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Do Now

Should knowledge on the Internet be open to everyone or protected by copyright law? Are academic and scholarly type articles in a special category? Where do you draw the line in terms of protected information?


Aaron Swartz downloaded 4 million articles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology digital library of scholarly works – JSTOR (or journal storage). Why did he do that? Aaron Swartz was a visionary. His Internet activism was all about open and unlimited access to knowledge and the wealth of material available on the Internet. He built technology for the open licensing project Creative Commons and sought access to academic and research work which he felt should be freely available to further learning for the greater good.

The arguments about open access in relation to academia are these: JSORT articles are scholarly funded through research grants to academics for the purpose of advancing learning for all. As government funded assets, they should be publicly available.

But does this argument apply to other types of information and data? Internet activism is broadly defined and all encompassing. It infringes copyright law. As such Aaron Swartz was charged by federal prosecutors with 13 felony offenses, wire and computer fraud, which are violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which specifies areas that are deemed protected:

“information belonging to a financial institution, credit card issuer, or consumer reporting agency; information from a department or agency of the United States; and information from any computer deemed “protected,” or used exclusively by a financial institution, the U.S. government, or used in interstate or foreign commerce or communication.”

Internet hacking is a crime and Swartz was threatened with more than three decades in prison. The Act made it a federal crime to access a protected computer without authorization. Intended to safeguard security, the legislation offers protection against theft of intellectual property as well as the kind of information and data held by, banks, government computers and businesses.

Was Aaron Swartz misguided? Should access to the Internet be unlimited, with all knowledge open and freely available? Are there categories of information that should be protected? Where do you draw the line? As Orin Kerr, professor at George Washington University and former computer crimes prosecutor writes:
“…. we’ve entered a new world of digital crimes. And we’re still trying to figure out what should be punished and how severe those punishments should be.”


Daily Show segment We Are Anonymous – June 18, 2012
Parmy Olson in her book, “We Are Anonymous,” journalist Parmy Olson investigates the subversive collective’s paranoid world and charts its evolution from pranks to activism.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with@KQEDedspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to tweet their personal opinions as well as support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can…and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

KQED News post Did Prosecutors Go Too Far In Swartz Case?
Jan. 15, 2013
Criticism is raining down on prosecutors in Massachusetts after the suicide of computer genius Aaron Swartz, who helped to develop innovations like RSS. Swartz, 26, had been facing trial on 13 felony charges for allegedly breaking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology network and accessing millions of documents. Friends and family argue Swartz was the victim of Justice Department overreach. But legal experts say the case is more complicated than that.

Do Now #61: Copyright vs Open Access 8 March,2017Maxine Einhorn

  • Camille

    I think that all articles should be open to the public, especially scholarly published articles because they are good resources for college students. They don’t need to be in their own category, but they are the ones that should become most available, because not all college students have the money to go and subscribe to several article sites. I think that the author of the article should be the person who can choose whether or not they should be public or private.

  • Ashley

    I personally think that all knowledge on the internet should be open to everyone unless it’s something very personal. I feel that if something needs to be protected from other people’s eyes then it simply shouldn’t be on the internet. It should be copyrighted but not hidden, like people should be able to see it but not take it and use it as if it were their own.

    • Lia

      I agree. Things should be copyrighted and some things should be private so that others cannot misuse the material. But the internet is supposed to be used as an open space for public information

  • Odell

    I think that information on the internet should be open to everyone. I don’t think that scholary type of articles are in a different category as the rest of the information on the internet because all of the information is used for a benefit.

  • Tyshaun Brock

    Knowledge on the Internet should be open to everyone because everyone has the choice to learn. I think more when you rather it be private.

  • Richard Johnson-Gainey

    the only thing that should be copyright is things from doctor and schools. academics should not be copyrighted because people need to use them to do work. the line should be draw what doctors says and teachers write.

  • Tyler Valentino

    I think that the internet is a place for people to find pretty much whatever you want. You can ask questions, shop online, read informative articles and so much more. Millions and millions of people have access to the internet and use the internet on a daily basis. I think that the internet should be considered a public place and not somewhere you should post private information or records. A digital database available to everyone who’s got a computer, in my opinion does not seem like a smart place to store private and valuable information.

  • Kevin Lynn

    I agree that scholarly and academic articles should be open to the public. But people still should have the right to privacy if they want it to be, and no personal information should ever be accessible without that person’s consent.

  • britney

    I believe that Everything should be copy written but not hidden. people should have the right to view anything that on the internet And if it has to be hidden maybe it should be on the internet in the first place

  • Justyce

    Knowledge on the internet should be open to everyone. Millions of people use it and really need it as a resource. People need to know what is going on around the world.

  • Tigris Truasia

    I think that yes the internet should be open to everyone but some things need to be copyrighted. Academic and scholarly articles should be in there own special category. Everything from the internet that you have not written yourself should be cited.

