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Safal Niveshak Uncopyrighted: My Ode to Aaron Swartz

January 11, 2013 was a sad day for the Internet world. That day, Internet pioneer and open information activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide at a young age of 26.

Swartz’s “crime” – he had logged into JSTOR (Journal Storage), a database of scholarly articles, and rapidly downloaded those articles with the intent to make them public.

He didn’t “hack” the network to secure those downloads. MIT is anyways an open network.

He didn’t crack any special password system to get behind JSTOR’s digital walls. All he did was figure out how JSTOR was filing the articles that he wanted, and wrote a simple script to quickly gather those articles and then copy them to his computer.

If Swartz had lived to be convicted of the charges against him, he either had to accept the label of a criminal and go to jail for 50 years, or fight a million-dollar lawsuit.

Aaron decided to take a third option. He hanged himself!

And with that we have lost an incredible soul, one who had literally spent half of his 26-year-old life doing nothing except working for the public good as far as Internet and learning are concerned.

It was he who helped develop RSS, revolutionizing how people use the Internet, and went on to co-own Reddit, now one of the world’s most popular sites. He was also a key architect of Creative Commons, an organization that helps people share their knowledge and creativity with the world.

It is ironical that the punishment Aaron was supposed to face for downloading academic articles in an effort to make knowledge widely available to the public was harsher than what is accorded in the US to any of these…

  • Manslaughter (10 years in prison)
  • Bank robbery (20-25 years)
  • Selling slaves (20 years)
  • Aiding terrorists (20 years)
  • Threatening the President (5 years)

In other words, Aaron’s punishment would have been same if he had robbed a bank, then slaughtered people, and then helped al-Qaeda develop nuclear bombs!

Just downloading and distributing academic papers brought him to face such a severe punishment!

This is in a world where the big banks and financial institutions (and their top men) that have destroyed trillions of dollars in investors’ wealth over the past five years have gone away scot-free (and with billions in bonuses)!

Anyways, Aaron’s death and the protests that have followed have prompted the insanely powerful US government to fix some important flaws in the law regulating the Internet so that others can be protected from legal abuse.

But that won’t bring this genius to life again. It won’t restore his shattered family, or bring peace to his bewildered friends.

My ode to Aaron Swartz
I did not hear much about Aaron Swartz over the past few years till I heard about his death. But the stupid reason of Internet privacy that destroyed this precious life has pained me.

Here’s something I’m doing as an ode to Aaron Swartz.

Today onwards, Safal Niveshak will be “uncopyrighted”.

Come, use my content for free
Mark Twain said, “Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.”

To free God from this impossibility, I now release all claims on copyright and put all the content of Safal Niveshak into the public domain.

You don’t need any permission to copy, distribute, or modify the content of this site. Credit is appreciated but not required.

Here are some of the things you can do now with the content I’ve created (and will create) if you so desire:

  • Repost it on your own website as much as you want
  • Transfer it to different media (articles, audio, video, book, etc.)
  • Translate it into other languages
  • Make money from what you create (sell it in ebook form, post it on your website and make money from advertising)
  • Include my articles in your company newsletters
  • Develop a workshop or seminar based on my investing content

There is no need to email me for permission — use my content however you want.

My reasoning here is that if I am going to give something to someone, it should not come with restrictions.

If I gift you a diary, I won’t tell you to use it to write a novel — if you want to let your kid tear it up and make paper airplanes and boats out of it, that’s your choice.

So yes, people may use my work without attribution (and some have done so in the past). But actually this won’t hurt me a bit, not any more.

Usually, people are grateful for the gift and give credit where it’s due anyway, without me requiring it.

Of course, if I write a book or an ebook or launch a paid service in the future, I probably won’t be able to share it freely with everyone.

But then, I would love anyone who’s paid for that work to share it freely with friends. That won’t hurt me. In fact, I will be happy as my work will spread to many more people than I could do myself.

I’m not taking plagiarism seriously (anymore)
I have seen bloggers take plagiarism very seriously. I have been guilty of doing my bit in the past as well (though I was amused more by someone accusing me of plagiarism!).

But then, as I have realized over time, thanks to the time I’ve spent in introspection, all of this content that I write on Safal Niveshak isn’t really mine.

