Why is Claude Shannon's Master's thesis behind a paywall

Hanan sez, "'A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits' by Claude Shannon can be viewed but cannot be printed. It's behind an MIT paywall. This thesis from 1937 predicted moderns digital circuitry. Why can't we print and read it at our convenience?"

Update: Lew Pitcher found a different copy, also on MIT's servers, that is an unencumbered PDF.


  1. The information is publicly available through other sources. A few entries down, Google shows a freely-available version through umn.edu.

    If MIT wants to charge for use of their servers or their network, they’re free to do so.

    Perhaps the real question is this: if this is information that you believe should be publicly distributed, why aren’t YOU paying to host a copy for the world?

  2. Easy to get around with KDE’s PDF viewer, okular.  Just click Settings -> Configure Okular, make sure “Obey DRM restrictions” on the General panel is unchecked, Apply/OK.  Aaand you’re done.

  3. It’s not a paywall, it’s a reference held in MIT’s publications database with no full text associated with it. Presumably they don’t have, or haven’t yet uploaded, a digitised version of the thesis.

  4. Ah I didn’t see the “MIT only” download link. I would guess they only make Masters theses available internally, then.

    1. Not exactly. They’ll make anything available to anyone if the copyright terms allow it. The reason why it’s free to MIT students but not to others is simply a bureaucratic one: it’s obvious that MIT students can avail themselves of fair use exemptions to copyright for academic purposes, but to avoid potential legal wrangles the library has to carry out some sort of due diligence on other downloaders. That takes time, and MIT certainly aren’t going to pay for it.

      1. What is the difference between fair use (s/b Fair Use?) as enjoyed by the MIT students, and the use available to the public at large?

  5. Because otherwise Hitler might gain access to militarily sensitive technology?

    If they’re going to sell Shannon’s sixty-year-old work, it might be worth reminding them that he died in 2001.

  6. MIT’s system of putting everything behind the ‘paywall’ has always seemed a bit odd to me. When I submitted my undergrad thesis there (which I own, not them as opposed to Masters and Ph.D. theses) there was no option to remove the restriction. I  e-mailed the DSpace people to remove the restriction, and they said it was not an option. Obviously you can read the document online and circumvent the restriction in simple ways, but that is not the point. 

    Anyway, I think a greater problem that is worth discussing is the general problem of ownership in academia and the complete disregard for communicating the boundaries of what is and isn’t yours at the institutions I have attended (MIT and UIUC).  Though, I assume the problem is more wide spread that just those places.

  7. A better question might be why is everything there behind an easily defeated paywall.  I’d bet it has more to do with their network and servers than with intent to restrict access to casual readers.

    BTW, I’m reading Gleick’s The Information on Cory’s recommendation.  It’s a fascinating book and very worthwhile. It covers Shannon and his work extensively.

  8. In Linux or OS X with GhostScript installed, simply do the following:

    gs -q -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=unencrypted.pdf -c .setpdfwrite -f encrypted.pdf

    And voila, the password is magically gone. Tested it myself and it works wonderfully.

  9. It does more than predict; the basic elements are designed and diagrammed such that they can be built. Check out his “Factor Table Machine” at the end:

    “A machine is to be designed which will automatically print a table of factors of all the integers from 1 to 100,000,000.”

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