During Swartz's first year at Stanford, he applied to Y Combinator's first Summer Founders Program, proposing to work on a startup called Infogami, a flexible content management system designed to create rich and visually interesting websites or a form of wiki for structured data. After working on it with co-founder Simon Carstensen over the summer of 2005, Swartz opted not to return to Stanford, choosing instead to continue to develop and seek funding for Infogami.
As part of his work on Infogami, Swartz created the web.py web application framework because he was unhappy with other available systems in the Python programming language. In the early fall of 2005, he worked with his fellow co-founders of another nascent Y-Combinator firm, Reddit, to rewrite its Lisp codebase using Python and web.py. Although Infogami's platform was abandoned after Not a Bug was acquired, Infogami's software was used to support the Internet Archive's Open Library project and the web.py web framework was used as the basis for many other projects by Swartz and many others.
When Infogami failed to find further funding, Y-Combinator organizers suggested Infogami merge with Reddit, which it did in November 2005, creating a new firm, Not a Bug, devoted to promoting both products. As a result, Swartz was given the title of co-founder of Reddit. Although both projects initially struggled, Reddit made large gains in popularity in 2005–2006.
In October 2006, based largely on Reddit's success, Not a Bug was acquired by Condé Nast Publications, owner of Wired magazine. Swartz moved with his company to San Francisco to continue to work on Reddit for Wired. He found corporate office life uncongenial and ultimately was asked to resign from the company. In September 2007, he joined Infogami co-founder Simon Carstensen to launch a new firm, Jottit, in another attempt to create a markdown-driven content management system in Python.
The Huffington Post characterized his actions this way: "Swartz downloaded public court documents from the PACER system in an effort to make them available outside of the expensive service. The move drew the attention of the FBI, which ultimately decided not to press charges as the documents were, in fact, public."
PACER was charging eight cents per page for information that Carl Malamud, who founded the nonprofit group Public.Resource.Org, contended should be free, because federal documents are not covered by copyright. The fees were "plowed back to the courts to finance technology, but the system [ran] a budget surplus of some $150 million, according to court reports," reported The New York Times. PACER used technology that was "designed in the bygone days of screechy telephone modems ... putting the nation's legal system behind a wall of cash and kludge." Malamud appealed to fellow activists, urging them to visit one of 17 libraries conducting a free trial of the PACER system, download court documents, and send them to him for public distribution.
After reading Malamud's call for action, Swartz used a Perl computer script running on Amazon cloud servers to download the documents, using credentials belonging to a Sacramento library. From September 4 to 20, 2008, it accessed documents and uploaded them to a cloud computing service. He released the documents to Malamud's organization.
On September 29, 2008, the GPO suspended the free trial, "pending an evaluation" of the program. Swartz's actions were subsequently investigated by the FBI. The case was closed after two months with no charges filed. Swartz learned the details of the investigation after filing a FOIA request with the FBI, and described their response as the "usual mess of confusions that shows the FBI's lack of sense of humor." PACER still charges per page, but customers using Firefox, Chrome, or Safari have the option of saving the documents for free public access with a plug-in called RECAP.
At a 2013 memorial for Swartz, Malamud recalled their work with PACER. They brought millions of U.S. District Court records out from behind PACER's "pay wall", he said, and found them full of privacy violations, including medical records and the names of minor children and confidential informants.
We sent our results to the Chief Judges of 31 District Courts ... They redacted those documents and they yelled at the lawyers that filed them ... The Judicial Conference changed their privacy rules. ... [To] the bureaucrats who ran the Administrative Office of the United States Courts ... we were thieves that took $1.6 million of their property.
So they called the FBI ... [The FBI] found nothing wrong ...
A more detailed account of his collaboration with Swartz on the PACER project appears in an essay on Malamud's website.
