RSS co-author Aaron Swartz commits suicide at age 26. Swartz, also an Internet activist, was found in his Brooklyn, New York, apartment on Friday, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s chief medical examiner, which ruled the death a suicide by hanging.
The young man who helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS at the age of 14, was facing federal criminal charges in a controversial fraud case, which rooted back in July 2011, when he was indicted by a federal grand jury of wire fraud, computer fraud and other charges related to allegedly stealing millions of academic articles and journals from a digital archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, is a format for delivering to users content from sites that change constantly, such as news pages and blogs.
According to the federal indictment, Swartz – who was a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics – used MIT’s computer networks to steal more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service.
JSTOR did not press charges against Swartz after the digitized copies of the articles were returned, according to media reports at the time.
Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted. He was released on bond. His trial was scheduled to start later this year.
Over the years, he became an online icon for helping to make a virtual mountain of information freely available to the public, including an estimated 19 million pages of federal court documents from the PACER case-law system.
“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves,” Swartz wrote in an online “manifesto” dated 2008. “The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. …haring isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy,” he wrote.
That belief – that information should be shared and available for the good of society – prompted Swartz to found the nonprofit group DemandProgress. The group led a successful campaign to block a bill introduced in 2011 in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill, which was withdrawn amid public pressure, would have allowed court orders to curb access to certain websites deemed to be engaging in illegal sharing of intellectual property.
*Excerpts from “Internet activist, programmer Aaron Swartz dead at 26” article by Alex Dobuzinskis and P.J. Huffstutter | Reuters
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