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Aaron Swartz Legal Defense Fund (aaronsw.com)
132 points by sethbannon on Sept 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments



Now let me see if I got this right:

  1. Brilliant programmer gets chance of a lifetime.
  2. Turns that into lots of money early in life.
  3. Decides to change the world in his own way.
  4. Consciously & purposefully breaks the law.
  5. Has a webpage to get others to pay his legal bills.
I've never met Aaron but I've always enjoyed his writing and looked forward to meeting him one day. But there is something seriously wrong about this.

Aaron should man up, take responsibility for his actions, and pay his own bills.

And if this is his idea of changing the world, perhaps he should reconsider his choices and find a better way of paying it forward to other brilliant programmers who never got the breaks he did.


1) I don't think Aaron made more than six figures from Reddit. Soon after acquisition, he went on walkabout, and then he got canned. He probably got some money, but did not vest most of his share.

So, don't worry - he's poor enough for your pity and support.

2) As to your second line of thought, that we should punish him because he consciously broke the law... I disagree with anyone on this forum who says that Aaron didn't know the potential consequences of his actions, and therefore should not be punished. But I also disagree with you.

This was a victimless crime, and the only ones pursuing it are some relentless G-men. Where is the corporation or person that has been wronged? Who, in the public, wants to pillory Aaron? What did Aaron gain? Do we really need to make an example of him, so this doesn't happen again? Is this really good a use of taxes?

My reaction is just shame and disgust... I mean, really? This brilliant kid is going to jail because of civil disobedience? Just so we can show there is still a book than can be thrown?


From the prosecution's vantage point --- and please stop for a minute and consider that perspective even though there's no chance you'll agree with it --- this was not a victimless crime.

As the prosecution sees it, Aaron broke into a service and took information that JSTOR charges 5 figures for access to with the intent of putting it on a file sharing network and thus destroying the commercial value of that information. If you read the indictment, the prosecution's vantage point seems to show that Aaron did this with the intention of destroying the commercial value of the information, because he opposes the commercialization† of that kind of information.

The prosecution's charge is that Aaron deliberately set out to harm an organization because they were incompatible with his own ideology.

JSTOR is a nonprofit but you get the drift


>"The prosecution's charge is that Aaron deliberately set out to harm an organization because they were incompatible with his own ideology."

Sort of like how Rosa Parks decided to harm an organization because it didn't agree with her ideology. I mean, we're a nation of laws, she should have just sat where the bus driver told her to, am I right? Do we even have to debate the idea that sometimes laws are dictated to the people, not by the people?

Thankfully there are people who are actually willing to take action, rather than shilling for the powers that be. Academic research by public institutions should be free, in both senses of the word.

>"the prosecution's vantage point seems to show that Aaron did this with the intention of destroying the commercial value of the information"

Of course they will claim that, what else would they argue?


Of course they will claim that, what else would they argue?

Aaron's been pretty clear on his stated goals I'm not sure he can even argue that sentiment. Take a look at his "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto"

http://pastebin.com/cefxMVAy


_Wow_.

That is not a good thing for him to have said before trying to liberate JSTOR.


Maybe, but reading through, he does appear to be right.


Huh? Rosa Parks didn't set out to harm the Montgomery Bus Line. She just took the "wrong" seat.

It's funny that people can play the Anti-Godwin without even really knowing who Rosa Parks was; at least you can assume the people who invoke Hitler actually know why Hitler was evil.


>"Rosa Parks didn't set out to harm the Montgomery Bus Line. She just took the "wrong" seat."

And Swartz didn't set out to harm JSTOR commercially. That's only the view of prosecutors, which is completely expected.

Are you being deliberately obtuse? The point of bringing up Rosa Parks is that you make claims like, "We are a nation ruled by laws, not people. It is not up to Aaron Swartz". Substitute Aaron Swartz for Rosa Parks/Gandhi/whatever other examples people have brought up, and you should see what a ridiculous statement that is.

>"It's funny that people can play the Anti-Godwin without even really knowing who Rosa Parks was"

What's really funny is that, between calling opposing ideas "dumb" and "retarded", you've managed to conceal from most of the HN community the fact that you're really an arrogant blow-hard.


Yes he did. He even posted a manifesto saying it.


Funny, because I see him repeating, over and over, that the purpose is to set academic research free. It's called the "Open Access Manifesto" for crying out loud, not "Let's bankrupt JSTOR!"

And it's that idea that myself and other "retards" here are able to get behind, despite the fact that he broke the law to try to accomplish it, and will likely suffer consequences.


Only on a message board are these two dots hard to connect. Because after JSTOR's whole database is made public, people will continue to pay JSTOR because they're nice guys.


>"Because after JSTOR's whole database is made public, people will continue to pay JSTOR because they're nice guys."

Because Universities and research facilities are going to download the JSTOR torrent as opposed to purchasing access, just because it's available, right?

