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  #1    
Old January 14th, 2013, 02:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wired
Aaron Swartz committed suicide Friday in New York. He was 26 years old.

When he was 14 years old, Aaron helped develop the RSS standard; he went on to found Infogami, which became part of Reddit. But more than anything Aaron was a coder with a conscience: a tireless and talented hacker who poured his energy into issues like network neutrality, copyright reform and information freedom. Among countless causes, he worked with Larry Lessig at the launch of the Creative Commons, architected the Internet Archive’s free public catalog of books, OpenLibrary.org, and in 2010 founded Demand Progress, a non-profit group that helped drive successful grassroots opposition to SOPA last year.

“Aaron was steadfast in his dedication to building a better and open world,” writes Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. “He is among the best spirits of the Internet generation. I am crushed by his loss, but will continue to be enlightened by his work and dedication.”

In 2006 Aaron was part of a small team that sold Reddit to Condé Nast , Wired’s parent company. For a few months he worked in our office here in San Francisco. I knew Aaron then and since, and I liked him a lot — honestly, I loved him. He was funny, smart, sweet and selfless. In the vanishingly small community of socially and politically active coders, Aaron stood out not just for his talent and passion, but for floating above infighting and reputational cannibalism. His death is a tragedy.

I don’t know why he killed himself, but Aaron has written openly about suffering from depression. It couldn’t have helped that he faced a looming federal criminal trial in Boston on hacking and fraud charges, over a headstrong stunt in which he arranged to download millions of academic articles from the JSTOR subscription database for free from September 2010 to January 2011, with plans to release them to the public.

JSTOR provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals online. MIT had a subscription to the database, so Aaron brought a laptop onto MIT’s campus, plugged it into the student network and ran a script called keepgrabbing.py that aggressively — and at times disruptively — downloaded one article after another. When MIT tried to block the downloads, a cat-and-mouse game ensued, culminating in Swartz entering a networking closet on the campus, secretly wiring up an Acer laptop to the network, and leaving it there hidden under a box. A member of MIT’s tech staff discovered it, and Aaron was arrested by campus police when he returned to pick up the machine.

The JSTOR hack was not Aaron’s first experiment in liberating costly public documents. In 2008, the federal court system briefly allowed free access to its court records system, Pacer, which normally charged the public eight cents per page. The free access was only available from computers at 17 libraries across the country, so Aaron went to one of them and installed a small PERL script he had written that cycled sequentially through case numbers, requesting a new document from Pacer every three seconds, and uploading it to the cloud. Aaron pulled nearly 20 million pages of public court documents, which are now available for free on the Internet Archive.

The FBI investigated that hack, but in the end no charges were filed. Aaron wasn’t so lucky with the JSTOR matter. The case was picked up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann in Boston, the cybercrime prosecutor who won a record 20-year prison stretch for TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez. Heymann indicted Aaron on 13 counts of wire fraud, computer intrusion and reckless damage. The case has been wending through pre-trial motions for 18 months, and was set for jury trial on April 1.

Larry Lessig, who worked closely with Aaron for years, disapproves of Aaron’s JSTOR hack. But in the painful aftermath of Aaron’s suicide, Lessig faults the government for pursuing Aaron with such vigor. “[Aaron] is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying,” Lessig writes. “I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.”
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/01/aaron-swartz/

The long and the short of it is that Aaron Swartz was on trial for the theft and intent of public distribution of academic documents from JSTOR via the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's subscription to their database. Although his trial never completed, he was potentially faced with over 30 years in prison, and committed suicide before the sentence was made. Over the course of his life he was heavily involved with the internet, having a great part in the development of reddit as well as campaigning heavily against SOPA and other internet censorship bills. He also co-authored RSS at the age of 14. He had apparently struggled with depression for much of his life.

What do you think of this whole thing? How far, if at all, was the legal action taken against Aaron responsible for his death? Was it fair to take legal action against him in the first place? As for the sentence, although this particular article does not give it precisely, I've seen it to be 35 years and $1 million worth of fines. Is this fair? Should the situation have been different because of the nature of the content which he was involved with (i.e. academic papers as opposed to music, films, etc.)? Discuss.

