Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mark Rogers RIP

It is with great sadness that I write that my friend and colleague, Mark Rogers, died this morning after a long and incredibly dignified battle with a malignant brain tumour.

I’ve had privilege of knowing Mark for 11 years – we moved to the same location at roughly the same time, me the short hop from Oxford and Mark returning from a stint working in Australia.  Both of us with young families.  I’d been working at the Open University for about five years by then with Mark’s dad, Brian, one of the most decent human beings you could ever hope to meet.

An Oxford University economist of international renown, Mark’s recent work has formed one of the foundation stones of Professor Ian Hargreaves emphatic call for evidence based policy making in his review of the UK’s intellectual property regime.

Down to earth family man, friend, academic and practical economist, optimist, writer, basketball coach and player, runner, cyclist, all round handyman and an infinite well of sound personal and professional advice, Mark is one of those impossibly nice, exceptionally talented and generous individuals you’d like your children to emulate.

The dignity and positive outlook with which he has faced his illness were genuinely awe inspiring.  He is survived by his partner Shona and two children, Callum and Tegan. Needless to say it is impossible to articulate the impact on his family - nothing can prepare you for such an experience.

There is neither rhyme nor reason for the world and, more especially his family, to be prematurely deprived of the gifts this man still had to offer. Mark himself would tell us to appreciate what we have and had rather than focusing on the loss and inevitable sorrow. Nevertheless, Mark, we will grieve. There will never be another Mark Rogers.  It's been an honour knowing you and working with you and a privilege to call you my friend.  I will treasure those gifts.

Update: A memorial service for Mark will be held at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College, in the College Chapel at 2.30 pm on Tuesday 2 August.

The service will be conducted by Revd. Dr. Ralph Waller, Principal of Harris Manchester, and there will be refreshments afterwards in the college. The family are asking that there be no donations of flowers but instead donations are requested for the Sobell House Hospice Charity. Mark spent his final weeks being cared for in Sir Michael Sobell House, which is a specialist unit for adults with life threatening illness. Donations are being coordinated by the funeral directors: P.L.Barrett, 81 Ock Street, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 5AG, tel. +44 (0)1235 520 808, and can be sent to them with a note that the donation is in memory of Mark Rogers.

Aaron Swartz arrested

Aaron Swartz  has been arrested for breaching JSTOR's terms and conditions and for breaking into MIT's network to do so.  The indictment states:

"11. Between September 24, 2010, and January 6, 2011, Swartz contrived to:
a. break into a restricted computer wiring closet at MIT;
b. access MIT's network without authorization from a switch within that closet;
c. connect to JSTOR's archive of digitized journal articles through MIT's computer network;
d. use this access to download a major portion of JSTOR's archive onto his computers and computer hard drives ;
e. avoid JSTOR's and MIT's efforts to prevent this massive copying, measures which were directed at users generally and at Swartz's illicit conduct specifically; and
f.  ellude detection and identification;
all with the purpose of distributing a significant proportion of JSTOR's archive through one or more file sharing sites."

It also says "Swartz used MIT's computer networks to steal well over 4,000,000 articles from JSTOR."

Firstly copying is not stealing.  Secondly the Ars technica article above points to some evidence that Swartz has previously used large volumes of legal articles for research.  Thirdly there does not appear to be any evidence that he intended to distribute the articles on file sharing sites. Without knowing all the details I would guess that, despite his committment to openness, Aaron Swartz understands the legal issues and penalties too well to have any such intention.

So, again without knowing all the details it is hard to say definitively, but this looks more like a bureaucratic over-reaction to rule breaking than a serious criminal case.  Yet the consequences, should it go to trial and the court conclude malign intent, are extremely draconian.  It will bear watching closely and hopefully Aaron Swartz's friends in the legal, digital rights and academic communities will guide him carefully through it.

Update: Demand Progress has a support Aaron petition.

Update 2:  The charges are  -
1. wire fraud (18 USC sections 1343 and 2);
2. computer fraud (18 USC sections 1030(a)4 and 2);
3. unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer (18 USC sections 1030(a)(2), (c)(2)(B)(iii) and 2);
4. recklessly damaging a protected computer (18 USC sections 1030(a)(5)(B), (c)(4)(A)(i)(I),(IV) & 2);

Update 3: According to Wired, JSTOR did not want a prosecution and it wasn't them that called in the police.  They got all the downloaded files back but the federal prosecutors and the New England Electronic Crimes Task Force see an opportunity to pursue a high profile computer crime case. It looks like it is the MIT police and the feds who are the prime movers behind the case rather than JSTOR. It would be interesting to know who made the original complaint though.