That sounds a lot like the argument the record labels and MPAA make. I can't remember, do people still pay for music and movies?


Just like everybody pays for all the movies and music they torrent after they decide which ones they're keeping.


> Huh? Rosa Parks didn't set out to harm the Montgomery Bus Line. She just took the "wrong" seat.

Ah, the intellectual inconsistency of conservatism, where condemnation or condonation is so dependent upon the arrow of time. Urging caution to slow down the rate of societal change is valid; fallacious arguments to further that goal are not.

At the time, the same cryptofascist arguments were bandied about for dear Rosa - she's upsetting the system of segregation between seats, she's destroying the value of the bus lines because white people won't want to ride them, she's delaying the bus and inconveniencing others, she's destroying the value of all businesses that rely on serving white customers, etc etc etc.

But since Rosa Parks is in the past, we embrace Rosa Parks and claim her as part of our American Heritage, responsible for helping usher in an era of freedom and equality. She was guilty of breaking the law, but consciously and respectfully submitted to the immutable system. But the system was wrong back then, so we no longer consider her a criminal.

But Aaron Swartz? He's guilty of stealing (hold pinky to mouth) millions of dollars. For a straightforward downloading of too many articles combined with an upsetting mens rea. Use the vague modern-witch hunting laws to lock him in the clink and throw away the key!

I agree that Aaron Swartz is guilty - of breaking into a closet. If MIT wishes, he should be prosecuted by the Middlesex DA and given the same punishment any non-poor white kid would receive - restitution and probation.


I'm not a conservative. Your argument goes downhill from there.


Oh boy.. I had wondered if you were going to say this. Sorry to break it to you, but you are conservative. (at least as far as your HN comments go)

Just go back and reread any thread of yours regarding TLS versus designing new protocols. The liberal cryptographers will design dozens of protocol implementations with starry-eyed visions of new unformalized properties that don't actually exist. Most will be used in places where TLS would have sufficed and most of them will be broken. But eventually something new will come out this mess, provide enough advantages to gain traction, and become hardened canon over the years. Conservative philosophy will never design a crypto protocol, but it will prevent a lot of damage from the redundant badly-designed protocols. Both philosophies are needed.

One could be both liberal and conservative in different areas, but your non-technical comments read the same way. Or perhaps you're just a bit confused about what conservatism actually is. Totally reasonable given the shifty name calling that masquerades as political "debate". This is quite long, but got me started on seeing where the continuum underlying the political spectrum actually comes from. http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2009/01/gentle-... . Eventually, despite that series's mischaracterizations and slightly wrong decomposition, I realized I am liberal (sorry MM) (also, this does not imply that I support politicians who use that label).


"you are conservative" ... "Just go back and reread any thread of yours regarding TLS versus designing new protocols".

Here I stopped reading.


A pity. I chose a technical topic so there would be some chance at making impartial judgments or understanding opposing views.


Harm? No, certainly not. But to make sure it's totally clear, she knew exactly what she was doing and had been trained in non-violent protest and civil disobedience at the Highlander Folk School.


During that era, having Rosa Parks (and potentially many other men and women of color) in "the wrong seat" could have potentially diminished the attractiveness of taking that Bus line for the patrons, thus damaging the Bus Line's profitability.

A more modern example of the presence of something "unwanted" bringing upon "damages", is Walmart moving into a high end town (which from what I understand, leads to a decrease in property values).

I am playing devil's advocate here, but Rosa Parks certainly could harm the Montgomery Bus Line with her inaccurate seat occupation.


> Sort of like how Rosa Parks decided to harm an organization

You may as well shortcut the argument and go straight to mentioning Hitler.


I remember him. Funny mustache. Did a lot of silly black and white movies or something. No sound for some reason.


The prosecution's perspective is warped by incentives - we should never care about how prosecutors feel or think - they are just tools of the people. Prosecutors need convictions, promotions, and press to succeed at their jobs. At this point, it's not JSTOR who wants this case prosecuted, it's just government agents. And they are just going through the motions.

It may be up to a jury to do the right thing - they stand a better change of being unbiased, thankfully for Aaron.


"We should never care about how prosecutors think" is a nonsense statement even for someone who believes that AUSAs and DAs are invariable corrupt and self-interested.


How does that follow? Their job is to prosecute. They're not corrupt--they're doing their jobs. No one is faulting them. They're just part of a system that is meant to be punitive even in the face of doing net damage to society.

What does putting him in prison accomplish? Obviously they're prosecuting him just because he broke a law. Not because he hurt anyone, or because he stole a bunch of money, or because he is a danger to society. They're trying to put him in prison as punishment for breaking a rule. Which is fine, except that in this case, he's obviously someone capable of making meaningful contributions to society. It just doesn't make sense to lock him up like they're trying to.

