Aaron Shwartz pioneer of Reddit, Creative Commons, and RSS among other things, was a political activist fighting for the reality of information sharing in the digital age. He was arrested in 2011 for breaking into the JSTOR system and downloading copies of Academic Journals. He was prosecuted and yet never released the Journals to the public. The Huffington post is reporting that the prosecution of Mr. Shwartz was due in large part to a Manifesto written in 2008 in which he called for open information as a”moral imperative”.
“Swartz’s 2008 manifesto said sharing information was a “moral imperative” and advocated for “civil disobedience” against copyright laws pushed by corporations “blinded by greed” that led to the “privatization of knowledge.””
Is it possible that his prosecution was a political move? The U.S. Government has a long history of targeting famous and influential activists, especially when the policies are contrary to corporate interest. The most famous perhaps is the attempted deportation of John Lennon by President Nixon during the Vietnam Era. Regardless of whether or not information sharing should be legal, the systematic refusal of the government to address the changing nature of information in general is disturbing. Policies that delineated copyrights in the age of the printing press could not possibly be relevant in a digital age where a person can send a text around the world using a device that happily sits in the pocket. Conspiracy theories about controlling information aside, can we safely say the cat is out of the bag and move on? Perhaps the entire catalog of JSTOR is not available for free yet, but one look at a torrent site will find millions of books waiting for the curious reader. There is a larger issue here, governments need to asses and change with the times.
Written by Matthew Cohen
SJS Staff Writer