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Aaron Swartz Indicted in Attempted Piracy of Four Million Documents 174

An anonymous reader writes "New York Times has reported that Internet activist Aaron Swartz has been indicted for stealing more than 4 million documents from JSTOR." The indictment contains an exciting tale featuring trespassing, MAC address forgery, a Python script or two, and even computers hidden under a cardboard box. El Reg has a decent summary. Demand Progress has released an official response claiming the charges are trumped up nonsense.
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Aaron Swartz Indicted in Attempted Piracy of Four Million Documents

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  • Not Piracy (Score:5, Informative)

    by reebmmm ( 939463 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:25PM (#36814990)

    Perhaps this goes without saying, but the title is misleading. The Grand Jury did not indict Mr. Swartz on any copyright infringement or acts of piracy on the high seas. There are really only four indictments: wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information form a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer.

    You can read the whole indictment here: []

    Criminal copyright infringement is not one of the charges.

    • by gtvr ( 1702650 )
      Also he's apparently not a reddit co-founder.
      • I think Al Gore founded reddit.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by H0p313ss ( 811249 )

          I think Al Gore founded reddit.

          No, but he did chair the committee that authorized funding for the creation of what became the internet which did ultimately lead to the creation of Reddit, so he must bear some of the blame.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            No, but he did chair the committee that authorized funding for the creation of what became the internet

            ...and as a result has been universally taunted and mocked by ignorant Republicans, not a one of whom at the time had even the slightest clue what the internet was, let alone what it could potentially become.

            • In politics these days, what use are facts?

              Democrats and their fawning media (DailyKos Markos and PBS's Gwen Ifill -- a presidential debate moderator -- started it) blasted Sarah Palin as ignorant over her "Party like it's 1773" comment to tea party activists. Doesn't that ignorant slut know it's 1776?

              Then Republicans reminded them that she was referring to the Boston Tea Party, which did happen in 1773. So the Democrats are the ones without a clue.

              Yet the story remains repeated, just as the one about "I ca

              • why 1776? her quote was something along the lines of "we haven't won yet, we can't party like it's 1773". My first thought was "what year did the revolutionary war end? 1783, I think she just missed it by a decade. that she is stupid nad the liberal commentators are equally stupid isn't very heartening. nor does it matter all that much.

                and didn't she attempt to imply that by being able to see russia from a random island in alaska gave her foreign policy credentials? When bush was coming from texas, he

        • He then abandoned it to continue his search for manbearpig....
    • the computer fraud and abuse act is one of the worst laws ever passed in the history of the country.

      it is also being used against Bradley Manning and the Wikileaks cambridge people

      it was also used against Thomas Drake

      they also tried to use it against the Myspace suicide-woman

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Good lord, where exactly is this evidence that it's unconstitutional? The fact that you don't like it isn't exactly a constitutional argument. Also, Thomas Drake was acquitted, and citing someone guilty of treason and a grown woman who convinced a teenage girl to kill herself as your "defense" isn't really as convincing as you seem to think it is.

        • by decora ( 1710862 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:56PM (#36815344) Journal

          how pointless it is.

          its like having a law that says 'its illegal to bad things on a computer'. what the hell does that even mean? its complete bullshit, which is proved by the wide variety of people that have been prosecuted under it.

          Drake was not acquitted, he plead guilty to one misdemeanor under the CFAA (instead of 5 felonies under the Espionage Act) - the point of his case is that the CFAA made it criminal to simply take unclassified information and have it in your house. UNCLASSIFIED.

          now the CFAA applies to women telling people to commit suicide? AND to a guy who downloads from JSTOR? And to a guy who jailbreaks his playstation? What the fuck kind of a law is that?

          • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:33PM (#36815792)

            I don't understand why computer laws are so hard. My computer is my property, as is the data stored on it. Accessing that data without my permission is trespassing. Destroying data is destruction of private property. Running software on it without my permission is conversion. Using my computer to lie to me to get my money is fraud. Threatening to delete my files unless I buy your software is blackmail. Sending threatening messages to me is assault.