And all of this doesn't mean he shouldn't be punished--its just very plain to see that prosecutors have a job to do, and being sympathetic to who they're prosecuting isn't part of their job. If they're particularly good at their job, it would be a net loss to society.


Nobody is suggesting that the outcome of every case should follow what prosecutors think. What we are instead now discussing is the ridiculous notion that nobody should even care what they think. Well, pretty Aaron Swartz cares a whole lot about what they think, despite disagreeing strongly with all of it.

The subtext of this argument is obviously, "prosecutors are self-interested, and what they claim to think has nothing to do with what they really think, which is 'I am going to pursue whichever cases present the best opportunity for career advancement'." This, too, is a dumb way to think, because however much prosecutors may or may not think that way, judges and juries do not think that way, nor do they believe prosecutors are entirely animated by career concerns.


A prosecutor's job is to seek justice, not convictions. If a prosecutor believes a conviction would be unjust despite being technically compatible with the law, it would be unethical to pursue such a conviction.


A prosecutor's job is to seek justice, not convictions.

No, a prosecutor's job is not to seek justice, their job in adversarial legal system is to prosecute a case in the guidelines of the law. Its pretty clear that the prosecutor has a case against Aaron and its not their job to decide on whether the law is "just" or "right" their job is to prosecute that case to the fullest extent of the law. The last thing we need are prosecutors choosing what laws should and should not be enforced.

Its the judge and jury's job to decide what and what is not just.


Wrong. "The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done." -- Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935)

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5318644154387676...


That's not true. The prosecution definitely does have discretion in which cases to bring and they are expected to use it in the service of justice.

Prosecutorial discretion doesn't enter into this case; this is a prosecution-driven case. They are bringing this case very deliberately.


Even if you don't care what prosecutors think generally, do you think they characterized his intent pretty accurately? To destroy the commercial value of the information by making it freely available to everyone?

Would you characterize his intent differently?


I doubt, that releasing a torrent would have destroyed the commercial value of the service. Torrent is a rather poor way of distributing scientific articles. I doubt researchers would use it much, or that there would be a huge loss of revenue.


1) Reddit's acquisition was a cash deal, reportedly $20M. Aaron made a blog post at one point about walking out with a check with more zeroes than he ever expected to see. I think it's likely he made about $5-7M off it, given that Reddit and Infogami merged right after the SFP, before either had much success.


Alexis says it was between 10-20M: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201206/christine-lagorio/alexis-...

The same article says there were two original founders, and two later founders, which kind of tells me they didn't split that $10-20M evenly.

Even if it was all cash with no sort of vesting or earn-out, and Aaron got 10% (sounds about right for a non-true-founder), that would only be $1-2M, and that would be taxed down to six figures. All my financial speculation is based on what I find on the internet, though I have met Aaron a couple of times.


>He probably got some money, but did not vest most of his share.

If I had no faith at all in your word, I would consider that very unlikely since Aaron was probably an impoverished student at the time, and he seems rational enough not to throw away income in such a reckless way.

Anyway, now you've got me curious.

ADDED. "If I had no faith at all in your word," was probably not the best way to phrase it. All I meant was, "Before reading your comment, I would have considered it unlikely . . ."


so this brilliant kid, is allowed a different set of rules from the rest of the populace? he committed a crime with the very intention of stealing and was caught. as a modern society we have rules to curb this behavior - obviously, Aaron, by your post, is above this and needs his own set of rules.


It comes down to why he did it.

He did it to, as far as I know, set the information free from the paywall. To release that information so anyone and everyone can access the research we'd already paid for.

A noble cause? yeah I think so.

I don't want to compare it to Ghandi's salt works but the comparison could be made. A stand against artificial restrictions on something that should be free or cheap for all.


No. Imagine a museum was displaying an oil painting that had been illegally taken by the Nazis in the 1940s and kept from its rightful owners, who were alive today and appalled that their property, evidence of the 20th Century's worst war crime, was hanging on someone else's wall. Now imagine someone broke into the museum, took the painting, and returned it to their owners.

That person is guilty of breaking and entering and, I believe, of theft.

We are a nation ruled by laws, not people. It is via the due process of law that claims like "all the information held in JSTOR is the property of the citizens of the US" are resolved. It is not up to Aaron Swartz.


> We are a nation ruled by laws, not people.

That's the Civics class version. The real version is more about realpolitik. People make the laws, and use violence (or the threat of it) to carry them out. And these laws will predictably reflect distributions of power in society.

When we had slavery, those laws deserved to be broken without hesitation. Repeatedly. Virtually no one believes all laws, in each country, should be followed. In fact, direct action basically means you will not Do As You're Told, and thereby disobey someone's law.

(What does the US goverment do in places like the Middle East and South America? Try to remove governments which make laws they don't like, and install ones which do.)

