The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz

Ben Jackson writes:

In January 2011, Aaron Swartz was arrested for downloading 4.8 million academic articles from the digital archive JSTOR, using a laptop hidden in a broom cupboard on the MIT campus. He was 24, and already a respected and influential computer programmer. As a teenager, he had helped develop RSS, a syndication format that led to the explosion in popularity of blogging, and Markdown, an easy to use tool that converted text to HTML. He wrote the code for the Creative Commons licence, which helped distribute work on the internet more freely than traditional copyright would permit. He was also a successful entrepreneur. He could easily have carried on working in the tech industry, where people like him can make millions, but instead he became a political activist, and that’s how he got in trouble. The JSTOR episode led to his facing four felony counts, with a maximum sentence of 35 years; two years after his arrest, he hanged himself with his belt in his Brooklyn apartment.

(LRB 6 October 2016)