If Swartz had knocked over a bookstore with the intent of depositing the books in a library, he'd have received a mental health evaluation and been threatened with less time. Moreover, if he was caught in the act of knocking over the bookstore, he'd be guilty of an attempted crime and face even lesser penalties. But for some reason, cyber crime is considered deadly serious. He was facing 35 years. You could murder someone and get less time.
So why punish some of the most capable members of our society disproportionately? I think the answer is whom you are offending. Crimes against the poor and the powerless are punished less than crimes against the most powerful forces in society. There is real force behind the lobbying efforts of the RIAA, the MPAA, the BSA, and the SIIA.
It's all about control
In this new cyber world, we face a new kind of serfdom and face a new regime of global censorship.
We will compete in a global labor market, but we can't play videos across national borders. The bookstore can now snatch the electronic book out of our hands and control how many times we lend the book to a friend and even control what a library can loan. You can no longer buy a device and alter it to your liking without violating at least the license or terms of service and possibly the law. By the way, you can "steal" someone's idea even if you've never heard of it before and it was trivial -- good luck fighting the charges!
This isn't about stealing -- this is about controlling the channels of distribution. We're living through the days of Rockefeller oil monopolies and railroad robber barons all over again. Only now we're fighting for our very thoughts, our art, and our culture. From his writings, I think Swartz understood that.
Maybe if what was done to Aaron Swartz gives us pause, and we take some time to think of how this fits together and what we can do about it, maybe --just maybe -- a very sad and senseless death will start to have meaning.
This article, "In memory of Aaron Swartz: Stealing is not stealing," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in application development at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.