JSTOR, the Biz Aaron Swartz Allegedly Hacked
Firstly, may Aaron rest in peace and may his family and friends be comforted regarding his passing from this world –he was such a young man [age 26] who had such strong ideas for this new world of digital everything everywhere.
He had struggled with depression for many years. And as I was reading about his life at the New York Times, I saw that he was accused of “stealing millions of scientific and literary journal articles from the subscription-only JSTOR service.”
The wikipedia entry re JSTOR as of this day 1/13/2-13 5:04AM MST spins it this way:
“On July 19, 2011, federal authorities charged Internet activist Aaron Swartz with several data theft-related crimes, including wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, all in relation to bulk-downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR.
“According to the indictment against him, Swartz surreptitiously attached a laptop to MIT’s computer network, which allowed him to “rapidly download an extraordinary volume of articles from JSTOR”. Prosecutors in the case say Swartz acted with the intention of making the papers available on P2P file-sharing sites. Swartz surrendered to authorities, pleaded not guilty to all counts and was released on $100,000 bail.
“Two days later, on July 21, Greg Maxwell published a torrent file of a 32-GB archive of 18,592 academic papers from JSTOR’s Royal Society collection, via The Pirate Bay, in protest against Swartz’ prosecution. These articles were acquired independently of those downloaded by Swartz. The case was still pending when Swartz committed suicide in January 2013.”
SOME JSTOR BACKGROUND: WHAT THEY DO, HOW THEY DO IT
Pronounced Jay Stor, this company sells very expensive subscriptions to university libraries, museums, research facilities, and other closed institutions, meaning to access JSTOR you have to be a current faculty member or registered student with unrestricted library priviledges– in order to gain free access to JSTOR’s digital uploads from myriad journals.
JSTOR stores the contents of academic journals that were an individual to avail themselves to the content by subscription from each journal itself, would cost even more than the small king’s ransom JSTOR already charges academic institutions for access.
A BUSINESS WITH MEANING, BUT WITH NOTABLE EXCLUSION OF MANY POTENTIAL USERS/ MEANING WITHOUT BROAD STRUCTURE FOR ACCESS BY THE MANY
One can see the rich value JSTOR offers by aggregating content and offering it in closed systems only to the few. And I’ve no quarrel with a company charging for its subscriptions. A business that doesn’t do business in a business-like way, is soon out of business. It’s not that, it’s what seems like a caste structure, that is, it’s the exclusion that causes righteous concern.
This exclusion of so many if they do not fit the small and narrow categories JSTOR sells to, may be what set many persons’ teeth on edge, including Aaron and Greg, for were one to Google any search term, inevitably, some of the hits will come up as JSTOR content…
you can then hit the link and be taken to a snippet of the entire fascinating article… but are not allowed to read any more, for it is closed to you… unless, as above, you are in the small minority of all the people of the world who has privileges in an academic/research library, museum.
SUCH VALUE IN THE WORKS OF OTHERS WHO ARE AT THE TOPS OF THEIR FIELDS
I’ve been frustrated by JSTOR’s business model many times over the last two decades; the few lines of excerpts in Google searches are so interesting, and bear true weight from and by other academicians whose work I would love to read, except they are scattered in I would guess, over several-hundred journals, the individual subscription prices of each journal, in the aggregate, would be way too much to pay as an individual.
I am an academic, a visiting scholar, and an artist in residence for colleges and universities … but do not belong to a university or school as an employee, and therefor have no library privileges. Over the years I’ve attempted to gain access to JSTOR, but have failed each time. I have asked my alma mater where I received my doctorate degree, could we please have access to JSTOR through them? Yes, they do subscribe to JSTOR, but no, JSTOR does not have a program over the last ten years I’ve tried to access their content, that will allow ALUMNI to acccess JSTOR. It’s a shut out.
Something about IF alums were allowed access, the price goes up and the university has FAR more alums than students and the price for access to JSTOR would skyrocket. But as I understand it, JSTOR has made no accommodation for alums’ access, regardless.
Finally, last year– I called JSTOR, and I do not know if they have changed their policies since. But, as of a year ago, I called JSTOR, rather pathetically begging for an individual subscription, thinking surely the price, well, I’ll take a third job if need be– for the academic contents often are, I think, scintillating and important.
