This is a minor point in the face of a tragedy, but I think it's worth making.
Aaron Swartz, the young information rights activist who was indicted for downloading millions of academic journal articles from MIT's network, has committed suicide. The charges against him were, frankly, insane. Yes, it was a mistake to break into a networking closet and access their network illegally-- the kind of mistake that should get you, say, a fine, community service, and probation. The feds were apparently out to make an example of Swartz at a time when they are under great pressure from media companies to enforce IP laws. It's impossible to say if his suicide was a direct result of his prosecution; mental health is enormously complicated and does not operate on a simplistic system of cause and effect. But it would be absurd not to assume that the prospect of years and years in prison contributed to his mental well-being at the time of his suicide.
Here's the point I want to make about journal archive access: I don't know a single academic who is opposed to open and free access of their work. And I know more than my fair share of academics. My father was a professor and his father was a professor, my family's social circle growing up was full of academics, I am a grad student who maintains friendships and connections with other grad students and professors at many universities, and I spend an awful lot of time talking about the university and its culture. And I have brought up the question of gated journal access constantly, because it's a subject of considerable interest to me. I know that this isn't a very rigorous standard of evidence, but my own experience is all I've got. I have never talked to anyone-- arts, professional schools, humanities, social sciences, or STEM-- who was opposed in theory to the idea of free access. You've got to do something to rebuild the revenue streams of the academic journals, many of which operate at a loss already. But as a principle, giving people free access to journal articles is as close to a universal stance as I can think of among academics. Why wouldn't it be? Researchers believe that their research has value, that it matters, and they want it to be read.
It's important to say: I am very far from a piracy apologist or advocate for totally free media. "Information wants to be free" is an entirely empty statement, an attempt to use a profound-sounding aphorism in the place of actual intellectual work. In my experience, those who advocate the freedom to pirate simply want whatever they want, whenever they want it, at no cost. That's not an adult stance, and to date I have never heard a piracy advocate articulate a system that would achieve that universal free access while still making the media we love practically possible, to say nothing of compensating creators for their talent and their work. I am not someone inclined to an "anything goes" attitude towards intellectual property. But this prosecution was ridiculous, this outcome tragic, and this restriction on the free dissemination of academic articles an affront not just to the ideals of scholarship but to the actual desires of most academics. Who was the government protecting in this prosecution? Who was it for?