Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Copyright Martyr: RIP Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz was somebody who helped code some important pieces of the modern Internet: RSS and Reddit, and, having cashed out at an early age, became an activist for making information public. He put a good deal of his own money into the development of RECAP, for instance. He also launched Demand Progress to help stop the SOPA and PIPA bills in Congress which were copyright protection/anti-piracy bills that would have crippled the Internet.

But when Mr. Swartz downloaded a huge number of JStor documents illegally from MIT's libraries onto a laptop hidden in a closet, the U.S. Justice Department decided to prosecute the copyright violation to the full extent of the law. While Swartz's lawyer attempted to negotiate a plea down to a misdemeanor, the prosecutors insisted on a felony charge with 35 years of prison time and a huge fine. The inflexible attitude of the prosecutors was notable and puzzling to those watching the matter unfold.

Friday, Aaron Swartz hanged himself at his Brooklyn apartment. Friends and family blame not only the prosecutors but also MIT and JStor, which did not push the prosecutors to back off. Many friends and admirers have posted comments and memories. Aaron Swartz was only 26.

Maybe it's time to discuss the attitude about copyright infringement.

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