Aaron Swartz, Reddit co-founder, remembered at funeral

January 15, 2013 2:44:22 PM PST
Family and friends remembered an Internet innovator Tuesday at his funeral in the northern suburbs.

Aaron Swartz committed suicide last week. He was about to stand trial for allegedly downloading millions of academic articles.

Swartz wanted to change the world. That's how mourners remembered the 26-year-old Internet whiz kid during Tuesday's funeral service in Highland Park. Among those eulogizing Swartz was the creator of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee.

Outside the Central Avenue Synagogue, a more modest gathering of admirers came together to pay respects.

"He did so much in his life," said Alan Alcantar.

Swartz is credited with co-creating the software behind RSS feeds at the age of 14, as well as the social news and entertainment website Reddit. Swartz was also somewhat of a folk hero who believed all information should be free.

In 2011, Swartz was arrested when he broke into MIT to access and download thousands of files from JSTOR, a notoriously expensive subscription-based archive of scholarly papers.

And, while JSTOR did not press charges, MIT did. The charges leveled against him by the U.S. attorney's office could have landed Swartz in prison for up to 35 years. The trial was to start in April.

Many, including his family, believe the pressure is what drove Swartz to suicide.

"I know this case was weighing heavily on his mind," said defense attorney Elliot Peters. "That was a significant source of stress for him."

"Yes, he stole information," said Dylan Langer, "but it was not quite worth how much they were putting him through. They drove him over the edge."

Swartz's suicide has raised questions regarding the way the U.S. government prosecutes online crimes and the proportionality of the punishment in cases like these.

"I think they turned a molehill into a mountain," said Peters.

Just three days before his death, JSTOR announced that it would make more than 4.5 million articles publicly available for free.


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