January 21, 2013

"When I was at M.I.T., if someone went to hack the system, say by downloading databases to play with them, might be called a hero..."

"... get a degree, and start a company. But they called the cops on him. Cops."

From "How M.I.T. Ensnared a Hacker, Bucking a Freewheeling Culture."

80 comments:

Palladian said...

This is, unfortunately, the way of everything in the world today - more and more regulation and regimentation, more and more legalism, more and more control.

edutcher said...

Hardly the stuff of heroism.

And let's define that term. "play with".

If we're talking learn how they work, but leave the production stuff alone, that's one thing.

If we're talking screw up people's lives and livelihoods so they could see themselves as some Lefty gadfly Speaking Truth To Power, Sticking It To The Man, that is a very different thing.

pm317 said...

There may be a missing connection between MIT and the Obama WH and DoJ here. Somebody was trying to ingratiate themselves with the Obama WH.

And, BTW, this has not got much attention but I read that Swartz was a vocal opponent/critic of Obama's kill list. He was asking for it.

garage mahal said...

The little puke was STEALING information from a reputable university.

Really? Maybe you could find that charge in the indictments for us.

garage mahal said...

Self administered justice, since he didn't want to own up legally for his crimes.

You just acknowledged you don't even know what crimes he was being charged with.

Hagar said...

You might question the "reputable" part, but Mr. Swartz was indeed a thief.

The information he was stealing and posting on the internet was marketed by this Jstor outfit at rather high prices.

jr565 said...

Fuck this little brat. He got caught downloading stuff he shouldn't have been downloading. ANd then rather than face the music he offed himself. And his followers are blaming MIT's response for his suicide.
That's ludicrous.
And even more ludicrous is that there are a sizable number of people, ostensibly intelligent, who are defending this hacker.

Shouting Thomas said...

Now that I've actually read an article that describes the kid's conduct, I don't feel much sympathy for him.

The article is a little opaque in some ways, but it appears that the kid took advantage of his father's employment at MIT to gain illegal access to MIT's facilities, not just that he hacked MIT's computers.

So, there might be a problem of criminal trespass here that I hadn't noticed before.

If you had a huge storage archive, would you want somebody to break into your facilities and plug a laptop directly into your network, probably bypassing even your virus software, via an unauthorized link in a storage closet?

Looks like criminal behavior to me.

Shouting Thomas said...

I also took a little trip to JSTOR, and looked for documents that are interesting to me.

I found a few things, mostly priced at 7 bucks for a download.

What was the kid's great goal that justified criminal trespass and threatening a huge network?

jr565 said...

Palladian wrote:
"more and more regulation and regimentation, more and more legalism, more and more control."


If it's a private site, then isn't control and regulation already assumed? Why does this little puke or you for that matter think that those things should be bypassed simply on a whim and that laws shouldn't be involved?

Does that apply to any site that requires a login? (like the site that has your banking information for example),

And why do you think somehow laws shouldn't be there to address the times when pukes like this try to bypass the security of a secured site for their own benefit? It would be crazy to assume that there WOULDN"T be laws to address things like this.

The Drill SGT said...

The government has defended M.I.T.’s decision to “collaborate” with the federal investigation and argued there was no need for a warrant because, as a trespasser on M.I.T.’s campus, Mr. Swartz had no reasonable expectation of privacy for his netbook. And M.I.T.’s officials were rightfully concerned, the government argued, by the threat they faced.

I think one should separate the roles of the 4 parties.

1. Jstor, the owner whose property was being stolen.
2. MIT, who was being hacked, by unknown parties. I would have suspected Chinese as well.
3. The Police / SS who don't know the motives at the time of the arrest.
4. The US Attorney.

Parties 1 and 4 have the ability to stop the chain of events.

party 2, is vulnerable to suits from Jstor and has legal problems with the Feds, FBI and DoD if it fails to protect its networks.

The Police are middle men as well, with about zero discretion in their actions...

jr565 said...

garage mahal wrote:
The little puke was STEALING information from a reputable university.

Really? Maybe you could find that charge in the indictments for us.

If it requires a login and you aren't supposed to have access and you attempt to gain access and then download things on that site how do you think the law should treat your behavior?

garage mahal said...

