Journalism in the Public Interest

Hacktivism: Civil Disobedience or Cyber Crime?

Are activists like Aaron Swartz committing civil disobedience, or online crimes? We break down a few strategies of “hacktivism” to see what is considered criminal under the CFAA.

A man attends a demonstration organized by hacker collective Anonymous in Tokyo, July 7, 2012. (YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/GettyImages)

When Reddit co-founder and internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide last Friday, he was facing up to 13 felony counts, 50 years in prison, and millions of dollars in fines. His alleged crime? Pulling millions of academic articles from the digital archive JSTOR.

Prosecutors allege that Swartz downloaded the articles because he intended to distribute them for free online, though Swartz was arrested before any articles were made public. He had often spoken publicly about the importance of making academic research freely available.

Other online activists have increasingly turned to computer networks and other technology as a means of political protest, deploying a range of tactics — from temporarily shutting down servers to disclosing personal and corporate information.

Most of these acts, including Swartz’s downloads, are criminalized under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), an act was designed to prosecute hackers. But as Swartz’s and other “hacktivist” cases demonstrate, you don’t necessarily have to be a hacker to be viewed as one under federal law. Are activists like Swartz committing civil disobedience, or online crimes? We break down a few strategies of “hacktivism” to see what is considered criminal under the CFAA.

Publishing Documents

Accessing and downloading documents from private servers or behind paywalls with the intent of making them publicly available.

Swartz gained access to JSTOR through MIT’s network and downloaded millions of files, in violation of JSTOR’s terms of service (though JSTOR declined to prosecute the case). Swartz had not released any of the downloaded files at the time his legal troubles began. 

The most famous case of publishing private documents online may be the ongoing trial of Bradley Manning. While working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning passed thousands of classified intelligence reports and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, to be posted on their website.

“I want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public,” Manning wrote in an online chat with ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, who eventually turned Manning in to the Department of Defense.

Both Swartz and Manning were charged under a section of the CFAA that covers anyone who “knowingly causes the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer…”

The charges hinge on an interpretation of this section that says anyone in violation of a website’s terms of service is an unauthorized user. Because they’re unauthorized, all of their activity on that website could therefore be considered illegal. Both were charged with felonies under the CFAA, on top of other allegations.

The Ninth and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that such an interpretation of the CFAA casts too wide a net. With the circuit courts divided over whether a broad definition of “unauthorized” is constitutional, it may fall on the Supreme Court to ultimately decide.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann of Massachusetts was the lead prosecutor in Swartz’s case. (He was known for winning a 2010 case that landed hacker Albert Gonzalez 20 years in prison.) Heymann offered Swartz a plea bargain of six months in prison but Swartz’s defense team rejected the deal, saying a felony and any time behind bars was too harsh a sentence. Swartz’s family blamed his death in part on “intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”

As a result of Swartz’s suicide, some lawmakers are now calling for a review of the CFAA. On Tuesday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) proposed a piece of legislation called “Aaron’s Law,” which would amend the law to explicitly state that merely violating a site’s terms of service cannot fall under the federal CFAA.

Distributed Denial of Service

A Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attack, floods a web site’s server with traffic from a network of sometimes thousands of individual computers, making it incapable of serving legitimate traffic.

In 2010, the group Anonymous attempted to overload websites for PayPal, Visa and Mastercard after the companies refused to process donations to Wikileaks. Anonymous posted their “Low Orbit Ion Canon” software online, allowing roughly 6,000 people who downloaded the program to pummel the sites with traffic.

A DDoS attack can be charged as a crime under the CFAA, as it “causes damage” and can violate a web site’s terms of service. The owner of the site could also file a civil suit citing the CFAA, if they can prove a temporary server overload resulted in monetary losses.

Sixteen alleged members of Anonymous were arrested for their role in the PayPal DDoS, and could face more than 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. They were charged with conspiracy and “intentional damage to a protected computer” under the CFAA and the case is ongoing.

Some web activists have pressed for DDoS to be legalized as a form of protest, claiming that disrupting web traffic by occupying a server is the same as clogging streets when staging a sit-in. A petitionstarted on the White House’s “We the People” site a few days before Swartz’s death has garnered more than 5,000 signatures. 

“Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) is not any form of hacking in any way,” the petition reads. “It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage. It is, in that way, no different than any ‘occupy’ protest.”


Doxing involves finding and publishing a target’s personal or corporate information.

In 2011, Anonymous and hacker group Lulzsec breached the Stratfor Global Intelligence Service database and published the passwords, addresses and credit card information of the firm’s high-profile clients. The group claimed they planned to use the credit cards to donate $1 million to charity. 

Anonymous also recently doxed members of the Westboro Baptist Church after several tweeted their plans to picket funerals for Sandy Hook victims. Hackers were able to access Church members’ twitter accounts and publish their personal information, including phone numbers, emails and hotel reservation details.

Jeremy Hammond could face life in prison for allegedly leading the Stratfor hack and a separate attack on the Arizona Department of Safety website. Former Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown was also indicted for computer fraud in the Stratfor dox, not for hacking into the system, but for linking to the hacked information in a chat room.

The charges for doxing depend on how the information was accessed, and the nature of published information. Simply publishing publicly available information, such as phone numbers found in a Google search, would probably not be charged under the CFAA. But hacking into private computers, or even spreading the information from a hack, could lead to charges under the CFAA.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that Robert Morris was the creator of the WANK worm. Robert Morris was not behind the WANK worm, but created one of the first known internet worms. He was prosecuted in that case under the CFAA. We have removed the incorrect language.

