This week we were asked to watch the film ‘The Internets Own Boy’ this is the story of Aaron Swartz, a pretty sad tale.  I film definitely worth watching

Here are my answers to the questions regarding the film:

Q1:  What did he do that got him into trouble?

Well, he got himself caught didn’t he, that’s the act that ultimately got him into trouble.  Aaron was in the process of downloading the entire JSTOR repository of scientific material, he had downloaded about 40,000,000 documents when they finally caught him on video tape.


Q2:  What were the possible motives mentioned in the film for his so called “crime”?

It wasn’t a ‘so called crime’, unfortunately for Aaron it was an actual crime.  The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) which was the law at the time, was very broad and didn’t differentiate between minor misdemeanours and large scale cyber crime.  He basically broke the ‘terms of service’ laid down by JSTOR, which in US law, effectively had the same repercussions as hacking the Pentagon.

What were his motives? Well, he didn’t believe that people should have to pay for the scientific papers, he was taking direct action to liberate the knowledge.

Q3:  What does each motive imply from a MOREL and LEGAL point of view?

Morally he may have been doing the right thing, there are huge moral arguments to say that this sort of information should be freely available to everyone, unfortunately that’s not the way the world works.

Legally he was in trouble from the minute he started.  Its not really the act of what he did that got him in trouble, he was caught up in the whole pirate bay, anonymous, wikileaks thing thing, that scared the shit out of major governments, they wanted heads of hackers on sticks and he was a very easy target for them.

Q4:  Why were understanding his motives so important?

Understanding why Aaron did what he did with JSTOR, as well as his work on the Creative Commons License and RSS, gives us a good insight into how he thought the world should be, free access to information for the masses.  I think that Aaron thought that the more people who have access to this information the more good will come of it and the quicker the world will continue to advance.  I mean think about it, we’ve created this world wide web of computers, we have the ability to send the entire knowledge of mankind to any corner of the globe (and beyond) at the click of a mouse, the ability for this knowledge to fall into the hands of so many should spark faster and larger growth.   

Q4.1: How many charges did this end up giving him?

Initially Aaron was indicted in a district court on 4 charges, this was eventually elevated to Federal Prosecution, and you know what I don’t even quite understand how many charges there were in the end, it was something over 30.  JSTOR had already dropped their civil case by this point and so it was clearly a case of the government looking to prove a point. 

Q5: What was wrong with the sopa bill ?

The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)  was pretty heavy handed and it would basically allow the US government to shut down any website that they deemed to be violating copyright.  Sounds like a great idea on paper eh?  Well its not!  There was no real watchdog in place to make sure the government was accountable to anyone, in fact there was a whole lot of secrecy about the Act in general.  To me the SOPA act may have been created out of a mixture of good intention and fear (from corporations and government) and basically equated to censorship.


Q6: Why did It look like the bill would be impossible to stop from passing?

SOPA looked pretty strong, It was well supported by many organisations that rely on copyright.  At one stage it was also supported by 62 members of the House of Representatives.  This was more than enough to get the Act passed.

Q7:  What were some of the significant factors that helped raise awareness for dismissing the sopa bill?

I don’t think it’s been dismissed has it?  Its just been postponed, it probably will never see the light of day again, but officially its still lurking in the background.  The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) is continually trying to get SOPA-ish things past the law-makers, they probably have small successes and small defeats.

To be honest as a person that has been involved in the Cinema industry for over a decade I can see their point, they are losing out BIG time to pirates, if a movie is pirated before it is released at the box office it bombs.  Is that sustainable? Or do they need to find a new business model?  Is there a business model that will really work when someone can download a DVD quality rip of a film for free before it is even released?

SOPA went to far, but piracy has also gone too far and become far too easy.  What is the solution, I don’t know, Aaron Swartz might have had a better stab at it than me, but he was always going to be a bit free and easy for the MPAA, so that was never going to work out.

Anyway back to the question.  I think once big things like Wikipedia starting switching off that’s when people really started to take notice, government and public alike, that was when everyone took a step back and realised what SOPA could mean for the WWW.  I think the public realised what they might stand to lose and the government realised they really didn’t have a clue what they were dealing with, that’s when they got scared.

Q7.1  Whats the important message about this victory to those of us in the “new world”

I think the defeat of SOPA scared the shit out of the government, it really showed them that they don’t understand this thing called the internet, they can’t protect information with walls and gates and they can’t keep something inside their own country just by using border control.  It really is a new world and the leaders of the old world are really quite happy, so of course they don’t want change.

Q8:  “Bringing public access to the public domain”  “books are our cultural legacy”.  What are these statements have to do with his passion … (37:25)

Aaron believed that every person on the planet had an equal right to view the accumulated knowledge of mankind.  He saw the internet as this amazing opportunity to advance and big corporations using it for their own greed.

Q9:  What does q8 have to do with Jack Andraka

Jack Andraka used free scientific papers to research and create a new test for Pancreatic Cancer.  He stood on the shoulders of his forebears and used the knowledge they had supplied (and a little bit of lateral thinking) to create his test.  Without the free access to the information he probably wouldn’t have succeeded.

Q10:  Whats the most important question on this list. Why?

For me the most important question is ‘what got him into trouble?’  Because Aaron Swartz didn’t do very much wrong at all.  What he did do though, and this is what gets you every time, he stuck two fingers up the authorities, he took direct action, he scared the shit out of them by showing them the incredible power of the internet, a power that the status quo really don’t understand and probably never will.  You have to remember as well that this is all set to a background of Wiki-leaks, The Pirate Bay etc. The government got lucky in that he had given them this little ‘in’ with his JSTOR game, and boy oh boy were they going to make the most of it.  The lax laws at the time meant they could prosecute the hell out of him and they went for it.