In Swartz’s wake
- Combating terrorism must be major priority for G20: PM Narendra Modi
- Obama on Paris attack: Twisted ideology behind killing of innocents
- G20 summit: India pledges to hike renewable energy output to 175GW by 2022
- Two attackers killed in Paris were Frenchmen living in Brussels
- Petrol price hiked by 36 paise/litre, diesel by 87 paise/litre
An internet activist's death stokes a debate on the handling of academic information
The suicide of the programmer and internet folk hero, Aaron Swartz, has been followed by memorial services across the US and on the Net. Swartz, one of the most celebrated young talents in a very youthful technology, faced charges of data theft and computer fraud. He is said to have killed himself at the age of 26 since he was unable to face a jail sentence. The reason for his death remains contested, but the case has drawn attention yet again to the question of freedom of information. Should information be treated like another form of property? Should the right of access be at the pleasure of owners, and on terms set by them? Or is there a need for a slightly different approach? This is a difficult question with no final answer, since the knowledge economy will keep evolving.
Swartz's best-known campaign prevented the US government from legislating the Stop Online Piracy Act last year. But the campaign that is said to have cost him his life championed free access to academic information. The sequestration of learning in the hands of academic publishers is unfair and problematic, he believed, for the future of knowledge. Swartz was accused of leeching 4 million articles from the academic repository, JSTOR, via the network of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had apparently planned to release these documents to the Net, giving free access to readers outside the academic system.
Academic information stands a little apart from other data products. Scholarly progress has always been sped up by sharing knowledge, especially across geographies and categories. Today, international, multidisciplinary work produces some of the most interesting developments both in the sciences and the arts. But sharing is mostly restricted to the academic system, with talent off-campus getting little access. As the idea of the university changes to accommodate distance learning, franchising and new forms of collaboration, it may be time to re-examine the way in which academic information is handled. It cannot be given away for free, as Swartz would have wanted, since the development of learning is expensive. But business models could be created to widen access while remaining fiscally prudent.
- Modi in Britain: Beyond a reiteration of good intentions, little was achieved
- The government’s version of the uniform civil code must be debated publicly
- Paris attacks: The loss of innocence
- How the AMU professor became a rallying point for LGBT movement
- Across the aisle: The ethos of India wins the election
- Salvation of India rests with Modi, provided he reforms himself