“On Friday, Internet pioneer and open information activist Aaron Swartz took his own life at the age of 26. At the time of his death, Swartz was under indictment for logging into JSTOR, a database of scholarly articles, and rapidly downloading those articles with the intent to make them public. If Swartz had lived to be convicted of the charges against him, he faced 50 years or more in a federal prison.
To put these charges in perspective, here are ten examples of federal crimes that carry lesser prison sentences than Swartz’ alleged crime of downloading academic articles in an effort to make knowledge widely available to the public:
- Manslaughter: Federal law provides that someone who kills another human being “[u]pon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if subject to federal jurisdiction. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only six years.
- Bank Robbery: A person who “by force and violence, or by intimidation” robs a bank faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. If the criminal “assaults any person, or puts in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device,” this sentence is upped to a maximum of 25 years.
- Selling Child Pornography: The maximum prison sentence for a first-time offender who “knowingly sells or possesses with intent to sell” child pornography in interstate commerce is 20 years. Significantly, the only way to produce child porn is to sexually molest a child, which means that such a criminal is literally profiting off of child rape or sexual abuse.”
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