Aaron Swartz: Were his actions for better or for worse?
Unjust laws exist;
shall we be content to obey them,
or shall we endeavor to amend them,
and obey them until we have succeeded,
or shall we transgress them at once?
Aaron Swartz is an internet pioneer. Swartz dedicated his life to trying to allow people to have free access to the internet, and in doing so he found himself at odds with the government and law enforcement. Many of his troubles stemmed from his response to the question above. Growing up he was a special child with an incredible sense of knowledge which resulted in him attending Stanford University. Throughout his lifetime Swartz had his hand in a multitude of things ranging from political activism to digital entrepreneurship. Swartz’s life came to a crashing end with a federal prosecution and a successful suicide attempt.
Much of Swartz’s life included his vision for allowing citizens to have free access to information on the internet. While this vision may seem like an easy question, to him, it meant so much more. While the idea of free internet sounds enticing, it is important to think of the question: What about the people who created or collected the information? In the case of many websites on the internet, you must pay a price to have access to their information. For example the New York Times and JSTOR require money to be able to read their articles. This was what Swartz did not believe in.
While it would be great for all access on the internet to be free, it is just not plausible. How can a person justify not allowing an author to receive credit, while people benefitting from using it don’t have to give anything in return? The point of copyright laws are to assure that the person who created the work receives the proper compensation. By creating these fees the companies who provide the information to the people are able to continue to provide more. If you were to take away the system allowing these companies to create revenue, then the companies would lose the means to fund themselves. We need these outlets to continue to produce the information they do because it allows us to become more educated ourselves.
For myself I always have believed that in order to have access to accurate, helpful information you must provide something in return. It is unjust for people who use someone’s else’s work to not have to pay to do that. Why should someone who publishes information do so if they aren’t going to get paid? While I do believe that it is excessive to be charging extreme amounts for digital information, I do not however believe that the solution is to get rid of paying altogether. I think companies should be able to charge as much money as they want for their information, it then becomes up to the customer to decide for themselves how much they want to pay for what they need.