Law and Disorder Radio – Remembering the Life and Influence of Aaron Swartz – Speech by Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark – Hosts: Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

Law and Disorder Radio

Remembering the Life and Influence of Aaron Swartz

Last week, computer activist and programmer Aaron Swartz allegedly took his own life. Swartz helped develop RSS, essentially revolutionizing how people use the internet. He was also the key architect of Creative Commons. He believed information should be free and used his technology skills to promote his views. Many blame his unnecessary death on the stress of being the target of federal prosecutors, who went after him for covertly downloading millions of public domain academic journals on the MIT campus using a non-profit university research portal. It’s unclear if Swartz broke any laws. MIT provided free access to anybody on campus including visitors without campus affiliation. Swartz has had run-ins with the law before in connection with hacktivist activity and would have faced a 35-year sentence.

Karl Fogel:

  • He’s portrayed as a technical whiz kid, a genius who knew how the internet worked.
  • He was a very precocious and very technically-adept person who started doing significant work on internet standards and access to information and moving information around communication networks at the age of 13.
  • They didn’t know he was 13 until they held an in-person conference.
  • No one knew he was a kid; he was so widely read and very able to express himself.
  • He was a very good organizer of people who were themselves.
  • Aaron helped develop this standard, RSS. Really Simple Syndication Format is a means of having a website notify people via an efficient and timely information push mechanism.
  • Stop Online Piracy Act, a clampdown on websites that provide access to information in ways that terms of service, or restrictive laws in Aaron’s opinion, don’t permit.
  • Creative Commons is another organization that promotes much looser and more permissive copyright regulations and gives authors and creators of content tools more liberal licenses to release their content under.
  • All of these things he did have one thing in common: giving people access to knowledge, information that is often artificially restricted.
  • The wires of the internet are perfectly willing to carry any piece of information. When they don’t it’s because a human has decided we’re going to block access.
  • He’s talking about access to scholarly articles that were funded by taxpayer dollars.
  • You can think of Reddit as a kind of early Facebook, in that it gave people an online surface to share conversations on the internet.
  • Demand Progress, which Aaron helped start, organized a massive protest around SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act.
  • He was intensely collaborative. He was often an engine of what was moving.
  • was founded to change the way the debate over copyright law and copyright practices happen.
  • If you talk to people about copyright, they say artists have to make a living. People shouldn’t steal stuff.
  • It’s not about attribution. It was instituted initially as a regulation to help support the publishing industry and was lobbied for by the publishing industry 300 years ago.
  • Aaron understood that and understood that poor framing of the debate was causing us to have increasing restrictive laws in an age where we have this gigantic worldwide copy machine.
  • CFAA–two parties sharing information with each other–it criminalizes that.
  • He was always referred to as a hacker, meaning someone who breaks in and does damage to computers. That’s inaccurate. What these laws say is, someone knowingly using a computer network to use someone else’s server in a way that that person didn’t intend–in other words if you violate terms of service. Everyone clicks through.
  • He was opposed to artificial scarcity. It bothered his sense of justice that we were behaving as if there was a scarcity. It was always portrayed as “young hacker steals computer files from MIT.”
  • What the facts of the case are: he wanted to download a lot of articles from JSTOR. These articles were available for free. However, they put a limit on how many you can download from a given address and time.
  • He found a tactical way to work around it by getting into a network closet and using a computer that changes its network address. Yes, he engaged in very mild, non-malicious subterfuge.
  • Alex Stamos article: The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s Crime
  • He was doing research on the effects of funding on academic research. He wanted to do it with a big data approach.
  • He needed these millions of articles in order to write programs to parse them and look for conclusions and funders to do a gigantic database.
  • It makes me angry that prosecutors knew what they were doing, they knew what Aaron’s intentions were.
  • Their careers should be over. I know that’s cruel to say, but they should go no further.
  • I wrote that there might have been something illegal about it, but its a bad law.
  • Acting for Aaron and Open Access – Adi Kamdar

Guest – Karl Fogel co-founded Cyclic Software in 1995, a company offering commercial CVS support. In 1999, he added support for CVS anonymous read-only repository access, inaugurating a new standard for access to development sources in open source projects. That same year, he wrote Open Source Development with CVS (published by Coriolis), now in its third edition via Paraglyph Press. He has also written Producing Open Source Software, from O’Reilly Media. From 2000-2006, he worked for CollabNet, Inc., managing the creation and development of Subversion, a open source version control system meant to replace CVS as the de facto standard among open source projects. After a brief stint at Google in 2006 as an Open Source Program Specialist, he left to become editor of He also participates in various open source projects as a module maintainer, patch contributor, and documentation writer.


Speech by Former Attorney General of the United States Ramsey Clark

We hear speech delivered by Ramsey Clark at Riverside Church in Harlem celebrating his 85th birthday. Ramsey Clark is a former Attorney General of the United States, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the first Attorney General at the Justice Department to call for the elimination of the death penalty and all electronic surveillance.



During his years at the Justice Department he:

  • supervised the federal presence at Ole Miss during the week following the admission of James Meredith;
  • surveyed all school districts in the South desegregating under court order (1963)
  • supervised federal enforcement of the court order protecting the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery
  • headed the Presidential task force on Watts following the riots; and
  • supervised the drafting and executive role in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1968.

After he left the Johnson administration, he became a vociferous critic of the Vietnam War and continued on a radical path, defending the rights of the underdog worldwide, from Palestinians to Iraqis, to anyone who found themselves at the repressive end of government action.

Past Law and Disorder interviews with former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark: