Remembering Digital Innovator Aaron Swartz

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This Dec. 8, 2012 photo provided by ThoughtWorks shows Aaron Swartz, in New York. Swartz, a co-founder of Reddit, hanged himself Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in New York City. In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an attempt to make them freely available. He had pleaded not guilty, and his federal trial was to begin next month. (AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside)
Aaron Swartz, in New York (AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside)

Aaron Swartz, the young and, by all accounts, brilliant digital innovator and activist committed suicide this past Friday at the age of 26. At a vigil Sunday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, students remembered him as a dazzling programmer and genius, as well as something of a hero to the free culture and information movement.

To the federal government, Aaron Swartz was a criminal. In 2011, he was arrested and accused of using MIT's computers to illegally download millions of academic articles from the subscription-based research service JSTOR. Swartz was scheduled to go on trial in April, and was looking at the possibility of millions of dollars in fines and a 35-year prison sentence.

Swartz's family has attributed his death in part to aggressive prosecution by the federal government and to MIT's lack of intervention in the case, saying "Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."

MIT President Rafael Reif said in a statement yesterday, "It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy." Reif has appointed professor Hal Abelson to lead a "thorough analysis" of MIT's involvement.


  • Lawrence Lessig, professor of law and leadership and director of the Center for Ethics at Harvard University

This segment aired on January 14, 2013.


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