We are living in a world of dreams, and anything here belongs to the dreamer (the ultimate power that runs this Universe), not to the individual projection known as Vishal Khandelwal.

At best I am a translator and a custodian of that dreamer’s work, but I can’t really be an owner, not in the strictest sense.

In Safal Niveshak’s case, the original dreamers also take the form of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and the likes.

So I’m just sharing what I’ve learned from them. How can I claim it as my own?

Also, while Safal Niveshak has started getting a lot of traffic and currently reaches out to around 4,500 tribesmen, there are still thousands of small investors who haven’t been exposed to some of the most basic and prudent investing concepts.

So if you can help expose more people to ideas and information that will benefit them, I’ll be immensely thankful to you.

But please be nice with me
While I’d love when you use my ideas and content and do something creative and generous, please exercise good judgment.

Don’t create headaches for me by doing something sketchy or deceptive.

For example, don’t make it look like I’m recommending or endorsing a stock or a financial product when I didn’t explicitly do so.

Please don’t quote me inaccurately. Please don’t get me a ban from the SEBI.

In case you want to make money from my work, there’s no obligation to pay me a portion of what you earn. However, if you feel good about doing so, I’d be open to discussions. You’re free to decide what feels right to you.

Why am I doing this?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I like helping people. I like when people remove all barriers to sharing.

By uncopyrighting my content and ideas, I am trying to do just that – remove all barriers to share my knowledge and ideas freely with the world.

This is something I want to experience as part of my own path of growth, and my wish to let go…to liberate myself.

This is what Aaron Swartz had worked for a large part of his small life. And I could not think of a better way to give my respect to this boy who braved to be a man in a world of cowards.

So come, use or alter my content in any manner for the betterment of the world, with or without credit or notice to me.

In case you give me some credit, I will appreciate it.

By the way, if you think my idea of “uncopyright” is original, let me tell you that it isn’t a new concept, and I’m freely ripping someone’s idea off here. So I’m literally living the idea here!

I’ve got inspiration from Leo Babauta, whom I respect a lot for his amazing work at Zen Habits.

Leo himself got his inspiration from Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig, and GNU by Richard Stallman.

I can’t think of a better tribute to Aaron and many others who are trying to remove all barriers to sharing knowledge, and thus making our world brighter and better.

Ultimately, this is what I’ve also learned from Bhagvad Gita…

Whatever has happened, has happened for good.
Whatever is happening, is happening for good.
Whatever will happen, will happen for good.
What did you lose that you are crying?
What did you bring with yourself that you have lost?
What did you give birth to that got destroyed?
Whatever you took, you took from here.
Whatever you gave, you gave here.
What belongs to you today,
Belonged to someone else yesterday,
Will belong to someone else tomorrow.
Change is an established rule of this world.

What do you say?

What are you uncopyrighting?

Image courtesy: ThoughtWorks

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About the Author

Vishal Khandelwal is the founder of Safal Niveshak. He works with small investors to help them become smart and independent in their stock market investing decisions. He is a SEBI registered Research Analyst. Connect with Vishal on Twitter.

Comments

  1. It takes a lot of courage to do what you do. You are truly inspiring.

    May you become more and more awesome!

  2. Your social media sites are wonderful and informative , we would love to get connected with you as our mission is the same financial education ,why dont we get connected via email and meet to team up together , regards Niraj

  3. Vishalbhai,

    This is something truly inspiring and out of box. I respect you..! I respect your initiative..! I respect your decision..!

    Respect ..! 🙂

    In some areas of my life, You are becoming role model of mine.

    Thank you so much to make this wonderful blog post available to me

    Thanks. 🙂

  4. Vishal,

    Kudos to you.

    Regards,
    Ashish

  5. Good Work, Keep it up. Still gentlemen exists !

  6. Vishal, in a world full of rules and signs saying “do this”, “don’t do that”, and where people will sue you at the drop of a hat, your initiative to uncopyright your amazing work is completely refreshing and generous.

    It’s an example of freeing up the world. I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  7. Vishal, this is awesome!

    The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. Similarly, often opening the doors of your home makes you feel more secure.

    Congratulations!

  8. Mayank Madan says:

    One word..
    Respect!

