I Am Aaron Swartz

Digging Digitally � Archaeology, Open Access, and the Passing of Aaron Swartz

Another very good article about Aaron Swartz. (I also posted about Jesse Kornbluth's open letter to DA Carmen M. Ortiz here).

Swartz's prosecution struck a cord with many of us who believe in open access. It is thanks to him that JSTOR opened up access to their old out of a copyright articles, and are now experimenting with making it available to all.

I have mixed feelings about academic journals charging for access - I understand it as a business model, but find it frustrating that research often directly or indirectly funded by the taxpayer cannot be accessed by him or her. Some journals are published by institutions that need the fees to support their work, others are published by huge corporations that ... became hugely profitable by charging a lot for access to those journals. I have nothing against business, and am even very pro business, but ... why should I pay to access my own work? And why shouldn't my friends also profit from their own work?

The AWOL - Ancient World Online blog does a wonderful job of listing Open Access publications. Sometimes the publication did not mean to go Open Access, for example with Minerva Magazine.

Minerva has a paywall - here - to access their archives. Or you can click the links through AWOL and access issues directly as PDFs here. I provided AWOL and various others with the link to the Minerva directory - here. I didn't hack it, I was simply searching for images of some stolen items for Loot Busters, noticed the directory was open, downloaded some of the many issues I had articles in (yes, I kept copyright of those as I do with all my work so that I can re-post them), and then shared it with some friends and colleagues.

I've also shared one or two of my multiple JSTOR accounts with friends and colleagues. I'm lucky enough to have several accounts at the moment, but remember how frustrating it was when I didn't have one - luckily a friend lent me his log-in. I've since returned the favour to several colleagues, and I'm also downloaded and emailed articles to friends.

And Bridgeman Art Library? Many years ago Adrian Murdoch used one of their images, with credit, and was ordered to take it down. I admit I had sent it to him. So I did a post with nothing but images from Bridgeman and suggested in an email that they were welcome to sue me if they felt they could overturn Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp ...

Here's the kicker - artists can hold copyright to their work, but museums cannot hold copyright to works created by people who've been dead two thousand years. So when the British Museum tried to charge people to take their own study photos, I told them exactly where to put it. And I put high res photos of Lord Elgin's Firman online: here, here, here and here. And here and here because they had once again not told me the truth. I've also helped Neil MacGregor when he forgot that that the Greeks had officially asked for a loan of the Parthenon / Elgin Marbles - here and here - by posting the Greek Minister of Culture's letter to him and his reply ...

In a way we're all Aaron Swartz. So if Carmen M. Ortiz would like to prosecute me, this should work as a confession: I am Aaron Swartz too. I'd be happy to provide emails and information supporting this to Ms Ortiz.

I am probably the last person in the world who has never pirated a piece of music, but ... I have 'pirated' academic work because I believe it should be more freely available. I post my own work on this blog, and email copies of my PhD to any colleague that asks for it.

Yes, my work has been ripped off - a student published my work on caryatids in her own name in a journal, but she also has not had an academic job since. And that had nothing to do with open access - she had access to my computer, and thanks to open access her article was emailed to me by several people within days of publication. It was frustrating, and I have had conversations with the journal about pulling the piece, but I've filed the incident under 'shit happens' and so what. I've also filed under 'shit happens' another web site trying to imply they were involved in returning stolen antiquities that Loot Busters found.

Since I tweeted a few #IamAaronSwartz comments yesterday, several colleagues have made similar confessions.

This post is probably a bit rambling, but I'm the point I'm trying to make is that Aaron Swartz did a hell of a lot to make the internet as user-friendly as it is today, and if he was being prosecuted, a lot of us should be too.


  1. This is why I got out of the legal field. All of those prosecutors pirate music and other data illegally. But they're not prosecutors to champion morality or the law. Most use their law degrees to achieve greater power or success. The law is a game to them which they use to advance in life. Unfortunately, Ms. Ortiz will never care about the ramifications of her actions except to the extent that it advances her interests. She can always fall back on the moral high ground and simply claim she was doing her job, protecting the law.

  2. In so many ways that way of applying the law, for political gain, is very Republican - see Cicero et al.

    To be truly Roman though, his family or friends would have to counter-sue her for causing his wrongful death ...

    I do understand people taking moral stances - and she may well have believed she was taking one - but it sounds like such a strange case.


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