By Razib Khan | July 19, 2011 12:49 pm

Feds Charge Activist As Hacker For Downloading Millions of Academic Articles:

Well-known coder and activist Aaron Swartz was arrested Tuesday, charged with violating federal hacking laws for downloading millions of academic articles from a subscription database service that MIT had given him access to. If convicted, Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Swartz, the 24-year-old executive director of Demand Progress, has a history of downloading massive data sets, both to use in research and to release public domain documents from behind paywalls. Swartz, who was aware of the investigation, turned himself in Tuesday.

The grand jury indictment accuses Swartz of evading MIT’s attempts to kick his laptop off the network while downloading more than four million documents from JSTOR, a non-for-profit company that provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals. The scraping, which took place from September 2010 to January 2011 via MIT’s network, was invasive enough to bring down JSTOR’s servers on several occasions.

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  • TerryS.

    Just another punk with a huge sense of entitlement. Lock him up. People have to realize that it’s not all about them.

  • Ben

    It’s hard to argue that publically-funded research should be behind paywalls in first place. I hope the documents end up on some kind of academic version of library.nu .

  • http://emilkirkegaard.com Emil

    I hope he at least gets them out, those that he did download.

  • http://sep.stanford.edu/sep/jon/ Jon Claerbout

    Maybe it’s a job for Google, not to give hits on documents behind pay walls when they are freely available elsewhere. If I’m not mistaken, they do some of that already.

  • John Emerson

    He was doing research which required a large dataset of published papers. In any case 35 years is an unjustifiably heavy sentence, but that’s what happens when everything is defined in terms of the War on Terror. It may be that he’s being treated as though he were part of Anonymous or one of the other hacking groups.

    JSTOR and the others charge unbelievable prices (1$+ / page) for research that they did not originate and which was mostly publicly funded. Whether the money charged ends up going to researchers, authors, or journals I don’t know, but I suspect that JSTOR makes out like a bandit.

  • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

    They also locked up Robin Hood: illegal does not mean immoral, legal does not mean ethical either. Do we have a picture? The best we can do for this guy is to make him famous, so (in)justice falters before public pressure.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    JSTOR is a non-profit, so there is presumably a limit to their banditry. But Elsevier and other for-profit academic publishers are more or less “stationary bandits”, extracting tolls from their ownership of prestige titles while not doing much work.

  • John Emerson

    Non-profits can be bandits if management raises their own pay and starts hiring family and friends. Not saying it’s happening, but it’s a real possibility.

  • leviticus

    My question is, will Murdoch and his lackeys face the same stiff punishments for their hacking? This will be the acid test for all this getting tough on hackers. In this case, at least, the young man wasn’t’ doing anything so macabre as hacking into a dead girl’s voice mail. Max Keiser and others have raised the point that in the course of their hacking, Murdoch’s employees engaged in activities that would be considered copyright violations.

    On another note, those articles that appear on JSTOR are, directly or indirectly, the result of tax-payer funded research. This isn’t quite the same as someone breaking copyright law by distributing Stephen King novels or whatnot.

  • Sandgroper

    Off-topic, but as someone has mentioned Murdoch, I just note for the record:

    Chinese wives kick arse.

    Or ass, if you prefer.

  • http://www.wired.com/ Schrödinger’s Hat

    According to the article on Wired about him: “JSTOR, the alleged victim in the case, did not refer the case to the feds, according to Heidi McGregor, the company’s vice president of Marketing & Communications, who said the company got the documents, a mixture of both copyrighted and public domain works, back from Swartz and was content with that.”


  • Sandgroper

    “those articles that appear on JSTOR are, directly or indirectly, the result of tax-payer funded research” – Exactly.

    Nury’s take on Murdoch: http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=15&art_id=113341&sid=33096897&con_type=1

  • Clark

    My question is, will Murdoch and his lackeys face the same stiff punishments for their hacking?

    Two different countries with pretty different laws. Also pretty different situations.

  • leviticus

    Clark, you are correct, on the face of it, and I didn’t make my point well, or did I even have a point? Hacking and copyright-violation are closely related issues in terms of international law enforcement. Wikileaks is the poster child for this.There are ongoing moves by governments to synchronize efforts to punish and enforce copyright laws and to regulate the internet. A good example is how the US has recently been caught trying to influence New Zealand to get tougher on copyright infringement. Indeed, the US has been a major proponent of this get tough business, not surprising considering Hollywood. And while the US and Britain are different countries with very different legal systems, developments in each affect the other.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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