Clarification: This post originally suggested Swartz participated in hacking such as DDoS or Doxing, when we meant to describe general tactics. We have updated this post accordingly. 

Hacking into a computer network for AMY reason is just as much an act of trespassing as breaking into someone’s home. Did Aaron Swartz deserve the zeal that prosecutors went after him, probably no. Was he trespassing and deserved a punishment commensurate with his crime, yes. Bradley Manning is a traitor and deserves a noose.

please, find court transcript, read it, and post correction. BRAD MANNING DID NOT PASS DOCUMENTS TO WIKI LEAKS. Someone else did. why is this important??DEPENDS IF TRUTH AND ACCURACY IN JOURNALISM ARE IMPORTANT. maybe write an article about THAT. OR view COLLATERAL MURDER and view the needless slaughter of innocents, and write about that! AGAIN, THE LARGER ISSUE - DO YOU VALUE LIFE OF YOUR LOVED ONES - DEPENDS IF TRUTH AND ACCURACY IN JOURNALISM ARE IMPORTANT.

Sorry, “Mike H.”, but I think you’re a horse’s azz, and a fascist…
JSTORR refused to prosecute, and Gov’t should have NOT picked up the case. These were ACEDENIC articles on a COLLEGE server. All human knowledge should always be 100% FREE. Sure, individual authors should be able to copyright and sell works of THEIR OWN, but not academic knowledge…
Why are you so ANTI-FREEDOM?
You’d like Russia better, please go there…

Bradley Manning is a HERO. All those “cables” were CIA misinformation. How many stories have you heard about ANY harm coming to ANYbody, from release of those cables? NONE!...
Don’t you GET IT, you f-ing SHEEPLE…???...
We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep…

Quite obviously our country has taken to murdering its own citizens, by order of the President, as young as 16 years old, with no indication that I’ve heard of even a different political point of view from President Obama, much less any sort of terrorist views, why did he (Obama) order this child dead? It seems quite clear to me that Obama has no remorse for ordering this murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

“Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people.” (see I haven’t read Salon’s terms of use, perhaph I’m a hacker too, in need of being murdered under the CFAA.

In any event, as the Salon article points out, in the article cited above., entitled:

“The killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son

Extreme secrecy, as usual, shrouds this act, but it underscores how often the U.S. uses violence around the world “.

Our country is out terrorizine the world, the only reason there’s no massive outcry here in the US is because of this secrecy, this is what Manning was fighting against, and I am proud of his actions, to me he’s far from a traitor, he’s a true partiot, wanting a better U.S. of A.

Brad Manning was accused mainly because the Gov can not be held responsible for Mass murder in spite of the Facts, some one must be held accountable so The Gov will get a scape Goat! Fortunately and hopefully
the Judge will remember or be refreshed on the “Watergate/Pentagon Papers A.K.A Dan Ellsberg i guess these People involved are more concerned with “Home land Insecurity” Screw the Truth!! Smoke and Mirrors, Pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain

The Internet is public. It is not private mail or privately owned. If you don’t want something seen, don’t make it accessible to the Internet. If you don’t want your computer contents seen, don’t attach it to the net.

Stacey Howard

Jan. 18, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

I think that information that is important for the public to know should be readily available to the public, and hackers are no different from other activists. I don’t know how you determine when someone has gone too far, though. I do think we need a guideline, but one that protects the right of the people to be informed. Hackers who steal personal information, or company information for monetary gain are just thieves, and should be treated like thieves.

You are mistaken: Bradley Manning has not been charged with anything out of the CFAA. He is charged with a number of violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Wikipedia has a listing:

Also, Robert Morris was not prosecuted for the WANK worm. The Morris worm incident was in 1988. Your description of the the WANK worm also is incorrect: there were no websites in existence in 1989 - the first web server and browser would not be created until 1990. The WANK worm attacked VMS machines attached to DECnet, and was attributed to Australians.

If the media and our three branches of government weren’t complicit in the widespread corruption that permeates the pharmaceutical, healthcare, financial, and mortgage industries (etc.), hactivists wouldn’t need to pull the information.  When governments, universities and the media support rat nests like the NIH, CDC, East Anglia, Los Alamos and Merck, what recourse do ordinary citizens have to gather evidence of criminal acts?

Since 2009, the pharmaceutical industry has paid $10 billion to settle thousands of criminal and civil complaints related to the illegal marketing of drugs that kill or injure 2-4 million Americans ANNUALLY.  When companies like Glaxo pay $3 billion to settle complaints related to a scheme that generated $20 billion, the company ends up with a $17 billion incentive to continue their behavior.  Industries that kill or injure for profit are typically characterized as “criminal enterprises.”  (Three billion dollars - PLUS the loss of all patent protection on all products - might be a good start.)

Policemen need search warrants but, when the police and courts are asleep at the wheel, extraordinary measures of gathering evidence are morally justified by The People who are routinely victimized.

Who’s AMY Reason?

Mike H, I won’t call you a fascist but you have obviously forgot what real freedom looks like.  10 years for overloading a server?  That’s freedom?  What BM did had honest motives in trying to show the lengths we have gone to to abondon this democratic republic in favor of a sort of, at times, benelovent fascism.  Soon enough, it will become much less benevolent unless we collectively stand up and say no more!!

