A comment on Aaron Swartz’s arrest for JSTOR snatch
August 1st, 2011


WIRED reports: Rogue Academic Downloader Busted by MIT Webcam Stakeout, Arrest Report Says

Hacker and activist Aaron Swartz faces federal hacking prosecution for allegedly downloading millions of academic documents via MIT’s guest network, using a laptop hidden in a networking closet.

Swartz, 24, faces 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine under the indictment, announced last week, raising questions about his intentions, the vagueness of anti-hacking statutes and copyright as it applies to academic work. . . .

To put it mildly, JSTOR has never been about open content. The following is a comment I just posted on the WIRED article. I hope it makes it past the comment “approvers.” In terms of smart mobby stuff, the likes of JSTOR are the opposite: each individual bit is separate and for sale — very 20th century.

The delicious irony here is that network laws themselves ossify content in JSTOR, Nature, Proquest, Encyclopedia Britannica and others who put paywalls around content. The open web is a network where articles get link juice by being connected into patterns with other related articles. Small world networks form from subjects. You can see this effect in a Map of Science WIRED article.

Back in the late 1990s, when we built an open network in the www of 35,000 subjects at HomeworkCentral.com we got 4 million visits a month from across the world. At the same time JSTOR, Proquest and others were locking away some of the best content and selling access to universities and schools. Proquest bought HomeworkCentral.com (then part of BigChalk.com), put a paywall around it too. A salesperson from Proquest told me she went from high school to high school selling access to this same content for $45,000 a year to school after school.

Why don’t JSTOR, Proquest, and Britannica dominate education on the web today? Because their content is isolated and decaying. By contrast Wikipedia, Astronomy Picture of the Day, Mathworld, Public Library of Science and a zillion other open knowledge web sites are the great knowledge resources for education now and into the future. They link to each other, are crowd reviewed, and are continually updated. An article in JSTOR’s vault languishes in isolation.

Judy Breck, Contentmaster, HomeworkCentral.com 1997-2001

NOTE: There is a longer article about Aaron Swartz’s arrest in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I could not post my comment there because you have to subscribe (paywall) to the Chronicle to comment. Hummmm… are they getting an unbiased set of comments?

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