Writing in Ars Technica, Timothy Lee, who later made use of the documents obtained by Swartz as a co-creator of RECAP, offered some insight into discrepancies in reports on how much data Swartz downloaded: "In a back-of-the-envelope calculation a few days before the offsite crawl was shut down, Swartz guessed he got around 25 percent of the documents in PACER. The New York Times similarly reported Swartz had downloaded "an estimated 20 percent of the entire database". Based on the facts that Swartz downloaded 2.7million documents while PACER, at the time, contained 500 million, Lee concluded that Swartz downloaded less than one percent of the database.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee
In 2009, wanting to learn about effective activism, Swartz helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He wrote in his blog: "I spend my days experimenting with new ways to get progressive policies enacted and progressive politicians elected." He led the first activism event of his career with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, delivering thousands of "Honor Kennedy" petition signatures to Massachusetts legislators, asking them to fulfill former Senator Ted Kennedy's last wish by appointing a senator to vote for healthcare reform.
In 2010, Swartz co-founded Demand Progress, a political advocacy group that organizes people online to "take action by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word" about civil liberties, government reform, and other issues.
During academic year 2010–11, Swartz conducted research studies on political corruption as a Lab Fellow in Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption.
Author Cory Doctorow, in his novel Homeland, "drew on advice from Swartz in setting out how his protagonist could use the information now available about voters to create a grass-roots anti-establishment political campaign." In an afterword to the novel, Swartz wrote: "These political hacktivist tools can be used by anyone motivated and talented enough.... Now it's up to you to change the system. ... Let me know if I can help."
Opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
Swartz was involved in the campaign to prevent passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which sought to combat Internet copyright violations but was criticized on the basis that it would make it easier for the U.S. government to shut down web sites accused of violating copyright and would place intolerable burdens on Internet providers. After the bill's defeat, Swartz was the keynote speaker at the F2C:Freedom to Connect 2012 event in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2012. In his speech, "How We Stopped SOPA", he said:
This bill ... shut down whole websites. Essentially, it stopped Americans from communicating entirely with certain groups....
I called all my friends, and we stayed up all night setting up a website for this new group, Demand Progress, with an online petition opposing this noxious bill.... We [got] ... 300,000 signers.... We met with the staff of members of Congress and pleaded with them.... And then it passed unanimously....
And then, suddenly, the process stopped. Senator Ron Wyden ... put a hold on the bill.
He added, "We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom." He was referring to a series of protests against the bill by numerous websites, described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the biggest protest in Internet history, with over 115,000 sites posting their opposition. Swartz also spoke on the topic at an event organized by ThoughtWorks.
In 2006, Swartz wrote an analysis of how Wikipedia articles are written, and concluded that the bulk of its content came from tens of thousands of occasional contributors, or "outsiders," each of whom made few other contributions to the site, while a core group of 500 to 1,000 regular editors tended to correct spelling and other formatting errors. He said: "The formatters aid the contributors, not the other way around." His conclusions, based on the analysis of edit histories of several randomly selected articles, contradicted the opinion of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who believed the core group of regular editors provided most of the content while thousands of others contributed to formatting issues. Swartz came to his conclusions by counting the number of characters editors added to particular articles, while Wales counted the total number of edits.
In January 2013 shortly after he died, WikiLeaks said that Aaron Swartz had helped WikiLeaks and talked to Julian Assange in 2010 and 2011. WikiLeaks also said they had "strong reasons to believe, but cannot prove" he may have been a source, possibly breaking WikiLeaks' rules about source anonymity. Wikileaks may have made the statements to imply that Swartz was targeted by the US Attorney's Office and Secret Service in order to get at WikiLeaks.
According to state and federal authorities, Swartz used JSTOR, a digital repository, to download a large number[note 2] of academic journal articles through MIT's computer network over the course of a few weeks in late 2010 and early 2011. Visitors to MIT's "open campus" were authorized to access JSTOR through its network; Swartz, as a research fellow at Harvard University, also had a JSTOR account.
