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Senior Editor

Pub Talk

By James Sturdivant

About James

 

Industry Insiders

The Insiders
Are You Protecting Your Site From Click Fraud?
Apr 23, 2015

By now magazine publishers have expanded their properties to the web, providing readers a fast, easy way to access content....



Media Vent

Bob Sacks
Do New ASME Rules Damage Magazine Industry's Integrity?
Apr 16, 2015

It seems to me that my opinion on the changes to the ASME guidelines will be in the minority. To...



Publishers' Dojo

Linda Ruth
Online Resources You Might Not Be Using, Part 1: Content Analytics
Apr 13, 2015

Publishers who have worked in internet marketing since the beginning might remember, as I do, when lots of tedious programming...



The Digital Market

Thea Selby
Top 5 Trends Affecting App Publishing
Mar 9, 2015

This is a great time of the year to look at the top trends of 2014 and gain insights for...



B2B Beat

Andy Kowl
Earned Media vs. Native Advertising: Smart Publishers Find a Path for Advertiser Content
Mar 3, 2015

An insidious term has started to be widely used these past couple of years. As publishers, we must stamp out...



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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