Skip to content

Copyright Crime: The Legacy of Aaron Swartz

From “The Mail” section of the March 25, 2013 issue of The New Yorker:

“As is the case with the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, the suicide of any young person is an incredibly sad event, whatever the cause (“Requiem for a Dream” by Larissa MacFarquhar, March 11th). I object, however, to the effort of some of the people in MacFarquhar’s piece to turn Swartz into a hero for facing government prosecution after hacking the JSTOR archive. Swartz was apparently familiar with laws protecting proprietary-information-management systems, so he should not have been surprised by the severity of the prosecution’s response to his crime. It is a crime, and not a victimless one. I am a retired journalist; during my working years, my salary depended, and today my pension relies, on people paying for copyrighted content. In recent years, as the business that supports journalism has declined, thousands of journalists have lost pay, benefits, and, ultimately, their jobs. Some people may consider illegally downloading content from the “1942 edition of the Journal of Botany” to be benign, but downloading periodicals such as the New York Times — or The New Yorker, for that matter — without paying for them would harm the people who worked for those publications in the past and who write for them today. I find it ironic that Swartz made several million dollars selling the rights to his own copyrighted programming to Conde Nast. Swartz’s is a sad story, but it’s not a heroic one.”
Jane Scholz
Washington, D.C.

The letter largely speaks for itself, though to be clear, it is difficult to find a better example of the glib equation of “my career isn’t the success that it once was” and “somebody committed a crime” that infects contemporary dialogues about IP rights.

The editors of The New Yorker added a headline: “Balancing Interests.”