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Aaron Swartz

Last updated on 13. januar 2017

Merk: Denne teksten er mer enn ett år gammel. Jeg kan ikke garantere at alt som står her fremdeles er riktig eller det jeg mener. Les likevel og skriv en kommentar om du lurer på noe! English: Old post, might be outdated.

Oppdatering: Du burde også lese hva Glenn Greenwald og Lawrence Lessig skriver om Aaron og omstendighetene som førte til hans selvmord.
Oppdatering 2: En god sak om Aaron hos NRK.

Oppdatering 3: Asher Wolf har også skrevet en veldig god tekst! Sitat:

It is no overstatement to say the survival of our species depends on our ability to share information freely. The corporations and their cronies in government who attempt to crush the ability to share information are a threat to the survival of humanity.

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.

Et flott menneske, som jobbet hardt for å skape en bedre verden, begikk selvmord i går kveld. Jeg kjente ham kun gjennom Reddit, RSS, Creative Commons og DemandProgress. Men gjennom dette har Aaron Swartz påvirket meg mer enn de fleste jeg har møtt fysisk. Jeg kan ikke skrive noe bedre om ham enn det Cory Doctorow, som kjente Aaron personlig, skriver på Boing Boing. Et utdrag:

Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.

The post-Reddit era in Aaron’s life was really his coming of age. His stunts were breathtaking. At one point, he singlehandedly liberated 20 percent of US law. PACER, the system that gives Americans access to their own (public domain) case-law, charged a fee for each such access. After activists built RECAP (which allowed its users to put any caselaw they paid for into a free/public repository), Aaron spent a small fortune fetching a titanic amount of data and putting it into the public domain. The feds hated this. They smeared him, the FBI investigated him, and for a while, it looked like he’d be on the pointy end of some bad legal stuff, but he escaped it all, and emerged triumphant.

He also founded a group called DemandProgress, which used his technological savvy, money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights. DemandProgress’s work was one of the decisive factors in last year’s victory over SOPA/PIPA, and that was only the start of his ambition.

I tillegg vil jeg sitere det meste av teksten Greg Maxwell skrev på The Pirate Bay da han publiserte 18 592 vitenskapelige artikler hvis opphavsrettsbeskyttelse var foreldet, men som likevel ble holdt innesperret bak en betalingsmur av JSTOR. Dette gjorde han dagen etter at Aron Swartz ble siktet for å ha lastet ned for mange slike vitenskapelige artikler fra JSTOR (som er en ganske absurd anklage):

On July 19th 2011, Aaron Swartz was criminally charged by the US Attorney
General’s office for, effectively, downloading too many academic papers
from JSTOR.

Academic publishing is an odd system. the authors are not paid for their writing, nor are the peer reviewers (they’re just more unpaid academics), and in some fields even the journal editors are unpaid. Sometimes the authors must even pay the publishers.

And yet scientific publications are some of the most outrageously expensive pieces of literature you can buy. In the past, the high access fees supported the costly mechanical reproduction of niche paper journals, but online distribution has mostly made this function obsolete.

As far as I can tell, the money paid for access today serves little significant purpose except to perpetuate dead business models. The
«publish or perish» pressure in academia gives the authors an impossibly weak negotiating position, and the existing system has enormous inertia.

Those with the most power to change the system–the long-tenured luminary scholars whose works give legitimacy and prestige to the journals, rather than the other way around–are the least impacted by its failures. They are supported by institutions who invisibly provide access to all of the resources they need. And as the journals depend on them, they may ask for alterations to the standard contract without risking their career on the loss of a publication offer. Many don’t even realize the extent to which academic work is inaccessible to the general public, nor do they realize what sort of work is being done outside universities that would benefit by it.

Large publishers are now able to purchase the political clout needed to abuse the narrow commercial scope of copyright protection, extending it to completely inapplicable areas: slavish reproductions of historic documents and art, for example, and exploiting the labors of unpaid scientists. They’re even able to make the taxpayers pay for their attacks on free society by pursuing criminal prosecution (copyright has classically been a civil matter) and by burdening public institutions with outrageous subscription fees.

Copyright is a legal fiction representing a narrow compromise: we give up some of our natural right to exchange information in exchange for creating an economic incentive to author, so that we may all enjoy more works. When publishers abuse the system to prop up their existence, when they misrepresent the extent of copyright coverage, when they use threats of frivolous litigation to suppress the dissemination of publicly owned works, they are stealing from everyone else.

Several years ago I came into possession, through rather boring and lawful means, of a large collection of JSTOR documents.

These particular documents are the historic back archives of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Societyâ. A prestigious scientific journal with a history extending back to the 1600s.

The portion of the collection included in this archive, ones published prior to 1923 and therefore obviously in the public domain, total some 18,592 papers and 33 gigabytes of data.

The documents are part of the shared heritage of all mankind, and are rightfully in the public domain, but they are not available
freely. Instead the articles are available at $19 each–for one month’s viewing, by one person, on one computer. It’s a steal. From you.

When I received these documents I had grand plans of uploading them to Wikipedia’s sister site for reference works, Wikisource, where they could be tightly interlinked with Wikipedia, providing interesting historical context to the encyclopedia articles. For example, Uranus was discovered in 1781 by William Herschel; why not take a look at the paper where he originally disclosed his discovery? (Or one of the several follow on publications about its satellites, or the dozens of other papers he authored?)

But I soon found the reality of the situation to be less than appealing: publishing the documents freely was likely to bring frivolous litigation from the publishers.

As in many other cases, I could expect them to claim that their slavish reproduction, scanning the documents, created a new copyright
interest. Or that distributing the documents complete with the trivial watermarks they added constituted unlawful copying of that mark. They might even pursue strawman criminal charges claiming that whoever obtained the files must have violated some kind of anti-hacking laws.

In my discreet inquiry, I was unable to find anyone willing to cover the potentially unbounded legal costs I risked, even though the only unlawful action here is the fraudulent misuse of copyright by JSTOR and the Royal Society to withhold access from the public to that which is legally and morally everyone’s property.

In the meantime, and to great fanfare as part of their 350th anniversary, the RSOL opened up «free» access to their historic archives. But «free» only meant «with many odious terms», and access was limited to about 100 articles.

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.

The liberal dissemination of knowledge is essential to scientific inquiry. More than in any other area, the application of restrictive
copyright is inappropriate for academic works: there is no sticky question of how to pay authors or reviewers, as the publishers are already not paying them. And unlike ‘mere’ works of entertainment, liberal access to scientific work impacts the well-being of all mankind. Our continued survival may even depend on it.

If I can remove even one dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous industry which acts to suppress scientific and historic understanding, then whatever personal cost I suffer will be justified. It will be one less dollar spent in the war against knowledge. One less dollar spent lobbying for laws that make downloading too many scientific papers a crime.

Jeg innledet denne bloggposten med et sitat fra Aaron Swartz tekst Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. Det passer godt å avslutte med den teksten også:

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture. […]

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Oppdatering: Det har nå blitt laget en dokumentar om Aaron Swartz, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. Se den her:

Foto: Aaron Swartz profile, av Fred Benenson, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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