Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013

by jonl

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

Update: Statement from Aaron’s family:

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

In 2003 during SXSW Interactive EFF-Austin and EFF threw a party in a club called Texture in downtown Austin. Cory Doctorow, Sandy Stone and I were instigators of the party. Cory showed up with Lisa Rein and a teenager who helped us make the wifi work. Cory told me that the teen was brilliant, but I could see that for myself. He seemed a little shell-shocked, too – an east coast kid in Texas for the first time with the whacky, diverse crowd that EFF-Austin attracted.

He was Aaron Swartz, and I crossed paths with him at other conferences and heard his name over and again as found ways to apply his genius, helping create the essential RSS protocol for online sharing and cofounding Reddit and Demand Progress. Those who noted his accomplisments saw him as a force to be reckoned with, and imagined that he would have a brilliant future. Unfortunately he had a brush with the law for downloading 4 million academic articles from JSTOR.

Aaron, who had battled depression, committed suicide yesterday. Read Cory’s obit. Read Larry Lessig’s reaction.

I don’t have anything to add – I didn’t know Aaron well enough, I don’t know the merits of the case, I’m conflicted over IP issues and would like to see the copyright wars end with a truce and some kind of reasonableness. I don’t know that Aaron’s death was brought on by his legal troubles, but I’m pretty clear he wasn’t a criminal, and I’m sure being treated as one didn’t help.

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