If Swartz "stole" something, surely he must have been charged with theft. Where is that charge in the indictments?

pm317 said...

This is a case of 'Les Miserable' and I wonder what part his opposition to Obama's non-lefty policies played in this prosecution.

Methadras said...

The 4th amendment has been dead for a while.

Joan said...

It has been decades since I was at MIT, but something the article mentioned rang true: they don't lock the doors of many, if not most, of the buildings. Yes, some of the buildings directly on Mass Ave are locked so that transients don't wander in when it's cold, but for the most part, the buildings stay open. Students and faculty work odd hours and so the work space is available.

Now, just because the doors are left unlocked doesn't mean that anyone can wander around campus. Swartz was trespassing and he knew it. He took advantage of the antiquated honor system at MIT by getting into that closet and jacking his laptop into the network. Then he downloaded millions of documents -- what was he going to do with them?

There are any number of plausible answers to that question, but motive shouldn't matter. He was a thief. We are not talking about Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed the starving, here.

Swartz's suicide is sad, but I'll avoid labeling it a tragedy. He was young, and very bright, and no doubt could have recovered from his poor judgement if he had just seen the process through. For reasons we'll probably never know, he wasn't equipped to do that.

MIT acted responsibility to protect information they make available to their faculty and students. It's not MIT's fault Swartz committed suicide.

Ralph Hyatt said...

From reading the article I get the impression that he didn't think he would be caught (which is rather naive - I don't imagine "MIT security experts" are slouches in their field) and/or that if he was caught there would be any real adverse consequences. After all, his Dad worked at MIT, he was employed by Harvard, was a Internet wunderkind - he was a member of the "right" set where your so special that the sun shines out your ass.

He was acting out a fantasy were he was an uber-hacker striking a blow for the masses against an evil corporation that was refusing to let information be "free." Basically, real world role playing. Unfortunately for him, his fantasy had some very serious real world consequences he was not prepared to deal with.

jr565 said...

Why didn't Swartz, being the computer genius he was develop a platform that would compete with Jstor to provide access to journals?

Maguro said...

What Ralph Hyatt said. Swartz thought he was as special as David Gregory, but it turned out that he wasn't. What a shock for poor Aaron.

EMD said...

I looks now as if Garage is arguing with himself.

(The deleted comments make it appear so.)

Confused me at first.

EMD said...

Why didn't Swartz, being the computer genius he was develop a platform that would compete with Jstor to provide access to journals?

DING DING DING.

Palladian said...

Why does this little puke or you for that matter think that those things should be bypassed simply on a whim and that laws shouldn't be involved?

You seem really angry about this. Perhaps you can go find Aaron Schwartz's corpse and kick it a few times before it gets buried.

jr565 said...

JSTor already provides access to free content in many cases yet even that wasn't good enough for Swartz.
Whatever restrictions they did place on their data (like say having a hacker being able to download millions of files requiring their server to be shut down) were restrictions that Swartz didnt' like so he took it upon himself to violate those terms. How is that right?
I don't care if its banking info or free journals on a website. If you violate the terms of use in accessing data you are in the wrong.

Bruce Hayden said...

The information he was stealing and posting on the internet was marketed by this Jstor outfit at rather high prices.

It wasn't theft, and that was why it wasn't charged as theft. Copyright infringement is misappropriation, not theft, because the owner of the copyright still has his original goods (the copyright).

One reason that this distinction matters is in terms of damages. With actual theft, the value of the item stolen can be used to determine the penalty. In the case of copyright infringement, damages are typically the amount lost through the misappropriation, and given that often those availing themselves of such are less likely to actually pay for the copies of the works, damages are much more problematic. (And, yes, there are statutory damages in some cases).

The other thing that he was apparently charged with is unauthorized access to computer systems. While this statute has been expanded significantly by prosecutors over the years, I think in this case, that it was entirely appropriate.

Finally, everyone throwing around potential sentences has to remember that judges are the ones who set sentences, and they are constrained in federal courts to the federal sentencing guidelines, which, even with all the lesser included charges, would not have resulted in all that harsh a sentence - maybe 4-6 months.

jr565 said...