            Why is this so freaking hard!? We don't need laws specifically for computers or any other piece of technology, what we need is for politicians and justices to understand the fundamental concept that data is property and a computer is the just the physical (and arguably, least important) part of the system.

            • Data is not owned. Consider an infinitely long random sequence of bits - who owns it?

              • Data is owned. You're making the classic mistake of thinking about the law in engineering/mathematical terms - don't worry, we (us nerds) do this all the time, so you're in good company. The mathematical argument of "if I set a random number generator I could come up with the AACS encryption key/Britney Spears song/child porn" doesn't hold much water in a court.

                The analogy of data-as-property is much closer to how (most) data exists, and is used. A digital photo is closely analogous to a film photo, except

                • data consists of a long string of ones and zeros. If you tally them up, they make a number. you cannot own a number. Therefore, data is not owned.

                  If it is, then I'm going to copyright the number seven and fuck all you people.

            • Then maybe you should have encrypted it and kept it behind a firewall, no?

              If I leave my front door wide open, at sidewalk level, leave home, on a busy downtown street, how long will it take before somebody helps themselves to my stuff?

              Common sense, protect your shit!

            • by dave562 ( 969951 )

              I burned all my mod points yesterday. Please +5 this post. It is the most insightful thing I've seen in a while.

              Off-topic, but the same also applies to drug laws. We do not need a whole slew of laws to deal with the problems that come from drug abuse. Someone who is high beats someone up? Charge them with assault. They steal from you to finance their drug habit. Charge them with theft. They're high and they crash into someone, driving under the influence. That person dies? Manslaughter (or worse).

            • I don't understand why computer laws are so hard. My computer is my property, as is the data stored on it. Accessing that data without my permission is trespassing.

              You're right, it's your property. And unfortunately, because your data exists in abstract space, the government can't rightfully claim eminent domain; that means that your computer is the gateway to the sovereign nation of Yourstuff. However, the government has no treaties with Yourstuff and knows that several other sovereign nations of similar creeds and colors consort with criminals. However, because there are so ungodly many sovereign nations of Hisstuff and Herstuff, the nation can't possibly have in

        • It's unconstitutionally vague, because courts are completely unsure how to draw the line between which ToS violations are criminal and which are not.

          A non-vague possibility would be that all ToS violations are a federal "hacking" crime. For example, evading a Slashdot ban might be a felony. But few courts seem to want to do that. So which ToS are enforceable and which aren't?

          Let's say that I'm on a university network without breaking into it (which I am). If I slurp 4 million JSTOR documents, this is clearly a violation of JSTOR's terms of service. But I have not in any meaningful way "hacked into" JSTOR; I accessed it from my university network, which I had legitimate access to. Yet it appears, under the theory advanced here, that I would be guilty of a federal crime, "stealing" 4 million documents from JSTOR, because my access went above the use JSTOR authorized me to make of their service, and therefore constitutes computer trespassing.

          • by Gerzel ( 240421 )

            Of course since TOS can be changed often at and time and with little to no notice...

            There really aught to be a good set of rules as to what shrink-wrap and click-through documents can get an individual to agree to and what they cannot. A good standardized outline of what is required to give consent online and having greater requirements for items of greater importance.

      • worst? Just wait until the Protect IP act, and ACTA, and do I really need to go on?

        • Ahem... FISA [] was not nominated. Considering all of the ex post facto absolution, it should get honorary mention.

          The Gramm Leach Bliley Act [] which gutted the market protections put in place after the last great heist, er...depression, gets my vote as "Worst Ever".
          • what market protections did gramm leach bliley remove? preventing 2 companies from merging was hardly our issue in this last run up. Citi failed because the bank invested it's excess cash in bad securities. I'm not sure how not having an insurance arm would have changed that. And the existence of AIG, Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, ML, Bear, etc would have been completely legal before the act as well.

