Online activist, programmer Swartz dies in NY


08:27 AM January 13th, 2013

By: Verena Dobnik, January 13th, 2013

In this Jan. 30, 2009 photo, Internet activist Aaron Swartz poses for a photo in Miami Beach, Fla. Swartz was found dead Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, according to Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York’s medical examiner. Swartz, 26, was scheduled to face trial on hacking charges in a few weeks. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Michael Francis McElroy)

NEW YORK— A co-founder of the social news website Reddit and activist who fought to make online content free to the public has been found dead, authorities confirmed Saturday, prompting an outpouring of grief from prominent voices on the intersection of free speech and the Web.

Aaron Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment weeks before he was to go on trial on accusations that he stole millions of journal articles from an electronic archive in an attempt to make them freely available.

He was pronounced dead Friday evening at his home in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York’s chief medical examiner.

Swartz was a prodigy who as a young teenager helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users. He later co-founded Reddit, which ended up being sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.

In 2011, he was arrested in Boston and charged with stealing millions of articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Prosecutors said he broke into a computer wiring closet on campus and used his laptop for the downloads.

Swartz pleaded not guilty to charges including wire fraud. His federal trial was to begin next month. If convicted, he faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.

Some legal experts considered the case unfounded, saying that MIT allows guests access to the articles and Swartz, a fellow at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, was a guest.

According to a federal indictment, Swartz stole the documents from JSTOR, a subscription service used by MIT that offers digitized copies of articles from academic journals. Prosecutors said he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.

He faced 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture.

JSTOR did not press charges once it reclaimed the articles from Swartz.

The prosecution “makes no sense,” Demand Progress Executive Director David Segar said in a statement at the time. “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

Criticizing the government’s actions in seeking to prosecute Swartz, Harvard law professor and Safra Center faculty director Lawrence Lessig called himself a friend of Swartz’s and wrote Saturday that “we need a better sense of justice. … The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ‘felon.'”

Among Internet gurus, Swartz was considered a pioneer of efforts to make online information freely available.

“Playing Mozart’s Requiem in honor of a brave and brilliant man,” tweeted Carl Malamud, an Internet public domain advocate who believes in free access to legally obtained files.

Swartz aided Malamud’s effort to post federal court documents for free online, rather than the few cents per page that the government charges through its electronic archive, PACER. In 2008, The New York Times reported, Swartz wrote a program to legally download the files using free access via public libraries. About 20 percent of all the court papers were made available until the government shut down the library access.

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  • Edgardo Mendoza


  • Kilabot ng mga Balahibo

    According to wiki:

    “Most access is by subscription, but some old public domain
    content is freely available to anyone, and in 2012 JSTOR launched a
    program providing limited no-cost access to old articles for individual
    scholars and researchers who register.”

    and from the article above: “Prosecutors said he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.”

    “Most access is by subscription”

    there is some form of revenue to be had, and there was intent to
    deprive them of the revenue. And so, it impinges of [juridicial] persons
    from earning a living. Hence, the complaint.

  • ano ikaw

    Information should be protected. Imagine if this information goes to the wrong hands, like China , North Korea, and other enemies of the United States.

    Stealing a string of articles and intending to distribute them freely to the Internet is a crime of treason. Scientists/Engineers spent hours and hours, and a portion of their life in research and writing these articles only to be stolen by someone with a twisted belief of the true meaning of freedom forgetting that it should not justify instability, terrorism and (geo-econo-socio) political imbalance in the world.

    • Betz Chui

       Ano kamo? Stop posting online if you have not read the news completely!! Do you know what JSTOR is? You’re an idiot!

  • EdgarEdgar

    This is exactly what the powers that be want to do in the Philippines with the anti-cybercrime law. Kill cyberfreedom.

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