On September 25, 2010, the IP address 220.127.116.11, part of the MIT network, began sending hundreds of PDF download requests per minute to the JSTOR website, enough to slow the site's performance. This prompted a block of the IP address. In the morning, another IP address, also from within the MIT network, began sending more PDF download requests, resulting in a temporary block on the firewall level of all MIT computers in the entire 18.104.22.168/8 range. A JSTOR employee emailed MIT on September 29, 2010:
Note that this was an extreme case. We typically suspend just one individual IP at a time and do that relatively infrequently (perhaps 6 on a busy day, from 7000+ institutional subscribers). In this case, we saw a performance hit on the live site, which I have only seen about 3 or 4 times in my 5 years here.
The pattern used was to create a new session for each PDF download or every few, which was terribly efficient, but not terribly subtle. In the end, we saw over 200K sessions in one hour's time during the peak.
According to authorities, Swartz downloaded the documents through a laptop connected to a networking switch in a controlled-access wiring closet at MIT. The closet's door was kept unlocked, according to press reports. When it was discovered, a video camera was placed in the room to record Swartz; his computer was left untouched. The recording was stopped once Swartz was identified, but rather than pursue a civil lawsuit against him, JSTOR settled with him in June 2011; under the terms of the settlement, he surrendered the downloaded data.
On July 30, 2013, JSTOR released 300 partially redacted documents used as incriminating evidence against Swartz, originally sent to the United States Attorney's Office in response to subpoenas in the case United States v. Aaron Swartz.
(The following images are all excerpts from the 3,461-page PDF document.)
"Root Cause Analysis" Report (side 1), showing a descriptive timeline of events from September 25, 2010, until December 26, 2010
"Root Cause Analysis" Report (side 2), showing JSTOR response and incident resolution procedures
Email sent from JSTOR to Stephan, Heymann (USAMA), estimating 3.5 million PDF files had been downloaded
Email describing PDF download activity snapshots (see next images in gallery)
Describes PDF download activity, from JSTOR's databases to MIT computers, between November 1 and December 27
PDF activity, from JSTOR to MIT, between January 1 to 15
On November 17, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a Middlesex County Superior Court grand jury on state charges of breaking and entering with intent, grand larceny, and unauthorized access to a computer network. On December 16, 2011, state prosecutors filed a notice that they were dropping the two original charges, and the charges listed in the November 17, 2011 indictment were dropped on March 8, 2012. According to a spokesperson for the Middlesex County prosecutor, this was done to avoid impeding a federal prosecution headed by Stephen P. Heymann, supported by evidence provided by Secret Service agent Michael S. Pickett.
On September 12, 2012, federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding nine more felony counts, increasing Swartz's maximum criminal exposure to 50years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines. During plea negotiations with Swartz's attorneys, the prosecutors offered to recommend a sentence of six months in a low-security prison if Swartz pled guilty to 13 federal crimes. Swartz and his lead attorney rejected the deal, opting instead for a trial where prosecutors would be forced to justify their pursuit of him.
The federal prosecution involved what was characterized by numerous critics (such as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean) as an "overcharging" 13-count indictment and "overzealous", "Nixonian" prosecution for alleged computer crimes, brought by then U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.
Swartz died by suicide on January 11, 2013. After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. On December 4, 2013, due to a Freedom of Information Act suit by the investigations editor of Wired magazine, several documents related to the case were released by the Secret Service, including a video of Swartz entering the MIT network closet.
Days before Swartz's funeral, Lawrence Lessig eulogized his friend and sometime-client in an essay, "Prosecutor as Bully." He decried the disproportionality of Swartz's prosecution and said, "The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a 'felon'. For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept."Cory Doctorow wrote, "Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so."
Funeral and memorial gatherings
Swartz's funeral services were held on January 15, 2013, at Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, delivered a eulogy. The same day, The Wall Street Journal published a story based in part on an interview with Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. She told the Journal that Swartz lacked the money to pay for a trial and "it was too hard for him to ... make that part of his life go public" by asking for help. He was also distressed, she said, because two of his friends had just been subpoenaed and because he no longer believed that MIT would try to stop the prosecution.