So back to your example, yeah, no one sheds a tear if someone returns paintings to their rightful possessors, having taken them back from thieving Nazis (and their shady beneficiaries). Same goes for the British Museum and anything they stole via colonialism.


Your analogy is off the mark.

What right do I have to restrict your access to knowledge?

What if someone went around the entire country and put every book into a huge safe. Then locked the safe shut and let anyone enter the safe for $25 a pop. Would you be okay with this? Would you cite the law and accept your fate?

Yes, this is a country governed by laws, and we're all grateful. But those laws can and are at times abused to create monopolistic practices, like restricting access to research.

Ask yourself, just what value does JSTOR add that's worth $25 per article in the modern day of digital distribution?


Huh? What right does a museum have to display that painting?

No reasonable person questions that the laws get things wrong or create opportunities for market abusers. But hopefully, most reasonable people don't believe that the antidote for those problems is vigilantism.


Property and knowledge are two very different things. Can knowledge have an "owner"?

Without vigilantism, what solution would you propose to market abusers? Wait for someone in power to enforce the antitrust law?

When time or resources for enforcement are short, vigilantism can be a net positive for society.


"What right do I have to restrict your access to knowledge?"

17 USC? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Title_17_of_the_United_States_C...

It's not a natural right, but that statement makes it sound like you're against copyright. If that is the case, I don't think many people agree with you.


> What if someone went around the entire country and put every book into a huge safe.

Assuming "every book" includes books I own, then that constitutes theft.


I agree with you, but I think you just landed the elusive "half-Godwin."


No. Imagine a museum was displaying an oil painting that had been illegally taken by the Nazis in the 1940s and kept from its rightful owners, who were alive today and appalled that their property, evidence of the 20th Century's worst war crime, was hanging on someone else's wall. Now imagine someone was invited into the museum, took a picture of the painting, and wanted to, but didn't post it online.

That person is guilty of breaking arbitrary laws guided by poor analogies between the physical and digital worlds and, I believe, of nothing.

We are a nation ruled by laws, not people. It is via the due process of law that claims like "wow, we need to wake up and change some of these ridiculous laws" are resolved. It is not up to just Aaron Swartz.

FTFY.


In your rush to ensure that nobody at all ever uses the word "theft" to describe "copyright violation" you wooshed right past the point of my comment.


Ok, so he's like Gandhi.

Gandhi spent several years in prison. He believed in his cause and made that sacrifice. Man up, aaronsw.


He just might yet. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't put up his best defense.


the research we'd already paid for.

Did he only "free" publicly funded research papers? What about all the work that is funded by private foundations or even self-funded? In some disciplines, for example physical anthropology, most research is not publicly funded. You didn't pay for it. What gives you the right to set it "free"?


It is Gandhi and not Ghandi.


Maybe he can't. Maybe he is broke already. Maybe his fortune from previous enterprised wasn't that much. Who knows .. there must be a good reason. I'll support him.


Didn't he write a blog post about having "fuck you money" a few years ago? I can't find it now.


You may have him confused with Eric Raymond.


I must be crazy then. I would've sworn that aaronsw wrote a blog post where he talked about having "fuck you money", depression, and other things like that.


here's one: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/theaftermath

i remember another one too, something about depression and it didn't matter who paid for dinner anymore, but i can't find that one.


I think that's it, and I probably heard the term "fuck you money" in the discussion following.


I don't recall ESR ever writing about fuck you money, and Google doesn't turn up anything.



Exactly. Mr. "Demand Progress" needs to understand that we are a nation of laws, and that those who knowingly break those laws will be -- and should be -- punished.

And, no, this is not a case of civil disobedience. If it was, Swartz would have publicly violated the law (rather than attempting to conceal the crime) in order to draw attention to its putative unfairness.

Aaron Swartz is a spoiled brat. I hope that they throw the book at him.


I hope that they throw the book at him.

So you think the appropriate punishment for what he did is a longer prison sentence than most rapists and murderers receive?


You are posting this comment on a forum that is run by a business co-founded by someone who was convicted under the same statute as Swartz is accused of violating. You knew that, right? Many years ago, he "broke the law" and was convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But he served no jail time. I guess the situation was different in many ways. Tell us how. Or maybe it was not so different. What do you think?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Tappan_Morris

My guess is Swartz will end up dropping his rebellious attitude and will apologise for what he did.


I think the most interesting aspect of this case is that JSTOR is not pressing any sort of civil charges. In fact, they said Aaron's actions urged them to expedite something they were planning on doing anyways.

For this reason I am happy to help how I can


People keep bringing this up like it means something. JSTOR isn't pressing civil charges because there's no upside in it for them to do that. Relative to the overwhelming majority of criminal cases, this case is a media shitstorm. If I was a director at a nonprofit, I too would avoid sticking my whole head into the angry wasp's nest that is the Swartz federal case.

You cannot reasonably read tacit support for Aaron Swartz into JSTOR's failure to press charges.

