Aaron Swartz, who was a leading and controversial figure in the hacking movement and the push to make journal articles free, committed suicide Friday at the age of 26, CNET News reported.
A federal grand jury in 2011 indicted Swartz for the theft of millions of journal articles through the JSTOR account of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Authorities said that he used an MIT guest account, even though he didn't have a legal right to do so. Many open access advocates considered him a hero, but had he lived for his trial, he faced millions of dollars in fines and decades in prison. Swartz's suicide came days after JSTOR announced a major expansion of free access to content from 1,200 journals. While there has been some speculation online that his legal troubles may have led to his suicide, friends have noted online that Swartz battled depression (and was public about doing so).
JSTOR on Saturday issued a statement in which it called Swartz "a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the Internet and the web from which we all benefit." The statement said that JSTOR "regretted being drawn into [the legal case] from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge."
The statement also noted that "Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011."
Prior to the indictment, Swartz was already a major player in public discussions about technology and he had founded a company that now makes up a key part of Reddit. Here is Swartz's biography on his website.
Here are links to some of the online commentary about Swartz's legacy and his death:
- From Cory Doctorow
- From Lawrence Lessig and more from Lessig
- From James Fallows
- At Crooked Timber
- At The Laboratorium
Swartz's ideas about information and technology (prior to the JSTOR legal battle) were twice the subject of pieces by Inside Higher Ed columnist Scott McLemee. Those pieces may be found here and here.
After Swartz was indicted, Inside Higher Ed blogger Barbara Fister wrote "A Modest Proposal Inspired by Aaron Swartz."