Aaron Swartz was no criminal



If anything positive can emerge from this, it must include a thorough examination of prosecutorial misconduct and motivations. The “law” may permit such horrific over-reach, but justice, ethics, and a simple sense of right and wrong can only condemn it. I’ve witnessed an astonishing number of hard-liners around the Boston area attempt to justify what happened…and, without exception, they are utterly ignorant or dismissive of the facts. Even worse they don’t seem interested in what’s right or wrong…only the most severe punishment allowable by the law. This is bigger than what befell Aaron. The “law” is way out of control in the U.S. It’s high time to put an effective consitutional leash on it.


I wish people could just talk about what was done to Swartz without having to drag in what he did to himself. It conflates two very serious and entirely different things, which does injustice to them both.


when swartz deemed it necessary to take jstor’s archive into his hands and distribute access to it as he saw fit, he circumvented the system of payment to authors that ithaka, jstor’s parent company, takes care to insure. while this matter needn’t have been resolved as a criminal matter, the actions swartz took may have been idealistic, but they were also short-sighted, and one could argue, selfish. those who generate content deserve renumeration. that’s a plain fact overlooked by swartz, and by many of his defenders.

he circumvented no payment system, open access to MIT campus, open access to MIT lan, guest access to JSTOR to download, period.


“Guest access” which was contingent upon terms of use. No random person off the street can access JSTOR, you have to be granted access (which Swartz was via his position as research fellow), and that access comes with strings attached, whether you read the fine print or not.

The eventual charges against him were clearly trumped up beyond reason, but at the same time he did violate the various legal agreements and entanglements he entered into.

It also seems entirely obvious that he intended to redistribute the data, although I’ve never been clear on whether he actually did. Doing so would be a further breach of terms of use.

And “breaching terms of use” is a federal crime since… when?


I’m a bit conflicted about that myself. Obviously when someone takes their own life it’s a very personal thing, and the prosecutor didn’t make that decision. But at the same time, people do not kill themselves lightly, or for personal gain, or as a stunt; it testifies to the scale of pressure the US government is willing to put on innocent citizens in the service of corporate and bureaucratic interests.
So, Swartz’s act at least forces the government to defend its actions on their own (dubious) merits. Whether they pushed him to the point where he chose suicide is no longer disputable.


You seem to have missed the bit where I said “The eventual charges against him were clearly trumped up beyond reason”.

Please refrain from erecting strawman arguments and trying to put them in my mouth.

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No, I did not miss it. Although it seems the prosecutor did. Which is a bit more relevant.

Sorry if the terseness of the reply implied hostility, but it is just that, again, by the same process you mention, this should have never ever happened. He could have been facing some very different charges in a very different setting, but somebody wanted their “tough on cybercrime” publicity.


That is in direct contradiction of the article:

While it’s possible the author is mistaken there, he is a lawyer who was deeply involved in the case, and presumably did his research. Are you suggesting he’s totally out to lunch there, and was getting ready to present incorrect evidence in court?


Actually you are missing @JesusCouto’s point (in your reply at least - not necessarily in your understanding) saying the charges were “trumped up beyond reason” doesn’t even go far enough: Breaching terms of service is entirely a civil matter, the territory of civil courts, and JSTOR would have had to be the ones to bring suit. They declined to bring suit, so the issue should have stopped there.

It’s not that the crimes charged were too high - it’s that any crime was charged at all. It’s not that he didn’t break the laws he was charged with breaking - it’s that he broke no laws at all. It’s not that 35 years was too high a sentence for Swarz to have faced - if he’d faced a $200 fine and 6 hours of community service, even that would have been too high a sentence.


Or it testifies to poor mental health and unfortunate decision making. Suicide is, in the vast majority of all cases, an inherently irrational act.

We can talk about, and even harshly judge and criticize, the lengths the US government was willing to go to purely on their own merits, without having to demonize them for what Swartz chose to do himself - and we can do so without dishonoring Swartz’ tragic choice, and also without placing him on a pedestal to serve as some sort of celebrity martyr.

As much as I may be sympathetic to Swartz and biased against the US government, I must insist on judging based on the reality of the situation, not the idealogy of the conflict, nor even the characters of the parties involved.

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one thing is civil law, another criminal law…

and what may seem obvious to some are not facts mere speculation, period.

“Terms and Conditions May Apply”… but those terms could not be above the constitution… and the current laws and prosecutions is what is wrong here… what laws where used to prosecute him. And JSTOR clearly didn’t considered this to be a crime against their interests

Civil vs. criminal copyright infringement

You’re missing the point. I’m fully aware this was a kangaroo court designed to serve the agenda of the government.

By “trumped up charges” I am not merely suggesting that what he did was overblown, but also that completely unrelated charges were fabricated and invented specifically for the purpose of finding him guilty through exploiting the horrid ambiguity of our extant computer laws.

Swartz was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, all of which are demonstrably untrue within sane interpretations of the laws as they stand - but he was still charged with them, and he was still going to be found guilty of those charges.

Yes, that is a horrid miscarriage of justice. Yes, it is an obvious government agenda to silence him and punish him for his involvement in projects like Tor and Wikileaks, and his leaks of government documents and data.

But that doesn’t change the fact he was breaking the law in other ways, and that your statement that…

“he circumvented no payment system, open access to MIT campus, open access to MIT lan, guest access to JSTOR to download, period.”

…is demonstrably untrue in a several regards. You paint the situation as if he is entirely faultless, then when I point out this is untrue, you point out that he wasn’t guilty of the things he was charged with - yet these are two entirely different concerns.

I’ll openly admit to not following this case and not knowing the details. After reading this piece I have a few questions.

  1. Did the case ever actually make it to trial or did Swartz end his life before such?
  2. If the case didn’t reach trial, was he actually charged, and do we know the specifics of said charges?
  3. After reading this piece, it seems all he did was make a remote copy of the archive. Regardless of the number of articles that comprise the archive, aren’t they in place specifically to be downloaded?
  4. Was there ever any suggestion that he had/intended to distribute his downloaded archive?

I’m not particularly looking for emotional responses, and I know that people here are much more deeply invested in this story than I am, I’m just trying to get a handle on the whole thing.

I agree with his lawyer obviously biased title for this article. He was no criminal at least he commit no crime and there is no material evidence that proves otherwise.

If by suggesting that he “broke the law” then you will need to be more specific and answer some questions.

What law, where, when, how… if you refer to the JSTOR/MIT please quote Criminal No. 11-10260-NMG

Swartz committed suicide, and the case was consequently dismissed.

You know which laws were broken - you yourself referred to it with your distinction of civil law.

Just because it isn’t criminal doesn’t mean it isn’t illegal.