If you were on the Internet this weekend, you undoubtedly saw news about the suicide of Aaron Swartz. The Internet activist who co-created RSS 1.0 and was one of Reddit’s earliest employees committed suicide by hanging himself in his Brooklyn apartment.
Swartz was being prosecuted for allegedly breaking into an MIT storage closet and stealing around 4 million copyright-protected JSTOR academic articles, with the plan to make them available on BitTorrent and other P2P sharing sites. Though the crime doesn’t sound so bad — is it really worse than the hacking shenanigans many MIT students get involved in? — Swartz was said to be hated by the government because he had previously been accused of downloading and disseminating about one-fifth of the PACER database of U.S. federal court documents. Prosecutors were pushing for heavy jail time for Swartz, perhaps as long as 35 years behind bars, and he decided to take his life rather than go to trial.
In the days since his death, there has been an outpouring of support — and condemnation of Swartz’s prosecutors — across the Internet. Many of Swartz’s family, friends and former co-workers posted messages about their memories of him, with the most moving perhaps being Cory Doctorow’s post RIP, Aaron Swartz on Boing Boing.
In the latest instance of memorializing, hacker group Anonymous has taken control of some of MIT’s web properties and posted a message denouncing the prosecution of Swartz and calling for widespread copyright reform.
Though it appears that MIT has taken back control of some its sites, this is what they looked like earlier today (and might still look like):
In a statement released following his death, the Swartz family blamed both overzealous federal prosecutors and MIT staff for his death. MIT has since released a statement of its own, saying the institution will launch an investigation into its involvement in the events that led to Swartz’s death.