Aaron Swartz is a name not many people know but one that will ring out for ages to come, considering the impact such a young man had on the Internet as we know it.
Last week, a documentary titled “The Internet’s Own Boy” was released, telling the story of Aaron’s life and his influence in technology and politics. Sadly, this documentary was spurred on by Aaron’s sudden death at age 26. But to understand why Aaron’s life was so important, you have to start at the age of 13.
When he was that age, Aaron participated and committed code to a mailing list for developers who were writing what would be known as RSS. Really Simple Syndication is a foundational part to how many popular Web services work today. From there, at age 15, he helped create the technical foundations for Creative Commons, a common sense approach to copyright on the Web.
During Aaron’s college years, he helped start the very popular social news site Reddit. As a co-founder, he received a substantial amount of money when Reddit was sold in 2006 to Conde Nast, the owner of Wired magazine. From there, Aaron began his political adventure which eventually led to his arrest.
Aaron was arrested for downloading a large amount of academic journals from JSTOR using the “open access” to that academic digital library offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s network. This led to a two-year legal battle, during which he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire and computer fraud and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer. The issue here is the documents in question could be freely downloaded and obtained – which Aaron did in large part. His goal was to free open information.
Aaron also became an integral part of blocking the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012, a law that would have crippled the flow of information on the Web and change it forever.
On Jan. 22, 2013, after an intense legal battle that led to depression, Aaron took his own life – one that in his short 26 years had made a huge impact. This was Aaron, he wanted to fix the world: “He was the Internet’s own boy, and the old world killed him.”