Freedom of Speech Patents

Aaron was a casualty of the War on Sharing

Aaron Swartz, a dedicated advocate for open knowledge and accomplished hacker, who was facing a potential 30+ year jail term and over a million dollars in fines for liberating JSTOR scientific research papers from behind a pay wall, took his own life on Friday, January 11th.

On behalf of all Massachusetts Pirates, we express our condolences to his family and those he loved.  Aaron was a resolute fighter for the right of people to share knowledge and worked untold hours to defeat bills such as SOPA/PIPA, ACTA, CISPA and a whole host of bills or treaties that would hinder our First Amendment right to free speech on the Internet.  We will miss him for his insights, purpose and vigor in the years of struggle we have before us.

Whatever paeans are spoken for him, never forget that Aaron was a casualty of the War on Sharing.  He is not the first and nor will he be the last.

Some casualties are well known and include Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde, Carl Lundström, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Joel Tenenbaum and Kim Dotcom.  Others such as Tarek Mehanna and Jammie Thomas-Rasset are less well known, but no less important.  The persecution they have received from governments and corporations has been called a tragedy and we agree.

Yet the number who have suffered is far higher than those reported in the press.  Some have had to defend themselves against France’s draconian three strikes anti-file sharing law that can deny whole families access to the Internet because one person is accused of file sharing three times.  Others have had their domains or servers seized without trial based on the copyright cartel’s assertions that these sites were sharing copyrighted files.

While we often focus on the efforts to stop people from sharing a song from their favorite artist, the effects of patents are far more damaging.  By far the most affected by the War on Sharing are the millions who do not have access to the lifesaving drugs they need because patents have driven drug prices beyond what they or their countries can afford.  Thousands of poor, indebted farmers in India have committed suicide in part due to using extortionately-priced patented GM seeds that are not the magic seeds as claimed and, like a perverse DRM technology, are designed so that farmers cannot harvest seeds for next years planting.  We all suffer from an encroaching big brother state when the War on Sharing joins with the War on Privacy.

United States attorney, Carmen M. Ortiz, has said about Aaron: “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.”  Sadly she has not directed these words at the banksters on Wall Street who caused the theft of trillions of dollars in the value of people’s pension funds and houses, while demanding trillions in bailouts from the public purse.  Defenders of artificial scarcity, such as Ms. Ortiz, might be willing to look the other way on who the real victims are, but heroes like Aaron and the rest fought for and continue to fight for what is right and just.

Aaron is dead, but the struggle continues.  We will expand our efforts to help the untold millions who suffer from the War on Sharing.  Will you?

[Written by James, Sevan, bsod, Ma Sh, Lauren and Lucia, and likely others we didn’t ask or who were too busy to read it when we sent it to them.  Feel free to reprint, repost, remix, etc. with/out attribution.  It’s the words that matter and the spirit behind them.]

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2 comments on “Aaron was a casualty of the War on Sharing

  1. Isn’t sharing something people do voluntarily? If I don’t choose to share my home, my clothes, my time, or any of my other property with you, should I be compelled to do so? If you use force to take those things from me, am I sharing, or are you stealing?

    If my mind creates thoughts and commit them to paper or electronic media, and I don’t want to share them with you, how do you justify taking them without my permission? I can’t force these thoughts on you nor can you take them from me against my will. If I offer them for sale, and you choose to take them anyway without paying, what does that make you?

    I think some people have real boundary problems, a sign of a personality that never gets past the childhood stage of narcissism.

    • First lets not confuse tangible objects with digital objects. Making a copy of a digital research paper is trivial, your house not so much.

      The point of the research journals and thus JSTOR who indexes them and provides them on-line, is to inform other researchers of the results of new research. Putting a pay wall up hinders that free flow of information. Institutions like MIT can pay JSTOR’s fees, institutions in developing countries cannot. If our ultimate objective is to encourage research and the sharing of ideas and results, then we need new ways of funding such tools so that access is maximized.

      The Internet is a copying machine. If I copy something, I am not taking the original so it is not theft. The Constitution allows copyright for a limited time. Originally it required the author to register it and it lasted for 14 years, with the possibility of 14 year extension. It is specifically for the purpose of encouraging people to create new works for the public benefit.

      Now copyright attaches the moment the work is published and lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years. Copyright maximalists act like it is property that the creator has a right to, not what it is: a government granted monopoly.

      Shakespeare copied. Bob Dylan copied. Picasso copied. Lots of people copy, it is how we learn and try things out. Before the Internet it was just more difficult. The question is will we develop new ways of helping creators get paid or will we throw everyone who copies in jail. The prisons are full, how many more do we need?

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