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Reddit Co-founder Indicted for Alleged Data Theft
July 19, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

NY Times reports that Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, co-author of the RSS 1.0 spec, founder of Demand Progress, former fellow at Harvard's Center for Ethics, and founder of theinfo.org, a site "for people with large data sets" was indicted today on charges of stealing a large data set from MIT: JSTOR, an archive of academic papers. He faces up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

Demand Progress has issued a statement, saying "it's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library." Now 24 years old, Aaron was first featured on MetaFilter 10 years ago: Boy Genius
posted by scottreynen (243 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Direct link to the indictment.
posted by Jahaza at 11:20 AM on July 19, 2011


Does MIT still have the data? If so, nobody stole anything.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:20 AM on July 19, 2011 [21 favorites]


According to some mods at Reddit, Aaron is not exactly a co-founder.
posted by swift at 11:21 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't suppose the lack of concrete facts will get in the way of a good argument brewing up here somehow.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:21 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


OK, so Demand Progress says " As best as we can tell, he is being charged with allegedly downloading too many scholarly journal articles from the Web"

But the indictment and NY Times say " Mr. Swartz broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet".

So he physically broke into their DC/facility to download data in a way not normally permitted by the network. Thats hardly "downloading too many articles".
posted by wildcrdj at 11:22 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


$1 million in fires would be an awesome punishment. Not necessarily for this crime, but man, can you imagine? "For your crimes against humanity, I sentence you to be set on fire! ONE MEEEEEELION DOLLARS worth of fire!"

Yes, it beats a pie to the face.
posted by Eideteker at 11:23 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Was this a known story? I haven't heard anything about it until this post.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:23 AM on July 19, 2011


You beat me to it by 30 secs, scottreynen. The indictment gets very spy novel-y at times: "As Swartz entered the wiring closet, he held his bicycle helmet like a mask to shield his face, looking through ventilation holes in the helmet. Swartz then removed his computer equipment from the closet, put it in his backpack, and left, again masking his face with the bicycle helmet before peering through a crack in the double doors and cautiously stepping out."
posted by not_the_water at 11:23 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's all just breaking in these last few hours, judging by r/new.
posted by frecklefaerie at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2011


All the blogs I read picked it up today.
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2011


Curious to see what people know about this. I heard this out of the corner of my ear on the radio, talking about "massive academic theft", and then heard that it was in connection with JSTOR. I was confused at that poing.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2011


I find the idea that you could get 35 years in prison for stealing anything pretty fucking immoral.
posted by Decani at 11:26 AM on July 19, 2011 [50 favorites]


I'm totally confused. Why would anyone steal academic articles from Jstor? No one could read that many. And with access to a university library, you can just download and download and download to your heart's content.

This is like hearing that someone stole truckloads of corn. Important stuff, but not exactly easily fenceable.
posted by jb at 11:27 AM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Dude copied stuff without paying for it, went to lengths to get it, and in the process, caused other users to get screwed. Not sure where the outrage over this is coming from.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:27 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sucker, he should have stole billions of dollars from investors and/or the US Government, and he'd still be free today.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2011 [86 favorites]


What is "a large data set"? Is it articles or data from some particular experiment or what?
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2011


Is there anything that indicates why a person would do this? I mean, I liked having JSTOR access when I was in college, but I can't imagine breaking into a facility to steal a bunch of back issues of Speculum.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does MIT still have the data?

From the indictment :
As a result, legitimate JSTOR users at MIT were denied access to JSTOR's archive until September 29, 2010.

...JSTOR blocked the entire MIT computer network's access to JSTOR

for several days, beginning on or about October 9, 2010.


So in some sense, MIT did not have the data, at least temporarily. Although it may not seem like a big deal, anyone doing academic research who had a deadline coming up (perhaps for a grant application worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars) and needed access to articles on JSTOR that could have been a big deal indeed. Also the indictment gives some pretty specific incidents of Swartz physically breaking into MIT to access their network. No matter how much information wants to be free, that seems pretty uncool and asking for a lot of trouble if you get caught.
posted by TedW at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Is it articles or data from some particular experiment or what?

Read Section 11 of the indictment, it's pretty clear what he's being charged with. Admittedly it says a "major portion" of JSTOR but basically he was grabbing the archive as a whole (the terms of use of JSTOR and so on are laid out in previous sections of the indictment).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2011


I find the idea that you could get 35 years in prison for stealing anything pretty fucking immoral.

FTFA: The charges filed against Mr. Swartz include wire fraud, computer fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer and criminal forfeiture.

I think it's these charges rather than any kind of theft charge that are resulting in the absurdly lengthy possible prison term. Looks like they want to make an example of someone.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2011


Why would anyone steal academic articles from Jstor? No one could read that many.

What is "a large data set"?

Aaron wrote an article on Who Writes Wikipedia, for which he downloaded all of Wikipedia. So I think it's that kind of data set.

I imagine his interest in JSTOR might be for similar purposes, doing automated analysis of the whole thing rather than manually reading individual articles.
posted by scottreynen at 11:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


Some people are calling it "breaking and entering" although it seems like he just walked in and found the wiring closet unlocked. But he's not an MIT student so his physical access is an issue. Add to that he plugged in a laptop to automatically download everything on JSTOR, in the process using up so much in resources it pretty much made JSTOR unusable (and changed tactics when admins tried to stop him). Given he could have easily just paid a couple of MIT students to do this for him, I can't understand what his motives were.
posted by tommasz at 11:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


And with access to a university library, you can just download and download and download to your heart's content.

That's not actually true. JSTOR's terms and conditions are "Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use."
posted by radiomayonnaise at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some people are calling it "breaking and entering" although it seems like he just walked in and found the wiring closet unlocked.

Not sure about Massachusetts law, but in some states the "breaking" part of a breaking and entering crime can be met by opening an unlocked door.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:35 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dude copied stuff without paying for it, went to lengths to get it, and in the process, caused other users to get screwed. Not sure where the outrage over this is coming from.

Because it's easy to scream about being oppressed on the Web. Also, because information wants to be free, even if you have to drag it screaming out of its home.

Is there anything that indicates why a person would do this?

MIT hack challenge? Idiocy? Being a shortsighted asshole?

I think it's these charges rather than any kind of theft charge that are resulting in the absurdly lengthy possible prison term. Looks like they want to make an example of someone.

If I'm not mistaken, procesutors will file every available charge in order to secure a plea deal on a lesser charge.

Given he could have easily just paid a couple of MIT students to do this for him, I can't understand what his motives were.

But information wants to be free, regardless if it costs anything, you big n00b!!!
posted by solistrato at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Note that he's not actually charged with burglary. Anyone lawyers want to weigh in on that? I'm presuming that's because it's a federal indictment and that's not a federal crime (and/or they have enough federal crimes as it is.)
posted by Jahaza at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2011


Dude copied stuff without paying for it, went to lengths to get it, and in the process, caused other users to get screwed. Not sure where the outrage over this is coming from.

I'm pretty sure it's the fact that he's possibly facing 35 years of American prison.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2011 [23 favorites]


Note that he's not actually charged with burglary.

And I mean that in a general and non-technical sense. He's not charged with the break in/breaking and entering/burglary/tresspassing/etc.

posted by Jahaza at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2011


Is there anything that indicates why a person would do this?

The indictment says that he was planning to put it up on file-sharing networks, presumably for anyone to access. I imagine his motivations for doing that were ideological.
posted by enn at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The indictment says that he was planning to put it up on file-sharing networks, presumably for anyone to access. I imagine his motivations for doing that were ideological.

Relevant part of the indictment.
posted by andoatnp at 11:43 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a second verse to the "information wants to be free" adage: it [information] also wants to be expensive. Here, "free" means unfettered, not costless. I do wish people would remember that.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:43 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here, "free" means unfettered, not costless.

I'd argue the distinction doesn't exist, but that's probably a separate issue.
posted by solistrato at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cambridge PD and the Cambridge Chronicle are both calling him an "alleged hacker", which I don't quite understand if he physically broke in to a server closet.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2011


backseatpilot, he hasn't been found guilty, hence the alleged-ness.
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 11:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cambridge PD and the Cambridge Chronicle are both calling him an "alleged hacker", which I don't quite understand if he physically broke in to a server closet.

He's alleged to have broken into a server closet, not (yet) convicted of having done so.
posted by decagon at 11:46 AM on July 19, 2011


Perhaps backseatpilot was questioning "hacker" rather than "alleged"?
posted by Jahaza at 11:47 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here, "free" means unfettered, not costless. I do wish people would remember that.

It hardly gets much more fettered than JSTOR. If you do not have an affiliation with a good research university you cannot access most of JSTOR, full stop.
posted by enn at 11:47 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I freely use JSTOR through a library card, from my home over the Internet. Thanks but no thanks, I wouldn't bother with the hard drive space of downloading it.
posted by stbalbach at 11:48 AM on July 19, 2011


He'll walk. There's no way you could find a jury of 12 Americans who would believe that anyone would risk 35 years in jail to steal scientific articles.
posted by snofoam at 11:48 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would love to have access to all of JSTOR.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2011 [14 favorites]


If you live in NYC, you have access to JSTOR through the New York Public Library. You just have to go to the Schwartzman Building (the one with the lions in front) to access it. I'm sure plenty of other cities have access as well.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:52 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I imagine his motivations for doing that were ideological.

Yes, he did something similar in the past, although I can't find the exact reference, that ruffled some feathers, but ended up being legal (I think). There are definite ideological motivations. He likely sees this as the actions of an activist.

Ah, here it is, from two years ago: "Mr. Swartz came across the online manifesto that Carl Malamud published about freeing Pacer documents, in which Mr. Malamud wrote: 'The law contains the rules that govern our society. We just want to be able to read our own user manual.' ... Then Mr. Swartz had a friend in California take a thumb drive with the “scraping” software on it to one of the free-trial libraries, sign up for an account and upload the program. And that is how, over the course of six weeks, Mr. Swartz was able to download 780 gigabytes of data — 19,856,160 pages of text — from Pacer. The caper grabbed an estimated 20 percent of the entire PACER network, with a focus on the most recent cases from almost every circuit."
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:52 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does MIT still have the data? If so, nobody stole anything.

Well he isn't being charged with theft. From the indictment:

Criminal VIOLATIONS:
18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Wire Fraud)
18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(4) (Computer Fraud)
18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2), (c)(2)(B)(iii) (Unlawfully Obtaining Information from a Protected Computer)
18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(B), (c)(4)(A)(i)(I),(VI) (Recklessly Damaging a Protected Computer)
18 U.S.C. § 2 (Aiding and Abetting)
18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C),
28 U.S.C. § 2461(c), and
18 U.S.C. §982(a)(2)(B) (Criminal Forfeiture)
posted by three blind mice at 11:54 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


JSTOR statement.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:57 AM on July 19, 2011


If you live in NYC, you have access to JSTOR through the New York Public Library. You just have to go to the Schwartzman Building (the one with the lions in front) to access it. I'm sure plenty of other cities have access as well.

Good to know, although I'm not sure that an hour long train ride really counts as having access.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:00 PM on July 19, 2011


I think a fair number of Metafilter types know Aaron. I've met him a few times and have been impressed by him. I hope he's OK.

The strangest part of this is Demand Progress' claim that JSTOR doesn't want him prosecuted. Does that mean the government is pursuing the case without the alleged victim's cooperation? This whole story is hours old; hopefully we'll know more after a few days' consideration.
posted by Nelson at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"A Harvard University fellow studying ethics has been accused of using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's computer network to steal nearly 5 million academic articles."*
How ethical is it to break into a restricted area and computer wiring closet?
posted by ericb at 12:04 PM on July 19, 2011


Pirating Jstor isn't going to do anything to address the real crime going on with academic publishing -- which is how much the journals are charging libraries to have copies of intellectual work produced by academics who get no royalties from that publication. Libraries will still have to pay for the legit copies, and journal publishers will continue to hoover up public money like a 15-year-old with 6 empty legs in front of an all-you-can-eat pasta bar.

I don't know where Jstor fits it - I've heard it's non-profit and thus maybe it's more affordable, but perhaps an academic librarian can give an idea of how the cost relates to other extensive journal databases.

Of course, in an ideal world, all academic publishing would be open and free access - particularly so that universities in developing countries have full access - but that has to be done above-board, or else the libraries are still screwed.

Good to know, although I'm not sure that an hour long train ride really counts as having access.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:00 PM on July 19


I took an hour-long bus ride to university every single day for my undergraduate degree, for both class and access to the libraries. Some people had to travel farther. This is still access - just not convenient access.
posted by jb at 12:04 PM on July 19, 2011 [26 favorites]


And so begins the War On Nerds.
posted by Avenger at 12:05 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps backseatpilot was questioning "hacker" rather than "alleged"?

Yeah, I get the "alleged" part. Since when are you charged with computer crimes by breaking into buildings?
posted by backseatpilot at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2011


Good to know, although I'm not sure that an hour long train ride really counts as having access.

