Mr. Swartz, just 26 years old, hanged himself Friday in his Brooklyn apartment, according to his family. A saddened technology industry struggled this weekend to come to grips with the loss of a talented programmer who helped develop some important Web software when he was just a teenager but according to friends struggled with depression.
Attention quickly focused on charges he faced for allegedly stealing nearly five million academic articles via the computer network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Swartz pleaded not guilty, but he faced more than three decades in prison, and his trial was scheduled to begin April 1.
One of the problems with being a swashbuckler is that you have to face the consequences of your actions. Mr. Swartz was clearly interested in a viewpoint that is roughly translated as information loves to be free, and attempted to turn that viewpoint into a reality with a large number of academic articles that were on a paywalled system -- which it is alleged he stole and intended to distribute free of charge to all comers.
He took rather extraordinary measures to press his position too -- it is alleged that he hid equipment in a MIT utility closet in a building basement, for example, to hold the data that he was transferring, among other things.
In addition it appears that Mr. Swartz suffered from depression, which may have overwhelmed him.
It is unfortunately that this individual, who made many contributions to the state of the art on the Internet, decided to end his own life. We will never know with certainty whether this decision was driven by a refusal to accept a potentially-large prison sentence (and permanent branding as a felon) for something he believed in, whether his personal demons got the better of him, or some combination.
May Aaron Swartz rest in peace.
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