On Wednesday the plot thickened, with over 18,000 documents being pulled from the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society made available through Bittorrent on The Pirate Bay by Gregory Maxwell. Maxwell's actions made freely accessible documents that usually are charged at a rate of between $8 and $19 dollars for access. Maxwell claims his actions were in protest of Swartz’s charges, accompanying his upload with a manifesto stating his intent to “remove even on dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous industry which act to supress scientific and historic understanding” regardless of the “personal cost” he might suffer.
While the ‘stealing is stealing’ argument is one side of the issue in relation to how exactly material was obtained, Swartz and Maxwell’s actions obviously spark interesting debate about free access to archived scholarly material. Swartz prominently supports the free flow of information and access online and in libraries in the open culture movement. As Dan Goodwin points out in an article for The Register, critics of the somewhat epic charges brought against Swartz argue that “many of the documents in JSTOR's collection are probably kept behind its paywall against the authors' will and that there are no valid copyright claims restricting their distribution”.
Should access to archived scholarship be free in the digital domain? How far does the "authors’ will" extend? Is prosectuing for downloading to this extent the same as being charged for checking out too many books at the library?
For more on Swartz and the charges as covered by the Demand Progress Blog, click here.