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Jump paywalls, score academic research for free, share it without being busted

Darlene Storm | Aug. 20, 2015
At Chaos Communication Camp 2015, a researcher explained how to jump paywalls, obtain academic research and freely share that research without getting arrested.

Knowledge is free not paywalled
Credit: Ewa Rozkosz

Every four years the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Germany holds a Chaos Communication Camp, which is so cool that it inspired the American-flavored hacker camp ToorCamp. As always there were a plethora of excellent talks, but today we are looking at a talk that covered hypothetical methods to obtain knowledge, via academic research behind payalls, for free...without getting arrested.

At Chaos Communication Camp 2015 in Germany, Storm Harding, a “researcher investigating the intersection of piracy and privacy” presented Jumping the Paywall, or “how to freely share research without being arrested.” Harding is “deeply committed to contesting the notions of Intellectual Properties in all their nefarious manifestations (including copyleft).”

Jumping the Paywall explores “how to procure access to all-too-often restricted content sequestered behind extortionate academic paywalls, and how to then safely freely disseminate said content without being apprehended.” The talk, which included a waiver of liability, covered potential ways to get around paywalls as well as:

  • Content access procurement (how to secure free access to knowledge from a variety of sources).
  • Operational security during field deployment (how to stay safe when procuring content from physical sources such as libraries).
  • Content Defanging (how to remove three problematic types of shackles from digital content: content protection, metadata, and watermarking identification and removal).
  • Content distribution (how to distribute the now-defanged content safely).

Here are Hardings' CCC slides, but clicking will trigger a PowerPoint download. I highly recommend for you to follow along in the video.

Just the mention of fighting a paywall brought Aaron Swartz to mind; he successfully scraped 2.7 million documents from the paywalled PACER, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. Paywall, of course, implies that public access is an oxymoron since it’s not free for the public to access.

Aaron Swartz JSTOR
Storm Harding

After Swartz scraped JSTOR (Journal Storage), a digital library of academic journals and books, it led to federal hacking charges and, after Swartz’s suicide, led to Aaron’s Law to hopefully fix vague language in CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act). If you still haven’t seen The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz then you should watch it with all haste. Harding of course mentioned Swartz and his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto


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