January 11, 2013 was a sad day for the Internet world. That day, Internet pioneer and open information activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide at a young age of 26.
Swartz’s “crime” – he had logged into JSTOR (Journal Storage), a database of scholarly articles, and rapidly downloaded those articles with the intent to make them public.
He didn’t “hack” the network to secure those downloads. MIT is anyways an open network.
He didn’t crack any special password system to get behind JSTOR’s digital walls. All he did was figure out how JSTOR was filing the articles that he wanted, and wrote a simple script to quickly gather those articles and then copy them to his computer.
If Swartz had lived to be convicted of the charges against him, he either had to accept the label of a criminal and go to jail for 50 years, or fight a million-dollar lawsuit.
Aaron decided to take a third option. He hanged himself!
And with that we have lost an incredible soul, one who had literally spent half of his 26-year-old life doing nothing except working for the public good as far as Internet and learning are concerned.
It was he who helped develop RSS, revolutionizing how people use the Internet, and went on to co-own Reddit, now one of the world’s most popular sites. He was also a key architect of Creative Commons, an organization that helps people share their knowledge and creativity with the world.
It is ironical that the punishment Aaron was supposed to face for downloading academic articles in an effort to make knowledge widely available to the public was harsher than what is accorded in the US to any of these…
- Manslaughter (10 years in prison)
- Bank robbery (20-25 years)
- Selling slaves (20 years)
- Aiding terrorists (20 years)
- Threatening the President (5 years)
In other words, Aaron’s punishment would have been same if he had robbed a bank, then slaughtered people, and then helped al-Qaeda develop nuclear bombs!
Just downloading and distributing academic papers brought him to face such a severe punishment!
This is in a world where the big banks and financial institutions (and their top men) that have destroyed trillions of dollars in investors’ wealth over the past five years have gone away scot-free (and with billions in bonuses)!
Anyways, Aaron’s death and the protests that have followed have prompted the insanely powerful US government to fix some important flaws in the law regulating the Internet so that others can be protected from legal abuse.
But that won’t bring this genius to life again. It won’t restore his shattered family, or bring peace to his bewildered friends.
My ode to Aaron Swartz
I did not hear much about Aaron Swartz over the past few years till I heard about his death. But the stupid reason of Internet privacy that destroyed this precious life has pained me.
Here’s something I’ve done as my ode to Aaron Swartz.
I have “uncopyrighted” my investing blog, Safal Niveshak.
Come, use my content for free
Mark Twain said, “Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.”
To free God from this impossibility, I have released all claims on copyright and put all the content of Safal Niveshak into the public domain.
You don’t need any permission to copy, distribute, or modify the content of this site. Credit is appreciated but not required.
Here are some of the things you can do now with the content I’ve created (and will create) if you so desire:
- Repost it on your own website as much as you want
- Transfer it to different media (articles, audio, video, book, etc.)
- Translate it into other languages
- Make money from what you create (sell it in ebook form, post it on your website and make money from advertising)
- Include my articles in your company newsletters
- Develop a workshop or seminar based on my investing content
There is no need to email me for permission — use my content however you want.
My reasoning here is that if I am going to give something to someone, it should not come with restrictions.
If I gift you a diary, I won’t tell you to use it to write a novel — if you want to let your kid tear it up and make paper airplanes and boats out of it, that’s your choice.
So yes, people may use my work without attribution (and some have done so in the past). But actually this won’t hurt me a bit, not any more.
Usually, people are grateful for the gift and give credit where it’s due anyway, without me requiring it.
Of course, if I write a book or an ebook or launch a paid service in the future, I probably won’t be able to share it freely with everyone.
But then, I would love anyone who’s paid for that work to share it freely with friends. That won’t hurt me. In fact, I will be happy as my work will spread to many more people than I could do myself.
I’m not taking plagiarism seriously (anymore)
I have seen bloggers take plagiarism very seriously. I have been guilty of doing my bit in the past as well (though I was amused more by someone accusing me of plagiarism!).
But then, as I have realized over time, thanks to the time I’ve spent in introspection, all of this content that I write on Safal Niveshak isn’t really mine.
We are living in a world of dreams, and anything here belongs to the dreamer (the ultimate power that runs this Universe), not to the individual projection known as Vishal Khandelwal.
At best I am a translator and a custodian of that dreamer’s work, but I can’t really be an owner, not in the strictest sense.
In Safal Niveshak’s case, the original dreamers also take the form of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and the likes.
So I’m just sharing what I’ve learned from them. How can I claim it as my own?
Also, while Safal Niveshak has started getting a lot of traffic and currently reaches out to over 4,500 tribesmen (my readers), there are still thousands of small investors who haven’t been exposed to some of the most basic and prudent investing concepts.
So if you can help expose more people to ideas and information that will benefit them, I’ll be immensely thankful to you.
But please be nice with me
While I’d love when you use my ideas and content and do something creative and generous, please exercise good judgment.
Don’t create headaches for me by doing something sketchy or deceptive.
For example, don’t make it look like I’m recommending or endorsing a stock or a financial product when I didn’t explicitly do so.
