We Have Lost One of Our Own

I planned to work on a number of articles this evening, but then, after I got home a short while ago and opened Hacker News, my evening plans changed as I began to read about Aaron Swartz. Rather than attempt to write about a man I know little of and who I knew nothing of before this afternoon, here are the better articles I have seen floating around the internet:

  • RIP, Aaron Swartz: Cory Doctorow talking about Aaron Swartz, a long-time friend of his. For those unfamiliar with Aaron Swartz or his work, this is a great jumping off point.
  • Prosecutor as Bully: Whereas Cory Doctorow focused on Aaron Swartz his friend who committed suicide, Lawrence Lessig drills to the core of the problem that drove this young man off the edge.
  • The Truth About Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”: Alex Stamos puts Aaron’s “crimes”, if they can even be called that, in perspective.
  • Goodbye, my love: When I first read this article in Zite early this morning I didn’t realize who Quinn Norton or Aaron Swartz was, I just thought it was a cute story. The story took on a whole new meaning once I put it all together.
  • My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.: A touching article written by Quinn Norton about Aaron Swartz.

When I think of music piracy, getting caught is not the first thing that comes to mind. Before the story from a few years ago of a woman fined millions of dollars for sharing less than 25 songs on Limewire, before the story of a young girl’s Hello Kitty laptop being confiscated for sharing music — before either of those or the myriad other cases, Limewire, Frostwire, torrenting, and sites like Pillage and Sogou roll to the front. Getting caught is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of music piracy. That’s why music labels feel the need to so excessively penalize those caught doing the wrong “thing" — whatever that “thing” may be depending on the medium, the time of day, and the wind direction — and why they feel the need to make an example out of the few in order to send a message to the many. A byzantine tactic for sure, it has nevertheless permeated our judicial system and thus, unfortunately, has been allowed to continue. Aaron Swartz is the latest casualty in this abhorrent, excessive, and ineffective exertion of power. This time though, unlike all the last, the prize claimed was not monetary, but the priceless life of a young individual. But hey, those scientific journals, reportedly worth millions according to the prosecutors via Lawrence Lessig — at least they are safe. At least. They. Are. Safe.

“I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.”

The above is an excerpt from Lawrence Lessig’s Prosecutor as Bully. There is absolutely no reason that poor woman I heard about on the radio four years ago should have been charged even a minute fraction of what she was eventually forced to pay; there was no reason that little girl’s laptop should have been taken from her — she was ten years old; and there was absolutely no reason for Aaron Swartz to lose his life. In a word, it is inexcusable. Absolutely, totally, embarrassingly, and so blatantly obvious it’s painful, inexcusable.

“To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.”

An excerpt from Cory Doctorow’s previously cited article. At this point I feel that continuing any further would be next to meaningless, serving only add to the noise surrounding Aaron Swartz’s death. Instead, I encourage you to, as I will, go out and read some of Aaron’s blog posts, learn more about the man he was, and learn about the system that drove him to end what would have a world-changing life. I will close with this excerpt from the small poem Tim Berners-Lee wrote, then, with this single line:

“we have lost one of our own.”

Addendum: and let his loss not be in vain.



Update: Since posting this article, Greg Maxwell released a thirty-three gigabyte torrent containing more than 18,500 academic articles from JSTOR, the online repository from which Aaron Swartz retrieved the articles he was eventually take to trial for obtaining, on The Pirate Bay as an easily downloaded torrent.