Internet Activist Driven to Suicide by Federal Persecutors


Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2013 14:15:32 -0500 (EST)                                    
From: Howard Besser                                           
To: MIAP Students, MIAP Alumni                                 

For those of you who haven't been following, 26 year old Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide on Friday, likely a result of being hounded by Federal authorities for downloading academic journal articles.  I'd encourage those of you who don't know Aaron's amazing history of accomplishments to review some of the obituaries and tributes to him. I've listed just a small number of these below.                                     
                                                                               
When he was only 14 years old, Aaron co-authored RSS, the specification used for updating news and blogs on the Web.  While still a teenager, he helped create the Creative Commons.  Before he was 20 he founded a company that was soon folded into Reddit.  When he was 20 he created the Open Library for the Internet Archive.                                         
                                                                               
Most of Aaron's work was driven by his passionate belief that society would be a better place if people had access to original material that shaped their lives and environment.  He sometimes employed direct action tactics to shame governmental and non-profit organizations into releasing works that they kept behind economic walls. And he was one of the major architects of the campaign to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the co-founder of Demand Progress, an activist organization fighting against Internet censorship.                                                                    
                                                                               
In 2009 he downloaded millions of documents from a pay-per-view database of Federal Court decisions (PACER) and made these publicly available on a website dedicated to making government information freely available to the public. (we all know that government information can't be copyrighted, right?)                                                                        
                                                                               
The troubles that likely led to his death began about 18 months ago, when he brought a laptop to MIT and downloaded a massive number of journal articles from the library journal archive service JSTOR.  The US Department of Justice prosecuted him for this even though the alleged "victim", JSTOR, declined to press charges.  And recently, JSTOR announced that it would make more than 4.5 million of its articles freely available, likely a result of Aaron's action.  But the US Attorney continued to vindictively prosecute him on charges that might have resulted in 35 years jail time and $1 million fine.            
                                                                               
Interview with Larry Lessig about Aaron                                        
http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/14/an_incredible_soul_lawrence_lessig_remembers                                                                         
                                                                               
Aaron's speech on how he organized the fight against PIPA/SOPA                 
http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/14/freedom_to_connect_aaron_swartz_1986     
                                                                               
Boing Boing's latest posts about Aaron                                         
http://boingboing.net/tag/aaronsw                                              
                                                                               
Internet Archive's crowd-sourced digital archive memorializing Aaron           
http://archive.org/details/aaronsw                                             
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.                                                                              
Howard Besser, Professor and                                                   
Director, Moving Image Archive and Preservation Program                        
NYU's Tisch School of the Arts                                                 
Cinema Studies Department                                                      
665 Broadway, room 612                                                         
New York, NY  10012                                                            
tel: 212-992-9399                                                              
fax: 212-995-4844