It definitely does. But the NYPL web site says it is also available at all branch libraries.
posted by grouse at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: we're pretty sure mathowie is not a felon.
posted by foursentences at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good to know, although I'm not sure that an hour long train ride really counts as having access.

Because otherwise you'd have to take an hour long train ride and only be able to read the journals they had paper copies of (and without things like text search.)
posted by Jahaza at 12:07 PM on July 19, 2011


the young rope-rider : " Good to know, although I'm not sure that an hour long train ride really counts as having access."

It's available at all branch libraries of the NYPL.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on July 19, 2011


Heh. Jinx, Grouse.
posted by zarq at 12:09 PM on July 19, 2011


But the NYPL web site says it is also available at all branch libraries.

Even better! Thanks for correcting me.
posted by orrnyereg at 12:10 PM on July 19, 2011


Good to know, although I'm not sure that an hour long train ride really counts as having access.

I've never known of someone who needed an article from a restricted JSTOR database that couldn't ask someone with access to get it for them.
posted by andoatnp at 12:10 PM on July 19, 2011


It's also available at the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library at 10 Grand Army Plaza.
posted by zarq at 12:12 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never known of someone who needed an article from a restricted JSTOR database that couldn't ask someone with access to get it for them.

Hi! enn, nice to meet you.
posted by enn at 12:12 PM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


This article (posted in the reddit coverage) has good info.

"His own website gives a hint as to his intentions with Jstor, describing himself as
the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics, especially the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion. In conjunction with Shireen Barday, he downloaded and analyzed 441,170 law review articles to determine the source of their funding; the results were published in the Stanford Law Review. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption."
posted by cashman at 12:12 PM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


There are a lot of people for whom an hour-long train ride is simply not doable, even if you did it at some point in your life.

Good to know it's at all the branch libraries and not just that one--a much better situation and much closer to what I'd consider actual access for a significant portion of NYers.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2011


Yeah, I get the "alleged" part. Since when are you charged with computer crimes by breaking into buildings?

He got unauthorized access to the building by going where he wasn't allowed to be, and then got unauthorized access to the server through computer hijinks. It's both.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2011


So the DoJ is fighting a War on Knowledge now?
posted by RogerB at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


DemandProgress sent out an e-mail with a quote from James Jacobs, the Government Documents Librarian at Stanford:

"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."
posted by mean cheez at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just don't understand what anyone could possibly do with the allegedly ~5 million documents he downloaded. What is the plan, to self-host a pirated mirror of JSTOR? You need a large set of papers for meta-analysis? Why would you want them? Do you need research material for multiple PhD theses? There's no PhD with Oak Leaf Clusters.

Well at least this explains why the reddit geeks never really got the bugs out of their system, they always seemed distracted by unrelated projects.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2011


Hi! enn, nice to meet you.

You're welcome to email me if you ever need an article from JSTOR. Please don't tell JSTOR on me.
posted by andoatnp at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I get the "alleged" part. Since when are you charged with computer crimes by breaking into buildings?

Again, this is all in the indictment. Look in section 18 and on. He took various electronic measures to avoid detection and blocks (spoofing MAC address, etc).

Hardly advanced hacking, but he did use both physical and electronic means to get around the security (such as it was) of the system.

(so I suppose it depends on whether you only consider intrusion into a system hacking, or also something like spoofing identity or evading limits -- I think those are under some loose definition of hacking)
posted by wildcrdj at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2011


There's a tradition of breaking into places at MIT, from Great Dome hacks to the Orange Tour. The campus turns a blind eye to most of this. I wonder whether that will come up if the case goes to trial.
posted by zippy at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2011


the young rope-rider : " Good to know it's at all the branch libraries and not just that one--a much better situation and much closer to what I'd consider actual access for a significant portion of NYers."

JSTOR public access used to be restricted to the main NYPL branch. But the NYPL has been expanding its digital databases over the past 10-15 years. It's nice to see.

Oddly, JSTOR is not available at QBPL. At least I can't find any reference to it at their website.
posted by zarq at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2011


There's a second verse to the "information wants to be free" adage: it [information] also wants to be expensive. Here, "free" means unfettered, not costless. I do wish people would remember that.

I think the concept of data being expensive is getting less and less feasible on a practical and social level. The idea that academic journals should hide their published content and control releasing them through secondary gatekeepers like JSTOR seems old fashioned. I doubt that anyone will last very long in today's climate trying to maintain a business model that involves significantly locking down access to easily copied data. Overall I think we're moving toward the idea that getting someone to produce content costs money, but that once the content is produced it inevitably gets copied and passed around for free.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:16 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah, cashman found the answer just as I was posting. It was a meta-analysis of a large data set. Couldn't JSTOR have given him some sort of access to allow analysis of their whole metadata set, without accessing the content?
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2011


burnmp3s: " The idea that academic journals should hide their published content and control releasing them through secondary gatekeepers like JSTOR seems old fashioned. "

There was an editorial in Smithsonian last year about this. Found it online: Scientific Publishing Can't Be Free.
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on July 19, 2011


There's a tradition of breaking into places at MIT, from Great Dome hacks to the Orange Tour. The campus turns a blind eye to most of this. I wonder whether that will come up if the case goes to trial.

This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by grouse at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2011


Hi! enn, nice to meet you.

JSTOR's terms (section 2.4) allow for interlibrary loan -- if your local library offers interlibrary loan, you can request and receive JSTOR articles that way. It's not immediate access, but it is access.
posted by cog_nate at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2011


Oddly, JSTOR is not available at QBPL. At least I can't find any reference to it at their website.

Wouldn't surprise me. They're so budget crunched that they recently temporarily stopped buying books.
posted by Jahaza at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2011


There's a tradition of breaking into places at MIT

Isn't that generally by students, though? Pretty big difference between tolerating student pranks and allowing just anyone to break into things.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"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."

What a load of horseshit. "Looking up articles at a library"? (allegedly) Gaining unauthorized access to a physical location, then gaining unauthorized access to a network, then circumventing attempts to prevent that access, then making unauthorized copies of thousands of documents, and in doing so causing the network to be shut down... that's a far fucking cry from looking up a few articles.

Couldn't this kid simply have asked JSTOR to let him have access to the content so he could do...whatever it is he wanted to do? Or does that go against the activist credo?
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jahaza: " Wouldn't surprise me. They're so budget crunched that they recently temporarily stopped buying books."

They closed almost every branch on weekends, too. I used to bring my kids to our local branch on Saturdays and can't anymore. There's another that's not too far, but it's impossibly crowded on Saturdays, and the kids section is always a mess.

The new budget ensured that none of the QBPL branches would be closed, but still it's frustrating.
posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2011


Couldn't JSTOR have given him some sort of access to allow analysis of their whole metadata set, without accessing the content?

From the JSTOR Statement which Horace Rumpole linked to:
"It is important to note that we support and encourage the legitimate use of large sets of content from JSTOR for research purposes. We regularly provide scholars with access to content for this purpose. Our Data for Research site (http://dfr.jstor.org) was established expressly to support text mining and other projects, and our Advanced Technologies Group is an eager collaborator with researchers in the academic community."
posted by ericb at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


JSTOR's terms (section 2.4) allow for interlibrary loan

I am still awaiting the arrival of the one and only item I have ever requested via interlibrary loan. I made the request in 2006, I think. I don't have a lot of faith in the ILL system.

Fortunately for me the Chicago Public Library appears to have recently subscribed to JSTOR. You have to go to a branch, and they just closed mine, so that sucks, but oh well. Several years ago I lived in a smaller, poorer city whose public library couldn't afford such things and had a job where I was running up against the JSTOR paywall all the time, and there was just no way to get access—they won't sell a subscription to an individual at any price.
posted by enn at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here, "free" means unfettered, not costless.

But there's almost no connection between the cost of the production of academic journal articles and the fees charged for access to journals. The generation of articles is paid for largely by the universities that pay professors' salaries and the grants that pay (in some fields) for their research needs. Journals don't typically pay anything at all to authors, or to peer reviewers; their expenses are almost exclusively for editorial staff and distribution. The cost of research is not paid for by the price of access, but by the infrastructure of academia.

Prosecuting somebody for "stealing" scholarly knowledge is actually far more indefensible than prosecuting him for "stealing" something like MP3s. At least with music some part of the price in some indirect way compensates the creator; scholarship is produced for the public good with an access charge paying solely for its distribution.
posted by RogerB at 12:27 PM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


Couldn't JSTOR have given him some sort of access to allow analysis of their whole metadata set, without accessing the content?

In that case, I'm sure he could have asked nicely, "Hi there, I've made a career and life mission out of proving that organizations like yours are complicit in institutional corruption on a vast scale, and I need data if I want publishable results. So if you'd be so kind as to...hello?"
posted by [citation needed] at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I am still awaiting the arrival of the one and only item I have ever requested via interlibrary loan.

Email's in my profile!
posted by andoatnp at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2011


What is the plan, to self-host a pirated mirror of JSTOR?

5 million compressed documents do not necessarily take up all that much space, depending on the format it's stored in. You could put all of it together and post it as a torrent on TPB the same way it was done with say the archive of GeoCities.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:29 PM on July 19, 2011


I'm not an attorney, but the complaints about him facing '35 years' don't seem well-founded to me. I suspect that's merely the maximum sentence for each count, served consecutively, which is a theoretical possibility but rather unlikely.

When I punch these four counts into this site, which I don't think is official but seems to conform to what I've seen in the popular press around sentencing guidelines for major trials (e.g. Raj Rajaratnam), with a loss of $50,000 (which news articles say is the maximum cost for a university to access JSTOR for a year) and a single victim, I get a sentencing range of 21-27 months if found guilty at trial, and 12-18 months if pleading guilty early in the process. My understanding is that judges rarely depart upwards from the guideline range. Again, I'm not a lawyer, and I'm almost certain I did not do this flawlessly given the complicated nature of the guidelines, but unless the US Attorney's office is able to convince a judge that JSTOR's loss was truly astronomical, I don't think anything like a 35 year sentence is in the offering.

Now, I don't really know what would be appropriate if found guilty--on the one hand I suspect JSTOR's business model is in trouble, on the other hand, I don't think that gives him the right to break the law. But I wish the press would be more realistic about sentencing outcome than always adding up the maximum for each count as if this were a meaningful number.
posted by dsfan at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


MeFi's own aaronsw
posted by mathowie at 12:36 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


solistrato: "Also, because information wants to be free, even if you have to drag it screaming out of its home."

Maybe that information had Stockholm Syndrome.
posted by Bonzai at 12:39 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Related, from just a few days ago: Nothing Personal: How Database Licenses Make Pirates of Us All. Don't miss the comments where a JStor rep comes in to talk to the post author.
posted by cashman at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


The following public libraries subscribe to JSTOR (culled from the JSTOR web page):

San Francisco Public Library
Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System
Chicago Public Library
Louisville Free Public Library
Boston Public Library
Concord (MA) Free Public Library
Bangor Public Library
St. Louis Public Library
Millburn (NJ) Free Public Library
Princeton Public Library
Center Moriches (NY) Free Public Library
Nyack Public Library
Scarsdale Public Library
Cleveland Public Library
Eastern Monroe (PA) Public Library
Austin Public Library
Dallas Public Library
Houston Public Library
Plano Public Library
Prince William (VA) Public Library System
posted by orrnyereg at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


(In addition to the already-mentioned NYPL and Brooklyn PL).
posted by orrnyereg at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2011


Scientific Publishing Can't Be Free.

It could, however, be extremely inexpensive, especially compared to what it costs now. They could also be free if they were subsidized by the universities that have an interest in their existing (open access journals don't need to charge for submissions, as the editorial falsely implies). And, after all, large amounts of research are published by people at public universities—why shouldn't the public be able, for at most a nominal fee, to see what's going on?
posted by kenko at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


The following public libraries subscribe to JSTOR (culled from the JSTOR web page):

Wow, a whole twenty. And how many of them have access to the whole of Jstor?
posted by kenko at 12:51 PM on July 19, 2011


To everyone who is all sanguine about JSTOR's restricted-access policies because they live near a library that has access, or are in university: please, practice some self-awareness. "I don't see what the problem with {infuriating and unnecessary restriction} is; it doesn't inconvenience me, after all! Haw, haw!" is seriously the height of privileged assholery.
posted by No-sword at 1:00 PM on July 19, 2011 [35 favorites]


is seriously the height of privileged assholery.

There is a Chuck Woolery limerick here somewhere.
posted by found missing at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Scientific Publishing Can't Be Free.

Yeah, those spell-checkers certainly require $50k per year per institution to maintain... Scientific publishing could be waaaaay cheaper than it currently is. There's some dirty capitalists involved in the process mucking things up fro everyone...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yesterday I had a small, independent printing shop decline to print a single (1) copy of a journal article that I had downloaded honestly through SAGE. This was because they couldn't confirm that I had rights to it and have apparently had the fear of god put into them by the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency or some other publisher group. All I wanted to do was save myself some eye strain.

