from the still-waiting-for-the-others dept
As Techdirt has reported over the last ten days, the death of Aaron Swartz has provoked an outpouring of grief from friends and colleagues, who understandably wish to express their shock and anger at what happened. You'd expect that. What you might not expect is for a Vice-President of the European Commission to add her voice, but that's exactly what Neelie Kroes did this week. Her post is short, and worth reading in its entirety:
You've probably seen the terrible news about the death of Aaron Swartz. It's always horrifying when someone so young and so clearly talented feels they have no option but to take their own life. I know that this is something that shook the internet community deeply. And my thoughts are with his family, and what they must be going through right now.
Two points stand out there. First, the one regarding information "already paid for by taxpayers". That's a clear reference to the open access and open data movements, which seek to make precisely this kind of material available to all. In fact, the point that openness drives innovation and scientific progress is mentioned by Kroes not just once, but twice in her short post.
This was a man who saw that greater openness can be good for citizens, and good for society. Hugely disruptive -- but hugely beneficial.
For me, the case is particularly clear when there aren't copyright issues, when information was already paid for by taxpayers, and when more openness can help new innovations and scientific discoveries.
I would never condone unlawful activity. But in my view, if our laws, frameworks and practices stand in the way of us getting all those benefits, then maybe they need to be changed.
Agree or disagree with his methods, Aaron could see the open direction we’re heading in, and its benefits. In the meantime, those scientists who are paying tribute by making their own work legally, openly available aren't just showing their respects -- they are also benefiting scientific progress.
The other notable phrase is that "if our laws, frameworks and practices stand in the way of us getting all those benefits [of openness], then maybe they need to be changed". That's of a piece with her earlier frank comments about copyright being "a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward," and her call for "flexibility in the system, not the straitjacket of a single model."
Given the stony silence from just about everyone in positions of power regarding Aaron Swartz's suicide, it's good that at least one politician had the decency to offer her condolences and admit that there's something seriously wrong with today's approach to sharing knowledge. It would be even better if more of her colleagues came to a similar realization and expressed it with equal honesty.