I am pretty sure all forms of civil disobedience are illegal now, not just hacktivism.

The prosecution did not kill Mr. Swartz, unfortunately the facts are that he killed himself. Does anyone really know why someone does that? It is tragic that someone so young and with so much talent and ability dies unnecessarily, but is not true that he was “murdered”; that is pure hyperbole.
Had he lived he may very well have been able to mount a successful defense which would have done his cause good. Clearly the prosecution was over zealous but prosecutors often are, that is typical nature of the beast —but they do not always win. And if they do win they do not always get the kind of penalties they want, often judges decide that on the basis of how much damage was actually done. And perhaps ultimately the law does needs to be amended but that is a separate discussion.
It is difficult to disagree with a statement like “all human knowledge should be free” but as a practical matter there are costs and labor associated with obtaining knowledge, with reviews, and with its presentation. The system currently in place could probably be better but how to improve it and the practicalities involved is a different discussion, and one that needs to be tempered a little more finely from simply a black-and-white “freedom lovers vs. fascists” screaming match.  It should be said that most of the articles that he downloaded and probably intended to “liberate” could be obtained readily and for free in University libraries, etc., the good old fashioned way by walking to the library and reading them on paper so it’s not really a matter of the knowledge being kept hidden or unavailable. (The libraries pay for the journals, etc. but make them available to students) . So what the issue is about is really how to make the material more readily or more conveniently available, specifically on the internet. Here we have been discussing the kind of articles produced by academics or scientists within universities (in our present system typically with a combination of public and private funding) but then, what about all of the “human knowledge” that is being produced inside corporations? Do the “free knowledge absolutists” also think that it would be justifiable to say, break into a web site of Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Boeing, you name it and publish all of their proprietary research? Maybe they do. Perhaps in an “ideal world” it would be better if all knowledge were free, all knowledge open. etc. but that’s not the world we live in right now. It would also be nice if all food, housing, etc were free too!  And, as a footnote, it should be said that ultimately, the free software movement, while commendable, is ultimately underwritten for the most part, directly or indirectly, by the “for profit” software and hardware companies. Some of them contribute directly, others employ programmers, etc who in their spare time produce free software etc. etc.

addendum to previous post:
I did not mean to imply in the latter part of my post that Mr. Swartz’s activities were equivalent to someone hacking into a private system for personal gain as in theft and sale of credit card info, or stealing corporate research - the Albert Gonzalez case mentioned above was a matter of pure criminality, and not done at all for a “cause” - he sold stolen credit card info).  My discussion of the private companies was to illustrate that there is some ‘human knowledge”  information which most people would agree is “private” and not necessarily “free”.  (I should have listed for argument’s sake not only big corporations - easy targets & easy to dislike - but examples of smaller more vulnerable entrepreneurs). Mr. Swartz’s ultimate goals and motivations were no doubt altruistic but his method in this case was probably unwise. However there is at least a good chance that he courts would have ultimately recognized that there was little harm done.

Mad Scientess

Jan. 19, 2013, 5:02 a.m.

Aaron was a hero, period. Aaron did not actually hack anything. He was a guest on the MIT website downloading journal articles; there was no code cracking, there were no falsified passwords. The majority of the articles on JSTOR were paid for by the tax payers of the USA and should be made available to the public that paid for them. Hence, JSTOR’s response was to release more article to public access. The truth is that the more people have access to these works the better off all of us will be and the greater the potential for technological advance that will enhance the lives of all of us. Aaron knew this, and his fight was a truly altruistic one. The failure to recognize his acts as such is the truly sad part of this whole thing, and the real reason that Aaron is no longer with us. Let the clueless go on pompously babbling. The more intellectually inclined know the truth about Aaron, and we owe it to him to continue fighting for the intellectual freedom of all of us.

“Ken S.” - the latest apologist, stooge, and dupe mouthpiece for the fascist corporatocracy…The media-info-edu-military-industrial-pharmaceutical complex…Your prison is in your mind, Ken, but you share it with them…If you can know the TRUTH, it shall set you FREE…

Byard Pidgeon

Jan. 19, 2013, 6:52 p.m.

I do have one major disagreement with something Aaron Swartz said in what’s become a widely distributed speech. He asked, rhetorically, if uploading a video to a bit torrent site was like shoplifting a video from a store, or loaning one to a friend.
His implication was that it was similar to loaning one to a friend, but the shoplifting analogy is also deeply flawed. Uploading to a bit torrent site isn’t like loaning to a friend or shoplifting a video…it’s more like backing a truck up to the store and removing every one of that item from their inventory.
It is theft of copyrighted material, and has negative financial effects on the creators of the material.

I work with the Cyber Conflict Studies Association, and I wanted to correct a historical inaccuracy in this article.  Robert Morris created the Morris Worm, not the Wank Worm.  The Morris worm was not an example of website defacement, but more similar to a DoS attack in its effect.  Please fix the factual inaccuracy so it is not cited in future publications. Thank you.

If Bradly Manning is a traitor deserving a noose what about Daniel Ellsberg
or does that name not ring a bell Henry Kissinger called him “The Most Dangerous man in America!  AT that time, What does that deserve? 
he is still alive and active Nothing has come of it he reveled more about the corruption of Government long before “Brad Manning was born”! or Wikileaks was even Possible due to the internet

A certain woman

Jan. 19, 2013, 10:36 p.m.

I believe the core issue in all of these events across the board is the fact that the young digital generation smart people have their fingers on one of the most serious weapons in our world today - their keyboards.

