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.
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He also apparently struggled at times with depression, writing in a 2007 blog post: "Surely there have been times when you've been sad. Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. ... You feel worthless. ... depressed mood is like that, only it doesn't come for any reason and it doesn't go for any either."Skip to next paragraph
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Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, faculty director for Safra Center for Ethics where Swartz was once a fellow, wrote: "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.'"
Before the Massachusetts' case, Swartz aided Malamud in his 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. Swartz wrote a program in 2008 to legally download the files using free access via public libraries, according to The New York Times. About 20 percent of all the court papers were made available until the government shut down the library access.
The FBI investigated but didn't charge Swartz, he wrote on his website.
Three years later, Swartz was arrested in Boston. The federal government accused Swartz of using MIT's computer network to steal nearly 5 million academic articles. The indictment alleged Swartz stole the documents from JSTOR, a subscription service used by MIT that offers digitized copies of articles from more than 1,000 academic journals.
Prosecutors said Swartz hacked into MIT's system in November 2010 after breaking into a computer wiring closet on campus. Prosecutors said he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.
JSTOR didn't press charges once it reclaimed the articles from Swartz, and 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.
Experts puzzled over the arrest and argued that the result of the actions Swartz was accused of was the same as his PACER program: more information publicly available.
The prosecution "makes no sense," Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal said at the time. "It's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library."
Swartz 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 announced this week that it would make "more than 4.5 million articles" publicly available for free.
Swartz's funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Highland Park, Ill.
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