Friday, January 18, 2013


I hadn't heard of Aaron Swartz, but it turns out he has been a major player in preventing censorship of the internet - something that many of us take for granted, but which he warned could become the victim of sweeping and draconian legislation in the blink of an eye. About Aaron I learned the following -

At the age of 14, he co-developed RSS, the Really Simple Syndication 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 visited news sites in the world. He founded Demand Progress, which was instrumental in fights to keep the Internet open and free, and in the battle to defeat SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

He developed the architecture for the Creative Commons licensing system and in 2010 he was made a fellow at Harvard's Safra Center for Ethics.

Here's Aaron Swartz in his own words, describing the vitally important victory he and friends fought and won against the implementation of the SOPA, being an attempt to control the internet through copyright law, a bill which had been unanimously approved by the senate and was considered a done deal.

He was then prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 by the U.S. federal government, and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of downloading too many articles from, an online database of scholarly work (to which he had legal, paid access to download scholarly papers). Despite JSTOR's declining to press charges federal prosecutors hit Aaron with a staggering 13-count felony indictment.

Under relentless pressure from the office of Massachusetts Federal Attorney Carmen Ortiz, on 11 January, 2013 Aaron Swartz committed suicide. He was 26. Aaron's family described his death as "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."

I would rather say his death was the result of the determination of big business to brook no impediment to profit.  

Attorney Carmen Ortiz is reportedly considering running for governor of Massachusetts.