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Monday, January 14, 2013

Prosecutor Rightly Blamed for Death of Aaron Swartz

Posted by on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 8:50 AM

After pressing this arsenal of nasty charges:

Aaron Swartz's legacy was already guaranteed, even at 26: He helped create Reddit and RSS, which distributes content over the Internet.

But his suicide by hanging Friday has also stoked a politically malignant aftermath for the prosecutors pursuing 13 felony charges against him in a trial that was set to begin in a month. Some said his death could be a watershed moment in the ongoing intellectual property debate over the things people share and create, and how they share and create them.

Swartz, an open-Internet advocate who had struggled with depression, was facing decades of prison time and charges that included wire fraud for downloading millions of articles from JSTOR, a nonprofit academic database with a paywall. JSTOR declined to press charges, but prosecutors, led by Massachusetts U.S. Atty. Carmen Ortiz, moved the case forward.

The Swartz family released this statement:

"Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims."

Carmen Ortiz was being a bully, trying to make an example out of Swartz. She didn't kill him, but she wasn't trying to simply punish him, either; she was throwing an egregious decades-long prison term at him to prove a point. Now Ortiz is getting what she had coming: People are making an example out of her. It's a reputation Ortiz deserves as a lesson to other prosecutors (and every US attorney and US Department of Justice employee) that being overzealous in their official capacity, with all the backing of law, can result in being saddled with personal lifelong disgrace. Even prosecutors should balk, protest, or quit when the job asks them to do something immoral.

 

Comments (69) RSS

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1
I haven't been so upset since FDR bullied Hitler into committing suicide.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 14, 2013 at 8:52 AM · Report this
Lissa 2
@1: O_o ?
Posted by Lissa on January 14, 2013 at 9:02 AM · Report this
3
Gee, I forgot that the law doesn't apply to rich white male 'activists' who are, you know, breaking the law.

Real bullying behavior there, doing her job.
Posted by johnjjeeves on January 14, 2013 at 9:11 AM · Report this
4
with this and madrid's assertion that that rape joke guy deserve lifetime, pervasive, unending alienation and shame over things they are not convicted of nor are proven to be guilty of, I am really kinda scratching my head at your erection for mob justice

Posted by six five on January 14, 2013 at 9:15 AM · Report this
Kinison 5
Everything should be free, in fact im going to create a torrent to share out the 25 gigs worth of Hump! videos I got from a friend last week. Like information, entertainment should also be free..... right?
Posted by Kinison http://www.holgatehawks.com on January 14, 2013 at 9:17 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 6
If you don't like the laws in this country, work to change them, don't break them (unless you're willing to face the consequences of breaking them).
Posted by Urgutha Forka on January 14, 2013 at 9:21 AM · Report this
Dominic Holden 9
@6) This isn't about law and order. Prosecutors enjoy a wide range of discretion in seeking charges and sentences. And in this case, it's not just about someone breaking the law and facing the penalty, which my post makes clear; it's about throwing the book at someone who had no victims to make a political statement. Ortiz gets the backlash she deserves.
Posted by Dominic Holden on January 14, 2013 at 9:28 AM · Report this
10
@3 So you're saying being an accessory to rape and filesharing deserve the same punishment? Wow.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on January 14, 2013 at 9:30 AM · Report this
11
Whoops, that should be @4.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on January 14, 2013 at 9:32 AM · Report this
revjon 12
You can't place the blame for someone's suicide at the feet of someone else. There are millions of people facing prosecution in this country for crimes they may or may not have committed, and they don't commit suicide as a result. There were clearly mitigating factors.
Posted by revjon on January 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM · Report this
13
No one deserves blame here except the man who took his own life. It's clear that he had problems with depression long before these charges even came up.
Posted by B^2 on January 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM · Report this
14
@10, the kid in the story wasn't an accessory, and didn't actually break the law.

Now you better hope he doesn't commit suicide, or you'll be responsible, you big mean bully.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 14, 2013 at 9:34 AM · Report this
15
11 - my point was really muddled. I actually meant to say that it is getting really weird that some Stranger writers are starting to be all for punishing people for the rest of their lives (she deserves to be "personally saddled with lifelong disgrace!!!") for crimes they have not been convicted of, nor can be proven to be responsible for. Shitty behavior? YES. Lifelong undying shame and hate? WTF kind of prolonged double, triple, perpetual jeopardy are we putting people in? When, um, this is just conjecture that this is the reason he killed himself.
Posted by six five on January 14, 2013 at 9:41 AM · Report this
16
Stealing millions of dollars worth of content from a nonprofit organization is pretty egregious, but it is not worthy of a punishment we give to murderers and rapists. What's the point of having a criminal justice system if it can't be fair?
Posted by Brandon J. on January 14, 2013 at 9:42 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 17
@9,
Then perhaps prosecutors shouldn't have such discretion?

What is Ortiz supposed to do? Let him off with a slap on the wrist and then potentially lose her job if she's seen as "too lenient?" If it's "immoral" to go after someone the way she did, then you're saying the law itself is immoral. Right? So change the law.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on January 14, 2013 at 9:42 AM · Report this
18
Dominic, I think that by asserting that Aaron's death is the result of the prosecutor prosecuting (whether or not the crimes were victimless, they were illegal actions, and it's her job to uphold the law) you conflate two issues which, imo, shouldn't necessarily be conflated without a ton of acknowledgment of how messy and ambiguious "fault" is when it comes to someone who has taken their own life.

