More than 18,000 academic documents have been copied from an online scholarly archive and posted on Pirate Bay, the file sharing Web site, but questions arose on Friday about where the documents really came from.
The documents in question, totalling 18,592 scientific publications and about 33 Gigabytes of data – most of it PDF files – were uploaded to thepiratebay.org on Thursday. They contain the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society dating from before 1923. The incident is being billed as retaliation for the arrest of a Harvard Ethics Fellow for hacking into MIT’s network and downloading millions of published articles for release to the public.
The documents, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, were downloaded from JSTOR and uploaded to Pirate Bay by a user who identified himself as Gregory Maxwell. Maxwell said he was posting the documents after reading about the case of Harvard Ethics Fellow Aaron Swartz, who was named in an indictment filed last week by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Swartz, a Harvard Ethics Fellow and 20-something entrepreneur was accused of the attempted theft of around four million scholarly documents from JSTOR.
Though Maxwell insists the documents were downloaded from JSTOR, a spokesoman for Ithaka.org, the non-profit that operates JSTOR, claims the documents don’t belong to them. In an e-mail message, Heidi McGregor, a spokeswoman for Ithaka, said the company’s analysis of the leaked Royal Society documents suggests that they came from the Royal Society website, not JSTOR.
Maxwell said he was inspired to release part of his own collection of JSTOR documents to the public after hearing about the case against Swartz. “The documents are part of the shared heritage of all mankind,” he wrote. Maxwell criticized JSTOR’s practice of charging for the privilege of downloading archived copies of scholarly publications, and the publishing industry for what Maxwell says is an all-out effort to “perpetuate dead business models,” and exploiting the work of scholars through the “publish or perish” system in academia which, he claims, feeds the scholarly publishing industry.
“The existing system has enormous inertia,” Maxwell wrote.
Swartz, a 24 year old entrepreneur and programmer who’s best known for his work with the news aggregation Web site Reddit, and for founding the political action group Demand Progress, turned himself in to federal authorities on Tuesday and was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Boston. He faces charges including wire fraud, computer fraud,unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, according to a statement released by Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
Among other things, Swartz is alleged to have broken into a wiring closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, logged into the University’s network as a Guest user by way of a network switch housed in the closet, then used his network access to connect to JSTOR. Swartz is alleged to have used a dedicated laptop and custom scripts to began downloading millions of JSTOR documents on numerous occasions, bogging down the system for other MIT students and faculty and prompting a swift response both from JSTOR and MIT’s IT department to try to curtain the mass downloads. He was eventually spotted by MIT’s campus police, but fled.
However, popular reaction to the arrest was swift. Demand Progress likened the case to being arrested for taking “too many books out of the library” and began circulating a petition in support of Swartz, which the group claims was signed by 45,000 people. That clearly moved Maxwell, who wrote in an e-mail to Threatpost that he considered the Swartz case. “ludicrous” and a “massive misallocation of public resources.” “Journal access is usually openly available to anyone on a subscribing institution’s network,” he said. “There isn’t any great feat of hacking required for someone with access to download the documents: if operating a web spider to download documents which are available from the network you’re on–or even doing so from multiple IPs–is hacking, then _Google_ is the biggest hacker there ever was,” he wrote.
“The real crime, in a moral if not legal sense— of locking away academic resources, much of which was publicly funded, much of which is rightfully in the public domain, and virtually all of which is the work of unpaid authors and reviewers, behind paywalls — goes unpunished,” Maxwell wrote.
While washing its hands of the Maxwell case, Ithaka is also trying to keep a low profile as the U.S. Attorney’s Office pursues its case against Swartz. McGregor said in an email that Ithaka has retrieved the documents downloaded by Swartz and isn’t interested in pursuing a case against Swartz for taking them.