Remember Aaron Swartz - Understand and Support What He Was Fighting For

Aaron Swartz, age 26, committed suicide a few days ago. While friends, family and advocates of his beliefs mourn his untimely death - the media discusses the circumstances of his suicide, weighing in on his accomplishments listing good deeds and heroic, yet marginal actions.

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Aaron Swatz fighting SOPA and PIPA 2012 (Daniel J. Sieradski | Wikimedia Commons)

Aaron Swartz, age 26, committed suicide a few days ago. While friends, family and advocates of his beliefs mourn his untimely death - the media discusses the circumstances of his suicide, weighing in on his accomplishments listing good deeds and heroic, yet marginal actions.

Fact is – an extremely talented, ”tireless supporter of the open internet and an old-school hacker” (Brian Guthrie), Aaron was a driving force of several movements we take for granted today (listed are just a few of his achievements most debated in the media these days):

RSS:

After winning the ArsDigita Prize in 2000, he was brought in contact with Internet experts at the MIT. Only 14 at the time, he started to collaborate with the RSS-DEV Working Group to produce the RSS 1.0 Specification in December 2000, the basis for popular feed reader software.

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event 2008.
(Fred Benenson [Mecredis] | Wikimedia Commons)

Creative Commons:

“Aaron was one of the early architects of Creative Commons. As a teenager, he helped design the code layer to our licenses, and helped build the movement that has carried us so far.” (Lawrence Lessig via Creative Commons). Read more on the Creative Common Licenses here.

Fighting Internet censorship:

After initial help with a political campaign Aaron’s work ”quickly transitioned into DemandProgress and Aaron’s conception of the initial petition in opposition to the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, and then the ensuing 18 months of activism that helped bring down SOPA and PIPA“, also known as the campaign against US Internet censorship bills in 2011.

MIT / Jstor incident:

Aaron “was arrested in July 2011 and accused of stealing 4 million documents from MIT and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. He faced $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison if convicted.” (CNET)

His close friend and mentor Lawrence Lessig describes his take on these events in this blog post titled ‘Prosecutor as bully’, directly following Swartz’s death. Here is another article listing “10 Awful Crimes That Get You Less Prison Time Than What Aaron Swartz Faced“.

Aaron Swartz and Lawrence Lessig at the Creati...

Aaron Swartz and Lawrence Lessig at the Creative Commons launch party in December 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As CNET reports, MIT’s website was hacked by “Hacktivist group” Anonymous to post a tribute to Swartz, just “after the school promises a full investigation into MIT’s role in events leading up to the Internet activist taking his life.”

You can find a longer list of his achievements on his personal website or as part of numerous reminiscences all across on the web.

Aaron had been known to suffer from depression for years, yet his condition had seemed stable to close friends. As Cory Doctorow, a Sci-Fi author wrote in his obituary, we will never know if the recent charges provided the final motivation to end his life.

“But Aaron was also a person who’d had problems with depression for many years. He’d written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends. [...] I don’t know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. [...] Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever.”

And now?

  • Show your respect, share your sadness and condolences with his family and his friends on www.rememberaaronsw.com.
  • Programmers could contribute to the code of rememberaaronsw.com, the memorials website on the Github repository.
  • Donate to Give Well, a charity concept Aaron respected highly.
  • Use free and open source software wherever possible, license content using Creative Commons licenses.

The least we can take out of this, is to understand the concepts and ideals he was fighting for, what problems are caused through tight copyright enforcement laws and how these might block our global collaborative future. Make sure to share your findings with those who are not yet familiar with these concepts.

RIP Aaron Swartz.