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Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide 589

Posted by Soulskill
from the rest-in-peace dept.
maijc writes "Computer activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday in New York City. He was 26 years old. Swartz was 'indicted in July 2011 by a federal grand jury for allegedly mass downloading documents from the JSTOR online journal archive with the intent to distribute them.' He is best known for co-authoring the widely-used RSS 1.0 specification when he was 14, and as one of the early co-owners of Reddit."
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Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide

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  • Have some shame (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benjfowler (239527) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:39AM (#42566785)

    A young man took his own life. And so far, I'm only reading sick jokes and flamebait. This isn't Digg.

    The first posters to this discussion should take a long, hard look at themselves.

    • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:42AM (#42566793)
      I don't know him personally, but many people who are successful that early in life are rather high strung. The feeling of helplessness in dealing with a court case may have pushed him over the edge.
      • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:53AM (#42566873)

        Imagine yourself stuck in a case where you are facing 30+ years for putting up documents online, then the organization saying "Haha! Nevermind, we were going to put everything out in public domain anyway!" (typical PR?) and still be trapped in it.

        • Re:Have some shame (Score:4, Insightful)

          by cjjjer (530715) <cjjjer@nospaM.hotmail.com> on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:19AM (#42567043)

          Imagine yourself stuck in a case where you are facing 30+ years for...

          Lots of people have been faced with worse time than this and don't kill themselves; some even face the death penalty. Most people who try and succeed in committing suicide have pretty much in some form or other harbored daemons their entire life. It would not surprise me that he has often throughout his life pondered suicide and maybe even tried and failed.

          • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:54AM (#42567231) Homepage Journal

            " Most people who try and succeed in committing suicide have pretty much in some form or other harbored daemons their entire life."

            There's an unspoken assertion in your comment that there are people who exist who harbor no demons.

            I'm pushing 50 and have known many people and I've yet to see one.

            Or evidence of one.

          • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Saturday January 12, 2013 @11:14AM (#42567385) Journal

            As others have rightly pointed out "the flame that burns brightest also burns the quickest" and when they are writing specs at 14 years old you can expect a burn out. Some go nuts, some end up junkies, but when you are THAT driven THAT young you can pretty much count on a major flameout, just a shame his flameout was fatal.

            As for copyrights, i have an ironclad argument that pretty much obliterates any pro copyright trolls and I think the more people point this out to the average folks the quicker we can get this scam taken out...Do you realize that many of Walt Disney's FIRST works, made when cars were started with a crank, airplanes were made out of cloth, and antibiotics were but a dream are STILL under copyright? The man has been dead for longer than most of us have been alive and they will STAY under copyright until most of us are dead, now how does that in ANY way shape or form promote sciences and the arts as the founding fathers intended?

            All our insane copyrights and patents are doing is making sure that Asia becomes the next superpower as you won't be able to get anything done here without getting screwed by all the tollbooths. Most of the games I grew up with are now in copyright limbo, so many of the 80s companies went under yet you can't do anything with the games because the copyrights, that won't expire for over a century, are just hanging there like a sword of Damocles over them, and any cool idea you can possibly think of will have a dozen bullshit vague patents that will break you if you aren't a megacorp.

            • by ScentCone (795499)

              how does that in ANY way shape or form promote sciences and the arts

              It inspires other people to be creative, build their own teams of people to produce their own films and entertainment franchises. Just like so many other successful people do, every day, right now. Because, of course, you (and they) would also benefit from the same protections for your work - which you can waive any time you want if you think the rest of the world should have your work to play with as they see fit.

              • by waterbear (190559) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @07:04PM (#42570585)

                [Q]. . .how does that in ANY way shape or form promote sciences and the arts [?]

                [A] It inspires other people to be creative,. . .

                Many of the classic works now still under extended copyright were created when the term used to be much shorter (e.g. 28 years renewable on fee for another 28), and they just got a longer ride at the expense of all of us when the proprietary interests (not usually the authors) procured changes in the law to extend the terms and increase the range of restricted acts & crimes. The current range of criminalized activities to do with copyright has been _heavily_ extended since those days. So, no, the current penal legislation was _not_ needed to inspire or incentivize those works.

                . . .protections for your work - which you can waive any time you want. . .

                I had the interesting experience of trying to access online a paper that I actually wrote, and found myself invited to pay a copyright fee to access it. (No, I didn't assign the copyright to anybody.)

                So I wonder how, exactly, could I or any other author in a similar position 'waive the protections' for our work? -- it turns out we don't even control them, as it is.

