tell us everyone and everything is coated in shit. MIT might the institution you hold in highest regard for all we know.

    If I were your kid I’d swallow a gun.

  6. 6
    katie5 says:

    Tom, everything hinges on the terms of reference given to the investigation of MITs involvement. The way many of these university administration-led actions go is to vastly narrow the terms so as to obtain the results (we did nothing wrong; we need to protect IP) the university desires.

  7. 7
    The Sheriff's A Ni- says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Just curious – is there a single institution or individual on this planet that isn’t evil in your view?

    Why himself and only himself, of course.

  8. 8
    WaterGirl says:

    “He is a leader in the worldwide movement towards openness and democratization of culture and intellectual resources. He is a founding director of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Free Software Foundation, and a director of the Center for Democracy and Technology — organizations that are devoted to strengthening the global intellectual commons.”

    This makes me feel better about the internal review. With this man at the head, this does not feel at all like CYA.

    Thanks, Tom.

    Edited because I couldn’t get my verb tenses right the first time.

  9. 9
    Oltrol says:

    @General Stuck: From what I’ve gleaned, none of this should be behind a pay wall.

  10. 10
    Culture of Truth says:

    I find this all difficult to analyze. Will people be able to separate their emotions about his suicide from what came before? Their respect for his coding abilities from his other acts? Chris Hayes ended his show today demanding prosecutions of lawbreakers – such as threats to society as steroid users – and anger at prosecution of Swartz.

  11. 11
    Gopher2b says:

    @General Stuck:

    He would have gotten probation if he plead and was remorseful.

  12. 12
    Anya says:

    I am deeply saddened by Aaron Swartz death. He was an amazing person, and I am sorry that his family and the world lost such a wonderful soul. He was devoted to social justice and human advancement. I met him twice, and had a lengthy discussion with him. He was weird in the most endearing and brilliant way. But as a clinical social worker, it’s hard for me to blame anyone else on his suicide. By all accounts Aaron was struggling with depression way before his legal struggles. Depression is a killer if not treated. I am sure these legal challenges have contributed to deepening his feelings of despair but they were not solely responsible. If blame is to be levelled, what did his family and loved ones do to help him seek help for his illness?

  13. 13
    PurpleGirl says:

    I knew a mathematics student at the Courant Institute (NYU) who killed himself. He had tried once or twice before. He had recently started taking medication for depression. We were all stunned. As it turns out, the period immediately following the start of medication can be a most dangerous time for a depressed person — they aren’t fully recovering yet from the depression but the medication gives them the energy to be successful in a suicide attempt.

    Just something to consider.

  14. 14
    General Stuck says:

    @Gopher2b:

    Very good possibility of that, since he had no criminal record to date,

  15. 15
    Faisal says:

    The choice of Abelson is interesting. The man casts an immense shadow. His involvement in the electronic rights community aside, he also wrote one of the foundational texts of modern computer science (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_and_Interpretation_of_Computer_Programs), and there are very very few people in the industry who did not learn from him, directly or indirectly.

  16. 16
    👽 Martin says:

    @General Stuck: I’m not so sure. The feds added more charges just a few months ago. They were making it ever harder for him to plead out by raising the cost of pleading out.

  17. 17
    Hill Dweller says:

    OT: Jonathan Alter is saying on Twitter that the Republicans are going to filibuster Hagel.

  18. 18
    eemom says:

    Here’s an emptywheel piece I’m linking to as a public service to mclaren and her ilk. They’re gonna go orgasmic over it.

  19. 19
    General Stuck says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Or, by adding charges they could have been ratcheting up the pressure for Aaron to agree to plead. I think he refused an earlier offer of one year jail time, from not wanting a felony record to follow him around the rest of his days.

  20. 20
    Gopher2b says:

    @👽 Martin:

    What was the major count? Wire fraud? No idea what the guidelines for that type of crime would be but in Boston, with that kind of charge, protest (not profit) serving as the motive…I would have been shocked if he got more than home confinement. I could see the judge restricting his access to a computer but there is no way that gut was going to jail.

  21. 21

    […] Tom Levinson at Balloon Juice believes that MIT, thanks to its new president Rafael Reif, has begun a serious […]

  22. 22
    Anya says:

    @Hill Dweller: Lovely. This should encourage all those dems who are skittish about the filibuster reform.

  23. 23
    Gopher2b says:

    @Gopher2b:

    Gut = guy = young man. Meant no disrespect. (Typing on iPhone is hard).

  24. 24
    redshirt says:

    McClaren is of course right that MIT receives a large amount of money from the DoD and like agencies. DARPA is intended to provide war machines. Does that factor into this situation? I have no idea. RIP Mr. Swartz.

  25. 25
    Charles II says:

    What strikes me is that MIT’s entrepreneurial culture (really, it’s almost like a corporate hive; one sometimes can’t tell what is academic and what is private) depends on what scientific publishers would call “theft of intellectual property.” A faculty member sets up a company, hires a student, allows student to use university account to download articles used by the company. Theft! as some would have it. In effect, Aaron Swartz was just trying to make that literature more widely accessible.

    So MIT has a special obligation to do right by this. The school benefits enormously from public funds, but it is heavily influenced, perhaps dominated, by corporations. Faculty and students get rich by playing fast and loose with intellectual property restrictions, which everyone tolerates because they see a greater social good emerging from that entrepreneurial culture. What Aaron Swartz was doing would have opened doors to people without the tony connections.

    I think MIT could best honor that impulse by recognizing its privileged position in information and accepting that with acceptance of public funds comes public obligation.

    All this IMHO.

  26. 26
    sylvan says:

    @Hill Dweller:

    the Republicans are going to filibuster

    Of course they are.

    They’ll only bow to “advice and consent” if they lose eight more elections in a row.

  27. 27
    Soonergrunt says:

    @redshirt: “McClaren is of course right…”
    Well, you know–stopped clocks, law of large numbers, infinite number of monkeys typing…

  28. 28
    Yutsano says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    infinite number of monkeys typing

    As a descendant of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, I find that offencive.*

    *Not really.

  29. 29
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @redshirt:

    The intertubes are the direct result of a DARPA project.

    Look at all the evil THEY’VE done!

  30. 30
    Hill Dweller says:

    @sylvan: I don’t think a Sec. of Defense has ever been filibustered. Doing it to a Republican war hero just solidifies their insanity.

  31. 31
    handsmile says:

    Tom Levenson:

    Thank you for posting this update and for your candor. After adding the Swartz family statement to the comment thread of yesterday’s post on his death, I was one of those who had asked for any further light you could shed on the role played by MIT.

    There is no doubt that both MIT’s own investigation as well as calls for an inquiry into the motives behind the Justice Department’s draconian and disproportionate pursuit of Aaron Swartz will be vigilantly followed world-wide.

    But there is another, more personal, factor in your post tonight that has staggered me. In the early 1980s, for somewhat less than one year, I was the administrative assistant to Hal Abelson at the Laboratory for Computer Science. (Having recently relocated to Cambridge, it was a temp job for which this Luddite was eminently ill-qualified.) At the same time, I provided similar assistance to Seymour Papert’s LOGO group at LCS.

    Co-leader of MIT’s legendary introductory computer programming course, “6.001 Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs,” Professor Abelson was beloved by the hundreds of enrolled students for his accessibility and geniality. He was certainly a fair-minded employer to me, supportive of my interests/academic studies, and gracious upon my departure. We would exchange greetings in later years when my career returned me to MIT.

    How small and surprising the world can be.

  32. 32
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Yutsano: But did these relatives from whom you are descended type? Anybody can eat cheese and wave a white flag, you know.

