Aaron Swartz, an activist known for numerous contributions to the Internet regarding things like open knowledge and Internet censorship, was tragically found dead in his Brooklyn apartment Friday, January 11th.
Reportedly by hanging, Swartz committed suicide as he faced a maximum of $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison following an increase in felony counts against him from 4 to 13. This was caused by a variety of charges by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts including computer intrusion, wire fraud and data theft in relation to allegations that he stole millions of academic journal articles from MIT subscription-based service JSTOR.
“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” said Carmen Ortiz, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts in a statement when the indictment was unsealed in July 2011. “It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.”
Prosecutors claim Swartz had the intention of making the articles available on P2P file-sharing sites.
Earlier this week on January 9th, it was announced by JSTOR that “the archives of more than 1,200 journals are now available for limited free reading by the public,” with the new additions bringing “more than 4.5 million articles from nearly 800 scholarly societies, university presses, and academic publishers into the Register & Read offerings.”
Aaron Swartz contributed to projects such as RSS, web.py, tor2web, the Open Library, and more. He helped the launch of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.
When COICA was introduced, Swartz founded Demand Progress, mobilizing over a million online activists to help gain traction against Internet censorship related subjects. The organization was instrumental in that campaign, as well as the successors SOPA and PIPA, and continues to fight today. In addition to activism work in Demand Progress, he also worked with groups Rootstrikers and Avaaz.
Aaron Swartz was a major contributor to making the Internet better for everyone, and continues to encourage change and reform, even in death. To read more about Aaron Swartz’s involvement and activism, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s farewell to their collaborator. Also, stop by his memorial page here.