For this assignment, I’d like you to watch the film, “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” online here:
The film touches upon many of the subjects we’ve begun to explore in regards to the Internet: freedom of information, who owns what, and, ultimately, what content we choose to privilege over what we choose to lock up or hide.
As the film deals quite strongly with questions of privileged information, I’d like you to take this as the jumping off point for a 450-word response to the film. Aaron Swartz was a strong advocate of open access for content, both in his activism and his part in the creation of the Creative Commons license as an alternative to traditional copyright. Consider some of the following questions as you watch the film:
- How does this situation compare to what we saw in “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks?” Both stories are arguably about the freedom of information and outspoken advocates who have risked their lives and reputations to defend that principle. What differences and similarities do you see in the stories? Is the kind of information Aaron Swartz was accused of stealing different because it is made and distributed for profit?
- Is what Aaron Swartz did wrong in your opinion? Should it be a criminally prosecuted offense?
- When does information become so important that it needs to be in the public domain? Are there some things that need to be made available to everyone? Or is paying for access to information a reasonable price in most cases?
- Why do you think Aaron Swartz was so strongly pursued criminally despite his widespread acceptance in the tech world? Was he not eventually punished for exactly what he had been advocating the whole time?
- For those of you that may find this interesting, the film mentions that Aaron was one of the main architects of RSS feeds. This might be an interesting angle to discuss, since RSS essentially limits, or at least strongly controls, the effects of Internet advertising by giving you headlines and digests outside of the websites themselves. RSS has gone mostly by the wayside in the last few years sadly, but it was an amazing way to amalgamate information from multiple sources at once.