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JSTOR Statement on Aaron Swartz (jstor.org)
263 points by darrellsilver 1799 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments



For those unable to access their statement due to the traffic load:

------

Aaron Swartz

We are deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him. He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit.

We have had inquiries about JSTOR’s view of this sad event given the charges against Aaron and the trial scheduled for April. 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.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service and a member of the internet community. We will continue to work to distribute the content under our care as widely as possible while balancing the interests of researchers, students, libraries, and publishers as we pursue our commitment to the long-term preservation of this important scholarly literature.

We join those who are mourning this tragic loss.


Good call


Probably a good call. But "JSTOR killed a dude" will still be the internet's takeaway from this.


No, it may be your takeaway but 'the internet' doesn't have one assigned, much less society at large.


What makes you think that? I have seen very little animosity toward JSTOR, most of it seems to be aimed at the government prosecutors.


s/JSTOR/Government


A truly good call would at least be sincere in an acknowledgement of fault. This call sounds a bit hypocritical. They did drop their "civil case," but they can hardly be said to have made any serious effort to stop the arrogant government prosecutors who, in effect, went on to murder Aaron. The irresponsible academics who stood around shrugging their shoulders in indifference, as well as the various media outlets that casually reported on Aaron's arrest, should think carefully about the lack of proportion in the American criminal justice system, and the devastating impact it can have on real lives.

Authorities in New York have undertaken a similarly disproportionate assault on Internet freedom and academic whistle-blowing, arresting and prosecuting a blogger who sent out “Gmail confessions” in which a well-known New York University department chairman appeared to be eccentrically accusing himself of plagiarism. And again, there appears to be nothing but silence from the relevant communities. For further information on the case, see:

http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/about/


IMO, JSTOR isn't directly to blame. They are operating within a broken system, and it seems like they are doing what they can.

Academic publishing is what needs a serious overhaul.

After having worked in an academic library and, more recently, leading technology operations for a prominent new ebook publisher and article archive, the first two words that come to mind when I think of both publishing (academic and trade) and librarianship are "waste" and "bureaucracy."

Librarians are supposed to be the ones advocating for the readers, but they are hobbled by a culture of committees, conferences, and politics. They work within organizations that are heavily stratified ("librarians" and "staff"), with all the worst aspects of severely hierarchical organizations.

Recently I was also was privy to a variety of details during the formation of a new academic digital publisher, and it was the same kind of top-heavy, anti-"lean" structure you'd expect. The amount they were raising just to get started seemed absurd, especially when we were in the process of building a larger organization that did more with less funding.

The point being, when you look under the surface, it's no wonder that everything in this space seems to cost more than necessary.

There must be enough of us fed up, skilled, and idealistic enough to disrupt this space, creating new, actually modern publishers and/or publishing platforms if necessary.

Does anyone with more domain expertise have any advice about where to start or what to focus on?


What is your alternative to libraries governed by boards and committees? Cowboy developers can do amazing things in some situations, but cowboy librarians? Given the extent to which a university depends on its library, handing autocratic control to an individual is dangerous to the institution as a whole. Or are you going to have a fractured set of competing, for-profit libraries on every campus and let the market decide?

I understand that entrenched ideology is a problem, but boards and committees are controls that exist for a reason. With what are you going to replace bureaucracy? The lone-wolf visionary with no regard for other people's needs is a proven model in technology start-ups (Jobs, Zuckerberg), but what makes you think that's an appropriate way to run a university library?


PLOS is a journal that's trying to improve the publishing space. Every article they publish is open access.

http://www.plos.org/


>There must be enough of us fed up, skilled, and idealistic enough to disrupt this space, creating new, actually modern publishers and/or publishing platforms if necessary.

indeed, there are. How do you get them together though?


In the Swartz case, I have to say that JSTOR acted professionally and did the right thing. They saw someone stealing their data. They reached out to the authorities to help stop the theft. Swartz returned the data, and JSTOR agreed not to pursue (civil) legal action against him. It's unfortunate that the US government couldn't match JSTOR's level of reasonableness. Yes, Swartz did something illegal, but the time (~35 year prison term and $1m fine) did not fit the crime.

I can't help but be reminded of the MPAA/RIAA vs. John Doe lawsuits that were commonplace just a couple years ago. It's sad that our legal system lacks a sense of proportionality for crimes. 35 years is what someone would get for murder, rape, or dealing drugs - not for stealing property, and then giving it back. I hope that the US government takes time to reflect on how they mishandled the case. At least then something good will come of his death.


