Aaron Swartz’s Suicide Aftermath. Grounds For Change.


Aaron Swartz’s criminal prosecution for violating the terms of service of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s JSTOR data base has caused two bills to be introduced in Congress.

One called Aaron’s Law would eliminate criminal charges arising out of the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the wire fraud act.  Thus preventing the U.S. Attorney from making what was essentially a breach of contract civil case into a criminal case as they did in Aaron’s prosecution. Further to criminalize a just moral belief is indefensible.

Also Swartz’s criminal complaint was exaggerated by adding multiple counts each with its own jail penalty. This method was used by the prosecutor to bully Aaron in to pleading guilty to a crime he believed he did not commit by filing multiple draconian charges with long sentences to force him to plead to a lesser included offense which he refused to do.

In this case the multiple felonies filed under the aforementioned acts carried possible penalties of 35 years in jail and a million dollar fine. The lesser plea bargain was a felony plea and six months in jail. This is a frequent prosecutorial tactic not just in federal criminal cases but also in state cases.

By this method of overreaching and overcharging to force a plea bargain by the prosecution Swartz would have been deprived of a fair hearing on the merits of his case and having it ruled on accordingly.

MIT did not want this matter to be filed on by the U.S. Attorney’s office obviously because of the fact they were also  morally unjustified in not making JSTOR’s data base open to the public who had paid for the research in the first place. However they had the legal right to charge people off campus and limit downloading to people on campus because the existing copyright laws have been manipulated to expire long after the creation of the research papers most of which in this case were paid, as said, with tax payer money.

The copyright law which was first enacted to encourage the creation and dissemination of information after a brief period to allow the creator to be paid for their work has now morphed into a property rights wall that lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator.  This gives the creator no incentive to create anything new and once he or she is dead he or she obviously will create no more. Thus we have unproductive people living off the works of the dead creator.

Aaron Swartz believed in the Open Source Movement that would limit the time information and creations could be locked up behind corporate copyright walls which MIT was doing with its JSTOR data base which included research papers from the 1940’s.

The second bill, Fair Access to Science Technology and Research Act would mandate earlier access to publicly funded research. (The other Aaron’s law.) It will address this problem but it is unlikely to pass because there are too many powerful interests with an army of lobbyists who want to lengthen copyrights and patents for their own benefit.

Death is always a sad subject and suicide is even sadder.  An unnecessary death of a  young, gifted, idealistic person is the worst of all.   However perhaps this case will change public perceptions and bring about a resolution that benefits society in general.

The House of Representatives Oversight Committee has announced it will look into the prosecutorial tactics used in the Swartz case to determine if there was any abuse. This may result in legislation also to prevent the prosecution tactics Aaron Swartz was faced with.




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