  33. 33
    James Hare says:

    I certainly never experienced the kind of witch hunt Aaron did, but I know what the IT staffs at colleges and universities are like. They’re the dregs of the IT world — there isn’t much money in it and it’s really hard work. You’re dealing with kids who probably know more than you but haven’t had their wings clipped by reality enough to think twice before attacking a network. I disclosed a security vulnerability to my college’s IT staff and was later brought up on disciplinary charges and kicked out of school when others exploited that vulnerability. Anybody who is serious about security would tell you that is the exact WRONG way to deal with things.

    Unfortunately there is no real solution to the problem. Higher education will never have the money to hire the best and the brightest in IT and they’ll always have a bunch of very bright but not so wise students there to make administering a network a headache. It’s a real shame we’ve put ourselves in this position — more and more our places of learning are becoming places where students learn to never challenge the status quo because doing so will seriously impact their chance of a real future.

  34. 34
    redshirt says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Also good for post nuclear war communications. As long as I can get new LOLCATS in my bunker, I’m cool.

  35. 35
    ulee says:

    @PurpleGirl: Purplegirl. My meds were recently changed because they were ineffective for the anxiety and depression I struggle with. My doctor wanted to hospitalize me because she said it can be a dangerous time when changing meds or starting a new med. I assured her I would be fine and five days later I tried to hang myself. It was impulsive and I felt compelled to do it. It is strange, because I did feel better on the new meds.

  36. 36
    Yutsano says:

    @Soonergrunt: I figure being smart enough to get out of there 500 years ago was proof enough of their intelligence. That and there were a lot of laypriests in my familial line. I wouldn’t exist right now without that gulf of distance between Canada and Roma.

  37. 37
    Mnemosyne says:

    For some reason, I keep reading about Aaron Swartz and thinking of William Cottrell, who was manipulated into vandalism by “Earth First types” (I put it in quotes because it’s never been clear that they actually were associated with the organization) who abandoned him to his fate when he got caught.

  38. 38
    Anya says:

    @👽 Martin: That’s Inspector Javert level fanaticism. I hope that asshole DA lives with guilt for the rest of his life.

  39. 39
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    We know that the US Attorney’s office in Boston, in trying to throw the library at Swartz, also expanded its investigation to cover a broader circle of tech activists based in Cambridge. As Cory Doctorow said in his post, there was a theory that it was a fishing expedition related to Bradley Manning, who had interactions with that group.

    But there was also a theory that Steve Heymann was burnishing his reputation for getting big sentences, and his office was able to intimidate those activists, for fear that tweets or blog posts or list emails could be taken out of context, used as evidence, and would affect the trial. The prevailing belief was that once the case was in court, it would get sorted out. And perhaps Aaron had come to the conclusion, however well-founded, that it wouldn’t.

  40. 40
    slag says:

    Thanks for this update, Tom! Even from a distance, it’s clear that this whole situation has been a tragedy of errors.

  41. 41
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @James Hare:

    I know what the IT staffs at colleges and universities are like.

    This was friggin’ MIT. Somehow, I don’t think MIT has the kind of grunt BOFHs running its network that you find at Bumfuck State.

  42. 42
    burnspbesq says:

    I am saddened by young Mr. Swartz’ death.

    I’d love to have more affordable access to JSTOR, but that’s up to the publishers of the journals that are archived there, not to some kid taking the law into his own hands.

    “Information wants to be free” has always been code for “I want the benefit of your time, effort, and investment, but I don’t wanna pay because fuck you that’s why.”

    His heart was (sorta, maybe) in the right place, but he went about it the wrong way and bit off way more than he could chew.

    Tragic. But let’s be careful how far we go to romanticize a felon.

    P.S. to anyone who thinks that JSTOR or MIT’s views on whether Mr. Swartz should be prosecuted are relevant: they’re not. Nor should they be. There’s a reason why the caption on all of the papers in a Federal criminal case says “United States of America vs. [Defendant].” Criminal law exists to protect society as a whole, not merely those who are directly affected. We are all victims of every crime.

  43. 43
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @James Hare: I’m sure that would be news to Jeff Schiller.

  44. 44
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Anya: Her.

  45. 45
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @eemom:

    Here’s an emptywheel piece I’m linking to as a public service to mclaren and her ilk. They’re gonna go orgasmic over it.

    So eemom, what do YOU think of this piece?

  46. 46
    Mnemosyne says:

    @burnspbesq:

    “Information wants to be free” has always been code for “I want the benefit of your time, effort, and investment, but I don’t wanna pay because fuck you that’s why.”

    I guess that’s part of the story I don’t get — was JSTOR supposed to be scanning, cataloging, and storing all of these articles for free, out of the goodness of their hearts? Because, unfortunately, I think that actions like Swartz’s are going to backfire and make companies shy away from investing the time and money that kind of project takes, which means that none of that information is going to be digitized and made available except on an ad-hoc and unreliable basis.

  47. 47
    Mister Harvest says:

    @burnspbesq:

    But let’s be careful how far we go to romanticize a felon.

    So, the fact that prosecution was pushing for more years in prison (by about one order of magnitude) than aggravated assault carries in Massachusetts sound reasonable and proportionate to you?

    Even if every single complaint against Swartz was 100% accurate, those charges should have carried two weeks of community service, not 50 years in prison.

  48. 48
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @burnspbesq:

    Such a Good German.

  49. 49
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @burnspbesq:

    But let’s be careful how far we go to romanticize a felon.

    Don’t be careful in how far you fuck off, legal seagull.

  50. 50
    sylvan says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    What did you think of Hillary voting yea on H.J.RES.114?

  51. 51
    xian says:

    @burnspbesq: let’s also not describe an alleged/accused felon as a felon

  52. 52
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @burnspbesq:

    Criminal law exists to protect society as a whole, not merely those who are directly affected. We are all victims of every crime.

    I would contend that we are considerably greater victims of every fucking abuse of prosecutorial privilege, every fucking abuse of the legal system, and of every fucking gobshite in the legal profession that assumes the other gobshites in the legal profession should be inherently trusted.

    I am deeply serious about this. When bad laws are enacted, the extent to which their badness affects society becomes dependent upon the goodness of the people who enforce them. When that evaporates (because “criminal law exists to protect us”, don’tcha know?) it opens the door to the fucking abyss.

  53. 53
    scav says:

    @Mnemosyne: Ignoring the whole details of the case, I would hesitate to say without companies, no relable data will be made available. Guttenberg and OpenStreetMap et al show there are a variety of other ways to attempt the process. Not to say they”ll be perfectly clean and reliable off the bat, but after thr pratfall od Apple Maps,it’s fair to say companies aren’t perfect either. What the hell am I saying? Trying to moderate hyperbole on the intertubes at midnight? mea culpa, carry on.

    Have Ten and Helen picked up an Eve from the forest?

  54. 54
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @burnspbesq:

    But let’s be careful how far we go to romanticize a felon.

    Refresh my memory. When was he convicted of a felony?

  55. 55
    xian says:

    @sylvan: maybe this will stiffen the Dem spine on filibuster reform

  56. 56
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @scav:

    but after thr pratfall od Apple Maps

    Their auto-correct is great, too. Or so I hear.

  57. 57
    Anya says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Thanks. A bit of a stereotyping on my part

  58. 58
    xian says:

    @Gopher2b: apparently he didn’t want to plead guilty to a felony to get the deal of 1 yr in jail they were offering, hence the decision to go to trial this summer.

  59. 59
    xian says:

    @Gopher2b: apparently he didn’t want to plead guilty to a felony to get the deal of 1 yr in jail they were offering, hence the decision to go to trial this summer.

