Is this what they mean by winning the future? You indict researchers — and not bankers?

Former Demand Progress Executive Director Aaron Swartz was just indicted by the US government. As best as we can tell, he is being charged with allegedly downloading too many journal articles from the Web. The government contends that downloading so many journal articles constitutes felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison. We disagree.

The charges are made all the more senseless by the fact that the alleged victim has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute.

James Jacobs, the Government Documents Librarian at Stanford University — where Aaron did undergraduate work — denounced the arrest: “Aaron’s prosecution undermines academic inquiry and democratic principles,” Jacobs said. “It’s incredible that the government would try to lock someone up for allegedly looking up articles at a library.

Aaron Swartz is the founder of Demand Progress. He previously co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee,, Open Library, Jottit, and He is co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification and helped launch Creative Commons.

UPDATE: He did break into a computer wiring closet at MIT, but they did decline to prosecute.

5 thoughts on “WTF?

  1. Breaking into a wiring closet at MIT is part of the graduation requirements.

  2. Are you kidding me?? Thus really pisses me off. Unemployed scientists are screwed if they can’t keep current with recent literature. But without the support of a site license through a university or company, they’re stuck having to download literature at $30 a pop. To start a project, a researcher may need access to dozens if papers. I asked some American Chemical Society leaders why the cost of journal articles is so high if they are encouraging so many unemployed to start their own companies. Without access to affordable journals, it would be next to impossible to do research. I asked them to implement an iTunes model and charge up to $5 an article so more people can actually buy them.
    They told me to forget it. Those old fogeys are never going to change their model.
    They didn’t really have an answer for me that was workable. I finally found a source and the librarian himself showed me how to download the PDFs and send them to me. No hacking involved. Will we all get sued for trying to preserve our employability without breaking the bank? Apparently.
    I’m beginning to feel like that guy from les miz who got chucked in jail for stealing a piece of bread and then is pursued by some maniacal Javert for having the gall to enjoy a sense of self-preservation.

  3. No bread or journals were actually stolen. I just prefer e copies to printouts.

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