>Yes, Swartz did something illegal,

The government has yet to prove that. Many with better access to the facts than I have said that Aaron acted within the letter of the law but was being inconsiderate: like hogging all the free shrimp at a cocktail party.


> Swartz returned the data

This... sounds super fishy.


Yeah, I wonder what that even means?

You can't "return" data. You can either delete the data, or hand over the media that it's encoded upon.

It reminds me a bit of David Thorne's famous "spider" email exchange http://www.27bslash6.com/overdue.html (fourth email)


Please don't call it theft.


"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."

Reminds me of that spider drawing comic [0].

[0] http://www.27bslash6.com/overdue.html


Seriously. The use of the word "returned" reeks of the same technological backwardness that has hobbled the music industry. Just as it is nonsensical to say that copying files constitutes "stealing", it is nonsensical to say that one can "return" copied files. You can delete them, and that's about it.

However, I don't think JSTOR is technologically backwards, but their use of that word reveals a very measured, legalistic attitude. You can tell they are being very careful to use a vocabulary that reflects their legal interests.


This was exactly my thought. The use of "returned" reveals a clinging to a lie that's still lurking in the background.


I've been assuming it meant something along the lines of "we made him hand over some of his gear as an early punishment". Seems to be a common thing to do in nearly all cases of (alleged) "cyber" crimes. It's nothing to do with "returning data" of course.

An old episode of Friends really nailed the concept: "it's like trying to take the urine out of a pool".


Hahaha okay, I hadn't read this yet. Glad I wasn't the only one who was reminded of it :)


> "We will continue to work to distribute the content under our care as widely as possible"

Hint: put the content on static HTTP server without an authentication system.


Do you want them shut down or something? They can't legally do that. They've taken measures to try and get more articles out there in recent years for free:

- Alumni are soon going to be able to freely access all articles.

- Registered researches can access all articles for free.

- Anyone can now read three articles every two weeks for free.

Doing what you say would immediately shut down JSTOR and they couldn't continue to process new articles, provide full-text search and so on.


I want a world where the scientific enterprise grows beyond academia. I want a world where the collective intelligence of humanity can be brought to bear on humanity's most important problems. I want a world where the conversation of science is conducted in indexible, searchable, linkable, accessible, and modifiable public media.

Is JSTOR a friend or an enemy of my vision? Three articles every two weeks - sounds like an enemy.


>I want a world where the scientific enterprise grows beyond academia. I want a world where the collective intelligence of humanity can be brought to bear on humanity's most important problems. I want a world where the conversation of science is conducted in indexible, searchable, linkable, accessible, and modifiable public media.

As lovely of an idea as that is, someone has to write the backend, design the front-end, scan tens of thousands of documents and provide full-text search for them. Prior to JSTOR, these documents were trapped in university libraries, and you would have no feasible way to access them. I think they share your goals, and any problems you have with their operation is due to external factors (publishers, licensing, etc.).

Simply publishing everything for free is an absolutely sure-fire way to see no new content from JSTOR and a huge setback for the digitization of physical articles. Your proposal is a ridiculous over-simplification.

>Is JSTOR a friend or an enemy of my vision? Three articles every two weeks - sounds like an enemy.

How often do you read JSTOR articles? Personally, I don't power through a math paper in a single day, but maybe you're brilliant.

This limitation is not their fault. You're angry at the wrong people.


>"As lovely of an idea as that is, someone has to write the backend, design the front-end, scan tens of thousands of documents and provide full-text search for them."

No problem - as all the open-access publications and archives in the world will attest (PLoS, arxiv). Give us the access and get out of our way. You will be amazed at the ingenuity of free people.

>"How often do you read JSTOR articles? Personally, I don't power through a math paper in a single day, but maybe you're brilliant."

When I was in grad school, I would skim dozens of articles to find a few that I wanted to read deeply. The way that we use open information is qualitatively different than rate-limited information. It's just not the same.


> As lovely of an idea as that is, someone has to write the backend, design the front-end, scan tens of thousands of documents and provide full-text search for them.

I volunteer, where do I sign up?


Silly man. You can't just do anything you like, for free! ;-)

Count me in, though (given that it'll actually be about opening access to things that weren't open before).


Wasn't the whole thing that they allowed free unrestricted access to the JSTOR database from MIT IP addresses?

All Aaron Swartz did was jack into an Ethernet port in a closet that was unlocked in an MIT building, and get an IP address from an unsecured network at MIT, and then wrote some Python scripts to work as a web robot and pull down articles. The web robot did the same thing as any user at MIT could do, read and download papers.