Swartz's family recommended GiveWell for donations in his memory, an organization that Swartz admired, had collaborated with and was the sole beneficiary of his will.
U.S. Department of Justice
Carmen M. Ortiz, then U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, "As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, […] I must, however, make clear that this office's conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case."
Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death.
On January 12, 2013, Swartz's family and partner issued a statement criticizing the prosecutors and MIT. Speaking at his son's funeral on January 15, Robert Swartz said, "Aaron was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles."
Tom Dolan, husband of U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz, whose office prosecuted Swartz's case, replied with criticism of the Swartz family: "Truly incredible that in their own son's obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer." This comment triggered some criticism; Esquire writer Charlie Pierce replied, "the glibness with which her husband and her defenders toss off a 'mere' six months in federal prison, low-security or not, is a further indication that something is seriously out of whack with the way our prosecutors think these days."
MIT maintains an open-campus policy along with an "open network." Two days after Swartz's death, MIT President L. Rafael Reif commissioned professor Hal Abelson to lead an analysis of MIT's options and decisions relating to Swartz's "legal struggles." To help guide the fact-finding stage of the review, MIT created a website where community members could suggest questions and issues for the review to address.
Swartz's attorneys requested that all pretrial discovery documents be made public, a move which MIT opposed. Swartz allies have criticized MIT for its opposition to releasing the evidence without redactions. On July 26, 2013, the Abelson panel submitted a 182-page report to MIT president, L. Rafael Reif, who authorized its public release on July 30. The panel reported that MIT had not supported charges against Swartz and cleared the institution of wrongdoing. However, its report also noted that despite MIT's advocacy for open access culture at the institutional level and beyond, the university never extended that support to Swartz. The report revealed, for example, that while MIT considered the possibility of issuing a public statement about its position on the case, such a statement never materialized.
The Huffington Post reported that "Ortiz has faced significant backlash for pursuing the case against Swartz, including a petition to the White House to have her fired." Other news outlets reported similarly.
Reuters news agency called Swartz "an online icon" who "help[ed] to make a virtual mountain of information freely available to the public, including an estimated 19 million pages of federal court documents." The Associated Press (AP) reported that Swartz's case "highlights society's uncertain, evolving view of how to treat people who break into computer systems and share data not to enrich themselves, but to make it available to others," and that JSTOR's lawyer, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Mary Jo White, had asked the lead prosecutor to drop the charges.
As discussed by the editor Hrag Vartanian in Hyperallergic, Brooklyn, New York muralist BAMN ("By Any Means Necessary") created a mural of Swartz. "Swartz was an amazing human being who fought tirelessly for our right to a free and open Internet," the artist explained. "He was much more than just the 'Reddit guy'."
Speaking on April 17, 2013, Yuval Noah Harari described Swartz as "the first martyr of the Freedom of Information movement". However, according to Harari, Swartz's stance did not illustrate the belief in the freedom of persons or speech but stemmed from the increasing belief among the young generation that above anything else, information should be free.
Swartz's legacy has been reported as strengthening the open access to scholarship movement. In Illinois, his home state, Swartz's influence led state university faculties to adopt policies in favor of open access.
On January 13, 2013, members of Anonymous hacked two websites on the MIT domain, replacing them with tributes to Swartz that called on members of the Internet community to use his death as a rallying point for the open access movement. The banner included a list of demands for improvements in the U.S. copyright system, along with Swartz's Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. On the night of January 18, 2013, MIT's e-mail system was taken offline for ten hours. On January 22, e-mail sent to MIT was redirected by hackers Aush0k and TibitXimer to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. All other traffic to MIT was redirected to a computer at Harvard University that was publishing a statement headed "R.I.P Aaron Swartz," with text from a 2009 posting by Swartz, accompanied by a chiptune version of "The Star-Spangled Banner". MIT regained full control after about seven hours. In the early hours of January 26, 2013, the U.S. Sentencing Commission website, USSC.gov, was hacked by Anonymous. The home page was replaced with an embedded YouTube video, Anonymous Operation Last Resort. The video statement said Swartz "faced an impossible choice". A hacker downloaded "hundreds of thousands" of scientific-journal articles from a Swiss publisher's website and republished them on the open Web in Swartz's honor a week before the first anniversary of his death.