They are the first “entity” I know of who has been able to make a noteworthy impact upon a large corporation and a government of a nation. Citizens have not had any access to power for decades before them.

This scope and strength of their ability strikes complete fear in any entity that requires, demands, secrecy. The foremost “entity” that demands secrecy is the United States government, and next is the realm of large corporations, a government’s primary source of money for winning elections. Therefore, these people have become a “high value” target of both co-mingled powerful realms.

It is critical to note that these “hackavists” do their work purely for political purposes and do not benefit personally from their activities. This is an important distinction to make when evaluating the “criminality” of their activities.

I am completed delighted to discover that they are operational in our society to provide some system of checks and balances that was not present before their entry into the political arena.

And for the record, the United States government, on levels from the White House to the local municipal law enforcement agencies, have been hacking and destroying the websites of private citizens engaged in activism for at least 10 years. This is a fact.  I and many of my colleagues have been such targets in our professional work because it was inconvenient to the government. We are not computer savvy. Many of us finally gave up on our websites because of this unfair government tactic unevenly applied to certain citizens.

Therefore, I am truly in support of this rising generation of bright and aspiring contributing citizens who are working to make this country and world a better place. Yes their methods and tactics are unconventional and inconvenient. Perhaps we don’t agree with all their positions.  However, I suggest that one considers the alternatives - physical destruction, physical assaults, and attempts of violent government overthrow.

Something or someone was bound to emerge out of the social conditions of repression and exclusion that had become the plight of American citizens. The “respondents”  happened to be a loosely affiliated group of very bright and highly idealistic young people. They are using what they have…their brains and technical capabilities. I support their right to their activism because I do not see any viable alternatives with the loss of rights and freedoms disabling citizens today.

Does my expressed opinion make me a terrorist/criminal sympathizer and supporter? Probably so. But since I was already on the list for my previous political efforts despite the fact that they were completely lawful, without question, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

A certain woman

Jan. 19, 2013, 11:08 p.m.

One final comment. How can any American read that PayPal, Visa and Mastercard blocked fund donations to Wikileaks as their political activism and consider that to be somehow OK? That is an example of how one political effort is construed as acceptable, while the infliction of a DoS attack, in response, is considered a felony?
They were both political statements and both political activism. Neither were within the standard rules of engagement. I consider the denial of access to funds to be far more serious and financial capital punishment…

Right and Wrong Good or Bad, can only be an assessment made by the person or people being acted upon or what law makers find to be By dividing the species into two groups, one of brutes, the other of gentleman, the Lawgivers coerced man into adopting the standards which they had prescribed for Gentleman. What citizen would wish to exhibit the characteristics of the brutes, lustful? Self-gratification, when by accepting the standards of the gentleman he could avoid the Pitfalls and punishments of the brutish life, and at the same time by adopting the standards Of the gentleman he could reap the immediate benefits of being recognized and praised as One. By flattering men into acting as gentleman, by making them proud to be gentleman,
Lawmakers created gentleman, by convincing men that this preferred way of acting Brought the greater rewards, skillful Politicians were easily able to civilize society. Anything which they did not regard as beneficial to all society they labeled as a Vice.To every action contrary to the impulses of man they named a Virtue. By punishing man
When he acted viciously and by praising him when he preformed virtuously, the Lawmakers were able to direct society, for all men place a high value on themselves and In addition, for the price of a bit of flattery and praise are willing to submit to societies Control. It is impossible to judge a man’s performance, Mandeville argues, unless one Is well acquainted with the principle and motive from which he acts. Even the man who Performs a virtuous act beyond the eyes of others receives self-gratification, for he Increases his own estimation of his own self- worth. Thus flattery and pride become The backbone of all societal control

Darn hackers needs to be told a lesson. Emails stolen from Austin, Texas based Strategic Forecasting Inc reveals the US intent: sealed indictment on Assange, grand jury has been secretly meeting in Arlington Virginia since December of 2010. Although the judges have the right to have their prejudice, it was not officially admitted. Despicable doubletalk. The Stratfor incident as example of how the government (=employees, agency directors) as a self preserving organism will never provide full transparency. The right story told with loudness and authority translates in organizational longevity and personal well being of due to govt paychecks and benefits - something that a private sector worker can only dream of nowadays. This category of hacking is different from the more egoistic stealing money from credit cards, or shenanigan pranksters deleting files. It serves a different cause. Corruption and Brutality. Soldiers must be heroes, they can not be murderers. Imagine the public outrage if the Congress appropriated billions of dollars annually to a band of murderers. The collateral video shows that when people are shot to pulp with 30mm bullets on a warm summer day, the smell and sight is not pretty. No wonder Manning is keys thrown away at Leavenworth.

First off, just to clarify my position, despite using just about everything the kid worked on (minus Reddit), I didn’t know who he was until word of his suicide spread.

That said, despite my respect for his work and his goal, I do think his presumed plan stepped far over the line.  An underground railroad for slaves is worth subverting laws.  An underground railroad for research papers because the taxpayers funded a lot of it and the publishers make a fortune on value created by others?  That’s more petty than heroic.

Not that I probably would have done anything differently, mind you.  I just think he pushed too far.

But then, so did the government, and so does the government on every crime.

Thirteen charges and fifty years (plus refiling to make things look worse) is what they hold over your head.  They want a guilty plea, so they railroad you into taking what the judge would really put down based on the Sentencing Guidelines (collapse the similar offenses to the most egregious one and set the penalty based on the seriousness of damage) without having to do the work or risk a jury agreeing with the defendant.

