A Harvard ethics researcher has been accused by a US district court of downloading more than 4 million scholarly articles without authorisation from a document archive licensed to universities worldwide.
Aaron Swartz, a fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption, was alleged to have broken into a wiring closet at MIT and hidden a laptop and several external hard drives that were used to store articles from JSTOR's archive.
It was alleged Swartz intended to post the documents to file sharing websites. Some 1.7 million of the stolen documents were for sale through JSTOR.
The laptop and hard drives were allegedly concealed under a box inside the closet and an automatic downloading program was set to harvest pdf documents at a rate “so fast that it brought down some of JSTOR’s computer servers” and prevented university researchers from accessing the repository.
The court documents alleged the former researcher went to lengths to hide the activity, swapping IP addresses and spoofing the Mac address of the laptop several times to evade efforts by MIT and JSTOR tech staff to stop the downloads.
It was alleged CCTV footage of the MIT basement where the closet was located identified Swartz accessing the laptop.
David Segal, executive director at Demand Progress, an online civil liberties group which Swartz founded, said the allegations made “no sense”.
He said the JSTOR had asked the government not to prosecute.
“It’s like trying to put someone in gaol for allegedly checking too many books out of the library,” Segal said.
“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.”
The JSTOR had invested millions of dollars to obtain and digitise the academic journals which were available on a limited and restricted basis to MIT researchers.
Swartz was charged with computer intrusion, theft and fraud.
Swartz was arraigned in US District Court in Boston where he pleaded innocent to all counts. He was released on US$100,000 bail, and will reappear in court on 9 September.