What defines cyberbulling and criminal Internet activity is not something that can be pinpointed as clearly as other criminal activities, and what Aaron Swartz was dealing with at the time of his death has caused more than a few interesting reactions.
For those who might not have been following this, Aaron Swartz was a talented Internet pioneer and activist. He founded Infogami which later merged with Reddit. He was also part of Harvard University and specialized in socially oriented areas that included activism. On January 11, 2013, he took his own life. There’s been speculation about why he did this, and he allegedly suffered from bouts of depression at times. But the fact that the DOJ has been going after him for the past two years for something they claim was an Internet crime seems to be a huge focus.
There is now a web site called JSTOR that allows students and researchers to download articles for free. As an activist, at the time the alleged crime was committed, Swartz did not like JSTOR. According to wiki, this is why: “it charged large fees for access to these articles but did not compensate the authors and it ensured that huge numbers of people are denied access to the scholarship produced by America’s colleges and universities.” As a result, Swartz allegedly found a way to download millions of articles from JSTOR with his JSTOR account within a time frame of a few weeks. This resulted in shutting down JSTOR’s servers and it blocked MIT’s library from getting into JSTOR, which is where Swartz allegedly did all this.
According to HuffPo:
This was inconvenient for JSTOR and MIT, and a violation of JSTOR’s Terms of Service agreement. Had JSTOR wanted to pursue civil charges against Swartz for breach of contract, it could have. But JSTOR did not, and washed its hands of the whole affair. In 2013, JSTOR made several million academic journal articles available to anyone, free of charge. Academic research is designed to be publicly accessible and is distinct from the research of private corporations, which assert aggressive intellectual property rights over activities they fund. Last June, Swartz told HuffPost that both JSTOR and MIT had advised prosecutors they were not interested in pursuing criminal or civil charges.
So, both JSTRO and MIT were *not* going to press charges against Swartz. However, the DOJ decided to do it anyway. They decided to interpret all this as a federal crime.
“Aaron Swartz devised a scheme to defraud JSTOR of a substantial number of journal articles which they had invested in collecting, obtaining the rights to distribute and digitizing,” the indictment reads. “He sought to defraud MIT and JSTOR of rights and property.” The prosecutors seem unaware that if an article is downloaded, the original copy remains with the owner.
The indictment also says that, “Swartz intended to distribute these articles through one or more file-sharing sites.” JSTOR has just released 4.5 million articles to public this week.
It gets more interesting. Swartz was also highly active in stopping the passing of SOPA, a bill that wanted to police the Internet for violations of copyright. The bill was ultimately defeated, and Swartz spoke about it in public. From Wiki:
It was really stopped by the people; the people themselves—they killed the bill dead. So dead, that when members of Congress propose something now that even touches the Internet, they have to give a long speech beforehand about how it is definitely not like SOPA. So dead, that when you ask Congressional staffers about it, they groan and shake their heads, like it’s all a bad dream they’re trying really hard to forget. So dead, that it’s kind of hard to believe this story; hard to remember how close it all came to actually passing. Hard to remember how this could have gone any other way. But it wasn’t a dream or a nightmare—it was all very real. And it will happen again; sure, it will have another name, and maybe a different excuse, and probably do its damage in a different way, but make no mistake, the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared. The fire in those politician’s eyes has not been put out. There are a lot of people, a lot of powerful people, who wanna clamp down on the Internet. And to be honest, there aren’t a whole lot who have a vested interest in protecting it from all of that … We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom … the senators were right—the Internet really is out of control!
The HuffPo article to which I’ve linked above gets into a lot more of the legalities and details associated with this case, but I find the entire subject interesting because of all the ambiguities and interpretations involved, and what is and what is not considered legal on the Internet. Or how far something that may or may not be an Internet crime can be prosecuted. I’ve reached a point where I’m terrified to post any photos here on this blog for fear of backlash that would claim I’m stealing their copyrights…even if I link back to them and give them full credit. So I don’t post photos anymore unless I know they are free to use, and it states so clearly…or if I take photos myself.