And those rich contents would be cited and quoted properly and reach a wider audience through my and other writers’ writing… but often enough otherwise– lie buried in journals on shelves and online, and are far less widely read. In my work, I exensively quote unusual / interesting researchers’ work, and my books are heavy on endnotes… … just not from JSTOR.
When I appealed to JSTOR, the person I spoke with said no in very quick order, JSTOR will not sell individual subscriptions. At any price? No, not at any price.
BRINGS BACK ANOTHER TIME WHEN ALSO THERE WAS NO PARITY for THOSE FROM THE “OTHER” CLASSES
Here is the kicker for me which is small but feels very familiar as when I was a child growing up in an refugee and immigrant family, wherein, we were fine to make suits for the better off, to clean their homes, provide them with hand-grown fresh food stuffs, serve them in many ways– but we were not allowed to ‘mingle’ with them, not invited to their soirees, nor even their front doors, even though we provided the food, the veterinary care, the carpentry, the crocheting of full ball gowns, and the hauling and hefting for them continuously. And we were grateful for the work. But were very aware and bewildered by the boundaries held against us, saying this far and no further… we like you but you cannot come over this line… and for reasons we not only could not understand, Im not sure I understand them yet.
THE DEJA VU IRONY
At JSTOR, ironically, there are many pages by other academicians devoted to my work, my books, my spoken word works, of which I’ve 5 published books, 22 spoken word audio series equalling 200 hours of teachings, and translation of my books into 35 languages, including essays for Princeton University Press, and upcoming book publication from Texas A&M University Press. I dont know how many articles are in JSTOR that refer to my work, maybe dozens. Dont know. But when I Google, there are many references to my name and to JSTOR
My point: A person affiliated in good standing with a university can easily access all articles about anything, including commentary, review, inclusions, references, and annotations of my own life’s work. But, I cannot access my own content at JSTOR, nor those who have made note of it. This has been bewildering. Ironic. And makes me just shake my head not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
PUBLIC DOMAIN IS NICE– BUT NOT THE SAME AS CUTTING EDGE RESEARCH AND WRITINGS IN THE HERE AND NOW
I understand that JSTOR is going to release, now nearly 18 years after its inception, ‘public domain’ materials. They will be interesting no doubt, especially if they have scraped up the very old journals that most libraries for reasons of space or cracking paper deterioration have thrown out or sold… but the offering, again, will only be journal articles before 1923. In certain fields, those articles may be quaint and interesting, but it’s the current research and thoughts aggregated at JSTOR I and many others would find most interesting.
ODDLY OUTDATED BUSINESS MODEL, MORE THE “MOGUL MODEL” THAN THE “MASSES MODEL…”. MOGUL MODEL: WHEREIN THE MASSES GO WITHOUT, WHILE THOSE ONLY AT “THE TOP” FEAST.
JSTOR was begun in 1995 on a grant from the Mellon Foundation and is a tax-exempt non-profit with offices in New York City and in Ann Arbor, MI.
I’d have to say, just for my own life as an academic, that JSTOR though they clearly are interested it seems, in making far-flung vetted journal articles available to some… they cast their nets– my .02– far too narrowly.
What does this mean when there is a closed system that holds much of the gold, but only for the few? It means that most of us instead of easy access online and with immediacy at a place like JSTOR, still must, even in our twilight years, hope to keep buying up older journals as we come across them [some of us have 2 or 3 antiquarian and used booksellers who try to keep an eye out for research journals], trying to gain access elsewhere to cutting edge knowledge, traveling, often far for research volumes that are not let out of the libraries, or else taking the time to do endless interlibrary loan applications.
THERE IS A NATURAL RECIPROICITY BETWEEN READERS AND ACADEMIC WRITERS JUST WAITING TO BE HAPPILY ENJOINED, I THINK
The one thing I imagine is relatively incontestable: The writers of the vetted journal articles and research would likely very much hope to have many many persons reading their work they put so much into, not just a small sampling– and readers who are on quest to gather useful and often poignant materials to quote from in their works, would like very much to read many many research journals right at their desks… so that all could be enriched and get on with their works without wasting time. Putting the creative content, the science at hand… rather than having to make a Lord of the Rings quest for it all.
