JSTOR and Hacktivism

Last month, Lisa S. told us about Aaron Swartz, the media hacktivist from Harvard who attempted to slip off with JSTOR’s inventory of academic research articles using MIT’s computer network. The MIT newspaper The Tech has a good summary of the events surrounding Swartz’s apprehension in the lead up to his next court appearance on August 8. Swartz faces 35 years in prison.

As astonishing as it is to imagine someone systematically downloading millions of research articles in order to make them open-access, it is just as sobering to notice how even an exceptionally tech-savvy individual like Swartz could not maintain his online anonymity.

In response to Swartz’s high-profile apprehension, hacktavist Greg Maxwell uploaded 18,592 JSTOR articles to the Pirate Bay the next day, along with a signed statement of intent. All the articles came from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and were published prior to 1923, making them legally part of the public domain. Purchasing the articles through JSTOR would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

An excerpt of Maxwell’s statement, posted with the files:

All too often journals, galleries, and museums are becoming not disseminators of knowledge–as their lofty mission statements suggest–but censors of knowledge, because censoring is the one thing they do better than the Internet does. Stewardship and curation are valuable functions, but their value is negative when there is only one steward and one curator, whose judgment reigns supreme as the final word on what everyone else sees and knows. If their recommendations have value they can be heeded without the coercive abuse of copyright to silence competition.

Link to The Tech article.

Link to Maxwell’s statement about copyright.

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