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Fighting for Open Access

ComputerWorldUK - Glyn Moody - As you may have noticed, this weekend the online world has been filled with news of and responses to the suicide of the young American activist Aaron Swartz. Many excellent personal tributes have been written about the man and his achievements, but here I want to concentrate on the just one aspect: the incident that led to his arrest and probably to his suicide too. Here's how Techdirt explained the situation:

Swartz, the executive director of Demand Progress, was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a catch-all designation for "computer activity the US government doesn't like."

Swartz had accessed MIT's computer network to download a large number of files from JSTOR, a non-profit that hosts academic journal articles. US prosecutors claimed he "stole" several thousand files, but considering MIT offered this access for free on campus (and the files being digital), it's pretty tough to square his massive downloading with any idea of "theft."

Not only that, but JSTOR was not the entity pressing charges. It had stopped the downloading and secured the "stolen" content, along with receiving assurances from Swartz that the files would not be distributed. Despite this, the feds felt compelled to arrest Swartz and charge him with four felony counts (one each for Wire Fraud, Computer Fraud, Theft of Information from a Computer and Recklessly Damaging a Computer). At this point, Swartz was looking at a possible 35-year sentence and over $1,000,000 in fines