Aaron Swartz was a programmer and social activist but according to the US government a criminal.
His crime was his belief that everyone has a right to access publicly funded research. He believed science shouldn't be held to ransom by publishing companies contributing little or nothing to research. Whilst a research associate at Harvard University in 2011, he went to MIT and downloaded around 5 million scientific articles from the online academic library JSTOR. Such mass downloads were a violation of JSTOR's terms of service. While biking home from MIT after his JSTOR stunt, Swartz was arrested and later charged with four felonies.
The New York Times reported:
"a respected Harvard researcher who also is an Internet folk hero has been arrested in Boston on charges related to computer hacking, which are based on allegations that he downloaded articles that he was entitled to get free."
Swartz's online manifesto was used in evidence against him. The actual impact of his "crime" was JSTOR blocked MIT's access for a few days and JSTOR declined to prosecute Swartz.
During 2011 Swartz, whilst facing multiple charges of computer and wire fraud, launched a new activist group and successful campaigns against SOPA and PIPA - legislation that would have crippled internet freedom.
In 2012 the government increased the charges against him to 13. By August the case had sucked away all his money and Swartz was reduced to begging allies for financial support.
On 9 January 2013, JSTOR announced a large portion of its journals would be open access. Swartz however was facing up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines after years of persecution by the US government. His counter-offer to government prosecutors was refused. With no end to the torment in sight, on 11 January Swartz hanged himself.
He was 26 years old.His heinous crime was to provide public access to scientific research.
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