If Carmen Ortiz actions are unnecessarily severe, then she is guilty of perverting justice, and that is definitely something to talk about, at length, and to censure her for. But that doesn't mean she is guilty of making Aaron take his own life.

As it's been pointed out, people are prosecuted for crimes they didn't commit all the time- which is a perversion of justice- but they don't all commit suicide. Suicide is not the de facto consequence of being mistreated- even grossly mistreated, even when there is an inbalance of power mistreated.

My condolances to his family. As someone who's lost a cousin, a grandfather and possibly an aunt to suicide, I know that in my experience the agony of going back to figure out what exactly would have kept my loved one safe is brutal, and it never really gets resolved. Ultimately, how to keep someone who is so internally fragile safe from themselves, while still giving them free will? How do you remove that choice from someone?
Posted by Kumquat on January 14, 2013 at 9:52 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 19
@ 10/11, I read @ 4 as decrying Slog's call to mob justice (which is @ 4's interpretation, not mine, let's make that clear).

Regarding Dom's post...I do not know whether the prosecutor was actually being overzealous or not, regardless of what some internet crusaders and Dom say. But I'm with @ 12 - Swartz's decision to take his own life was his own. The only way to fairly blame one person for the suicide of another is if that person was actively encouraging the other to do it. Short of that, it's a sole decision and the responsibility rests with the deceased.

None of that is to say that the prosecution wasn't overzealous, but I'm not convinced that that's the case right now. Prosecutors do "make examples" of certain charged defendants, but that doesn't equal overzeal. And seeking a long sentence doesn't prove it, either; the judge would be the one handling that, and unless anyone knows whether the judge is either a hardass or one who always gives the prosecution the sentences they seek, then nothing is demonstrated by that fact.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 14, 2013 at 9:52 AM · Report this
Josh Bis 20
This story, from 2011 by Maria Bustillos at the Awl is a terrific and thorough investigation of the dimensions of the lawsuit: "Was Aaron Swartz Stealing?".
Posted by Josh Bis http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Author.html?oid=3815563 on January 14, 2013 at 10:02 AM · Report this
Hawke 21
Murderers and rapists don't pay such a penalty and those are not victimless crimes. This was a witch hunt pure and simple and the person who started it needs to be saddled with the consequences of her decision forever.
Posted by Hawke http://facebook.com/thehawke on January 14, 2013 at 10:03 AM · Report this
Michael of the Green 22
What a load of bullshit on this thread. Nobody is suggesting that he didn't break the law and didn't deserve to be prosecuted. I really thought Sloggers were a little more judicious in their deployment of straw men.
Posted by Michael of the Green on January 14, 2013 at 10:04 AM · Report this
seandr 23
If Aaron Schwartz wanted to use his millions to pay the costs involved in editing, publishing, managing peer reviews, etc that go into producing academic journals, great, then I have
no problem with him giving the content away for free.

Otherwise, his actions only made information "free" at the cost of undermining our ability to produce more such information.
Posted by seandr on January 14, 2013 at 10:06 AM · Report this
delirian 24
A lot of people here don't know the facts of this case. Aaron Swartz went into a janitor's closet and using a script downloaded academic papers that were freely accessible from the university network. That is it. From that the Feds have decided that he is guilty of wire fraud, hacking, and a dozen other crimes with a sentence of up to 50 years and millions of dollars in fines. This is for downloading academic papers. That is it.

The truth of this case is that the prosecutors wanted a trophy on their wall so that they could run for political office or be made a federal judge. Nothing that he did was a felony and neither MIT nor JSTOR pressed charges. The prosecutors were extraordinarily deceitful in this case by placing so many exaggerated charges to try to intimidate Aaron Swartz. It worked. The intimidation from their witch-hunt led to his death.

So Carmen Ortiz, Stephen Heymann, and anyone else associated with this case needs to be fired, disbarred, and then prosecuted if possible. We the public need our trophies now to set an example that if a future prosecutor abuses their power, then they will be punished and that the purpose of a federal prosecutor is to serve the law, not run for office or try to collect enough scalps to qualify for a judgeship.
Posted by delirian on January 14, 2013 at 10:13 AM · Report this
seandr 25
@Dom: who had no victims

Whatever Aaron's intentions, undermining the revenue stream that supports peer-reviewed scientific publications would produce millions and millions of victims, not mention the planet, homosexual rights, rape laws, the economy, and pretty much everything else under attack by fundies.

Given the scale of his crime and the devastating impact that it would have, I disagree the prosecutor was being too harsh.
Posted by seandr on January 14, 2013 at 10:16 AM · Report this
26
@22, thirty years would have been the absolute maximum penalty if he had been found guilty of all of the felonies like this.

In reality, if he had been convicted of all of them, he likely would have been sentenced to probabtion, or house arrest, a lengthy community service, a hefty fine, and MAYBE a small amount of prison time.

