Sunday, April 21, 2013

Information may want to be free, but you'll probably go to jail for helping it.

I'm not famous. I don't open a new pair of fresh underpants each day. Even for special days or special events, I still need to evaluate the merits of existing underpants. So in that way, I'm just like you, getting ready for Tim and Molly's wedding, poking through your collection of old and worn undergarments to find ones that won't embarrass you when you drink too much and pass out on the hood of the limo.

Which beings me to Aaron Swartz.  Remember how he got busted for downloading JSTOR articles? You should.

I was having a conversation with my girlfriend when I remembered some of the stuff I'm telling you now. Because I have a truly shitty memory and I can't remember anything until something prompts me to remember. That's why I have tattoos. Ask anyone why I have tattoos and they'll tell you it's to remember. Without all this ink, I would have no memory at all of the 1980s. Yes, that's Maggie Thatcher on my right calf almost close enough to snog Bob Geldof all wrapped in an outline of Live Aid Africa.

So something came up on our conversation and I remembered how when I wanted to "steal" all the magazine articles contained on the CDs at the library. Kind of like what Aaron did. But back in 1988.

Ever since I became aware of magazine databases I wanted to find a way to get all the articles out of them. Before I became a librarian, I had to make a reservation at the college library to use the computer that had access to all the articles I needed. And I thought about ways to download all those articles so I wouldn't have to wait ever again to use that computer. But I never did it.

And when I became a librarian, our library had a huge CD tower with all these articles stored there and I wondered how to get them off of that one computer so they would be easier to distribute to our patrons. You know, move them from that one PC and host them on our web server so all our patrons could search for articles from any of our branches.

And even within the last 5-6-7-8 years, when we'd learn from a vendor that some publisher was pulling content from the databases we pay for, I wanted to copy all the content and make it available even after the publisher pulled out. My reasoning was that we paid for it, so it was ours up till the date it got pulled. And I was going to archive it.

I'm not attempting to compare myself to Aaron, but I'm saying that if I'd had even the tiniest amount of programming knowledge, I probably could have gotten myself fired from any one of my library jobs a long time ago for all this shit I wanted to do.

But I don't think the Justice Department would have gotten involved; I would have just been fired and not one person would have even known my name. And if they did, they'd say, "What the hell did you think was going to happen, asshole?"

And I think that's because I can't program. I'm guessing that I would have been judged as an extremely low profile target and an owner of very common underpants.

Again, I'm not trying to compare my non-event with a real one, but I wonder what might have happened if I'd known someone with skills who could have shown me how to do it.

But in my case, there was clear publisher ownership. So I guess I would have been a thief. Even if this was something our library had paid for.

But Aaron's position was that the JSTOR information was meant to be free, that it shouldn't be trapped behind a pay wall. Maybe. I didn't know the guy.

I don't have the time to explain the how or why of online information or who owns it or what legal rights or expectations a company might have regarding its ability to collect money for distributing that information. But the point is, that someone has legal rights to all these things, but it ain't you.

We call these people, these owners and publishers and content distributors by their collective name: motherfuckers. And all they seem to want to do is fuck with you. There was a time when you could count the companies out to fuck with you on one hand. But not so now. The conspiracy of motherfuckers seems endless.

Because the list is so long, I'm going to just try to list the motherfuckers who prey on libraries, the ones who answer with a cheerful, Fuck You, when we complain about their monopolies and oligopolies.
  • You want that book/magazine/newspaper to remain in print? Fuck You."But it used to be in print." Now it's not. Fuck You.
  • You want that book in electronic format for your library to lend? Fuck You.
  • You want that ebook for the same price as we sell to Amazon/B&N? Fuck You.
  • You want databases priced by actual use and not projected use based on service population? Fuck You.
  • You want lower maintenance fees? Fuck You.
  • You want us to stop increasing prices (when everyone knows that manufacturing/storage/delivery costs are going down)? Fuck You.
  • You want publicly funded science research that's published in our journals to be priced based on our actual cost, which is probably zero? Fuck You. Fuck You. Fuck You.
  • You want us to stop screwing you? We love screwing you. It feels great. Now roll over, we're not finished.
Again, my non-event deserves non-recognition. I'm just saying that if information wants to be free, there seems to be a shitload of companies/governments out there trying to keep it locked up. And one less who could have helped it escape.

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