A Fitting Tribute For Aaron Swartz: Researchers Post Free PDFs Of Their Research Online

from the it's-a-start dept

As we noted earlier, one thing that Aaron Swartz would have almost certainly wanted, as a memorial for his own accomplishments, would be for others to continue that work and to do much more with it. It’s a small thing, but it’s been inspiring to watch one aspect of that come to life: some academic researchers suggested a bit of simple civil disobedience in asking other researchers to post their own research publicly for others to download, and use the tag: #pdftribute. Many researchers quickly jumped at the chance, leading some to set up a website, appropriately called PDFtribute.net to collect all the tweets and the links to all of that research.

It’s unclear how much of that research is technically “allowed” to be published like this. If you’re not familiar with the dirty sausage making of academic research, many journals claim all copyrights on research (despite not paying a dime for it — and, in some cases, even requiring the researchers or their institutions to pay to submit the papers in the first place). Many then have policies that bar the original researcher from further distributing the work, so it’s likely that some of the released research is in violation of those agreements. That said, over the past few years, more and more journals (often due to significant pushback from academics) have recognized how ridiculous this is, and many have started to allow — either officially or with a nod and a wink — academics the right to post free copies of their own research on their own website. A few, much more enlightened journals even encourage researchers to post the work.

Either way, if one of the legacies of Aaron Swartz’s all-too-short life is to get more people interested in open access to research, and to drive that movement forward, that’s a good thing.

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Comments on “A Fitting Tribute For Aaron Swartz: Researchers Post Free PDFs Of Their Research Online”

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Lurker Keith says:

coverage on PBS Newshour, interrupted

I’m not sure if this is the right place to post, but it is the most recent update on the Aaron saga.

& I’ve never seen this many posts on a single topic in a 24 hour period here at Techdirt… Granted, I’ve only been here for a year…

Anyway, I was watching the PBS Newshour (about 2:30 am Central time), & during a short interview w/ a friend of Aaron’s, right at the point where he was explaining it WASN’T what one would consider hacking that he was doing, a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System interrupted, so that the full explanation was inaudible.

There was a short overview once the alert ended, but it seems odd that they chose that moment to have the alert, & that it effectively muted the proper “not really hacking” explanation nearly entirely.

I’ve come across too many things in life that make me disbelieve in coincidences.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: coverage on PBS Newshour, interrupted

Have you ever heard of a shitstorm ?
You should really learn how to create one.(even if it’s just you, with an automation tool and proxies)
Personal army requests are also useful.


■ PBS Newshour (about 2:30 am Central time)
■ Interview w/ a friend of Aaron’s,
■ He was explaining it WASN’T hacking
■ Test of the Emergency Broadcast System interrupted
■ Explanation was inaudible

Feel strongly about an issue? Please use the form below to send us your comments on the topics we cover! (If you prefer, you may also send your comments to onlineda@newshour.org.)


GOTO : http://www.pbs.org/newshour/letters.html
TASK : Fill out online email complaint.

Only takes 1 min. Every complaint helps.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re: coverage on PBS Newshour, interrupted

Just sent my E-mail. I even linked to one of the stories Techdirt linked to, stating that JSTOR had requested the case be dropped & some thought the case was closed.

I also mentioned that JSTOR had said they’d make 4.5 million articles accessible by the public free (but didn’t add the implication that those were probably what Aaron had accessed).

I also checked the Newshours online video, & luckily it has the full interview, unobstructed. So I did at least get to watch the whole thing.

Now that I know exactly what Kevin said, I also commented that it was said that what was done was just an automated process for something legal if done manually.

What really set my red flag was that the test was being done during a News Program/ broadcast, which I thought was always avoided, in addition to the particulars of the case & exactly what was buzzed over.

Anonymous Coward says:

the things that worry me are that if all the documents were in ‘the public domain’ anyway, why were they locked up by JSTOR in the first place? what right had they to deny the public from getting them, free of charge? what is the point of having anything in the public domain if it is not freely accessible to all? am i being totally thick?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the things that worry me are that if all the documents were in ‘the public domain’ anyway, why were they locked up by JSTOR in the first place? what right had they to deny the public from getting them, free of charge? what is the point of having anything in the public domain if it is not freely accessible to all? am i being totally thick?

