This is the most shocking news for the Computer and Internet industries, a deafening blow for all those campaigners who demand internet freedom and for technology enthusiasts in general. Aaron Swartz is dead. Worst still is the fact that he has committed suicide. As the web mourns the demise of a computer prodigy whose body of work had very few parallels, the injustice done to him by the US prosecution and the MIT is very visible and very disheartening, and that’s putting it mildly.
Aaron was facing criminal charges for stealing more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service. And if found guilty he faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. But then he was also the face of the struggle against US laws of SOPA and PIPA as well as other government imposed sanctions that threatened to restrict internet freedom and which have been opposed by all major internet organizations including Google and Wikipedia.
A lot of people close to Aaron smelled foul play on the part of the US prosecution and the MIT because even JSTOR decided not to press charges against Aaron.
14 year old boy genius Aaron Swartz flanked by internet pioneers Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart.
The web is abuzz with tributes to Aaron because irrespective of the charges pressed against him by the US prosecution Aaron remains one of the most revered computer geeks of the information age. He is best known for being the creator of the RSS – a web feed system that powers millions of websites on the internet, he was also the co-founder of the internet giant – Reddit. He was an internet activist of high repute (which might have pissed off a lot of governments, nothing implied, just saying).
Aaron Swartz was an internet activist of high repute. (Credit : alecperkins from Flickr)
Here are some of the statements expressed on the web that paint a picture of the utter grief, disbelief and disgust over Aaron’s sad demise.
Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor – World Wide Web (WWW).
Aaron is dead. Wanderers in this crazy world, we have lost a mentor, a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down, we have lost one of our own. Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders, parents all, we have lost a child. Let us all weep.
Official statement by the JSTOR.
We are deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him. He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit.
We have had inquiries about JSTOR’s view of this sad event given the charges against Aaron and the trial scheduled for April. The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge. At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to use by the owners and creators of that content. To that end.
Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service and a member of the internet community.l We will continue to work to distribute the content under our care as widely as possible while balancing the interests of researchers, students, libraries, and publishers as we pursue our commitment to the long-term preservation of this important scholarly literature. We join those who are mourning this tragic loss.
Glenn Greenwald, Guardian blogger and columnist.
This is so unbelievably sad and horrible on so many levels – RIP @aaronsw.
Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig.
(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.)
Since his arrest in January, 2011, I have known more about the events that began this spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer. He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help. When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt, but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt.
The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us…
Official Statement from the Family and Partner of Aaron Swartz.
Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.
Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable–these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.
Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.
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. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.
Aaron’s funeral will be held on Tuesday, January 15 at Central Avenue Synagogue, 874 Central Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois 60035. Further details, including the specific time, will be posted at http://rememberaaronsw.com, along with announcements about memorial services to be held in other cities in coming weeks.
Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com
STL will pay its own tribute to Aaron Swartz and will shortly release a brief biographical document on Aaron compiled by the S in STL, who remains an ardent Aaron fan just like thousands of other internet entrepreneurs and bloggers despite the hollow allegations levied against him.
Remembrance Note : RIP Aaron.