I also have a problem with trying to convict him on the idea that he was going to sell or otherwise distribute the papers.  Until and unless the plan is set into motion, bringing him to court is basically charging him with a thought crime.  That’s a little bit more disturbing.

But hey, lives ruined?  Emotional damage?  Bah.  A notch on the bedpost is a notch on the bedpost.

In this sense, Swartz had it comparatively easy, in that he had some measure of publicity and friends who are both smart and somewhat powerful.  Imagine the complete unknown who gets pulled into the same sort of web over a fairly mild crime.

The CFAA itself is blatantly wrong-headed.  It’s the catch-all “we don’t like you or what you did” crime, and Swartz’s connections to the anti-SOPA debate and indirectly to WikiLeaks means that Washington absolutely didn’t like him.  And, under the CFAA, if you did anything that can make you sound “unauthorized” (like violating the Terms of Service that nobody ever reads, and that he wouldn’t have read logging onto the MIT network) upgrades even the most trivial criminal act to a Federal-level felony as computer fraud.

(Incidentally, the only part of the JSTOR Terms I can see that he violated is that he had a program downloading files on his behalf.  To me, that’s like saying that you can’t order food from a restaurant to pick it up later.  If they were worried about Denial of Service, they could have put a one-second delay between servicing each request.  Nobody would have noticed the slow-down and Swartz wouldn’t have been a danger.)

There are a variety of problems with the CFAA, though, and even Loefgren’s proposal only does a tiny bit of the work required to fix it.  Most importantly, it criminalizes ordinary behavior if there’s any connection with breaking any law, while ignoring some of the biggest dangers out there, like the thriving and entirely legal market in “exploits.”

It’s also entirely legal to sell software having known, serious security flaws with no intention of fixing them.

The Denial of Service people, though, really need to stop it.  It’s a childish reaction (like toilet papering someone’s house, basically) and half the time the bozos seem to hit the wrong target.  It also generally harms ordinary people, as it’s our subverted computers that are making the attack, usually, not the computers in possession of the “hackers.”

(Though “doxing” is sort of fascinating in its own right, in that everybody who does it makes the same claim:  The information was already public.  The results appear to be strictly based on who the defendant and victim are.  When it’s a corporation going after private citizens, it’s fine.  Private citizens going after powerful people, though, are horrid criminals.)

Byard, there are a couple of problems with your logic, I think.  First and foremost, a lot of people went to the movies, this year, with just about all entertainment available for free a click away, so the idea that you can no longer sell what’s given away for free is very flawed; you just can’t sell it at overinflated prices.  Second, Intellectual Property isn’t about making sure artists can buy a new car.  It’s about encouraging people to report, invent, and create, which even lax, short-term protection seems to do quite effectively.

The idea that an actor deserves recurring payments for being in a movie is a little offensive in a world where nobody (including me, frankly) would think to give a cut of a building’s rent to the bricklayer or even the architect.

That doesn’t absolve people from publishing what they don’t have permission to publish, but it also doesn’t give the content industry the right to call it a copyright violation when a computer (which needs to make copies of anything to use it) is involved in any way, shape, or form, in the vague hope that the dragnet will catch the guy selling bootlegs.

John, I think you’re using some faulty logic, conflating copyright law with contract law.
An actor gets recurring payments because it’s in that actor’s contract, not because of copyright. If a building were built by a co-op or a worker’s collective, or a union, and the contract stated those workers would get a cut of the rent, it would be an enforceable contract. Copyright would have nothing to do with it.

Intellectual property rights…copyright…IS about creators of content, whether it’s a book, movie, painting or anything else…being able to buy a new or a used car, or pay the rent, or support a family…none of which they can do if they have no control or income from their work.

I agree that copyright has been distorted and abused by corporate content aggregators, who force workers to sign contracts forgoing any interest in their work (work for hire), but copyright remains the best, pretty much the only way for an individual to have control over their creative work.

John, I agree with almost everything you said other than calling what he did more petty than heroic.  It may look petty to you but any civil disobedience actions for the right reasons are heroic in my book.  It is troubling that they pursued this “crime” so avidly while not even thinking of prosecuting those corporate people who have been ripping us off for years and illegally taking funds that are at least a million times, if not a billion times more costly than what Aaron was doing.  When I see some of these 1% types prosecuted for the fraud they commited then I will again have some respect for those who are doing the job of prosecuting these corporate white collar crimanals.

Byard, if actor doesn’t work for you, pick the screenwriter, the director, the producer, or whoever.  Or talk about the author of a novel, or what have you.  Nobody has an inborn right to profit, no matter how important their contribution or how difficult it is.  They have a government-granted right that needs to be weighed against the loss of creation.

In the end, everybody’s analogies on the topic are bad, for the simple reason that Intellectual Property isn’t property.  It’s a monopoly.  It’s a monopoly for a deeper purpose, but the model is much more like a utility company (a “right” to not have competition in some context) than ownership (control over some limited resource).

And I’m not anti-Intellectual Property at all.  I make a fair bit of money from licensing this and that.  But I also don’t have any illusions that I “deserve” that income as compensation for my efforts, which is what the modern interpretation of copyright has become.  I’m also against the abusive extensions to the laws, which is another story.