            • Proprietary trading restrictions. Commodity prices across the board trending up 300%+ since early 2000's. Look at (m)any 20 year commodity graphs. It's curious global/political/natural 'disruptions' as well as China's voracious appetite were not as volatile prior to '99. Sure the dollar is weak, very much so, but is it 1/3 or 1/4 the value it was 10 years ago?

              Volcker Rule Insurance? []
        • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

          It all ultimately leads to the BECAUSE I SAID SO law which, much like the Crane Stance, there can be no defend.

    • by yuhong ( 1378501 )

      To be honest, the person was going to publish the result to file-sharing sites which would definitely have been copyright infringement.

      • by ka9dgx ( 72702 )

        Copyright infringement requires that you profit from it. While it appears that Aaron knew he was taking a risk, I strongly doubt that profit was his motive.

        • by CoderJoe ( 97563 ) *

          False. Copyright infringement is ANY copying or distribution for which you do not have permission. And before someone else mentions fair use: Fair use is a legal defense after the owner goes after you.

          You may not agree with the current state of copyright law, but you should at least know it before making false claims about it.

  • Surprised the title or summary didn't mention that.

  • by Scareduck ( 177470 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:27PM (#36815010) Homepage Journal

    The "too many library books" thing is a little disingenuous; I wonder whether JSTOR's servers were capable of keeping up with this kind of assault (assuming the factual description of this event is correct). On the other hand, this looks like government deciding to throw the books at this guy because they don't like his organization, and are using this as a pretext.

    • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:32PM (#36815050)

      I read an article about this earlier which said it crashed JSTOR's servers on at least three occasions.

      However, JSTOR didn't wan to press charges yet the feds continued to push it. Academic interests (hilarious considering the reason for JSTOR) be dammed.

    • I unsubscribed from the Demand Progress mailing list because of their whitewashing of the charges against him.

    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      Not to mention that many of the things he copied were being made commercially available for sale, not made free as in library.

  • Oh, really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pope ( 17780 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:30PM (#36815038)

    "Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old researcher in Harvard University's Center for Ethics, broke into a locked computer-wiring closet in an MIT basement and used a switch there to gain unauthorized access the college's network,"

    How ethical.

    "Members of Demand Progress, a nonprofit political action group Swartz founded, criticized the indictment."

    Oh, really? No conflict of interest there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > How ethical.

      Well, it is if they were hoarding data that should be public, say. That's dubious in this case, but could be how Aaron saw it at the time In any case, JSTOR explicitly requested that charges not be pressed and the feds are doing so anyway like dicks, likely because in later life Aaron went on to do terribly inconvenient pro-liberty lobbying of the government.

      • "Well, it is if they were hoarding data that should be public, say."

        Any comments on the ethics related to hoarding and "financial obesity" (a term I first read in a story by James P. Hogan)?

        The USA used to be a more dynamic place in many ways decades ago when it had progressive taxation rate at 91% or so for income above a certain limit...

        • so we spent our first 130 years of history without any dynamic changes (you know, before income tax)? It must have been.

          I also hope you know that the top 0.1% and the top 10% pay more of the total federal income tax burden today than they did in your heyday of 91% marginal tax rates. So if anything, we have increased the progressiveness. (here is the current breakdown: []). Hell, the top 1% pay more now than they did in 2000 with higher capital gains tax

          • The figures you cite are just for federal personal income tax and ignore the disappearance of corporate taxes as well as the rise in regressive taxes related to sales, social security, medicare, and housing. They also ignore that we have the largest rich/poor wealth disparity than in any time since the run up to the last great depression.

            "I'm not sure about others, but in my small group I work with, I know many, many people would walk away from the job if the top rates went back to 91%."

            Terrific! More jobs

            • yes, because joe plumber can become a doctor? can become a lawyer? can become larry page?

              the naivety of your view can be astounding, though I'm sure you were joking. others can't take those jobs because they are incapable. if they were capable, they would be hired as trainees (go to medical school, law school, etc). most aren't. It also ignores the fact that most top earners work longer hours in a year that most people do in 2-3 years. I know my current boss easily works 15 hour days during the week an

    • JSTOR doesn't want it prosecuted

      and neither does anyone with a shred of common sense.

