Jul
20
2011

Telecommie* Aaron Swartz’s federal indictment (and unpersoning by Larry Lessig).

The formal indictment of PCCC/Reddit** co-founder (and Demand Progress Executive Director) Aaron Swartz is available [link fixed], and you will find it compelling reading, if only because it shows the level of stubborn disregard for other people’s property and needs that can be exhibited by a telecommie geek who is simultaneously convinced of the rightness of his cause, and not especially overburdened with a sense of conventional ethics.  Essentially, if this indictment is correct, then Swartz physically broke into MIT’s computer network, inserted a virgin laptop into that system, deliberately spoofed the network into believing that the laptop represented a legitimate (guest***) user of MIT’s JSTOR online journal database account, immediately began massive downloads of JSTOR data in flagrant violation of JSTOR and MIT policies, spent several months playing steadily-increasing games of digital cat-and-mouse with MIT’s anti-piracy forces, then attempted to retrieve the physical evidence for all of this while trying to disguise his identity.  The indictment lists several occasions where Swartz’s behavior hindered the ability of legitimate MIT users to access JSTOR, and at least one where MIT users were outright prohibited from accessing JSTOR at all.

Lastly, please note this passage from a Boston Globe article on the crime.

Swartz allies claim the prosecution was launched over the objections of JSTOR.

“That is not the case,’’ said Heide McGregor, vice president of marketing and communications for JSTOR. “We were interested always in making sure the data was secure and the data was not disseminated. So we were happy we got to that result.”


I bring this up mostly because there are a lot of people trying to make the aforementioned claim as part of the pushback, which has already started.  I understand that the telecommies are going to try to rile the digital libertarians up on this one, but I hope that the latter will stop for a moment and consider this: yes, copyright is a thorny issue in the digital age.  But this was not a case of ‘taking too many library books out of the library’ (that seems to be the standard telecommie talking point).  This was a case of breaking-and-entering with intent to break the law, a continuous campaign to keep breaking the law, and – this one is for the inevitable ‘Civil disobedience! Civil disobedience!’ duckspeakers – an active attempt to get away with breaking the law.  You see, real adherents of civil disobedience don’t try to cover up evidence while hiding their identities.

Criminals do.

Oops!  Alleged criminals.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*This is precisely the epithet that I’ve been looking for to distinguish between the digital libertarians (who want a free market to determine the true value of online material) and the hardcore progressives who resent the fact that people who create content very reasonably expect to be compensated for it.

**I don’t support the efforts of Minitrue to revise and extend reality on this one, sorry.

***You’ll notice that the former Research Fellow of Larry Lessig’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard didn’t do this at Harvard.  That’s because, as any alleged criminal will tell you, one does not defecate in the same location that one consumes nourishment.  You’ll also notice that Swartz is only a former Research Fellow because of the investigation: he’s already been memory-holed over there.  And, yes, Swartz was memory-holed: you have to love Google caches.

Embarrassed much, Larry?

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