my take on the swartz situation

I’ve been responding here and there on FriendFeed with my thoughts on the whole Aaron Swartz situation, but I’ve got enough of them that they merit their own blog post.

As I’ve noted before, I am not a lawyer, and I have no thoughts whatsoever on the probably legality or illegality of what Swartz has been accused of doing. And as Nancy Sims has clearly documented, his legal case is not a copyright case — and I am in no sense a copyright expert.

But the Swartz case fascinates me nonetheless, because it is puzzling and because it poses huge, potentially revolutionary questions about scholarship, ownership, and access.

But let’s start with the puzzling:

  • Aaron Swartz is a fellow at Harvard and thus presumably has access to JSTOR there. He decided, however, to do his data scraping via guest access at MIT.
  • JSTOR does allow for special use cases if you need to get a whole bunch of stuff, but he did not ask them about this project. (I’m unclear on whether their special use would extend to 4 million articles, of course.)
  • The prosecution claims that Swartz was going to release these 4 million articles publicly, but there’s no evidence of that. Swartz has done big data-mining things for scholarly articles before, but there’s no evidence that he was or was not going to do something similar with these articles.
  • Swartz himself hasn’t released any statements about his intentions.

So, puzzling indeed.

Then there are the possibly revolutionary questions that I, at least, think his action raises — or makes more visible. These questions have been around for years, and, as Barbara Fister notes, librarians have done just about everything but set themselves on fire in an attempt to get other people to notice.

  • For whom is scholarship intended?
  • Who owns — or more properly, who should own — scholarship?
  • What constitutes fair and reasonable access to scholarship, and how does the computer age change that?

I’ll continue to follow Swartz’s case because, hey, I love a good internet scandal. But what I really hope will happen as a result it is that more people will focus on those questions — and that more things will change.

One thought on “my take on the swartz situation”

  1. Although you said many wonderful things, my favorite phrase in your post is “internet scandal.”

    Personally, I think Rupert Murdoch was behind the whole thing.

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