  60. 60
    scav says:

    @Gin & Tonic: hey! I try to hand craft most of my typos! they sneak a few inall the same. You missed the Ten :)

  61. 61
    sylvan says:

    William A. Jacobson at Cornell Law School is also getting all choked up about Aaron Swartz.

    Let’s see if you can guess why.

  62. 62
    bin Lurkin' says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Refresh my memory. When was he convicted of a felony?

    The Ed Meese school of jurisprudence, if they weren’t guilty they wouldn’t be suspects.

  63. 63
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    unfortunately, I think that actions like Swartz’s are going to backfire and make companies shy away from investing the time and money that kind of project takes

    You know the line “if something can’t go on forever, it will stop”? That’s pretty much where we stand with academic publishing. The system whereby universities pay academic salaries, the academics produce research, the research goes to journals under restrictive terms with no compensation other than a resume line, and the universities have to pay top dollar for subscriptions to their employees’ work is not tenable. The academics know that — look at the many who are violating their contracts with journal publishers by linking to their work under #pdftribute — but they can’t stop publishing in journals because their careers depend on it; the institutions know that, but they can’t stop paying the subscriptions (especially to fuckers like Elsevier) even if that’s sucking dry the library budget. If anything needed a federal investigation, it’s that particular shakedown racket.

    It will be gone in 20 years. It may be gone in ten. Every day it outlives Aaron Swartz is a day too long.

  64. 64
    freelancer says:

    @sylvan:

    Dude died before he could be thrown into the meat-grinder of the penal system?

  65. 65
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @sylvan:

    What did you think of Hillary voting yea on H.J.RES.114?

    I think she was a spineless plutocrat whore to the war machine.

    Why do you ask?

  66. 66
    Mister Harvest says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: An honest question: Why does this system continue? To me, the weak link seems to be the tie between the academics’ careers and the journals. Why do the journals have such a lock on “real publication”?

    It seems like the instant that someone can make tenure without having to participate in this scam, it falls apart, and it’s in pretty much everyone’s interest but the journals’ for it to stop.

  67. 67
    eemom says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    I don’t know what I think. To form an intelligent opinion I would first have to do some research on what the standard and practice is for the Secret Service getting involved in a case.

    Without doing that, I certainly wouldn’t conclude, like Empty “Practicing Law Without a License Since 2006” Wheel so easily does, that this removes all doubt the prosecution was nationally directed, or whatever hair on fire words she used.

    @burnspbesq:

    It has been argued however, including I believe in the 9th Circuit opinion that narrowed the scope of the statute under which Schwarz was prosecuted — btw differing from other circuits in that interpretation, a decision that the DOJ didn’t appeal as I noted last night — that the statute criminalizes conduct that should be left to civil redress. That is at least an issue worth considering.

  68. 68
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Mister Harvest:

    Even if every single complaint against Swartz was 100% accurate, those charges should have carried two weeks of community service, not 50 years in prison.

    Has anyone figured the cost of the bandwidth that he used? What I find interesting in the wake of Swartz’s suicide is that it seems to have been lost that he hooked up to the university’s network with a laptop and a hard drive in a wiring closet, set the downloading program in motion, covered the hardware with a box…then walked away from it for three months- and the program sat there running, downloading files for, iirc, the entire three months. And then when MIT had found the hardware, reported it to the Secret Service and- with the guidance of the Secret Service- installed a camera in the closet, spotted Swartz retrieving the hardware and sent its security people there to apprehend him, Swartz bolted.

    Swartz’s actions lead me to believe that he was aware that there’d probably be harsher penalties than two weeks of community service.

  69. 69
    eemom says:

    @sylvan:

    yep, and similarly situated fellow asshole Orin Kerr, whose comment on that 9th Circuit decision has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard uttered by a so-called legal scholar — i.e., that DOJ didn’t appeal it because they knew the Supreme Court would be blown away by the force of the 9th Circuit’s reasoning.

    Always nice to find new reasons to be mortified by my profession.

  70. 70
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Mister Harvest:

    An honest question: Why does this system continue? To me, the weak link seems to be the tie between the academics’ careers and the journals. Why do the journals have such a lock on “real publication”?

    While academia may be superficially considered a hotbed of liberal radicalism, from an institutional perspective it’s actually hugely conservative. Which, if you step back, makes sense: the people with departmental power are often old, continue well past what would be considered retirement age in other fields, and collectively are set up to resist change. What other profession has a single annual job fair in the fashion of the annual disciplinary conventions? What other profession sets such tight definitions of what’s required to advance one’s career?

    There are cracks in the façade: ArXiv arrived as a preprint archive for the hard sciences, but it couldn’t perform the credentialing function of peer-review. I think that Planck’s line on the advance of scientific truth applies here: within academia, open access is considered the way forward, and its opposition will eventually die off. The question is how long it takes for those academics who got tenure under the hybrid model of open preprints followed by formal publication to put in structures to apply peer review to open access.

    (And that was one step in the racket that I forgot to mention: peer reviewers don’t get compensated either.)

  71. 71
    PeakVT says:

    Tragic. But let’s be careful how far we go to romanticize a felon.

    Fascinating.

  72. 72
    Kyle says:

    @Anya:

    I hope that asshole DA lives with guilt for the rest of his life.

    Going by the predator prosecutor reptiles I’ve been unfortunate to be acquainted with, I suspect Ortiz and Heymann are smirking it up in the office, their only concern whether the notoriety will help or hinder their careers.
    Then they’ll go back to ignoring torture and multibillion-dollar financial fraud and covering the asses of the elite. This is how empires rot — a predatory Security State for the little people while the powerful get away with everything and anything.

  73. 73

    @PeakVT: Let me guess: Duke Lacrosse?

  74. 74
    sylvan says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Just establishing a reference point.

    Is there anyone in public office that you don’t think is a spineless plutocrat whore?

    Note that “public office” is an important qualifier.

  75. 75
    PeakVT says:

    @The prophet Nostradumbass: Close – he mentions it.

  76. 76
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @PeakVT:

    There’s a big difference between a case based on she-said/he-said arguments and one in which the defendant was first caught red-handed, then made arguments attempting to justify his actions, no?

  77. 77
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @PeakVT:

    Fascinating.

    I was going to mention that, but you did the fine service of getting the link. Thank you.

    @Kyle:

    I suspect Ortiz and Heymann are smirking it up in the office, their only concern whether the notoriety will help or hinder their careers.

    Any hope of Ortiz having a statewide political career are toast, unless there are really enough Massholes who will vote for someone following a campaign where every press conference includes a question about her progress scrubbing a young man’s blood off her hands. Heymann? Well, every one of Aaron’s friends who felt gagged for fear of affecting the trial now feels very fucking ungagged indeed. There will be some reckless superficial Anon shit in the days to come, but that’s a distraction from what will follow.

  78. 78

    Chris Hayes had a statement at the end of his show this morning about Swartz, available here, with some other commentary. It’s worth watching/reading.

  79. 79
    Xenos says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    I guess that’s part of the story I don’t get — was JSTOR supposed to be scanning, cataloging, and storing all of these articles for free, out of the goodness of their hearts?

    JSTOR is a non-profit, that is to say, a charity. So the answer to your question is “yes”.

    Now, a charity can still be victim of a crime, and the fees JSTOR charges help keep the operation afloat. It might have been less trouble if Swarz, or someone like him, were to talk a group of enlightened millionaires into funding an endowment to pay for free JSTOR access for everybody. Maybe the government could be lobbied into doing something, too.

