Monday, 14 January 2013

The system that crucifies altruists and freedom fighters

A sufferring from depression Internet activist and freedom fighter Aaron Swartz was relentlessly persecuted by the US legal system (controlled by oligarchs and psychopatic corporations) and, if convicted, would face 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.  The Intellectual Property hounds (I wrote a short article about the IP / DRM crowd here: How to achieve anything you want legally?) chased him to his death.
He was a perfect target to make an example of as he was a particularly vocal activist fighting for our freedoms and strongly opposing socially harmful actions of corporations and the infamous SOPA.

His crime?  He connected his laptop to the MIT network and started downloading academic papers published in JSTOR to share them with the world for free (a lot of people working in science will tell you that all papers should be freely accessible - anything else (while increasing profit of companies involved in their publication and dissemination) hampers the advance of science and thus will cost many lives of people who are currently waiting for new cures for their diseases).  Curiously enough JSTOR did not side with the prosecutors (who continued their persecution nevertheless) and gave the public open access to the papers the same week as Aaron's death.  Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia if you are interested in some more details:
On July 19, 2011, federal authorities charged Internet activist Aaron Swartz with several data theft-related crimes, including wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, all in relation to bulk-downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR.[9][10] According to the indictment against him, Swartz surreptitiously attached a laptop to MIT's computer network, which allowed him to "rapidly download an extraordinary volume of articles from JSTOR".[11] Prosecutors in the case say Swartz acted with the intention of making the papers available on P2P file-sharing sites.[12]Notably, JSTOR did not side with the prosecutors in the case.[13] Swartz surrendered to authorities, pleaded not guilty to all counts and was released on $100,000 bail. Two days later, on July 21, Greg Maxwell published a torrent file of a 32-GB archive of 18,592 academic papers from JSTOR's Royal Society collection, via The Pirate Bay, in protest against Swartz' prosecution.[14][15] These articles were acquired independently of those downloaded by Swartz.
The case was still pending when Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013.[16]
From September 6, 2011, JSTOR has made some public domain content freely available to anyone.[17] JSTOR stated that they had been working on making it free for some time, and the Swartz controversy made them "press ahead" with the initiative.[18] JSTOR announced the same week as Swartz's death it would make "more than 4.5 million articles" available to the public for free.[19]
So why was a talented young altruist and activist - who co-authored the RSS specification when he was fourteen, created one of the widely used and known web frameworks and shared it with the world for free by making it open source, spent a lot of effort and time (among the top 1500 Wikipedia contributors) democratizing access to human knowledge,  co-founded a progressive advocacy group Demand Progress and devoted large part of his life to make the world a better place for everyone and fight for everyone's freedom - why was such a rare and valuable member of our society branded a felon?  Why did Obama's administration refuse to stop that persecution? Why did Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen P. Heymann and Scott L. Garland pursued the criminal case against Swartz under U.S. attorney Carmen M. Ortiz spending a lot of taxpayers' money and resources and using a legal loophole which, according to the federal appeals court would put millions of unsuspecting individuals in jail for engaging in criminal conduct (more here:  Why was Aaron Swartz pushed to suicide by representatives of the very people he tried to help?  It is a rhetorical question.  Let me finish by just quoting Aaron's family and partner whose words perfectly describe the current system so terribly distorted by money and corporations:
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy, it is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."
Aaron Swartz
Requiescat In Pace

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