Science’s Robin Hoods

Hackers take to downloading academic articles and making them freely available on the Web.

Jul 26, 2011
Cristina Luiggi


Earlier this month, the US Attorney's Office came down on 24-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student Aaron Schwartz for hacking into MIT’s computer network and downloading more than 4 million scientific journal articles from the online journal archive, JSTOR. Schwartz, who intended to make the articles freely available on the Web, was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, among other charges, and will face up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

In an online manifesto he wrote in 2008, Schwartz had called upon everyone with access to journal databases, such as JSTOR, and reminded them of their “duty” to share the content (most of which lies behind a paywall) with the world. “We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks,” he wrote.

With the news of his indictment, others who share his cause have followed suit. According to ScienceInsider, another hacker by the name of Greg Maxwell has uploaded more than 18,000 academic articles to the file sharing site Pirate Bay as an act of "solidarity" for Schwartz and against the “poisonous industry” of academic publishing.