I was mugged last year and I didn't press charges (my three muggers were, as it turned out, barely old enough to have graduated high school). Do I support muggings?

(Some nerd is typing as fast as he can to make the argument that I tacitly am doing that, so let me head you off at the pass NO I DO NOT.)


I've fought off folk with knives and didn't press charges and I don't support being stabbed.

But I still agree with what this guy did, which is nothing whatsoever to do with the stuff that has happened to me.

But I am a nerd.

Make connections if you like.


If the consequences were in line with his actions this logic would work, but life in prison is an extraordinarily oppressive response to this type of disobedience.

Further, using the legal system to extract a huge penalty before any jury has decided on guilt is the worst type of bullying by the big against the small.

Lastly, many of us relate to what Aaron is going through, and simple compassion compels us to help. Saying Aaron should "man up, take responsibility for his actions, and pay his own bills" belittles him and those of us who have chosen to support him.


Perfectly stated. This is the correct point of view.


> looked forward to meeting him

If the feds get their way you'll know exactly where to find him for the next 35 years.


There is virtually no chance Swartz is going to spend time in prison. People convicted of far more malicious computer frauds have spent minimal (and sometimes no) time in prison.

Swartz, on the other hand, is a young, successful first-time offender.

I know it makes the story a lot more boring to talk about when the only consequences are financial and reputational, but consider that perhaps when you talk about Swartz spending "35 years" in federal prison, you are being ghoulish.


"story a lot more boring"

"you are being ghoulish"

Agree.

It's an artifact of the way the media has everyone trained.

"If convicted he could spend up to 400 years in prison!" (counts*years per count, full load)

The math is also the way the prosecutors get people to plea.


Yeah, also a good point. For what it's worth: I don't support what Aaron did. I do hope he wins his case. And, like you said, it seems clear that the specific array of charges he's facing constitute a deliberate shock-and-awe campaign on the part of the AUSA prosecuting the case.

You maybe figure, the AUSA's position is, whatever happens in this case, Swartz is at least walking away with a felony conviction.


Out of curiosity, if you believe what he did violates the rule of law (I hope I have correctly summarized your view from other posts), why do you hope he escapes the legal consequences of his actions?

I certainly don't want Aaron to face unduly severe consequences for his actions, but I'm not sure how you are reconciling those two views.


From serving on a federal grand jury I got the distinct (though unstated) impression that the indictment was used as leverage in plea negotiations. It is fine and good to display "I will fight this to the bitter end" bravado on the internet, but when faced with an uncertain trial outcome (all are, even if you are 100% innocent) where the cost of losing is say 20+ years in the federal system (which has no parole, so if you get 20 years you serve 20 years), people tend to welcome deals/pleas. In one view everyone wins, the govt. has a victory and the defendant avoids the worst outcome. On the other hand it is depressing to see the justice system used in this manner (i.e. bullying/threats used to get defendants to agree to a plea deal so the govt. doesn't have to bother with a real trial).


There is a chance, especially if he isn't able to hire expensive legal counsel.


Even if he argued the whole case pro se, he still probably wouldn't get prison time. Again: people far dumber and more malignant than Swartz have avoided prison time in CFAA cases.

The DoJ definitely wants to make an example of Swartz, they don't hate him more than carders.


What the fuck is meant by "man up" in these kind of circumstances?

Is your average man supposed to take 30 years+ on the chin for trying to release academic papers?

If he didn't have a penis would you feel more compassion? As I have never heard it be suggested that a woman in desperate circumstances has a need to man up.

As for what could he do to give more breaks to other programmers, he was trying to give out academic papers for fuck's sake. On the scale of things, that is giving more breaks to others, than most people accomplish in a lifetime.

What is your idea of changing the world?


They really should include some sort of background or link on this page. For anyone else that has little idea who he is or why he needs money: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz#JSTOR

More complete background: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/07/reddit-founder-ar...


I don't necessarily disagree with the motives behind Aaron's actions, but if you're going to break the law in what may be perceived as "civil disobedience," you need to be willing to "do the time," too.[1]

I'm neither encouraging nor discouraging people from donating, but I do think that it's a little off-putting that Aaron's taking what could have been a selfless, martyrdom-filled act of civil disobedience and then changing it into "silly mistake," from which he's asking for help recovering.

[1]: 'Doing the time' as a turn of speech. I doubt Aaron would get actual jail time for this. Then again, I am not a lawyer.


I totally agree with your point that he should be willing to "do the time" and that he shouldn't be calling it a "silly mistake". Civil disobedience is noble BECAUSE it comes with a cost.

That said, the legal system is setup in a way where it costs a lot of money to get a truly fair trial. A lawyer will tell his side of the story; without a good one he won't be properly heard by the legal system. Aaron would be a disservice to his cause by putting up a poor defense.


