Monday, January 14, 2013

RIP: Aaron Swartz

I'd starred in my Google Reader a post from boingboing about Aaron Swartz. I'd liked the line/concept/idea/ideal:

...Aaron Swartz's politics weren't just about digital freedom: he saw free software and open networks as instrumental to eliminating corruption and corporatism in wider society.

It wasn't until I'd clicked on Kyle's blog post Consolidation which featured a very cute, but completely unknown to me, guy (image above) that I learned that Aaron Swartz had died on Friday.

Via JamTheCat:

I learned Aaron Schwartz, a co-founder of Reddit, hanged himself Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in New York City. In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of free -- yes, FREE -- scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an attempt to make them even more freely available. He had pleaded not guilty, and his federal trial was to begin next month.

What's crazy about this is, he was legally authorized to download those journals. He had approved access. He did it through JSTOR, and they actually refused to press charges against him and even argued against the Department of Justice charging him with anything, but the DoJ still slapped Schwartz with 13 felony counts, apparently with MIT's approval. [MIT and JSTOR has since backed down. - Writer]

Nothing new about this. In 1993, Steve Jackson Games was raided because someone writing games for them was suspected by the DoJ of stealing classified information from Bell South. Then it turned out this "classified information" was available for sale from Bell South, and in certain instances, was actually available for free. But the DoJ still pursued charges agains Steve Jackson and his company...and lost. The jury returned not guilty verdicts in 2 of the 3 charges, and the 3rd one was overturned in a scathing opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

From Cory Doctorow's obituary for Aaron:

I don't know if it's productive to speculate about that, but here's a thing that I do wonder about this morning, and that I hope you'll think about, too. 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. I don't know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.

The quote affected me quite a bit. When my friend Rob killed himself, these were the questions that stayed with me for quite a while afterwards, but eventually I had to accept (I don't know if I actually have) that there was nothing that I or anyone could do. That no amount of care could fix what leads to a suicide. That what went wrong, went wrong so long ago that it is another story in another land that it is almost untouchable.

As the obituary says, Swartz had a history of depression but I'm sure the threat of potential prison time and the DoJ's investigation did not help. Very sad.


JamTheCat said...

A number of other sites have noted this travesty and JUSTOR announced it would make all of its files available for free, online. It's also come out that someone from the CIA was instrumental in initiating the case against Aaron.

Wanna see a scary movie? Watch "The Lives of Others", a German film about the STASI in East Germany. We've got that here, now.

Writer said...

It is on my list, Kyle. :(