A Long Night, Near the Bay
In 2007 we were in the San Francisco area to shoot interviews for Steal This Film 2. One of our point people in the Bay was our friend Peter Eckersley and we had planned to film with him in his house over a few drinks. At some point Jamie King came in having collared Aaron Swartz somewhere out on the street, and he agreed to go on camera as well. In addition to these two there was also Raph Levien, a programmer and creator of Advogato. We settled in for a marathon session.
See a transcript for “On Peer To Peer, Digital Rights Management and Web 2.0″.
The others drank vodka, I stuck to wine, and Aaron, if memory serves, kept it straight edge on milk. Luca Lucarini took care of the camera work whilst I did most of the interviewing, although there was some alternation, with interviewees occasionally becoming interviewers and Jamie taking over some times as well. Proceedings did not come to a halt until about 4.00 in the morning, by which time the bodies of all involved littered the room, curled up and asleep.
See a transcript for “The Network Transformation”
After the film’s release, I sat down with the tapes to see what material could be extracted to be made available online as part of our footage archive. Later I wrote to the interviewees to ask their agreement to make it available under a fairly permissive CC-BY-SA license. Aaron gave me his consent by mail shortly afterwards.As these clips make clear Aaron was extremely articulate and a compelling speaker. Although I knew about him by reputation beforehand, it after this interview that I started to pay attention to what he was saying and doing.
I learnt about his data extraction escapades at JSTOR because my own means of accessing it, via MIT, was blocked following the alert triggered by his activity. But this minor inconvenience was trivial in front of the admiration I felt for his wide-scale data liberation.
From the time of his arrest Aaron had many supporters, but not all of them felt comfortable with what he was alleged to have done. Some argued that his energy would be better invested in further attempts to reform the copyright system via campaigning and legislative amendment. Others, such as Orin Kerr, regard the actions of which he was accused — brute force data-dumping of a proprietary database whilst concealing his identity — as placing him outside the boundaries of an implicitly ‘virtuous’ civil disobedience: where the protagonist sacrifices himself at the altar of the law in order to draw public attention to an intolerable wrong. Kerr continues:
In his own words, he didn’t want to “just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge.” Rather, he wanted to change the facts on the ground to make his preferred world a fait accompli. That is, he wanted to make the laws unenforceable, winning the debate unilaterally outside of Congress. In his words, he wanted to act so that the democratically-enacted laws that allowed privatization of knowledge would become “a thing of the past.”
While I disagree with what Kerr has to say, I like the way he phrases the second part of it, it has the ring of a synthetic manifesto to it. And on the net we really are millions who abide by the spirit of such a manifesto.
ps Mako has written a nice piece recalling some quirky moments with Aaron.
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