No, this post is not a posthumous dig at activist Aaron Swartz. But one thing to remember about all of this is that U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz is viewed as a possible Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate–and is viewed very favorably by outgoing governor Deval Patrick. Gov. Patrick would probably support the current lieutenant governor, but he is potentially marred by scandal.
All political candidates have to raise money, often from the local industry, and hi-tech is certainly a local industry for Massachusetts. While you might think there would be a lot of open access/hacker types–and you would be correct to do so–the companies that can give big donations (as well as their upper level employees) are not particularly fond of ‘hackitvism.’ I don’t think this was an overreaction to some kind of national security concern over hacking. If anything, Richard Eskow is on the right tack (boldface mine):
Whatever you think of his tactics, Aaron Swartz had an excellent point: JSTOR has been charging very high fees to let people read academic research, much of it funded by taxpayer money. None of that money apparently went to the authors. JSTOR didn’t want to prosecute Aaron, and has already decided to make millions of these articles available for free itself.
Aaron Swartz never made those pages public, and in any case he never intended to profit from his actions. Neither statement is true of Google, which placed millions of pages of copyrighted materials online. Aaron was never sued for copyright infringement, but Google was. And yet neither the Bush nor Obama Justice Departments pursued criminal charges against Google or its executives. Google just wrote a big check and bragged about the settlement when it was over.
But then, Google’s too big to fail.
I’m speculating here, but I believe U.S. attorney Ortiz was trying to burnish her bona fides to make herself more appealing to hi-tech companies–and their campaign contributions.
Though I don’t know what would be worse: Ortiz being venial, or overzealous and disproportionate. Either way, downloading a bunch of pdfs shouldn’t be a decades-long offense.