Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aaron Swartz And Copyrighting Knowledge©

This is Aaron Swartz. He committed suicide on eleventh January by hanging himself. Now, I did not know about him, or who he was prior to his name being everywhere on the internet after he killed himself.
But apparently, he was a very accomplished person. The guy was a genius, in the purest sense of the word. Here is the list of the things he did

  • He aided in the creation of RSS. That is right, the RSS feed on this blog was partially created by this man.
  • He helped create Reddit, an online community based website that lets users talk about varied topics and share articles. 
  • He was heavily involved in Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Most of the images used on this blog are licensed under Creative Commons.
  • He was a strong supporter of open information and copyright reform.
That's a long list of impressive accomplishments for someone who died as young as 26. He completely changed the way the internet works and gave it some of the most effective characteristics. 

Now the full story, Aaron hacked into Jstor which according to its website is a library that connects teachers, students, researchers and scholars around the world with scholarly content. Aaron downloaded more than 2 million articles on the website atttending to share it with the world and the less fortunate people from the third world countries. It was his personal belief that providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not for children in the Global South is outrageous and unacceptable. 
Those with access to these resources ” students, librarians, scientists”, you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not--indeed, morally, you cannot--keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world.      -Aaron Swartz 

If you choose to share the vast oceans of internet knowledge, it’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral, it’s a moral imperative.
Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy. 
Making these articles free to the general public and sharing it with the world, Aaron Swartz was charged with crimes with the maximum prison sentence of 35 years. To put that into perspective, here's a list of crimes that carry a maximum sentence of less than 35 years in the US:
  1. Manslaughter
  2. Bank Robbery
  3. Selling slaves
  4. Helping Al Quada develop nuclear weapons
  5. Violence at international airports 
Robbing a bank? Pheh! Sharing information is worse
All these crimes have a prison sentence less harsh than the one warranted by sharing information and helping the poorer students. As Aaron's family and worldwide critics think, this persecution and felony charges have been a factor in his suicide. This bright and intelligent 26 year old man, who helped make the internet what it is now, was basically pushed into ending his life because they wanted to give him 35 years in prison and a million dollar fine.

 Also, neither Jstor, nor the MIT wanted to press charges. Now the question is, if the two parties that may have been affected by his actions, did not want to press charges, then why were the charges pressed? Was it because he was an activist and a supporter of copyright reform? Was it because he was quickly becoming the bane of companies that may want to limit knowledge and information to a certain group of people? How would you feel if someone found a cure for AIDS but then decided to keep it for himself and a few biased people?

It's time to come out of the underground channels and make a secret database of all the knowledge. It's time to continue and extend his aim. 
But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back. This tribute to Aaron Swartz is one among many, with many more to come. Aaron may be dead, but his fight carries on.

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