So yes it is possible to allow free, unrestricted access, JSTOR just decides to only do that to certain IP ranges. If they allowed that with everyone, Aaron wouldn't have to jack his laptop into an unused open closet to pull articles.

In fact there was no real crime committed, other than trespassing at MIT, and MIT didn't press any charges to that effect.


>So yes it is possible to allow free, unrestricted access, JSTOR just decides to only do that to certain IP ranges. If they allowed that with everyone, Aaron wouldn't have to jack his laptop into an unused open closet to pull articles.

I'm not talking about hosting or downloading. I'm talking about the digitization of documents and to pay the salaries of their ~200 staff.


So, you're saying that the final versions of the paper are not available in digital form pre-press? That's not meshing with what I know about how academic publishing works.

If jstor is digitizing papers from before the pdf era then that's fine but those papers produced today are all available in digital format long before they get to jstor.


Only if you can justify why you need ~200 staff in the digital age when most if not all research papers are made in electronic format and don't need to be digitized.

What do they do as well, watch Youtube videos most of the time and then scan in those rare research papers that are submitted in hardcopy format? The 1% of submissions that are actually in hardcopy and not RTF, DOC, PDF, ePub, Mobi ect formats?


~200 staff? Sounds like an awful lot. And I imagine the front end and backed are kinda done now so after a couple of devs maintaining the system, a sys admin or two, some testers, hr and ceo that leaves ~190 scanning in the documents. Or am I oversimplifying this?


Sort of like Wal-Mart having 300 employees per store and only two of them on checkout lines.


Not really. Compare their operating budget with Project Gutenberg.


Project Gutenburg has two part-time employees. http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Project_Gutenberg_Li...


Well, there you go.


There are nearly 7 billion people in the world. I think between us we can manage to read more than 1.5 papers a week.


Perhaps I was unclear: they're not giving away three articles to the entire world every two weeks, it's three per-person.


Ah, sorry for my misunderstanding.

A researcher doing a literature review can easily get through fifty papers in a week. Most of them we scan to get the gist and follow up on the references looking for the few things we really need to read properly. This is a key research skill acquired by reading hundreds, eventually thousands, of papers. You get really good at it.

And that's just the papers you want to read. For each one of those I might download three based on a promising abstract to find the thing is irrelevant after all.

Thus an independent researcher with only public JSTOR access is seriously disadvantaged compared to a subscriber.


Is JSTOR a friend or an enemy of my vision? Three articles every two weeks - sounds like an enemy.

That's better than 0 articles per week that you get with most other academic publishers; and also what you'll get if JSTOR shuts down. In conclusion, JSTOR is not an enemy of your "vision".


"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"

I find this statement to be a lie. I agree with you @jacoblyles. I feel the same 100% and JSTOR is not a friend of science.


>Do you want them shut down or something? They can't legally do that

Why not? And more importantly, why couldn't "putting themselves out of business" be their goal?

Most of us have no problem if on-line solutions disrupt private sector business. But we get all gooey and stupid when it's a not-for-profit, like they get a pass because they're supposedly doing good.

Frankly, if you can't service the needs of society, then you deserve to be made irrelevant. JSTOR should be able to process and index academic journals without six-figure salaries and Manhattan offices.


They have to pay license fees to the publishers. That's where most of the money is going.


That and Manhattan wages for their staff.


oh yeah measures in recent years?

-the first point is not even rolled out

-there is no such thing as a registered researcher. The institution needs to register

-the last point you mention got rolled out only 5 days ago.

JSTOR has more negative than positives. I cannot think of one positive thing in this day and age about JSTOR. It should be open. Period. There hand will be forced someday and the great part is, as usual, it will be too late and they will be a history.


> I cannot think of one positive thing in this day and age about JSTOR

Without JSTOR: there would be no online access at all to many journals, and there would be many with online access between individual paywalls at the individual journal.

With JSTOR: online access is available to many journals it would not otherwise be available for; online access is greatly more convenient for many for-pay journals than it otherwise would be.

How can you not see positives in this? They are strictly making things MORE accessible than they otherwise would be.

Would it be better if these things were even more accessible? Sure--but these are things JSTOR does NOT own the rights to.


Seriously. Ping archive.org if that is too challenging, I'm sure they would gleefully do it all for free.


They _can_ do it all for free. They should just start doing what JSTOR does, but don't charge for it.

Seriously, make a competing site if you think you can do it for free.


"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."

Tax dollars in every country I know of go to pay professors and researchers salaries ie. the contributors to to all these journals, so why all the articles aren't fully available public access has never been clear to me. Frankly, it makes me angry to be double ripped by a system where a few big players benefit and progress and the furtherment of human knowledge are impeeded. The spirit behind fighting against this kind of thing is one of the reasons why we're mourning Aaron so much.


