Posts tagged “Creative Commons

IN/OUTPUTS Links re: Aaron Swartz

Posted on 13 January 2013

There’s a lot of beautiful and considered things being written about the loss of Aaron Swartz, so I thought I would pull together a bit of a list of the posts I particularly liked: Official statement from family and partner of Aaron Swartz The statement from Aaron’s family and his girlfriend is touching. On Remember Aaron Swartz, 12 January 2013. RIP, Aaron Swartz Cory Doctorow’s post on Boing Boing was the first post I read about Aaron’s death (I did have Quinn Norton’s post open, but I had only skimmed it). Cory offers a personal recount of Swartz. I love Cory’s colourful description of Aaron as “… a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber” While Cory was developing Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother,…

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Aaron Swartz, death of a console cowboy

Posted on 13 January 2013

Photo: Aaron Swartz - Deceased by Peretz Partensky. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. High-res version

In an open letter co-signed by Fee Plumley and I, we suggest to JSTOR’s publisher ITHAKA renaming their free accounts in memoriam of Aaron Swartz. What would be a simple thing to implement for ITHAKA would have powerful resonance in a community coming to terms with this tragic loss. Anyone who supports the idea is encouraged to add their name to the letter or on the duplicate post on Fee’s reallybigroadtrip

The loss of Aaron Swartz on 11 January 2013 is a tragic one in so many ways. First and foremost, it is a tragic loss for his friends and family. It is a tragic loss for all of us in the open community/ies. And it is a tragic loss to every single person who has ever used the internet.

The remarkable thing about Aaron Swartz is how much he made other people’s lives better; people who will likely never even know who he is or how and why he made their lives better.While there are numerous tributes written by greater people than I (for example, Lawrence Lessig (twice!), Cory Doctorow, Glenn Greenwald), I wanted to get some thoughts down about why I feel the passing of Aaron Swartz is a big deal.

While I had never met Aaron we shared a number of common interests. Like me, he stood for internet freedom, access to information and knowledge and civil liberties; and delivered on this as “… a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber,” so Cory Doctorow says. But his deeds were much greater than mine have been.

When he was 14 he helped write the RSS 1.0 specifications, which would help people manage what they read online. While still in his teens he was helping build the code layer of the Creative Commons licences, something that would set the Creative Commons suite of licences apart from the broader open licensing schemes. I strongly believe that it was (and is) this technical interoperability and versatility that has made CC arguably the most well-known and used licensing scheme of its kind. And if that wasn’t enough, he also helped the establishment of reddit and Open Library.

Demand Progress, a non-profit that he co-founded, was instrumental in the campaign to prevent the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the United States. If it had passed, the content industry-demanded legislation would vest a scary amount of censorship control over the internet in the United States government.

As Glenn Greenwald, writing on, said, “Swartz didn’t commit himself to these causes merely by talking about them or advocating for them. He repeatedly sacrificed his own interests, even his liberty, in order to defend these values and challenge and subvert the most powerful factions that were their enemies.” He took a stand against the US Government’s pay-per-page court records system PACER, downloading and freely distributed millions of court documents at his own expense. And fair enough; taxpayer money paid to create the documents, and the government was charging taxpayers again. His act of so-called civil disobedience saw him investigated by the FBI, but they dropped the matter without pressing charges.

But his actions to liberate scholarly content from the JSTOR archive in July 2011 weren’t overlooked. Using access provided to him as a fellow of the Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, he downloaded a sizeable volume of academic papers from JSTOR while at a MIT library. At one point he accessed the MIT network directly. Cumulatively he copied around 4 million papers.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts indict him for wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. After Swartz returned the copies to ITHAKA, the publisher of JSTOR, they chose not to pursue him further. MIT’s lack of formal response meant the US Attorney’s Office was able to continue its overzealous pursuit of Swartz. I agree with Lawrence Lessig who said, “I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.”

There is a lot of controversy and commentary about the case, which was due to go to court next month. And while it is not my place to speculate on how or why Swartz committed suicide, I agree with Glenn Greenwald, “… it only stands to reason that a looming criminal trial that could send him to prison for decades [and leave him financially destitute] played some role in this; even if it didn’t, this persecution by the DOJ is an outrage and an offense against all things decent.” In conversations with friends I have often argued that ‘copyright should not kill.’ It saddens me that Aaron Swartz is another notable person on the list of people killed by copyright.

