Internet Prodigy, Online Activist, Reddit Co-Founder Aaron Swartz Dies At 26

By Alexandra Burlacu email: | Jan 13, 2013 02:28 PM EST

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Aaron Swartz, an online activist, co-creator of RSS, co-founder of Reddit, and a prominent figure in the tech world, has committed suicide at the age of 26.

The programmer's suicide has shaken the entire tech industry, and condolence messages poured in to mourn his untimely death. The Reddit co-founder took his own life just weeks before he was set to go on trial on federal charges that he stole scholarly articles from online archive JSTOR. According to prosecutors, Swartz stole the materials with the intention of distributing them for free.

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In 2011, Swartz faced charges of theft, as prosecutors accused him of stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in an attempt to make them available for free.

Swartz had pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him, and his federal trial was set to begin next month. If convicted, Swartz not only faced up to $1 million in fines, but also decades in prison - up to 35 years. His family now blames prosecutors for his untimely death.

"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," Swartz' family said in a statement. "Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death."

"Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data, or dollars," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, as cited by The New York Times.

While at 14 other teenagers only care about having fun, Swartz helped create RSS, the tool that allows users to subscribe to online information. He later became an Internet hero, an online activist, and co-founder of popular site Reddit. Swartz stood behind some of the most defining moments of the Internet as we know it today, achieving things many developers only dreamed of.

His legal problems, however, marred his success and recognition, and the prodigy was feeling increasingly depressed, as he himself had revealed on his blog. Swartz' family and partner hail his "commitment to social justice," and criticize U.S. prosecutors for seeking "an exceptionally harsh array of charges (for) an alleged crime that had no victims."

Aaron Swartz funeral will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. Details, including the time of the funeral, will be posted on a memorial Web site, said his family.

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