BBC 4 iPlayer Storyville, The Internet’s Own Boy

aaron swartz

You have 19 days left to watch this. I suggest you do. It says a lot about where we are. Aaron Schwarz committed suicide 11th January 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. He was aged 26. Aaron’s girlfriend, Tarren Stinebrinckner-Kauffman, claimed that he wasn’t depressed, rather his suicide was the direct result of a vindictive prosecution and prosecutor out to make a name for himself. Perhaps it was something more than that. Perhaps less.

Aaron was arrested in January 2011. We see his clear image on a camera placed in a cupboard at MIT. He’d been playing cat and mouse downloading articles from JSTOR, avoiding their paywall, and saving them. His purpose for this remains unclear. But he had previous. He had downloaded a cache of medical journal’s research papers and shown a clear line between pharmaceutical firms and the authors of articles in prestigious journals. The implication being what you pay for is what you get. He also showed the commercial link between court records and the company providing this service for a fee was a lucrative scam. Those with money could and would pay. Those without would be relegated to a substandard form of justice which prejudiced the inherent rights to a fair trial. He helped set up a software system were public documents could be copied and accessed. Perhaps his greatest success was mobilizing support to prevent internet censorship explicit in legislation the Stop Online Piracy Act going through the Houses of Congress. This is the equivalent of stopping and re-directing a fully-laden oil craft tanker with quant poles used by barges. One of his two brothers remember FBI agents driving up to their house to check if Aaron was in and driving away again. Aaron was a remarkable man the ‘go-to’ man for news agencies wanting media friendly and savvy commentary on internet affairs.

Aaron was also a precocious child. His family were rich enough and middle-class enough to make extensive home movies. Even as a toddler its clear how articulate Aaron was. His elder brother talks about Aaron wanting to teach him algebra. The child had an inquisitive questing mind that wanted to know how things work. He found his nemesis in computer code. He could write and programme as easily as kids could play ball. We see the half-pint Aaron addressing a roomful of adults. He wasn’t so much their equal as their better. He co-designed tools such as RSS and Markdown. His coding prowess made possible the sharing of many of the images we take for granted such as the one I accessed ten minutes ago in IdeasTap. Creative Commons gives copyright law to ordinary people, not to make money but to share ideas. Aaron dropped out of Stanford and with three others developed the site Reddit. They sold it for millions. Aaron had $1 million. Traditional storylines show young go-getters turning that million into $100 million, or more, and being successful. Aaron was smarter than that. He wanted to do something useful with his life and it cost him his life.


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