Before I finish this post, I want to take up a comment made by Cory Doctorow: “I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics.” I think his scope for change was even greater than politics alone. I don’t know what the average life expectancy is, but it has to be a good deal longer than 26 years. Given his impressive track record of projects and advocacy, I can’t help but wonder what else we may have been commending Aaron Swartz for in another 26 years (and another 26 on that!). If you ask me, that’s the real tragedy.

To Aaron’s family and friends: My condolences go out firstly to you, and then out to all those lucky enough to have known him. Although I never met Aaron, I am among the millions of people who admired his work.
To the open (internet/standards/formats/data/access/education/everything) community/ies: Don’t let Swatz’s ambition die with him. Greenwald strikes at the heart of it when he says that the case was a political turf war “… over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it.” I echo the EFF‘s call to action: ”While his methods were provocative, the goal that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — is one that we should all support.”
To internet users everywhere: Maybe it is about time you woke up and saw what was going on around you. Many brilliant people and organisations stick their collective necks out every day so that you can post mindlessly to Facebook. It would be nice if just a few more got a clue.
And to Aaron: I salute you: one of the few who could truly be considered a console cowboy!

Dealing with depression is hard. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call one of these services:

Aaron Swartz.

Aaron Swartz ITHAKA on, nd.

Prosecutor as bully Lawrence Lessig on Lessig Blog, v2, 12 January 2013.

Remembering Aaron Swartz Lawrence Lessig on Commons News, Creative Commons, 12 January 2013.

RIP, Aaron Swartz Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing, 12 January 2013.

Farewell to Aaron Swartz, an extraordinary hacker and activist Peter Eckersley on Deep Links Blog, Electronic Frontier Foundation, 12 January 2013.

The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz Glenn Greenwald on On Security and Liberty,, Guardian News and Media Limited,
12 January 2013.

‘Aaron Swartz – Deceased (Suicide Jan 11, 2013)’ by peretzp (Peretz Partensky). The image is used under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. You are free to share and remix the image too provided you attribute the photographer.

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The new ‘Brian Fitzgerald projects’

Posted on 25 February 2012

While I’ve know about this for awhile, the information is now public so I can tell you all about it. My former boss, Professor Brian Fitzgerald—specialist Research Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation, Co-Project Lead of Creative Commons Australia where I worked for 8 years, and more recently a Director of the corporation and member of the Board of Creative Commons—is taking up a new position as Executive Dean of  the new Faculty of Law at the Australian Catholic University from March this year. As most people who know me well can attest, I have nothing but admiration for Brian’s trailblazing leadership is so many of the areas I give a shit about. Before joining the Australia Council for the Arts I worked under Brian at…

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Internet says, “nopa” to SOPA

Posted on 19 January 2012

To help bring wider attention to the potential ramifications of SOPA and PIPA, an impressive list of internet heavyweights went black yesterday (United States time). While concern over the Bills has been simmering away online since last year, the 18 January blackout was designed to demonstrate the solidarity of it’s opponents and push it’s message to the general internet using population. Confirmed participants included Wikipedia, Google, Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, WIRED, reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr, the icanhazcheezburger network and Internet Archive, among others. While Dominic Basulto thinks it’s too little, too late, pushing information about the Bills and why they are problematic in front of millions of internet users who are not digerati is hardly too little.  

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IN/OUTPUTS for 28 November to 4 December

Posted on 28 November 2011

In/outputs - a taste plate of stuff that’s passed through my feeds this week DEEDI and QPS websites licensed under CC BY The use of Creative Commons by Government agencies in Australia is huge. The number of Australian government licence users dwarfs (almost) every other jurisdiction, and today that number ticked just a little higher. The ccAustralia blog published an entry about two Queensland Government departments that have applied Creative Commons to their online content: the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) and the Queensland Police Service (QPS).agencies have adopted the Australian Creative Commons Attribution licence (3.0 and 2.5 respectively). Please welcome DEEDI and QPS to the Commons! ♺ Cheryl Foong on Commons News (Australia), 28 November 2011.  Still hungry? Grab the In/outputs RSS feed for…

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