After Swartz's death, more than 50,000 people signed an online petition to the White House calling for the removal of Ortiz, "for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz." A similar petition was submitted calling for prosecutor Stephen Heymann's firing. In January 2015, two years after Swartz's death, the White House declined both petitions.
On August 3, 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. There was a hackathon held in Swartz' memory around the date of his birthday in 2013. Over the weekend of November 8–10, 2013, inspired by Swartz's work and life, a second annual hackathon was held in at least 16 cities around the world. Preliminary topics worked on at the 2013 Aaron Swartz Hackathon were privacy and software tools, transparency, activism, access, legal fixes and a low-cost book scanner. In January 2014, Lawrence Lessig led a walk across New Hampshire in honor of Swartz, rallying for campaign finance reform.
In 2017, the Turkish-Dutch artist Ahmet Öğüt commemorated Swartz through a work entitled "Information Power to The People" which depicted his bust.
A long-time supporter of open access, Swartz wrote in his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto:
The world's entire scientific ... heritage ... is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations....
The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it.
Supporters of Swartz responded to news of his death with an effort called #PDFTribute to promote Open Access. On January 12, Eva Vivalt, a development economist at the World Bank, began posting her academic articles online using the hashtag#pdftribute as a tribute to Swartz. Scholars posted links to their works. Swartz' story has exposed the topic of open access to scientific publications to wider audiences. In Swartz' wake, many institutions and personalities have campaigned for open access to scientific knowledge. Swartz's death prompted calls for more open access to scholarly data (e.g., open science data). The Think Computer Foundation and the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University announced scholarships awarded in memory of Swartz. In 2013, Swartz was posthumously awarded the American Library Association's James Madison Award for being an "outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles." In March, the editor and editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration resigned en masse, citing a dispute with the journal's publisher, Routledge. One board member wrote of a "crisis of conscience about publishing in a journal that was not open access" after the death of Swartz. In 2002, Swartz had stated that when he died, he wanted all the contents of his hard drives made publicly available.
Calling the charges against him "ridiculous and trumped up," Polis said Swartz was a "martyr", whose death illustrated the need for Congress to limit the discretion of federal prosecutors. Speaking at a memorial for Swartz on Capitol Hill, Issa said
Ultimately, knowledge belongs to all the people of the world.... Aaron understood that.... Our copyright laws were created for the purpose of promoting useful works, not hiding them.
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren issued a statement saying "[Aaron's] advocacy for Internet freedom, social justice, and Wall Street reform demonstrated ... the power of his ideas ..."
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn asked, "On what basis did the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts conclude that her office's conduct was 'appropriate'?" and "Was the prosecution of Mr. Swartz in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act?"
Issa, who chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced that he would investigate the Justice Department's actions in prosecuting Swartz. In a statement to The Huffington Post, he praised Swartz's work toward "open government and free access to the people." Issa's investigation has garnered some bipartisan support.
On January 28, 2013, Issa and ranking committee member Elijah Cummings published a letter to U.S. Attorney General Holder, questioning why federal prosecutors had filed the superseding indictment. On February 20, WBUR reported that Ortiz was expected to testify at an upcoming Oversight Committee hearing about her office's handling of the Swartz case. On February 22, Associate Deputy Attorney General Steven Reich conducted a briefing for congressional staffers involved in the investigation. They were told that Swartz's Guerilla Open Access Manifesto played a role in prosecutorial decision-making. Congressional staffers left this briefing believing that prosecutors thought Swartz had to be convicted of a felony carrying at least a short prison sentence in order to justify having filed the case against him in the first place.