Thank goodness for libraries. It seems stupid, but always knowing where to conveniently access an unregulated laser printer just jumped up my list of daily priorities.

It's obviously hard for people with licensed access through their academic library to understand just how difficult it is for people outside of the academy to access journal content in a convenient, timely and effective manner, the kind of access that would encourage further use. This problem is accentuated by the immediate public access that now exists to so many other massive sinks of information.

Generally speaking, effective use of journal-published articles involves grabbing dozens of articles and following their citation lists to additional content you'd never find on a basic keyword query. This is a pretty difficult or imposing thing to try to do if your access to the content comes through a licensed friend, unless they're giving you their library logins to use yourself (and probably exposing themselves to institutional sanction and violating the apparent letter of American wire fraud laws). Indeed as cashman's link indicates, setting aside login-sharing, anyone who is downloading articles to pass or transmit to unlicensed acquaintances is also probably violating journal publishers' terms of service.

I've known non-academic people who should be doing incredible public history research stymied in part because they can't access basic indexed content like this (news archives are another big example) without either paying usurious rates to use it or having to do the bulk of their work inside a physical library (which for many people is a growing obstacle).
posted by waterunderground at 1:10 PM on July 19, 2011 [16 favorites]


I have precisely zero love for JSTOR (except for their quite attractive logo that makes for good doodling when I'm supposed to be reading the article) but it seems quite clear to me that the intent here on Aaron's part was to undermine their core business model. Lord knows, they need to modernize their business and open publishing is the future. But if we have Swartz as the face of that, it's not going to do anyone any good. This is a process that is happening on its own faster than the publishers can really hope to manage, even without Swartz trying to speed it up. Practically, what matters a lot more is that academics have pretty much all realized that open access to their work benefits them and that's what's going to force the publisher's hands in the long run, not stunts like this.

Imagine if he had succeeded and released all the content. Would we view him as some sort of noble academic robin hood? I sincerely doubt it. The government's response notwithstanding, he is certainly no hero in my mind. What he did was wrong, what he planned to do was worse, and I'm glad he got stopped. He's not going to get 35 years in prison or a $1M fine; it's going to get plead down to no time and a fine (he has plenty of money from the Reddit acquisition, so no tears shed there either) and some bizarre computer access restriction and we'll have forgotten about it in a year.
posted by heresiarch at 1:16 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


but always knowing where to conveniently access an unregulated laser printer just jumped up my list of daily priorities.

Truly we live in the dystopian future when unregulated laser printers are a priority. When laser printers are outlawed, only outlaws will have laser printers.
posted by fogovonslack at 1:16 PM on July 19, 2011


Imagine if he had succeeded and released all the content. Would we view him as some sort of noble academic robin hood? I sincerely doubt it.

I would have.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


waterunderground, I totally agree that the state of access is unacceptable and unjust. But is this really any solution to that? It seems to me that had he succeeded licensees would just face more ridiculous constraints on their ability to get at articles, and people without access would be even worse off. This battle will be won slowly, with academics making personal copies available online, faculties voting for open access, and the slow erosion of publishers' profit margins.
posted by heresiarch at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, last year I was working on a term paper and JSTOR was down. That was not fun, but afterwards I noticed that everytime you download a pdf you have to read a disclaimer.
posted by melissam at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2011


One of the oddest things to me was this part of the JSTOR ToS:
unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
So, if a journal in JSTOR has published a special issue on topic foo, and I am doing a lit review on foo, and I come across that journal issue, I am prohibited from reading all those articles by the ToS? Am I parsing this correctly? Because this seems to me to be seriously counter-productive. I mean, if I'm in the library, and I have a paper copy of the journal issue, nothing is stopping me from reading the whole issue of I want to. But somehow, now that it's electronic, I can't do that? And what if my library doesn't have the paper copy?

Do I get a free pass to write, in my lit review, "Unfortunately, additional research on this topic could not be reviewed here, due to the terms of service of JSTOR."

Also, if I downloaded a copy of an article 2 years ago, but the file got deleted or eaten by a bad hard drive, does that mean I can't download a copy again for fear of violating the ToS? So I need to clear everything with JSTOR first (secure prior permission)?

I realize that what the indictment alleges is far more serious than my examples, but still, these licenses have gotten waaaaaay out of hand, given, as others have pointed out, that I don't get any financial compensation from the organizations holding my publications hostage.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I just want to use this opportunity to say how much I hate Elsevier. They are a huge metastatic tumor on the frontal lobe of academic research. No academic publisher locks away more content with less justification. They would charge a sick orphan child for directions to the hospital. When the Information Wars hit in 2018, I hope they are first against the wall.

JSTOR, I ain't got no beef wit you, but shiiiiit... 35 years? That's some straight up bullshit, yo.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


But is this really any solution to that? It seems to me that had he succeeded licensees would just face more ridiculous constraints on their ability to get at articles, and people without access would be even worse off.

How would they be worse off? They would have free copies of all of JSTOR through December 2010.
posted by enn at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine if he had succeeded and released all the content.

Well, the indictments *says* that was his intention, but do we really know that's what he wanted to do? From other comments it seems like an equally plausible motivation was that he wanted to do a huge meta-analysis.

I guess I want to know on what evidence this claim of intention is based.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:22 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


heresiarch: "it seems quite clear to me that the intent here on Aaron's part was to undermine their core business model."

If you looked into Aaron's past and very recent areas of research and publication, it seems way, way, way more likely that he was intending to use the data for research and publication of some new study. Like he did the last time he pulled almost the exact same stunt.
posted by gilrain at 1:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would have.

Me too.
posted by kenko at 1:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you looked into Aaron's past and very recent areas of research and publication, it seems way, way, way more likely that he was intending to use the data for research and publication of some new study. Like he did the last time he pulled almost the exact same stunt.

When Aaron scraped the PACER files, he put them online for everyone to view at public.resource.org.
posted by enn at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then, to those who would applaud releasing the whole archive in a torrent or whatever: would your opinion change if any factors changed? Let's say the authors are justly compensated and have more control over the rights of their papers, and access is reasonably priced -- still okay to liberate it all?

A genuine question, not snark. Basically, do you see total free access to journals as the only moral outcome?
posted by droob at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


gilrain: "it seems way, way, way more likely that he was intending to use the data for research and publication of some new study"

Then why not take JSTOR up on their offer to make all the data available for meta-analysis? They've clearly said they're happy to negotiate a deal like that and have done it in the past. Plus, why all the secrecy then? I've scraped websites for research purposes too, but I don't skulk around in other institutions' network closets and spoof MAC addresses. This kind of work can be done in upstanding ways and underhanded ways and this is either an underhanded way to do research or a very questionable bit of "activism," at least to me.

Clearly others disagree, but I'm still not convinced releasing JSTOR's archives would be a good thing for the future of open access in the long term.
posted by heresiarch at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


enn: "When Aaron scraped the PACER files, he put them online for everyone to view at public.resource.org."

Ah, my mistake then. I'd love and was ready to defend this guy, because I'm a fan of Demand Progress. But it really does look like he was knowingly skirting around and through some gray areas, so. I still admire his work, and I hope he walks just because, but he shouldn't be surprised it caught up to him.

(Indeed, he turned himself in, so he's handling it more or less responsibly IMO.)
posted by gilrain at 1:35 PM on July 19, 2011


Excluding the poor from accessing biomedical literature: a rights violation that impedes global health. Yamey G. - Health Hum Rights. 2008;10(1):21-42. [Purchase this article from JSTOR for $4.00 USD]
posted by benzenedream at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2011 [49 favorites]


I think it's important to understand what JSTOR is... which is essentially a non-profit iTunes for academic publishing (which is a for profit enterprise).

The "terms and conditions" that JSTOR imposes are largely the result of negotiations with academic publishers, whose content they make availlable to the instutitional market (for a fee). Market segmentation is important (for publishers) which is why their is no 'personal' license for access to JSTOR.

But, more importantly, the reason why this is a federal case, I would guess, has a lot to do with the prominence this sort of intellectual property law has garnered due to the consumer media cases. Given the small-scale of the damages hard not to imagine that corruption, to use a word, on the part of prosecutors played a role in having this case brought to trial...
posted by ennui.bz at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's say the authors are justly compensated and have more control over the rights of their papers, and access is reasonably priced ... A genuine question, not snark. Basically, do you see total free access to journals as the only moral outcome?

The academic publishing business is much more obviously black and white in terms of open access and freedom of information questions than other publishing systems. Academics, unlike artists, don't make money off selling their work. Academics are paid up front, with salaries. The work they produce is supposed to be free for the good of humanity.

However, there are private interests who produce no research of their own, but happen to control the distribution system. These groups often act as rentiers, taking vast quantities of research money (to the tune of billions a year) and giving back nothing.

I've said before, and I'll say it again, that we need to completely overhaul and modernise academic publishing. Open access isn't enough: we need a modern system that fits with the 21st Century.
posted by Dreadnought at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


Then why not take JSTOR up on their offer

Maybe he did, after all the downloading. The Demand Progress statement says "JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron."
posted by scottreynen at 1:44 PM on July 19, 2011


Plus, why all the secrecy then? I've scraped websites for research purposes too, but I don't skulk around in other institutions' network closets and spoof MAC addresses.

Did you obtain licensing agreements from everyone who posted on 4chan that you could download and archive the content they created? Everything on 4chan is presumably protected by the same copyright laws as JSTOR's content, the main difference as I see it is that 4chan and its users don't spend any resources protecting their content from being copied. You don't have to skulk around in moot's network closet because nobody really cares if you scrape the site. I agree that if Swartz just wanted to do some sort of meta-analysis on the journal data he could probably have used legal channels, though.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:46 PM on July 19, 2011


Actually, academics aren't paid upfront for their research. I have a chapter in a book being published by Ashgate; the book will sell for over $100. But I will see no royalties, and I have no academic position which pays me a salary.

Only those academics lucky enough to have full-time academic positions are paid for their research. Contract lecturers - they are paid for teaching only. Independent scholars have to just make ends meet any which way that they can.
posted by jb at 1:46 PM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Actually, the newest trend is for academics to have to pay to have their research published in high impact-factor journals. Pictures cost extra, as does color. I wish I were making this up.

The system is beyond broken.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


But is this really any solution to that?

We still have no idea what his intention was. But if you really want to paint his culpability with hypotheticals, of course it isn't a solution. No one could have legitimately served this data anywhere else, so at best it would have generated more quasi-access-via-rapidshare scam artists.

But in the sense that it keeps us talking about how screwed up the commercial publishing and indexing regime is, it can be a useful event. Given the technology base in which these systems are deployed, and the way that information ethics are currently perceived by the tech-literate, actions like those for which he stands accused are going to happen. In this environment, pillorying him for "hurting" the cause of information freedom is pretty silly.
posted by waterunderground at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2011


It seems to me that had he succeeded licensees would just face more ridiculous constraints on their ability to get at articles, and people without access would be even worse off.

How could we possibly be worse off? We have no access to JSTOR and no way to get access to JSTOR. I'm not saying I want everyone at JSTOR to lose their jobs and go broke, but if it turns out the only way to allow universal access is for a few white-collar workers to lose their jobs erecting unnecessary barriers, well, sorry, white-collar workers! You should have thought of a win-win solution instead of completely barring the individual from your collection and therefore creating an entire subclass of resentful unaffiliated nerds who long for your demise.

Let's say the authors are justly compensated and have more control over the rights of their papers, and access is reasonably priced ... A genuine question, not snark. Basically, do you see total free access to journals as the only moral outcome?

"Given an entirely different system where authors receive compensation and individuals can obtain access to knowledge at a reasonable price, would you be happy?" Yes. Yes, I would indeed support the concept of the book, which is what you have just reinvented. Congratulations.

(Incidentally, I do not in fact support the practice of academic publishing houses publishing specialist books at ridiculously inflated prices because they assume that only libraries will buy them so who cares? I care! I want to buy them but I can't!)

Your question is completely irrelevant to academic publishing. First of all, because it is in the grip of unscrupulous publishers who will go broke before they give money to academic authors. (And this will, perhaps, be the outcome.) Secondly because the vast majority of academic authors don't actually want money for journal articles. They produce them as part of their job, for which they already get paid. What they want instead is recognition: for their tenure committees to think "Hmm, six articles, not bad!", for their peers to think "Hmm, interesting article, let me cite it!", and for the masses to cheer at the march of knowledge and buy their New York Times Bestseller List distillations for popular consumption.