A slap on the wrists, in other words. So yeah, it's looking like people didn't want the guy prosecuted at all.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 14, 2013 at 10:18 AM · Report this
27
Oh no! Not a self righteous activists getting punished for breaking the law!

Some guy stealing food, sympathy. Some asshole who thinks his beliefs allow him to steal from others and force them to live as he wants them to, no sympathy at all. Forcing your beliefs on others is being still being a dick, even if his goal was something agreeable.

I'm sorry he killed himself, but he deserved to be prosecuted.
Posted by giffy on January 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM · Report this
28
I understand that the documents Aaron Swartz freed up were tax-payer funded. We paid for that research and writing. The results should be free and publicly accessible.
Posted by rabbitbrush on January 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM · Report this
delirian 29
@25: The journals have brainwashed you. You have drank too much of their Kool Aid. They don't pay for the research or the peer review. That is all done by the scientists on their own budgets or for free. The journals simply accept or reject papers. And who needs that today? Only the journal itself. Almost all scientists wish that they could freely distribute their research. The journals prevent this. And with their enormous prices, they prevent the research from being disseminated to other scientists.

Journals are a plague to science. Groups like PLOS are the future.
Posted by delirian on January 14, 2013 at 10:21 AM · Report this
30
@25 Maybe if he had hacked the computers of journalists, stolen their work, and given it away for any outlet to use, Dom would see how this hurts people.
Posted by giffy on January 14, 2013 at 10:25 AM · Report this
emor 31
@25

Jstor is offering free access to 77 journals right now.

Also, does he money paid to Jstor actually support the creation of scholarly work they distribute? I think those journals have their own revenue streams and that most of the money Jstor gets is to maintain their network. Of course this is speculation on my part.
Posted by emor on January 14, 2013 at 10:25 AM · Report this
Michael of the Green 32
@26 Your definition of "at all" and mine differ, I guess.
Posted by Michael of the Green on January 14, 2013 at 10:27 AM · Report this
Just Blue 33
@25, he returned the data, so no, he didn't undermine JSTOR's revenue stream. JSTOR's official statement:

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge. At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”
Posted by Just Blue on January 14, 2013 at 10:28 AM · Report this
34
@29 the difference between real science and crackpottery is the peer review process.

Peer-reviewed journals are an invaluable part of modern science. Are you one of those anti-vaccers? 9-11 truthers? Chemtrail people? C'mon.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 14, 2013 at 10:29 AM · Report this
35
This is typical prosecutorial strategy. Overcharge and intimidate in the hopes of getting a deal (never mind what's just). It's a major reason why people who can't pay for their own attorney and who rely on overworked public defenders almost always settle. The system is designed to intimidate them.

One reason the system is so swamped (which leads to incentives to plead cases out quickly) is that we've criminalized all kinds of petty behavior. The drug war is just the tip of the iceberg. This is basically the adult equivalent as zero tolerance policies in schools.

This should never have been a criminal prosecution, period. If there was harm done, it belonged in civil court, possibly small claims.

That said, one person is directly responsible for this death: Swartz. With some responsibility borne by those around him who knew he could have depressive episodes and who didn't intervene.
Posted by Corydon on January 14, 2013 at 10:30 AM · Report this
CC-Rob 36
@24 - Thanks for posting more info.
Posted by CC-Rob on January 14, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Report this
37
Aaron Swartz, R.I.P.

There is nothing more sad, more disheartening, than the death of a decent person.

I didn't know Aaron Swartz, although I had communicated with him online on several occasions; a highly intelligent young man with a prodigious mind and noble spirit.

Aaron evidently reached the decision, to spare his family and friends future pain, he would forfeit his own life; in ancient Rome they referred to it as "Falling on one's sword."

Yet another fatality of Obama's War On Whistleblowers, the dramatic extension and expansion from the Bush administration.

Today, Gov. Don Siegelman sits in a penitentiary, his only "crime" was wishing to increase educational access for the many; an authentic democrat, so very rare today.

Today, an Iraqi immigrant, Shakir Hamoodi, who sent small sums of money to his close relatives back home for medical and food emergencies, also sits in a penitentiary, yet another humanist, or "criminal" in America?

Today, a brave CIA whistleblower of the criminal and barbaric torture taking place, John Kiriakou, faces two years in jail, thanks to Obama and life in the land of the lawless.

Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning, Gov. Don Siegelman, Shakir Hamoodi, John Kiriakou and others, too many others, a roster of the best of America, wasted lives in others pursuit of never-ending corruption.

A bizarre BBC report the other day --- and bizarre is the only accurate description for both BBC and their news report --- ran an attack piece on WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, nonsensically juxtaposed against the newspaper strike in China!

They --- the BBC and Australian news --- once again perpetrated lies of "sexual assault of two women" against Assange?

Having read all the legal documents, in both English and Swedish, I observed NO verification of such lies, only that Sofia Wilen, the younger woman who first approached Julian Assange, wanted nothing to do with such false allegations, and that the government-affiliated Anna Ardin (one of her many aliases), appears to have been the driving force in stirring up such vicious stories! (When the publicity became too much for Anna Ardin, she was spirited off to Israel, where a member of the Bonnier family was ambassador at that time.)

http://www.nnn.se/nordic/assange/suspici…

The one common factor, known to Americans, which is evident in both the attacks on Wikileaks/Assange and the illegitimate and amoral incarceration of Gov. Siegelman, is Karl Rove.