Kevan, I call it petty because what Swartz did, in my opinion, wasn’t “civil disobedience” in the traditional sense.  Normally what’s meant by the term is someone who breaks the law with the intent of punishment, in order to bring attention to a problem with society.

By contrast, Swartz was planning to make the laws enforcing those problems unenforceable, and he obviously preferred not to take the punishment for the sake of the cause.  That’s a huge step, in my eyes, and one that’s best taken when the stakes are high and concrete.  Saving lives?  Sure, call me when it’s time to go and damn the consequences.  “Information Wants to Be Free”?  It’s harder for me to get behind that.

Again, I can’t say I blame him for taking that route, but it’s too vigilante-like for my tastes, literally trying to remake the law without any input from stakeholders (exactly what’s been done to us by governments and large companies throughout history, and wrong when they do it, too).  It’s too cynical for someone who had a hand in rallying the country to action such a similar topic as SOPA and hadn’t (that I can find) proposed any bills to permit/require open access.  It’s also too brute force, for someone who could have had people around the world downloading more slowly without anybody raising an eyebrow.

Math on that last bit:  He downloaded four million papers over a couple of weeks, but spread across the seven thousand institutions with access to JSTOR (according to an old copy of their About page on the Internet Archive), that could have been five hundred downloads each, spread across several computers.  If you could average ten people per institution over two weeks, that’d be four downloads per person per day to get the same results without nearly as much risk.

That’s my reasoning behind calling it petty, at least.  I absolutely sympathize with the more charitable views, though.

Again, that doesn’t make it right to prosecute him to that extent, and doesn’t make the CFAA anything but an atrocity that targets normal people in hopes of catching some hypothetical Doomsday Nerd trying to wipe out the power grid and banks while ignoring the means they use.  Those things are still true, and extremely important.  But I see what was happening here as far less of a public good than (to recycle the closest parallel I can find) “stealing”/freeing slaves to get them to safer havens was.

I also worry about “loss in translation” and slippery slopes.  There really isn’t much difference beyond the target’s security between a situation like this and industrial espionage.  There’s even less difference between this and slurping data out of people’s Facebook profiles for publication.

John, you persist in false comparisons. Actor, director or whatever in films and other mass entertainments get residuals by contract. It’s not matter of copyright or an “inborn right to profit”, but a matter of legal agreements between parties to a project.

There is no “loss of creation”, because a novel written by author A, whether copyrighted or not, is unlikely to be written by author B…but if protected by copyright by A, won’t be stolen by B.

Likewise, there’s no monopoly, unless one considers an individual’s creative work, such as a novel, the same as control over all writing of fiction…which is absurd…it protects only the particular work.

Of course you deserve the income from licensing, unless you’re licensing the products of others, in which case you’re a parasite. If it’s your own work, you deserve the proceeds.

Byard, picking around legal distinctions is avoiding my point (which is way off-topic to begin with, so we probably shouldn’t clutter the discussion thread much longer), which is that copyright drives these contracts.  The contract is with someone who owns or licenses the contract in, say, a majority of cases, after all, yes?

To “loss of creation,” that’s what copyright is supposed to be about.  It “encourage[s] progress in the arts.”  Any right that doesn’t generate more (interesting) content is counter to the goals.  We extend this power to creators to encourage them to publish.

And I have legal permission to exploit my works.  If that’s the limit of your definition, then sure, I “deserve” it.  But again, that’s an entirely artificial idea.

The guy at the quarry who mined the lime that got ground into the concrete that holds the bricks together in your house didn’t have the opportunity to license his efforts for “derivative works.”  Further, nobody sane would ever dream of saying he should.

But somehow, we elevate “artists” of different specialties to godhood, with the ability to control how their work is used and to exploit their works even from the grave.  Their ideas are legally protected from exploitation, as if (like a brick) ideas were some finite resource that can only be held by one person at a time.

Again, copyright is a great idea, and I’m very respectful of the work others have produced.  But the law needs to be focused on the needs of society (as a government-imposed regulation) rather than favoritism in career choices.

Civil disobedience has not been “made illegal.” Breaking the law is the very definition of civil disobedience. That’s the “disobedience” part of it. The “civil” part comes from the idea that it’s usually non-violent, non-confrontational, and is used to make a political statement. If you haven’t broken the law, you haven’t engaged in civil disobedience; you have not disobeyed anyone or anything.
DDOS attacks, which can correctly be analogized to sit-ins, are tresspassing. The owner of the property has the right to determine who is tresspassing and who is not. They also have the choice of whether or not to press charges. Occupations of public property are, at least in California, disorderly conduct. A misdemeanor, but also and arrestable offense. The authorities then have to decide if making mass arrests is worth the chaos and bad publicity.
Having said all that, the fact that JSTOR declined to press charges should take precedent over any provision of the CFAA.

