Accessing the public domain through JSTOR

Academic journal archiver JSTOR has just made public domain articles a lot more accessible:

[W]e are making journal content on JSTOR published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere, freely available to the public for reading and downloading. This includes nearly 500,000 articles from more than 200 journals, representing approximately 6% of the total content on JSTOR.

We are taking this step as part of our continuous effort to provide the widest possible access to the content on JSTOR while ensuring the long-term preservation of this important material.

Mike Masnick over at Techdirt recounts some history that provides context for JSTOR’s decision:

You may recall that following the indictment of Aaron Swartz for downloading some JSTOR papers, a guy named Greg Maxwell decided to upload 33GBs of public domain papers from JSTOR and make them available via The Pirate Bay. He had the papers for a while, but was afraid that he’d get legally harassed for distributing them.

JSTOR explicitly acknowledge this history in its announcement (emphasis added):

I realize that some people may speculate that making the Early Journal Content free to the public today is a direct response to widely-publicized events over the summer involving an individual [Aaron Swartz] who was indicted for downloading a substantial portion of content from JSTOR, allegedly for the purpose of posting it to file sharing sites. While we had been working on releasing the pre-1923/pre-1870 content before the incident took place, it would be inaccurate to say that these events have had no impact on our planning. We considered whether to delay or accelerate this action, largely out of concern that people might draw incorrect conclusions about our motivations. In the end, we decided to press ahead with our plans to make the Early Journal Content available, which we believe is in the best interest of our library and publisher partners, and students, scholars, and researchers everywhere.

Regardless of how this happened, I applaud JSTOR for greatly furthering access to public domain academic journal articles.

H/T Techdirt/Copycense.