Rove appears again and again in the background, as the puppet master pulling the strings to take out Gov. Siegelman, and was financed in his multiple trips to Sweden, around the beginning of the WikiLeaks' episode, financed by the Bonnier family, one of the media giant families of Europe and among the top ten media corporations in existence. (Virtually everyone on the Swedish side who has been attacking Julian Assange is financially connected to the Bonnier family: the attorneys, Anna Ardin, the Bonnier-employed reporters, the Justice Minister, etc., the only exception would be Sofia Wilen, the young lady who quickly distanced herself from the horrendously unfolding events.)

Aaron Swartz, both believed in, and fought for, free speech and freedom of the press, an incredibly shrinking freedom which has been all but co-opted by the ruling oligarchs through their corporations today --- does anyone really know who owns AT&T, after all?

Recently, some technically astute friends ran a series of tests, and observed that the most heavily censored sites: Huffington Post, boingboing.net, Naked Capitalism, The Guardian, etc., are considered to be some of the more "liberal" sites on the 'net --- nothing could be further from the truth!

The most heavily censored English-speaking countries on the Web? Canada, the UK and the USA.

Most despicably, network neutrality appears as dead as Aaron Swartz --- and we should all mourn the passing of both noble personages.

In Memoriam

Aaron Swartz

November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/co…


Notes and Sources

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct…

"Kiriakou was a CIA veteran who played a role in the agency's capture of the al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded by government interrogators and eventually revealed information that led to the arrest of the "dirty bomb" plotter Jose Padilla and exposed Khalid Sheikh Mohamed as the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks. Accounts conflict over whether the waterboarding was helpful in getting intelligence from Zubaydah."

. . . .

"The CIA director, David Petraeus, sent a memo to agency employees noting Kiriakou's conviction, saying: "It marks an important victory for our agency, for our intelligence community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy."

(Tell that to the wifey, Davey boy! --- sgt_doom)

http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/11/fo…

http://www.donsiegelman.org/

http://news.silobreaker.com/the-case-of-…

More...
Posted by sgt_doom on January 14, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Report this
delirian 38
@34: PLOS does peer review. And papers can be stored on arXiv prior to that. In this way the dumbass journals can't hold back papers like the prediction of the Higgs boson. Science advances. Journals just lock up the information and play gatekeepers to the knowledge. Science stagnates.
Posted by delirian on January 14, 2013 at 10:35 AM · Report this
trstr 39
Speaking of overzealous DAs, our US District Attorney Jenny Durkan has held three people - Matt Duran, Katherine Olejnik, and Matthew Pfeiffer - in the SeaTac Federal Detention Center for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury. Matt D. and Katherine have been in jail since September. All three are currently in solitary confinement - the FDC threw Matt D. and Katherine in solitary right after Christmas, and Matthew P. has been in solitary ever since entering the FDC at the end of December.

http://nopoliticalrepression.wordpress.c…
Posted by trstr on January 14, 2013 at 10:35 AM · Report this
40
From mMSNBC's Chris Hayes:

You should also know that at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of — and I’m not exaggerating here — downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR. Aaron had allegedly used a simple computer script to use MIT’s network to massively download academic articles from the database that he himself had legitimate access to,almost 5 million in all, with the intent, prosecutors alleged, of making them freely available. You should know that despite JSTOR declining to press charges or pursue prosecution, federal prosecutors dropped a staggering 13 count felony indictment on Aaron for his alleged actions. In a statement about his death Aaron’s family and partner wrote:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
You should know his death is a good reason to revisit the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the law under which he was prosecuted, since it is far too broad, and to take a hard look at Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office prosecuted Aaron with such recklessly disproportionate vigor, and who is reportedly considering a run for governor.

@6- it is unclear that he committed a crime. It seems likely that he did not. Aaron's lawyer offered many different plea arrangements. The prosecutor refused all offers, insisting the state pursue all maximum penalties. Still stand by your statement?

@16- again, it is not clear that anything was "stolen". Besides, you and I paid for the research with our tax dollars. This is prosecutorial misconduct.

@25- take your clozapine before you hurt yourself. Or someone else.
More...
Posted by Pol Pot on January 14, 2013 at 10:40 AM · Report this
41
@35, Corydon,

"One reason the system is so swamped (which leads to incentives to plead cases out quickly) is that we've criminalized all kinds of petty behavior."

While you make numerous excellent points, Corydon, and some pathetic ones, it goes far, fary beyond "criminalized all kinds of petty behavior" --- in point of fact, were you to peruse the various federal, state and munipal laws throughout America, you would find they've pretty much criminalized everything --- and add to that the lawsuite, which ONLY received publicity in foreign countries, but NEVER in Amerika, alleging (and easily verifiable, which is why the public never read of it in Corporate Amerika publications) fraudulent manipulation of the two major and principal online legal databases accessing American jurisprudence, so as to alter existing legal precedent case law!