I was in support of the counterculture Anonymous movement until I became more personally familiar with them. I learned more pertinent information. What was a huge eye opener to me was that the group is comprised of hackers with zero common values. Also there are no peer standards. this results in days and nights of reckless hacking for fun and sport. There isn’t any political purpose in these activities whatsoever. Further and most disturbing to me was the fact that there is so much what they accuse the military of…“collateral damage”....and they simply don’t care. Or worse they find it laughable and entertaining. I was appalled to learn first hand that some Anonymous hacker hacked into the Ethiopian Red Cross. This low budge dedicate group of medical workers serve a population so poor that they struggle just to have basic water for each day. But that was considered fair game. And since anyone can be a part of Anonymous, anyone can do anything. And they do.
It is against public policy to harm charities and NGO’s even in the midst of war. But this is not off limits for Anonymous.
So, since a previous endorsement of them, I am now realizing why some of their members are being prosecuted.
Further, I found NO genuine or valid political agenda other than legislation that would decriminalize hacking, virtual digital bullying, and social intimidation. However, they have an excellent media PR campaign that is quite engaging but blatantly misleading.
When becoming familiar with them quite accidentally, I discovered that they are not truly engaged in civil disobedience and activism. They have a much more sinister agenda and they have sufficient technical power to push it forward.
The problem with vigilante groups is that they are arbitrary and impulsive. A “Robin Hood” savior of the downtrodden is somewhat appealing when we as citizens are at disadvantage in terms of our civil rights and the reactive tone of society post 911 with so many victims of government paranoia and over reaction against citizens. However, what has occurred is that the result is that citizens have two disadvantages - an informationally shut down and distrusting government * plus* a widespread vigilante group engaged in wild and criminal activities who victimize citizens who fall into the realm of their whims.
America is in serious trouble and I fear for our country. Danger is rising up on unexpected fronts and I’m not sure we have the resources and capabilities to address them.
In my opinion, activism ends when terrorism begins. When you engage someone by intimidation, hacking all of their personal information,
tearing down their intellectual work product, shutting down their business, restricting their communication abilities, and violating their private life, that is a form of terrorism not activism.
I found out what it was like to have Anonymous hack my computer and play with my life for sport this week. It’s not fun. It is worse than the government because they are not accountable to me, where the government is.
We have some serious problems with defining Anonymous as an activism group based upon their routine practices. And the country needs to look at that quite closely.


I believe that a public interest investigative group such as PP needs to analytically evaluate the demographics of Anonymous. Based upon my cursory and brief observations, I can conclude with relative certainty that the few young kids being prosecuted and going to prison are the pawns in the group and not the masterminds.

Who are the masterminds?

I can tell you that they are people with sophistication, life experience in covert and psychological operations, and the highest level of technical skills. They are not the 18-24 year olds who are computer whizzes.

The masterminds behind this large and anarchistic group appear to have the package of skills found within a much higher realms. They remind me of those who left classified government service and joined well paying mercenary corporations. Or similar independents. They might be multinational. One thing that is evident is that they are sophisticated not only technically, but psychologically and relational to outside support systems (internet based media) as well.

I believe the true nature of Anonymous will be better evaluated when the core of the group is unmasked. What you see so still under a mask.

No, Beth you didn’t really know anyone in the group anonomous because anonomous only does their hacking to expose the corruption within and without the government.  You might have met some people that told you they were with anonomous but if they were doing mindless hacking of any red cross that was really helping people that haccking would never have been revealed.  If your friends that were with “anonomous” hacked your computer that is another indication that they the real anonomous because you could have identified them easily.  Anonomous wouldn’t have taken that chance to hack a computer that meant nothing to them.  I personally think you are someone either sent or took it upon yourself to convince us here on pro publica how evil and no good anonomous is and I’ve seen them do too much good work on behalf of we the people.

Addedum of my own Beth, your realagenda is showing through.  you simply don’t like anonomous as to why no one here knows.  But after reading your comments I’m ‘m fairly sure that your motives are the usual talkingpoints memos that the 1% of the elite don’t want to leak, or in manycases get out into the sun So please, if you’re coming here to try to convince us to change our opinion of anonomous that’s not going to happen.  We’ve seen nothing to convince us, myself, that anonmous or Beth or the 1% stands for anything but unchecked greed.  and anonomous will bring that greed to life. by their “hacking). to reavel those documents to prove it!

Keven, thank you for the dialog. I can tell you that I posted above without using my real name previously. I posted as A certain woman. You can check the style and verify this. Look me up on Twitter and see the evolution of my experience in this regard.
  If I was duped by people, how strange that they have the same internet twitter domains bearing the brand masks and much more design on them. They have followers on these accounts with multiple similar but distinct. I have emails they sent me with their return accounts.
  As for the 1%, I am truly dedicated to the 1%. But a different 1%. I have little political interest in the 1% of top wealthy. They’re not in my world and I have no issues with them outside of corporate corruption and misconduct. My 1% are those who are the 1% at the lower end of the spectrum. I have been involved in the direct and indirect care of those people. Humanitarian causes. My career involved caring for the
1% who were suffering from the highest level of catastrophic illness and injuries. Served medically with American Red Cross.
  My politics support govt transparency and accountability. I have been centrally involved in the political process my entire life. I have strong convictions and passion for justice and truth. Those are not just words to me, those are the life blood of my spirit.
  I would not malign an organization just because I didn’t like them. My role in vocalizing publicly is to transmit something meaningful, of use to another, not for gossip or ego. My experience has been one of victimization and for no cause. I am not now and was never associated with the govt. I am not a mole. I am not a hireling nor anyone’s pawn. I’m not even here to change any one’s opinion. I respect this publication. I’ve volunteer with them on one of the inclusive projects long before I found twitter last week.
  In fact, I have a petition on e-petition addressing an issue that as of yesterday was changed. It is in Science DIgest - changes in medical protocols for human experimentation. I worked for over a decade to oppose non consensual human experimentation. NIH recs of yesterday blew the old protocols away and will put in place protections for people.
  I spoke my truth here and I stand by it. I would love the real Anon to see what emails, harassment etc done in their name if they are not involved. But I certainly would not make direct contact with them.
  Thank you again for your discussion.
I am most willing to continue it should you wish. And I am agreeable to submit all doc to PP upon their request.