This was not civil disobedience, which involves publicly breaking a law in order to demonstrate that it is unjust. Swartz, lacking the courage of his convictions, tried to commit a crime in secret. Now he wants us to help him pay the piper! Despicable.


When you impact JSTOR and the entire MIT network the way he did, it's hardly "in secret". Something like a stream of one million continuous JSTOR downloads 24/7, significantly impacting the entire MIT network, is going to go unnoticed?

His JSTOR use was heavy enough to draw an IP ban. Yet he continued. I fail to believe he was really trying to hide - he knew his actions would be noticed. Network admins would see what was going on. And even in the wiring closet, putting a bike helmet over his face? That's not exactly covert.

JSTOR would know something was up - the IP ban was probably automatic but still I would guess the folks administering their servers would have noticed a huge spike in activity from MIT.

MIT would know something was up. Their network admins are not asleep at the wheel.

Seems to me, it was no secret what he was doing. He did not try very hard to conceal it. (Or maybe you think he was supposed to hold a press conference or at least call the TV news first?) With the way he went about this, it's no wonder he got caught.

Moreover, he already knew he had an FBI file from the PACER incident. So it's not like he couldn't imagine the FBI getting involved.

Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe he really is that stupid.


If you want people to donate to your cause you need to do a couple things:

1. Include some background on why I should care. 2. Provide some level of assurance that this page is actually linked to the issue at hand and isn't just a phishing scheme.


#2 seems reasonably certain, since aaronsw.com has been Aaron Swartz's domain for a while now. As for background: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4528083


I can attest that aaronsw.com has been under the control of the Aaron Swartz for years and years. (I know because I just grepped my bookmarks file.)


Why are they prosecuting a man for publicly making available beneficial scientific knowledge that the public have effectively paid for? Is personal gain of a few companies really more important than education, and should it really be enshrined in law?


I'm not willing to donate. Aaron's goal may have been noble, but his actions are indefensible.


Do you think his actions [0] merit 13 felony charges and the decades in prison they could lead to? I don't, so I donated.

[0] http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jul/21/aaron-swart...


Part of legitimate civil disobedience (which may be a stretch of terminology in this case) is facing the consequences. A legal defense fund could be viewed as a part of that (allowing those donating to join in), or as an attempt to avoid the consequences.

So much depends on specifics of the situation that I'm not really comfortable making any type of judgement on anyone involved.


I agree. He was extremely foolish and arrogant at best. I don't think this belongs on HN.

Also didn't he make a ton of money selling Reddit?! :/


Could either one of you please explain how "his actions were indefensible" or how "he was extremely foolish and arrogant at beast"? Appreciated.


Come on. If you download millions of files that obviously aren't supposed to be downloaded en masse, and then release them publicly, you're going to get in trouble. Common sense.

He knew what he was doing, and hew knew what he was doing was wrong. Doesn't seem terribly smart to make enemies high up.


> He knew what he was doing, and hew knew what he was doing was wrong.

He might have known (and even the extent of this is not clear) that what he was doing was illegal.

But that doesn't mean it is wrong, law and morality are two very different things.

Me and many others would argue that what he did was almost a moral imperative, he tried to free human knowledge (mostly paid by tax dollars!) from the artificial monopoly of some corporate leeches.

And if you need more arguments for this, just read up on what Thomas Jefferson had to say about it: http://harmful.cat-v.org/economics/intellectual_property/


Law and morality are most definitely two very different things, but that doesn't mean everyone gets to make up their own laws.

If what Swartz did was a "moral imperative", why aren't you working on liberating journal articles from Elsevier as we speak? My guess: because it is not really a moral imperative. There is a difference between a moral judgement and an "imperative", and you've lazily blurred that line.


If something is illegal, and you do it, you are at risk of being prosecuted.

If you believe something shouldn't be illegal, then campaign to get the law changed!

Are people video-camming movies in cinemas "just freeing human knowledge"? Were wikileaks publishing secret sensitive hacked info "just freeing human knowledge"?

I don't need any more arguments, because I absolutely disagree. If you believe a law needs to be changed, the way to get it changed is not to start breaking it. We live in a civilised society here. It's this kind of "political activism" I detest.


> If you believe a law needs to be changed, the way to get it changed is not to start breaking it.

On the contrary, history shows it to be one of the few effective methods.

You're saying that Rosa Parks was wrong when she refused to go to the back of the bus. The underground railroad was wrong for refusing to comply with fugitive slave laws. Ghandi was wrong for breaking the laws imposed by the British.

We live in a civilized society precisely because many people have disobeyed uncivilized laws. It's actually one of the hallmarks of our civilization that we can draw a distinction between what's right and what's legal.


You've given some good example.

But do you have any data on the downside of that approach?

How many people who disagree with a law will then cause havoc if they broke the law to get what they wanted? Instead of attempting to follow channels?


