Peters, Justin. The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet. New York: Scribner, 2016. 337 pages.
Review by Scott Richard St. Louis
Late in September 2010, a skilled programmer accessed a computer network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and executed a script designed to download JSTOR articles at alarming speed. Known as scraping, this process violated JSTOR’s terms of service and threatened to overwhelm the JSTOR servers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Staffers at JSTOR responded by banning the scraper’s MIT IP address. However, the scraping resumed early the next morning at a different MIT IP address, and a game of tit-for-tat ensued between the JSTOR team and the MIT scraper. The problem ceased the following month, when JSTOR blocked the entire MIT campus from accessing the database on October 9. Service was restored on October 12, and the scraping ceased.
However, the problem returned late in December. A few days into the new year, engineers at MIT tracked the downloads to a network switch in the wiring closet of Building 16. There, one of the engineers discovered a laptop plugged directly into the network. The school responded by installing a surveillance camera in the closet. By January 6, the camera had captured images of a young man entering the closet to check on the laptop. Later that day, Aaron Swartz – a celebrated free culture advocate and fellow in the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University – was arrested on felony charges of breaking and entering (195-219).