MIT hacker backed by cyberprotester

By Milton J. Valencia and Andy Boyle
Globe Staff | / July 22, 2011

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In a form of cyberprotest, a person has posted on the Internet many of the same scholarly articles that were the basis for the indictment of a Cambridge man who attempted to download them from a pay site and post them.

A person who identified himself as Greg Maxwell posted on the Pirate Bay website that he acquired the literary collection Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society through “boring and lawful means.’’

Maxwell wrote that he did not post them earlier because he wanted to avoid the harassment of database companies such as JSTOR, a nonprofit group that offers an archive of such scholarly documents for subscription fees.

But Maxwell said he reconsidered the position, following what he called the harassment of Aaron Swartz, 24, the former Harvard University fellow charged this week with hacking into the MIT network to download millions of JSTOR documents.

Prosecutors said Swartz - a longtime advocate of free, open access to information on the Internet - planned to post more than 4.8 million documents he downloaded on file sharing sites.

Activists like Swartz argue that groups have commercialized an industry that should be open to the public, and his supporters say he was charged with essentially checking too many books out of a library at once.

“If I can remove even one dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous industry which acts to suppress scientific and historic understanding, then whatever personal cost I suffer will be justified,’’ Maxwell wrote on the Pirate Bay website. “It will be one less dollar spent in the war against knowledge. One less dollar spent lobbying for laws that make downloading too many scientific papers a crime.’’

Maxwell added: “I had considered releasing this collection anonymously, but others pointed out that the obviously overzealous prosecutors of Aaron Swartz would probably accuse him of it and add it to their growing list of ridiculous charges. This didn’t sit well with my conscience, and I generally believe that anything worth doing is worth attaching your name to.’’

In a statement from a spokeswoman, JSTOR said it was investigating the posting of the files and declined further comment on that specific issue.

However, JSTOR disputed Maxwell’s criticism of the digital archives and similar nonprofits that control publication of scientific journals.

“It is important to understand that there are costs associated with digitizing, preserving, and providing access to content,’’ the statement said. “We have worked and continue to work extremely hard to provide access to scholarship to more and more people around the world every day in ways that are sustainable and that assure the public that the content will also be preserved and available into the future.

“JSTOR cooperates with 7,000 libraries in 153 countries to provide online access to the documents in its databanks,’’ the JSTOR statement continued. “The Boston Public Library provides ‘online access to any user living or working in the state of Massachusetts.’ ’

Pirate Bay is one of the best known bit torrent sites, a site where people can upload data and materials such as movies and music, allowing others to download them for free.

Some of the Wikileaks documents and data stolen by well-known hacker groups are posted at such sites.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at