Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday.
Swartz was a prodigy computer science whiz (co-developer of RSS — at 14) and information-should-be-free activist who was facing up to 35 years in jail for downloading the JSTOR archive of about 4.8 million documents.
From The New York Times:
Mr. Swartz was 26, and his death was due to suicide. His body was found by his girlfriend in his apartment in New York, his uncle, Michael Wolf, said on Saturday. He had apparently hanged himself, Mr. Wolf said.
…Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author and an online activist, posted a tribute to Mr. Swartz on the blog he co-edits, BoingBoing.
…Of the indictment, he said, “The fact that the U.S. legal apparatus decided he belonged behind bars for downloading scholarly articles without permission is as neat an indictment of our age — and validation of his struggle — as you could ask for.”
…On Wednesday JSTOR announced that it would open its archives for 1,200 journals to free reading by the public on a limited basis.
Swartz had previously written about the vicious embrace depression could wrap around him, so his death cannot be reducded to a decision “to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them” — not that it ever is (say I, as someone whose family has been very hard it by the pathology of depressive illness).
But I will say that whatever miseries led Swartz to this end, I am sorry indeed to live in a society where the crime of stealing articles on 18th century monetary policy (inter alia, of course) is treated more harshly than the non-offense of terrorizing a public street through the display of firearms.
Last word: As Doctorow told the Times, we have lost someone to be missed.
Swartz, he wrote via email, was“uncompromising, principled, smart, flawed, loving, caring, and brilliant. The world was a better place with him in it.”
Update: Cory Doctorow’s remembrance over at BoingBoing is very much worth a read. He knew and felt deeply for Swartz, and captures some of the spark there, and provides as well a sober and fair-minded account of the various woes that may have ensnared his friend. Fallows also has good thoughts.
ETA: Image: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event, 13 December 2008.