Aaron Swartz, hero of the open world, RIP
Aaron Swartz, champion of the open world committed suicide yesterday.
Working at the Internet Archive, Aaron was the architect and first coder of the OpenLibrary.org a site to open the world of books to the Internet generation. He helped put public domain books on the site that had been locked up by libraries. Public access to the Public Domain, while seems obvious is not the position of many institutions, and this caused friction for Aaron.
As a volunteer, he helped make the RECAP system to offer free public access to public domain government court documents. He took the bold step of seeding this system by going to a public library to download the public domain and then uploaded the documents to the Internet Archive– this got him in trouble with the FBI. Now many millions of public domain documents have been used by over six million people for free, including researchers that could never have afforded the high fees to gain access.
If there is a sin in the open world it is locking up the public domain. Aaron took selfless action.
When he was downloading a large number of old journal articles, he was arrested at MIT. I was shocked by this. When I was at MIT, if someone went to hack the system, say by downloading databases to play with them, we might a hero, get a degree, and start a company– but they called the cops on him. Cops. MIT used to protect us when we transgressed the traditional. Despite many of us supporting the lawyers for Aaron, he was still hounded by prosecutors. (I hope JSTOR.org and MIT will act differently in the future)
Aaron was steadfast in his dedication to building a better and open world. Selfless. Willing to cause change.
He is among the best spirits of the Internet generation. I am crushed by his loss, but will continue to be enlightened by his work and dedication.
May a hero and founder of our open world rest in peace.
Founder, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive