RIP, Internet activist and Reddit alumnus Aaron Swartz


— 12:21 PM on January 14, 2013

On Friday, programmer, writer, and activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide. Described by many as a genius, Swartz had a hand in developing the RSS specification when he as just 14 years old. He may be best known for his role in Reddit, which in 2006 merged with Infogami, a company Swartz had created. Swartz also founded DemandProgress, an advocacy group that "works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing, and grassroots lobbying." Demand Progress had a hand in defeating the Stop Online Piracy Act, otherwise known as SOPA.

Swartz was what one might call a hactivist, and some of his alleged exploits ultimately drew the attention of Federal prosecutors. He was accused of downloading and releasing documents from PACER, a government-run database of US federal court documents that allows public access but charges $0.10 per page. That case was closed without charges being filed, but Swartz was later accused of unlawfully downloading academic journals from MIT's network. The trial for those charges was due to begin in April.

As someone who clearly wanted information to be free, Swartz probably would have been touched by the movement started in his memory. #PDFTribute asks researchers, academics, and other copyright holders to release their work for free online—complete with the hashtag, of course.

If you want to learn more about Aaron Swartz, I suggest reading this piece by Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow. Many others have written to memorialize Swartz, and you can find links to a handful of other tributes on Demand Progress' site. Swartz's family and partner have also released a statement on his death.

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