Open Access

Discussions from Digital Humanities

Reflecting on ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, 2014

This 2014 documentary, directed by Brian Knappenberger explores the life of Aaron Schwartz and the events that led to his eventual death in 2013.

As a fair-weather reddit lurker, I was a little familiar with Schwartz and the PIPA/SOPA campaign but I was not aware of the particulars of the Jstor case. I was especially shocked that none of the downloaded Jstor data had even been shared and the prosecution was able to proceed anyway because the law is so poorly written. I also note that Jstor have since made some of their material open access and that researchers can request downloads of large datasets for text-mining projects. I wonder if this is a direct result of the bad press from the case with Schwartz?

The tragic hounding of Schwartz does seem to have sent a message because there is a general acceptance that certain online ‘institutions’ must be allowed to continue profiting from their control of often publicly funded data. Self publishing pre-prints is a quasi-legal work-around for these restrictions, but access is still hampered by the inaccessibility of some repositories. I find it sadly ironic that, with these work-arounds, important research can remain out of reach for those who can’t afford it while peer-to-peer sharing of pirated movies and music can easily be accessed by anyone with an android phone and very basic technical skills. 

Photo by Stephen Picilaidis on Unsplash

The solution of self-archiving to open access repositories is not sustainable, or truly open. To use these resources you need a good idea in the first place of the authors or titles you are looking for or at least the institution or discipline. Initiatives like ROAR (registry of open access repositories) are commendable but not terribly user-friendly. In that gap companies have even found a way to monetise self-archiving, in the case of, which poses quite a few conceptual problems but is much more easily accessible for an academic ‘outsider’.

I wasn’t aware of the recent Library association statement, but I think it sums up the threats to scholarship quite well (The Library Association of Ireland, 2020). Living with the Victorian copyright system that is not fit for purpose can’t be seen as viable in the long-term. If a head of steam is built up across the EU from librarians and academics, it might be possible to influence some reform in this area.


 Tilsley, Alexandra (January 9, 2013). ‘Journal Archive Opens Up (Some)’. Inside Higher Ed.[online] Available at: Accessed 13 Dec 2021.

The Library Association of Ireland (28 Oct, 2020) ‘Irish librarians call for action on the electronic content crisis facing libraries and library users’ The Library Association of Ireland [online] Available at: Accessed 13 Dec 2021