The Importance of Aaron Swartz: The perspective of a layman

The SOPA – PIPA bill was not about piracy, but about control. As was ACTA. This short video puts across the difference between physical stealing and using ‘Intellectual Property’ quite nicely:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmQN93NqqDM. ‘SOPA itself was worded in a way that would send you “to prison for 5 years for uploading a Michael Jackson song to Youtube. That’s one more year jail than the doctor who killed him!!!” This is what Zuckerberg has to say about SOPA/PIPA: http://readwrite.com/2012/01/18/mark_zuckerbergs_not-so-surprising_view_on_sopapip

The whole thing about Aaron Swartz is that he was a long-respected genius in circles that have been fighting such instances of legislation that threaten to impede upon rights that the govt has no right impeding upon. The problem is that the MPAA, and the RIAA have enough money to “buy” whichever ‘representative’ they want to, and the entire copyright industry in America is full of these ex-Policymakers who now conveniently work as Directors or the like in these companies. 

Between our paranoid governments and greedy corporations, it is these mutually supported ideas of censorship and copyright that meet and threaten to punish citizens for literally victim-less crimes in a manner that shows nothing but the intent to control a population, and what they ‘dare say to each other’ over the internet.

The changes that the US govt. has tried to bring about with SOPA and PIPA, their underhanded threatening letters to different countries across the World telling them to enforce similar legislative standards when it comes to copyright, the relentless persecution of both children and grandmothers by the great RIAA, the unimaginable “losses” and “damages” often claimed by these agencies, the sneaking in of similar provisions along with anti-pornography laws, and their outdated, cheap, easily broken, completely *ineffective* technological measures used to ‘protect’ copyright – this is why people are angry that Aaron had to go off himself. Because, believe me, he was one of the good guys. A very intelligent and smart good guy, whose loss will definitely be felt as this War is carried forward.

This is very important. Yes, the issue is a whole lot more complex.. But, while it’s true that democracy is meant to guard against these wrongs, and third-party mediators can play a huge role in maintaining standards, the current publishing houses, and recording agencies, these are all archaic third-parties that once had an important role to play in information dissemination, got really rich and powerful doing it, and now cannot accept the fact that we’ve reached an age where they are more or less obsolete. Knowing this, and having a lot of money, these corporations are then using their resources to convince the government to hold back the inevitable technological advance that the internet has been bringing to the World since its advent.


But, that’s the general problem with our copyright laws today. However, it’s relevant in this instance, because what is protested against is the unfair bargaining position of the middlemen, and the damage this is doing to both the public as well as the authors. As you said, it seems like the assumption made is that all authors are willing/eager to have their content circulated. Well, in most cases, isn’t that a fair assumption? And, in cases where that isn’t true, wouldn’t it be better if the author had more direct control over who could and could not access that content? 

At one point of time, this was as inconvenient as it was impossible. Very. But processes which took months and months, now take place in minutes. These industries must evolve, or perish. But, the problem is that civil society must force this change upon the said corporations. The case of Grooveshark would be one such example of an external shove. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grooveshark> On the other hand, in the world of gaming, an internal initiative can be seen with the Valve Corporation, who’ve been making games and distributing them since 1996, and who launched their social distribution network Steam, allowing users access to an insane number of games, with offers ranging from free-to-play to holiday discounts and games from new-developers that you can give them direct feedback on. 

I’m not very sure how much differently things work when it comes to Scientific and Cultural content, but, when music and games make so much of a difference, and it’s only because their users are more likely to engage in civil disobedience, isn’t it unfair to assume that the existing state of affairs, when it comes to academic content, is okay simply because the vast majority of the world appears to be okay with it? When the truth is that it is blissfully unaware, would like to remain so, and the only people who may have a problem (Students of Universities) are given access to these worlds to keep us feeling privileged, and some highly intelligent people outside the system who can see it for what it is.

A better system will come into place. But, as it stands, it is unfair. And it is most benefiting people who have no right to be so benefited. At everybody’s cost. Information is Power, and if we want to live in a World that is even slightly equal, slightly fair, then this imbalance must not be tolerated.

When the World changes, I think everyone has their own role to play. And each move forces someone else’s hand. There are academicians and scientists already arguing for change from the inside, and there are surely parts of the government resisting this effort by the corporations, and there is Anonymous, dispensing vigilante justice and drawing society’s attention to both the dangers of a Free internet and those of a closed one (and the corresponding realization that the latter is usually worse). Aaron Swartz had his own role to play. And, it’s a damn shame that he killed himself, but he did it all in the name of something bigger than himself. 

The Zapista movement in Mexico (which is really interesting) has a slogan that comes to my mind: “For everyone, everything, for us, nothing.” 

Aaron Swartz didn’t get anything for his efforts, and his efforts were made in the name of information. Access to information. That’s sort of noble, isn’t it?

Here’s a link to his manifesto:

http://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt.

Requiescat in pace, brother.

~ May the Rage be Relentless ~

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