You seem really angry about this. Perhaps you can go find Aaron Schwartz's corpse and kick it a few times before it gets buried.


If he kills himself does that mean I can't be angry at him for doing what he did and must cede the point because he killed himself?

jr565 said...

Bruce Hayden wrote:
Finally, everyone throwing around potential sentences has to remember that judges are the ones who set sentences, and they are constrained in federal courts to the federal sentencing guidelines, which, even with all the lesser included charges, would not have resulted in all that harsh a sentence - maybe 4-6 months.

Good point.
And he was actually offered a deal of 6 months by prosecutors.

garage mahal said...

Copyright infringement is misappropriation, not theft, because the owner of the copyright still has his original goods (the copyright).

Swartz downloaded so many articles that were already in the public domain that prosecutors didn't charge Swartz with copyright infringement.

The government is obsessed with secrecy and they wanted to let the hacker community know it got p0wned. And Carmen Ortiz has a political office to prepare for!

Just one little life to step on....

Revenant said...

If Swartz had been an MIT student "downloading databases to play with them", they wouldn't have gone after him like they did.

But he was a non-student hacking their system so he could steal the data and give it away for free. So they went after him, and I'm glad they did.

Ralph Hyatt said...

And another thing, for an Internet Wunderkind, his hacker-foo was quite weak.

When the article says that the "MIT security experts were able to determine the network was being accessed from such and such closet," it leaves the impression that they had to really work at it. But the fact of the matter is that knowing when someone has attached unauthorized equipment to your network, especially in a sensitive spot like a networking closet, is a basic requirement.

My guess is what happened is that they knew about it in whatever amount of time it took for someone to go to the networking closet after they got an alarm from whatever software MIT uses to monitor its network for intrusions (since it is MIT - I'm guessing it is open source) and find the notebook.

Also, while the building may have been unlocked, the networking closet most likely was. It certainly should have been and alarmed as well. Come to think about it, it may not have been a security scan that alerted them, maybe they do have the network closets alarmed. If it was locked (and most likely had a sign on it saying no unauthorized access) then that's breaking and entering right there.

Hey, maybe MIT was willing to call in the cops because the lack of sophistication in the "hacking" attempt was so poor they probably didn't think it could be one of their students.

Revenant said...

Really? Maybe you could find that charge in the indictments for us.

It was the third charge -- unauthorized access to obtain information valued at more than $5000. Millions of dollars, in this case.

Revenant said...

And Carmen Ortiz has a political office to prepare for!

Is that why Obama appointed her to her current position? :)

garage mahal said...

It was the third charge -- unauthorized access to obtain information valued at more than $5000. Millions of dollars, in this case.

Again, why not charge him stealing the files?

And worth millions of dollars? There is nobody alive that would pay that. That's laughable.

Truckee Man said...

He was a criminal albeit a mentally ill criminal. All the rationalizations for his behavior and excoriations of the government's response are anarchist BS.

creeley23 said...

Science fiction author, Jerry Pournelle, has been covering the Swartz case with more thoughtful light than I've seen anywhere else. Here's some of his latest:

Of course the usual practice of prosecuting attorneys is to threaten the maximum penalty while offering something much smaller in exchange for a guilty plea. One presumes that what Swartz wanted was a trial in which his defense would be along the lines of liberation of public owned property: that he was entitled to copies of the materials he had downloaded. Why he believed – as apparently he did –- that he was faced with ruinous fines and decades in prison as opposed to a few months at Camp Fed in the company of financial offenders is not clear.

Leaving Swartz out of it, there remains the question of distribution of public documents. I find impossible to believe that setting up monopolies on the distribution of documents reporting publicly financed research fits any constitutional definition of promoting useful arts and science. I understand that journals must be financed. The editorial activities of soliciting peer reviews and doing initial publication have to be paid for; but the current system is simply ridiculous. ITHAKA and JSTOR pretty well prohibit widespread distribution outside academia; but the taxes that paid for the research certainly apply to the general public.

Perhaps Swartz’s legacy will be a new look at our whole journal distribution system with a view to promote the progress of science and the useful arts – and to make available to the public the results of publicly financed research. That issue is not settled.

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=11598

Zach said...