    Breaking the law to address this problem was completely uneccessary unless civil disobedience was the whole idea all along. Civil disobedience assumes conviction and time in prison if you get caught. The Feds were playing their part in this process, as they should.

  80. 80
    PeakVT says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee: The evidence was pretty clear when the story broke in both cases, and in neither had (at the time) the accused been convicted. Also, I believe, in strictly legal terms, a person can only be called a felon if they have been convicted in a court of law.

  81. 81
    A moocher says:

    @General Stuck: You seem awfully certain that a modest sentence would have been the result. I don’t see how anyone familar with the draconian Amerian injustice system could be so sanguine. Did I say “draconian”? The dragons of fable are sweet tempered, generous and forgiving in comparison to the system American’s celebrate.

  82. 82
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @PeakVT:

    The evidence was pretty clear when the story broke in both cases…

    I don’t recall any physical evidence linking the accused to any any rape in the Duke lacrosse case, nor any eyewitnesses. Both are there in the Swartz case.

    Also, I believe, in strictly legal terms, a person can only be called a felon if they have been convicted in a court of law.

    Yes, in strictly legal terms one charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty- but that doesn’t mean the prosecutor or the public at large must believe that to be the case, just the jury and/or the judge.

    And don’t let anyone catch you referring to Swartz’s actions as an act of civil disobedience, because, as Xenos pointed out in the interim, civil disobedience assumes an admission of guilt, whether or not the laws that were broken were just or not.

  83. 83
    PeakVT says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee: go read the link and try again.

  84. 84
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @PeakVT:

    I did, and I still think you’re making an apples(-to-apples)-to-oranges argument here. At that point in the Sandusky case, the victims and witnesses could have still recanted, just as the “victim” at Duke had. There was no solid physical evidence in either of those cases. Swartz was caught on camera retrieving his laptop from the wiring closet, then dashed when campus security confronted him- and when they finally ran him down he had the laptop in his backpack.

    Do I think that Ortiz should have thrown the book at Swartz? No. I think both parties should have worked to plead it out so that Swartz would do a few months in minimum security and some community service, and Swartz would get his martyr status. That’s basically (no community service being the difference)how Gandhi did it, that’s how King did it, that’s how SNCC did it. Set goals, get arrested for breaking bullshit laws, use the time served as a p.r. weapon, achieve goals.

  85. 85
    PeakVT says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee: Wrong case. Try again.

  86. 86
    Calouste says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    IMO dashing when security showed up throws away the argument there was that he did is as civil disobedience. King and Gandhi didn’t run away when the police showed up, they let themselves be arrested. People can say that what Swartz did was civil disobedience, but his behavior didn’t show that.

    I initially thought that it was also procedural overreach, but if they offered him a plea deal for 1 year, and he refused that because he didn’t want a felony conviction (rather than looking to negotiate it down a bit), I don’t see why they wouldn’t throw the book at him.

    Btw, maybe I remember this wrong, but wasn’t the original story that Swartz wanted to download a few million documents to do some kind of meta-analysis on them, instead of planning to distribute them for free? And that when MIT blocked him from downloading the massive volume he was looking for, he hacked into the cabinet. Instead of say, explaining his research idea to MIT and JSTOR and seeing if there was another way he could get his data.

  87. 87
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Calouste:

    Btw, maybe I remember this wrong, but wasn’t the original story that Swartz wanted to download a few million documents to do some kind of meta-analysis on them, instead of planning to distribute them for free?

    IIRC, that’s what he did with the PACER documents he’d downloaded from the federal courts, and he made some cryptic reference to that being his motivation with the JSTOR downloads, too.

    And that when MIT blocked him from downloading the massive volume he was looking for, he hacked into the cabinet. Instead of say, explaining his research idea to MIT and JSTOR and seeing if there was another way he could get his data.

    Yeah…Weird, huh?

    IMO dashing when security showed up throws away the argument there was that he did is as civil disobedience. King and Gandhi didn’t run away when the police showed up, they let themselves be arrested. People can say that what Swartz did was civil disobedience, but his behavior didn’t show that.

    Why does the phrase “white people problems” keep running through my brain when I think about this as an act of civil disobedience?

  88. 88
    Todd says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    Why does the phrase “white people problems” keep running through my brain when I think about this as an act of civil disobedience?

    Sure looks a bit different than the 99 Problems that JayZ faced, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, after all the money I’ve spent over the years on remediating viruses, buying ridiculous security software, and having to worry nonstop about coming up with different passwords, my give-a-shit impulse on any penalty for any conduct remotely associated with computer piracy is severely attenuated.

    In fact, if Spetznaz commandos machine gunned an entire roomful of Russian spyware coders for broadcast on Christmas Eve, I’d DVR the thing and watch it over and over, like the Christmas Story.

    And reddit is a cesspool.

  89. 89
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    We just had a nineteen year old kid kill himself last week here in our tiny town. He was facing charges for a DWI and having hit a State Patrol officers car and was to be in court the day he took his life. I know nothing about the circumstances of this kids life but our daughter worked with him and said that he was a nice kid, soft spoken and pleasant to work with. She said that nobody would have guessed that he would kill himself, there were no outward signs of distress or worry.

    I can’t blame MIT or anyone else for what Swartz did. Yes, there were external pressures on him but they were the result of his deliberate actions. I got busted for a grow operation in the 80’s and I was scared shitless. One thing I kept in mind was that I had acknowledged long before the bust that if I was going to play then I had to be ready to pay if the bill came due. It did and it was a hell of a deal to go through but in the end all I got was a relative slap on the hand (first time offender status, 90 days work release) and it was back to life in the fast lane.

    If he was going to engage in illegal acts then he should have been better prepared to deal with the results. If others in his life knew of his depression then they should have been on top of things to make sure that he had the support he needed to cope with everything. Lots of things are fucked up in this case but in the end nobody but Swartz is responsible for his actions.

  90. 90
    sharl says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again): It’s a fair bet that Swartz would agree with you on that whole “white people problems” thing, if his own words are any indication:

    So how did I get a job like mine? Undoubtedly, the first step is to choose the right genes: I was born white, male, American. My family was fairly well-off and my father worked in the computer industry. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any way of choosing these things, so that probably isn’t much help to you.

    By the way, I found that link in a tribute Matt Stoller wrote. Yeah, I got my problems with Mr. Stoller, but his tribute – at least the first half or so – ain’t bad IMO. Of course, YMMV, BTW, FWIW (LOL).

    What I hadn’t known is that Swartz actually did a brief stint in Grayson’s office while Stoller was on staff there, just to try to learn the ropes a bit, and that according to Stoller, Swartz showed considerable humility during this learning process. Getting past my surprise that Stoller is familiar with the concept of humility, I found this a bit touching.

    Unless it turns up somewhere in his writing – and it might, given the shear volume of his works – we may never know if Swartz thought himself a practitioner of civil disobedience. For myself, I just think he was a basically decent but impatient genius who took whatever “intellectual product” he felt should be free for the taking (whether or not the law concurred), without much considering the potentially dire consequences.

    Damn shame, and a great loss, whatever the legal aspects.

  91. 91
    HeartlandLiberal says:

    Abelson is class of 1922? How the H*ll old is he?

  92. 92
    sharl says:

    @HeartlandLiberal: That DOES look weird, but it turns out that there are a bunch of “Class of 1922” named professorships. Inferred from a brief mention here:

    …was selected to be the Class of 1922 Professor beginning Nov. 1, for a five-year renewable term. The class professorship was endowed through a 40th-reunion gift of the Class of 1922 to honor distinguished leadership in teaching and service.

