Pirate's Life

Early Reddit Employee Aaron Swartz Charged with 13 Felonies for Downloading Academic Docs

We can all feel a little bit safer now that this criminal may be off the street.
 Early Reddit Employee Aaron Swartz Charged with 13 Felonies for Downloading Academic Docs

Mr. Swartz (Photo: Wikipedia)

You may remember activist coder Aaron Swartz, an early Reddit employee who was charged with four felonies last year for daring to illegally download academic articles off of JSTOR through the MIT network. Now, the 25-year-old Mr. Swartz, who serves as the executive director of the progressive political action committee Demand Progress, has been charged by the federal government with nine more felonies for breaching hacking laws, bringing the total to 13.

According to Wired:

[Mr. Swartz] has a history of downloading massive data sets, both to use in research and to release public domain documents from behind paywalls. He surrendered in July 2011, remains free on bond and faces dozens of years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.

Like last year’s original grand jury indictment on four felony counts, (.pdf) the superseding indictment (.pdf) unveiled Thursday accuses Swartz of evading MIT’s attempts to kick his laptop off the network while downloading millions of documents from JSTOR, a not-for-profit company that provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals that are normally inaccessible to the public.

Mr. Swartz wasn’t just dodging a paywall to nab an article he needed to write an academic paper. He was allegedly using a program that continuously scraped academic information and datasets from JSTOR, one so powerful that the indictment says it took down JSTOR’s servers multiple times. Mr. Swartz’s motives for downloading all those docs? Information wants to be free, man.

Still, it helps to keep Mr. Swartz’s alleged crimes in perspective–downloading scholarly articles isn’t exactly trafficking heroin. We have no doubt the former fellow at the Safra Center for Ethics has a righteous argument for not keeping academic informtion behind a paywall.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com