Monday, January 14, 2013

Mr. Swartz on Xeroxing

by Hanno

I am not sure what I think about the total access to information.  Money somewhere must be made to pay for the resources and the people creating works.  But at the same time, free access to information is good for society, and the people who make many of the products are not the ones who make the money off of it, nor does making a living justify rules that make zillions, or use their power to control the material.

Be that as it may, I have argued for years that calling electronic copying of copyrighted material 'piracy' is absurd and dangerous.  No one is killed.  No one is ransomed.  No property is destroyed.  Law and order is not in jeopardy.  Hackers pick up the name with pride, thinking they are like some modern day Errol Flynn (Look it up, loser) because they copy a file.  But it is a political as well as absurd mistake:  It makes it sound much worse than it is.

A few days ago, a person who pushes the edge of free information to the extreme, killed himself.  I do not believe his legal troubles were the principle cause (many people have far worse legal problems and do not kill themselves) but clearly a contributing factor.  Arron Swartz made copies of academic articles, something the authors of which do not get paid anyway.  Authors such as myself write them because we think we have an idea that is worth reading, not to make money, and because our job security is tied to the publication, not the funds that result.  We were not hurt in anyway by the release of the articles.  But Jstor, a library resource, arguably was.

In any case, here is what he said a while back:

Mr. Swartz outlined his views in the manifesto: “It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.”

Amen. As I have long argued, it should be called 'Xeroxing' not pirating.

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