This month marked the first anniversary of the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, internet activist and programming pioneer. Swartz ended his life, facing a possible prison sentence for downloading millions of academic articles from servers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Justice Department had clearly made the decision to make an example of this activist. If he had been found guilty of the charges, Swartz might well have received a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release.
With extensive cooperation from MIT, the case was pressed by federal prosecutors in Boston, who charged Swartz with computer and wire fraud. Swartz potentially faced seven years in prison if convicted at trial, though he rejected plea bargains of between four and six months in custody.
There is no question that the prosecution was the reason that Swartz decided to take his own life. After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges.
One of his greatest achievements was in leading the battle against attempts to place restriction on the free flow of information. Swartz had been instrumental in the protest to kill legislation in Congress, the infamous SOPA bill, which would have, critics said, spelled the end of open Internet.
A new documentary by Brian Knappenberger "The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" debuted in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Here is an excerpt from the film.