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Posted by on Jan 13, 2013 in Business, Crime, Economy, Education, Featured, Health, Media, Mental Health, Passages, Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 9 comments

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.[9][10]

“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”.[11] Prosecutors in the case say Swartz acted with the intention of making the papers available on P2P file-sharing sites.[12] 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.[13][14] These articles were acquired independently of those downloaded by Swartz. The case was still pending when Swartz committed suicide in January 2013.[15]”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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 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.


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.


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.

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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Dr. E. for this information and perspective on the JSTOR background…

  • ShannonLeee

    As of this year, approx 50 of schools are offering JSTOR access to their alumni. I guess they are bending to public pressure.

    The scientific publishing business is a racket with a higher profit margin than any major oil company. Their product is produced and reviewed with tax payer dollars. This industry is also bending. Soon, their profit margins will return to reality and tax paid public work will be offered to the public for free.

    Also, in science…the researcher pays the printing fees for their articles, which can cost around 1 to 2 thousand.

    Open access publishing is also coming on.. PLOS, while not a major journal, does have a respectable impact factor. Anything they publish is online for free.

  • rudi

    Why not move academic papers published at public universities to a free site like Or at least make JSTOR allow a few reads for free…

  • ShannonLeee

    Rudi, because the publishers own the copyright on the academic papers. PLOS One, an open access journal, allows the scientists to keep the copyright.

    Most journals will not publish your work if you do not hand over the rights. Scientists cannot survive without publishing.
    The whole system is a mess, but it is changing slowly.

  • One point to understand : JSTOR doesn’t “own” the journals — it’s simply a platform. The true bad guys in this scenario, IMO, are the Elsevier’s of the world. Conglomerate doesn’t begin to describe it.

    Elsevier snaps up drug R&D software company

    Three for-profit companies (Reed Elsevier, Springer Science+Business Media, and John Wiley & Sons) account for 42% of articles published. Available data indicate that these companies have high profit margins, especially compared to the smaller publishers which likely operate with low margins.


    Unlike most industries, in academic publishing the two most important inputs are provided “virtually free of charge”.[8] These are the articles and the peer review process. Publishers argue that they add value to the publishing process through support to the peer review group, including stipends, as well as through typesetting, printing, and web publishing. Investment analysts, however, have been skeptical of the value added by for-profit publishers, as exemplified by a 2005 Deutsche Bank analysis which stated that “we believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process… We are simply observing that if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.”

    source: wikipedia

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    As mentioned in the article above, JSTOR is an aggregator of several hundred journals, and I’d add now, appears to want to be a POD provider of academic books presently, and is now allied in a new company merger. It appears they would like to offer a 30 articles per year option to individuals now. I do not know the cost.

    The owners of copyright re u presses, depends. You are right ShannonLee. I’ll write about it another time. Just generally, the holders can be various, depending on the legal knowledge of intellectual property rights, and the power of the researcher/author, and whether they are imbedded in the system or are from outside the system and doing a collaboration. The reversion clause in contracts will also be important re copyright. Not all copyright granted is perpetual.

    [I visit universities speaking about keeping intellectual property by academic/creator instead of submitting to the old way of doing business, which is a log-rolling faux proposition by my lights… you surrender all your rights, we agree to publish you (the implication is sometimes… no one else will publish you. Many in academia have proven that old canard false by being happily published by a non-u press]. There’s more to say, but another time on that one.

