“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. ”
Aaron Swartx, Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, 2010
This is an excerpt from the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto written in 2010 by Aaron Swartz who committed suicide on 11th of January 2013. Around the same time Aaron wrote the manifesto, he logged on the MIT campus network and used automated script to download more than 4.8 million articles from JSTOR. He did this with the hope that he would draw attention to what he termed as ‘privatization of knowledge’ by corporations. Both MIT and JSTOR considered filing civil and criminal charges against him but JSTOR decided to drop the charges in the summer of 2012 (but not really, keep reading).
The case was taken over by federal prosecutors and he was charged with 2 counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (1986) carrying a maximum of 35 years in prison and over 1 million in fines. Under federal law, Swartz could have faced less prison time if he had committed manslaughter. Shortly before his death, there was certainty that he would face jail time. The 26-year-old computer-prodigy-turned-political-activist had a deep conviction and was committed to freeing scholarly works in the hands of corporations like JSTOR and although he died, his idea lives on.
In 2010, Lisbet Rauing, a Harvard law professor wrote an article published by openDemocracy arguing for open access to scholarly articles. Below is an excerpt that sums up her argument.
“Look at JSTOR (if you can). There you find the evidence-based, source-critical foundations of sociology, anthropology, geography, history, philosophy, classics, Oriental studies, theology, musicology, history of science and so on. They are all closed to the public. It is wonderful, of course, that high-energy physics and string theory are open to all. But is it not ironic that we have opened the gates only to that scholarship which few professors, let alone members of the public, have the cognitive capacity and appropriate training to grasp?”
Most surprising is the penalty, 35 years in prison time for downloading articles in which he had hoped not to release them to the public unless JSTOR was not committing to enable some sort of open access to their journals. To clarify something here, JSTOR or other scholarly repository sites, do not pay any researcher for their work. Researchers pay them to have their work published on their sites. If, on the other hand a researcher wants to access a journal written by a fellow researcher, he/she has to subscribe to the site. For the record St. Lawrence spends $1.3 million for online subscription of scholarly journals. (Source: Serials Acquisition and Cataloging Librarian – Robin Hutchison)
Have you ever asked yourself why it is much easier to get journals written by CATO institute affiliates – some written by SLU professor (CATO affiliate) can be downloaded with a click of a Google link. Try searching a Brookings Institute funded research or Ayn Rand institute journals funded by the Koch brothers’ empire and you will be surprised how easy it is you will find it. I have actually received a free copy of Atlas shrugged sponsored by the Koch Brothers Foundation for Education. The kind of information that needs to be known and by who and when is now being directed by a few who are able to sponsor a program- depending on their interests.
Aaron Swartz fought for Open Access to information and he lost his life doing it. There are many others who face federal chargers and I hope this write-up will inspire some to action. As the corporate America tries to limit and determine what we can/cannot access, my earnest wish is that we will have a force strong enough to send a message to oppose privatization of knowledge.
As for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has been amended severally (1989, 1994,1996, 2001, 2002 and 2008 by the right leaning-dominated congress), I strongly believe that there is no justice in following unjust laws. This law, together with anti-piracy laws, has been shaped by the interest of a few who have been seeking to collect copyrights to any research or new ideas being developed. They will then dictate what will be passed to the public and what should be kept in the repositories.
If, for some reason you are not under the false consciousness, (I wouldn’t blame you, there are a lot of right wing extremist around) about the cyberspace dynamics, please join Savanna, Alison and I in making Open Access Movement on Campus a reality. The only way we can honor the death of the brilliant Aaron Swartz is to send an open letter to the University Trustee Council to roll out a program that will ensure an end to subscription to journals that do not allow some form of open access to their journals. St. Lawrence wouldn’t be the first one; Clarkson unsubscribed from American Society of Chemistry and California universities boycotted a subscription to one of the leading scientific scholarly journals.
Here is the explanation of the Open Access Movement
[youtube L5rVH1KGBCY nolink]