  • Isadora

    I think that government funded research should be public but that private research does not have to be. I would draw the line at private information because that is not something that should or needs to be public.

  • Lyndsey

    Knowledge on the Internet shouldn’t be open to just anyone. For example, there could be a terrorist looking on the internet on the info on ways to build explosives. If a science article on explosives is out there, the article could be used for the wrong reasons. However, if someone pays to go to MIT and reads the article, it is a lot less likely that they’ll commit a crime with the knowledge they’ve acquired from it. It is important that we keep our scholarly information protected so dangerous people dont get ahold of it.

  • Brenda Alejo

    I think that it depend because there are some site that it would be copyright. Yea so that academic article will be more helpful for people who want to read them. I am not sure about the line of protective information.

  • Juan Figueroa

    I think that research made with tax payer money should be open access to all. The only research that should remain private is research made with private info.

  • Taylor Campbell

    I think that if you are going to use someone else stuff than you should attach there website so they won’t think you copied it. Thats illegal and you could get in big trouble for that, for example in college if you and turn in a copy essay than you can get kicked out. It’s that serious.

  • saadiqah

    I believe that internet should be protected by copyright law but not in academia or scholarly type of articles should be opened to everyone.

  • Edward HaJari

    I feel that certain articles should be private, but most should be open for everyone to read and share. Don’t post it if you dont want everyone to see it.

    • breona eskridge

      Exactly. If you don’t want it open to the public and people feedback don’t post it at all.

  • Taylor Campbell


  • Shainah

    I thought the video was good because the author explained how people either steal or hack their websites and how its not okay.

    • Austin Davison

      true i believe that is not okay and if you were to be hacked there should be consequences due to stealing an account because you are invading private information

  • aria

    I believe that when.comes to personal things it should be limited but as far as internet access it should be unlimited because alot of people use the internet for a lot of things besides going through peoples personal stuff or like thingd you could copy write

  • Mohammed

    I think that all knowledge should be open to everyone who earns the “right” to obtain that knowledge.
    I think that academic and scholarly type of articles should be open to everyone in the world because knowledge is meant to be understood by a person and also translated so It can be understood by other people. Knowledge should not be limited to any type of person.
    The information that should be protected are personal things that disclose your information.

  • Anonymous

    I feel knowledge should be there for everyone because not everyone has the money to buy these articles wich obstructs the spread of knowledge and makes people stupid.

  • Nelson Massengale

    I do not think that the Internet should be owned because it is a very resourceful tool for people to share ideas and thoughts, to learn and to network, and if this is taken away from people it can cause a repression in knowledge and social networking.

  • Vivian

    Articles should be open to everyone. Especially articles because they are good resources for students to get further knowledge.

  • Bertagnole

    Information provided publicly shouldn’t be restricted and should be easily accessible for everyone. Private information(ie. MIT articles), however; should be copyrighted.

  • Austin Davison

    I believe there are lots of information in this world that has been copied word after word and still to this day i guarantee there are people who copied information and they still are credited for it. I think also that if people were to undertand they didn’t come up with everything they copied and include some sort of credit for the real person who provided information then plagiarism wont be such a problem.

  • Tswizzle

    I think the internet is fine the way it is today because accessing certain information is sometimes to take a rebel or a certain level of digital skills. If everything was available then there would be no one who is challenging authority and looking for the next route.

  • Knowledge is power..Those who have it can abuse it, and those who dont have it need it.

  • Lia

    Some things should be restricted. Its not necessarily wrong because it all comes down to profit

  • Andrea

    In my opinion I think that there should be a restriction on the things that we can do one the internet. One reason being that most of the things that are put on the internet have an owner and if everyone just sees it and says “I want that” or “Know that belongs to me” is really not fair for the person who firstly made it. One other reason is because I wouldn’t like other people looking through my things just as mentioned in the short article. We do have are privacy and others should respect that even if it’s in the internet. However, their could this could just be a restriction for personal and private things. There could be be things that could be allowed for everyone to see and take. By that would have to be solved by people that are in charge of these kinds of things.

  • Lenora

    Having information protected under the copyright law can be helpful so that not everyone can take someone else’s work for their own. If you wrote something that you were very proud of and then had a bunch of other people be able to do whatever you wanted to with it then that would not be nice, especially if you did not like what they did with it. I think that articles and research for education should be more accessible though because we have all of this technology to our advantage, and we should be able to share ideas more effectively with each other.

  • Destiny

    I think that the copyright laws are good to have. They try to stop people from taking advantage or stealing other peoples work. It’s great having all these different resources to refer to right at your fingertips, but its not good to take advantage of these resources by copying them word for word and making their work appear like your own. I think its fine to use quotes from resources and such as long as you cite where and who you got it from. People should be creative and come up with their own ideas, not steal others.