Well, agree to disagree. I do not think breaking the law, bullying, protesting, etc are good ways to behave.


Another good example is "Boston Tea Party" [1]. It was one of the catalysts of the American Revolution.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Tea_Party


One of the causes of the Revolution was lack of representation and a means to change the law. Now that we have a representative government as a result of that war, one might hope we would use it.


> If you believe a law needs to be changed, the way to get it changed is not to start breaking it.

Is that because you believe it's not likely to be effective, or because you'd rather see an unjust law than an unruly populace?

Edit: ...or some third opinion that I can't think of


A Ian Clarke put it: "It is the responsibility of every citizen to ignore dumb laws."

And I would add: if people didn't ignore dumb laws society would crawl to a halt and collapse.


My understanding is that the civil/copyright matter has been settled, and he's now still facing criminal prosecution for (mis)using MIT's network infrastructure. So it's not actually the downloading itself he's in trouble for at the moment I think, just how he did it. That is, unless there's been some new development, of course.


He's facing criminal prosecution for abusing JSTOR and MIT's computers. More of the charges go to JSTOR systems than to MIT systems.

This is right in the indictment, which is linked from the last 'aaronsw post on HN.


The part where he broke into a network closet and connected unauthorized equipment is what really rubs me the wrong way.


Concur. This case reminds me of another public case: Randal Schwartz's case. Randal's case was fairly black and white since he did not deny running the password-cracking scripts. He also had a harder time since Intel decided to twist the knife and make an example out of him.


Aaron Swartz's case is so unlike Randal Schwartz's case that just making the comparison is a kind of "tell".

Randal Schwartz was a contractor for Intel, through an IT contracting company. At the conclusion of his contact and, as I remember, his employment with the company that placed him, he backdoored systems at Intel. He later used those backdoors to regain access to Intel systems and got caught.

Randal Schwartz' defense has always been that his activities were innocuous (and, in some cases, necessary to complete work for Intel, which is a claim that is damaged by the fact that some of his actions took place after his business relationship with Intel was severed). There is no "service to the greater good" angle in Randal Schwartz's case. What happened with him was either a spectacular misunderstanding or a galactic-scale instance of bad decisionmaking on his part.

Aaron Swartz set out to liberate information from a private database, because that information had been unjustly locked up.

What you're saying when you draw an equivalence between these cases is that you think most computer fraud/abuse cases are illegitimate. I'm not saying that's a ridiculous perspective to have (though it is not mine), but you should be on guard for the ways that perspective can cloud your reasoning. By all means keep believing that the Internet should be a "wild west" where the strong/gifted rule unchecked so long as they don't steal people's credit card numbers. But also read the case files when you want to argue about them.


Hi Thomas,

I never claimed that the two cases are the same. Just that Aaron's case reminded me of it.

You are right, Randal never had a motive remotely close to Aaron for any greater good of any sort. [In fact I will go on and argue that there is no reason Aaron should be prosecuted since the plaintiff has decided not to pursue the case against him].

What I meant was that (same as the parent) although Aaron's goals may have been good, I do not agree with the manner he went about achieving it.


The fact that JSTOR isn't pressing charges against Swartz is not dispositive evidence that JSTOR believes it hasn't been harmed.

The DoJ's role in this case isn't simply to right a single wrong done to JSTOR; it's to defend JSTOR and every organization like JSTOR from everybody like Swartz. If Swartz walks from this case because JSTOR --- the victim of a crime --- doesn't put its own reputation on the line to stand up against him, that's a signal that it's OK for other people to liberate documents from other databases.

By prosecuting Swartz criminally and regardless of JSTOR's actions, the DoJ is in effect saying that it doesn't fall to JSTOR to "heroically" defend federal law; that's the DoJ's job.

Again: while I don't like what Swartz did, I hope he wins his case, because I kind of like him. But that means I need to be more clear-eyed about what's happening here, not --- like many commenters on this thread --- less clear-eyed.


I hope he wins his case.


Is it just me, or does that payment box look kind of dodgy? I think there's a reason that so many people use PayPal and services like it—people trust a familiar face. But this one doesn't really have any padlocks or any details like address or zip code or anything, and just looks out of character for a checkout page.

As a person that knows about Aaron, I know it can be trusted, but it might not be the same for others. Just a reaction that the folks supporting Aaron might want to be aware of.


I get what you're saying.

One company who got around this hurdle was App.net(piggybacking on the Stripe/Visa/Mastercard brand). I'm assuming this is another implementation of Stripe.


It is the official Stripe payment tag. https://stripe.com/docs/payment_tag


It would be really nice if there was somewhere on that payment tag to click to verify it at stripe.com.


I wish someone would make a KickStarter for legal stuff.

I've seen enough of these that it could be a real business. (Ex: help pay for a defense against some government intrusion, or RIAA overreaching, or to bring a case to challenge an unconstitutional statute, or to overturn a dumb pantent, or whatever).

