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Noam Chomsky on Aaron Swartz’s suicide (during his talk at the British Library)

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Noam Chomsky

During his talk with Jonathan Freedland at the British Libary, on march 19 2013, professor Noam Chomsky was asked by an attendent about Aaron Swartz death. That is what he answered:

On Aaron Swartz

The number of dissenders that are pushed asside is almost universal, either they are in jail. if it is Latin America they get their heads blown off. In the United States they are marginalised in various ways. The United States is a free country, there is more protection for freedom of speach. But essentially you can’t get jobs and you are marginalised. All sort of things, not much punishment, franchly.

Aaron Swartz is a different case and a very interesting one, I don’t know if it was reported here: he was a very bright young kid, hacker, very instinct worker on computers. He was part of the hacker community which is in favour of opening up all sources. And the way he went on about it is he broke into the MIT computer system, and what they called “liberated” jstore (a system that takes articles and proffesional journals and libraries or individuals can subscribe to it, and then you can get Internet access to these contents.

Aaron was a very nice kid, he commited suicide. What happened is that he broke into the MIT system, he freed up jstore, jstore pressed MIT to do something, they didn’t know who he was and they called the police, they identified him. Then the Federal prosecuter got involved, and the State prosecutor and proposed a ridiculous sentence, she said he had to go to jail for 40 years, and he commited suicide. Actually there was an offer, that he should agree for a jail sentence for a cupple of months but they finally didn’t want that and he committed suicide. It is a terrible  event, everyone involved should have pressed the prosecutors not to do anythin.

However, there is another issue that has to do with freedom of information: if you take jstore and make it public, jstore goes out of business. We live in a capitalist society, they can’t survive if they don’t get subscriptions, If jstore goes out of business nobody gets access to the journals. So the next step is, OK, let’s ‘liberate’ the journals. In that case the journals go out of business and nobody has any place to publish. You can’t just ‘liberate’ things pretending you don’t exist in the world.

A lot of young kids think you can do that, they are not thinking it through. There are ways arounfd this, but they involve collective action, of the kind that does not match with the spirit of the age. What ought to have happened is that there ought to be a public subsidy for creative work, and there there would be no copyrights, no patents, a huge savings and everything would be opened. But that requires to do something together and we are not allowed to do that, we have to be out for ourselves… .  .

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