Things have gotten to the social singularity point, where very, very few people truly have an inkling of what goes on....
Posted by sgt_doom on January 14, 2013 at 10:41 AM · Report this
42
Yo Alex had suicidal ideation for years. Blaming this on one thing is simply that.

http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dying
Posted by six five on January 14, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Report this
43
@20, Josh Bis,

Great article, thanks, dude!

Posted by sgt_doom on January 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM · Report this
44
@Everyone:,

Maybe if those DOJ jackholes and official federal secret police, the feebs of the FBI, etc., spent their time actually going after the bad guys INSTEAD of representing the bankster/oil cartel, we wouldn't have to read an article like the one below every year or so:

http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/01/…

Posted by sgt_doom on January 14, 2013 at 11:06 AM · Report this
45
oops @42 meant Aaron. He changed the name to Alex after his friend called police for help after he was fired from Reddit
Posted by six five on January 14, 2013 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Posted by sgt_doom on January 14, 2013 at 11:15 AM · Report this
47
Seems Carmen Ortiz had a real problem with white collar criminals and corruption. I understand why she wanted to make an example of this millionaire stealing documents - from her point of view, this was just another asshole thinking he could flout the system because of his money and connections, regardless of the legality of it.

Thanks Dom, for making me look into her more - I like this lady and what she stands for, as little respect I have for prosecutors in general. For you to say she is responsible for his suicide is utter, fallacious bullshit. Working with incarcerated populations, I can tell you that a great many of them are depressed and suicidal over what they consider to be their unjust punishment over minor offenses. But when it's a 19 year old black kid who hangs himself in his cell over a robbery conviction, no one, least of all the people in this thread, straight up give a fuck.
Posted by johnjjeeves on January 14, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Report this
48
As an academic in a field where time from submission to acceptance of an article to a journal can be roughly a *year,* I'm just popping in here to say: I also agree that the journal model is destructive to science. Peer review can exist in much the same way as it currently does without Elsevier, Springer etc skimming billions off the top -- they don't pay for research, they don't pay the authors, they don't edit, they don't pay for peer review, they don't even really keep reviewers to a strict deadline. They print a dwindling number of physical copies of the journal, and operate websites that attempt to extort more money out of you, as a researcher, even though your institution pays for a subscription to the journals (they ask you for $40 for one article, which you should have free access to due to your institutional subscription, and then they tell you that this is a "technical error." Lying fucks.)

Even when these publishers have reluctantly allowed open-access to papers, they charge the AUTHORS of the articles on the order of $3,000. This means that authors at less prestigious universities/departments are forced to publish in closed-access journals.

Oh -- and many journals won't let you host drafts of your own papers on your website.

Academic publishers are parasites. Nobody - from the reviewers, to the authors, to the universities that pay subscriptions for them to keep them afloat - actually likes them. And increasingly, I think, the younger generation of researchers is finding that they are unnecessary evils, except for the purposes of getting a job, which requires publishing in the journals that they serve as gate-keepers for.

I look forward to them shrivelling up like leeches covered in salt.

(Note: JSTOR is not a publisher; it is an information repository.)
More...
Posted by TheLurker on January 14, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 49
Meanwhile, Bill Gates roams free for pirating CP/M to make DOS.

... just saying.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Report this
50
See also:


Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on January 14, 2013 at 12:01 PM · Report this
delirian 51
@47: How many people involved in the financial crisis has Ortiz prosecuted? None? It must be hard to prosecute people who cause real damage to the country but have political connections (which may be needed in her future run for office). Might as well prosecute and deceitfully overcharge a young man who wants to free the information that every taxpayer has already paid for.
Posted by delirian on January 14, 2013 at 12:21 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 52
After reading all the hand-wringer comments here, I've come to the conclusion that not a single one of you knows what you're talking about.

Yes, there are some nuances and Dominic presents a thumbnail sketch, but holy crap, are you guys filled w/ blind ignorance to what really happened. This is a big story all over the internet, so there is no excuse for you folks not having the tools to find the articles.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 14, 2013 at 12:24 PM · Report this
seandr 53
@29: The journals have brainwashed you. You have drank too much of their Kool Aid.

I haven't drank any Kool Aid, nor has any been offered to me.

They don't pay for the research or the peer review.

They don't pay for research, never said they did. They do, however, pay editors who play an important role in managing the peer review - e.g., selecting peers, evaluating reviews, making calls as to whether a publication meets the quality bar

The journals simply accept or reject papers.

They also bear publishing costs.

And who needs that today?

In this day in age where people make preposterous, hurtful, and damaging claims based on horseshit science, we all need this. A carefully managed peer-review process has become an essential component of the scientific method.

Almost all scientists wish that they could freely distribute their research.

They can and they do. Any scientist is free to put unpublished manuscripts on the web. In fact, there are entire sites out there dedicated to this purpose.

The journals prevent this.

This this is ridiculously incorrect. The journals don't prevent this, nor can they. They don't own the research, they own the journal, and scientists who submit their work to those journals do so willingly with the hope that their work reaches that journal's audience. If a scientist doesn't want to play that game, she publish her work in whatever way she sees fit.

Moreover, even if a journal accepts a paper, they allow authors to hand out limited numbers of free copies of published research to people upon request - none of my requests have ever been turned down by the author.

