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Swartz was Destroyed by a “Justice” System

Academic publishing is dominated by gigantic, for-profit corporations that exploit the free labor of faculty whose work (and grants for their grad students work) is paid for by public funding. That the product of any publicly funded work rightfully belongs to the public, was as clear as could be to Aaron Swartz, hacktivist and fighter for internet freedom. Swartz was the creator of RSS1.0 and Tor2Web and founder of Reddit, Open Access, and founder of the Demand Progress campaign that successfully fought off SOPA/PIPA. Swartz "was charged in July 2011 with data theft after downloading over 4 million articles from JSTOR, the online academic journal database, while using the MIT computer network. Swartz, charged with 13 felony counts, faced decades in prison and $4 million in fines. His federal trial was set to begin next month." He took his life on Friday, January 12th, 2013. Unlike JSTOR, "MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles," says Swartz' family.

From #aaronswartz: "Hundreds of academics worldwide have begun tweeting links to their copyright-protected research in Swartz's honor, using the hastag #pdftribute. Links from Twitter posts with the hastag are being collected at The links appear to be to academic papers."

Mike Elk: How Aaron Swartz Helped Save My Ass (republished from Jacobin)

In October 2010, I wrote the most controversial story of my career. I uncovered how a group of well-regarded progressive activists — Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens For Reform and Ethics in Washington and Tom Matzzie, former Washington Director of MoveOn — were secretly working in conjunction with for-profit college lobbyists to slander the reputation of education activists pushing against predatory college lending patterns. Indeed, in an Orwellian twist, Matzzie and Sloan claimed that the education activists were secretly working on the payroll of Wall Street short seller Steve Eisman who was a for-profit college opponent.

I debunked Matzzie’s claims that people like Barmark Nassarian and Pauline Abernathy were secretly working for Wall Street speculators and showed that indeed the reverse was true. I had no doubt that highly regarded progressive watch dogs Matzzie and Sloan were the ones working secretly with those who had a financial stake in defeating the regulations. Six weeks after my story exposing Sloan, she would accept a job with for-profit colleges’ top lobbyist, Lanny Davis. (To understand the implications of this scandal in the progressive community, see Reuters’ piece on the impact of my expose)

However, despite the thoroughness of my reporting, I received attacks from liberals. Sloan and Matzzie were part of the cool kids club. They had been inside the Beltway for years and knew everyone. I was a nobody. So Sloan and Matzzie used their relationships with credible progressives to try to discredit my piece through whisper campaigns and the incredulous gossip channels of private, progressive listservs.

My credibility was under attack for factual reporting. While outlets like Reuters cited me as accurate, nobody on the Left was willing to step forward.  Even my former employers at the Institute for America’s Future told a colleague of mine not to speak up defending me saying “Elk is on his own.” I feared for my reputation as a reporter and my ability to continue the work I find so valuable and rewarding.

Few on the Left were willing to defend me besides for Aaron Swartz. Without prompting, Swartz plunged himself into defending me on listservs and social media. He would email me from time-to-time asking for more details on how I had done my work and on Matzzie’s and Sloan’s relationship. His assistance was good-natured, selfless, and a natural outgrowth of his character.

Official statement from family and partner of Aaron Swartz (Republished from "Remember Aaron Swartz")

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

Larry Lessig: What a decent society would only call bullying

He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying.

Alex Stamos: This loophole was created intentionally

In short, Aaron Swartz was not the super hacker breathlessly described in the Government’s indictment and forensic reports, and his actions did not pose a real danger to JSTOR, MIT or the public. He was an intelligent young man who found a loophole that would allow him to download a lot of documents quickly. This loophole was created intentionally by MIT and JSTOR, and was codified contractually in the piles of paperwork turned over during discovery. If I had taken the stand as planned and had been asked by the prosecutor whether Aaron’s actions were “wrong”, I would probably have replied that what Aaron did would better be described as “inconsiderate”. In the same way it is inconsiderate to write a check at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library needed for a History 101 paper.It is inconsiderate to download lots of files on shared wifi or to spider Wikipedia too quickly, but none of these actions should lead to a young person being hounded for years and haunted by the possibility of a 35 year sentence…I certainly agree that Aaron’s death demands a great deal of soul searching by the US Attorney who decided to massively overcharge this young man and the MIT administrators who decided to involve Federal law enforcement.

