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Reddit co-founder, Internet activist, Aaron Swartz, dies at age 26

Aaron Swartz, co-founder of the popular social news site Reddit and creator of RSS feeds, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment Friday night. Swartz would have gone on trial in a few weeks on charges of stealing millions of scholarly articles he was attempting to make available to the public. 

By Verena DobnikAssociated Press / January 13, 2013

Internet activist Aaron Swartz poses for a photo in Miami Beach, Fla. in 2009. Swartz was found dead Friday, in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment. Swartz, 26, was scheduled to face trial on hacking charges in a few weeks.

Michael Francis McElroy/The New York Times/AP

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New York

The family of a Reddit co-founder who committed suicide in New York weeks before he was to go on trial on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles is blaming prosecutors for his death.

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Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment Friday night, his family and authorities said. The 26-year-old had fought to make online content free to the public and as a teenager helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users.

In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an attempt to make them freely available.

He had pleaded not guilty, and his federal trial was to begin next month. If convicted, he faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.

In a statement released Saturday, Swartz's family in Chicago expressed not only grief over his death but also bitterness toward federal prosecutors pursuing the case in Massachusetts against him.

"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death," they said.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston couldn't be reached for comment. She previously has said that "stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars," The New York Times reported Saturday.

A zealous advocate of public online access, Swartz was extolled Saturday by those who believed as he did. He was "an extraordinary hacker and activist," the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group based in California wrote in a tribute on its home page.

"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 co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.

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