  93. 93
    sherparick says:

    @burnspbesq: You have got to be kidding. First, Mr. Swartz was not a “felon,” since he had not been convicted of anything. You know, this quaint concept we once had in this country of “innocent until proven guilty (but I guess that only applies police, investment bankers, and right wing thugs these days). Second, if MIT had taken the view this was an administrative violation of their own rules, and not a felony, it would have made the U.S. Attorney’s office case very difficult.
    Finally, there is a thing called prosecutorial discretion. That Mr. Swartz was an activist of the left apparently made him appear much more of an easy target than your average investment banker. That this may have been seen as way to obtain information through the use of leverage about various “hacker” groups that have even the U.S. Government fits in recent year, while silencing one particular nuisance may have been very attractive FBI, NSA, and Homeland Security working groups that work cyber issues. Nevertheless, the result of this prosecution should hopefully result in making it impossible for Ms. Martinez to get elected dog catcher in Masschussetts and Mr. Heynman to finish out his career at justice handling traffic offenses before the Federal magistrate.

  94. 94
    Lol says:

    @Xenos:

    Non-profit and charity are not the same thing.

  95. 95
    Lol says:

    @sherparick:

    He was an easy target because he got caught red handed on tape.

  96. 96
    Lol says:

    @sherparick:

    He was an easy target because he got caught red handed on tape.

  97. 97
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Ted & Hellen: So you’ll be giving out your work for nothing, and will never do anything to anyone who copies and gives away your work? Thanks! Send me one of those Obama paintings you did that I really liked but couldn’t afford, would you? And pay for the postage yourself, because it wants to be free.

  98. 98
    handsmile says:

    @sherparick:

    While I’m in almost complete agreement with the substance of your comment, the names of the federal prosecuting attorneys you cite are incorrect, in one case badly: Stephen HEYMANN (not Heynman) and Carmen ORTIZ (not Martinez).

    Perhaps a detail, but one that could undermine the strength and suasion of your position.

  99. 99
  100. 100
    MosesZD says:

    JSTOR refused to co-operate with the investigation. MIT kept pushing it forward.

    So I find this regret to be laughable. Especially in light that the MIT network is absolutely open by their choice. Nobody hacked it, you can walk onto their campus with a wi-fi ready device and BOOM!, you’re on their network.

    No hassle. No fuss. No charge.

  101. 101
    Gopher2b says:

    @Kyle:

    Believe it or not, the whether to prosecute the CIA and Cheney for torture isn’t up to us line attorneys.

  102. 102
    Lee Rudolph says:

    Hal was one of my undergraduate roommates. We entered graduate school at MIT in Course 18 (Mathematics) together, though he finished his thesis (in algebraic topology: a fact about Hal with which I startled one of his young MIT colleagues, at a robotics conference there this year; he knew him mostly for his work on “policy”, which I took at the time to mean “policy” in the AI sense, though the present developments lead me to question my assumption) a year before I finished mine. Because he (and Andy diSessa, then a theoretical physicist, another of Hal’s undergraduate roommates) had begun hanging out in the LOGO lab, eventually I did too, and co-wrote a couple of LOGO documents (including the first extra-mural article on Turtle Geometry). In the end, I stuck with (geometric) topology (which I probably would never have gotten into if it hadn’t been for, again, hanging out with Hal and his advisor Dennis Sullivan) as he became a full-time computer scientist.

    He is definitely an excellent choice for this job.

  103. 103
    handsmile says:

    Those making facile remarks above about intellectual property rights, public access to research, and academic publishing in relation to the Aaron Swartz case, might wish to familiarize themselves with the history, mission and activities of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, and Creative Commons. (And do take a look at the DFHs who sit on each organization’s board of directors.)

    https://www.eff.org/
    http://www.fsf.org/about/

    As for fatuous decoding of Stewart Brand’s aphorism “Information just wants to be free,” maybe just start by reading this article by author, activist and BoingBoing co-editor Cory Doctorow:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/tech.....to-be-free

  104. 104
    MosesZD says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    JSTOR’s contract with MIT specified that any access from MIT was paid for by MIT (within the flat-fee contract). There was, literally, nothing stolen from JSTOR and JSTOR was clear about that.

    Further, MIT’s network was free, open-access to anyone with a computer/wi-fi device. So not only did he not hack the network, MIT’s policy was free and open access.

    NOTHING was stolen as you cannot ‘steal’ what is being paid for by MIT and then given as free-access by MIT. You could, today, walk on the MIT campus and download those files.

    There’s some serious fuck-up in this prosecution as all the guy did was write a script to automate the download process so it would find and download the articles automatically.

    And, since you obviously didn’t know it, the articles themselves aren’t JSTORs work. Virtually all those articles were paid for by government grants. JSTOR just hosts the damn things and sells that access.

  105. 105
    Emma says:

    The more I read about this, the angrier I get.

    I had assumed from the limited information I got yesterday that it had been JSTOR pushing for prosecution. Now I find that they had refused to prosecute and asked the feds to back off.

    I had assumed given MIT’s famous (notorious?) open-acess policies, that they would have refused to prosecute and would have handled it as a “nuisance” event. Now I find out they weaseled on it and handed the prosecutors a weapon.

    The only thing that hasn’t changed is that we have done lost our minds as a society when it comes to what we consider “crime” and to the amount of leeway we give prosecutors. And how easy it is for these prosecutors to let real crime slide and go after the shiny, reputation-making cases.

    I just hope that when Ms. Ortiz decides to throw her hat into the political ring, enough people will remember her, for all the wrong reasons.

  106. 106
    handsmile says:

    @Lee Rudolph:

    Glad you posted that interesting anecdote about you and Hal Abelson; quite a high-powered undergraduate suite I must say.

    Perhaps we were acquainted during those early years at the LOGO lab (see my #31 comment above). That’s a past life for me, but are you at all familiar with LOGO’s legacy, i.e., is/was it broadly or successfully adopted by school systems?

    Andy diSessa has been at Berkeley for some years now, I believe. I see you are at Clark. Having grown up in Worcester, I can only hope you just work there.

  107. 107
    Soonergrunt says:

    @MosesZD: What the fuck does that have to do with anything I said to Ted and Helen?

  108. 108
    Tripod says:

    I’m sure the report will be thorough.

    I would also agree Ms.Ortiz will be the only one to take a career hit from this mess.

  109. 109
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I have a question about what Swartz was doing. If MIT has free access to JSTOR and Swartz was simply taking advantage of this, why was it necessary for him to hard wire a computer to the system secretly? This part makes it seem to me like he was doing a “Robin Hood” thing and knew that there would be objections at the very least to what he was doing. Am I missing something?

  110. 110
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Stop asking questions that are inconvenient to the outrage. We have a man to stick it to, you know!

  111. 111
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Todd:

    my give-a-shit impulse on any penalty for any conduct remotely associated with computer piracy is severely attenuated.

    As are your general comprehension skills, apparently. Don’t be dumb.

    @Soonergrunt:

    So you’ll be giving out your work for nothing, and will never do anything to anyone who copies and gives away your work? Thanks!

    As opposed to academics who already receive sweet fuck-all for their journal work other than Academic Brownie Points, or to federal drones like yourself, whose published work product explicitly lacks copyright protection? Don’t be dumb.

  112. 112
    WaterGirl says:

    @handsmile: Thank you. I was so angry at some of the things that were written late last night that I couldn’t even respond. I couldn’t think of a single constructive thing to say. I had plenty of non-constructive things to say, but I was smart enough not to say them.

  113. 113

    @Gopher2b:

    He would have gotten probation if he plead and was remorseful.