If I recall correctly, a lot of early hackers and phone phreakers did spend a bit of time in prison. Which they richly deserved, because they were in fact breaking the law.

And what exactly does the author mean, "downloading databases to play with them"? Swartz is going to try out his SQL skillz? He's going to do some mad inner joinz and sort the bejeezus out of some nested tables? JSTORs is a database of articles. It's an index to a bunch of pdf files. It's as much fun as a phone book.

One thing that's easy to forget in the whole Swartz controversy is that making a database of public information is itself a creative act, and is itself protected by copyright. And it should be! Putting together a database of downloadable articles saves people years of photocopying in libraries, and gives access to a lot of people whose home institutions don't have the cash for lots and lots of subscriptions. Downloading that database in order to set up a competitor is outright stealing.

Revenant said...

Again, why not charge him stealing the files?

They did charge him with stealing the files. That's the statute used when someone hacks into a computer to steal files. :)

And worth millions of dollars? There is nobody alive that would pay that. That's laughable.

It doesn't matter if anyone would pay that, because it is the cost of producing the information that is used to value it for purposes of that statute. The cost of producing tens of thousands of publications easily runs into the millions of dollars.

As for your assertion that "nobody would pay that much" for JSTOR, how do you think JSTOR covers its multi-million-dollar yearly expenses if nobody's willing to pay millions for their content? :)

Ralph Hyatt said...

As usual, Jerry Pournelle's commentary is intelligent and insightful. Swartz was threatening some powerful peoples' rice bowls. When you threaten powerful peoples' rice bowls they tend to threaten right back.

Zach said...

Leaving Swartz out of it, there remains the question of distribution of public documents. I find impossible to believe that setting up monopolies on the distribution of documents reporting publicly financed research fits any constitutional definition of promoting useful arts and science.

Speaking as a scientist, an article is the end product of your research. You're supposed to put it in front of readers, who will thereby learn from it (or, more likely, will see it at some point in the future when they're researching a similar topic). The government doesn't really want to own the article, and it's very hard to monetize the article in any form smaller than an ongoing subscription or large database.

There's a very good argument that the government hasn't been getting a good enough deal, and that they should demand that any research they fund be available in a public database. But if you do this, you're destroying the livelihood of the journals -- access to their back issues is exactly what they're selling, and you're now providing this for free to all comers.

Having a publicly available database isn't going to do much good if there's no way for articles to find their audience.

garage mahal said...

They did charge him with stealing the files.

No they didn't. They charged with him gaining access to computers "without authorization" or in a manner that "exceeds authorized access", even though he did have authorized access. But, the law is vague and does not clearly spell out what that means. So it gives overbearing cunts like Ortiz the authority to ruins someone's life as a stepping stone to higher political office.

Revenant said...

With due respect to Jerry Pournelle, it doesn't matter if the product of publicly-funded research ought to be freely available. This is about the journals and books that published the research and arranged peer review for it, not about the research itself.

Even if, for example, every single article in the latest copy of the Journal of the American Medical Association was written about research produced exclusively with public money, that doesn't entitle the public to a free copy of the journal. It doesn't even necessarily entitle them to free copies of the research papers -- just to the results of the research itself.

Plus, of course, much of public research funding comes from *state* universities and their endowments. You can argue that residents of that state are entitled to a peek at the research results, but what claim do the other 49 have?

jr565 said...

Garage Mahal wrote:
No they didn't. They charged with him gaining access to computers "without authorization" or in a manner that "exceeds authorized access", even though he did have authorized access.

If he had authorized access then why did hack into the system? You really think that he had authority to download millions of files like that?
WHy the subterfuge then?

Revenant said...

No they didn't. They charged with him gaining access to computers "without authorization" or in a manner that "exceeds authorized access"

They charged him with that *too*, yes. Tell me, what statute is it that you think covers "stealing the files", if the statute I mentioned doesn't?

even though he did have authorized access

He was welcome to argue that he had authorized access and repeatedly broke into MIT's system just for the thrill of it. He preferred to kill himself, which goes to show that he thought that argument was as silly as I do. :)

Maguro said...

