Aaron Zwartz and JSTOR
Source Louis Proyect
Date 11/07/20/22:28
Open-Access Advocate Is Arrested for Huge Download

A respected Harvard researcher who also is an Internet folk hero
has been arrested in Boston on charges related to computer
hacking, which are based on allegations that he downloaded
articles that he was entitled to get free.

A federal indictment unsealed in Boston on Tuesday morning on
charges that the researcher, Aaron Swartz, broke into the computer
networks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to gain
access to JSTOR, a nonprofit online service for distributing
scholarly articles online, and downloaded 4.8 million articles and
other documents — nearly the entire library.

Mr. Swartz, 24, made his name as a member of the Internet elite as
a teenager when he helped create RSS, a bit of computer code that
allows people to receive automatic feeds of online notices and
news. Since then, he has emerged as a civil liberties activist who
crusades for open access to data.

In 2008, Mr. Swartz released a “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,”
calling for activists to “fight back” against the sequestering of
scholarly papers and information behind pay walls.

“It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of
civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft
of public culture,” he wrote. One goal: “We need to download
scientific journals and upload them to file-sharing networks.”

He also earned renown for downloading nearly 20 million pages of
court documents for a project that put them free online. That
brought Mr. Swartz under federal investigation. He was not
indicted but later published the resulting F.B.I. file online.

He faces up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for
charges related to wire fraud, computer fraud and unlawfully
obtaining information from a protected computer. He surrendered to
the authorities on Tuesday morning, was arraigned in Federal
District Court and pleaded not guilty to all counts. He was
released on $100,000 unsecured bond.

Institutions like colleges and libraries pay for access to JSTOR,
which is then available free to their users. Supporters were quick
to defend Mr. Swartz. David Segal, executive director of Demand
Progress, an activist group that Mr. Swartz founded, said in a
statement that the arrest “makes no sense,” comparing the
indictment to “trying to put someone in jail for allegedly
checking too many books out of the library.” An online petition
gathered 15,000 signatures in just a few hours.

In an interview, Mr. Segal said that his comments went to the
principle, not to anything Mr. Swartz might have done in obtaining
the documents.

“I know him as a person who cares deeply about matters of ethics
and government,” Mr. Segal said. “I don’t know about the matter of
what has been alleged.”

Beginning in September of last year, according to the indictment,
Mr. Swartz used several methods to grab articles, even breaking
into a computer-wiring closet on the M.I.T. campus and setting up
a laptop with a false identity on the school network for free
JSTOR access under the name Gary Host — or when shortened for the
e-mail address, “ghost.” When retrieving the computer, he hid his
face behind a bicycle helmet, peeking out through the ventilation

The flood of downloads was so great that it crashed some JSTOR
servers, the indictment stated, and JSTOR blocked access to the
network from M.I.T. and its users for several days.

Ultimately Mr. Swartz returned the hard drives containing the
articles to JSTOR and promised that the material would not be

“We are not pursuing further action,” the organization’s general
counsel, Nancy Kopans, said; the organization said in a statement
that the criminal case “has been directed by the United States
Attorney’s Office.”

As for the comments from Mr. Swartz’s supporters that he had done
nothing wrong, however, Ms. Kopans said, “It’s an unfortunate
situation, but I think the facts speak for themselves.”

Mr. Swartz recently completed a 10-month fellowship at the Edmond
J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard. “Aaron has never done
anything in this context for personal gain — this isn’t a hacking
case, in the sense of someone trying to steal credit cards,” said
Lawrence Lessig, the center’s director. “That’s something JSTOR
saw, and the government obviously didn’t.”

In a statement announcing the charges, a United States attorney,
Carmen M. Ortiz, said: “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a
computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents,
data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you
sell what you have stolen or give it away.”

Carl Malamud, an online activist who worked with Mr. Swartz on the
court-documents project, called Mr. Swartz “one of the Internet’s
most talented programmers,” but said that “the JSTOR situation is
very disturbing.”

In an e-mail exchange with a reporter, Mr. Malamud, who is engaged
in a project intended to put all laws and government documents
online, said: “My style, when I see a gate barring entry and that
gate is sanctioned by the law, is to go up to that gate and pound
on it hard and force them to open up. Others sometimes look for a
back door.”

He added, “I’m not convinced that style is always effective, and
it is certainly often dangerous.”

Nick Bilton contributed reporting.

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