    OS/ thanks for reading this. Often, a lot of hopes and dreams are allied with the aspiration of ‘being published.’ When I teach five day long original voice trainings, I see that rarely does anyone publish or create a project or mount a research design or art show because they want to teach/be read/help/show only a few persons. Though there are conceits across all professions, my experience is they are rare in terms of wanting only those who breathe rarified air to read/ see/ benefit from the work in a reciprocal way. I’d like especially, that deep and committed researchers have a much larger audience for their often incredibly devoted research, and in a reciprocal relationship, one of appreciation, learning, and business interchange, all. I especially would like that people who love to learn are not prevented from doing so, by having to ‘qualify’ in some way, in order to read/see some version of the works. I have loved public libraries of hard copy books, that one could walk right in and read right there, take the book home, return it so that others could read too. That set up a reciprocal rhythm too, makers and carriers were in business relationship and the reader was the winner. Have you ever tried just walking into a campus U library? It can be not pretty. To have access, one may have to pay a huge amount to belong by various means. I think ‘belonging’ so one could read the collections there, could be made quite broader and less strenuous financially, without danger.

    Rudi: you are SO right about sites for offering research and insights from those in deep study/research. Recently I was a co-writer/co-researcher on a paper out of Wake Forest University Medical School. It went through the usual vetting process for whichever journal; incredibly time consuming rounds of reading by many persons, responding to their reports, and etc. It literally took far far over a year for a three page article to be published. In the meantime, on that topic of seriously ill patients teaching their own doctors about their illnesses by being given data gathering tools and ways of recording data to return to the docs– a hugely successful project on patient self-sovereignty– others at other teaching hospitals affiliated with univsersities were waiting, waiting for the details so they could mount their own program. To me, the humanitarian need ought to have trumped the 3rd and 4th rounds of review. I’m not persuaded in that case that more minutae improved either the project nor the dissemination of its data.

    It reminded me that those who have a fulltime job, children, elder parents, health issues, but especially children who require nearly all one’s time for teaching/ watching over/ loving– and yet who are in academia– have families to take care of on a daily/ nightly basis 7 days a week… and it takes huge amount of time to be mother /father/ helper with homework, nurse to the sick, entertainer of the midgetlings.

    I’d wondered for four decades plus, now, if the long long processes before journal publication are in part a throwback to a time when quite a few driving academia held a particular lifestyle wherein family responsibilities were taken care of by other than the householder. It might have made sense that publication was so in a way time-taking, leisurely even sometimes. But today, many who have families and are in academia could, I think, merit by quicker vetting and quicker dissemination to a much larger audience. Not just because. But because the data is often so useful, creates more opportunities to think and act in various ways for the good.

    Even so, were that influence one of many factors in the slowness [not carefulness… slowness] there is a great deal of value, I think, to counter that, as you suggest with your link, to not only bring the work out much sooner–esp for those who are in need of it, such as others whose research may benefit by the reads– but to also make it more accessible and far more easily. Thanks for the link Rudi, I’ll highlight that in a later article so people can avail themselves. Many things can help people to learn in new ways and with solidity for all. I think there are many many possibilities, not just two or three ways to expand and yet hold a viable and thriving shape for all.

    Kathy, thanks for the blockquote. It’s odd coincidence that a few years ago ‘the big six’ in publishing [which does not include Wiley] also had huge market share of our nation’s pub ’empire.’ Bertalsmann (RH even before their pending merger with the other Rodan on the block, Penguin, claimed they dominated 43% of book publishing… not even counting B music group.) Not the trend, but the ambition of those who own the publishing companies (Such as the Mohn family of Germany owning all of Random House after the Newhouses bros sold to them) has been to eat up everything in sight, to be the red-light/green light at every literary intersection.

    Basta is such a beautiful word, dont you think? ! lol

  • ShannonLeee

    Odd timing. Just received an email from the uni saying that the German science foundation is making open access funding available to make sure that publications funded by tax dollars are open for everyone.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    Wow, ShannonLee, that is very promising news. Imagine: publications funded by tax dollars actually accessible to TaxPayers themselves. That would be wonderful! Write to me if you would like to write an article on this. It could be brief or long, and I’d like to hear your views as I think others would too. I think many firstly do not know they ought have access for they are paying the supports.

  • Anonymous

    Clarissa, forgive me, but you are either misinformed or a fool. JSTOR’s content is accessible to walk-in users at just about every public library in the country, including the Denver Public Library; for free.

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