Friday, July 22, 2011

Real-Life Bad Companies: America's Universities! or, Aaron Swartz and the Great Intellectual Property Heist of 2010

The article: Feds Charge Activist as Hacker for Downloading Millions of Academic Articles (Wired)

Online activist Aaron Swartz, a near-founder of Reddit, has been charged with the federal crime of "hacking" for downloading ostensibly public-domain academic papers. "Hacking" is a term borrowed from the same media panic as "cyberporn". What's he really charged with?
  1. Copyright piracy.
  2. Theft of trade secrets.
You see, these ostensibly "public domain" academic papers are not public domain at all. They are owned by the universities that publish them, under the strictest copyright license of all: not the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that protects corporate entertainment product from the likes of those heinous pirates, namely people who rip their CDs to their hard drive, but the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and Economic Espionage Act which put corporate trade secrets under the same "top secret" protection as military secrets. In this case, the intellectual property protections on the journals the papers are published in are among the strictest in the entire intellectual property field: the licenses are restricted to a select few, namely select researchers at the copyright-holding universities, plus researchers at other universities and research institutes that have paid the sky-high licensing fees. The reason? So that the science can be patented, and the patents licensed to corporations, for a lucrative payoff to the already ultra-rich corporate trustees.

And you wonder why America is falling behind China and India so rapidly in science.

Basically, Aaron Swartz is being accused of bank robbery. The bank pulled the heist on is called JSTOR. It is ostensibly nonprofit. Its real purpose is to keep academic research away from the prying eyes of the unwashed rabble so that it can be lucratively licensed to corporations. Swartz, fired by the hacker ideal of "information wants to be free", was trying to pull a Robin Hood: his goal was to take this proprietary research and put it into the public domain. This makes him the Bradley Manning of academe.

The issue, of course, is Intellectual Property. Now, go to the bottom of this post and look at the copyright notice. You'll see that it bears a Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike license. Creative Commons was created as a way for individual creators to get around the draconian protections imposed by the likes of DMCA for the benefit of giant corporations with large IP portfolios. It's for us peons who aren't conglomerate executives and their IP lawyer hired guns.

America's universities do not believe in Creative Commons or in open-source research. They protect their scientific research with corporate intellectual property laws so they can license their intellectual property to corporations. Like their agent corporation JSTOR, they are nonprofit institutions in name only, for-profit corporations in actual fact. And that's why Swartz, like Manning, is doomed: he robbed giant corporations of their precious intellectual property the same way bank robbers rob banks of their gold. Which, legally, is the same thing. Except an intellectual property robber can't flee to South America: the banks aren't everywhere, but the IP administrators are.

Bradley Manning will be executed for treason for certain. And Robin Hood, remember, was caught and executed by order of the tyrannical King John of England. Due process? What due process? When corporations are raped — and, as Manning found out to his horror, the federal government is the most merciless of intellectual property trolls — there is no such thing as due process. In this respect, MIT, and American universities in general, are no different from such predatory corporations as Carter-Ruck, News Corporation, the RIAA cartel of record companies, and any bank that's "too big to fail".

Copyright © 2011 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

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