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Chris Hayes, Larry Lessig Look At Life And Legacy Of Internet Activist Aaron Swartz

by David Badash on January 26, 2013

in News

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Aaron Swartz is the Internet activist who helped create Reddit, RSS, Creative Commons, and in many ways is responsible for the way we use the Internet today. He committed suicide two weeks ago, literally being bullied to death by zealots at the U.S. Department of Justice who, to quote Lawrence Lessig, “don’t understand computers.”

A  campaign has been waged against U.S. Attorney for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, who oversaw the prosecution of Swartz.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes today assembled a panel including American academic and political activist Lawrence Lessig, who knew and worked with Swartz, Swartz’s girlfriend Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, professor Susan Crawford, and TaNeshi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic.

In “The brilliant mind, righteous heart of Aaron Swartz will be missed” Hayes on his MSNBC blog writes:

You should know that the hacker, programmer, writer and activist Aaron Swartz has died of suicide at age 26. His body was found in his apartment on Friday. Aaron was one of those preternaturally brilliant, precocious hackers who, at the age of 14, co-developed the Really Simple Syndication or RSS web protocol that is the key component of much of the web’s entire publishing infrastructure.

By 19, he’d co-founded a company that would merge with Reddit, a user-generated social news site that is now one of the most highly trafficked news sites in the world. He read voraciously, uploading reviews of the dozens of books he read a year to his blog, and wrote beautifully and prolifically. He worked as a progressive activist with the group Progressive Change Campaign Committee and founded Demand Progress, which was instrumental in fights to keep the internet open and free, and in the battle to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act.

He developed the architecture for the Creative Commons licensing system and in 2010 he and I were both fellows at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics. Aaron and I would grab lunch and talk politics and ideas and he’d talk about the various books he was in the process of writing or planning on writing. He was a kind of 21st century, nerd renaissance man.

You should also know that at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of — and I’m not exaggerating here — downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR. Aaron had allegedly used a simple computer script to use MIT’s network to massively download academic articles from the database that he himself had legitimate access to, almost 5 million in all, with the intent, prosecutors alleged, of making them freely available. You should know that despite JSTOR declining to press charges or pursue prosecution, federal prosecutors dropped a staggering 13 count felony indictment on Aaron for his alleged actions.

We at The New Civil Rights Movement remain saddened by Swartz’s death, frustrated by the loss of a great mind, and unyieldingly angered by Ortiz and her band of henchmen who, in our opinion, are to blame for contributing beyond measure to Swartz’s suicide.

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