SOPA fighter Aaron Swartz dead

Aaron Swartz was the founder of Reddit and a fighter for civil liberties. He is reported to have committed suicide. Aaron’s political viewpoint came from the far left, yet he was a man of principal. He believed in a free internet and the freedom of speech. When our US Government attempted their attack on internet freedom (with the bills that ultimately became SOPA “the Stop Online Piracy Act”),  Aaron and small group of like-minded young civil liberties activists set out to stop them.  Like the Patriots of the past, they succeeded despite extremely long odds.  Demand Progress website.

When Americans demand that Congress compromise and “get things done,” I always remind them to be careful what you wish. The worst legislation that passes Congress are bills on which both sides immediately agree. SOPA was a prime example of a strong bipartisan attack on civil liberties.

Most people rightfully support online copyright protection. For example, if an artist makes a movie or performs a song, then they should be paid for the use of it over a reasonable period time. If a citizen makes a home video that includes the song playing in the background, then should the artist be paid, should the internet company who provides access to this video be sued for piracy? Should an internet company providing ads for an illegal product, i.e. prescription drugs from Canada be sued for aiding criminal behavior?

SOPA was about keeping people stupid — not about copyright. Government loves to pass laws that prevent the public from seeing how we are getting screwed. Thus they don’t want you to see prescription drugs ads from Canada that offer lower costs than the same drug in the USA. As a result, they sue companies that have a financial incentive to show you this information. Google had to pay $500M for displaying Canadian drug ads in US Markets! This is just one example of the chilling effect on speech. Note; for all the Republican blabber about free trade, there is no free trade in prescription drugs from Canada.  Note; for all the Democrat blabber about low cost medicine, there is no Democrat push for lower prescription drugs from Canada.

SOPA was about keeping people under control — not about copyright. Our Government has learned to pass lots of laws and then selectively apply them as they see fit or feel embarrassed. The people stop getting alarmed at onerous laws passing because they are not affected by the law. President Obama regularly says he is not going to enforce this law or that law.  His most recent statement was regarding not enforcing the Federal Drug Laws on pot. You may agree or disagree with the Federal Drug Law, but that is not my point. The point is law, selectively applied for political purposes, is not the Rule of Law – it is tyrannical. For example, our tax code is so complicated that probably most Americans unknowingly violate some portion of it. Thus our Government can come into any family with threats and intimidation based in selectively applied law. SOPA was one of these laws that would cause a lot of normal internet activity to be deemed illegal. Of course, the government would not enforce these laws unless a person caused some embarrassment – just another tool in the hand of the tyrant.

More recently, Aaron Swartz was in trouble from the Government because he had “illegally” downloaded 4.8 million technical papers from a database called JSTOR. He was facing 35 years in prison and $1M in fines. I bet JSTORs is pretty much screwed now – as I doubt anyone of integrity would use their site. We can only hope that organizations like JSTOR goes the way of the dinosaur.

I read at least a hundred technical papers a year – not using JSTOR anymore.  Aaron was making a really good point with his actions. Freedom of Speech has been protected by the courts since the Bill of Rights however if speech is “copyright”ed, then speech can be controlled. What large companies and pseudo-governmental organizations have figured out is:  if they copyright everything then they can restrict information. There is no reason that millions of research papers should be behind a pay wall when taxpayers paid for most of the research. Copyrights need to be restricted to items that actually contain private sector intellectual property and violations of copyright need to be restricted to those that are willfully infringing. They should NOT be broad sweeping laws that shutdown legitimate activity or restrict information from the public that should never have restricted in the first place.

“Private – public partnerships should not be used to prevent tax payers from seeing the research they paid for. Often, not-for-profit organizations are used to facilitate this fraud on the American people. These Non-profits take money from the public sector, are started by the public sector, yet restrict their information from citizens — how many times are we supposed to pay for same information?”

Ironically, our government has learned how to restrict public information by using copyright law that is traditionally intended to protect the intellectual property rights of private industry. For example, when MH Reporter used the logo of MHCSD to announce an MHCSD meeting, we were contacted by the MH attorney telling us to stop using it due to copyright issues. This is just one more example of power thirsty government. I apologize in advance for MHCSD attorney fees that likely reached into the hundreds of dollars that were spent to generate that letter.

Well let’s hope something good can from this tragedy and that the legacy of Aaron Swartz will live on in the fight against our Government’s attack on the first amendment.  Let’s also hope those same civil right’s activist will remember that the 2nd amendment is the real protection for the 1st amendment.