So, let's recap. Publishers get articles from academics for free. They get them reviewed for free, too (at least in most of the fields I am familiar with). The overhead is basically a couple of editors. I'm not saying I want those editors to work for free. I would be happy with JSTOR access being restricted and available at a reasonable price (although I would be happier if Bill Gates or whoever would just fund it outright and throw the doors open). But a reasonable price is not hundreds of dollars per year, or tens of dollars per journal article.
posted by No-sword at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


solistrato: "Also, because information wants to be free, even if you have to drag it screaming out of its home."'

Nobody is going to write the information, pay for editing or compiling unless you are gonna pay. The whole "information is free" crowd seems to think this all just appears out of thin air. No, it appears because they are able to obtain money by doing it. It has to support itself. And few who scream for other options are able or even want to do the hard work to create these other options--because it doesn't pay.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The overhead is basically a couple of editors

OK, so you do your own journal database. Have at it. No pay though, sorry.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:56 PM on July 19, 2011


burnmp3s: "Did you obtain licensing agreements from everyone who posted on 4chan that you could download and archive the content they created? Everything on 4chan is presumably protected by the same copyright laws as JSTOR's content"

This is obviously a bit of an edge case, but our data set is not public for precisely this reason. Releasing the full data set is somewhat less of a clear cut fair use case than quoting tiny subsets of it in an academic article.

Practically, though, no one would have standing to sue us because they couldn't prove that they owned their content to begin with, or that we made any money off it. If they cared, they should go after Canvas first, which is much more explicitly taking content produced on 4chan and iterating on it for the indirect commercial benefit of Canvas. Plus, as you say, the norms of the site don't really imply a strong sense of ownership so it didn't feel ethically problematic to the team.

There's lots of stuff I would love to scrape, but can't for legal reasons. Or datasets I created but can't publish on and can't release for copyright reasons. I'm not thrilled about it, but neither should an institutional appointment give me the ability to do whatever I want in the name of science, either.
posted by heresiarch at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2011


Ironmouth, I invite you to read the sentence after the one you cited. I'm pretty sure I said... wait, let me just move my eyes a few centimeters up... man, this is an effort! I can see why you didn't bother! Yeah, here it is: I said "I'm not saying I want those editors to work for free." So I guess I didn't want anyone to work for free! Funny old world!

Maybe next time you should actually read what is on the page before posting snarky bullshit that helps nobody.
posted by No-sword at 1:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


heresiarch: "Would we view him as some sort of noble academic robin hood?"

I so regard him. B&E aside, and the significant collateral damage of nuking JSTOR for the whole campus (though, JSTOR did that, didn't they?). But access to knowledge where it was significantly restricted before? I'm good with that. Not sure this helped, but we need to change academe and scholarship to make research less elite and more socially meaningful.
posted by Mngo at 1:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Yes. Yes, I would indeed support the concept of the book, which is what you have just reinvented. Congratulations. "

No need to be a dick about it.
posted by droob at 1:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does MIT still have the data? If so, nobody stole anything.

EXACTLY.

See, in some of the more enlightened and progressive parts of the internet, the concept of "theft" (sometimes called "stealing" or "piracy") has been cleverly re-framed as "copyfighting": a laudable, heroic battle against those stuffy, bloated, cigar-chewing "old-media" villains who have the nerve — and I am not making this up — the nerve to actually expect us to pay money for things. The crude obstacles these scoundrels like to put between us and our content are known as "paywalls" and "DRM".

Now, we Copyfighters position ourselves as champions of the oppressed masses — despite the fact that these oppressed masses are one of the wealthiest and most materially privileged demographics in history. We frame DRM and paywalls as critical human rights issues, which helps some of our supporters further rationalize their sense of victimhood.

In conclusion, I am outraged, and will now proceed to vent that outrage in a BoingBoing forum. Good day.
posted by Ratio at 2:00 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, the newest trend is for academics to have to pay to have their research published in high impact-factor journals. Pictures cost extra, as does color. I wish I were making this up.

Really? When I get the emails saying "please submit to the Journal of Combinatorial Geometry" or whatever (mostly from some place in India, with editors I've never heard of), and they say there are page costs, I write it off as spam. Paying for color I am familiar with---even Springer journals do that (although it's color on the website and black and white in print, apparently, for standard), but most folks I work with access the articles online anyway, so I'm ok with the compromise. (Springer also will charge you $x00 to have the article be open access; it's not clear who does that, though.)
posted by leahwrenn at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2011


No-sword: How could we possibly be worse off? We have no access to JSTOR and no way to get access to JSTOR.

JSTOR is only a fraction of the publishing world. Elsevier has come up earlier in the thread. The ACM and IEEE have enormous technical libraries. Plus there are tons of smaller ones. What seems to me to be the very real risk here is that they (or the people they buy rights from) freak out and impose, for instance, per-pdf DRM that makes it so I can't send or receive articles to colleagues. Or maybe they decide to start cracking down on people who post their own papers online. There are lots of scenarios where the nominal rights holders make everyone's life more difficult than it is now, even if the JSTOR archives are available to everyone for free. I suspect that would be a smaller step forward than the step back to follow. It's of course totally possible nothing would change, but it seems like content-owners respond in weird ways to events like this. Or maybe it would just precipitate a larger reconfiguration of the academic publishing market. Who knows.
posted by heresiarch at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, wait, you meant that the IT staff must get paid too? Okay. I sincerely apologize. I was out of line. I get emotional about this topic, but that's no excuse.

I stand by my argument that the current system is overpriced to serve the interests of rentiers. I would happily support a system where the editors and the IT staff get paid, and even contract lecturers like jb get paid, but no-one gets paid just for happening to own the copyright to material their organization received for free on the understanding that it would be made publicly available for the common good. Another requirement for the system is that anyone be able to access it, at non-institutional rates.

The current system is not that system.
posted by No-sword at 2:08 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, the newest trend is for academics to have to pay to have their research published in high impact-factor journals. Pictures cost extra, as does color. I wish I were making this up.

Oh - it really is true. It appears to be more common in health, biology and the related sciences, where there is grant money to be tapped - but it's not just spam journals. Many respected journals charge per page, and extra for diagrams or illustrations.

on a random googling for "elsevier" and "page fee" - Transplatation Proceedings - US $99.95/page - more for colour.
posted by jb at 2:11 PM on July 19, 2011


The whole "information is free" crowd seems to think this all just appears out of thin air.

Do you understand that JSTOR will not sell me access for any amount of money? I will happily pay a reasonable fee, but access is not available to anyone unable to matriculate at a research university, except for a few lucky people with a card from one of a very small number of public libraries.
posted by enn at 2:15 PM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


There is a movement within the academy towards open-access journals, isn't there? Like, I thought arxiv.org was actually fairly well-regarded within its various disciplines. Anyone from inside academe care to comment on how this sort of effort to create an alternative to the scientific journal publishing system is going?
posted by whir at 2:16 PM on July 19, 2011


But, more importantly, the reason why this is a federal case, I would guess, has a lot to do with the prominence this sort of intellectual property law has garnered due to the consumer media cases.

More likely a federal case because of the following ...

From the indictment:
"JSTOR’s computers were located outside the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and thus any communications between JSTOR’s computers and MIT’s computers in Massachusetts crossed state boundaries. JSTOR’s computers were also used in and affected interstate and foreign commerce."
posted by ericb at 2:20 PM on July 19, 2011


I am still awaiting the arrival of the one and only item I have ever requested via interlibrary loan. I made the request in 2006, I think. I don't have a lot of faith in the ILL system.
It depends in part on your institution's ILL office. I had a terrific experience with Centenary College's library, who found me everything and quickly.


the intent here on Aaron's part was to undermine their core business model.
The indictment suggests this, with the bit about intent to share the downloads to the world. If that's correct (and it might not be), it would certainly eat into JSTOR's business. Classic Darknet case, then.
posted by doctornemo at 2:21 PM on July 19, 2011


Journal of Neuroscience - "charges a publication fee of $950 for Regular Manuscripts and $475 for Brief Communications...Accepted manuscripts will not move into the production process until payment has been received."

Journal of Applied Physics - "the author's institution is requested to pay a page charge of $60 per page (with a one-page minimum) and an article charge of $20 per article." No word on what would happen if an author didn't have an institution, but it may be that it's harder to be an independent applied physicist than an independent historian or theorectical physicist.

I don't know what standing those journals have - but I doubt they are spam.

I would be interested in finding out what the patterns of publication/page fees are - what fields, what journals -- I haven't seen them in History, but that may be because I haven't sent many articles off.
posted by jb at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, we Copyfighters position ourselves as champions of the oppressed masses — despite the fact that these oppressed masses are one of the wealthiest and most materially privileged demographics in history. We frame DRM and paywalls as critical human rights issues, which helps some of our supporters further rationalize their sense of victimhood.

What I'm getting here is that you're an academic in a developing country, working on something like public hygiene, and this is withering sarcasm.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:27 PM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


Does MIT still have the data? If so, nobody stole anything.

EXACTLY.

Can we please move on to the point where this is no longer presented as some novel counterpoint? We get it, it's different than theft because there are multiple copies floating around.
posted by kingbenny at 2:33 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Heresiarch, you make a good point. The Sword of Damocles that is currently over my head could be made to come crashing down. But this could also happen tomorrow, on a simple whim — the publishers haven't made any formal commitment to maintaining the currently-open loopholes, as far as I know. And if they did decide to close the loopholes tomorrow... well, I bet at that point I'd sure be wishing that someone had downloaded the whole archive and made it available by other means.
posted by No-sword at 2:33 PM on July 19, 2011


enn: your problems accessing Jstor is one reason why many academics and students quietly share access to journals and important reference works (like the OED or Dictionary of National Biography) with friends who don't have active access. It's obviously not an ideal solution, but it's been a piecemeal one.

Clearly, the current situation in academic publishing is not good. Public money pays for most of the research - even at private universities - and then that research is locked away from the public, and public instutions like libraries and universities are forced to pay even more for access. This really should be a tax-payer's rights issue: governments are pouring so much money down the coffers of for-profit publishers.

I mean - I am also very concerned about access for researchers from poorer countries - but surely everyone could get on board with the idea that governments shouldn't have to pay for access to research which they paid for in the first place.

That said, Jstor isn't the worst offender - they really do offer better prices and better access than many other publishers. There are much worse publishers whose grasping is jeopardising the ability of libraries to provide any access.

The whole system does need reforming. But that will never happen so long as those in power - senior academics at major universities - don't really care about these issues, since they don't affect them.
posted by jb at 2:36 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is a movement within the academy towards open-access journals, isn't there? Like, I thought arxiv.org was actually fairly well-regarded within its various disciplines. Anyone from inside academe care to comment on how this sort of effort to create an alternative to the scientific journal publishing system is going?

It's going well, although there is much more to be done. The most recent major development I can think of is that three of the largest biomedical research funders, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Wellcome Trust, and the Max Planck Society, are forming a high-profile journal.

I wouldn't call arxiv.org an "open-access journal"—it is an open-access preprint archive.

I think this is a bit of a derail from the topic at issue here, but much of the progress in open-access journals was covered in my post on a potential Berkeley boycott of Nature Publishing Group last year. I don't know what happened with the boycott but I'm going to ask.

This really should be a tax-payer's rights issue: governments are pouring so much money down the coffers of for-profit publishers.

Of course, when the government tries to address it, publishers' lobbyists swarm Capitol Hill to attack any reduction in their economic rents as socialism.
posted by grouse at 2:39 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Er, doing a little basic research has clued me into the fact that arxiv is a pre-print archive, distinct from a peer-reviewed journal, but I'm still interested in reports from the field about the success of open-access journals.)
posted by whir at 2:40 PM on July 19, 2011


Does MIT still have the data? If so, nobody stole anything.

EXACTLY.

See, in some of the more enlightened and progressive parts of the internet, the concept of "theft" (sometimes called "stealing" or "piracy") has been cleverly re-framed as "copyfighting": a laudable, heroic battle against those stuffy, bloated, cigar-chewing "old-media" villains who have the nerve — and I am not making this up — the nerve to actually expect us to pay money for things. The crude obstacles these scoundrels like to put between us and our content are known as "paywalls" and "DRM".

Now, we Copyfighters position ourselves as champions of the oppressed masses — despite the fact that these oppressed masses are one of the wealthiest and most materially privileged demographics in history. We frame DRM and paywalls as critical human rights issues, which helps some of our supporters further rationalize their sense of victimhood.

In conclusion, I am outraged, and will now proceed to vent that outrage in a BoingBoing forum. Good day.


Its about the free music, man.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:40 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, we Copyfighters position ourselves as champions of the oppressed masses — despite the fact that these oppressed masses are one of the wealthiest and most materially privileged demographics in history. We frame DRM and paywalls as critical human rights issues, which helps some of our supporters further rationalize their sense of victimhood.

What I'm getting here is that you're an academic in a developing country, working on something like public hygiene, and this is withering sarcasm.


Haven't seen anyone like that in these fights. Mainly people who think stuff pays for itself.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2011


enn: Psst... http://www.reddit.com/r/Scholar/
posted by Toekneesan at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do you understand that JSTOR will not sell me access for any amount of money?

