Federal Government Indicts Former Demand Progress Executive Director For Downloading Too Many Journal Articles

Cambridge, MA –  Moments ago, Aaron Swartz, former executive director and founder of Demand Progress, was indicted by the US government. As best as we can tell, he is being charged with allegedly downloading too many scholarly journal articles from the Web. The government contends that downloading said articles is actually felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison.

“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal; “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

“It’s even more strange because JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal added.

James Jacobs, the Government Documents Librarian at Stanford University, also denounced the arrest: “Aaron’s prosecution undermines academic inquiry and democratic principles,” Jacobs said. “It’s incredible that the government would try to lock someone up for allegedly looking up articles at a library.”

Demand Progress is collecting statements of support for Aaron on its website:

“Aaron’s career has focused on serving the public interest by promoting ethics, open government, and democratic politics,” Segal said. “We hope to soon see him cleared of these bizarre charges.”

Demand Progress is a 500,000-member online activism group that advocates for civil liberties, civil rights, and other progressive causes.

About Aaron

Aaron Swartz is a former executive director and founder of Demand Progress, a nonprofit political action group with more than 500,000 members.

He is the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics, especially the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion. In conjunction with Shireen Barday, he downloaded and analyzed 441,170 law review articles to determine the source of their funding; the results were published in the Stanford Law Review. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.

He has also assisted many other researchers in collecting and analyzing large data sets with His landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?, has been widely cited. He helped develop standards and tutorials for Linked Open Data while serving on the W3C’s RDF Core Working Group and helped popularize them as Metadata Advisor to the nonprofit Creative Commons and coauthor of the RSS 1.0 specification.

In 2008, he created the nonprofit site, making it easier for people to find and access government data. He also served on the board of Change Congress, a good government nonprofit.

In 2007, he led the development of the nonprofit Open Library, an ambitious project to collect information about every book ever published. He also co-founded the online news site Reddit, where he released as free software the web framework he developed,

Press inquiries can be directed to or 571-336-2637.

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Comments: 13

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Actually, if you read the allegations, you see why they are prosecuting. I don’t think Segal or Jacobs knew the whole story when they were quoted.


I applaud Mr. Swartz’s stand on information and reading this source alone I see injustice, however it seems there is a little more to this story, as found on NYT:

“In a press release, Ms. Ortiz’s office said that Mr. Swartz broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet. Mr. Swartz apparently then accessed the M.I.T. computer network and stole millions of documents from JSTOR.”

Full article here:

The methods he allegedly used to gather these documents should be frowned upon. Hope he gets off light though. Transparency is a value we need to stand behind, not just use as a defensive mechanism.


[...] action group hoping to change public policy that relates to the Internet.Demand Progress said on its site that it appeared Mr. Swartz was “being charged with allegedly downloading too many scholarly [...]


Don’t you have to have a subscription to access JSTOR (either through your University or an individual paid subscription)?

And don’t they charge for individual articles unless you have a subscription?


As far as you can tell? Here, let me help you out with a link to more (as in, any) details…

Breaking into a wiring closet is somewhat more dubious than downloading “too many” (how many?) articles.


Maybe I don’t understand, but what exactly did the warrant say?
There is a lot of speculation here, and I don’t see the real cause of his arrest. I’m guessing the method or way he was downloading these journals was the cause(?), And the charges weren’t dropped in time(?), and now it’s just a matter of the system pulling their head out of their butts(?)
Please clear this up… because I want to understand what part I’m supposed to be angry about. (Other than the fact that an innocent man may be going to jail because of the speed of the system.)


i don’t agree with this arrest at all but he was hacking. I don’t agree with someone getting arrested for hacking either, just seems like you left out that he was hacking.


Need more details about Aaron’s actions which are known (you reference some sort of incident with JSTOR, so clearly some is known). Don’t make this so spun. Elaborate on what Aaron did, in what quantity, what went on with JSTOR, how it was resolved if so, etc.


Good grief. What next.


Can we get a cite for the article which he worked on with Ms. Barday? Searching for “Swartz” at the Standford Law Review’s website doesn’t return any results.

Barday’s note in the Stanford Law Review from 2008 on the same topic only mentions the need to download 51 articles and from Westlaw, not JSTOR.


Can somebody please tell me why stuff like this seems to happen only in the US?


[...] “This makes no sense. It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library,” Segal states on the group’s site. [...]


For those that want more information, here is a link to the full indictment (or the other sides spin on it):


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