Current discussions about the death of Aaron Swartz force bid discussions about copyright, open access and the publication of scientific data (papers). Aaron Swartz was one of the creators of Reddit and co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification, among actively working on the creation and discussion of creative commons. He was the founder of Demand Progress, which launched the campaign against the Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA) and now has over a million members. His main interest was sociology, civic awareness and activism. On January 6, 2011, he was arrested by federal authorities in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR (he downloaded about 4 million of JSTOR’s collection of academic journal articles). He was released on US$100,000 unsecured bail – though the prosecution continued – a potential prison term of up to 35 years and a fine of up to $1 million was discussed. Shortly before Swartz’ death, JSTOR announced that it would make “more than 4.5 million articles” available to the public for free.
An unknown activist leaked 35GB of compressed data on 2011-07-21 05:20:52 via piratebay, stating:
“This archive contains 18,592 scientific publications totaling 33GiB, all from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and which should be available to everyone at no cost, but most have previously only been made available at high prices through paywall gatekeepers like JSTOR. Limited access to the documents here is typically sold for $19 USD per article, though some of the older ones are available as cheaply as $8. Purchasing access to this collection one article at a time would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.” (source: thepiratebay)
There are currently two torrents spread via thepiratebay which actually can be seen as a distributed p2p-protest.
Another anonymous poster stated: “Aaron Swartz was was an internet activist. He believed tha information should be free. He co-authored the RSS 1.0 spec. He released about 20% of the PACER database of US Federal Court Documents. He set up a laptop in a utility closet at MIT and downloaded 35GB of the JSTOR archive. Clearly he was a great risk to society. The feds arrested him. If he had been found guilty, he could have faced up to 50 years in prison, and a $4 million dollar fine. Wrap you head around that.” (source: thepiratebay)
Currently there is a big open access and open source paper spree going on via twitter. People are releasing their PDF publications free and available online via the #pdftribute hashtag. The website pdftribute.net automatically scrapes all the published tweets in that context.
There is lots of response to the death of Aaron Swartz, who released the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto in 2008. Lawrence Lessig wrote an angry letter to the M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – and other people, such as Dana Boyd, Cory Doctorow and Tim Berners-Lee expressed their sadness and rage: after all, Swartz was facing more prison time than murderers. An international discussion has started, fueling the question on harsh prosecution of cybercrimes (see in this context: nymag.com).
Still we can hope that sad events such as this one might get people to start thinking beyond their horizon – for example actually demanding real open access!