Aaron Swartz, 26-year-old Internet prodigy and activist, was found dead Friday January 11th, 2013. Swartz hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn, NY.
In a statement released by his family and girlfriend, the state of Massachusetts prosecutorial decisions were a contributing factor to his death.
In 2011, Swartz was an ethics fellow at Harvard. He was charged with 13 felony counts of theft and computer fraud for allegedly stealing 5 million JSTOR journal articles from MIT computer archives.
Swartz worked tirelessly to make information available to everyone via the Internet for free. He created an online encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia at age 13. At age 14, he helped develop the RSS feed software.
After creating Infogami, leading to Reddit in 2005, he sold the company to Conde Nast for more than 4 million dollars. His non-profit group, Demand Progress successfully stopped the SOPA (stop online piracy act) from censoring the Internet.
Creative Commons co-worker Larry Lessig believes that Swartz facing steep fines and decades in prison was driven to suicide by the bullying of the government. He points out even JSTOR dropped all charges and requested that Aaron not be prosecuted.
Back in 2011, the U.S. attorney’s office seemed to be making an example with the extensive prosecution of Swartz. Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz stated, “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”
However, legal experts say as a university fellow with permission to access and download the content for personal use, the charges were unfounded. The prosecuting attorney’s were assuming Swartz would publish the content on open source websites.
Interestingly, Wednesday JSTOR made 1200 journals archives available for free. Their website offers condolences to friends, family, and everyone who loved, knew and admired Aaron. They go on to say, “He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the Internet and the web from which we all benefit.”