In reality, the publishing industry puts no enforcement on small scale "piracy" of copyrighted material. You can download dozens of published manuscripts from my former adviser's web site right now, and 6 of my own publications from my web site, including one from Science. They've been up there for over a decade, and I've never heard a peep from any publisher about it.

And with their enormous prices, they prevent the research from being disseminated to other scientists.

Online journal access is free to anyone with even the remotest association with a university. My wife has some sort of unpaid, assistant, adjunct trainer position at UW, and even she has free access. As an alumnus, you can pay a modest fee for access to almost any journal on earth. And literally anyone can walk into Suzzallo and photocopy to their heart's content.

Journals are a plague to science. Groups like PLOS are the future.

PLOS maybe the future, but unless if can find an army of volunteers to manage the costs of publishing and do a good job with quality control, you'll either be paying them, or we'll have a truly "democratic" scientific method in which things like holocaust denials, claims that women's bodies can't be impregnated by rape, and studies showing that smoking actually cures cancer given equal billing and credence with actual science.
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Posted by seandr on January 14, 2013 at 12:32 PM · Report this
54
If someone remains in possession of something the moment after an action occurs, that action was not theft. While one can copy information, one cannot take it away from someone else. Information cannot be stolen.

Aaron Swartz may have entered an unlocked room without explicit permission. He may have downloaded publicly-funded information at a rate higher than that at which JSTOR expected those at MIT who JSTORE invited to download were expected to download it. I am confident that the actions leading to this ridiculous prosecution by the United States government did not involve him stealing anything from anyone.
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on January 14, 2013 at 1:21 PM · Report this
delirian 55
@53:
They can and they do. Any scientist is free to put unpublished manuscripts on the web. In fact, there are entire sites out there dedicated to this purpose.
That would be awesome if all of the research material you need was produced after the year 2000 or so and the scientist was open about their research (which is not that common). Otherwise you shit out of luck and you are going to have to deal with a journal.
They also bear publishing costs.
They don't have to. Just use Google Scholar. Nobody needs a paper journal anymore and Google is more than happy to host research papers. And if not them, a thousand other universities would do it.
They don't own the research, they own the journal, and scientists who submit their work to those journals do so willingly with the hope that their work reaches that journal's audience. If a scientist doesn't want to play that game, she publish her work in whatever way she sees fit.
You contradict yourself. One moment you are talking about how important the journals are to keeping out crackpot research and the next moment you say that the scientists don't need them. Apparently they are happily choosing to have their research put under lock and key. Tell me, how does it look for getting tenure, jobs, or grants to say "I didn't publish it in a journal, but here is the website". Journals force every scientist to go through them as the gatekeeper of knowledge. And they use this to their advantage.
even if a journal accepts a paper, they allow authors to hand out limited numbers of free copies of published research to people upon request
How generous of them! A couple of free copies of taxpayer funded research for the colleagues of the researcher. That solves everything!
Online journal access is free to anyone with even the remotest association with a university. My wife has some sort of unpaid, assistant, adjunct trainer position at UW, and even she has free access. As an alumnus, you can pay a modest fee for access to almost any journal on earth. And literally anyone can walk into Suzzallo and photocopy to their heart's content.
That is so awesome. Except that even extremely large universities like UW can't afford every journal. Many journals have annual subscription prices ranging up to 6 figures. For small institutions or private researchers not associated with universities, the cost is prohibitive. This is why the Feds are claiming that Aaron Swartz downloaded millions of dollars worth in academic papers. For the journals who are holding ransom the papers that were paid for with taxpayer money, they are worth millions.
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Posted by delirian on January 14, 2013 at 1:22 PM · Report this
seandr 56
@delirian: You contradict yourself. One moment you are talking about how important the journals are to keeping out crackpot research and the next moment you say that the scientists don't need them.

I'm making two separate and, I think, non-contradictory points:
1) At present, journals are the gatekeepers, and say what you want about pricing, they do a pretty good job at that role. The fact that an article appears in Science, Nature, Cell, or The American Journal of Homeopathic Medicine, for example, conveys quite a bit about the significance and quality of the work. If you simply tear that system down and say "Hey man, dig my research, it's free!" you have will have effectively killed science.

2) Scientists willingly, no make that eagerly, give away government funded research to those journals in exchange for the prestige, fame, and career advancement that comes with publishing in them. But there's nothing the journals can do to prevent scientists from renegotiating the terms of publishing, collectively if need be. Journals also can't stop scientists from developing other, competing publishing models that play gatekeeper and assume the costs of publishing (which costs money regardless of whether it involves printing).

How generous of them! A couple of free copies of taxpayer funded research for the colleagues of the researcher.

100 or so free copies is more than enough to meet demand for 99% of published research articles. :-)

Also, the journals aren't selling you the research, they are selling a particular, copyrighted description of that research. Scientists are free to republish their results wherever they want, and sometimes do, although they'd have to change around wording to avoid copyright infringement.