Also previously discussions about people who committed suicide have got really nasty so please try and keep it under control this time.
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  #2    
Old January 14th, 2013, 06:55 AM
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What do you think of this whole thing?
It is unfortunate.

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Originally Posted by Razor Leaf View Post
How far, if at all, was the legal action taken against Aaron responsible for his death? Was it fair to take legal action against him in the first place?
If he was just downloading, then I don't think there was a problem. Through the school's subscription, he would be able to download them. But if he uploaded them all, or attempted to, somewhere that would be a problem. And then I wouldn't have an issue with legal action. You're not exempt from criminal charges because you've done great things, are a good person, or have depression. You break the rules, you break the rules, and there are consequences.

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Originally Posted by Razor Leaf View Post
As for the sentence, although this particular article does not give it precisely, I've seen it to be 35 years and $1 million worth of fines.
I think that'd be a maximum, right? The 35 years seems wrong to me, but I'm okay with the fine. Generally, in cases of fraud or theft I'm in favour of a financial punishment (with minimal jail time as appropriate to the crime). The wronged party wants their money back. I don't think 35 years would be appropriate, no.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Razor Leaf View Post
Is this fair? Should the situation have been different because of the nature of the content which he was involved with (i.e. academic papers as opposed to music, films, etc.)? Discuss.
Even with Google Scholar, you can't access all the scholarly literature. A bulk of it is the property of the publishers and distributors. Licenses for access are granted to academic institutions for specific purposes. He violated all of that. Doesn't matter what the nature was. It's sort of cut and dry. It isn't public material. When an article is submitted to an academic journal or a conference, that publisher owns it.

EDIT: Okay, scrap all what I said above. It was not money issue. Or dealing with licenses of anything. JSTOR doesn't even seem to mind. From their website:

"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 us 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."

So, their beef with him was long over. He didn't distribute anything, so whatever I said above about financial is void. The issue is that apparently JSTOR's servers are Federally-owned. So, he likely violated something that makes no sense and is outdated. They could have proceeded with legal action (because, no guarantee he would be convicted there), sure. But, the sentence proposed above does seem grossly disproportionate for the crime of "downloading a lot very quickly".

Last edited by TRIFORCE89; January 14th, 2013 at 12:39 PM.
  #3    
Old January 14th, 2013, 06:57 PM
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But computers are deadly

I think education should be provided to everyone, and honestly 99% of all internet users (like us) don't even understand most of that lingo. So what's the poiiiiiiinnt if like two people are gonna even buy it?
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  #4    
Old January 14th, 2013, 07:28 PM
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Originally Posted by droomph View Post
But computers are deadly

I think education should be provided to everyone, and honestly 99% of all internet users (like us) don't even understand most of that lingo. So what's the poiiiiiiinnt if like two people are gonna even buy it?
I'm afraid it's not really your decision. (And don't understand what lingo? What do you mean?)

The authors of the academic papers can put them up on their own websites for everyone to access for free if they want. Some do. Lots don't. That's their choice. They wrote the paper.

JSTOR offers licenses to academic institutions to access the material. Students, faculty, researchers, and staff and access them for free.

That's how it works. You can debate if there's a better way, and there just may be. But you can't take the work of other authors or the property of JSTOR and offer it away.

He didn't get around to distributing the material and reached a settlement with JSTOR. That issue was solved. However, he used MIT's network and in doing so apparently caused a service outage at the facility for a couple of days. I think there would need to be some kind of recourse for that.

$1 million and 35 years? No, probably not. A bit overkill. But that they went after him is not surprising or particularly unfounded.
  #5    
Old January 14th, 2013, 08:39 PM
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$1 Million dollars is way too much and so is 35 years. And since JSTOR don't mind, no legal action should have been taken at all in my opinion.
I admit it's really sad to see someone who did so many great things commit suicide, but the world goes on.