And the ambiguities go even deeper with regard to cyberbullying. The laws are not clear and each case that pops up so to speak seems to be setting a new precedent. Until recently, I didn’t know there was Cyberbully Research web site here.http://www.cyberbullying.us/ There are other web sites like it I don’t need to link to right now. But the bigger picture seems to be the argument between free speech and what’s considered online bullying. And the laws are just not clear enough to know what to expect. As these cases start do crop up, and they will, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more surprises along the way. I don’t think what the DOJ did with Aaron Swartz is by any means the end of a new brand of Internet we’ll be seeing in the future. Or, a new brand of criminal charges that will be associated with Internet activity…or what is interpreted as Internet crime.
In any event, this is a statement Swartz’s family released to the media:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the statement reads. “It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.”
What happened to Swartz is highly significant from a historical POV, too. The charges sound harsh to me, especially since no one was actually harmed and JSTOR recently released all those articles to the public this week anyway.
The bottom line is: watch your back online at all times, because you never know who is going to come after you and turn something you might think is small into something that could affect the rest of your life. You could be playing with fire, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating in lieu of what happened to Aaron Swartz.
Free Excerpt from “The Wall Street Shark.”
This is a scene where Evan goes to watch Carson in an amateur boxing match in Lower Manhattan. It also shows how gay men often cover up the fact that they are gay in certain situations.
Evan smiled again. “I don’t know shit about boxing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn. Besides, I’m curious.” He chose his words with care, because he wasn’t sure if the other two guys knew Carson was gay. This came naturally, as it comes so naturally to all gay men when they are placed in situations with straight men.
When Carson’s gloves were on and he was ready to step into the ring, he asked the other guys to leave so he could have a moment alone with Evan. His exact words were, “I need to talk to my buddy for a minute,” which meant he didn’t want them to know he was dating Evan…or he didn’t feel the need to admit it.
Evan had been sitting on a small chair in the corner of the room watching them prep him for the fight. Although he didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing or what was happening, he smiled and pretended he’d been watching men get ready to fight all his life.
The moment they were alone Carson hopped off the metal table and said, “Can I give you a hug for good luck?”
“Is it safe?”
“Most of the guys know I’m gay,” Carson said. “And I don’t give a damn anyway at this point in my life.”
Evan stood up and crossed to where he was standing. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching. Then he put his arms around Carson’s shoulders, kissed him on the lips, and said, “This is more exciting than I thought it would be. I’m glad I came.” Carson had put his arms around Evan and he could feel the red boxing gloves pressed against his back.
“I’m glad you came,” Carson said. “I reserved a ringside seat for you.”
Evan almost laughed. He never would have guessed anyone would have reserved a ringside seat for him in a place like this. But he knew they couldn’t remain embraced this way for a long time, so he stepped back and said, “I’ve always been curious about one thing.”
“What do you guys wear under your shorts?”
Carson sent him a seductive smile. “Why don’t you see for yourself?” He moved his hips forward and said, “Take a look.”
Evan hesitated for a second, and then he reached out and pulled the waistband on Carson’s boxing shorts. When he glanced down into Carson’s shorts, he saw something that looked like a black jock strap, but it was thicker and padded. “I’ve never seen one of those before.” He reached into his shorts and grabbed it to see if it felt as soft as it looked.
“It’s a groin protector,” Carson said.
Evan gently released Carson’s waistband and patted his crotch. “I’m glad you’re wearing it, because I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to such a nice groin.”
After that, Carson asked his trainer to take Evan out to his seat where he could wait for the match to begin. The room had filled up by then and he found himself in a crowd of people murmuring their expectations. Some were cheering for “The Dog,” which was Carson. Others were cheering for someone they referred to as “Ice Man.” Though Evan had no idea what any of them were talking about, he picked up a few things that were helpful. He learned that the man they called the referee seemed to be the judge and he decided what worked and what didn’t while The Dog and Ice Man were fighting. And they fought in rounds, which he figured were intervals between fighting sessions. In his mind, with his limited knowledge of boxing, it all seemed so uncomplicated he sat back, crossed is legs, and waited for the fight to begin. He wished he’d thought ahead to bring a snack. He hadn’t eaten anything all day.
But when the match started and he saw how hard Carson had to fight to compete against the guy they called Ice Man, he started shouting and screaming along with everyone else. This Ice guy was huge and mean looking, with a big round bald head, massive feet stuffed into blue ankle high athletic shoes, and a long hook nose. His eyebrows pointed down in a natural way that made Evan wonder if they ever went up, and his small beady eyes were set closely together. Every time he threw a punch at Carson, Evan’s heart stopped beating and he felt a pull between his legs.
