A Medieval Twist to Tech Law?
Back in the Middle Ages—*floppy handwave in the direction of the past*—, there was a presumption that the only acceptable financial or personal gain came from actual labor: work that you did with your hands. Gains that came from the lack of such good, honest labor were immediately suspect, definitely a sign of sinful behavior, and possibly—GASP!—witchcraft.
I bring this up because former EFF attorney Jennifer Granick has made an interesting and pertinent observation with regard to the accusations of data theft brought against Aaron Swartz. In a recent post, Granick observes:
But the sum and substance of the case is that he defrauded JSTOR by accessing the JSTOR archive without authorization and making copies of articles that students at MIT (and at Harvard, where Swartz was a Fellow) could obtain for free.
Swartz could have downloaded the articles one by one without violating the law. Is it a crime, therefore, that he used an automated process to do so? … I find the theory that individual access is allowed, but automated access is not extremely interesting.
Now, we might have a number of reasons, legal or otherwise (Read: any Bond villain. Or Skynet.), to fear what somebody with a powerful enough computer and the ability to automate actions might be able to do.
But at the same time, it’s difficult not to see the distinction being made between evil automation and the tedious but apparently honest work of downloading each paper individually as a fear of witchcraft.