Aaron Schwartz, Reddit co-founder and one of the key voices in the opposition of SOPA, was found dead on Friday after hanging himself.
As well as his involvement in the creation of Reddit, being an activist in the anti-SOPA campaign and other campaigns for open access to information, 26-year-old Schwartz played a part in developing RSS 1.0.
Suffering from depression, the past two years took their toll as Scwartz was battling a federal hacking case which, in September, saw him charged with 13 felony counts.
Schwartz was charged with hacking after being caught scraping millions of journal articles from the online academic library JSTOR. If found guilty, Schwartz stood to spend half a century in prison. Though, neither JSTOR nor MIT (whose JSTOR access Schwartz used to scrape the articles) sought to bring charges against Schwartz. It was purely a Federal case.
This case brought against Aaron has been describedby Harvard professor Larry Lessig as bullying, “From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar.”
A probable contributing factor his suicide was the prospect of, as Lessig puts it,”facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense”.
Swartz’s friend Henry Farrell told the Huffington Post“What people saw in public was a fearless advocate of open information, who was nonetheless realistic about the limits to what open information could do without radical political reform. […]He combined technological brilliance with enormous amounts of energy, and a real understanding of politics.”