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  #6    
Old January 14th, 2013, 08:55 PM
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Found this response to his death particularly interesting:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blog...s-a-felon.html
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  #7    
Old January 14th, 2013, 09:20 PM
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Originally Posted by PokéZoom View Post
$1 Million dollars is way too much and so is 35 years. And since JSTOR don't mind, no legal action should have been taken at all in my opinion.
On the JSTOR side of things, that's correct. And no legal action was taken. But MIT still had a claim as well.
  #8    
Old January 15th, 2013, 11:22 AM
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It's absurd and shameful, the federal prosecutor ought to be disbarred for this mess.
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  #9    
Old January 31st, 2013, 09:17 AM
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Little update here - it's been suggested that MIT make all of their academic journals publicly available to honour Swartz. Thoughts, anyone?
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  #10    
Old January 31st, 2013, 09:38 AM
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I'm inclined to think they should make these journals free, but I don't know what the potential downsides would be. I'm assuming it's money, as in money to make the journals, and that by making their articles free they'd loose most or all of their revenue and many would go belly up. But maybe not? Alternative sources and/or more cost-effective approaches are probably out there.

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  #11    
Old January 31st, 2013, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Razor Leaf View Post
Little update here - it's been suggested that MIT make all of their academic journals publicly available to honour Swartz. Thoughts, anyone?
That isn't MIT's decision to make because it wasn't their papers. It was JSTOR's and they had already settled wit him. MIT's issue is that he used and disrupted their campus network

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scarf View Post
I'm inclined to think they should make these journals free, but I don't know what the potential downsides would be. I'm assuming it's money, as in money to make the journals, and that by making their articles free they'd loose most or all of their revenue and many would go belly up. But maybe not? Alternative sources and/or more cost-effective approaches are probably out there.
The journal also often host conferences for the authors and to share ideas. I'm guessing they need revenue to put those on.

But, there is nothing preventing the authors from putting their works up for free on their own website. Many already do and it isn't a problem (even if they are already also hosted on some subscription-based journal). It's there for free, because they want it to be free. But you can't take someone's work and make it free if they don't want it to be.

Last edited by TRIFORCE89; January 31st, 2013 at 09:56 AM. Reason: Your double post has been automatically merged.
  #12    
Old January 31st, 2013, 09:58 AM
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I... honestly don't see why academic journals should be open to everyone anyway other than "we don't want to pay for information". People worked hard to write those things and if they want some money for that then I feel they're more than entitled to it. Also don't see why MIT would honour Swartz when he's the one who broke into their campus and hacked their network, even if his cause was arguably (although not in my opinion) morally better than what's happening now.
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  #13    
Old January 31st, 2013, 10:06 AM
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I... honestly don't see why academic journals should be open to everyone anyway other than "we don't want to pay for information". People worked hard to write those things and if they want some money for that then I feel they're more than entitled to it. Also don't see why MIT would honour Swartz when he's the one who broke into their campus and hacked their network, even if his cause was arguably (although not in my opinion) morally better than what's happening now.
I don't think MIT is considering honoring him. I think it's some third party who is suggesting that MIT do this.

And don't academic people want their work to be read? Isn't that the point? The reward is the data and info their collect in the course of their studies and experiments. It's the prestige, and possibility that their prestige and acknowledgement will get them future funding for their future research. That's my understanding at least.

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  #14    
Old January 31st, 2013, 10:11 AM
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Oh I know it was a third party - but I'm giving my opinion on what how I'd say MIT respond. Badly communicated on my part!

I think it depends on the nature of the material and how much it's likely to get read. If it's in a niche area then I don't imagine it'd generate much revenue from how many hits it gets or anything like that and, as such, the only way to make considerable money from it would be to sell it. As for the reward being the completion of the work - again, I'd say in some ways and it'd depend on who the person who did the work is. I know if I published an academic paper that could be useful for something I'd want at least some monetary reward for my time and work and I'd be furious if it was to be made available for free, therefore disregarding how I'd want my work to be used. For others, maybe the work itself is enough. Situational, I suppose.
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  #15    
Old January 31st, 2013, 10:13 AM
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I don't think MIT is considering honoring him. I think it's some third party who is suggesting that MIT do this.

And don't academic people want their work to be read? Isn't that the point? The reward is the data and info their collect in the course of their studies and experiments. It's the prestige, and possibility that their prestige and acknowledgement will get them future funding for their future research. That's my understanding at least.
That's right. Funding. Money. Everything comes down to money.

