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Monday, July 25, 2011

Aaron Swartz Indictment

This story is interesting. Aaron Swartz was indicted for computer hacking. While at MIT, he hacked into the JSTOR academic document archive and downloaded documents. He was planning to release them for free on the Internet. Aaron Swartz faces a maximum of 35 years in prison.

He returned the documents. He settled with JSTOR and MIT. Prosecutors indicted him anyway.

Some people say this indictment is silly. Aaron Schwartz settled the civil claim. Therefore, he should not be indicted. MIT and JSTOR publicly said they don't support the indictment.

Unfortunately, that isn't the way the "justice" system works. In a criminal trial, it's "State vs. defendant" and not "victim vs. defendant". Even if the victim doesn't want a prosecution, the State can do it anyway.

This allows MIT and JSTOR to have clean hands. *OF COURSE*, they are going to publicly say they oppose criminal prosecution. They would have negative PR backlash otherwise. It is likely that their executives are privately thinking "HAHAHA!! Stick it to that SOB!", while publicly saying "We don't want this criminal trial to continue." They will testify when subpoenaed.

Aaron Swartz previously got into trouble. At one point, there was an experiment to make PACER available in libraries. PACER is the archive of Federal court filings and decisions; all those documents are public domain. Aaron Swartz wrote a Perl script that sequentially downloaded every document. He got caught, but prosecutors concluded they couldn't do anything, because PACER documents are public domain.

PACER is a paid-by-subscription archive of US court documents. Those documents are public domain, but there is no free alternative. A corporation is "tax farming" by having exclusive rights to sell electronic access to court opinions.

JSTOR is an electronic archive of academic journals. Almost all of that research was paid by tax money or student tuition money. Most of the articles were written, edited, and refereed for free by academics. However, the content is locked down behind the JSTOR paywall.

Professors don't object to JSTOR, because most universities have a site license subscription. Universities receive tax subsidies to pay for JSTOR, making JSTOR a tax farming arrangement.

For example, suppose JSTOR charges the university $100k/year for access. That $100k comes from Federal research grant money. It would be simpler to cut out the middleman, and have the government directly write JSTOR a check. That would be too obviously corrupt.

Lawyers don't mind the PACER fee. They're billing $50+/hr, making the PACER charge a rounding error on their expenses.

The JSTOR content scam means that only professors have electronic access to academic papers. The PACER content scam means that only lawyers have access to published US court opinions. It's a way of excluding non-insiders. The professors don't directly pay the JSTOR fee. Lawyers don't directly pay the PACER fee. The fee is passed on to taxpayers and customers.

The JSTOR archive *SHOULD* be public domain and freely accessible. The PACER archive *SHOULD* be public domain and freely accessible. JSTOR research articles are almost all taxpayer-funded or student-tuition-funded, and therefore should be public domain. PACER articles are written by taxpayer-funded courts.

However, most academic articles are incoherent gibberish, and not worth reading. Most judge's opinions are incoherent gibberish. They have nothing to do with natural law. A judge's job is to make up fancy excuses to justify what he wanted to do anyway.

Most academic articles are about the illusion of science, and not real science. Most judge's opinions are about the illusion of justice, and not real justice.

It is a corrupt arrangement, that a small group of insiders profit from content they didn't write, and didn't pay to write. The executives at PACER and JSTOR are profiting at the expense of everyone else.

The documents in PACER and JSTOR should be public domain and freely available. In that sense, what Aaron Swartz did is heroic.

Aaron Swartz is a political prisoner, in the same way that Bradley Manning is a political prisoner. Prosecutors are eager to stick it to him, because he previously embarrassed them with his PACER download.

HOWEVER, Aaron Swartz did inappropriately use a computer, to download the JSTOR archive. That is a type of trespassing. However, this is a relatively minor offense. There's no point to sending Aaron Schwartz to jail for 35 years, other than to punish him for pointing out the evil of the JSTOR and PACER scam.

Unfortunately, Aaron Swartz' lawyer won't be allowed to make a "jury nullification" argument. He won't be allowed to argue "Really, the documents in the JSTOR archive should be public domain." I wonder if Aaron Swartz will choose to represent himself?

It is hypocritical that Aaron Swartz is facing a 35 year prison term, while Lehman Brothers was not prosecuted for their Repo 105 fraud. It is hypocritical that the lawyers who committed foreclosure fraud were not prosecuted.

This case is an excellent example of a prosecutor abusing his discretion.

There are two justice systems, one for insiders and one for non-insiders. Aaron Swartz' crime is not computer hacking. His real crime was embarrassing the insiders at PACER and JSTOR. They are profiting from documents that really should be public domain.

The prosecutor is abusing his discretion, by demanding a 35 year prison term. Aaron Swartz did commit a minor offense, because he hacked into a computer to download JSTOR documents. That really should be a misdemeanor, and not worth a 35 year prison term; that should be a civil offense and not criminal. Aaron Swartz is a hero, for trying to free the information inappropriately locked down by PACER and JSTOR. (However, almost all academic articles and almost all judge's decisions aren't worth reading.)


Anonymous said...

>PACER is a paid-by-subscription
>archive of US court documents.

I don't live in the US, but in my country law is defined not only by statutory law made by Parliament but also on previous court decisions.

The latter are difficult to look up.

Relatively recently law was amended by Parliament. The effect of the amendment was to make previously easy to understand law into a minefield of ambiguity.

So a bunch of aggressive organizations decided to swing the lead and sue people based on the new amendment, even thought they hadn't lost anything. They were trying to take advantage of loopholes.

Judges made a number of decisions which effectively put limits on the amendment. Each decision would have meant than a little guy was put through hell for a year, but came out victorious.

Unfortunately the same loopholes will be taken advantage of time and time again, because individuals can't afford to do literature searches of previous court decisions. Lawyers know that and so they will try the same scams again on behalf of their greedy clients, despite the fact case law is against them.

It is immoral that case law in not freely and easily available.

Anonymous said...

Excellent enlightening session. Thank you for this, I hope others read this, I'll forward on.


Anonymous said...



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