Aaron Swartz dies. The real JSTOR criminals get paid well.

1/13/2013: I wrote about the incident below back in 2011. JSTOR decided not to prosecute, but US Attorney Carmen Ortiz did – asking for 30 years imprisonment. Aaron Swartz committed suicide a few days ago, at age 26. The NYT has a story here and open access websites have many memorials, including boingboing.net and this from Swartz’s partner in the famous PACER episode, Carl Malamud. (Malamud also persuaded the Oregon Legislature to stop enforcing copyright limits on publishing state laws, and helped get the Oregon DOJ to post its Public Records Manual online.) A memorial page is here: http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/

2011 update: It turns out this is the same Robin Hood, aka Aaron Swartz, who worked with Carl Malamud to make the federal court “PACER” database freely available. Story here, excellent software here. The difference, of course, is that court records are not copyrighted, while journal articles are. Hence the arrest.

7/19/2011: If I understand this NYT story right, this 24-year-old Robin Hood was arrested for stealing the entire JSTOR database from MIT so he could post it on file sharing sites for anyone to download.

So? JSTOR was set up as a non-profit, with donations from the Mellon Foundation, to make academic journal articles easily available online. Now it’s a feeding trough for a bunch of overpaid execs who hide my research behind a paywall. I count 8 with compensation above $250,000. From old data on their 2009 IRS form. Offices on 5th Avenue?! Plus it has a sucky interface. I pity these people if Carl Malamud decides to get involved.

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4 Responses to Aaron Swartz dies. The real JSTOR criminals get paid well.

  1. The Cheshire Cat says:

    A great asset, but this is troubling news.

    unfortunately the Scholars Bank here is an imperfect alternative. I have tried often enough and remain frustrated by the rendition.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Not to defend JSTOR, but they say they aren’t pressing charges (and the indictment seems to support that). The charges are primarily that Swartz did illegal things in trying to keep JSTOR from preventing Swartz from downloading a shit-ton of articles – maybe this is splitting hairs, but he’s in trouble for the way he got the articles more than he’s in trouble for getting the articles. It will be interesting to follow this case, but I don’t think it’s a simple “Robin Hood” affair.

    None of this excuses the “non-profit” pigs feeding at the trough. Nice gig: get libraries to send you journals so you can scan them and sell (for an up-front payment and then a significant annual fee) them back to libraries everywhere.

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  3. UO Matters says:

    Good point! Even stranger that the feds would pursue this, when the damaged party won’t.

    But I don’t think it’s a simple black/white case either. Lots of good reasons for copyrights.

    JSTOR had such promise when it started. It’s really a shame the Mellon Foundation has let it fall so far.

    And with their first mover advantage, they’ve made it harder for new, cheaper competition, and the founders seem to be raking off the profits.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Very sad.

    Even though he was misguided in some of his attempts, he was really trying to make the world a better place.

    The resources the Feds spent trying to make his life miserable were out of line with what he did. RIP.

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