IN MEMORIAM, IN SOLIDARITY : AARON SWARTZ’s GUERRILLA OPEN ACCESS MANIFESTO
“With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.
Will you join us?”
- Aaron Swartz; Eremo, Italy, 2008
Here at Exit Strata, where we live and breathe the belief that Open Source is the answer — that freeing our creative processes and tools for open sharing and collaboration, leaving being the fear of a scarcity economy, and co-creating collaborative models integrating social technologies and on-the-ground activism is the shift of our time, here…
…here, at Exit Strata, we can’t stop thinking about the struggle Aaron Swartz faced in the fight for unrestricted access to information – for free, fearless flow to and between all persons in the interest of the evolution, education, inspiration, and empowerment of all.
We have been shocked and saddened by his untimely death and grieve for his family and the community within which he was clearly such a beacon of compassion, vision, and dedication. As someone who works actively on the edge of new cooperative legalities — and knows many who do — this story hit home: as the (in)justice system demonstrated for the nth time its capacity for seemingly unfathomable hypocrisy and impossibly skewed verdicts. Yet again the surreal, parallel polarity of the corporate-fear-mongering-sensationalized political landscape vs. the occupy-100000-poets-for-change-collaborative-economy-evolver-peer-to-peer-TEDtalk-people’s-internet landscape (in which we are blessed to reside the large portion of the time) was drawn into stark relief. A sobering, threatening moment at worst — but, then again, a doubling up on our efforts, coming closer together, committing in person and collective in word and deed, moment at best.
In the wake of this tragic, unnecessary loss — as is often the case — one young, passionate man has already become less and less himself and more and more story, icon, hero, martyr. And yet… perhaps this is Aaron’s legacy. For often, even though it “shouldn’t” be necessary, the outcry and collective action around tragedy is the catalyst, the tipping point that shocks us into recognition and disciplined intention and action.
After Aaron’s passing, when The Public School (an international, network driven autodidactic peer-to-peer education organization) sent out his 2008 manifesto in lieu of a memorial I knew I wanted to pass it along to the Exit Strata community. I know many of you are new to Open Source, as artists and musicians and writers, but there is a reason why I sing its praises, and why Exit Strata as an organization is structured and envisioned along its principles: it is our activism and has always been, our creative impulse to share and learn and evolve, together.
Aaron believed, as I believe — and as Michael Rothenberg, Terri Carrion, and all the global organizers for 100,000 Poets and Musicians for Change do — that we are uniquely positioned at this moment to bring together the creative spirit and vision of people everywhere, in every discipline, to create a different world. That poetry and art and technology and farming are all one conversation, about being human here on this earth, and leaving a better, more just, more evolved, more peaceful world for future generations.
Let’s keep this dialogue wide open: ask me questions, read and inform yourself — we can send you myriad links about this movement if you’re interested — and in the next few months you’ll see Exit Strata ramping up to more actively train our creators in the use of these tools. Aaron never wanted to be a patron saint or martyr, but he’s long been an inspiration and will continue to be, as the movement grows and strengthens in his honor.
Thank you, Aaron. We are so grateful.
As he asks, here: will you join us? Please, do.
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.
“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft ofpublic culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?