It seems you want them to change their business model. They sell access to a small number of institutions for large amounts of money, but you want them to sell access to a large number of individuals for small amounts of money. I imagine the security and support requirements would be completely different.
posted by hyperizer at 2:43 PM on July 19, 2011


What is this "business model" nonsense? JSTOR is a nonprofit.
posted by RogerB at 2:44 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is this "business model" nonsense? JSTOR is a nonprofit.

Maybe you're joking. I can't tell. But most nonprofit operations certainly need to have some sort of model, or plan, or whatever, to stay operational.
posted by kingbenny at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because 'business model' could never apply to a business that reinvests the profits into itself.
posted by found missing at 2:47 PM on July 19, 2011


Can we please move on to the point where this is no longer presented as some novel counterpoint? We get it, it's different than theft because there are multiple copies floating around.

You get it, but the indictment uses the word "stole" in multiple places. A criminal lawyer should know better.

It's also not presented because it's 'novel' but because it's significant in a lot of ways. The way that I think is hugely important is that for a long time IP crimes were civil issues, not criminal. That has a lot of implications about penalties and other matters. But put that aside and consider a big deal in this case: we have the DoJ prosecuting someone, essentially, for violating a click-through agreement.

People on that campus were free to access JSTOR and look at stuff. JSTOR asserted that downloading and saving was banned but it was possible to do so. Since this person violated that intent he's not being sued by JSTOR in civil court, he's being prosecuted by the federal government - by attorneys being paid for with tax dollars.

Haggling over the word "stole" can seem tired but this fuzzy boundary between civil and criminal prosecutions for IP and contract crimes is not a trivial thing.
posted by phearlez at 2:47 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Both JSTOR and Project Muse are investigating selling individual articles to individuals not related to an institution. Though frankly, I suspect they are very concerned that libraries, forced by vicious budget cuts, will stop paying for collections and instead simply sponsor their patrons individual purchases. There is a lot of concern that if that occurs, hosting the entire archive stops being sustainable. There is also the issue of a duty to archive, that too becomes questionable in a per article model.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:47 PM on July 19, 2011


There is a movement within the academy towards open-access journals, isn't there?

A juddering one, as long as publication remains the key to professional advancement.

JSTOR's reticence on this may be a reflection of how they might look if Swartz's lawyers get the chance to dig into Journal Club as part of their discovery.
posted by holgate at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2011


Also, if you weren't aware of DeepDyve, it offers just such a pay per article service.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:53 PM on July 19, 2011


The NIH has mandated that all research they have funded is available to the public. I think this is only right.
posted by ltracey at 2:54 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was a discussion on research journals and costs here on Metafilter last year. It might be illuminating regarding journal business models, costs, and ideological attitudes about them.
posted by phearlez at 2:54 PM on July 19, 2011


Man, I used JSTOR all the time when I was in college. I guess they weren't kidding about all those terms and conditions you had to agree to every time you wanted a PDF of something.
posted by anaximander at 2:55 PM on July 19, 2011


Do you understand that JSTOR will not sell me access for any amount of money? I will happily pay a reasonable fee, but access is not available to anyone unable to matriculate at a research university, except for a few lucky people with a card from one of a very small number of public libraries.

I have an alumnus membership of my university's library, and I'm lucky to live close enough to travel there and back within a day. I can borrow any of their books and read (and take personal photocopies of) any of the physical journals they hold. However, I have no access to online journals. Nothing, not even JSTOR. So when my university rightly decides it's cheaper not to maintain paper copies of journals, or subscribes to a journal with an online archive that extends well beyond their own, I'm shut out completely.

I doubt there's a strong market for Middle English philology (mostly my interest). Indeed, many articles I want are out of copyright, but they are still otherwise unobtainable. Even a small subscription fee would cover the data costs for them, so why isn't it happening?


(PS If you catch me in the library basement photographing a journal in some darkened corner, please don't report me to the authorities.)
posted by Jehan at 2:57 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I still can't convince my poor brain to connect "stealing" and "downloading."
Stealing deprives others of something. Downloading only distributes further.

Of course it's illegal, but it's not theft.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Case in point about the word "stole." From the Wired article about the case.
“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away,” said United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz in a press release(.pdf).
THAT is why people - sometimes myself included - beat the drum about the word "stole" - because even people who know better use the term, and they do it deliberately despite knowing the civil penalties and repercussions are different.

It simply cannot be "equally harmful" to take something away from someone and prevent them from further using it and to make a copy. It may be just as harmful in some circumstances if you're preventing them from enforcing some scarcity. It may be not harmful at all if the only people you're exposing that material to would never have spent a penny otherwise.

And that matters when you address IP as a civil matter. In a civil case you're looking to "make right" the damages, so if you're not actually damaged then your ability to sue is harmed. Prosecuting someone for stealing, even if the property is returned unharmed, is different and that's what's a little frightening in this case.

Several of the counts in this indictment don't attempt to prosecute him for what he did with the data when he got it, they charge him with the crime of using a resource that was openly provided to him but doing so in a way the folks providing it said wasn't okay. He's charged with a count of damaging their equipment because they turned off access to it rather than let him freely access things in the way they'd enabled.

It's possible he cost them money/resources by downloading at a higher rate than they expected and made other people's access difficult/impossible, but that's not stated that I see. Instead everything in that indictment applies even if, when it was done, he'd smashed his drive with a hammer and never shared that data with anyone.

I think that's a pretty compelling distinction between stealing a physical item.
posted by phearlez at 3:06 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's no way you could find a jury of 12 Americans who would believe that anyone would risk 35 years in jail to steal scientific articles.

That's not how it works. Judge says, "If you find that X did Y, then you must find that X is guilty of Z." and jurors are too scared about disobeying the judge's rules and getting in trouble that they generally comply with the law.

But then as some others noted, there's no way he's getting 35 years for this. I guess we'll see.

How ethical is it to break into a restricted area and computer wiring closet?

Depends on which sort of ethics you're talking about; it seems pretty ethical to me.

Overall I think we're moving toward the idea that getting someone to produce content costs money, but that once the content is produced it inevitably gets copied and passed around for free.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:16 PM


Eponyvitable.

Imagine if he had succeeded and released all the content. Would we view him as some sort of noble academic robin hood?

I certainly would. That's exactly the analogy I thought of when I read the story.

My own personal experience with JSTOR comes from a summer job in college doing labwork and grant writing for a small (2 guys) biochemical research company. Somehow we forged some ID that let me into the MCV library system to get access.

As waterunderground astutely notes, the way you use these databases is by searching numerous articles, checking citations, following paths, etc. It's not like "Oh, I need this one article give all the answers I'll ever need."

Do you understand that JSTOR will not sell me access for any amount of money?

And that is absolutely correct, if I remember.

I mean, if I'm in the library, and I have a paper copy of the journal issue, nothing is stopping me from reading the whole issue of I want to. But somehow, now that it's electronic, I can't do that?

Likewise, explain to me why I can listen to the Giants on my car radio on 680AM, but when I listen to 680AM on my phone radio, it switches to talk show re-runs (radio re-runs?) when the Giants game starts.

Exactly.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:07 PM on July 19, 2011


Until copyright is rolled back to the founding fathers' intent of a maximum of 28 years, I refuse to be "mildly irked--much less outraged--about copyright infringement.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:08 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


How ethical is it to break into a restricted area and computer wiring closet?

Depends on which sort of ethics you're talking about; it seems pretty ethical to me.


Whoa, I was with you until that one. Maybe it's the sysadmin in me, but messing with other people's racks is seriously not OK in my book.
posted by kmz at 3:15 PM on July 19, 2011


How ethical is it to break into a restricted area and computer wiring closet?

Considering that "break" in this instance appears to mean "walk," I'm not going to get too worked up about it.
posted by enn at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2011


Likewise, explain to me why I can listen to the Giants on my car radio on 680AM, but when I listen to 680AM on my phone radio, it switches to talk show re-runs (radio re-runs?) when the Giants game starts.

At the risk certainty of being tiresome, this is why these sorts of prosecutions freak me the hell out. I expect businesses that benefit from scarcity to take actions to maximize it, and things like blackouts on sports broadcasts are an example. But more and more we see this sort of thing being prosecuted by the government at the citizenry's expense rather than in civil court at the company's expense (and where there are avenues for someone being sued to recoup the costs of defending themselves).

All of us US taxpayers are paying not just to protect private intellectual property but to enforce their contract (click-through, in this case) terms on HOW they'll freely share information.
posted by phearlez at 3:18 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Considering that "break" in this instance appears to mean "walk," I'm not going to get too worked up about it.

Yeah, and going in to your neighbor's house because they left the door unlocked is totally fine, too.

It's still a break-in even if you don't have to actually break anything.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:20 PM on July 19, 2011


doctornemo: If that's correct (and it might not be), it would certainly eat into JSTOR's business.

This is unlikely. Remember we are talking about university libraries. They aren't going to drop their JSTOR subscription on the grounds that a (non-updated) "pirated" version of the database is available online.
posted by GeckoDundee at 3:22 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The more I think about it, the scarier it is that they are pursuing criminal charges for this. He used MIT's wifi to access JSTOR, and that was perfectly permissible up until the point he violated the JSTOR TOS—but how is a TOS violation a crime rather than a civil matter? (Yes, I realize that eventually he found an open ethernet jack in a closet and switched to using that, but it's clear from the indictment that the prosecutors consider the "hacking" to have begun before that point).

If I go to my public library and use the wifi there to post something on Facebook that violates its terms of service, is that now grounds for criminal prosecution too?
posted by enn at 3:25 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we please move on to the point where this is no longer presented as some novel counterpoint? We get it, it's different than theft because there are multiple copies floating around.

I'm of the opinion that it always needs to be presented as a counterpoint when it is not used correctly, because the distinction has very important consequences, and there are always people who aren't taking the distinction seriously enough, in any given argument. It doesn't need to be a belabored point, but every time I hear it, I'll likely respond, either out loud or in my head, with the same eye twitch that I get when someone uses begging the question incorrectly.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:32 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


This Wired article has the most details available so far. Scariest part is the alleged "hacking" done. Basically he was just dodging MIT sysop attempts to curtail his bandwidth use, he did not access any information that he did not have legitimate access to, he just accessed it in mass quantities. MIT failed to block his access so eventually JSTOR blocked it on their end and contacted him directly. He then returned/deleted the data (or at least said he did, or returned a copy, whatever) and they parted apparently amicably.

The indictment (.pdf) accuses Swartz of repeatedly spoofing the MAC address — an identifier that is usually static — of his computer after MIT blocked his computer based on that number. Swartz also allegedly snuck an Acer laptop bought just for the downloading into a closet at MIT in order to get a persistent connection to the network.
posted by mek at 3:43 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


How could we possibly be worse off? We have no access to JSTOR and no way to get access to JSTOR.

Obviously you do, since you can through a public library. But even if you're too far away from one, there are other ways to get at the same journals without going through JSTOR's collection. The value of JSTOR to an academic library is that it's a one-stop shop for tends of thousands of different journals. If you just want to read a particular journal, then you can usually buy it direct from the journal publisher. For individual articles, you can often just email the study author and they'll mail you a copy, because they're glad to find someone outside their immediate circle is even interested in their work.

The suggestion that JSTOR is withholding knowledge from the general public is simply not well founded. It's like complaining that you're not allowed to shop for cheap stuff at a wholesaler just because you're not in the retail business. They're a distribution company that does large-scale bulk deals. They don't have a distribution monopoly, however.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:43 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


What seems to me to be the very real risk here is that they (or the people they buy rights from) freak out and impose, for instance, per-pdf DRM that makes it so I can't send or receive articles to colleagues

Some systems of pdf-DRM are also too unwieldy to use. I had bought some chapters online and I ended up buying a printed version because the DRM system was too much of a hassle.
posted by ersatz at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2011


Both JSTOR and Project Muse are investigating selling individual articles to individuals not related to an institution. Though frankly, I suspect they are very concerned that libraries, forced by vicious budget cuts, will stop paying for collections and instead simply sponsor their patrons individual purchases. There is a lot of concern that if that occurs, hosting the entire archive stops being sustainable. There is also the issue of a duty to archive, that too becomes questionable in a per article model.

When JSTOR and Project Muse make this argument--"We can't survive except by gouging libraries"--complete with actual figures describing their operations, plus data from trial runs of individual memberships, we can consider that on its merits. Until then, my default assumption is that it is self-interested bullshit, or at best an artificial conundrum created by greedy publishers. It is simply not credible that "archiving and distributing PDFs" represents the impassible barrier at which civilization and technology falter and collapse.
posted by No-sword at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


This Wired article has the most details available so far. Scariest part is the alleged "hacking" done. Basically he was just dodging MIT sysop attempts to curtail his bandwidth use, he did not access any information that he did not have legitimate access to, he just accessed it in mass quantities.

