We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?” —Aaron Swartz (via luccica)
I’ve scoured the internet for the past week reading anything and everything I can about Aaron Swartz. He was a brilliant activist and internet hacker who committed suicide just days before he went to trial for the crime some compare to “checking out too many library books at once.”
Aaron Swartz was far more than a file-downloader. He was an open access jedi, a fighter for equality, and an optimistic reformer. He still saw the good in our political and cultural systems and threw himself into improving them.
The immediate and heartfelt response to his passing surprised me because of the number of places it came from. Those mourning his death include scholars and hackers, columnists and academics, activists and lawyers. He had a hand in so many innovative ideas and helped out so many causes, it is clear his wisdom will be missed.
As I’ve gotten to know more about his life through reading his own words and the words of those mourning his death, I’ve pulled together a selection of insights by and about him. I will post these at the blog linked to below starting tomorrow, January 18th, the one year anniversary of the anti-SOPA protests (which Swartz helped orchestrate). Some have suggested this day be known as Aaron Swartz day to celebrate his legacy.
The more I’ve learned about this man, the more the activist and geek in me can’t stop thinking about what to do next. I hope we do honor him with “Aaron Swartz Day,” but I also hope his legacy lives on, even stronger than he could have imagined, as we join his fight for meaningful systemic reforms.
Aaron Swartz. Here’s a man who took advantage of all the democratizing potential of the internet, regularly standing at the edge of freedom fighting off oppression, and winning. He believed in the freedom of information and in empowering the people even when the entrenched interests had other plans. I wonder if we can best honor his memory by making him a rallying cry, a unifying force to fight corruption wherever it may be found.
From Tim Lee:
I worry that Swartz’s prosecution is a sign that America is gradually losing the sense of humor that has made it the home of the world’s innovators and misfits. A generation ago, we hailed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg as a hero. Today, our government throws the book at whistleblowers for leaking much less consequential information.
Our nation’s growing humorlessness won’t just mean that insubordinate idealists like Swartz lose their freedom or their lives. As our culture becomes steadily less accepting of people with Swartz’s irreverant attitude toward authority, we’ll all be poorer as a result. Revolutionary new technologies and ideas don’t come from people with a reverence for following the rules. They come from iconoclasts like Jobs, Wozniak, and Swartz. It’s a bad idea to lock them up and throw away the key.
From Glenn Greenwald
Swartz’s activism … was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles - namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it - and that was his real crime in the eyes of the US government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information.
That’s a major part of why I consider him heroic. He wasn’t merely sacrificing himself for a cause. It was a cause of supreme importance to people and movements around the world - internet freedom - and he did it by knowingly confronting the most powerful state and corporate factions because he concluded that was the only way to achieve these ends.
Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.
From Cory Doctorow:
Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.
From Lawrence Lessig:
Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius.
From Peter Eckersley:
Aaron did more than almost anyone to make the Internet a thriving ecosystem for open knowledge, and to keep it that way. His contributions were numerous, and some of them were indispensable… . While his methods were provocative, the goal that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — is one that we should all support.
From Quinn Norton:
Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world.
Update: Added Doctorow and Norton
An attempt to suggest how humanities scholarship can be more public and collaborative.(via cplong)