Earlier this morning, I called out on Larry Lessig to condemn the alleged data theft of Internet activist, Aaron Swartz. Here is Lessig’s thoughtful response below (seen also here in the comments section of the initial post).
From Larry Lessig’s response:
Thanks for the forum.
An indictment is an allegation. It states facts the government believes it can prove. It isn’t proof of the facts. It is one side in a dispute.
Even if the facts the government alleges are true, I am not sure they constitute a crime. There is considerable uncertainty in this area of the law. Many wonder about the quick conversion of terms-of-service into criminal prosecution. But that’s a question the courts will ultimately have to resolve.
Nonetheless, if the facts are true, even if the law is not clear, I, of course, believe the behavior is ethically wrong. I am a big supporter of changing the law. As my repeated injunctions against illegal file sharing attest, however, I am not a believer in breaking bad laws. I am not even convinced that laws that protect entities like JSTOR are bad. And even if sometimes civil disobedience is appropriate, even then the disobedient disobeys the law and accepts the punishment.
That, however, begs the question of the appropriate punishment. I can’t believe Aaron did this for personal gain. Unlike, say, Wall Street (and what were the penalties they suffered?), this wasn’t behavior designed to make the man rich. Nor, if the allegations are true, was this behavior designed to interfere with any of JSTORs activity. It wasn’t a denial of service. It wasn’t designed to take any facility down.
What it was is unclear. What the law will say about it is even more unclear. What is not unclear, however, to me at least, is the ethical wrong here. I have endless respect for the genius and insight of this extraordinary kid. I cherish his advice and our friendship. But I am sorry if he indeed crossed this line. It is not a line I believe it right to cross, even if it is a line that needs to be redrawn, by better laws better tuned to the times.