Aaron's Army

An “eloquent” response to Aaron Schwartz’s legacy from Carl Malamud of the Internet Archive:

“Aaron wasn’t a lone wolf, he was part of an army, and I had the honor of serving with him for a decade. You have heard many things about his remarkable life, but I want to focus tonight on just one. Aaron was part of an army of citizens that believes democracy only works when the citizenry are informed, when we know about our rights—and our obligations. An army that believes we must make justice and knowledge available to all—not just the well born or those that have grabbed the reigns of power—so that we may govern ourselves more wisely. He was part of an army of citizens that rejects kings and generals and believes in rough consensus and running code.”

Only in an open and well informed society can democracy flourish. “Scholarly” archives like JSTOR and PACER provide a wealth of information more or less in the public record, but these resources are only afforded to those well-endowed educational institution and law firms out there who afford to pay for access to large quantities of legal briefs and research information.

“Aaron Swartz was not a criminal, he was a citizen, and he was a brave soldier in a war which continues today, a war in which corrupt and venal profiteers try to steal and hoard and starve our public domain for their own private gain. When people try to restrict access to the law, or they try to collect tolls on the road to knowledge, or deny education to those without means, those people are the ones who should face the stern gaze of an outraged public prosecutor.”

The circumstances of JSTOR’s sudden generous announcement that they will start to serve most, if not all, of their databases to the public in the near future was lauded but tragic, some small mea culpa for the wrong they have perpetuated over the past 4 years. Though in a triumphant way, I think Aaron’s death (as well as the ever growing chorus of researchers and scientists calling for open data) will lead to some great strides forward for the open knowledge movement in the immediate future.

Hell, the public invented and maintains the most complete and idiosyncratic encyclopedia ever conceived. Think of what could happen to the boatloads of government records, journal articles, historic references, galleries of art, scores of music, and other materials out there just waiting to be plucked from their dusty shelves, cataloged in sections, and edited spuriously by the internet literati.