In no other fields of human development is this formula so evident as in the history of intellectual property rights in which left is often treated like theft. The most recent and singularly striking event of such left-right copyfight is the suicide of 26-year-old Aaron Swartz. Transforming from an acclaimed computer prodigy, who contributed to the creation of the RSS protocol at the age of 14 and subsequently the social-news site Reddit, to one of the most prominent activists for free access to information, with the legendary role he played in stopping the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) shortly before its Congress approval by mobilizing millions of netizens to stop the Congress from “breaking the Internet”. In 2011 Swartz was “indicted on federal charges of gaining illegal access to JSTOR, a subscription-only service for distributing scientific and literary journals, and downloading 4.8 million articles and documents, nearly the entire library” (NYT). He responded with a manifesto, asserting that sharing information “[is] called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew [, but] sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative.” “Only those blinded by greed,” he added, “would refuse to let a friend make a copy.” Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, filed 13 felony charges against him. State prosecutors had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and decided to “send a message” to the Internet activist. Swartz committed suicide on January 11 in New York City.
Ortiz compared Swartz to a common criminal: “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar.” Attorney Stephen Heymann, overambitious to add a high-profile computer crime conviction to his account, threatened Swartz with over 30 years in prison a week before his suicide. The absurdity of comparing a computer crime (apart from the fact that Swartz was an activist by conviction, not a criminal) to a crowbar crime is the typical stance of hardline copyrightists. The fundamental difference between depriving someone of his possession and multiplying someone’s possession through sharing it does not seem to occur to them. Swartz’s martyr will certainly not stop the ever-increasing list of victims of vindictive and punitive legal actions campaigned by hardcore copyrightists headed by Hollywood and Ortiz, but his legacy of citizen-initiated Internet defence empowered by Internet snowball effect will bring more ‘Stop the SOPA’ kind of leftist successes directing the zeitgeist of free access to knowledge and entertainment towards the inevitable synthesis of free sharing of information and culture. The newly established thesis will dictate then the common possession of human creation, whereby the creators will be rewarded by citizens in the form of taxes centrally managed by the government.