Yeah, subverting an administrator's attempts to limit your access to their network is a crime you know. Private network operators are not in fact required to give you free access to a firehose of data, or to keep providing it as long as you can bypass their security. That's a bit like saying that leaving your window open gives passers-by the right to climb in and roam around your house without your permission, just because they can.

As for the quantities, you'll notice from the indictment that he was pulling down 100x as much data as everyone else at MIT put together during the same period. That is a fuckload of data, and while bandwidth and electricity are relatively cheap those servers don't run themselves for free. That's why you see lots of averts from tech manufacturers talking about the need to keep costs down in your datacenter, and why low-wattage CPUs have become so popular in recent years. Whether they settled the matter amicably or not is beside the point; it's unlawful to just tie into people's server closets and spoof your way onto a network you've been banned from.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:54 PM on July 19, 2011


GeckoDundee: "They aren't going to drop their JSTOR subscription on the grounds that a (non-updated) "pirated" version of the database is available online."

They might not drop it up front, but as library budgets get squeezed (as they inevitably do), they'll certainly know that none of their clients are going to get too vocal if they drop JSTOR first. It's definitely not an instant existential threat, but it definitely does make it easier for cash-strapped libraries to drop JSTOR when push comes to shove, especially if someone developed a nice interface to the leaked archive.
posted by heresiarch at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2011


Obviously you do, since you can through a public library

Hey, guess what? I don't! I can't get a card at any public library allowing access I can use. Think you can prove me wrong? Go ahead. I'll thank you.

And yes, I can ask friends for help, email authors, etc. That's not a real solution any more than a library that only loaned books one page at a time would be.

The suggestion that JSTOR is withholding knowledge from the general public is simply not well founded. It's like complaining that you're not allowed to shop for cheap stuff at a wholesaler just because you're not in the retail business.

Except that knowledge is not the same as widgets, and JSTOR are supposed to be in the business of facilitating the advance of knowledge. If you believe that it's just as moral to artificially restrict access to publicly funded historical research as it is to artificially restrict access to the new privately funded Rihanna album, fine. That's our point of disagreement: I think that access to the former should be set up to maximise availability, not profit.
posted by No-sword at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Students and even faculty love JSTOR--it's full text, relatively easy to search, and there's lots of content in one place. When I was a history undergrad, it was the best thing since sliced bread. But as a librarian? I think JSTOR hides a little bit behind their 'non-profit' status.

I have some sympathy for Aaron, because I've linked to the PACER materials he downloaded and I'm sympathetic to the radically-open ethos that his group espoused.

At the same time, I'm a bit torn. Every week, our IT guys cut off access to our proxy server--which is what allows our patrons to access article databases from off-campus--from some university in Iran. We know it's not our students because this is one of multiple instances of the same account being used at once and because of the sheer amount of data being accessed and downloaded.

At UCLA, I think it was some universities in India; the database vendor called the library and cut off access, I believe, until the loophole was fixed. Sort of what happened to MIT, actually. It's happening everywhere that libraries allow access with proxies and have IT staff that aren't paying attention.

The idea remains the same: a country which can't afford to give its university students access to journal articles doesn't mean that that country loses out; it means that the students figure out ways around the barriers. I admit that I don't know where that leaves the United States, and Aaron Schwartz, exactly.

I certainly don't have a problem with faculty and students slipping a friend an article they need (it's informal ILL!); I'm no hypocrite after all. In fact, I've got a good friend getting a PhD in medical research in a developing country, so I get a birds-eye view of the whole issue.

Oh, and as for JSTOR's non-profit status: that means nothing to libraries when they charge the earth. The approximate cost of one module of JSTOR at a decent size academic library? $8000 one time fee plus $3000/year maintenance fee. That's one module, out of this long long list, and the price of course goes up not down every year. It's not the worst price I've see (hello, science databases) but it's still pretty out of reach for some.

In sum, I don't think there's any heroes in this story. If the only way to win is not to play the game, we're all fucked.
posted by librarylis at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Haven't seen anyone like that in these fights. Mainly people who think stuff pays for itself.

I'll bite. As far as JSTOR is concerned, the content is free, the review is free, and the distribution is almost free (consider that the entire dataset is a tiny fraction of the iTunes store library, which can sell digital works profitably for only a few bucks each). Much of the stuff DOES pay for itself.

I don't blame the publishers for trying to protect their rents. The thing I can't understand is why academics keep handing their hard-earned intellectual property to someone else's purse.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:03 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whether they settled the matter amicably or not is beside the point; it's unlawful to just tie into people's server closets and spoof your way onto a network you've been banned from.

I agree but that is only one of the many charges he is facing. The heart of the case seem to be the fraud allegations, which are contingent on demonstrating he had some intent to cause financial harm to JSTOR by acquiring this data (which isn't demonstrated). He's definitely guilty of what you describe, which is the "Recklessly Damaging a Protected Computer" charge, but this charge carries a moderate fine and probation. The fraud charges require an intent to defraud at the very least, and some actual fraud more generally, unless I'm mistaken and fraud means something completely different now. JSTOR themselves have said they were not the victims of fraud.
posted by mek at 4:03 PM on July 19, 2011


If I go to my public library and use the wifi there to post something on Facebook that violates its terms of service, is that now grounds for criminal prosecution too?

Every person in the USA is currently guilty of some crime that has yet to be prosecuted. There wasn't any conspiracy that made our police state what it is, but the power structures that are enriched by it aren't going to let go for nothing.

You can devise the values of our society by its laws: How much punishment do you get for driving drunk and killing someone? How much for possession of drugs? How much for sexual assault? How much for unauthorized access to a computer, even if you don't do any damage? The disparity in the punishment for these crimes exists because information is the most dangerous weapon in the world. Anyone who is good at finding it and exploiting it is going to be a target of the corporate state if they aren't "one of the good guys."

For example, a homicidal maniac poses no danger to power structures. There's only a slight chance that someone important will die due to our failed mental health system and near limitless access to guns and ammunition. However, one man armed with a thumb drive full of information can inflict a massive amount of damage that concerns very important people. That's why the laws are the way they are. The people who make our laws are far more concerned with their own careers and their own status than they are with the health and well being of the rest of us.
posted by notion at 4:04 PM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's like complaining that you're not allowed to shop for cheap stuff at a wholesaler just because you're not in the retail business.

No, not really. It's more like complaining that you're not allowed to shop at Goodwill just because you're not running a museum of 1980s tat.
posted by holgate at 4:08 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do you still have your credit card info? If so, nobody stole anything.
posted by mark242 at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to wildly and irresponsibly speculate that this is Wikileaks related.
posted by humanfont at 4:12 PM on July 19, 2011


(Obviously you do, since you can through a public library)
Hey, guess what? I don't! I can't get a card at any public library allowing access I can use. Think you can prove me wrong? Go ahead. I'll thank you.


Strangely enough I talked about alternatives in the rest of the paragraph, including the fact that you can just buy a subscription to the journal in question if you really want to.

That's our point of disagreement: I think that access to the former should be set up to maximise availability, not profit.

So how much profit is JSTOR making?
posted by anigbrowl at 4:32 PM on July 19, 2011


That Wired article makes me think the charges will eventually be dropped. Aaron doesn't seem like the kind of person who will make a deal on this, JSTOR doesn't seem very interested in supporting the government case beyond what they're compelled to do, and the government has a bad track record with similar cases.
posted by scottreynen at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2011


JSTOR service is important to research institutions and universities because it can be extraordinarily expensive, in terms of both cost and space, for a research or university library to maintain a comprehensive collection of academic journals.

Yes so much space. Why the accused had to use a thumb drive and a bicycle to carry that volume of journals off.  If only some company  would index and digitize those books for free.  Of course one day the journals will switch to digital publishing for their submissions and perhaps standardize on some kind of  "portable document format".  This technology is decades away.  It will also require researches access to advanced word-processing and numerical analysis computers to create those charts and graphs. We must stop this dangerous criminal.
posted by humanfont at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


I look forward to the defense that his attorney Charles Nesson will mount.
posted by jayder at 4:41 PM on July 19, 2011


I saw above that Austin Public Library has JSTOR access, so I poked around the website.

"APL Cardholders can access JSTOR from the Internet 24 hours a day. It is available to everyone at all Library locations."

And, some of you may be happy to know:

"Library Cards are available to nonresidents for an annual fee of $60, valid for one year from the month of purchase. Nonresident Library customers have the option to purchase a quarterly nonresident Library Card for $20 per three-month period. [...] For more information call (512) 974-7400, Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 noon to 6 p.m."

So, there you go! JSTOR access for $60/year or $20/quarter. I do not know if it is access to the whole JSTOR database, but presumably an interested person could call the library and find out if there are any limits to what is offered or restrictions on the number of articles that one may retrieve.

Hope this helps someone...
posted by marble at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Pot's still as useless as meth
banks are still regulated,
but this here is some fine criminal investigative work,
the likes of which will advance some fed prosecutor's career
and not much else.
Yet another 21st century billhixian moment
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:50 PM on July 19, 2011


Why Are Scholarly Journals Costly even with Electronic Publishing? (19-page PDF)

"High journal prices in the last 30 years have led to a crisis in scholarly communications. One of the reasons for spiraling journal costs is the economics of the journal publishing business. High journal prices may be considered an indicator of an inefficient market. A “lack of competition” and “perverse incentives” have led to rapidly rising prices in the last 30 years. These two key issues are still relevant to some extent with online publishing. The shift to electronic publishing has been driving the journal publishing industry towards a considerable consolidation as it has required significant investments in electronic services and electronic delivery. On the other hand, publishing through open access models and electronic publishing are two ways which are challenging the traditional economics of scholarly journal publishing."

Also,

Kroski, E. 6 Steps to Publishing a Scholarly Online Journal, 2009. In The CyberSkeptic’s Guide to Internet Research. Information Today, Inc.

:pulls coat open:

I got them articles if you need em son, whatcha need, whatcha need? Jay-sto, ebskeezie, ohVee, check me out home boy
posted by cashman at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find the idea that you could get 35 years in prison for stealing anything pretty fucking immoral.

I am pretty sure Bernie Madoff would agree.
posted by jcworth at 4:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


This does nothing to contradict my suspicions that some fed prosecutors have too little to do and way too much prosecutorial discretion, ergo, indictments as necessary to provide fodder for DOJ press releases instead of targeting the "scarce" DOJ resources for prosecuting crimes in which, say, the alleged victim actually wants the feds to prosecute.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:02 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gosh. I really feel for Aaron here. I've fallen out of contact with him, but we used to talk occasionally, starting with an occasion years ago where I was complaining online about an age discrimination issue and Aaron wrote me and reblogged my post, actually leading to a policy change by what turned out to be a fairly lame trade show. I found him brilliant certainly, but he's not one for putting up with nonsense and unfair uses of authority (I know he spent a fair bit of time doing "radical unschooling" in place of high school, and he left Stanford pretty quickly too, which might say something about that). I'm certainly curious to hear what he has to say, when he's able to talk.
posted by zachlipton at 6:22 PM on July 19, 2011


FYI, if you find a journal article you would like to read but can't download, consider emailing the corresponding author and asking them to send it to you. I don't know if that's always technically legal, but generally flattery will overcome.
posted by maryr at 6:33 PM on July 19, 2011


Re: the breaking and entering arguments - For what it's worth, most buildings on the MIT campus are either unlocked most of the time or connected to a buliding that is unlike (if you know your way around). I don't know how well monitored these entrances are, but perhaps they cannot prove how/where he entered. And it someone let him in (which may have been simply by holding a door for a stranger), maybe it doesn't count as "breaking", even if opening an unlocked door does. That said, there are some buildings that are well locked, so if the server was in one of those, he likely had to be let in.

There's a tradition of breaking into places at MIT, from Great Dome hacks to the Orange Tour. The campus turns a blind eye to most of this. I wonder whether that will come up if the case goes to trial.

I doubt it. Everything appears to have been not only unlocked, but uninteresting. Additionally, stealing or doing damage go against hacker ethics. (Stealing would be 'doing damage'. there's a reason it's tolerated - it's mostly harmless.)

