Most people have never heard of a man named Aaron Swartz. Many of them have probably heard of Reddit (which he co-founded), which is one of the largest message boards and communities on the internet today. What happened to him is a travesty that many more people should be aware of.

In January 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police for systematically downloading articles and academic journals from the repository called JSTOR. Swartz planned to gather the articles and publish them in an open, free database that would be open for anyone to view and use. Federal prosecutors charged him with thirteen criminal charges, which carried a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines plus 35 years in a federal penitentiary. Swartz’s attorney accused the Department of Justice of lying, seizing evidence without a warrant and withholding evidence. Unfortunately, the trial dragged on for more than two years. On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment. Swartz was hopeless, convinced that he was doomed to lose the trial.

Why did the government feel it necessary to prosecute Swartz? He was trying to gather and distribute data from academic journals that were free to begin with (free as long as you were connected to MIT’s WiFi network). How is it that the government was charging him with theft? Theft from whom? They accused him of hacking. Do they even know what hacking is? Did the prosecutors have the faintest idea of the crimes that they were charging Swartz with?

Aaron Swartz was many things. A programmer, entrepreneur, activist, organizer, writer, and contributor to many things that benefited the world immensely. He created RSS, Reddit, and helped organize and create Creative Commons, among other things far too numerous to list here. One thing that he was not was a criminal. Our copywrite laws are severely broken, and they need to be fixed. Fast. Problem is, the people tasked with fixing the broken system we have, are the same people that created the broken system to begin with.

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