Aaron Swartz may be a galvanizing figure for Internet activists, but his exploits didn't exactly make him popular among copyright holders. In fact, the tributes to Swartz, who committed suicide last week while awaiting trial on computer fraud charges, have started drawing blowback from the defenders of strong copyrights, who argue that Swartz's efforts to "liberate" documents locked behind paywalls was nothing more than theft.
A good example is an editorial in Friday's Wall Street Journal -- I'd link to it, but it's behind a paywall (insert your own snappy one-liner about irony or having the courage of one's convictions here) -- that opens with a long apologia for copyrights and a denunciation of "e-vangelists like Swartz" who are "oblivious to the economic realities that confront media companies (including this newspaper) or scholarly projects like JSTOR."
It then observes that Swartz wasn't charged with copyright infringement.
That's precisely the point. Led by U.S. Atty. Carmen Ortiz in Boston, federal prosecutors charged Swartz with violating a 1986 law against computer hacking and a 1952 law against committing fraud through a phone line, basing the charges in part on a chillingly expansive view of what "unauthorized access" means. As the Journal goes on to argue, "If copyright can't safeguard an outfit like JSTOR and prosecutors can't distinguish real cyber crimes from an abortive political stunt, then it's another warning that the U.S. legal architecture for intellectual property is out of date."