The View from Here 1 – Spring 2013

The Interim Editor In Chief of The Skyline View for Spring 2013.

Will Nacouzi/The Skyline View

The Interim Editor In Chief of The Skyline View for Spring 2013.

On Jan. 11, the online community lost one of its leaders in the thick of an ongoing open access movement with thousands advocating for what they believe should be an inalienable right. The news of Aaron Swartz’s apparent suicide came in the midst of a federal investigation for his role in the downloading of a large number of academic journals and articles from the JSTOR archive (short for Journal Storage). He was charged with the intent of distributing the downloaded articles by making them available on the web free of charge.

Swartz’s death may very well be the tipping point that prompts the online community to reorganize and rally against the institutional control of information. Many of his supporters are viewing this tragedy as an awakening that will allow people to wise up and question copyright practices. Big companies benefit more from published work than their creators in a situation that essentially
places the work under lock and key.

That may be understandable if those companies financed the published work. However, companies are benefiting from research conducted by public institutions. Herein lies the controversy. Research funded by the taxes we pay should be made available to the public. Swartz understood that his actions could lead him behind bars, but by doing so, he got more of us thinking, “Is this fight one I would take to the streets?”

Swartz’s situation extends far beyond the technicalities behind copyright law. Much of the American public already question whether the government works for them or for big business. After all, local authorities reportedly only planned to give Swartz a warning. It wasn’t until the U.S. Attorney’s office got involved that he faced up to 35 years behind bars. Is this an attempt by big brother to intimidate the like-minded? Arguable.

Is the government purposely aiming to keep Americans in check? It’s become a hot topic among social circles. Whatever the reality may be, stifling access to publicly funded information reeks of foul play. The government has been highly scrutinized as of late and cannot afford to continue damaging its relationship with the leaders of tomorrow.

We may be entering an age of awareness with a blossoming population pushing for change. What makes the open access movement different however is that it may have found its martyr.