PERHAPS ALL THIS AND MORE IS WHY AARON HAD INTEREST IN JSTOR
I dont know if this is a small part of why Aaron found JSTOR of interest — in its closed system… maybe he too was hungry for exchange with others who, via journals, give great thought to many matters of importance in our world, all the way from global econ to the chemical makeup of strains of symbiotic bacteria, to the lives of the Galapagos birds, to the root systems of naming in zoology, to the little known and almost forgotten historical letters to the President during the Civil War, to the methods of voudon, to the –well, The Everything that humans can do or dream.
I dont know what JSTOR will do, if anything, as a non-profit, tax exempt entity to make its materials easily accessible to many many instead of the few in comparison to a population, let’s just say of a billion worldwide who have access to computers and, most especially, hunger to learn in depth from those who are doing the careful and definitive work.
I’D LOVE THE OLD FAMILY WISDOM ABOUT LACK OF PARITY– TO GO OUT OF DATE: THUS FAR IT HASNT.
I can only say and think what my father and his few brothers who survived the ethnic cleansing of their tribal group during and at the end of WWII… used to say and think about such matters of exclusion based on status and income and perceived ‘difference.’ Inevitably, when a situation came up, and the ones of no parity came up often… one or the other of the cigar chomping, vest wearing, fedora tilting men would say something like this, in part, or all:
‘We are the ones who carry treasure. We know how to farm, how to make everything we need. The trees and the animals know us. We are rich. Let’s hide that treasure in our hearts. Many who take without giving back, will never think to look for the treasure there.’
I hope some day, words like those of our late elders of our family will not make sense perhaps, not be needed, not serve as compensatory explanation… for there will be no tiers to learning, no closed circles, no ‘welcome’ door for some, and no ‘closed door’ to the many. This is not a plaint, rather just stating the truth of it as it has affected my life.
THE ‘OLD WAY’ BUSINESS MODEL IS NOT NECESSARILY THE BEST WAY
The exclusivity business model of JSTOR, in my opinion, is a for-profit model, and one that did rise with the Mellons and the Carnegies, Fords, Astors and Rockefellers who eventually began to give back, but not before they took the blood and bones of literally millions of the poor and working and immigrant ‘classes’.
I believe that time of ‘mogul business model’ is now past, for the model of an artificial elitism and exclusion as a result, has been exposed as an unjust canalization of societies across the world. Exclusion does not lead to peace. It leads to starvation of resource, intellectual and actual, and thereby leads to unrest and protest. The soul who reveres learning, will not settle for being shut out unless one is fabulously endowed.
MANY OF US DREAM THE SAME DREAM FOR ACCESS AND RECIPROCITY
And yes, I will ever carry a wild dream that giving no access and at no reasoned price for wondrous knowlege… will change someday– to reasoned access, for reasoned entre of fee, for all persons, anyone who wishes. Reciprocity and exchange of resource from all sides can make a new world.
REST IN PEACE AARON
And Aaron, if in fact he did what he is alleged to have done re JSTOR, may in fact, have moved us somehow one step closer to the dream of people being able to learn in situ and at will, all that much closer. I will only wish he were here with us to see the continued progression.
Again, Aaron for those for whom you are of ‘beloved memory,’ may all be comforted.
Notes from Wikipedia quotes
9. Bilton, Nick (July 19, 2011). “Internet activist charged in M.I.T. data theft”. Bits Blog, The New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
10. Schwartz, John (July 19, 2011). “Open-Access Advocate Is Arrested for Huge Download”. New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
11. Lundin, Leigh (July 31, 2011). “The thief who stole knowledge”. Computer Crimes. Criminal Brief.
12. Lindsay, Jay (July 19, 2011). “Feds: Harvard fellow hacked millions of papers”. Associated Press. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
13. Whitwam, Ryan (July 21, 2011). “Man Posts Torrent of 18,592 Academic Papers”. Maximum PC. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
14. Goodin, Dan (July 21, 2011). “19,000 papers leaked to protest ‘war against knowledge'”. London, San Francisco: The Register. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
CODA:An earlier edit of his article was first published last night. The final edit of this article, which contained headings for easier reading, is seen now above. Also in the first draft Aaron’s last name was misspelled as Schwartz. It is correctly spelled now as Swartz.