Excoriating the Department of Justice as the "Department of Vengeance", Stinebrickner-Kauffman told the Guardian that the DOJ had erred in relying on Swartz's Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as an accurate indication of his beliefs by 2010. "He was no longer a single issue activist," she said. "He was into lots of things, from healthcare, to climate change to money in politics."
On March 6, Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the case was "a good use of prosecutorial discretion." Stinebrickner-Kauffman issued a statement in reply, repeating and amplifying her claims of prosecutorial misconduct. Public documents, she wrote, reveal that prosecutor Stephen Heymann "instructed the Secret Service to seize and hold evidence without a warrant... lied to the judge about that fact in written briefs... [and] withheld exculpatory evidence... for over a year," violating his legal and ethical obligations to turn such evidence over to the defense. On March 22, Senator Al Franken wrote Holder a letter expressing concerns, writing that "charging a young man like Mr. Swartz with federal offenses punishable by over 35 years of federal imprisonment seems remarkably aggressive – particularly when it appears that one of the principal aggrieved parties ... did not support a criminal prosecution."
Lawrence Lessig wrote of the bill, "this is a critically important change.... The CFAA was the hook for the government's bullying.... This law would remove that hook. In a single line: no longer would it be a felony to breach a contract." Professor Orin Kerr, a specialist in the nexus between computer law and criminal law, wrote that he had been arguing for precisely this sort of reform of the Act for years. The ACLU, too, has called for reform of the CFAA to "remove the dangerously broad criminalization of online activity." The EFF has mounted a campaign for these reforms. Lessig's inaugural Chair lecture as Furman Professor of Law and Leadership was entitled Aaron's Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age; he dedicated the lecture to Swartz.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced the Senate version in 2013, 2015, and 2017 while the bill was introduced to the House by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.). Senator Wyden wrote of the bill, "the FASTR act provides that access to taxpayer funded research should never be hidden behind a paywall."
While the legislation had not passed as of August 2017[update], it helped to prompt some motion toward more open access on the part of the US administration. Shortly after the bill's original introduction, the Office of Science and Technology Policy directed "each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government."
Swartz has been featured in various works of art and has posthumously received dedications from numerous artists. In 2013, Kenneth Goldsmith dedicated his "Printing out the Internet" exhibition to Swartz. There are also dedicated biographical films for Aaron:
Mashable called the documentary "a powerful homage to Aaron Swartz". Its debut at Sundance received a standing ovation. Mashable printed, "With the help of experts, The Internet's Own Boy makes a clear argument: Swartz unjustly became a victim of the rights and freedoms for which he stood."The Hollywood Reporter described it as a "heartbreaking" story of a "tech wunderkind persecuted by the U.S. government", and a must-see "for anyone who knows enough to care about the way laws govern information transfer in the digital age".
In October 2014, Killswitch, a documentary film featuring Swartz, as well as Lawrence Lessig, Tim Wu, and Edward Snowden, received its world premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Editing. The film focuses on Swartz's role in advocating for internet freedoms.
In February 2015, Killswitch was invited to screen at the Capitol Visitor's Center in Washington, D.C. by Congressman Alan Grayson. The event was held on the eve of the Federal Communications Commission's historic decision on Net Neutrality. Congressman Grayson, Lawrence Lessig, and Free Press CEO Craig Aaron spoke about Swartz and his fight on behalf of a free and open Internet at the event.
Congressman Grayson states that Killswitch is "one of the most honest accounts of the battle to control the Internet – and access to information itself."Richard von Busack of the Metro Silicon Valley writes of Killswitch, "Some of the most lapidary use of found footage this side of The Atomic Café". Fred Swegles of the Orange County Register remarks, "Anyone who values unfettered access to online information is apt to be captivated by Killswitch, a gripping and fast-paced documentary." Kathy Gill of GeekWire asserts that "Killswitch is much more than a dry recitation of technical history. Director Ali Akbarzadeh, producer Jeff Horn, and writer Chris Dollar created a human-centered story. A large part of that connection comes from Lessig and his relationship with Swartz."
Another biographical film about Swartz, Think Aaron, is being developed by HBO Films.