Please don’t quote me inaccurately. Please don’t get me a ban from the SEBI.
In case you want to make money from my work, there’s no obligation to pay me a portion of what you earn. However, if you feel good about doing so, I’d be open to discussions. You’re free to decide what feels right to you.
Why am I doing this?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I like helping people. I like when people remove all barriers to sharing.
By uncopyrighting my content and ideas, I am trying to do just that – remove all barriers to share my knowledge and ideas freely with the world.
This is something I want to experience as part of my own path of growth, and my wish to let go…to liberate myself.
This is what Aaron Swartz had worked for a large part of his small life. And I could not think of a better way to give my respect to this boy who braved to be a man in a world of cowards.
So come, use or alter my content in any manner for the betterment of the world, with or without credit or notice to me.
In case you give me some credit, I will appreciate it.
I can’t think of a better tribute to Aaron and many others who are trying to remove all barriers to sharing knowledge, and thus making our world brighter and better.
Ultimately, this is what I’ve also learned from Bhagvad Gita…
Whatever has happened, has happened for good.
Whatever is happening, is happening for good.
Whatever will happen, will happen for good.
What did you lose that you are crying?
What did you bring with yourself that you have lost?
What did you give birth to that got destroyed?
Whatever you took, you took from here.
Whatever you gave, you gave here.
What belongs to you today,
Belonged to someone else yesterday,
Will belong to someone else tomorrow.
Change is an established rule of this world.
What do you say?
What are you uncopyrighting?
Image courtesy: ThoughtWorks
About the Author: Vishal is the Chief Tribesman at Safal Niveshak, where he works with small investors to help them become smart, independent, and successful in their stock market investing and personal finance decisions.
wow. vishal… u always bring something very valuable to the table.
i’m a writer. but i don’t think i’m ready to uncopyright yet.
As usual, your post has troubled me (in the good way, of course!!!)…..
Way to go!!!
Dr Saurabh Bhatia
The above is the copyright disclaimer of my blog blog.saurabhbhatia.com written in June 2007
welcome to the club, Vishal
Blogging information is already public for people to consume and bloggers are able to monetize this information they are providing thus making no sense of copyright. But what about scientists who sacrificed their time with families to work on something only for it to be shown to public and giving them no credit/money whatsoever? How would you feel if you created a software company and someone open sourced all your code?
Thanks for getting troubled, Asha 🙂
Nice to see you already there Dr. Bhatia!
My uncopyrighting my work in no way means that I am against IPRs. These must be protected by those who spend their lives creating them (like software companies).
But if someone wants to create an open source software, that will, in no ways, discredit the copyrighted software?
By the way, blogging is an art and one may protect it with copyright. It’s incorrect to say that because blogging is public, that must nit be copyrighted. It’s just my personal choice to give away these rights, as an ode to Aaron Swartz who worked to free up knowledge from all barriers.
I may be wayy off here, but as far as I know, Aaron made the knowledge open to public to consume for free. This is the thing I am saying he wasn’t good for and the thing he was getting a trial for.
P.S. Even I don’t copyright my blog. 🙂
A really insightful post which has forced me to think. Thanks Vishal!
That knowledge was already available for free. He just wrote a program to download the files rapidly to his computer. That’s it!
Great to know about your uncopyrighted blog! 🙂
Shyam Sunder Vyas
You are a good human being.
It has troubled me too!
Impressive post Vishal. I too heard about Aaron after it appeared in the news. Looking at his works and reading that you too are following it; I am totally pleased and will try to do the same whenever I can. Thanks for the post.
Hi Vishal, quite a prolific thought!
I was listening to Salman Rushdie and Deepa Mehta confess that India needs a cultural revolution in the wake of creating an impasse on creativity by mixing religion and conservatism with arts! This one on Aaron is quite the opposite feeling, wonder if we could pose the ‘un-copywriting’ question on the same artists and if they would be willing to use it to begin the cultural revolution?
Nay say most people when the attack is individual but voice vociferously when it comes to a community being attacked. Salman Rushdie says there are no art gangs to fight back but the un-copywriting of one’s work may be quite a movement if one of the artists had the guts to take this up!!
Knowledge is to be shared and that is what gives knowledge its true respect. Not sure if what Aaron did can be called an extreme crime; that can surpass the manslaughter punishment; but he definitely seemed to have chosen a cowardly path! As an entrepreneur I would condemn suicide as a cowardly act of trying to run away from the issue, this is not an option, it has no honor and defeats all purpose.
Why do we copy-write?
Usually because someone mis-quoted your work or plagiarized it by calling it theirs. However the bigger problem is that it has no ROI! Which helps you create more work. Loses in business or time are both loses that get accounted in future work or no fuel for work! However, it was an interesting thought. Enjoyed reading your work but will refrain from copying it.
Puneet Nirogam Aggarwal
Jo Tera Hai, woh Mera Hai….. Thank you Vishal – keep it up….
I’ve been a regular reader of your articles particularly those on SafalNiveshak.com. They are truly amazing, interesting and highly insightful.