When harm has come of hacking - my anecdotal evidence being a girl falling 5 stories down a shaft and miraculously not breaking her neck - hacking just sort of lays low for a while, then starts back up.
posted by maryr at 6:36 PM on July 19, 2011


To expand on my earlier comment re: wikileaks. Prosecutors are known to have subpoenaed several Boston area supporters of wikileaks. There is a lot of public information that indicates prosecutors want to show a link via a kind of Boston Hacker ring to Assange. This is essential to establishing a conspiracy charge against Assange. Swartz would at the minimum know names and faces whom prosecutors are targeting. He might be a target himself. This is how it works. Threats of big jail time and long running legal battles to get cooperation. Keep the suspects under indictment to limit their travel and bleed their budget.
posted by humanfont at 6:39 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


and this would be why i got the fuck out of academia after my phd. Valuable scientific observations, years of intellectual efforts, and then it becomes a scrap of paper, lumped in with a whole host of other murmurings and blitherings, and eventually ignored or overlooked by the very select few people who are interested enough to care. No thank you. There are better ways to apply observation and understanding than in the publication of dry tomes, and there are better ways to guide people towards well-considered decisions. Academics: you may be comfortable in the lucky niche you've carved for yourselves, but the whole rickety edifice stinks to the core, and it is only your continued support that keeps it upright. Get out now, and apply your talents to the real world. Or don't. It certainly appealed to me for a time.
posted by pucklermuskau at 6:40 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Strangely enough I talked about alternatives in the rest of the paragraph, including the fact that you can just buy a subscription to the journal in question if you really want to.

FYI, if you find a journal article you would like to read but can't download, consider emailing the corresponding author and asking them to send it to you. I don't know if that's always technically legal, but generally flattery will overcome.


Again, neither of these options represent efficient vehicles for actual research and learning.

Yes, you can get the one article you really want to look at this way, or by paying what is usually a batshitinsane valuation for something whose value to your research/interest you may only have the faintest idea about before laying that money down. But after paying significant money a few times for articles that turn out to not have what they're looking for, most folks would learn not to bother.

And yes, if there's one particular journal you already know consistently publishes material that is of $$$ interest to you, you can subscribe to it. Of course, when those articles are citing apparently very important work in another, related journal, you're S.O.L.

This is not how the vast majority of academic researchers employ journal-published content, and neither should it represent the only viable options for the general public.
posted by waterunderground at 6:48 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Never mind JSTOR, dude should just do time for foisting reddit on the world!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:01 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, neither of these options represent efficient vehicles for actual research and learning.

We've since discovered that you can get a Taxas Public Library card from out of state for the grand total of $60 and have full JSTOR access as part of that. Sounds pretty good to me. I guess I'm privileged insofar as I live in a large-ish city and have ready access to libraries, but somehow the combination of Internet and public library system has proved more than sufficient for my research needs so far...in fact my main problem these days is organizing the >2000 law review and court opinions I have sitting on my hard disk in PDF form. My annual subscription/access fees come to around $200 or so, mostly for things like reading motion filings in litigation I'm following.

Regardless of whether you approve of the current journal-publishing model (I don't; the economic cost of a law review article is estimated to be over $100k), the fact is that JSTOR users did not have free reign to just pull millions of documents without prior arrangement, and Schwartz is alleged to have gone to considerable lengths to circumvent MIT's system security. As for the history of pranks and unconventional access methods at MIT, I'd point out that Schwartz is not a member of the MIT student body or faculty. I don't think that being a guest on the MIT campus is a good excuse for patching directly into the one of their routers in a service closet.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:23 PM on July 19, 2011


Also,

Kroski, E. 6 Steps to Publishing a Scholarly Online Journal, 2009. In The CyberSkeptic’s Guide to Internet Research. Information Today, Inc.


I've used and really like the Public Knowledge Project's Open Journal System, a open source journal management and publishing system (mentioned in the article cashman posted above. I know some libraries are beginning to publish/host their own journals and I would love to see that future: instead of paying outrageous subscription fees, academic libraries use their budgets to publish open access journals.
posted by Staggering Jack at 7:36 PM on July 19, 2011


"for people with large data sets"

"I see your Swartz is as big as mine!"
posted by octobersurprise at 7:48 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's nothing that I can see that includes in an Austin PL non-resident card access to databases. I've never known a license to be written that would include anybody who paid a fee to be part of the community. And please do bear in mind that when you say "I'll go to my public library" there are - what? 20? 30 public libraries that have some JSTOR access? And there are more public libraries in the US than MacDonald's outlets? Let's do the math. Uh, most don't.

Let me toss another fun fact out there. You think interlibrary loan is the answer for libraries that can't afford a database? Libraries are only allowed to get five articles for all of their community published within the most recent five years within a calendar year. You want a sixth article, you wait a year or you pay a copyright fee. That might be $8 or it might be $50 - and the person who gets it is not allowed to share it. So the library invest that money in a pay-per-use rather than spending it on, you know, library stuff.

And how about this one? Elsevier has a policy that if you really must insist on a subscription that allows you to provide another library with a copy (that quaint interlibrary loan thing) you can't send the .pdf. The one with color tables and stuff. No, you have to print it out before you can send it to make sure it's not as good and is a hassle besides. So the library that gets the intentionally degraded copy will think "damn, I should subscribe to this $17,000 a year journal 'cause this is crap." (Then falls on the floor laughing hysterically at the thought that they'd have that kind of money.) Also, if the library has already gotten five articles from that journal, they pay a copyright fee for the degraded article. Or they pay the company directly for an article that is not going to be useable by anyone but the patron.

Say the patron is writing a review article and needs to look at all the possibly relevant research, most of which will turn out to be not relevant. Say the finished review article has 200 citations and add in the (I don't know) 300 articles that had to be looked at but weren't relevant and say the average per-article charge is $35.00 - that's one expensive review article, there.

And a library that has absolutely nothing they can do library-like stuff with (share it, preserve it, protect it from censorship or whatever) because they got nothing but the invoice.

And the guy who writes the review article submits it to some publisher who will repeat the whole process.
posted by bfister at 9:18 PM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


If you live in NYC, you have access to JSTOR through the New York Public Library. You just have to go to the Schwartzman Building (the one with the lions in front) to access it.

Actually, you can get at it from just about any library in New York.

Access Locations: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), Mid-Manhattan Library, All Branch Libraries

A number of us in this thread have access to JSTOR through our local public library systems, and some of you lucky buggers even get to log in from home. Of all the data in the world, JSTOR's database and articles weren't exactly the least free—as in either freedom or pizza.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:25 PM on July 19, 2011



The thing I can't understand is why academics keep handing their hard-earned intellectual property to someone else's purse.


Because of this:
The whole system does need reforming. But that will never happen so long as those in power - senior academics at major universities - don't really care about these issues, since they don't affect them.

I am lucky enough to have a tenure-track position, but the future of my job is dependent in part, on what and where I publish. And with the exception of a few notable cases, most tenure committees, at least in my field, still expect people to publish in "good" journals, i.e. ones they've published in or ones they've heard of, which are by-and-large *not* open-access. I am certain I have colleagues who don't even know what open-access means.

What I don't understand is why university presidents and provosts don't look at their libraries' annual bills and turn to the faculty and say, "hey, you guys should stop giving all your stuff to these publishers who are milking us dry."

Like I said, it has happened at a few places, like Harvard, but most of us don't work for Harvard, so we're stuck.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:31 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't forget in the Justice Department and FBI opened a case against him for the PACER incident, but were unable to find enough evidence to charge him. It was egg on their face at the time, I wouldn't doubt if several administrators over there are looking for a little revenge. 27B Stroke 6 has some more info on the situation.
posted by formless at 10:20 PM on July 19, 2011


From the indictment section 5, subpart a:

"JSTOR did not permit users: a. to download or export content from it computer servers with automated computer programs such as web robots, spiders,a nd scrapers;"

Ummmm, shouldn't they be indicting Google instead of Mr. Swartz?
posted by J.W. at 10:30 PM on July 19, 2011


most tenure committees, at least in my field, still expect people to publish in "good" journals

To misquote Max Planck, a new model for distributing knowledge in the academy does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because they eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (DISCLAIMER: do not accelerate this process on your own tenure committee.)

Speaking personally, I think it's fucking criminal that unaffiliated research is so eagerly cut off at the throat, and at times I've wished that Google blocked the JSTOR full-text tease, because if they want their nice little garden of scholarly knowledge, it should be granted to them completely, with paywalls high enough to block out the sun.
posted by holgate at 10:35 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ummmm, shouldn't they be indicting Google instead of Mr. Swartz?

I can tell you for a fact that all the content available through Google Scholar is licensed, which is one reason there's no API for Scholar and won't be for the foreseeable future. The search you have linked to does not provide full-text results.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:27 PM on July 19, 2011


A couple of clarifications about JSTOR and access:

You don't have to go to a public library to access it. Many (if not most) academic libraries who subscribe to JSTOR have public terminals where the public (ie anyone not formally affiliated with the institution) can research in the library's academic databases. This is true at large state universities and small private universities. If you live near a community college, college, or university, call the reference desk at the library and ask if they have JSTOR and if they have any public terminals. The answer will probably be yes. A few academic libraries don't offer public access, but they are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, most database licenses specifically allow for affiliated students, faculty, and staff, and on-site users.

Next, about JSTOR itself: The name stands for "Journal Storage." JSTOR is not a publisher. It was originally intended to be a digitized archive of older print journals, so university libraries could move old print journals off-site and still have access. Even now, most of the content in JSTOR is at least three or five years old (there are a few exceptions). JSTOR has what's called a "moving wall." In order to get the older content from publishers, JSTOR must agree not to share the current content. Each month, you get one more month of content.

Lots of students and profs don't know about this moving wall and think JSTOR provides them with the most current research, but typically it will not. Publishers won't give JSTOR more current content because they want people to subscribe to the journal and not have current access only through JSTOR.

This is relevant because it's a mistake to think that information in JSTOR is the most current, cutting edge research. Yes, it has excellent, extensive content, but by design it is not new.

Folks wanting access to current medical research should look at PubMed.

How does this relate to Aaron? I've been wondering why, if he wanted to go after a lot of content, he didn't hack something like Elsevier.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:28 PM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Valuable scientific observations, years of intellectual efforts, and then it becomes a scrap of paper, lumped in with a whole host of other murmurings and blitherings, and eventually ignored or overlooked by the very select few people who are interested enough to care.

Where is this real world you speak of? Because this describes some of my experiences to a T and I work for the people who replaced Eastman Kodak on the DJ30.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:24 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Valuable scientific observations, years of intellectual efforts, and then it becomes a scrap of paper, lumped in with a whole host of other murmurings and blitherings, and eventually ignored or overlooked by the very select few people who are interested enough to care.

Where is this real world you speak of? Because this describes some of my experiences to a T and I work for the people who replaced Eastman Kodak on the DJ30.


I'm keeping a look out for this so called 'real world' from the vantage point of my ivory tower, I'll let you know if I notice anything.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:21 AM on July 20, 2011


who cares. sure, he was incompetent in achieving his aims but it's not like there aren't hundreds of more competent dudes who can and will do the same thing successfully

i mean you can pontificate as much as you want on whether this is 'right' or 'wrong' or even wrong to care about (lol blog to book deal on "Look At These Fucking First World Problems White People Like" with illustrations by josh fucking campbell or some shit) but none of that shit matters because where he failed someone else will succeed

you can fight entropy if you want but it's not like you're gonna win
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:07 AM on July 20, 2011


@mark242 ostensibly my money has been stolen from my account but eesh good job getting faved by ratio
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:21 AM on July 20, 2011


I'm totally confused. Why would anyone steal academic articles from Jstor? No one could read that many. And with access to a university library, you can just download and download and download to your heart's content.
1) Data Mining
2) Slap it on Pirate bay and give information to the masses.

Neither of these seem like particularly horrible crimes. Data mining wouldn't hurt anyone (until he boots up his robot army) and pirating it wouldn't really cut into revenues. It's not like universities are going to try to save money by having their students use pirated copies of academic papers instead of buying access for them.
It hardly gets much more fettered than JSTOR. If you do not have an affiliation with a good research university you cannot access most of JSTOR, full stop.
Yeah because most people are "affiliated with a good research university" right? It's not unfettered if you work for a company too cheap to buy access (which probably costs more) and it's probably not as available internationally.
He'll walk. There's no way you could find a jury of 12 Americans who would believe that anyone would risk 35 years in jail to steal scientific articles.
If I was on a jury, I would probably laugh. But I can imagine that some Jurors might not really understand what's going on and think these were highly expensive super-secret documents or something.
The strangest part of this is Demand Progress' claim that JSTOR doesn't want him prosecuted. Does that mean the government is pursuing the case without the alleged victim's cooperation? This whole story is hours old; hopefully we'll know more after a few days' consideration.
MIT was also a victim.

--
Nobody is going to write the information, pay for editing or compiling unless you are gonna pay. -- Ironmouth
Are you paying attention? the writers of scientific papers don't get paid by the publishers. In fact they actually have to sometimes pay to be published themselves. The peer reviewers aren't getting paid either. The Academic publishers are pure middle men, extracting value for doing nothing more then putting it on the web and spell checking, apparently.

In fact, one of the biggest Academic publishers, public library of science, is totally free.
OK, so you do your own journal database. Have at it. No pay though, sorry.-- Ironmouth
Something that can probably be done on a standard laptop with open source software in a matter of minutes.

