At age 14, Aaron Schwartz co-created RSS, Really Simple Syndication, a software communications technology now used 100's of millions of times a day, the world over. A few years ago, Aaron led a people's movement against Congress, and surpassed the computer industry's flagging attempts, to defeat SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act. He also co-founded Reddit. Last Friday, January 11, 2013, this remarkable 26-year-old committed suicide.
All suicides are a tragedy for, at the very least, those who knew and loved the deceased. In this case, it is a tragedy for the world, especially for those of us who cherish youthful idealism and genius. More about this story will surely emerge. Yet, it is known that he was being hounded by federal prosecutors in great disproportion to the impact of his illegal acts. A person interviewed on NPR stated he believed that Aaron felt "his back was against the wall."
Here is a viewpoint from the Remembrance/Memorial Page, written by someone named Brian McConnell: "His crime was basically to photocopy obscure academic articles, not to make a profit, but to make the point that rent-seeking “publishers” shouldn’t be granted a monopoly to charge for access to other people’s research that the public has already paid for."
I do not know the facts of the legal case or whether Mr. McConnell's remards address the essence of it. However, the issue he addresses is about keeping the freedom of the Internet while also protecting intellectual property rights. The quote refers to a not-new and growing topical movement, rising among private and academic researchers of all ages. When the taxpayer has--in many cases--and certainly the researchers' institution has, paid for research, why should it be ethical and right that information vendors own the copyright to this information and/or be allowed to reap disproportionate revenue, and for many decades? (This means, disproportionate to the amount of value they have added to the information product.)
This death breaks my heart. You may or may not feel the same. If you would like to comment (now or later), please write me your thoughts and feelings. It might be helpful, especially if you, like I, were not aware of Aaron as a person before this happened, to read some of the content on the Remembrance/Memorial Page, link below, prior to writing your thoughts.
1. NPR News Article on the death: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/12/169235633/aaron-swartz-reddit-cofounder-and-online-activist-dead-at-26
2. Memorial/Remembrances Page: http://rememberaaronsw.tumblr.com/
. There are photos of Aaron and eulogies.
3. Wikipedia article about SOPA and the alternative legislation that Wikipedia supports: OPEN (Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act
4. Wikkipedia article about Reddit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reddit