Addendum: Kevan, could it be that you do not have your eyes open to this group beyond their mask and public statements? I am not saying this is factual, I am only raising the question of possibility. I know that when I support anyone or any purpose my wholeheartedness sometimes produces an undeserved loyalty in retrospect.
It is possible that I unexpectedly encountered more of what this group is about in reality. In my case, I have had quite visceral experience with those who really do represent themselves as Anonymous in extensive detail that required exceptional software development and design.
Thank you for considering this. My Best. Beth

Beth…once you’ve been targeted by the true believers, whether on the left or right, it’s far more likely that their fellows will pile on rather than anyone will back off or reconsider their opinion of you or your statements.
Trolls are always on patrol for dissenting opinions, and trolls are not confined to the right, although there do seem to be more of them, probably because some are paid.

Hi Byard. Thanks for responding.

If I understand what you are saying, it is really a pathetic summary of the mentality of internet associations and people individually.
You are saying that people with a position are committed sheep with a closed mind and a gang mentality. And that people stalk the Internet to identify others with a different expressed opinion, some of which are paid to post.
That is pathetic
. I don’t know people like that. And I wouldn’t want to.
The “targeting” concept is true in real life. I don’t know people who do that either. And wouldn’t associate with people with that mentality and behavior.
However, I will not pre-judge Kevan. I give people the benefit of the doubt first. He took the time to confront my statements and had assessed for himself my motivation, which he expressed honestly.
I give him credit for his engagement of others with different views which was done in a civil manner.
It is very difficult for anyone to be able to penetrate the veil of the internet to understand accurately what is behind the text or screen.
We all have to use our best abilities and arrive at our best conclusions. I don’t take offense if someone misinterprets me because we are all really going on presumptions and our best insights over the Internet.
In reference to Kevan, I believe he reached his conclusions on valid factors of people and the Internet in general. It just so happens that that does not describe me. But how could he know that from only a public posting.
I am not at war with anyone or against anyone with differing views. I
I believe in freedom for everyone, not just for those who are similar to me. I am not against those with differing views as long as they are not harming anyone. Actually harming anyone. That is the nuclear red line for me. I don’t tolerate harm being done. Anything less is just individual differences.
Thank you for the insight into the Internet world. From what I’ve seen in this past week+, it’s volatile, deceitful, risky, disturbing, and very educational. There are far more negatives in the social aspects than in the informational side. I am interested more in the informational side. I’ve moved proportionally towards that end these past few days and might just cut off all social exchange and just research.
Have a good day.

Beth, While I believe you’re who you say you are, as much as the internet allows anyway, I still feel that there is more positive than negative that was gained from Mr. Schwartz’s work than not. I did take the time to check out your postings as A certain woman and in those, as I understood them anyway, you tended to agree with most of the other postings praising his work.  As Beth, you tended to react more negatively towards what he had done and the implications of those choices. I don’t know if you are old enough to remember Daniel Ellsberg who realeased the Pentagon Papers in the early 70"s but that realese of those papers led to the end of the Vietnam War, one that we never should have gotten involved with in the first place, just as we never should have invaded Iraq, since not one Iraqi was involved with 911.  We see proposed laws such as SOPA, and those of us who are aware, know what just that one law could do to internet freedom and free speech.  That is why groups such as Anonomous, Julian Asainge,Bradley Manning and others have released the papers they have.  It, in the end, preserves freedom instead of hindering it.  How many lives have we lost so far after 911 by invading other countries instead of going after Osama and bombing Al Kyida (sic)?  We still aren’t out of Afghanistan or Iraq and our involvement in both countries has given Al Kyida a great recruitment tool instead of the opposite.  While there are things that should remain classified can anyone reading this post tell me with a straight face that the release of the papers by Anonomous hasn’t helped in giving a little sunshine to what our govt. leaders have donee.

Continuedcomments to Beth While I don’t avidly support everything Anonomous has done I most certainly support theirs and others attempts tokeep the internet free.  Non-violent civil disobedience has always been a tool for those who really believe in a cause.  Who did Aaron Schwartz hurt with his download of the JSTOR files?  No one.  So why was his prosecution such an avid one?  Only the prosecution knows the answer to that but one could reasonably believe they were trying to make an example out of him.  If they have a conscience it is they who will have to live with the thought that they brought this man to suicide over this over avid prosecution.  By the way, Beth, while I don’t use all that much social media myself if used right, just like the internet itself, it can be something good to use.  I’m just learning twitter myself. I’m blind but I’m trying.  I’ve tweeted a few comments but with this accessible software I still can’t figure out how to receive and read a tweet.  Actually it reads it to me by voice but you get what I mean.  Anyway, I hope I’ve made a little sense as to why I generally support Anonomous’s work—Kevan Here’s hoping you reply back.  Until then…

One more question, Beth.  My voice reader could not understand and read to me where your petition is at.  Could you spell it out to me one letter at a time with a space after each letter?  Thanks.  You can look me up on twitter as well and as soon as I figure out how to receive and read the tweet I’ll reply.  Goodnight, Kevan

A modern Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor. In USA with such extreme income inequality; poverty; trashed teachers and education system - one would think there would be a calling for such a hero. Aaron will most likely be the first and last Robin of this decade. Next stop: twenty twenty.

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