They do share the information... with those they want to share it with at the conferences where they present their findings, in the journals where their papers can be found by like-minded individuals to read. And if they want everyone to read them, they would put it up on their personal web pages like many of them already do. If they want their work to be free, they're perfectly capable of making it free without issue. You can't take their work and decide for them.
  #16    
Old January 31st, 2013, 11:30 AM
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A 35 year sentence —let alone one at all— for what amounts to copyright infringement is a depressing indication of what the top end of our society values most.
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  #17    
Old January 31st, 2013, 11:48 AM
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A 35 year sentence —let alone one at all— for what amounts to copyright infringement is a depressing indication of what the top end of our society values most.
I don't think it has to do with copyright infringement. JSTOR settled. It was MIT who still had a problem because his actions caused a disruption to their network.

But even in that scenario, 35 years is completely excessive. I don't think it was jail-worthy crime. Whatever financial losses MIT feels they incurred from the network disruption, that's what his punishment should be. To pay it back, with interest. I don't think he should have faced jailtime
  #18    
Old February 1st, 2013, 06:58 PM
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I really have little to say of how appalling this is. Cassino, you hit the nail on the head there. Well done.
  #19    
Old February 1st, 2013, 08:18 PM
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The punishment for being caught hacking non-personal information should be nothing. If you don't want something stolen, the last place you should put it is on the net. Otherwise, it's pretty much a poster that anyone can tear down. Aaron Swartz was not a threat to anybody.

Ask him to delete the files, learn how he did it to prevent future occurences, get over it and move on.
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  #20    
Old February 1st, 2013, 09:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Keiran777 View Post
The punishment for being caught hacking non-personal information should be nothing. If you don't want something stolen, the last place you should put it is on the net. Otherwise, it's pretty much a poster that anyone can tear down. Aaron Swartz was not a threat to anybody.

Ask him to delete the files, learn how he did it to prevent future occurences, get over it and move on.
Is everyone missing half of the story or what?

He deleted the files. He settled with JSTOR. The potential of distributing the papers is not the issue.

The issue is with MIT. Where he used their network (also through physical access, not just hacking) and disrupted service at their campus
  #21    
Old February 1st, 2013, 10:18 PM
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Well you see, TRIFORCE89, it's the mentality of copyright protection, in my view.
I'm too cynical to believe a 35 year sentence was based on damages and trespass alone.
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Last edited by Cassino; February 1st, 2013 at 10:34 PM.
  #22    
Old February 1st, 2013, 10:43 PM
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Well you see, TRIFORCE89, it's the mentality of copyright protection, in my view.
I'm too cynical to believe a 35 year sentence was based on damages and trespass alone.
Perhaps not (35 years is outrageous in either event, anyway). And 35 years would have been the maximum sentence, doesn't mean that's what he going to receive.

Prosecutors told his attorney a few days before he committed suicide that realistically he was only looking at six months. Would have been good if someone actually told him that. Perhaps he wouldn't have taken his life.
  #23    
Old February 1st, 2013, 10:43 PM
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In addition to what I said earlier, there's been one constant thought going through my mind every time I hear about this: "martyr." They turned him into one, now they get to reap the consequences.
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  #24    
Old February 2nd, 2013, 06:15 AM
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Originally Posted by TRIFORCE89 View Post
Perhaps not (35 years is outrageous in either event, anyway). And 35 years would have been the maximum sentence, doesn't mean that's what he going to receive.

Prosecutors told his attorney a few days before he committed suicide that realistically he was only looking at six months. Would have been good if someone actually told him that. Perhaps he wouldn't have taken his life.
Interesting.

It still worries me that even the maximum can be over a year or two in any case, though I concede this would be a matter for another thread if I were to continue going on about it.



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In addition to what I said earlier, there's been one constant thought going through my mind every time I hear about this: "martyr." They turned him into one, now they get to reap the consequences.
I'm not sure I follow your wording. Who's reaping the consequences and what are they?

Last edited by Cassino; February 2nd, 2013 at 08:29 AM.
  #25    
Old February 2nd, 2013, 06:35 AM
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I'm not sure I follow your wording. Who's reaping the consequences and what are they?
Maybe the actions of Anonymous?
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