'Sharing Is Not A Crime': Why A Colombian Student Faces Prison For Posting Research Online

Joseph Williams | TakePart | July 29, 2014

The case of biologist Diego Gomez has its origins in a 2006 free trade deal—and it echoes the fate of Aaron Swartz.

A South American biologist who found a five-year-old master's degree thesis online, then shared it with fellow graduate students on a Web page, could spend the next eight years in prison for copyright infringement.  In a case that pits Internet freedom against intellectual property rights, Diego Gomez is accused of breaking the law even though he used the paper for research, didn't try to sell it, and didn’t claim credit for the work. But the paper’s author claims Gomez, 26, illegally obtained and distributed his work product, violating copyright laws embedded in a 2006 trade deal Colombia signed with the United States. 

The case against Gomez, who is studying ways to preserve his country's vast, diverse ecosystem, has become a rallying cry for international activists, including recently formed free-Internet advocacy groups in Colombia. But Maira Sutton, a global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free-Internet advocacy group, believes he is among a growing number of students, researchers, and ordinary Internet users around the world ensnared by laws designed with big business in mind.

“That’s the thing about copyright law—it sort of pulls in all sorts of uses of work” that typically weren't subject to legal protection, said Sutton. The new laws, she said, consider a broad range of activities to be violations—from bootleg videos of Hollywood movies to e-book recordings for the blind.  Gomez’s case echoes that of Aaron Swartz, the computer prodigy and free-Internet hacktivist who killed himself last year amid a heavy-handed federal investigation...