    I wish I had such clear fundamentals about Life as u have..and I am not talking about this article alone..Vishal, u r phenomenally inspirational!!

    Hats off!!

  9. Hi Vishal,
    You are the change and a role model for all of us. Its a tremendous gesture of you to share your knowledge so freely with all. I have an enormous respect for you and it has gone multifold with this article. A humble bow to you and your great positive radical thoughts. As I said before, your posts are an inspiration to me and I wish they get better and better with every new one. Safal Niveshak Rocks !!! and will go a long way with the fundamentals set by you.

    Regards,
    Vikas Kukreja

  10. Anoop Sharma says:

    Hi Vishal,

    These are the most genuine and honest words i ever read on a blog or maybe anywhere else on internet. Its a tragedy, as more and more mainstream internet is becoming, more and more internet is resembling other information media like television,newsprint or books published for commercial reasons. Internet is becoming corporatised,commercialized and Aaron did all that he could to save and preserve atleast one medium for honest expression of thought without any profit motive.

    I wish all the best and pray for God’s blessings for your ever larger growth as a person and a value investor.

    Regards,
    Anoop

  11. Hats off Vishal… Keep up the excellent work..

    Regards
    Vijay

  12. Vishal you are simply awesome. You write with honesty and simplicity. You are an inspiration to anyone. Great. keep it up. I will try to copy you and try to help others in whatever possible way. My best wishes are always with you.

  13. Sanjeev Bhatia says:

    Great Initiative, Vishal. It truly takes courage of soul to be able to selflessly contribute to the society the way you have been doing. I am sure you will be a role model for many of us for years to come in this increasingly self centered and “Me, My, Mine” kind of world.

    Kudos.
    🙂

  14. Thanks Vishal.

    May a thousand aaron’s be born !!!

  15. SG Jaclyn says:

    I like simplicity in whichever way it comes.

    Unlike any other form of wealth, wealth of knowledge is one which doesn’t decrease when you share it with others. It actually increases and flows back to you much more than what you have offered it to others.

    You have demonstrated it through the above act.

    God bless you for that act.

  16. Mihir A. Kulkarni says:

    Dear Vishal,

    This is the first time I am commenting, though I have been actively reading SafalNiveshak for long. We all hear various incidents like these on a daily basis but we hardly change ourselves and the way we do things. I appreciate this new direction of ‘un-copyright’ given to the website.

    Regards,
    Mihir A. Kulkarni

  17. Arun Ramakrishnan says:

    Hats off to you for spreading the open culture in the field of investing. Please dont worry about copcycats since they are mostly after HOT tips rather than boring/detailed analysis of stocks to hold for the next 20 years :))

  18. Harshad Parulekar says:

    Hello Vishal,

    I have always admired you respect your thought process ,there are no two ways about it.

    But let me share my concern here :

    This is Kali Yuga and frankly i am not sure if this is a very good idea.

    Regards,
    Harshad

  19. Sad for Mr Swartz. I did not know his huge contributions in a very small lifespan.
    Happy that you took up this article. Yes knowledge should be free to the extent possible but this also comes with cons i.e. patents and copyrights not being around can be very discouraging.

    • Hi Sudhir, thanks for sharing your concern. Just wanted to know your perspective – copyrights not being around can be discouraging for whom? SN tribesmen?

      I just tried to answer your concern in some ways in my comment below. Thanks for your support! Regards.

      • No not in relation to this community.
        In general if you don’t get any protection or right it is diificult to attract talent. The music industry collapsed with digitisation.
        If a person himself opts to give it out free that is great but if you want to protect your content that should be defended by all means.

  20. Thanks a lot for writing this post. I was not aware of his contribution to making knowledge more accessible. What a way to pay a tribute. I really admire your thought process and courage to un-copyright the content of Safal Niveshak. World will be much nicer place if we have more people like you.

  21. Amit Agrawal says:

    It’s people like Aaron and you and countless others like you that make this world a worthwhile place to live.

    It would be timely & apt to quote Dr. Martin Luther here – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

  22. Karthik Raghavan Ravi says:

    Vishal,

    This is a wonderful gesture! I have a perspective on this that I wanted to share with you.