    From what I’ve read, the issue was that he didn’t want to sign any plea bargain that branded him a ‘felon’, but the attorneys wouldn’t budge on that point. So he did face 35+ years of jail time.

    Given all the job opportunities that disappear the instant that F-word gets attached to your name, the intent was clearly to snuff out the technical career of someone seen as ‘troublesome’ to the authorities, either way.

  114. 114
    Soonergrunt says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: Except for the fact that in my case, my work product is paid for by others who get to decide what to do with it, and they don’t let me just throw things out there because “information wants to be free” because they don’t want me compromising national security (in my old jobs) or compromising patient privacy (in my current one,) and in the case of Academics who publish, their work is owned by their institutions which might want to capitalize on that work and to a lesser extent the journal in which they are published, which has bills to pay themselves, yeah, it’s exactly as you say.
    Don’t be dumb.

    Information is work product, and stealing information is the same as not paying laborers their due wages.

  115. 115
    handsmile says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    This link, “The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s ‘Crime'”, written by cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos may provide some degree of answers to your question. (I will note that Stamos was a defense witness in US v. Swartz, but he is seems cognizant of MIT’s network and JSTOR’s activities.)

    http://unhandled.com/2013/01/1.....tzs-crime/

    As Aaron Swartz was committed since his teen years to expanding access and usability and combatting commercial restrictions on the Internet, I think “Robin Hood” (if not meant pejoratively) would be a fair albeit partial metaphor for his activism. You might wish to look at this Wikipedia entry, for the trove of linked “References” there:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz

  116. 116
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: “Given all the job opportunities that disappear the instant that F-word gets attached to your name, the intent was clearly to snuff out the technical career of someone seen as ‘troublesome’ to the authorities, either way.”
    Or perhaps the intent was to label someone who had committed a felony as a felon.

  117. 117
    Barry says:

    @👽 Martin: “This is unquestionably true, however it’s also completely common. We’ve constructed a culture where every action needs to go 5 paces farther than necessary on the assumption that even in justice, we have to sacrifice something to reach an outcome. It’s maddening.”

    If that were true, we’d have sent every single schmuck on Wall Street to prison, let alone the actual guilty parties.

    As it is, the only really rich guy to do time was Bernei Madoff, who screwed up by robbing other wealthy people.

  118. 118

    @Soonergrunt:

    Or perhaps the intent was to label someone who had committed a felony as a felon.

    They used to hang starving peasants for Hunting the King’s Game, too. That was, after all, the Law.

    And there was never a shortage of other peasants to come and jeer the condemned at the hanging.

    Rentiers must collect their rents, I suppose.

  119. 119
    Barry says:

    @burnspbesq: “We are all victims of every crime.”

    I’m sure that the Wall St elites are quaking in their boots, fearing the wrath of this crew of Javerts.

  120. 120
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @handsmile: Robin Hood was not meant perjoritively. I am not sure that I agree with what he was doing and how he went about doing it, bit it does seem like he was well-meaning and acting on sincere beliefs. Also, the prosecution seems to have been severely overreaching. Finally, it is tragic that Swartz appeared have a unique combination of genius, idealism, and fragility.

  121. 121
    Barry says:

    @Ted & Hellen: Seconding this.

  122. 122
    angler says:

    Speakng of regrets, Balloon Juice, specifically ABL, 18 months ago had this to say on Swartz and the JSTOR case:

    dayum! grifters gonna grift!
    Also, too, I might be having a schadenfreudorgasm. I can’t really tell. I’m just sitting here with my jaw on the floor.

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2.....more-75574

    I get that BJ posters speak for themselves only, but it was crass at the time–part of the we hate firebagger meme of those days–and even worse in hindsight.

  123. 123
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: Here’s a thought–don’t break the law unless you’re ready to face the consequences.
    See, as often as people piss me off for being stupid (and in IT this happens multiple times a day) I don’t beat on them because I don’t want to lose my job or go to jail.
    And this isn’t like somebody subsistence hunting in the middle ages, or somebody looting canned goods from Wal Mart after Hurricane Katrina. This is an ideologue deciding to act on his beliefs but not willing or able to deal with the utterly predictable repercussions of that act.
    This isn’t like Martin Luther King going to jail in Birmingham for breaking the law in his quest to be treated as an equal citizen. This was a privileged white kid who finally found a corner of the world where he wasn’t the special sparkle and had to deal with the same laws and restrictions the rest of us do.
    I’m sorry the kid is dead, but we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he had obeyed the law and worked to change the law through legislation, or if he had decided to accept what may come from breaking the law in the name of his cause.

  124. 124
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @sylvan:

    Is there anyone in public office that you don’t think is a spineless plutocrat whore?

    It’s not news that power and money are corrupting influences. The founders of this country felt it imperative that the populace keep a sharp and skeptical eye on its politicians.

    I believe that all public office holders face immense pressure toward corruption…it is in the nature of the beast. By keeping a close eye on them and remaining skeptical and demanding accountability, we can help them resist that pressure.

    In direct answer to your question, I think all public officials are on their way toward that whoredom to one degree or another, but getting all the way there is not inevitable.

  125. 125
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    Why does the phrase “white people problems” keep running through my brain when I think about this as an act of civil disobedience?

    Because you are racisssss?

  126. 126
    handsmile says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Appreciate your reply, much of which I emphatically agree with. As you probably surmise, however, I am largely supportive of Swartz’s actions in the MIT/JSTOR matter and am an outright partisan of the objectives of the “full and free Internet” movement of which he was a leading figure.

    Look, I’m an arts and humanities guy; much of the more technical details in these debates is well beyond my ready comprehension. Nevertheless, I’ve had paraprofessional dealings for some time with individuals associated with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Creative Commons et al. I’ve learned a great deal from reading/listening to experts/advocates such as Richard Stallman, Larry Lessig, and Cory Doctorow.

    One recent book that helped to clarify/extend my understanding of these issues is Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (urged upon me by my computer science professor best friend).

  127. 127
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:

    Lots of things are fucked up in this case but in the end nobody but Swartz is responsible for his actions.

    How tidy for you.

    Nothing to see here, please move on, comrade. Let’s all look forward, not back.

    Obama’s justice department has its hands in ten gallon buckets of blood.

  128. 128
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    So you’ll be giving out your work for nothing, and will never do anything to anyone who copies and gives away your work? Thanks! Send me one of those Obama paintings you did that I really liked but couldn’t afford, would you? And pay for the postage yourself, because it wants to be free.

    Apples/Oranges, idiot. The creators of the work Swartz downloaded had ALREADY been paid for their trouble, with public funds mostly working in publicly funded institutions. No one pays me anything until I sell a piece.

    And you can always download a copy of the Obama piece off the internet for free; it’s just that it will have my watermark schmeared across its surface. :)

    But please, DO email me about the Obama piece. I’ll make a special deal for you, Sooner! :D

  129. 129

    @Soonergrunt:
    My hacker/grad student days are two decades behind me. But I remember writing a script to pull paper after paper over FTP from a server at MIT via a dial-up connection. For free. Because that’s just how it was done. I was polite enough to set it up as a cronjob to run in the wee hours of the morning.

    This was all with IT approval, BTW. (I didn’t attend MIT but due to my employer’s history, I was affiliated and had free access to their library. Still do, actually).

    In 1991, the notion that you could take academic papers (many of them public domain, many others funded by the taxpayer) and put them behind an onerous paywall would have been considered ridiculous, against the general spirit of academia, and perhaps even vaguely disgusting.