Glenn Greenwald: Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system

I think that’s really worth thinking about today. … Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.

Brian McConnell, Worldwide Lexicon Project: Nobody is safe

I first met Aaron at Foo Camp. He was a teenager then, and even then, he stood out compared to the people there, people at the highest levels of the technology industry.

His death is deeply shameful, and should forever mark the careers of the people who bullied him into suicide. 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.

His passing should also be a warning to all of us that we now live in a security state where anybody can be targeted by an ambitious prosecutor, for any reason, or no reason at all, beyond his or her own advancement to higher power.

If you can be faced with 50 years in federal prison for “stealing” academic papers, you can be thrown in jail for anything. Nobody is safe.

Birgitta Jonsdottir: With Rebellious Joy

In Aaron Swartz was the embodiment of the future for the information age and its freedoms we hold so dear. The Internet was our mutual home and I feel even if I never met him in person that I lost someone from my tribe.

He was and will be an inspiration to carry on our fight to keep the internet free, wild and borderless. His courage, vision and work has left permanent impression and standards online

May Aaron Rest in Peace & Pixels.

With Rebellious Joy,

Birgitta Jonsdottir. Member of the Icelandic Parliament, chairperson of the International Modern Media Institution

Anirvan Chatterjee: We’re all poorer for his absence

…..The projects Aaron worked on impact my life every single day:

  • open data feeds using RSS

  • news and opinions on Reddit

  • a simple way to write via Markdown

  • book data for my reading list from the Open Library

  • secure web browsing in Chrome via HTTPS Everywhere

  • a way to share and reuse content using Creative Commons

  • a more censorship-free Internet thanks to Demand Progress

Aaron was a hero of the open net. We’re all poorer for his absence.

Aaron Greenspan: Those flaws and cases are now visible

One can no longer claim that the politics of our day does not affect them. It affects us all so much. For every Aaron Swartz there are a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand other cases where the flaws in our democracy led government to the wrong decision. And those flaws and cases are now visible on PlainSite because of Aaron’s work.

James Grimmelman: I asked him what I should do with my life

The last time I saw Aaron in person was over dinner in Cambridge. He was late, of course. We didn’t talk about his trial, or about any of his other data liberation exploits. Instead, we talked about puzzles, and teamwork, and coding, and politics. I was up for tenure that spring, and facing the prospect that for the first time in years I would be simply free to choose my projects, without any deadlines or institutions telling me what I ought to be doing. So I asked him, in essence, what I should do with my life, because Aaron seemed to have answered that same question for himself, with greater courage, in the face of greater uncertainty, and with greater success than anyone else I knew. He was 25.

Patrick Schmitt: To you from failing hands we throw the torch

I liked Aaron when I first met him, but it much longer before I was no longer intimidated by the intellectual shadow he cast from ten inches below me.

He was so fiercely brilliant that you’d only realize how young he was when you saw it in writing. And then you’d forget four sentences into the next conversation. When we were colleagues, we went to dinner. I picked the place, and it turned out there was nothing on the menu he could eat. But we stayed for three hours to talk about how to rebuild organizations, how to disrupt mass atrocities without weaponry, and what the world could look like in three decades, if people like us could make it so. I left with more ideas than I had had in a month. We were supposed to meet again, over dinner, in the weeks ahead. I couldn’t wait. I liked, Aaron, certainly. But I also liked the person Aaron helped me be. When I’ve talked to friends and my change family today, I keep coming back to a part of a poem called In Flanders Fields by a Canadian named John McCrae. It was about World War I, which no doubt would have offended Aaron, but there are a few verses that speak to us:

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The Torch; be yours to hold it high.

Aaron, the people that love you will be holding the torch high. But damn do we wish you were still here to walk with us.

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