How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz–and Us : The New Yorker

Cogent argument from Tim Wu of Columbia Law School comparing how Aaron Swartz was treated relative to Steve Jobs and Wozniak. Two who arguably did “worse” things but ended up revered examples of hacker culture and innovators.

This case has been on my mind lately. Beyond the visceral reaction to someone killing themselves because their circumstances felt that wrong / insurmountable or that they fell through the cracks of their support network. I don’t have a fully cogent intellectual conviction on the matter, but at a gut level, I think information / knowledge deserves to be free and shared – the rise of the Internet itself or even technology trends like file sharing and MOOCs are testament to that. The basic currency of the web is the link and copying data from one place to another. The basic activity people do on the web is sharing and consuming content and information. Current laws stifle innovation, creativity and exchange, rewarding practices that ultimately short change consumers and the market. And those who question current reality are exactly the ones who do epic things to better it.

In this sense, Swartz must be compared to two other eccentric geniuses, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who, in the nineteen-seventies, committed crimes similar to, but more economically damaging than, Swartz’s. Those two men hacked A.T. & T.’s telephone system to make free long-distance calls, and actually sold the illegal devices (blue boxes) to make cash. Their mentor, John Draper, did go to jail for a few months (where he wrote one of the world’s first word processors), but Jobs and Wozniak were never prosecuted. Instead, they got bored of phreaking and built a computer. The great ones almost always operate at the edge.


via How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz–and Us : The New Yorker.

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