The papers were uploaded by a user named Greg Maxwell who says that his decision to make the large quantity of scientific papers available was a response to the indictment earlier this week of early Reddit-er and Demand Progress founder Aaron Swartz. Swartz has been charged with felony hacking and computer fraud for downloading some 4.8 million papers from JSTOR.
While the government has labeled Swartz’s actions as “stealing,” some have questioned whether that’s the right description for what Swartz did and whether a possible 35-year-sentence is warranted. Software engineer Kevin Webb has penned a post suggesting that some of the walls that universities put around content – including the paywalled services like JSTOR – are as much of a problem as Swartz’s attempt to liberate that material. He writes:
“Aaron’s arrest should be a wake up call to universities – evidence of how fundamentally broken this core piece of their architecture remains despite decades of progress in advancing communication and collaboration.
The MIT staff who called the FBI would have been served better by calling the chancellor to ask, ‘How have we created a system that forces 25 year-olds to sneak around in the basement, hiding hard-drives in closets in order ask basic and important questions about our work? Can’t we do better?'”
That sentiment is echoed in the manifesto accompanying the files on The Pirate Bay. Maxwell also blasts the academic establishment and its publishing model. “As far as I can tell,” he writes, “the money paid for access today serves little significant purpose except to perpetuate dead business models. The ‘publish or perish’ pressure in academia gives the authors an impossibly weak negotiating position, and the existing system has enormous inertia.”
Maxwell claims he came by the papers he’s uploaded legally. The documents include the archives of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, a prestigious scientific journal with a history that goes back to the 1600s. The papers in The Pirate Bay torrent were all published prior to 1923 and are in the public domain. He says that he’d originally planned to upload the documents to Wikipedia, but felt that the actions would incur lawsuits from publishers charging copyright violations or, as with in the case of Swartz, would bring about other sorts of criminal charges.
Maxwell argues, “The liberal dissemination of knowledge is essential to scientific inquiry. More than in any other area, the application of restrictive copyright is inappropriate for academic works: there is no sticky question of how to pay authors or reviewers, as the publishers are already not paying them. And unlike ‘mere’ works of entertainment, liberal access to scientific work impacts the well-being of all mankind. Our continued survival may even depend on it.”
Maxwell says he’d considered releasing the documents anonymously, but didn’t want Swartz to be blamed when the large quantity of JSTOR files were released.