I'm not saying that journals don't have problems. Maybe their profit margins are unjustifiably high. If that problem can't be fixed through collective negotiation from scientists and universities, it's not enough to simply steal all of their copyrighted articles and put them online. You need to come up with an alternative gatekeeper mechanism.
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Posted by seandr on January 14, 2013 at 3:32 PM · Report this
seandr 57
@delirian: If all of the research material you need was produced after the year 2000 or so

Here I think you've hit upon a serious problem - the fact that the US government has, over the century, lengthened copyright expiration from 28 years to 70 years after the author's death.

Were it not for this fact, the entire body of scientific literature up to 1985 would, as it should, be public domain.
Posted by seandr on January 14, 2013 at 3:42 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 58
@57 good point.

Time to cancel software and business process patents (or allow them to expire in 5 years) and expire copyrights not issued to the living author (a natural person, not a fictional legal entity) or their heirs in the year of death, for a 14 year period plus one renewal.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 14, 2013 at 4:15 PM · Report this
59
seandr, we may quibble over this and that on occasion but let me say you are commenting the hell out of your concerns here. Tenacious, tempered, thorough. Cheers.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 14, 2013 at 4:24 PM · Report this
60
There's some thoughtful analysis of the situation from Aaron's friend Danah Boyd.

In it, she wrote:

What made me so overwhelmingly angry yesterday was the same thing that has been boiling in my gut for the last two years. When the federal government went after him – and MIT sheepishly played along – they weren’t treating him as a person who may or may not have done something stupid. He was an example. And the reason they threw the book at him wasn’t to teach him a lesson, but to make a point to the entire Cambridge hacker community that they were p0wned. It was a threat that had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with a broader battle over systemic power. In recent years, hackers have challenged the status quo and called into question the legitimacy of countless political actions. Their means may have been questionable, but their intentions have been valiant. The whole point of a functioning democracy is to always question the uses and abuses of power in order to prevent tyranny from emerging. Over the last few years, we’ve seen hackers demonized as anti-democratic even though so many of them see themselves as contemporary freedom fighters. And those in power used Aaron, reframing his information liberation project as a story of vicious hackers whose terroristic acts are meant to destroy democracy.


Reasonable people can disagree about tactics and where and when a particular approach pushes too far. Like Lessig, I often disagreed with Aaron about his particular approach to freeing the world’s information, even if I never disagreed with him about the goal. And one of the reasons why so many hackers and geeks spent yesterday raging against the machine is because so many people in power have been unable to see past the particular acts and understand the intentions and activism. So much public effort has been put into controlling and harmonizing geek resistance, squashing the rebellion, and punishing whoever authorities can get their hands on. But most geeks operate in gray zones, making it hard for them to be pinned down and charged. It’s in this context that Aaron’s stunt gave federal agents enough evidence to bring him to trial to use him as an example. They used their power to silence him and publicly condemn him even before the trial even began.


Yesterday, there was an outpouring of information about his case, including an amazing account from the defense’s expert witness. Many people asked why people didn’t speak up before. I can only explain my reasoning. I was too scared to speak publicly for fear of how my words might be used against him. And I was too scared to get embroiled in the witch hunt that I’ve watched happen over the last three years. Because it hasn’t been about justice or national security. It’s been about power. And it’s at the heart and soul of why the Obama administration has been a soul crushing disappointment to me. I’ve gotten into a ridiculous number of fights over the last couple of years with folks in the administration over the treatment of geeks and the misunderstanding of hackers, but I could never figure how to make a difference on that front. This was a source of serious frustration for me, even as SOPA/PIPA showed that geeks could make a difference.


So here we are today, the world lacking a prodigious child whose intellect scared the shit out of everyone who knew him. He became a toy for a government set on showing their strength. And they bullied him and preyed on his weaknesses and sought to break him. And they did. All for the performance of justice. All before he was even tried in a society that prides itself on innocent until proven guilty. Was depression key to what happened on Friday? Certainly. But it wasn’t the whole story. And that’s what makes it hard for me to stomach.

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Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on January 14, 2013 at 5:20 PM · Report this
eclexia 61
@50 already posted this. But worth repeating down-thread.

http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-trut…
Posted by eclexia on January 14, 2013 at 6:05 PM · Report this
62
I'm going to go with delirian on this one and refuse to shed a tear for Elsevier and their 5 (if not 6)-figure yearly subscriptions. The only reason they are still able to get away with charging that much to publish (often only digitally) the results of tax-payer funded research is that the careers of academics are so dependent on publishing in journals with a high "impact factor". Basically it's a self-perpetuating system that where, like, 2 huge corporations rake in piles of cash for selling something they basically get for free.

Not that that makes the guy right or anything.
Posted by chi_type on January 14, 2013 at 7:59 PM · Report this
watchout5 63
Carmen Ortiz took a chance and wanted to make an example out of "this kid" so that no other kid would fight the power like he did. These walled gardens that are put up around our content that we paid for are beyond shameful and to have stood with a group of people trying to keep MY INFORMATION from ME should be shamed out of human existence based on that alone.

