Was the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as effective as possible?
Aaron Swartz was far more than your average online blogger rattling on about the Establishment undermining the liberties of the Internet. Swartz was one of the greatest hacktivists to ever live, and a true crusader for the freedom to access information unmolested by the barriers put in place by corporate greed. The most prominent example of his crusade was not one act, but an eternal document that has circulated across the global web: the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. Swartz’s words in this piece are nothing short of compelling, a call to action for the Internet’s users to band together against the privatization of information, and thus, knowledge.
On some levels I completely agree with Swartz, that “sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative.” I am not alone, either, as VICE’s DJ Pangburn noted in his exaltation of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as an “act of civil disobedience.” Yet as powerful as civil disobedience can be, it seems that there was some level of naiveté involved with the statements Swartz makes at the end of the piece. After emphasizing the moral importance of freely-accessible knowledge (free of corporate molestation), Swartz then advocated breaking laws to disseminate information across secret databases, almost forecasting struggles he would face later in life. At a time when the Internet’s level of freedom is being constantly redefined, we must read parts of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as a cautionary tale with Swartz as its tragic protagonist. We live in an era where, according to Fortune’s David Morris, sharing your password to Netflix with a friend could earn you Federal Criminal charges — so how sure can we be that following Swartz’s words will change the world?
I too detest the vice grip that corporations retain over the publication of information, forcing academics and students alike to pay exorbitant fees to learn from existing information and hopefully take that knowledge to make a difference in this world. Yet I also advocate a renewed analysis of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto for what it is, a call to examine one’s information privilege. Unfortunately, history has proven that taking Swartz’s last words too seriously and breaking laws (no matter how unjust they are) often comes at a very high price.
The inspired but short-sighted Guerilla Access Manifesto cannot be taken too literally. Indeed, forming groups (such as Swartz’s Demand Progress, which played a major role in defeating SOPA) to work with our lawmakers can have a far greater effect than random individuals committing crimes that are often prosecuted. The Guerilla Open Access Manifesto cannot be revised, but it can be used as the impetus for greater and more effective change on the Internet. Either we disobey more effectively or we defeat the powers by working to ensure that the Internet represents the freedoms that our Founding Fathers would have envisioned.