@creeley23 - How do you think Jerry Pournelle would like it if someone hacked into Amazon, downloaded all of Jerry Pournelle's books and posted them on the internet so that anyone could have them for free? Information wants to be free, right?

Interestingly, he seems to understand the problem, but he dismisses the crux of the issue rather casually here:

I understand that journals must be financed. The editorial activities of soliciting peer reviews and doing initial publication have to be paid for; but the current system is simply ridiculous.

I am not an expert on the economics of academic journals, but at first glance the system doesn't seem ridiculous at all. How are the needed editorial and publishing functions to be accomplished without some kind of subscription model? People are taking the fact that the raw content is free to JSTOR and concluding that the edited final product should be free as well, which doesn't follow at all.

garage mahal said...

Tell me, what statute is it that you think covers "stealing the files", if the statute I mentioned doesn't?

You tell me. I didn't make the claim that the government is charging him with stealing something. Ironically, he would have been better off if he simply did steal something.

jr565 said...

I understand that journals must be financed. The editorial activities of soliciting peer reviews and doing initial publication have to be paid for; but the current system is simply ridiculous.

And yet he sells his books and I have to buy them. Ridiculous! I understand that sci fi must be financed and that authors must be paid for but the current system is simply ridiculous.
Therefore, all the world should get Jerry Pournelle's books free of charge, and screw his publishers trying to earn a buck.
I will say this, if that's his attitude then he should pay me back the money I spent on his stupid book way back when I read Sci Fi. And going forward we should facilitate him never earning another penny from any of his works.

By the way, if you think the system is ridiculous should you create another system that does it better rather than assuming that you have an unettered right to what's online simply because you think the system is ridiculous.

Baen books has often argued for the free content model (they sell sci books, probably some of Jerry's books even) but they don't just give away ALL of their books. THey have some books free and assume that people will download those free books but then pay for the other books.

Yet I think that system is ridiculous. I think all the books that are still charged for, inluding any of Jerry's books, should be free for everyone. So, because I have an account with Baen, I should be able to download everybook on Baen and give them away free of charge.

Here's the baen website and in particular Jerry Pournellle's books:

http://www.baenebooks.com/s-83-jerry-pournelle.aspx

Note they all cost money to buy. So, who wants all of Jerry's books free?

Revenant said...

You tell me.

I *did* tell you, silly! I guess I could force you to believe me but I've sworn never to use my mind control powers for personal gain.

Honestly, if you don't actually have a clue what the "right" answer is, don't go around correcting other people's answers. :)

creeley23 said...

Revenant, Maguro: Pournelle understands and supports intellectual property.

However, just as one can support healthcare reform and not like Obamacare, Pournelle is questioning the current specific arrangements of ITHAKA and JSTOR.

Pournelle has written much more on the Swartz case at a his blog, if you're interested. My comment was more to point people there, than to represent Pournelle's views here.

IMO his blog posts provide more insight than the threads here and elsewhere.

Kirk Parker said...

You defenders of the JSTOR model--free seems to work for SSRN, is there something I'm missing here? Do the areas that JSTOR covers mostly have *paid* peer reviewers or something?

garage mahal said...

I *did* tell you, silly!

But you were wrong. The fact that what you posted as evidence did not involve theft, I thought that might be the tip off that you were wrong.

Rliyen said...

Ayup. Still not giving a shit that the po' wittle genius offed himself.

I have very little sympathy for people who generate their own problems.

Revenant said...

The fact that what you posted as evidence did not involve theft

Of course it does. That's the whole point of the $5000 valuation. :)

Kirk Parker said...

jr565,

Pournelle can be a bit cantankerous and arrogant at times (I've known him, virtually, since the early days of Bix) but I'm quite certain that if any of his works had been paid for by the Fed Gov they would be available for free.

In fact he's providing free access to The Strategy of Technology, even though as far as I can tell the writing of it was a privately-funded effort (albeit with a "shareware" type request for $5.00 if you care to contribute.)

Revenant said...

You defenders of the JSTOR model--free seems to work for SSRN, is there something I'm missing here?

The nice thing about living in the United States is that if you think someone else's business model is hopelessly flawed, you're free to start a competing business and take them out.

Maguro said...

