Did The DOJ Do The Same Thing They Were Prosecuting Aaron Swartz For Doing Decades Ago?
from the low-court,-high-court dept
The story is so complex that you really ought to explore not just the Wikipedia version, but some of its sources, which will take you down quite a rabbit hole (warning: it may take a lot of time). While there remain some denials of wrongdoing, and there were (along the way) findings that the software in question was actually in the public domain, it seems pretty clear that what the government was doing was significantly more questionable than any action by Swartz. Swartz was seeking to download a vast trove of academic research. It has been suggested, though never confirmed, that his intention was to release them to the public (some have argued this might not have been his plan at all, or he might have only released the portion that was in the public domain). At no point has anyone -- even the Justice Department -- suggested that he sought to profit from the plan.
That is not true of the accusations that were made against various Justice Department officials, some of whom were accused of getting their hands on an unlicensed copy of Inslaw's PROMIS software and then selling it to other countries, sometimes for personal profit. Furthermore, accusations were made (and at least one court agreed) that the DOJ then sought to force Inslaw into bankruptcy, forcing it to liquidate, so that it couldn't take them to court.
I had read about the Inslaw case many years ago, but it's been a while since I've been reminded of it, and I had really forgotten most of the details until recently refreshing my memory. While it was actually a very, very different kind of case than the Swartz case, it is fairly incredible when you think about just how much the Justice Department itself was able to get away with... and then think of how minor Swartz's own activity was in comparison. It really does seem like yet another example of the high court/low court principle in action.