Ali Hayat: The Prosecution of Aaron Swartz: Sharing Knowledge Is a Greater Crime Than Bringing Down the Economy
Aaron Swartz is no longer among us though the contributions he made to promote free flow of information and knowledge sharing will continue to benefit our present and future generations. He was charged with 13 felony counts for downloading millions of academic articles from JSTOR and accused of intending to distribute these articles through file-sharing sites.
The manner in which Aaron had been prosecuted offers a sharp contrast to the manner in which our legal system dealt with corporate America after the 2008 financial crisis, where there were no prosecutions of top corporate figures. Sadly, the contrast highlights that trying to disseminate knowledge, quite literally by making academic journal articles available online, is a greater crime than bringing down the United States economy through “corporate mismanagement and heedless risk-taking.”
Driven by a desire to make knowledge accessible Aaron has been attributed to author the “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” Some key excerpts are as follow:
Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s 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 … 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 … It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
Aaron’s untimely death has left us without a great mind and even more importantly a compassionate activist. While Aaron is irreplaceable, we must aspire to freely disseminate the moral imperative he advocated, in the very spirit that he himself would have done.