You defenders of the JSTOR model--free seems to work for SSRN, is there something I'm missing here? Do the areas that JSTOR covers mostly have *paid* peer reviewers or something?

JSTOR doesn't need to justify its paywall/subscription policies anymore than the Wall Street Jounal or Jerry Pournelle do. You can either pay for the service they offer or not, depending on your preference, but you're not allowed to hack in their network and download all their shit. This seems rather obvious to me, but then again I'm something of a flyover rube.

What Swartz did was really no different from walking into the MIT library and slipping some journals into his coat pocket.

Revenant said...

I'm quite certain that if any of his works had been paid for by the Fed Gov they would be available for free.

Pournelle's been writing at least partly on the government's dime for 15 years. Can he really claim full ownership of his post-'97 work when he's been receiving checks from the government the entire time?

garage mahal said...

What Swartz did was really no different from walking into the MIT library and slipping some journals into his coat pocket.

Except you didn't remove any journals and you had permission to use the library.

Here are some facts

Maguro said...

Pournelle can be a bit cantankerous and arrogant at times (I've known him, virtually, since the early days of Bix) but I'm quite certain that if any of his works had been paid for by the Fed Gov they would be available for free.

Red herring. If the Feds pay for a study on, say, artificial heart valve efficacy that gets published in an academic journal, you the taxpayer can access that study by walking your ass to the nearest library that carries that journal and asking the nice lady behind the counter for the appropriate edition.

What JSTOR provides is convenient one-stop shopping for the researcher by consolidating all the major journals in one searchable database. Again, I'm not an expert in the field, but it sounds like JSTOR is a fairly major database, which significant care and feeding costs on the IT side alone and not even counting all the editorial stuff they do. How does all that get paid for if not through a subscription service?

Jim Gust said...

Here's the coverage of the case from the view of the MIT student newspaper.

http://tech.mit.edu/V132/N62/swartztimeline.html

Kirk Parker said...

Rev,

JSTOR has a monopoly arrangement, do they not? (Yes, if I'm wrong, that definitely changes some of the calculus here.)

Kirk Parker said...

The fact that neither of the "wronged" parties (MIT and JSTOR) wanted to proceed with the prosecution is at least interesting, isn't it?


jr565 said...

Kirk Parker wrote:

You defenders of the JSTOR model--free seems to work for SSRN, is there something I'm missing here? Do the areas that JSTOR covers mostly have *paid* peer reviewers or something?

I'm against Swartz in principle I could care less whether this was Jstor or Citibank. The info was not his
To download anyway that he saw fit. And if he didnt like it, he should
Come up with a competing model, not try to hack their info and assume that he could make
The rules.

Revenant said...

The fact that neither of the "wronged" parties (MIT and JSTOR) wanted to proceed with the prosecution is at least interesting, isn't it?

The fact that you put scare quotes around "wronged" is indicative that nothing you have to say on the subject will be interesting. :)

Also, the correct phrasing is "two of", not "neither", since each author of each downloaded paper was also individually wronged.

Revenant said...

JSTOR has a monopoly arrangement, do they not? (Yes, if I'm wrong, that definitely changes some of the calculus here.)

They do not.

What they do have is agreements (some exclusive, some not) with a large number of journals and publishers to make their contents available online. You are free to make a better offer to those journals and lure their business away from JSTOR.

RonF said...

When I was at M.I.T., getting caught pulling cables in a wiring closet to hack into the network would have been a good way to get the Campus Police on your ass.

RonF said...

And get you fired from any employment you had at the Institute and put on a "don't let this asshole through the doors" list.

He deserved to be busted for that.

rhhardin said...

Breaking into computers was a gentleman's game when networking started.

It was used to improve security.

You break in, you send mail how you did it to the system programmer there.

He fixes it, you break in again, and send more email.

The loop never ends, both sides benefit.

DCS said...

Good riddance. No sympathy for someone who believes laws are for other people. He lacked the courage of his convictions, took the loser's way out. I've more use for an 85 IQ McDonald's burger flipper.

Ann Althouse said...

"You defenders of the JSTOR model--free seems to work for SSRN, is there something I'm missing here? Do the areas that JSTOR covers mostly have *paid* peer reviewers or something?"

