Knowledge is Power

“I cannot believe I am writing my first college essay!” “Will I do well?” “OMG this is the big leagues, Tré.” Sitting there in that hard, brown chair, writing my first college essay for English 114, I was nervous for the outcome. I graduated from a public school in Oakland and had always been taught in the flawed school district. Although I made cumulative GPA of 4.2 throughout my junior and senior year, I was worried that my previous success would not be easily achieved in college.

Before writing, I attempted to gather my sources online, which, to my surprise, was very difficult. I encountered trouble finding reliable sources for my topic: flawed education. Two days before the paper was due, my professor suggested the class to take advantage of the library’s databases, which were free to us as SFSU students. The scholarly articles were endless and provided me with a plethora of reliable information precisely based on my topic.

After completion of my paper, I asked my brother, Talon to review my essay to make sure it was semantically and syntactically sound. He enjoyed my essay, however he was unable to view my references from JSTOR. Thinking it was a technical error, I sent my paper to another person to review. She also could not view my references. Immediately I informed my professor about this reoccurring problem, which he later informed me that only SFSU students have access to the aforementioned databases.postgrad-programs-audit-slide-university-of-malaya-library-2013-12-638.jpg

At first this circumstance felt like a loss for non-SFSU students and a lucky perk for myself. Yet, after I learned about Aaron Swartz, I realized the severity of this privilege I temporarily held.

Aaron Swartz was a successful computer programmer with a decorated background including a Stanford education and partial ownership of the popular social media platform, Reddit. He knew that he wanted to make a bigger impact on the world than making a lot of money. Rather, he wanted to make an even bigger impact, which could only be done through policy. He became politically active with the Progressive Change Campaign and Demand Progress. Both entities were created to foster innovation and allow better accessibility in the realm of cyber information.

Creating the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, Swartz obviously was an avid supporter of public access of information. He believed that “Knowledge is power” and that by holding this (JSTOR) was purposefully with holding power to people who cannot afford their services. In an effort to fight this, Swartz downloaded a significant amount of articles from the database in an effort to share it with the rest of the underprivileged public. This act is discussed in Lisa Gitelman’s Searching and Thinking about Searching JSTOR,

In the fall of 2010 hacktivist Aaron Swartz used an IP (Internet pro-tocol) address at MIT to download about 80 percent of JSTOR, apparently as part of an effort to set its contents free. JSTOR’s systems administrators watched with alarm as automated ‘‘pdf scraping’’ by ‘‘the bad guys’’ or an ‘‘offending scraper’’ pulled down hundreds of thousands of journal articles

Notice JSTOR calls him a “bad guy,” disregarding his intention behind downloading the articles. His intention was not for profit, but was to provide underprivileged people around the world access to these articles. His intention is somewhat similar to JSTOR’s description of its goals  “a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship”

This is an amazing and very helpful initiative by JSTOR, yet it is not inclusive of all Students, all scholars or all researchers. Before studying at San Francisco State, I attended Oakland Technical High School where I was a student/scholar that constantly researched health issues for the Health Academy. I unfortunately had no access to JSTOR and simply could not afford the heftily priced services. If I did have access at the time, my projects for the academy could have been significantly more credible. However, as an underprivileged OUSD student I was not able to facilitate new forms of scholarship and was denied access to JSTOR’s digital archive.

After video footage caught Swartz downloading the articles in MIT’s Library,
Footage of Swartz downloading Jstor files

JSTOR decided it would drop charges against Swartz if he returned all the information without distribution. He agreed, yet the government wanted him convicted for this act (regardless of their involvement with the case). This is also discussed in Gitelman’s Journal,

When Swartz was ultimately apprehended and identified as the culprit, JSTOR agreed not to pursue civil charges against him if he would return its data without copying or releasing it. The US Attorney’s Office was not as forgiving, and Swartz committed suicide with the criminal case against him still pending. Suddenly in the spotlight, JSTOR sought to explain itself and its mission to the public. In the face of ‘‘significant misuse of our database,’’ JSTOR said, it did not have any interest in prosecution, only ‘‘in securing [our] content

 Obviously the government wanted to make an example out of Swartz to show the world rebellion of that kind would not be tolerated.  This example sadly led to the death of the renowned computer programmer and political activist and halted the effort to publicize the rich information. Additionally JSTOR only fueled the fire by allowing the government to prosecute Swartz without resistance. Essentially Swartz was attempting to pursue the exact same goal as JSTOR by allowing people information to better their lives and studies. However, they accused him of “significant misuse of [their] database.”

Aaron Swartz

I will never forget that feeling of liberation I felt when I first logged on to JSTOR to browse sources. There were no illegitimate articles, no advertisements, but only reliable and trustworthy information. I felt as if I was equipped with a special power to combat my way through my years at SFSU. Unfortunately, after graduation that power will come with a price.



Aaron Swartz Biography, By Editors, Website, December 23, 2015,

Gitelman, L.. (2014). Searching and Thinking About Searching JSTOR. Representations, 127(1), 73–82.

Internet prodigy, activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide , by Michael Martinez, Cable News Network , March 7, 2013,

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist,, January 14, 2013,

The Inside Story of Why Aaron Swartz Broke Into MIT and JSTOR, By Noam Scheiber, New Republic, Febuaray 13, 2013,




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