I chose to go a little out of my element this week and watch the documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. It was a fascinating story and was a topic that was new to me. Aaron was passionate about making the world a better place and he believed that all knowledge should be accessible to everyone. This included journal articles that are stored in online databases such as JStor, but you need to pay in order to view them. He was caught downloading 5 million articles from JStor, and although his motive was still unclear, he was charged and labeled as a felon. He ended up committing suicide because of all the pressures he was facing with the charges.
Photo Credit: “Aaron Swartz profile” by Fred Benenson – User: Mecredis – http://www.flickr.com/photos/creativecommons/3111021669/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aaron_Swartz_profile.jpg#/media/File:Aaron_Swartz_profile.jpg
It was very informative because I have not learned a lot about the “hacker” world and had always assumed they were people who did things to harm others or to make money. But Aaron was an example of a hacker who genuinely wanted to make the world a better place and was not out for any personal gain. Those who worked with him her appalled that the government would label him as a felon when what he did didn’t cause anyone any harm. The government was trying to make an example of him to others, but nobody understood why his case became such a big deal.
It was a sad story and an example of how knowledge is power and the people who have that power are not willing to share it. It made me question a lot of things, including those journal articles that are stored and not available to everyone.
I found a couple documents online that were mentioned in the documentary:
SOPA – Aaron fought against this act that would allow the government to regulate online use.
Guerilla Open Access Manifesto – Written by Aaron
Aarons Law Act – After Aaron’s death a new act was created to change the laws