Aaron Swartz, Co-Creator of RSS, Arrested for Stealing Free Documents from Computer System

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Aaron Swartz, a co-creator of RSS , open access advocate, and author of the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto, and now a researcher at Harvard, has been arrested for hacking into the JSTOR system. JSTOR, which stands for “Journal Storage”, is a system that archives academic journals, and makes them available to institutions and, in a more limited version, to the public.

As a researcher at Harvard, Swartz had free, and presumably unlimited access to all of the journals available through JSTOR. And so he decided to download all 4.8 million files from JSTOR, by hacking into the system, and downloading them all in one fell swoop.

This has lead to Swartz’ arrest for computer fraud and abuse.

In a statement, JSTOR said, in part: “The United States Department of Justice announced today the criminal indictment of an individual, Aaron Swartz, on charges related to computer fraud and abuse stemming from his misuse of the JSTOR database. We have been subpoenaed by the United States Attorney’s Office in this case and are fully cooperating.”

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Swartz faces up to $1million in fines, and 35 years in Federal prison.

Swartz has plenty of supporters, however, and an online petition in his support has already garnered more than 15,000 signatures.

David Segal, executive director of a group founded by Swartz, Demand Progress, said of Swartz’ arrest that it “makes no sense,” and that it was akin to “trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

Unfortunately, a closer analogy would be that it was like someone breaking into the library and taking too many books. Where “too many” would be even one, because they had, you know, broken into the library to get it.

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