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Academics share copyrighted journal articles on Twitter to honor Aaron Swartz

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aaron swartz
aaron swartz

This morning, hundreds of links to copyright-protected journal articles have appeared on Twitter in remembrance of Aaron Swartz, posted by members of the academic community. The call to the protest appears to have started on Reddit, where researcher Micah Allen said, "a fitting tribute to Aaron might be a mass protest uploading of copyright-protected research articles. Dump them on Gdocs, tweet the link. Think of the great blu-ray encoding protest but on a bigger scale for research articles." Early this morning the Anonymous Twitter account also announced its support for the action.

Swartz, who hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment this past Friday, had been under federal indictment since 2011. He was charged with illegally downloading more than 4 million documents from the academic journal database JSTOR on the campus of MIT in late 2010. Although JSTOR refused to pursue the matter, the prosecutors in Massachusetts did not, resulting in a federal case against Swartz which, if found guilty, could have resulted in up to 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. In the wake of Swartz's suicide his family and mentor Lawrence Lessig have at least partially blamed his death on the government's relentless pursuit of the 26-year old, and one expert witness who was going to testify on his behalf has argued that Swartz's actions hardly called for the criminal charges brought against him.

An expert witness has argued that Swartz's actions hardly called for the criminal charges brought against him.

This is just one in a flood of online reactions to Swartz's death. A large file of JSTOR articles is currently on the torrent site the Pirate Bay in his memory, and early Saturday evening several petitions were posted to the White House's online system We the People. One of them calls for the removal of District Attorney Carmen Ortiz (the prosecutor who pursued Aaron's case), and one which calls for a White House pardon for Swartz, though he was never tried or convicted of any crimes. Swartz's family has also created a website for remembrances of Aaron. MIT released an official statementMonday afternoon, and will launch a formal investigation into the University's actions over the course of the two year proceedings.

At 26, Swartz already had a long list of achievements in wide-ranging fields. He was one of the early participants in Y Combinator, and was instrumental in the early days of Reddit, when his small company Infogami merged with the founders of the internet giant we know today. He also co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification at the age of 14, and in 2010 founded Demand Progress, a non-profit dedicated to fighting the bills which would become SOPA and PIPA. Demand Progress' work fighting SOPA is widely seen as being instrumental to the internet protests which resulted in its defeat. The case against Swartz and the circumstances of his death has led at least one academic to suggest a copyright reform act named in Swartz's honor.

Photo credit: Quinn Norton