    Nothing real was “stolen”. The originals are still right where they always were. They were copied. He was a legit guest of MIT, with its historically open network. He was presented with no terms of service when logging on. And IMO his stunt with the closet was about as serious an infraction as stealing a little electricity when you plug in a boombox at the office Christmas party (ie technically ‘wrong’, but felony-level wrong?).

    This poor kid’s dead because our legal system has been stretching itself into contortions to make feudal notions of private property apply to bits, in ways that just don’t make sense given the different nature of the medium.

    Let’s have that conversation, instead of subtly self-congratulating ourselves on what Magnificent, Law Abiding Citizens we all are.

  130. 130
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    Here’s a thought–don’t break the law unless you’re ready to face the consequences.

    That’s mighty fucking white of you, desk jockey.

    This was a privileged white kid who finally found a corner of the world where he wasn’t the special sparkle and had to deal with the same laws and restrictions the rest of us do.

    This was a privileged white kid who was well aware of his privilege, and who finally found a corner of the world where those with power decided it was best to apply the very special version of the law that’s reserved for people who rattle too many cages. That you can’t imagine such a thing exists is really just a testament to how much of a dull stooge you are.

  131. 131
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    Sooner, your authoritarian impulses are showing again.

  132. 132
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: I do think our notions of intellectual property are changing. The legal system is not keeping up. It is going to work itself out of time. Unfortunately, fucked up things happen during these transitional periods. Maybe, some good will come out of this in that moves will be made to rationalize the system.

  133. 133
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    I’m sorry the kid is dead, but we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he had obeyed the law and worked to change the law through legislation, or if he had decided to accept what may come from breaking the law in the name of his cause.

    Seig heil. The Homeland salutes your loyalty.

  134. 134
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Ted & Hellen: How is it authoritarian to expect people to obey the law, or to accept the consequences of their actions when they don’t?
    Unjust, immoral laws exist. Those who break them, seeking to highlight their immorality and injustice, as King did, and Thoreau before him, (and yes, even Jack Kervorkian,) cannot succeed unless they pay the penalty and by so doing shame the society keeping those laws into changing them.
    But that’s not what this kid was doing, else he would have been rather less circumspect about it.
    But if “information wants to be free” and to dispute this position is to be Nazi-like in your estimation, then surely you don’t mind if I copy your work and give it to whomever asks? Is not art merely information in a different medium?
    I mean, I’m sure you want to eat and pay the rent, but principles are important, aren’t they?

  135. 135
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Fuck off and die you pedo piece of shit. That’s all you’ll get from me you pedo asshole.

  136. 136
    IM says:

    @angler:

    Even back then it was silly. Mostly based on guilt of association. That Swartz did knew some people who did knew some other people who ABL disliked.

  137. 137
    PJ says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: It does appear that this kid thought his privilege should make him immune for prosecution for wire fraud and violation of copyright law. He knew what he was doing was illegal; as with anything, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

    Many people in our society, including many posters on these threads about Swartz, have no idea what property is or why it exists, but they know that they would like to have stuff for free. That getting this free stuff deprives people of the fruit of their labor or their return on their investment is irrelevant – the people who create and own intellectual property should just accept that their rights will be violated at will by people who want free stuff and get into a different business. I imagine these same people might feel a little differently if their real property rights were violated (in the form of an illegal taking), or their investments were stolen (in the form of looting of their pension fund), or their bank balance went to zero when their account was hacked.

    This inability of people to empathize drives me crazy, but I shouldn’t be surprised when getting stuff for free is on the line.

  138. 138
    Irish Nana says:

    I know that Shwarz was a speaker at a Netroots Nation gathering, yet notice that not a single front-pager at DKos has written on this story. Any inside info? Did he get on the wrong side of the Great Orange Satan? It’s like a Fox news blackout over there.

  139. 139
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:

    Fuck off and die you pedo piece of shit. That’s all you’ll get from me you pedo asshole.

    This might be one of those times when one’s comments reveal more about oneself than the object of one’s venom, no?

    Just a thought.

  140. 140
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Ted & Hellen:
    “Apples/Oranges, idiot. The creators of the work Swartz downloaded had ALREADY been paid for their trouble, with public funds mostly working in publicly funded institutions. No one pays me anything until I sell a piece.”
    But it really isn’t apples and oranges. It’s oranges and oranges. Because you aren’t just the creator of that work, you are the owner of that work, and as such you have copyright that a separate creator working for you wouldn’t have, as you well know. It’s the rights of the owners here that I’m asking about.
    And I can strip your watermark off and then sell your work without much difficulty at all, so without legal protection where would you be, and why would you deny that to others, and how does my expecting people’s rights to be respected make me an authoritarian? I’m still not getting that part. Because I wouldn’t rip you off for money, and I wouldn’t rip somebody else off for ideology, and not just because the law says so, but because “not screwing people over” is the morally tenable position.

  141. 141
    burnspbesq says:

    @sherparick:

    Mr. Swartz was not a “felon,” since he had not been convicted of anything

    Please. It is widely known that the evidence against him was overwhelming. Do you sincerely doubt that he would have been convicted?

    The presumption of innocence is an evidentiary rule. It’s not a mandate to set aside common sense.

  142. 142

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    I agree with this, though I see the current IP crisis as part of a larger picture. We’re long overdue for a reassessment of what it means to “own” something (as opposed to “access”), and what it really means to collect rents on something you didn’t create yourself.

    I’m serious when I call such laws ‘feudal’, because they are built on assumptions that just aren’t true anymore.

  143. 143
    Soonergrunt says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: So what are YOU doing out there?
    Because all I see is you talking shit on a blog. But that’s what we’re here for, so carry on.

  144. 144
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @PJ:

    That getting this free stuff deprives people of the fruit of their labor or their return on their investment is irrelevant

    Once more: if you ask any academic what the “fruit of their labor” is from publication, you will hear a lot of bitter laughter. In many fields, they don’t even have the ownership rights that you mistakenly assume they have. Have you ever seen the documentation that grad student have to sign for their dissertations? The options are, put simply, “sign over wholesale redistribution rights to a large corporation, or pay a large sum of money for a waiver.” Refuse that choice, and you don’t get your degree.

    @burnspbesq:

    Please. It is widely known that the evidence against him was overwhelming.

    In the same way that it is widely known that you sympathize with child abusers? The sanctimony of dime-store lawyers is quite something to behold.

  145. 145
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    So what are YOU doing out there? Because all I see is you talking shit on a blog.

    At very least, I’m not a fucking bit-pushing functionary.

  146. 146
    PJ says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: I have never seen anyone advocating for the abrogation of intellectual property who also wishes to get rid of personal property, real property, or business property rights. I’m guessing this is because getting rid of those rights would cut into their personal wealth and/or security. The number of people who create and exploit intellectual property is relatively small, which makes them an easy target for people who will never do anything creative.

    If you are not arguing for the elimination of property rights outright, but rather for their elimination for people who did not create the property, you are essentially looking to do away with capitalism. (Which I’m not necessarily opposed to, providing some magical relatively free and equitable system replaces it.) You will still end up eliminating works that require large investments of money or manpower to create (because they are beyond the power of a small group of people to develop and market.)

  147. 147
    PJ says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: It’s ridiculous that academics sign over their copyrights without any compensation. But that wrong doesn’t justify wholesale copyright violation. This is the same reasoning that people use when they argue that because record labels abused some artists for decades, they should be free to ignore the copyright of every artist.

  148. 148
    Marshall says:

    As an MIT alumnus, I think it is too late. The damage is done, and will be long-lasting. The good name of the school that was crucial in inventing the Internet has been sullied, and no internal investigation is going to change that, even if it winds up with someone getting fired over this.