Academic publishing isn't the music industry. This stuff really does come out of "thin air". The material itself isn't paid for, the peer review isn't paid for. That's all free (or in some cases the authors are charged for the privilege!) There are competitors who are free and open source (PLoS) and it works fine for them. Hosting a copy of the archives for a single user is easily achievable on an ordinary PC and open source software. Hosting it for everyone would be more challenging, but if you let people download the archives they could each host it themselves.

To put this into perspective, if each document weighed in at a megabyte including high res scans and pictures a million articles would only take up 1TB of data. And you can get a 2TB drive on Amazon for about $70. Enough to store millions of papers.

To be clear: The arguments against pirating music or movies (that no one would pay for their production if they weren't compensated) simply don't apply to academic publishers. the publishers don't pay for the production as it is. All they do is suck cash from both sides.

---
This Wired article has the most details available so far. Scariest part is the alleged "hacking" done. Basically he was just dodging MIT sysop attempts to curtail his bandwidth use, he did not access any information that he did not have legitimate access to, he just accessed it in mass quantities. MIT failed to block his access so eventually JSTOR blocked it on their end and contacted him directly. He then returned/deleted the data (or at least said he did, or returned a copy, whatever) and they parted apparently amicably.
Okay, so it sounds like he did not 'break in' to anything rather he just planted a laptop and used wifi. Interesting. When I was in school you had to register your MAC address to get online. I'm surprised MIT has such a lax policy and allows 'visitors' to access JSTOR. Oh well.

---
If I go to my public library and use the wifi there to post something on Facebook that violates its terms of service, is that now grounds for criminal prosecution too?
Actually someone was prosecuted for violating the MySpace TOS under the unauthorized-access law, however, her conviction was overturned on appeal, with the judge saying that violating a TOS does not count as (criminal) unauthorized access.
posted by delmoi at 7:39 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's not like universities are going to try to save money by having their students use pirated copies of academic papers instead of buying access for them.

You would be amazed at the very smart and well-educated people at universities who say things like, "We don't need libraries anymore, because it's all online for free."
posted by bluedaisy at 7:42 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else receive the DemandProgress email on this issue, and find it a wee bit distasteful? The email framed the issue as if Swartz's crime was "downloading too many articles" -- it made zero mention of the physical trespassing issue. While I agree that the charges are a bit nuts, the way that DemandProgress's official communication framed the situation actually made me trust them less. Reminds me of a quote from a bit ago something to the tune of "there is no unbiased media. Read media with all biases, while aware of their biases, and work out the truth yourself."
posted by Alterscape at 8:36 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm really curious to hear his side of this story. He seems like a smart, thoughtful guy who wouldn't be doing anything outright evil, but, based on the allegations, its hard to see what else he could be doing besides downloading the articles to redistribute.

If he was just doing data mining, there are legitimate paths to get the metadata. Even if he had a need for the full text of the journal articles, if it was for a legitimate academic purpose, it seems like he should have had access through Harvard.

I also feel like MIT is the most wronged party here -- clearly JSTOR sees the matter as closed -- but I haven't read closely enough to figure out to what extent Swartz's use of their network was unauthorized.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 8:41 AM on July 20, 2011


The email framed the issue as if Swartz's crime was "downloading too many articles" -- it made zero mention of the physical trespassing issue.

Read the friendly indictment (it really is quite human-readable): it does not address the physical trespassing because it's a federal indictment and exclusively focused on cross-state issues. DemandProgress need not address those aspects because they're not part of the story here.
posted by phearlez at 8:42 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read the friendly indictment (it really is quite human-readable): it does not address the physical trespassing because it's a federal indictment and exclusively focused on cross-state issues. DemandProgress need not address those aspects because they're not part of the story here.

Fair enough, I stand corrected. Sorry!
posted by Alterscape at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2011


Okay, so it sounds like he did not 'break in' to anything rather he just planted a laptop and used wifi. Interesting. When I was in school you had to register your MAC address to get online. I'm surprised MIT has such a lax policy and allows 'visitors' to access JSTOR. Oh well.

Reading the indictment, the allegations include plugging in his laptop directly to a switch as well as MAC spoofing.
posted by kmz at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2011


Just to follow up on my own loose end up there:

Having read the indictment again, Swartz's determined efforts to work around JSTOR and MIT's efforts to block his access -- if it turns out that Swartz is the one who took the alleged actions -- do not seem like the actions of someone who is making innocent use of the resources MIT provides to the community.

But I realized writing that, that I'm falling into the trap of assuming that Swartz committed the actions alleged and at best has a reasonable justification for doing. Now, the DemandProgress statement and the apparent settlement with JSTOR make that an easy assumption to make but for here on out I will try to patiently wait to hear what his actual defense is.

(I'm really curious, though.)
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2011


Others have taken the appropriate digs at Ironmouth, but given previous discussions here ad nauseam, I'll just note my amusement at lawyers who feel qualified to pontificate on the economics of academic publishing without apparently knowing what they are.
posted by holgate at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


You would be amazed at the very smart and well-educated people at universities who say things like, "We don't need libraries anymore, because it's all online for free."

I call SHENANIGANS. I know some smart (and some very smart) and well-educated people, and I've never heard anyone claim we don't need libraries. Where else would homeless people access the Internet?

Names and quotes or it didn't happen. ;)

do not seem like the actions of someone who is making innocent use of the resources MIT provides to the community.

If I go to my public library and use the wifi there to post something on Facebook that violates its terms of service, is that now grounds for criminal prosecution too?

Of course it is.

Facebook, Inc. v. Power Ventures, Inc.

More wikipedia: Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and U.S. vs. Lori Drew

engadget: Sony vs. Geohot and fail0verflow

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act seems to be the main vehicle for charging TOS violators with actual crimes, though the Drew case seems to set a (strong?) precedent against.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:00 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The whole story brings to mind Gilbert Norrell.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:01 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Terms of Service Violation Not A Crime, Says Court; Bypassing Terms of Service Might Be

?!?!?! can you violate without bypassing?

"There is a caveat in this decision, however; the court also found that it might be a violation of California’s computer crime law to bypass technical or code-based barriers intended to restrict access to or uses of a website. Facebook has argued that Power broke the law by circumventing their effort to block the Power browser’s IP address, which was designed specifically to keep users from accessing their Facebook accounts through the Power system. While a mere violation of the Terms of Service is not criminal, the court decided, intentionally bypassing code-based barriers set up in order to enforce the Terms of Service might be considered criminal under Section 502. Think of it this way: if I ask you not to step onto my property, and you do, you are wrong but not in a criminal way. But if I build a fence, and ask you not to step onto my property and you climb the fence, now we have a problem."

maybe it's me, but the distinction there seems problematic.

posted by mrgrimm at 11:06 AM on July 20, 2011


The search you have linked to does not provide full-text results.
posted by anigbrowl

Exactly, it provides partial-text results which is why my students can only manage to give partial answers. They are too lazy to log into JSTOR and instead rely on the partial-text results provided by their Google searches ;)
posted by J.W. at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure Bernie Madoff would agree.
posted by jcworth at 12:59 AM on July 20


Is this supposed to negate my point? Really? You think Madoff deserves 35 years in prison?

Wow. I hope you're not a Christian. That would be embarrassing.
posted by Decani at 12:00 PM on July 20, 2011


Wow. I hope you're not a Christian. That would be embarrassing.

Huh? Christians tend to believe you can forgive those who do evil to you and send them to prison.
posted by Jahaza at 12:11 PM on July 20, 2011


maybe it's me, but the distinction there seems problematic.

It seems like the fundamental distinction made in most DMCA cases; that given a legitimate attempt to prevent a behaviour by the owner, any attempts to circumvent or override the mechanism preventing that behaviour (reverse engineering or otherwise) are criminal, even if the subsequent behaviour permitted is not itself criminal. Of course, this finally fell down in the jailbreaking case, but that was because physical ownership of the device was at issue. Facebook undeniably owns everything you interact with when you login to Facebook, so their right to prescribe user behaviours stands.

This entire discussion about whether Aaron's MIT access was legitimate or criminal is somewhat moot, because it only goes to the smallest of the charges, which do not even carry a jail sentence. The heart of the case are the Wire Fraud and Computer Fraud charges, which I believe require a financial motive (given that they are fraud charges) which absolutely nobody has actually demonstrated, and seems to rely on hand-wavy "filesharing!!" allegations made in the press release.

Wire Fraud: "having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses" - 20 years
Computer Fraud: "knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization, or exceeds authorized access, and by means of such conduct furthers the intended fraud and obtains anything of value" - 10 years

The whole fraud scheme is conspicuously absent from the case here. IANAL but if your prosecution consists of 1) Download JSTOR 2) ???? 3) Profit! I don't expect you to get very far. Moreover, his "fraudulent pretenses" are apparently naming his laptop with a pseudonym, but last I checked there was no legal obligation to name your laptop with your full legal name (mine is something rude), so, that's not exactly going to fly. Aaron's defense will simply argue his intent was academic research which was not possible through existing access channels, cite his previous work in the area (Stanford Law Review, Wikipedia), and call it a day.
posted by mek at 12:14 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


@discoursemarker - what you say is absolutely the issue, plus the fact that those who evaluate people for tenure and promotion want to outsource the decision-making to publishers rather than have to evaluate research that they may not understand (and certainly have no intention of reading). And let's throw in the fact that many scholarly societies depend on keeping the status quo and fight open access initiatives.

That said, around 80% of academic journals now allow authors to self-archive, sometimes with annoying strings attached (and Elsevier is as we speak attaching some more), but still - an awful lot of academic research could be freely available if the authors put it online themselves. There's a website where you can look up publisher's policies and see what you can do. Or hey - live dangerously and say you want some changes to your publishing agreement, like those in the author addendum at this site.

The reason this hasn't made a big difference is that very few academics can be bothered. I know, people are busy, and there's no reward system for it. But it's possible your library will do it for you if you provide the document. Or that once you get in the habit, it won't be that hard.

And the number of institutions encouraging open access publishing by agreement of the faculty - as the arts and sciences faculty at Harvard have done - is growing. There are paths of resistance that don't require career suicide.
posted by bfister at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


.... and while I'm chasing the tail of this discussion this piece on economic control and the control of academic discourse (not the same, but both contributing to the problem) is interesting.
posted by bfister at 2:49 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pirate Bay: Papers from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 33 gigs of academic papers published before 1923, sourced from JSTOR and published as a protest to the Aaron Swartz indictment. His essay justifying the torrent is interesting.
posted by Nelson at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2011


That's sort of funny, because they're already in Google Books, for free, and downloadable in pdf form.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:49 AM on July 21, 2011


analysis from EFF's Jennifer Granick: In multiple contexts, we are confronting the question of whether automating and thereby enhancing human ability converts otherwise lawful conduct into something improper.
posted by finite at 12:03 PM on July 21, 2011


That's sort of funny, because they're already in Google Books, for free, and downloadable in pdf form.

The symbolism is worthwhile, though: the Phil. Trans. is the grandaddy of all journals, and if you look at the earliest volumes, you genuinely sense the contributors' growing appreciation of how they were changing the way experimental philosophy was done through rapid publication and peer review. (Apart from Newton, who was never good with any kind of criticism, and mostly avoided it.)
posted by holgate at 12:19 PM on July 21, 2011


True, but it's rather empty symbolism.
Enter Prometheus, bearing a TORCH.

PROMETHEUS
Behold, follows humans! I, Prometheus, have stolen fire from heaven at great personal risk and now I share it with you!

THUCYDIDES
That's nice Prometheus. You must be tired, how about a nice plate of roast lamb?

PROMETHUS
But fire, people. FIRE!

Enter ZEUS, as a giant eagle. He seizes PROMETHEUS and carries him away.

THUCYDIDES
Oh dear, and I was going to crack open another amphora for him too.

HESIOD
That stuff does my liver in.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:09 PM on July 21, 2011


To provide a bit of perspective: In the international courts, you get 35 years in prison for crimes against humanity. In the US, you get 35 years for downloading academic articles without paying for them.

But then I guess they're pretty much the same thing.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:02 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But then I guess they're pretty much the same thing.

No, we're way more concerned with the health of corporations than humanity. The extensions of copyright pretty well prove that.
posted by phearlez at 12:04 PM on July 22, 2011


Follow-up: I asked a UC prof who I think is fairly knowledgeable about these sorts of things and he says he hasn't heard a word of the proposed Nature Publishing Group boycott since it was originally mooted.
posted by grouse at 10:15 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given the weight that publishing in their journals carries, I can't imagine anyone but a few idealistic students following through on such a boycott.
posted by maryr at 4:06 PM on July 24, 2011


Rogue academic downloader busted By MIT webcam stakeout
"An arrest report reveals more details on how former Reddit employee Aaron Swartz was caught downloading millions of academic papers."
posted by ericb at 3:00 PM on July 27, 2011


That's how they caught our office food thief as well.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2011


Was Aaron Swartz Stealing?
posted by homunculus at 10:18 PM on August 3, 2011


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