Few “ordinary people” have probably heard of Aaron Swartz, though the chances are most internet users interact with his ideas every day – he co-authored the “really simple syndication” (RSS) specification, at the core of any sort of internet headline reader, when he was just 14.
The news today, though, is grim. As yesterday, 11 January, he killed himself.
Of course, Swartz’s behaviour was reckless – he “spidered” (ie., indexed and stored) many millions of articles on the JSTOR site – which sells academic articles. Most postgraduate students and university staff reading this will have JSTOR access I am sure – it’s a huge boon and no doubt makes a lot of money (universities pay a block-fee for staff and student access, others pay per article) – some (though a long way from all) goes into supporting academic work in one way or another.
Maybe he might have won his case – certainly he probably stood a good chance of beating any subsequent conviction on appeal – but it seems that “pre-crime” was applied for the benefit of those seek to maintain a false scarcity in ideas and the consequences – on the first look – seem to have been grim.
Now, there could be benefits in maintain such a false scarcity – obviously we should have a copyright (and patent) regime that protects innovation and makes (say) the storage of petabytes of academic articles a worthwhile pursuit. But it is difficult to avoid the sense that the state sees only one interest in these debates and the commons gets screwed.
One more point: It is good style to avoid saying someone “committed suicide” unless it really is still a crime in your jurisdiction. I know it feels odd to avoid that term but it lingers from a time when we really did throw people in jail for having tried to kill themselves as opposed to offering them the help they need.
- Hacker, Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide (zdnet.com)
- Reddit Cofounder, Digital Activist Aaron Swartz Dead from Suicide at 26 (gawker.com)
- Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide (news.slashdot.org)
- Internet Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide (mashable.com)
- Federal copyright persecution leads RSS co-author and anti-SOPA activist Aaron Schwartz to kill himself (c4sif.org)
- Internet activist co-founder Aaron Swartz commits suicide (news.cnet.com)
- Aaron Swartz commits suicide (neowin.net)
- Aaron Swartz suicide and the “JSTOR” case (sethf.com)
- Friends, Colleagues Mourn Web Pioneer Aaron Swartz, Key Architect of Creative Commons (commondreams.org)
- Freedom fighter Aaron Swartz commits suicide (hatewasabi.wordpress.com)