                -wb-

        • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2013 @02:16PM (#42568633)

          Imagine yourself stuck in a case where you are facing 30+ years

          I don't fucking need to "imagine" it, you fucking pussy.

          I have BEEN in a similar situation.

          I once faced 16 years' imprisonment for some trumped-up charges that
          might have stuck if I had gone to trial. So like most other people who get
          in trouble in the United States on the federal level, I copped a plea with the
          agreement that my sentence would be limited to far less prison time.

          In the end I served 30 months in federal prison. It was easy time, and I was
          in a medium security facility. I cannot say it was pleasant, but it was not even
          close to being a scenario in which I could have been the victim of homosexual rape
          or any of the other awful things idiots on Slashdot speculate about when they imagine
          prison. The truth is that I had a lot of time to relax, I read many excellent books, and
          I ate quite well ( food in fed prisons is actually pretty damned good, it is the food in
          state prisons which sucks ).

          So, what if I had responded to the prosecutor's BULLSHIT attempts to scare me
          and killed myself ? I'd be dead. Instead, today I am going to enjoy a nice motorcycle
          ride and give my cat a lot of love, and eat a wonderful meal later on. Life has ups
          and downs, and there WILL be dark days for all of us, sooner or later. If you let
          a dark day push you into committing suicide, you will have failed yourself.

          Instead of being dead, I can honestly say that prison was a growth experience
          for me and that I am today happier than I have ever been.

          NEVER EVER GIVE UP, no matter what some bastard is doing to you.

          If my story is not powerful enough for you, look up the story of Primo Levi.
          That story will be enough to leave a permanent imprint on your brain, I
          assure you.

          • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Cederic (9623) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @08:04PM (#42570929) Journal

            And if you're the type of personality that refuses to plea bargain then you face 30 years and a prosecutor that'll demand it.

            Very likely a system that'll give it too, just to punish you for not taking a plea bargain.

            Fuck that system, and its suicidal outcome.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Trepidity (597)

            I cannot say it was pleasant, but it was not even close to being a scenario in which I could have been the victim of homosexual rape or any of the other awful things idiots on Slashdot speculate about when they imagine prison.

            I'm glad you got lucky, but it's hardly mere "speculation": the prevalence of rape in U.S. prisons, by both guards and other inmates, is well documented [hrw.org].

          • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Nethead (1563) <joe@nethead.com> on Sunday January 13, 2013 @03:08AM (#42572803) Homepage Journal

            Been there too. Faced 1024 years. Copped a plea for 4 and the judge made it 6. All fed camper time. I lived through it and might just be better for it. Served time with Boesky and Milken (not charges related to them, I was a phracker.)

            10780-074

      • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Grax (529699) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:01AM (#42566939) Homepage
        Very said. I met him once at an ArsDigita event when he was around 14. I was surprised to find that the posts I had been reading came from someone so young. He was a very smart guy and he made a lot of waves. I am sad to see him go.
      • by Fred Ferrigno (122319) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @04:10PM (#42569455)

        He very clearly struggled with depression for a long time. After he got fired from Wired, he made a blog post [aaronsw.com] about someone committing suicide. He changed the person's name to "Alex" later, but it said Aaron when he wrote it. His friends took this to be a suicide note and called the cops to intervene. Afterwards, he denied [reddit.com] that it was a suicide note, but admitted he wasn't in a good state of mind at the time.

        He also posted an online 'will' of sorts [aaronsw.com] back in 2002 when he was only 16. For a 16 year old kid to be making such concrete plans in case of his death speaks to his own expectations about his life.

    • Re:Have some shame (Score:5, Informative)

      by MartinSchou (1360093) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:57AM (#42566915)

      As a ... well, I'm never sure if I should use the term "suicide survivor" or "failed suicider" ... anyway, as one of those, allow me to respond to your polite request for having some shame with an equally polite "no".

      Just because you don't like sick jokes about certain subjects, doesn't mean the rest of us don't.

      To some of us, humour is a stress reliever and coping mechanism - telling us that we shouldn't use it, trying to shame and ostracise us for using it, is in fact likely to make us more inclined to follow in Aaron Swartz' footsteps.

      There are few things as life affirming as laughter, and some of us have a really hard time finding those laughs in everyday situations.

      Laughter is one of the very few parts of the universal human vocabulary, it is delightfully infectious and as far as I know the only emotion that is basically a one way street. I.e. once you start giggling and laughing, it is almost impossible to stop, whereas someone really sad or depressed will almost always start to laugh when faced with others laughing.

