Aaron Swartz, 26, open Internet activist who helped defeat
the SOPA/PIPA antipiracy legislation in the last Congress and was instrumental
in the Web blackout that focused attention on the legislative effort -- he was
cofounder of Demand Progress -- committed suicide in his New York apartment
Jan. 11, according to statement from the family.
While still a teenager, Swartz helped develop the RSS (real
simple syndication) Web feed format which has become a staple of online news
sites and helped create the predecessor to social network, reddit.
He had been charged by federal prosecutors with hacking into
MIT and illegally downloading content.
"The US Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally
harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish
an alleged crime that had no victims," said his family. "Decisions
made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT
contributed to his death."
The death is likely to spark a debate over a Justice
Department push to crack down on illegal Internet downloads of content, a push
backed by studios and other content providers as they increasingly move
distribution to the Web.
MIT president Rafael Reif sent an email to the college
community over the weekend: "I want to express very clearly that I and all
of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man
who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role
in a series of events that have ended in tragedy. I will not attempt to
summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for
everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at
MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT's
involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network
in fall 2010 up to the present."
A memorial site created by ThoughtWorks, where Swartz had
been a software developer, by Monday featured numerous tributes, including one
from law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig, who has pushed for copyright reforms
and with whom Swartz had worked with toward that goal.
"He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a
conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What
would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a
decent society would only call bullying."
A funeral service is planned for Tuesday, Jan. 15, at
Central Avenue Synagogue, 874 Central Avenue, Highland Park, Ill.