I agree, but don't think JSTOR in particular can do a lot about it. Rewritten to be more accurate, what "entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content" means is "licensed to us by the copyright holders". In most cases the copyright holder is a journal publisher, and they control what terms JSTOR is allowed to make their files available under. The only major exception are public domain works, and they have been moving in the right direction on that: http://about.jstor.org/service/early-journal-content

I do think JSTOR could institutionally be run in a more progressive manner. They can't fix the problem, but they could put a bit more pressure in the right direction. I'm hopeful that moves like Early Journal Content are showing some signs of that, though I could just be overly optimistic. But in either case, ultimately they aren't the ones who can make the decision to do anything about the post-1923 content. For past content, the journals who hold the copyrights are going to have to be convinced to open it up, and for future content, academics are going to have to start publishing in open-access venues in the first place.


the single most constructive thing JSTOR could do in reaction to this tragedy is loudly denounce the District Attorney for drawing them into the persecution of Aaron Swartz, for perpetuating the case after they - the victim of any wrong doing - asked the government to drop its case [0].

from this statement alone it isn't clear to me at all in what sense they "regretted being drawn into" the case.

if JSTOR is institutionally incapable of acknowledging that prosecutorial abuse played a significant role in this tragedy, of specifically acknowledging and denouncing abuse under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act [1], it can't be taken seriously as a "member of the internet community".

0. http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bull...

1. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/09/feds-go-overboard...


From the outside, JSTOR looks "as bad" as the other academic journal publishers.

They really aren't.

I'm no fan of the copyright cabals and the continued locking away of academic publications from public view. JSTOR is a non-profit that charges relatively low fees to academic reusers for work that is not financially particularly valuable (it's mostly humanities stuff; pharmaceutical companies and technology researchers aren't desperate to read back issues of the British Journal of Philosophy of Science), and they are digitising old, obscure and non-English papers.

They are providing a very valuable service at a reasonable price for academic libraries. The restrictions being placed on the content is just part of the way that academic publishing works. JSTOR have done a bargain with the publishers and scholarly societies because they believe that getting the content scanned and online is more important than making sure there is complete public access to that content.

They are working as best as they can within the constraints of the academic system. If you want to hate on the academic system, the commercial publishers are far more deserving of your ire. The commercial publishers are charging extortionate amounts to academic libraries to sell papers back to the people who wrote them.

Eliminate the bigger for-profit journal publishers and you'll force an economic change on all of academic publishers. The whole system is at fault: don't hate the player, hate the game.


This is bullshit.

Coming from academia, I can say that the only people who benefit from this system are the publishers and the institutions. Everyone else is under the wheel.


If you want folks like JSTOR to go away: Stop reviewing papers for their journals.


You can't "return" copied data. How do I return that recent Hollywood blockbuster I torrented via PirateBay? Should I courier the bits back to them? I'm sure the MPAA would be just fine and dandy with that. If JSTOR mean that they were assured that Aaron deleted what he copied, why not say that?

I recognise that it may seem that I'm being overly pedantic but to me it seems that they are treating information like stuff when information does not act like stuff at all. I'm not one of these techno-utopian "information wants to be free" people, but at the same time we can't treat information the same way we treat stuff.

JSTOR should get that the rules have changed, if Wikipedia can build a competitor to Britannica then JSTOR can figure out how to provide (relatively) inexpensive access to the information that they are hoarding. Given that this is the very information that is meant to help us collectively build a better world for ourselves this needs to be done asap.

I don't doubt they sincerely regret what has happened - perhaps it will cause some much-needed introspection.


He did return the data, in a sense. He gave JSTOR the hard drives containing the articles he copied and assured them that it was the only copy.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/20compute.html?_r=0

You're right in that return is probably the wrong word though, because it implies that they were "gone" in the first place.


The "creators" did not charge them with this responsibility.


Nevertheless, it is true that Jstor got out of the "hassle Aaron Swartz" game a long time ago, which is why they're able to post a message like this without it coming off as totally opportunistic. The prosecutors in the case can't exactly do the same.


Nor MIT.

Which actually surprised me a bit, due to the culture of hacks/pranks that used to be common over there.


"Careful stewardship" is the next neighbour to censorship.


"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"

...


>> while balancing the interests of researchers, students, libraries, and publishers

Almost all of whom got a sizable chuck of their money for doing research from the taxpayer.


This is so woefully inadequate.


JSTOR will be remembered in the history!! :(




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