      • JSTOR doesn't want it prosecuted

        That's according to Swartz's own Think Progress. JSTOR's statement [] is more ambiguous.

        • by Trepidity ( 597 )

          Man, that is one evasive-as-hell statement. Time for us academics to put pressure on journal editors who have clout with JSTOR to clarify what their role is.

          • by spasm ( 79260 )

            Seriously. JSTOR is non-profit in the same way IKEA is non-profit. I use JSTOR a lot because I have to, but I really wish someone else had been first to the table on the 'scan and OCR back-issues of journals' game.

        • I like how JSTOR starts by saying that it can't comment on the case, and then it comments on the case.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hutz ( 900771 )
        Perhaps the SysAdmins at MIT want it prosecuted. Since he kept invading their network.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:33PM (#36815064) Journal
    Regardless of whether the tale in the indictment is true or not, it seems a weird way to go about just getting a whole bunch of jstor articles...

    The defendant's record suggests a reasonable amount of tech savvy and some geek and activist cred. Combined, perhaps, with a little beer money, that should be enough to secure the cooperation of a few students at a great many of the colleges that have site licenses for jstor journals. Within trivial driving/MBTA distance of MIT alone, there are quite a few to choose from.

    It seems like you could get entirely the same results, entirely above board, just by scraping a little more slowly, from slightly more endpoints, which would be easy to secure with the permission of their owners. While MIT is fairly laid back, cloak-and-daggering into their wiring closets risks the wrath of some resident BOFH, and it isn't legal. Mere scraping, on the other hand, is just a ToS violation at worst.
    • According to one of the articles I'd seen, his status as a Fellow of the Harvard School of Ethics would have allowed him access to JSTOR. If true, one wonders why he went through all the trouble.

      • If he was crashing servers, his rate-limiting was probably a little on the lax side, which is presumably didn't want directly associated with his account; but that still doesn't explain why he wouldn't just go with the distributed approach, along with a dash of patience.
      • by Amouth ( 879122 )

        only thing i can think of is to avoid having this actual name attached to it..

        but i do find odd is that it took so long for the sysadmins to stop him.. sorry but hiding it under a cardboard box and coming back and swapping drives.

        if it was transferring enough data for the admins to take notice and to "block the ip" they should have recognized it was an internal IP and found it physically.. follow the traffic to the switch and follow the cable..

        this isn't that hard to do - hell they had the luxury of knowin

    • jesus christ, have you ever had your shit auto-filled in by facebook? do you remember authorizing that shit?

      this whole thing is an assault on the intelligence of the public. it is absolutely outrageous abuse of power. the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is being rolled up like a stick and used as a battering ram against the First Amendment. this administration is completely out of control.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cancer4xmas ( 666669 )
      This isn't the first time Swartz has spidered a site in order to download the content hosted there. In 2009, he went after the PACER system which hosts court records. While those are public documents, they're behind a per-page paywall. His python script was probably reused from before, just s/ See: []

      When you're the creator of the Open Library project, liberating a few million articles from behind a rather expensive paywall is, at t
  • The Demand Progress website says:

    JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute. Indeed, it's not JSTOR suing but the USA government.

    Seems like someone's stepped on the wrong toes... Kind of reminds me of Assange and Strauss-Kahn. Why yes, this tinfoil hat goes with my tinfoil shoes.

  • by mykos ( 1627575 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:41PM (#36815170)
    MIT doesn't care, but the fact that he's very critical of the government makes him a prime target for shoehorning accusations onto him to shut him and his site up.
    • Yeah, he clearly a victim of a massive conspiracy! A site that I've never heard of that has content indistinguishable from r/politics is suddenly under attack from the DOJ?

      You right-wing loons will believe anything that makes Obama look bad.

      • He wasn't as well known as he wanted, so the best way to solve that is to do something to get arrested. Really, I don't know who this guy is and I don't care.

