Yesterday, we lost an inspiration

Thanks to an Ars Technica article, I just learned that Aaron Swartz has committed suicide. I’m writing this within moments of finding out.

For those who hadn’t followed his career, he was one of the major drivers behind last years protests against SOPA, and was an activist for open access to academic publications.

Most recently, he used the MIT network to download a large fraction of the JSTOR archive. For this “crime”, he was being prosecuted by the federal government for 13 counts with a combined sentance of 50+ years. While he may have showed bad judgement, his actions were not in any way severe enough to warrant that response. His prosecution highlights the insane laws this country has regarding unathorized access to computer networks and copyright.

I have followed Aaron’s endevours over the last few years with great interest. I am sorry to say I’ve never met him personally, but he was someone I had great respect for. Currently, I am bouncing between sorrow, grief, and anger. We lost a great man yesterday – one who had worked to better our world for much of his life.

He was a hero; he is now a martyr.

(I somewhat hesitate to use that word, but frankly, it’s how I’m feeling right now.)

I’m not sure how, but we need to make sure he is not forgotten. I’m hoping that his death will inspire actual change, but am somewhat skeptical that that will actually happen.

Update (1/13/13) – If you haven’t already you should read Lawrence Lessig’s essay “Prosecutor as Bully” and Alex Stamos’ “The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”” Together, they go along way to explaining the collective outrage over Aaron’s treatment.

Update (1/20/13) – After a week of reflection and following the case fairly closely, I’ve written up my reflections in another blog post. It also has a number of additional links to insightful coverage.