It could even evolve into a platform for the political moneybomb we've seen before. (A bounty for the first person to introduce some bill, for example: patent reform.)


Pretty sure crowdtilt (www.crowdtilt.com) allows you to do this already. (Full disclosure - I'm friends with the founders)


Actually, a Kickstarter for legal defense is a good idea.


It is a good idea. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is STILL fighting for indefinite detention powers[1] even after Judge Forrest's NDAA ruling[2]. The owner and users of a legal defense kickstarter could be at risk of indefinite imprisonment without trial if a cause was somehow linked to 'terrorism'.

1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/ndaa-case-indefinit...

2. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h_ZWg1DMub...


You have to be pretty dumb to believe that the owners and users of a legal defense Kickstarter could face indefinite detention.

The myriad of utterly retarded message board arguments you could hide behind to make this claim are so obviously numerous and complicated that I'm not touching this thread with a ten foot pole. Just chiming in to say, "no".


If people want to help Aaron, I'd recommend a political strategy as well as a legal one. I'm not a lawyer and certainly no expert on this case, but my sense is that there is something political going on or one of the prosecutors sees this as a big career boost. For someone without a criminal background like Aaron it would seem very much out of the norm to continue escalating the charges as they've done, rather than move toward a plea bargain.

These prosecutors work for the Obama Administration, and ultimately the President. The President has certainly courted the tech/internet vote, and I think some internet activism in this case is worth a shot. But it would need to be done basically right now (i.e. before the election). Are the prosecutors going to drop the charges? No. But some political pressure could improve whatever the terms of a plea deal are.

Disclosure: Aaron and I briefly worked at the same non-profit organization many years ago. But we were essentially in different departments, so while we met once or twice I wouldn't say I know him personally.


Good plan. Because surely a Republican-controlled DoJ would be much more lenient about the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act.


I can't tell if you are being sarcastic or not.

My underlying assumption is that Obama is more than likely going to win re-election. FiveThirtyEight has him at 75% likelihood to win, and intrade bettors have him at 66%. But even if he wins, he'll have much less reason to pay attention to the views of the reddit demographic after the election than he will before. So Aaron's supporters should start working this right away.

Same goes with Congress by the way, if a member of Congress could be enlisted to help (what's the Congressional districts for Aaron's hometown and current residence?)


Even in Nate Silver's analysis, Obama is at his apex coming out of the convention. There are 6 weeks to go, the election turns on 3-4 states, and Romney has tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to spend.

But the Internet told you that Obama's going to win, so as far as you're concerned, the election is over, and it's time to start playing games with it to make stupid points.


Well that's not very nice.


Carter was leading Reagan in polling in September 1980. There has been a lot written about the survey methods, but given what some of the 2012 primaries have shown about polling, I think listening to pollsters in this election will be just as off.


What are we defending Aaron Swartz against? (Sorry for being a boob)



Is Aaron incarcerated?


I don't believe so; the "free" in the URL seems a bit cheeky. The trial is scheduled for February 4, 2013.


From the indictment: JSTOR is a not-for-profit (=no tax liability?). JSTOR charges universities annual subscription fees as high as $50,000.

Are we told anywhere what JSTOR's actual costs are for scanning documents and serving PDF's? Yes. Someone provided a link to details of JSTOR's budget in the other Swartz thread. Very interesting. They appear to be some very well paid "librarians" (archivists). And lo and behold, they are trying to figure out how to make Google bucks. Seed the Google index with links to JSTOR articles that sit behind a paywall, then charge $10 or more for a la carte access. (Can you feel the desperation?)

Sounds great, they can piggyback on Google, maybe run some SEO, do some behavioural tracking and all that. But there's just one problem: this is library material. Library as in the kind that is funded by grants, taxes, tuition or endowments. Non-commercial. And even more, does Google Scholar show ads? Do they charge anyone for access?

I'd put my money on projects like archive.org or publicresource.org, who charge nothing, before I'd bet on these guys. Sadly, this criminal case may really be all for nothing. Because businesses like JSTOR will likely fail, not because of kids like Swartz, but because they simply are not as smart about technology as the folks who run sites like archive and publicresource.


He would've got more donations had he put the papers he downloaded online sooner, rather than get busted with 4 million. A journalleaks site would be much more useful than wikileaks.


I think that he's an arrogant little bastard and a few years in the slammer is just what he needs to teach him about the consequences of hubris.


You forgot to accept Bitcoin.


The guy that uploaded the JSTOR papers last year after Swartz was indicted, Greg Maxwell, accepted bitcoin donations.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110721/11122615195/aaron-...


See also http://thecostofknowledge.com/

I feel the state of academic publishing is essentially, a hustle. People being divorsed from community feedback and their own rights as authors is farcical.


What? No kickstarter?


They could not get Assange, hence...




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