        And I'm frankly tired of the overblown hysteria about government conspiracies trying to shut up tiny blogs. This has nothing to do with politics: they'll pile on all the charges that they can think of onto anyone they arrest, the shotgun approach is a very common approach. Ie, tack on larger and lesser charges, this way you have a higher chance of a

      • by mykos ( 1627575 )

        Yeah, he clearly a victim of a massive conspiracy! A site that I've never heard of that has content indistinguishable from r/politics is suddenly under attack from the DOJ?

        You right-wing loons will believe anything that makes Obama look bad.

        I didn't know being anti-authoritarianism and pro-consumer were right-wing issues.
        Apparently you've never read or anything I've posted, because you're wrong on both counts.

      • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

        Yeah, he clearly a victim of a massive conspiracy! A site that I've never heard of that has content indistinguishable from r/politics is suddenly under attack from the DOJ?

        A single DoJ lawsuit does not a massive conspiracy make!

  • by FunkyELF ( 609131 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:46PM (#36815234)

    ... and it seems like once you start downloading too much it kicks you off or makes you contact someone.
    Seems like he evaded that little scheme and they're charging him with that.
    Insane... it'd be like charging someone for disabling pop-ups.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @03:52PM (#36815306) Journal
      I was under the(apparently mistaken) impression that that ugly little notion had been settled:

      Back during that 'myspace suicide case' drama, the prosecution made the argument that, by creating an account under a false name(which the defendant definitely had), she had violated the myspace terms of service(which, she also definitely had); but then went on to claim that accessing a website in a way contrary to the ToS was a violation of the CFAA. Thankfully, that... exceptionally broad... interpretation was shot down.

      Whatever he was doing in a locked wiring closet may well have been some sort of trespassing; but ToS violations are a matter between you and the entity(and generally only worth terminating your relationship) not you and the feds.
  • I cannot make sense of this.

    Allegedly, Swartz broke into a computer closet in order to download documents you can download from a Website, and he downloaded a lot of them. Why would he go to that much trouble?

    Supposedly, MIT and JSTOR didn't press want to press charges, but the state of Massachusetts is pressing charges anyway. Why?

    Some of the speculation here is that it's because Swartz was threatening to the government. I just read some of his articles; it seemed like good stuff from a moderate left. Left

    • by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:47PM (#36815970)
      Who cares what MIT or JSTOR thinks. This is criminal matter not a civil one. If they don't want to sue then that is their deal. The govement has a responcibility to its citizens to enforce the laws equally. If I broke into a closet at MIT I would get jail time even if I was just stealing soap.
      • No. Police don't arrest someone every time a crime appears to have been committed, nor do prosecutors prosecute every person arrested for a crime. They have discretion, and limited resources, and more apparent crimes than they can afford to investigate or prosecute. If the crime appears to be minor, and the victim doesn't want to press charges, or there's no victim, the police are likely to ignore it. What prosecutors actually prosecute is a policy decision -- which often means, a political decision.

        • by tftp ( 111690 )

          What prosecutors actually prosecute is a policy decision -- which often means, a political decision.

          Or, if you believe the old man Occam, it often is a matter of convenience. Prosecutors need convictions. It's hard to get a conviction in case when one gangbanger assaulted another gangbanger and 100 witnesses "haven't seen a thing." But it's trivial to get conviction on mere technical grounds, and a "hacker case" may have more public visibility than a common assault. If the prosecutor has the goods on thi

  • The fact that MIT of all places couldn't figure out which switch an IP address/Mac Address was hitting them from, within their own network, speaks volumes about the quality of the IT staff working there. I can think of dozens of different ways I could have stopped him right off the top of my head, and tracking down the location of the computer would have been even easier unless he had plugged in a wireless bridge or something. EVEN THEN, finding it wouldn't have been that hard.
  • Unless there was a ship carrying four million documents and he hoisted the jolly roger, he did NOT pirate them, attempted or otherwise.

  • I've often wanted to read science. Is there a way I can do so without breaking the bank?

    Most people I've asked share passwords... I don't know if I'd want to get into that... though my usage would be so low it would probably work.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.