      I do agree with you though, that the jokers in here should take a long hard look at themselves, but for very different reasons. I think anyone who can make light of a sad situation makes life more bearable, and for people like me, that is a life saver.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by atomican (2799855)

        You post basically confuses the fuck out of anyone who wants to know how they *should* be responding to news of a suicide. Instinctively they feel they shouldn't make any jokes out of respect, and yet you basically say "bring it on" since humour is a copying method (which may very well be true). But you try that in the flesh with real people in front of you, and it's very likely few will see the funny side, and you'll be ostracised and treated as an uncaring bastard.

        So unfortunately I can't agree, sorry. It

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          You post basically confuses the fuck out of anyone who wants to know how they *should* be responding to news of a suicide.

          How about honestly, instead of in some measured manner meant to influence other people in ways that arent honest.

          You shouldn't need to be told this at this point in your life.

      • by Dr. Evil (3501)

        For some people, telling people who joke to take a long, hard look at themselves is their coping mechanism. It shouldn't be taken away from them.

        I cope by telling people who tell people who tell them to take a long hard look at themselves to lighten up, to take things a little less unseriously.

        There are people trying to mourn here. We can all do it in our own screwed up way. Screwed up mourning is a fitting tribute to a cofounder of Reddit.

        Poor guy.

      • Re:Have some shame (Score:4, Interesting)

        by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @01:18PM (#42568185) Journal
        Indeed, suicidal people have some of the most hilarious death humor of anyone.

        In fact, that's one simple way to determine if someone is seriously suicidal, or just doing it for the attention. Make a joke about death and suicide, and if they don't laugh, they're probably just doing it for the attention.
        • In fact, that's one simple way to determine if someone is seriously suicidal, or just doing it for the attention. Make a joke about death and suicide, and if they don't laugh, they're probably just doing it for the attention.

          Or they've already commited suicide.

    • Damn straight. I was born a decade before Swartz, but he did far more with his life than I have with mine. He had passion and used it for both technological and political ends. I have yet to hear of anything he did which didn't make me wish I was more like him. The charges against him were for acts that I 100% support and believe the laws and punishments against what he did are profoundly unjust (like many laws we hear about these days).

      I'm going to put this picture [amazonaws.com] up on my wall to remind me daily about
  • Wish I knew why (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:48AM (#42566833)

    Without context this is just another sad story.

    If he committed suicide because the government/JSTOR ruined his life then over what was claimed to be "trumped up charges" then this is a story that needs some action. But if this was because his girlfriend dumped him or some other personal reason, then this will fade into the background wand wont have the same impact.

    Still it's sad to see that one of our esteemed contributes to society has been lost.

    • Re:Wish I knew why (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kenh (9056) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:30AM (#42567087) Homepage Journal

      I read a bit of the indictment [archive.org] and I find it hard to believe the charges are 'trumped up' because they are so easy to disprove.

      Did he or did he not buy the laptop?

      Did he or did he not access an MIT wiring closet?

      Did he or did he not program the above purchased laptop to retrieve a massive number of documents in a manner inconsistent with their terms of use?

      Personally I think his passion for his political/legal positions drove him to commit crimes, crimes for which the penalty was so great it may have driven him to suicide, but as the previous poster mentioned - we don't know why he did it. (was there a note?)

      Suicide is the second leading cause of death among his age group (after accidental death), there are likely causes outside his achievements that drove him to take his own life, like the other 5-6,000 suicide victims in his age group each year.

  • by sketchbag (1946222) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:48AM (#42566837)
    sad to see a statistic so tragic. among the age group 25-34, suicide is the second highest cause of death (cdc, 2010 [ http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/pdf/10LCID_All_Deaths_By_Age_Group_2010-a.pdf [cdc.gov] ]). All i can say is this is a tragedy in the specific, and its a tragedy in the general. Build communities where you can, and if you stand up for your beliefs try and make bonds that will help you through troubled times when the shit hits the fan as a result. our best and brightest should be here to fix the problems left behind by the poor choices of others, because if the best and brightest arent...who is going to? please stand by activists if you agree with them, and if you have suicidal thoughts (related to, or unrelated to activism), seek better bonds with others or medical help if necessary
    • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:26AM (#42567075) Homepage
      Do you know why it's so high in that age group? Because you're healthy and likely won't die unless you take your life. It's not that hard to figure out.
  • The smoking gun (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:48AM (#42566839)

    "So I hope you’ll forgive me for not doing more. And hey, it could be worse. At least I have decent health insurance."