By the twelfth round, Carson’s lip was bleeding, his body drenched in sweat, and he wasn’t hopping around with the same energy with which he’d started the match. He was swaggering now, as if forcing himself to remain on his feet. In the same respect, Carson had thrown a few good punches of his own and the big ugly Ice Man wasn’t bouncing around as much anymore either. At that point, Evan just wanted it to be over. He didn’t care who won. He felt like running up to the ring, jumping over the ropes, and kicking the Ice Man in the nuts.
He almost got into a fist fight himself during the last round. Carson made a move and the referee made each fighter go back to his corner for a moment. Evan had no idea what had happened or why the referee had done this. But he overheard the woman next to him turn to the man next to her say, “That fucking Dog is a fucking waste. Ice Man’s gonna kill him.” She dropped her g’s. She was a big one, too, with bleached frizzy mullet and a hot pink sweat suit. She also looked as if she’d seen the inside of one too many tanning beds.
Evan gave her a good shove with his elbow that almost knocked her off her army boots.
She grabbed him by the collar and said, “What the fuck?”
He pushed her back and said, “It was an accident. Calm down, asshole.”
“Who you callin asshole, asshole,” she shouted.
He wanted to grab her by the back of the head and drag her into the ring, but Carson and the Ice Man started fighting again and Evan and the woman both forgot why they were arguing. This time it didn’t last long. When Carson started to sway back and forth, Evan had a bad feeling. The Ice Man had thrown the last punch and it seemed to have knocked poor Carson senseless. The woman next to Evan screamed, “Kill’em Ice man,” and Evan flung her a look. Then the Ice man lifted his arm again and tried to swing. But at the final moment, when no one expected it, Carson dodged the punch, turned around, and threw his own punch. He hit the Ice Man square on the jaw and knocked him down for the count.
When the fight was over and Carson was declared the winner, Carson’s trainer came over to Evan and said, “He told me to tell you to wait out here for him. He said he wouldn’t be long.”
Evan had been biting the inside of his mouth the entire time. He wanted to see how Carson was after such a brutal match. But he didn’t want to overstep. He nodded and said, “Tell him I’ll be out front waiting near the door.”
An hour later, Evan glanced up from a game he’d been playing on his phone and he saw Carson coming toward him. Evan had been in the front room of the gym, in a section that looked like a waiting area with a couple of folding chairs, a metal desk, and more grey cinder block walls. Carson was alone, carrying a gym bag, and his face was swollen. They’d put a small band aid at the corner of his lip and he wasn’t bleeding anymore. Evan stood up and met him halfway.
“Are you okay?” Evan asked. He actually looked better than Evan had thought he would look after that brutal display. If Evan had been up there in the ring with that Ice Man he would have been in the emergency room now begging for pain killers.
Carson tried to smile, but he couldn’t because of the band aid. “I’m good. Thanks for waiting so long. They had to patch a few things up back there.” He laughed and made a joke out of it.
At a closer glance, Evan could see his swollen eye. “You poor thing.”
“I won,” Carson said. He didn’t seem concerned about his eye.
“I know, but look at you.”
Carson waved him off. “This is nothing. I’ve been in worse shape. I actually feel good. Let’s go out and do something. You probably didn’t eat yet.”
Evan took his arm and said, “Oh no. I’m taking you back home right now. You need to soak in a hot tub and put some ice on that eye to get the swelling down.” He thought it was nice that Carson wanted to go out, but there was no way he’d take him out in that condition. The man needed rest.
As Evan led him out the front door, Carson didn’t object and he didn’t pursue going out. This time Carson let Evan escort him to the corner, hail a cab, and help him into the backseat. When the driver pulled away from the curb, Evan’s phone rang. It was Kenny. He’d called to tell him he was at Zack’s house for the night and he would be home around noon the next day. When he asked how Evan’s evening at the fights had been, Evan smiled and said, “It was amazing. He won. You should have seen the big guy he beat up, too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Kenny didn’t sound all that impressed; he didn’t ask Evan where he was either. He hesitated for a moment, sighed aloud, and said, “I’ll see you in the morning, dad. Love you.”