Markdown: Swartz was a major contributor to John Gruber's Markdown, a lightweight markup language for generating HTML, and author of its html2text translator. The syntax for Markdown was influenced by Swartz's earlier atx language (2002), which today is primarily remembered for its syntax for specifying headers, known as atx-style headers: Markdown itself remains in widespread use, with websites such as Reddit and GitHub using it.
^Swartz' involvement in Reddit is debated. He is considered the co-founder of Reddit by Y Combinator owner Paul Graham as a result of the merger of Swartz' project Infogami and Reddit. With the merger of Infogami and Reddit, Swartz became a co-owner and director of parent company Not A Bug, Inc., along with Reddit cofounders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian. Ohanian considers Swartz a co-owner of Reddit.
^The MIT network administration office told MIT police that "approximately 70 gigabytes of data had been downloaded, 98% of which was from JSTOR." The first federal indictment alleged "approximately 4.8 million articles", "1.7 million" of which "were made available by independent publishers for purchase through JSTOR's Publisher Sales Service." The subsequent DOJ press release alleged "over four million articles". The superseding indictment removed the estimates and instead characterized the amount as "a major portion of the total archive in which JSTOR had invested."
^ abcYearwood, Pauline (February 22, 2013). "Brilliant life, tragic death". Chicago Jewish News. p. 1. Archived from the original on October 17, 2013. Aaron Hillel Swartz was not depressed or suicidal ... a rabbi's wife who has known him since he was a child says.... At age 13 he won the ArsDigita Prize, a competition for young people who create noncommercial websites....
Lessig, Lawrence (December 22, 2013). "Why They Mattered: Aaron Swartz". Politico. Retrieved November 29, 2022. Then Aaron got lost in a story that Kafka could have penned—a two-year struggle with an over-eager federal prosecutor, keen to make an example out of this young man's delict but failing to see that instead he was making Aaron a martyr.
Amsden, David (February 15, 2013). "The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swarz". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on July 27, 2018. Retrieved April 14, 2021. As a teen programming prodigy, he had helped to develop RSS, the now-ubiquitous tool allowing users to self-syndicate information online, and at 19 he was one of the builders of Reddit, the social news site that was purchased by Condé Nast, which turned Swartz into a millionaire before he could legally order a beer.
^ abSeidman, Bianca (July 22, 2011). "Internet activist charged with hacking into MIT network". Arlington, Va.: Public Broadcasting Service. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved August 23, 2017. [Swartz] was in the middle of a fellowship at Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, in its Lab on Institutional Corruption
^ ab"Lab Fellows 2010–2011: Aaron Swartz". Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Harvard University. 2010. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. During the fellowship year, he will conduct experimental and ethnographic studies of the political system to prepare a monograph on the mechanisms of political corruption.
^ abGerstein, Josh (July 22, 2011). "MIT also pressing charges against hacking suspect". Politico. Archived from the original on September 12, 2015. Retrieved August 27, 2019. [Swartz's] alleged use of MIT facilities and Web connections to access the JSTOR database ... resulted in two state felony charges for breaking into a 'depository' and breaking & entering in the daytime, according to local prosecutors.
^ abcdeCommonwealth v. Swartz, 11-52CR73 & 11-52CR75, MIT Police Incident Report 11-351 (Mass. Dist. Ct. nolle prosequi December 16, 2011) ("Captain Albert P[...] and Special Agent Pickett were able to apprehend the suspect at 24 Lee Street.... He was arrested for two counts of Breaking and Entering in the daytime with the intent to commit a felony....").
^ abcSwartz, Aaron (September 27, 2007). "How to get a job like mine". (blog). Aaron Swartz. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. We negotiated for months.... I started going crazy from having to think so much about money.... The company almost fell apart before the deal went through.
^Swartz, Aaron (January 14, 2002). "It's always cool to run..."Weblog. Aaron Swartz. Archived from the original on October 31, 2018. Retrieved March 23, 2013. I would have been in 10th grade this year.... Now I'm taking a couple of classes at a local college.
