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Senior Editor

Pub Talk

By James Sturdivant

About James

 

Publishers' Dojo

Linda Ruth
What Can We Learn From Time Inc.’s “Spreadsheet-Gate”?
Aug 27, 2014

What does it say about our perception of online content when we learn that "only" writers who work for SI.com...



Media Vent

Bob Sacks
Time Inc.’s Editors and Their Damned Church & State
Aug 25, 2014

Last fall Joe Ripp, the new Time Inc. CEO, told his editors that they'd be reporting to the business side...



B2B Beat

Andy Kowl
The Impact of LinkedIn Buying Bizo
Aug 12, 2014

If B2B publishing was a different industry, the prospect of LinkedIn buying Bizowould invite anti-trust scrutiny. Just think about what might...



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...



Industry Insiders

The Insiders
New York Times ‘Innovation Report’ Points Way to Digital Future
May 23, 2014

The leaked New York Times Innovation Report highlights the challenges it is facing in the digital age, but more importantly, it echoes...



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...



Profit from Publishing!

Thaddeus B. Kubis
Media Conference Exhibitors Should Go Deeper to Engage
Oct 9, 2013

It has been a few weeks since I attended (as the guest of the event organizer) the Publishing Business Conference...



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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