Anonymous uses Aaron Swartz suicide to call for copyright reform

At least two MIT websites have been replaced with a political message in memory of digital activist and pioneer Aaron Swartz, who hanged himself

At least two websites of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been replaced with a political message in memory of digital activist and pioneer Aaron Swartz, who hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment.

The memorial message, purportedly by hacktivist collective Anonymous, calls for the reform of computer crimes laws and copyright and intellectual property laws.

“We call for this tragedy to be the basis for a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet spared from censorship with equality of access and franchise for all,” the message concludes

Swartz, an advocate of free information online and co-founder of the website Reddit, was arrested in January 2011. He was alleged to have used the MIT network to download large quantities of publicly available academic papers from the JSTOR database.

Despite JSTOR dropping its case and Swartz having access rights to the database, he was later indicted on federal charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, according to US reports.

Last week Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann refused to discuss a plea bargain and insisted that Swartz would have to plead guilty and face jail time, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Overzealous federal prosecutors

His girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the paper that the 26-year-old Swartz was distressed because he realised that he would have to face a costly, painful and public trial.

"It was too hard for him to ask for the help and make that part of his life go public," she said. "One of the things he felt most difficult to fathom was asking people for money."

The trial was set to begin 1 April. Swartz faced charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer.

He faced up to 35 years in prison and fines up to $1m.

A statement released by the Swartz family blamed overzealous federal prosecutors and the MIT staff for being partially responsible for events leading to his death.

MIT has since released its own statement, saying it will launch an internal investigation into its role in Swartz’s prosecution and death.

News of Swartz’s death sparked numerous tributes online and academics posting their papers online in tribute using the hashtag #pdftribute.

A post by father of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, read: "Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep."

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