I think SSRN has a model that's like social media with academics supplying their own work, doing the of uploading and presentation (abstracts), and agreeing to its dissemination.

JSTOR was doing the work of making a massive supply of old articles available, and they did the work of making the stuff available and getting the license to distribute it. Different business model.

That's my understanding of the 2 business models, but I might be wrong. I don't get the argument that says because one computerized data base is handled in a way that gives free access and the other adopted a subscription approach that makes money, the second one deserves to be trashed by outsiders and made free!

Ann Althouse said...

"You break in, you send mail how you did it to the system programmer there. He fixes it, you break in again, and send more email."

I think the govt was going to prove that the goal wasn't just to show the security weakness but to make the data free and accessible to the public, supervene the JSTOR subscription service.

Kirk Parker said...

Althouse,

My underlying objection (and note my caveat to Revenant above) is the same as Dr. Pournelle's: stuff that is paid for by federal grants has no business being handed over to some third party for their exclusive use. Now that the web reduced the cost of publishing and distributing by orders of magnitude, folks like Elsevier need to adapt or die.

I object to rent-seeking in any form, but especially when it involves capturing things already paid for by the taxpayer.

And I should then probably also clarify: if JSTOR is performing something of actual value beyond just hosting the collection, fine. (If not, then prices should be pennies per article at most.) Rekeying or scan/OCR/spell correct older papers to make them web-accessible, that's definitely of value. Actually being part of the editorial process, as someone more or less hinted at above, even more valued. Which of these are they actually doing? And do the rates for papers whose research and writing was funded by federal grants, compared to those that weren't, actually reflect the fact that the IP in the first case already belongs to us?

(Can I say that I shouldn't have to clarify that, just because I'm taking the position I do on JSTOR itself, it doesn't that I think sneaking a machine into a network closet at MIT was an ok thing to do?)

Bruce Hayden said...

This whole thing about journals is a pretty big thing right now. The biggest issue is when the government pays for the research, and then a company like Jstor charges for access to it. And, keep in mind that MIT is probably paying for a license with JSTOR and a number of other publishers.

I really don't empathize all that much with JSTOR. What they do is make articles available to libraries, etc. They may have to buy them however from the organizations that actually publish and referee the articles. And, they claim some costs in the publication and refereeing - except that much of the former is now electronic, and the latter is typically volunteer.

The IP committee I chaired the last two years has been into this subject quite a bit, esp. over the last couple of months. Our big issue is that you need to upload articles when you cite them for patent applications. To get electronic access to them initially invariably requires the sort of license that MIT has, and, individually, individual articles can be quite pricey (I have paid $20-$40 for a number of them over time). Now, downloading an article from the USPTO web site that was cited in a patent application is most likely copyright Fair Use. But that argument pretty much fails for initial submission of articles. (And, yes, the USPTO pays for subscriptions for all these journals). Making the problem worse, applicants often ignore published journal articles, and examiners often fail to find them too, with the resulting decrease in patent quality - meaning that there is a public good that would probably come from more free access to these journals.

jr565 said...

Bruce,
If it's as you say and if the journals should all be free,
then people like Swartz should be coming up with a way to host said content for less or providing a better deal than JSTOR. If they can't do that then they have to accept JSTOR as is, with all of its limitations.

Lets not forget that Swartz created Reddit. Why could he not do the same for online publications.

But just as people should not be hacking into Reddit and downloading info without express permission so to should Swartz not be downloading info from other sites and/or companies.
Come on, the guy is a business owner. He should know better.

Kirk Parker said...

jr565,

Please don't blow right past Bruce's statement:

"The biggest issue is when the government pays for the research, and then a company like Jstor charges for access to it"

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

stuff that is paid for by federal grants has no business being handed over to some third party for their exclusive use

It hasn't been. As others have noted, you can walk into a library and read the journals in question anytime you want. You can contact the authors and request a copy of the article. You have many options.

But if you want a searchable online database of millions of publications, here's what you can do:

1. Using your own money, contact the authors of those millions of publications and arrange for them to provide you with copies of the papers. That's what the thousands of journals and publishers JSTOR contracts with did.

