Internet is dealing with Aaron Swartz’s suicide in different ways, while some are paying tribute to this free-information activist by uploading academic papers online for free (#pdftribute), others like Anonymous are doing what they do the best – hacking.
This hacker collective broke into two of MIT websites earlier today and posted memorials for Aaron Swartz. The hacked webpages have now been taken down, but you can see the message posted by them below.
In Memoriam, Aaron Swartz, November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013, Requiescat in pace.
A brief message from Anonymous.
Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for – freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it – enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing – an ideal that we should all support.
Moreover, the situation Aaron found himself in highlights the injustice of U.S. computer crime laws, particularly their punishment regimes, and the highly-questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining. Aaron’s act was undoubtedly political activism; it had tragic consequences.
We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them.
We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of copyright and intellectual property law, returning it to the proper principles of common good to the many, rather than private gain to the few.
We call for this tragedy to be a basis for greater recognition of the oppression and injustices heaped daily by certain persons and institutions of authority upon anyone who dares to stand up and be counted for their beliefs, and for greater solidarity and mutual aid in response.
We call for this tragedy to be a basis for a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet, spared from censorship with equality of access and franchise for all.
For in the end, we will not be judged according to what we give, but according to what we keep to ourselves.
Aaron, we will sorely miss your friendship, and your help in building a better world. May you read in peace.
Who was Aaron Swartz? A hero in the SOPA/PIPA campaign, Reddit cofounder, RSS, Demand Progress, Avaaz, etc…:
Aaron Swartz’s funeral is on Tuesday. Here are details:
Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of #Aaron Swartz
Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.
“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal – there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources – students, librarians, scientists – you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not – indeed, morally, you cannot – keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it – their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.
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.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
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?
July 2008, Eremo, Italy
You were the best of us; may you yet bring out the best in us.
-Anonymous, Jan 13, 2013.
(Postscript: We tender apologies to the administrators at MIT for this temporary use of their websites. We understand that it is a time of soul-searching for all those within this great institution as much – perhaps for some involved even more so – than it is for the greater internet community. We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, but call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have – that we all have – to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud, and honour the ideals and dedication that burnt so brightly within him by embodying them in thought and word and action. Original frontpage)
What’s the role of MIT in all this?
Although hacker group does not blame MIT for Swartz’s death, the family of the dead internet activist has put the blame on both MIT and Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office for leading Aaron to take this extreme step.
He was charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from JSTOR using Massachusetts Institute of Technology on-campus network in an attempt to make them freely available.
“Although JSTOR later dropped the charges against Swartz after he handed over his hard drives containing the stole journals, the U.S. attorney’s office continued prosecuting Swartz. MIT is considered to have tacitly supported the decision by U S attorneys to continue pursuing Swartz’s criminal prosecution,” noted All Things D in a news report.
In related news, MIT has announced that it is going to conduct an internal investigation looking into the university’s role in this whole matter.
“I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many,” wrote president L. Rafael Reif in a statement on Sunday. “It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.”