Then there's the shame they will always carry for killing the reddit guy. That's the meme right there. "Attempt to make oligarchs happy by enforcing maximum copyright sentence, gets remembered as the lawyer who killed the most promising 20 year old of the 21st century". It doesn't matter what the facts are. This person is forever the worst person in existence. Aaron's crime was that of justice. Aaron's crime is the crime of all of us. How many of you used youtube today? Every single one of you likely broke the exact same law Aaron was accused of breaking. Only instead of shitty pop music this hero took knowledge from our universities and wanted to give that information we already all paid for and give it away to us for free because it's ours. Carmen Ortiz is a monster. Carmen Ortiz should be shamed. I'm too emotional to do it properly, but if I could compare Carmen Ortiz to any monster in history, the church people who would guard book and ban reading? Carmen Ortiz is a crusader for the owners. A complete sell out who's more than willing to kill 20 year olds to make a name for themselves. It's what they were bribed to do and it's likely they know it. For the rest of their life that money will be tainted by the blood they spilled for it. It will be hard to enjoy a pool the way you should while you're constantly thinking about the child you destroyed for it. Could a pool really be worth stopping human progress? Doesn't matter got paid.
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Posted by watchout5 http://www.overclockeddrama.com on January 15, 2013 at 1:44 AM · Report this
64
Keep in mind, this hadn't gone to trial. Just because he "could be facing" up to 35 years means nothing - given the type of crime, it's very likely that he would have served the sentences concurrently (if he wasn't just given probation). 35 years or however many years it was, was simply media hype; in which case Dominic should also be "rightly" blaming himself and his peers.

Lastly, a lot like the Tyler Clementi/Ravi Dharun case, there is no note - we don't know why Swartz or Clementi killed themselves. Both were free men, any number of intervening factors could have prompted their action.

The reference the initial point, Ravi was CONVICTED on 15 felony counts, he could have been sentenced to 10 years, and instead got 30 days (the generic legal principle is that multiple convictions stemming from a single act are served concurrently).
Posted by fetish on January 15, 2013 at 6:11 AM · Report this
65
@47, johnjjeeves --- I call absolute bullcrap on you, dood!

You want to go back and closely examine how Ortiz rolled over on The October Surprise, she gots some serious s**t in her background, sonny!

@51, delirian, much thanx, you completely nailed it in your response --- Ortiz is the friend of the bankster, has she has proven in the past --- yet another faux crat.

Posted by sgt_doom on January 15, 2013 at 10:38 AM · Report this
66
Background on U.S. attorney Stephen Heymann, who apparently pursued Aaron to gain publicity for himself: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/14…

Aaron's lawyer "nearly negotiated" plea deal with no jail time, but MIT would not sign off on it: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/01…
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on January 15, 2013 at 1:47 PM · Report this
67
In 2006 I was informed by the police that someone had broken into my home and that they required permission to enter to find him. They didn't find the intruder but they did find my stash of marijuana. I had we'll over an ounce and had a bad habit of saving the bags of previous ounces purchaced and all the little crumbs left behind for rolling salad joints. I was charged with felony posession. Not only that, the prosecutor informed my lawyer from the start that if I were to even attempt to fight that they would tack on intent to sell and take me to trial seeking a minimum of 5 years imprisonment.

For posessing marijuana they found in my home while looking for someone who robbed my house.

My situation was dire..but I learned my rights, gathered my resources, got a good lawyer and faught it. I ended up with a simple misdemeanor conviction with 2 years probation and community service.

I didn't kill myself.

Aaron Swartz killed himself to make you wonderful folks in in the Internet Justice League shit their pants and blame the government for his death. He suffered a lifelong battle with depression and could not win his battle through this hardship. He instead martyred himself.

By blaming the government for his death you are doing a great disservice to the countless suffering from this mental illness. Shame on you Dominic and the rest of you for using his death to push this agenda. It doest matter that "its what he wanted". His killer was depression. Not Carmen Ortiz.

Had I killed myself facing years of prison for a victimless crime I would not have been able to spend the following years fighting for marijuana leagaliation in this state. A fight we just won, by the way.

He could have been a hero of the free information movement. Instead, he's a corpse.
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Posted by Solar System on January 15, 2013 at 1:47 PM · Report this
68
@67-

No shit. I was looking at 12-60 years in Illinois for ganja food. I didn't get a rope, I got a lawyer and fought it. Kid had way more money and was looking at way less time. He was depressed and a pussy. Nothing wrong with being depressed, but giving up like that is a bitch move. Kid never heard of Canada? Seriously. I'll feel bad for his friends and family and acknowledge the larger loss, but I'm not feeling sorry for the kid.
Posted by Bhamjason on January 15, 2013 at 11:20 PM · Report this
69
Pretty cold not to feel sorry for him. I feel incredibly sorry for him, particularly because he obviously never got the help he needed to address his mental illness. It's just absurd to blame "THE GOVERNMENT" for his death while totally ignoring the seriousness of his condition.

Attempting to score cheap political points over Aaron's suicide is the real bitch move here.
Posted by Solar System on January 16, 2013 at 4:49 PM · Report this
tainte 70
gross
Posted by tainte on January 17, 2013 at 7:58 AM · Report this
71
This is bullshit. You can't blame others when someone takes their own life. Many, many people have faced MUCH worse punishments (and been convicted!) and not committed suicide. She was doing what she is supposed to do, which is charge people who have committed crimes with those crimes. This is grossly irresponsible though sadly unsurprising coming from The Stranger.
Posted by Amanda Huggenkiss on January 17, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Report this

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