  • Marina

    I think that it is good to have copyright laws to protect artists, authors, etc who have created something unique. They worked hard to create it and deserve some reward for that if they want it. However, if someone else wants to use something they discovered for a new purpose, they should be allowed to do that, possibly with some of the profits, if any, going to the original maker. Often, copyright laws are used to hurt people who are simply trying to share information or come up with something new using someone else’s idea. This kind of “stealing” can actually help creative people to come up with even better ideas that could help society to become a better place.

  • Naomi

    This is a very controversial topic. I believe people should be able to decide if they want their work to be protected by copyright laws or if they want people to have complete access to it. Scholarly articles for example. Those who created them might want to keep their work private and we should respect that. Others may want other people to be able to use their scholarly articles however they want. The person who created their work should be able to make that decision.

  • Sven Olson

    The knowledge on the internet should be open to everyone, and it is to some extent. You would be hard pressed to be unable to find information on a topic, even if it may not be as in depth as you want. Academic and scholarly articles shouldn’t be in a separate category from other information, as money shouldn’t be a limitation on the knowledge you can access. Protected information should basically be anything that could put lives at risk, or risk the stability of the government or other systems of major importance. Other than that, everything should be openly accessible to anyone.

  • Ally

    Although copy right laws are important, I also think that knowledge should be available to everyone. You can water mark your own work, but people will still take it. Putting a law on it won’t necessarily stop people; it only provides a thin law. And knowledge is something that a lot of people strive to know about and cherish. Taking that away won’t solve much. I do think that people should have a right to their work–I won’t argue that they shouldn’t. But I don’t really see how law taking over the internet will solve the problems at hand.

  • Bailey

    Anyone who uses knowledge that they find on the Internet should address where they got it. I believe that knowledge should be free to use by anyone, but the original creator should always be acknowledged whenever it is used. Academic articles should be able to be used by any student with the same rule as applied. The line should be drawn to Personal information being blocked to articles and records that have been kept should be open for anyone.

  • Matthew Bindewald

    I believe that knowledge should be free unless it is a secret belonging to a company or person. Everyone has the right to be able to learn as much as possible.

  • Christopher H

    Why should knowledge ever be blocked out? Information helps with growth of both a nation and its people. While some more private information such as about individuals should be allowed more secret, I think it’s very important that there are more resources that are credible and free instead of the way it now where many people get their information from Wikipedia which has always been known for not being completely accurate. If we are all hidden from information and resources then how are we supposed to improve. Humans didn’t make it this far by working against each other. We are in a very progressive time and in history we can see that whenever information was hidden from people that progression slowed greatly.

  • Kimberly

    No one should be denied access knowledge but without copyright laws people would not be able to protect their work. Copyright laws help prevent someone’s work from being stolen. But some work could be a great resource, for example a scholarly article. I believe that the owner of the work should be able to decide for themselves if they want their work copyrighted or not.

  • Robert

    I think it would be best if knowledge on the internet would be open to the public, especially those that are in more of a learning type of category because of it most likely being used in a school environment (and those people would most likely add a citation). Of course the author has the decision on making it copyrighted or not but it would probably be best if they decided whether or not who it would be helping, them or others? It also depends on how personal or “confidential” it is but then again, if it was theirs it wouldn’t be best to even have it on the internet.

  • Geoffrey

    I think all online articles should have their own privacy rules. The writer should have his/her own discretion to the privacy of their articles. If their goal is to make money off of what they write then they should be able to and not have money taken from them.

  • akil stewart

    i think that the good information should be free, but if the person giving the information does not want it free , it has to cost

  • xavier

    I think they should all be done by choice, i feel like if your putting information on the internet you dont want others to see, you should have the option/right to keep it private.

  • Miriam

    I think that only certain knowledge should be available to the general public. I feel like articles should be open to everyone and not in a special category. I think if its like a persons contact info or private life should be protected.

  • malik suarez-burton

    I feel when it comes down to the internet things should be public if you are surfing the internet because thats what the internet is for. When it comes to our private website and other information it should be private.

  • Courtney Young

    Everyone has access to knowledge in my opinion if its written by someone amd its an important piece why wouldnt it copyright.ITS fairly easy to copy knowlege from the internet.And alot of people copy. Information off the internet if someone writes something thats important it shpuldnt ne copy right.You dont want people takinh credit for something you did yourself

  • Tommy Rodriguez

    I think that internet should be allowed to everyone. It makes research much easier to find, but it can distract students with gaming and social websites like Instagram and Facebook. Internet should be used as a tool.

  • River

    I believe every thing that is not your original thought and is taken from the internet is copy writing. Also scholar type articles should be even a worse offense than just anything on the internet. No line needs to be drawn its all copy writing because its not your own writing.



Maxine Einhorn

Maxine Einhorn is from London and has lived in the Bay Area for 12 years. She has worked in adult education in London,UK, for over twenty years as a tenured instructor and department manager. She has an MA in Film and TV from University of London and has taught, moderated and appraised academic work in film studies and media literacy at undergraduate and college level. She runs the ESL/ Post Secondary project at KQED which offers media-rich resources for and created by ESL educators.

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