If you haven’t, read up on Aaron Schwartz’s arrest for downloading too many files from JSTOR. This isn’t normally my beat but, regardless of what you think of the main issue, a potential 35 year prison sentence for copying files shows how out of control the justice system and intellectual property areas are. As Wired Magazine puts it, “In essence, Swartz is accused of felony hacking for violating MIT and JSTOR’s terms of service.”
The US Attorney in this case wants you to think “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.” But of course, as many others have pointed out, copying isn’t in fact stealing at all, because the original is still there – where if you stole my laptop I wouldn’t have it anymore.
The Wired article ends up writing “[uploading] did not happen, however, and all the documents have been returned to JSTOR.” What does that even mean? They were always at JSTOR. I assumed that means the copies were confirmed destroyed. But for the stealing storyline to make sense, you need to not think through what’s happening.
These debates about what is and isn’t in the commons of the public domain aren’t gong away. Here’s Demand Progress’ webpage on the issue, and Kevin Webb has interesting thoughts on the nature of information and discourse control.