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Senior Editor

Pub Talk

By James Sturdivant

About James

 

Media Vent

Bob Sacks
Why Print Ain't Dead!
Jan 19, 2015

Too many times in the last decade pundits, printers, publishers and workers in the ranks have heard or have talked...



B2B Beat

Andy Kowl
Private Equity Firms Taking Over B2B Media
Jan 13, 2015

Private Equity firms are now the dominant players in B2B publishing. They probably own less than half of all B2B...



Publishers' Dojo

Linda Ruth
Nook’s VP of Marketing on “Delivering An Experience” on Ereaders
Dec 19, 2014

I spoke with Jeanniey Mullen, VP of Marketing for Nook. Jeanniey spent five years developing and marketing Zinio's award-winning digital...



Industry Insiders

The Insiders
The Real Cost of Content Marketing
Dec 10, 2014

How do you respond to advertisers who want to blog more and advertise less? Do you discuss with them the...



The Digital Market

Thea Selby
Top 5 Mobile Trends for Publishers—It’s Good News, Folks
Jul 7, 2014

Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is one of my s/heroes. In this day and age of branded...



Publisher's Paradox

Andrew Davis
Publisher’s Paradox: Your Newsletter Subscribers Are Being Overfed
Apr 28, 2014

Charlie Magazine, based in Charleston, South Carolina, isn't asking its readers to subscribe to everything. Instead, Charlie is inviting readers...



Death of Aaron Swartz Underscores Need for Reforms He Championed

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Much is being said about the suicide of Internet pioneer Aaron Swartz, to which I can add little except that it was a tragic end to a brilliant, troubled life. Whatever combination of factors led Swartz to take his own life, it's clear his death will serve as a grim indictment of the very legal structure he sought to upend—a system designed around older notions of copyright control and enforcement.

"There's a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the Internet in terms of traditional things that the law understands," Swartz said last year, after helping to stop SOPA. He saw these "traditional things"—outmoded applications of concepts like copyright, DRM, licensing and fair use—as nothing less than a threat to freedom. Though sometimes taking his "hacktivist" work to controversial extremes, Swartz's actions helped define what's at stake in the effort to preserve and enhance the critical role of information in our culture even as traditional media companies struggle with radically new business models.

While the rights of content creators and copyright holders are obviously important, it is unhelpful to compare ripping a CD to ripping off a bank, or file downloads to home burglary. Pirating movies is frequently compared (by the movie industry) to stealing a car. This ignores the fact that creative works are never just commodities, and that demand for artistic and scientific ideas can be harnessed for profit in ways that acknowledge and respect the borderless nature of the Internet—working to leverage social sharing for marketing and e-commerce purposes, for instance.

Media entities really have no choice, as each attempt to strong-arm users only leads to embarrassment, or worse. Consider the music industry's MP3 wars, or the bruising battles over DRM. Already, in the wake of Swartz's death, influential bloggers are calling for scholars to associate themselves with open-access journals only. This is certainly not what JSTOR (the database hacked by Swartz) wants to see happen.

Swartz was never as extreme as some tried to paint him. He never said regulation shouldn't exist; he simply understood that new ways of creating, storing and distributing information require a different sort of regulatory scheme. As one of the developers of Creative Commons, he sought new, positive ways to allow for flexibility in the digital sphere.

One thing seems clear: again and again, old laws and existing interpretations prove themselves ham-fisted in the face of the current realities of information access. In the end, Swartz's life and death proved this to be only too correct.
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