When the profiteers in Hollywood and Corporate America tried to wall-up and censor the Internet last year with SOPA and PIPA, activists needed a spark to fight back against this assault on the free and open web.
And Aaron Swartz was there.
The internet trailblazer and activist, who had already contributed such things to the web as an early version of the RSS feed and Reddit, stood up and joined the vanguard in this movement. He co-founded the organization, Demand Progress, which was instrumental in leading the largest online protest in the history of the Internet against SOPA and PIPA. Thanks to this effort, on January 18th, 2012, tens of thousands of websites blacked out, and ultimately, SOPA and PIPA were defeated by this online grassroots activism.
Today, that same internet is “blacked out” with remembrances and obituaries of Aaron Swartz, who took his life over the weekend. And in each of those remembrances, Aaron is described as a spark that made things happen. And for the rest of us who still believe, as Aaron did, in a free and open internet and a compassionate and just nation (a message he often espoused on our show, The Big Picture), we can only hope he provides the same sort of spark in death that he did in life.
He was never afraid to talk about the depression he battled most of his life, often giving eloquent and deeply personal insight into how difficult it is to fight this disease. Ultimately, Aaron lost this battle with depression just like so many other Americans who never receive the help they need in a nation that doesn’t consider healthcare, especially mental healthcare, a basic human right.
But the depression alone didn’t kill Aaron. In a statement released over the weekend, Aaron’s family placed the blame on our Department of Justice, which was prosecuting Aaron for an incident that happened on the campus of MIT back in 2011.
Aaron snuck into a utility closet on MIT’s campus, plugged a computer into the network and began downloading millions of academic journals that were stored behind a pay-wall belonging to the online database JSTOR.
Aaron likely knew this was illegal, though the expert witness for Aaron’s defense, Alex Stamos, argues that Aaron’s actions may not have been criminal after all. Regardless, Aaron was an activist who was willing to challenge the status quo of corporate welfare copyright laws that restricted the free flow of information – from academic journals to music and movies – on the internet. And he was willing to blur the lines of legality in this effort.
Continue Reading @ Truthout
- Anonymous hacks MIT websites after Aaron Swartz’s death (go.theregister.com)
- Academics share copyrighted journal articles on Twitter to honor Aaron Swartz (theverge.com)
- MIT Probes Role in Case Leading to Web Activist’s Death (bloomberg.com)
- Aaron Swartz: Persecuted Genius (echoesandmemory.wordpress.com)