A few points:

1. You are confused. What he downloaded was NOT just public domain materials. Earlier he HAD been investigated for downloading public domain court rulings, but the JSTOR stuff included tons of copyrighted materials. After he was arrested, another person, Greg Maxwell DID release a ton of public domain material he had downloaded from JSTOR, but that was different than what Aaron downloaded.

2. There is nothing wrong — legally or morally — with profiting from the public domain. It’s just that you can’t stop others from copying it. Go into any bookstore and pick up a book on Shakespeare. All those publishers are profiting off the public domain and we WANT that because it allows them to publish those books.

Boota boota says:

Faculty web pages

Faculty members used to put copies of their published articles on their personal web pages on their departmental or university web site. Too many of the Facebook generation are not maintaining their personal web pages. It’s not a final solution to provide open access, but it is one that works well within the existing, problematic framework while a real solution gets hammered out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Faculty web pages

I have the exact same experience. The “personal web site” is quite a workaround.

“You should read that and that text and you can enter my locker at the university there and there. It is not locked and there is a copy-card attached to the text I want you to read. If you are caught trespassing by the police though…”

I have experienced that analogue equivalent. In all honesty copyright and patents are hinderences to education no matter how much you look at universities as innovation-factories. What is even worse: If you publish a book as a professor, the chances that you will make up an extra week of pay through royalty over 5 years is very slim unless it gets widely popular. I am not saying that it is impossible to make a living off of text-book publishing alone, but you better keep at least 10 books up to date constantly, which in academia is more than a full-time job (and reaching enough recognition to even get a single book relatively popular is a lifetime achievement or a scoop or two of heavily cited research, which to some degree is luck-based and based on your field)…

The sausage of publishing was a necessity in them olden days before the internet. It developed from a “we share notes” society to a business based around prestige in publishing for different papers.
Today the prestige is the only thing making the Elseviers of the world able to take obscene amounts of money. The less prestigious papers will for sure go to a paid repository publishing or FOSS publishing. Now we only need the old prestige to fade enough that they take up at least the repository approach instead of crappy “one year of the paper”, “one subject download” and other old and completely unnecessary bundles.

commenter8 (profile) says:

White House Petitions

Prosecutors turned down Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz’s request for plea deal over MIT hacking case TWO DAYS before his suicide


Lawyer says he warned prosecutors that Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz was suicidal


White House petition to fire US Attprney Carmen Ortiz for her misconduct in this case


The petition to fire US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has already exceeded the 25,000 signatures needed to get a response from the White House.

Here’s a new petition to fire Assistant US Attorney Steve Heymann:


White House petition to limit copyrights to a maximum of 10 years


nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

Re: Re: White House Petitions

Seconded… let’s hope Swartz’s death brings something good out of this.

As much as we know e-petitions are complete – as Watson would say – bullshit, Ortiz must know that petition exists now, and the case has been brought to the attention of the highest office. They will and should be watching this development and rethinking their strategy.

Silent Bob says:


Computer Science faculty and student researchers routinely self-archive paper pdfs on their own web sites or a departmental site. The majority of my published papers are freely available on my publications page, from as far back as 1990. There is nothing prohibited about it (at least for conferences and journals in CS that I’ve checked). Look up your publisher’s policy on “self-archiving”, many of them allow you to post a copy on your own site; the policies only differ in the allowed format, and whether or not you need to include a url to the publisher’s site. If you are in doubt about what your publisher allows, go look at the “Sherpa/Romeo” page on publisher copyright polices and self-archiving.

Self-archiving is why automated citation management sites like CiteSeerX and Google Scholar work. In fact, if you are scared of some imaginary future retribution against posting on your own page, upload your papers to Google Scholar instead.

Although I too have strong feelings about the death of Aaron Swartz, I feel this attempt at “honoring” him is kind of lame. You should already be making your pdfs available, all the time, and not just doing it now as an act of civil disobedience. For one thing, it’s not even civil disobedience.

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