NEW YORK —
The FBI investigated but did not charge Swartz, he wrote on his own website.
Three years later, Swartz was arrested in Boston and charged with stealing millions of articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prosecutors said he broke into a computer wiring closet on campus and used his laptop for the downloads.
Experts puzzled over the arrest and argued that the result of the actions Swartz was accused of was the same as his PACER program: more information publicly available.
The prosecution “makes no sense,” Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal said in a statement at the time. “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”
Swartz pleaded not guilty to charges including wire fraud. His federal trial was to begin next month.
According to a federal indictment, Swartz stole the documents from JSTOR, a subscription service used by MIT that offers digitized copies of articles from academic journals. Prosecutors said he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.
He faced 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture.
JSTOR did not press charges once it reclaimed the articles from Swartz, and some legal experts considered the case unfounded, saying that MIT allows guests access to the articles and Swartz, a fellow at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, was a guest.
Criticizing the government’s actions in the pending prosecution, Harvard law professor and Safra Center faculty director Lawrence Lessig called himself a friend of Swartz’s and wrote Saturday that “we need a better sense of justice. ... The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ‘felon.”’
JSTOR announced this week that it would make “more than 4.5 million articles” publicly available for free.