    Firing someone over this might not be a bad idea in general though, and I will let Voltaire have the last word :

    Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres

  149. 149
    Soonergrunt says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: Ahh, yes. The “being a morally superior prick without doing any actual work” school of activism. You’ll change the world, I’m sure.

  150. 150
    Marshall says:

    @PJ: Maybe intellectual property not being true property at all, but a limited grant, by the people, of monopoly rights in ideas that are, in fact, owned by the people, has something to do with this.

    If you want a good rant from Richard Stallman, just use the term intellectual property in front of him. He contends that the term was created with the intent to confuse the issue, and he does a good rant.

  151. 151

    @PJ:
    Hello, PJ. I have no idea how old you are, but let me tell you a little bit about the future.

    ‘Manpower’ means nothing by 2040 (automation). ‘Money’ becomes something that very few people will have very much of, after that (since, in our current system, over 90% of us can only acquire it through labor). And ‘Physical Property’ takes on a whole different context once on-site additive manufacture (ie so-called “3D printers”) becomes the most efficient way to build and distribute physical objects.

    In a world where you could print an iPhone (or its equivalent) just by downloading a spec file and feeding some raw materials into a machine, virtually all property law will be IP law. The IP will be all that’s left.

    THAT is why getting it right is so important. We only get one chance to make it through this transformation with our civilization intact.

    (BTW, I do realize this is a non-tech blog so this notion sounds insane to most people, but if anything this appears to be happening even faster than I had ever expected).

  152. 152
    handsmile says:

    The Justice Department dropped its charges against Aaron Swartz this morning. Such a filing is standard when the defendant in a case has died.

    It would be nice if in a few days the operative phrase was not “Move along…nothing to see here.”

    via TPM: http://livewire.talkingpointsm.....ron-swartz

  153. 153
    PJ says:

    @Marshall: Intellectual property laws do not protect ideas. (Ideas are not owned by anyone.) Patent comes close to this in some ways, but what is protected is an original mechanism or process, not the idea itself.

    All property, intellectual or not, is a monopoly right granted by the people, the right to exclude others from using or enjoying whatever the property is. It is a creature of law. If the law eliminates the protection, or people refuse to respect the laws regarding property, or the government refuses to enforce them, then property disappears. (Cf. The Soviet Union, with regard to real property and business property.)

  154. 154
    Some Loser says:

    I love law and order as much as the next smuch, but from my understanding, the only thing Swartz did was take advantage of a loophole. I guess he may be guilty of wiretapping.

  155. 155
    PJ says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: Yours is a different view of the future than mine, but I guess I’ll get used to living on the dole or sifting through the garbage of the wealthy for my sustenance.

    But your future will in no way get rid of property. IP may be relatively more important as the difficulty of reproduction decreases, but people will still be fighting over land and resources, particularly as global warming disrupts current living patterns.

    As an aside, it’s difficult for me to conceive of Americans getting rid of property rights, since we love owning stuff, particularly money.

  156. 156
    LanceThruster says:

    The response is somewhat comforting as it appears to seek both to understand their role (if any) and what might be helpful as far as trying to prevent similar future occurances.

    It is too late for Aaron of course, but hopefully someone else might benefit from this course of action.

  157. 157
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @MosesZD:

    Libraries lend books for free, but there are usually limits on how many books one can have checked out at any given time. My local public library’s limit is six. Swartz took about half of the books in the library, shoved ’em down his pants and tried to walk out the front door. His reason for doing so seems noble: He wanted to open his own lending library.

    But just because libraries lend books for free, it doesn’t mean that libraries cost nothing. The books on the shelves cost. It costs to have people put the books back on the right shelves. It costs to change the lightbulbs in the library, and it costs to clean the bathrooms and vacuum the carpets. Now JSTOR isn’t a traditional library, but it costs to digitize those old journals, it costs to buy and keep the servers running.

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Uuhh…No. Growing up where, when and with whom I did, I know how to prioritize problems (and, along similar lines, I know the difference between “child sexual predator” and “age of consent”). Free and immediate access to every bit of information under the sun doesn’t rate with being stopped by the police because of the color of skin while walking or driving home from work, being denied a job because of the color of skin, red-lining, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum…Hence “white people problems”.

  158. 158
    Barry says:

    It was pointed put (i’ve lost the link) that an SS agent named Patrick Mivhaels was involved.

  159. 159
    Turbulence says:

    @MosesZD: Further, MIT’s network was free, open-access to anyone with a computer/wi-fi device. So not only did he not hack the network, MIT’s policy was free and open access.

    This is a lie. I’m an MIT alum. I work one block away from MIT. MIT has always had strict policies on the use of their networks.

    You don’t have the first clue of what you’re talking about.

  160. 160
    MosesZD says:

    @Turbulence:

    You’re full of crap. You’re so full of crap you’re eyes are turning brown. Here’s the fucking policy for wireless:

    Wireless

    For wireless connections, visitors need to make sure the wireless card is on and enabled. Select MIT GUEST as the wireless network option. A connection will occur without registration. There is no limit to the number of days a visitor can use the MIT GUEST wireless network.

    End of fucking story, dumbass.

  161. 161
    MosesZD says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    Your comment is stupid. Physical libraries have limits. Electronic libraries are not necessarily limited depending on the license they have with ebook publishers and article aggregators like JSTOR.

    Why don’t learn how it works before you fucking criticize like the idiot who lives next to MIT and doesn’t know their goddamn network policy and tries to break it off in my ass?

    My local library allows me unlimited ‘books’ that I can check out and unlimited downloads.

    When the books hit two weeks checked out, they expire and I have to re-download. The pdfs and articles never expire.

    It’s like none of you have a god-damn clue about how it works in the modern age. That you’re still stuck in 1950 or something.

  162. 162
    Paula says:

    This is a strange case. I work in a library with licensing electronic resources. I’m not a lawyer, but why the hell would MIT keep pursuing a case after the publisher and vendor drop the complaint? All universities care about is not being sued by the vendor or publisher.

  163. 163
    Ellyn says:

    Per Marcy Wheeler MIT may have been doing the White House’s bidding. Apparently the Secret Service was involved.

    http://www.emptywheel.net/

  164. 164
    General Stuck says:

    @Ellyn:

    That does not make sense. The secret service is basically concerned with two things. First to protect the president, and to deal with counterfeiting money.

  165. 165
    General Stuck says:

    @Paula:

    This DOJ has from the gitgo, made intellectual property theft a top priority. They have gone after all sorts of theft in this area, or what they perceive as theft, to the point of silliness sometimes, imo. Such as shutting down net streamers for those without teevees to watch networks on the computer.

    edit – and Mr. Swartz is a high profile activist for making more info available to the public.

  166. 166
    General Stuck says:

    A little googling and I see the Patriot Act gave the SS more tasks to investigate, with electronic info as one

  167. 167
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @MosesZD:

    Your comment is stupid. Physical libraries have limits. Electronic libraries are not necessarily limited depending on the license they have with ebook publishers and article aggregators like JSTOR.

    Really? I’m stupid? Who in the hell is digitizing scientific journals from the 19th and early 20th centuries that you can get at JSTOR? The Scanning Fairy?

  168. 168
    eemom says:

    @Ellyn:

    Just shows to go ya, if you stick around on a thread long enough some genius, with some new revelation, will always come along.

  169. 169
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @eemom:

    And what Ms. Wheeler seems to have left out, MIT called the Feds straightaway when they found a mysterious laptop/hardrive combo hardwired into their computer system, covered with a box, in a wiring closet.

    Jebus, the conspiracy theory…It hurts.

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