    - http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/verysick

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2013 @09:56AM (#42566899)
    • Spread knowledge: 30+ years in prison.
    • Kill a person: 10 years in prison.
    • Rape a woman: I don't even know how much.
    • Be a banker and fuck people's lives by investing their well-earned money into bad assets: Earn a bonus.

    If this doesn't get you enraged about the larger problem at hand, I don't know what will.

    • by Desler (1608317) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:16AM (#42567025)

      Kill a person: 10 years in prison.

      No, it's more like:

      First-degree murder: Manadatory death sentence or life-imprisonment
      Second-degree murder: Manadatory minimum 10-years to life inprisonment.

  • RIP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Marcion (876801) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:16AM (#42567029) Homepage Journal

    "The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly." (Bladerunner)

    • Re:RIP (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Stirling Newberry (848268) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @04:13PM (#42569485) Homepage Journal
      The world rewarded Aaron for his talent, and punished him for his genius. He would not have committed suicide but for, in a very legal sense, the persecution that came from doing the right thing. Journals pay nothing for their content, nothing for peer reviewers, and get paid for preventing people from gaining knowledge that other people, who were paid for by public money, accumulated for the public good.

      Rents kill, and Aaron was one of the victims. All of us are the losers, except for the people with the corrupt rent stream.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2013 @10:22AM (#42567059)

    Half of all deaths are assigned to the wrong cause.

    And I would not be one bit surprised, if it turns out to be murder for lack of evidence in trial.

    I know of similar stuff that happened to colleagues of close relatives, who were willing to give away government secrets. (And government secrets are secret *exactly* because you would not like that which is secret.)
    Shot in the head by snipers from buildings... at the moment they left the airport of the 3rd world country they fled to, and nobody giving a shit about it. After threatening his whole family.
    Yes, the great United States of America's CIA does stuff like that.

    Worst of all, you'll probably mod me down because you can't accept it. (I don't blame you. I blame the propaganda machine.)

  • So far, the only information found is ultimately sourced back to his uncle - no other confirmation.

    Then we have this from his last blog entry [aaronsw.com]:

    Thus Master Wayne is left without solutions. Out of options, it’s no wonder the series ends with his staged suicide.

    Not saying this is fake, just that I'd like to see something from an official source .

  • by Organic Brain Damage (863655) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @11:16AM (#42567403)
    This was written by someone who knew Mr. Swartz. http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html [boingboing.net]
  • Lessig's (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anarcat (306985) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @02:07PM (#42568559) Homepage

    Here's a word from another friend of Aaron: http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bully [tumblr.com]

  • by dave562 (969951) on Saturday January 12, 2013 @03:14PM (#42569033) Journal

    The whole system is broken, and this is just another symptom in a sea of them. The entire system has been co-opted and subverted to protect the monetary interests of the few. Whenever anyone steps up to threaten those interests, the DoJ and various other law enforcement entities step in to wreak havoc on those who dare to step out of line.

    Anyone who has been in the computer underground, or who has had a single thought of wanting freedom or a life free from a government that grows more and more oppressive with each new law that they pass, completely understands this. The system is not setup to do the best for the most. It is setup to protect the few from the many.

    Computer security is the perfect example. Rather than invest the money in education and technical training to go out and fix the flaws, the system decides to divert that money into lawyers and laws. A murderer is a threat to a single person. A hacker on the other hand can bring down the entire system, and "must be punished appropriately, so that others who might consider doing the same are given cause to think twice and decide against doing so". Unfortunately Aaron learned that the hard way. He probably thought that what he was doing was good, and right. And it probably was. Information that was paid for by tax dollars should not be locked up behind pay walls. But that is not the way the system works. The system maintains order with punishment and fear. It crushes lives by placing insane debt burdens upon those who stray from the rules, no matter how inane or obtuse those rules might be. For those too poor to be fined, there are prisons.

    Aaron Swartz gets chalked up in the column of bright minds crushed by the system. The system does not want visionaries. It does not want bright minds who can conceive of better ways to live. It wants sheep, who will consume and die to protect their way of life. It wants a population that fears the rest of the world, because it sustains policies that anger the rest of the world... that steal from that world, to maintain the system. The system that sacrifices the many, for the benefit of the few.

    I wonder how differently this tragic situation might have turned out if Jury Nullification were a part of the popular discourse. If Aaron had known that there would be people in front of the court during his trial, urging the jury to do the right thing and aquit him. That is where change really has to start. The system only continues to work because people who should know better, do not and they continue to convict. It only requires 2 people to change the system... 1 to challenge the law, and 1 to refuse to convict.

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.

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