#PDFTribute — The First (And Hopefully Last) Open Access “Martyr”

Aaron Swartz via Nick Gray
Aaron Swartz (from a photo with Nick Gray): http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickgray/3189695439/

Aaron Swartz, he died last week
Never was there such a geek —
who downloaded, tried to share
just to show he really cared
making Aaron slightly bad
but very wonderful to grads
— cops and lawyers, go your way
students, seekers: let us pray
[e.e. cummings parody]

It has been three days since Aaron Swartz took his own life. Yes, he had struggled with chronic illness and depression during his life, but the story around his death is, to a large extent, centering around his advocacy efforts in support of free access to information and the legal challenges that followed from them.

Aaron was well known in geek communities for his many talents and contributions, from helping to code the original version of RSS feed back when he was 14 to co-founding Reddit, and much more. What really got attention, though, was fairly recent, 2010-2011, when he downloaded massive numbers of articles from a library database behind a paywall with the intent to make them available to the public. “Information wants to be free.”

The library database (JSTOR) did not seek to prosecute, but it happened without them. It’s a complicated story, and a sad one. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the story itself, because you can easily find that information in many places around the Internet. Here are just a few of the links I found most useful and important.

Inside Higher Ed: Reacting to Aaron Swartz’s Suicide: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/01/14/academe-reacts-aaron-swartzs-suicide

Aaron Swartz Faced A More Severe Prison Term Than Killers, Slave Dealers And Bank Robbers: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/01/14/1441211/killers-slavers-and-bank-robbers-all-face-less-severe-prison-terms-than-aaron-swartz-did/

The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”: http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/

Harsh Reaction After Aaron Swartz’s Death Prompts MIT Investigation: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2013/01/harsh-reaction-after-aaron-swartzs-death-prompts-mit-investigation/60935/

Remember Aaron Swartz: http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/

What I want to talk about is the outpouring of copyrighted articles being made available free on the Internet in response to Aaron’s death. It started on Reddit, spread to Twitter and Google Plus, and is far beyond now. The hashtag is #PDFtribute although a few are using #PDFprotest. The idea is to honor Aaron by sharing your own articles and research for free. The works shared are being collected at their own website, scraped from social media almost as fast as they are posted.

PDF Tribute: http://pdftribute.net/

Obviously, the actions of researchers and authors sharing in this movement are influencing others to do the same.

The movement is making headlines in tech, science, and mainstream news, as well as with independent pieces from journalists.

This has also resulted in a new petition to the US government about Open Access.

It’s created a new word – swartzing, to make freely available.

And it isn’t just articles being posted. Here is a complete book on how to conduct clinical research.

And folk are posting tips for HOW to make your own articles available, and asking hard questions.

Now here’s where the librarians need to listen up. We already know about Open Access. The profession of librarianship has been a strong supporter of the open access movement and Creative Commons. Oh, by the way, Aaron was involved with getting the Creative Commons movement off the ground, when he was a teenager.

Many librarians are taking this moment as an opportunity to promote understanding of Open Access and Creative Commons. To grieve the loss of one of the strongest supporters and advocates, to examine the issues involved, to look at why and how intellectual property rights have gone so desperately wrong, shifting from supporting the connections and relationships between authors and readers to supporting the middle man and corporations. We know, oh, we KNOW our legal duties to support the law in its current form, to adhere to our legal contracts with the publishers. We know, and we try to protect the faculty, students, and all our patrons in all our institutions. We stand squarely in the middle with the weight of both sides on our shoulders. Here is a chance to openly and clearly illustrate what works and what’s broken, as well as the methods, tools, resources around the issues, and to gather community around them. Here are some of the suggestions for libraries and librarians that are right now flowing through Twitter.

The tweet that broke my heart.

Astrogirl: Aaron Swartz - you can come back now ...

UpdateJan 15, 2013; 1:00pm: Added link to source for parody poem, and to expert witness testimony on Aaron’s legal situation.

6 responses to “#PDFTribute — The First (And Hopefully Last) Open Access “Martyr”

  1. Pingback: Science, Scientists and Twitter | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  2. Pingback: Science, Scientists and Twitter | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  3. Patricia, thank you for an awesome post!
    Thank you to EVERYONE who is now sharing research! We need open education and open access. Aaron did not deserve this.
    My thoughts are with his family and friends.


  4. Pingback: “It Was a Momentary Mistake”: Suicide, Prevention, and Social Media #SPSM | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  5. Pingback: Aaron, Lost, and Found Again | Emerging Technologies Librarian

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