2. Again, using your own money, convert those papers (most of which were written on typewriters, the rest of which were written in hundreds of different digital formats) into a common digital format.

3. Again, using your own money, build the system and hire the staff to store and manage the data.

4. Make it "freely available".

Or, of course, you can just wait for somebody else to do all the work and then steal it. That seems to be the popular approach.

Revenant said...

Which of these are they actually doing?

Word of advice: learn what you're talking about first, then opine.

Bruce Hayden said...

My position is that for the most part, the party paying for the research should own it, and that includes any publications that come out of it. That very definitely isn't the case today, though it would have been very interesting if someone who has very deep pockets were ever accused of doing the sort of misappropriation that Swartz was.

Here is the basic problem. Let us assume that A owns B journal, and C who works for D wants to publish article E in the B journal. So, A has C sign an assignment that gives A the copyright to the E article. And, of course F (e.g. JSTOR) contracts with A to make the journal available online (many journals don't have their own electronic publications, and even if they do, they are often willing to distribute more broadly with a consolidator like JSTOR). An organization G then contracts with consolidator F (e.g. MIT) for acccess to its articles. So, superficially, it looks like A owns the copyright and F has a license to distribute the journal, and anyone who licenses it, including organization G.

What could go wrong? For one thing, there is something in copyright law known as Work for Hire. For the most part, the legal author of a copyrighted work created within the scope of employment is with the employer, and not the employee actually creating the work. And, in many, if not most cases, the employee does not have the legal authority to license the work. In the case of corporations, he rarely has signature authority, flowing from the Board of Directors, to bind the corporation legally. This is esp. true outside of academia, whereas some faculty are specifically given the legal right to control publication of their work.

And, that is where deep pockets would come in - following the chain of copyright sales and licenses for each article, making sure that each one was supported by the legal right to make the sale or license.

Let me add that this problem is fairly unique to scholarly journals, because most mass enforced copyright (such as for music) is sold or licensed company to company.

Bruce Hayden said...

Here is the other side of the journal industry. Journals are, of course, a remnant of dead paper technology, where articles are gathered, refereed, then published in paper journals, and then distributed, for a price, to institutions like MIT, as well as to individuals. Often, you get free or preferential access to the journals if you belong to the organization that publishes them (and I recently throw out maybe a doze boxes of computer and electrical articles I received in such a way).

Now, anyone can self-publish online. But will they? Often not. Why? Because journals often act to enhance the reputation of those who publish in them. Academics, in particular, are in, at least until tenured, a publish-or-perish environment, and what tenure committees tend to look for is quality, before quantity. If two law professors are up for tenure, and there is only room for one of them, and all other things are equal, their law school is more likely to prefer the professor who has published primarily in the principal journal of Tier 1 law schools than in Tier 3 or 4 law schools. There is similar ranking of publications in some disciplines, such as medicine. On the other hand, in much of science, the more important journals are the most specialized - at least from the older publishing organizations.

In journals outside of law, it seems that most are refereed, which is supposed to provide some value added, though, as we found with ClimateGate, in a narrow field, that can be easily gamed. Indeed, this is one of the things that the publishers of journals claim as their value-added - despite most refereeing being done by volunteers.

So, yes, you can publish your own articles on the Internet, but except for the most famous, most academics and researchers are going to probably continue to publish through journals. They will do so because the vetting process aids with their reputability and publication through journals aids in ease of being cited in other articles.

Bruce Hayden said...

OT - I mentioned that law journals were fairly unique. What is weird about them is that they are mostly published through law reviews at law schools, and are not refereed, but selected and edited by 3rd year law students. Combining the lack of refereeing with a continuing proliferation of law reviews, it is probably not surprising that law review articles seem to continue to drop in usefulness to attorneys and courts. While physicians are often seen reading scholarly articles in their profession, most attorneys won't waste their time on law review articles.

This rant has though little bearing on my previous point, that journals are important, esp. in academia and/or research, and probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future, though maybe at a declining rate.

Bryan C said...

Steven Levy's classic book "Hackers", first published 25 years ago, is a good introduction to MIT's formerly open-minded culture. It's hard to believe it's the same place. But, as Palladian noted, where liberty is concerned we're all in a different place now.