    We go about thinking that things are a zero-sum game (one wins at the cost of the other, so that the net sum is 0). It probably is true at massive scales, but at the scale of handfuls and hundreds of people it is more often the case that we do together more than the sum of what we can individually do.

    I figured this out when preparing for GATE, the exam to get into IIT for PG. It’s a classic 0-sum environment, where you have to displace someone to take his rank, but that’s only when you consider the whole set of candidates (~1 lakh). In a small group of this set, it’s more mutual progress than competition. I sold the idea to a group of my juniors from college and mentored them and we prepared for the exam together. All of us got 99th percentile and admissions to any of the IITs we wanted. More importantly, we realized that none of us could have gone this far alone. It was a stunning and hard-hitting experience in real life of what I had only thought of and believed till then. It totally changed my outlook. I became an active member in online fora, started taking classes, spent hours and hours discussing strategy with anyone who was interested, motivating people etc etc. It’s SUCH an awesome feeling when my friends visit home and tell me that I made an impact 🙂

    Isn’t that what you’re doing too? Instead of hoarding your research and ideas for private profit, you’re sharing it with anyone who’s interested. For free. I believe this is the best thing to do even from a purely selfish perspective: you personally gain waaay more of the things you want and more kinds of things by sharing than by otherwise.

    Thanks for a public acknowledgement of that. It’s a wonderful culture to inculcate in the group. Hopefully people spread this 🙂
    Regards,
    Karthik

  23. Wonderful initiative, Vishal..:)

  24. Thank you everyone for your faith!

    I believe Karthik has answered all concerns, if you had any, with respect to uncopyrighting SN’s content.

    It’s not a zero-sum game where I will be hurt if someone else benefits from my ideas. In fact, the ideas will spread even wider. Of course, there may be someone willing to do wrong stuff with this content, but here I will go with what Leo Babauta has mentioned in his page on uncopyrighting –

    Who knows what people will do with your work?
    Someone could take my work, turn it into a piece of … baloney … and put my name on it. They could translate it with all kinds of errors. They could … well, they could do just about anything. But that kind of thinking stems from a mind that wants to control content … while I am of the opinion that you can’t control it, and even if you can, it’s not a good thing. What if someone takes my work and turns it into something brilliant, and becomes the next James Joyce? Or more likely, what if they take the work and extend the concepts and make it even more useful, to even more people? Release control, and see what happens. People are wonderful, creative creatures. Let’s see what they can do.

    But … but … they’re stealing from you!
    You can’t steal what is given freely. I call this sharing, not piracy.

    Finally, I’m not doing this as a challenge to other bloggers, or as a comment on their copyright policies. I’m doing it simply to stay in line with my values. And who knows? Maybe others will be inspired by this in some way. Or maybe they won’t. Either way, please don’t judge others based on what I do.

    Thanks again!

  25. R.K.Chandrashekar says:

    Vishal
    You have always inspired, delighted and surprised us with your ”Walk the talk”. Now you have set the stage much higher. I am gasping for breath trying to play catch up!! Hope this great initiative of yours will kindle many more ”Vishals”.That will make the world a great place to live in. Hats off.

  26. Buddy,

    You are doing great work by spreading the knowledge.
    Your gesture is also equally commendable.

    Few sentences to great Aaron.
    Aaron was a brilliant person, his contribution to society would remain imprinted on the wall of time.
    Aaron suffered from chronic depression for a long time.
    It was a case where mentoring and medical help, might have saved a brilliant person for the world.

    Few sentences on legal system of USA.
    Like several other news, bad news travels faster and it sells more. ( So we all hear more about 50 years of prison if convicted)
    There was no precedence of 50 years of conviction for such an innocuous crime. ( If it was crime.)
    And after all American judicial system is arguably best in the world.

    Regards

    Jagat

  27. I like U man!!! U r a genuine human being. This is a work of cosmos or something. My reading this coincides with my meeting with Swami Parthasarthy the other day.

    where he urged us to forgo the I. Quoting chapter 12 of Geeta, he advised to never for once think you are doing anything, who are u to do anything. Leave the ego and become a hollow instrument for god to play thru you.

    Cheers mate!!

  28. bharat shah says:

    only today i signed up the site and come across story of aaron and your tributes. thank you and wish you all the best.

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