Monday, 14 January 2013

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz, died yesterday at 26, it’s likely he killed himself. He was facing up to 30 years jail time, if convicted at trial due to start in the next few weeks. There’s a lot of pressure when they come after you.

His crime? He was consistent in fighting for free access to information on the net and did things to try to realise it.

The actual trial was about downloading academic articles, just as previously he had been involved in trying to make US legal docuements/cases available to all.

This was significant, just like there are scientists trying to patent genomes or bacteria in order to make money, the companies that publish information are trying to privatise it, so that we all have to pay for access.

No one objects to publishers making money when they publish, it’s just not right for this to be a permanent licence to make money.

Two examples;

Lawyers who have access to case law on Lexis-Nexus, which costs big bucks have an advantage over lawyers who don’t. Guess who they represent? Yet those cases were public information once.

Scientists in the first world can access scientific articles, those in the developing world can’t afford the subscriptions. This includes articles from 30 years ago.  Scientific progress needs the free flow of information if we are to keep developing.

There are a surprising number of “hackers”, actually earning a good living from the FBI, Department of Defence or the big corporations.

Aaron Swartz seems to have been one of the good guys and we are all the worse off for having lost him.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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