^Schofield, Jack (January 13, 2013). "Aaron Swartz obituary". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on September 20, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2016. At 13 [he] won an ArsDigita prize for creating a non-commercial website.
^"RSS creator Aaron Swartz dead at 26". Harvard Magazine. January 14, 2013. Archived from the original on November 28, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2014. Swartz helped create RSS—a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works (blog entries, news headlines, ...) in a standardized format—at the age of 14.
^Lessig, Lawrence (January 12, 2013). "Remembering Aaron Swartz". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on December 4, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2017. Aaron was one of the early architects of Creative Commons. As a teenager, he helped design the code layer to our licenses...
^Grehan, Rick (August 10, 2011). "Pillars of Python: Web.py Web framework". InfoWorld. Archived from the original on November 28, 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2015. Web.py, the brainchild of Aaron Swartz, who developed it while working at Reddit.com, describes itself as a 'minimalist's framework.' ... Test Center Scorecard: Capability 7; Ease of Development 9; Documentation 7; ...; Overall Score 7.6, Good.
^Klein, Sam (July 24, 2011). "Aaron Swartz vs. United States". The Longest Now. Weblogs at Harvard Law School. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved February 7, 2013. He founded watchdog.net to aggregate ... data about politicians – including where their money comes from.
^"The team". Watchdog.net. Archived from the original on December 23, 2008. Founder Aaron Swartz ... We're funded by a grant from the Sunlight Network and the Sunlight Foundation.
^ abSwartz, Aaron (July 2008). "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto". Internet Archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.
^Murphy, Samantha (July 22, 2011). "'Guerilla activist' releases 18,000 scientific papers". MIT Technology Review. Archived from the original on November 17, 2015. Retrieved February 6, 2013. In a 2008 'Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,' Swartz called for activists to 'fight back' against services that held academic papers hostage behind paywalls.
^Malamud, Carl (January 24, 2013). Aaron's Army (Speech). Memorial for Aaron Swartz at the Internet Archive. San Francisco. Archived from the original on September 11, 2018. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
^"Our Mission"(blog). Demand Progress. Archived from the original on October 29, 2018. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
^ abSleight, Graham (February 1, 2013). "'Homeland,' by Cory Doctorow". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 16, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2017. As Doctorow made clear in his eloquent obituary, he drew on advice from Swartz in setting out how his protagonist could use the information now available about voters to create a grass-roots anti-establishment political campaign. ... One of the book's two afterwords is by Swartz.
^ abcWagner, Daniel; Verena Dobnik (January 13, 2013). "Swartz' death fuels debate over computer crime". Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 30, 2013. Retrieved February 26, 2013. JSTOR's attorney, Mary Jo White – formerly the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan – had called the lead Boston prosecutor in the case and asked him to drop it, said Peters.
^ abSwartz, Aaron (May 21, 2012). "How we stopped SOPA"(video). Keynote address at the Freedom To Connect 2012 conference. New York: Democracy Now!. Archived from the original on November 1, 2018. Retrieved January 27, 2013. [T]he 'Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeiting Act' ... was introduced on September 20th, 2010.... And [then] it began being called PIPA, and eventually SOPA.
^"Terms and Conditions of Use". JSTOR. New York: ITHAKA. January 15, 2013. Archived from the original on September 16, 2015. Retrieved August 29, 2017. JSTOR's integrated digital platform is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to ... scholarly materials: journal issues ...; manuscripts and monographs; ...; spatial/geographic information systems data; plant specimens; ...
^ abcLarissa MacFarquhar (March 11, 2013). "Requiem for a dream: The tragedy of Aaron Swartz". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on July 21, 2014. [Swartz] wrote a script that instructed his computer to download articles continuously, something that was forbidden by JSTOR's terms of service.... He spoofed the computer's address.... This happened several times. MIT traced the requests to his laptop, which he had hidden in an unlocked closet.
^ abCohen, Noam (January 20, 2013). "How M.I.T. ensnared a hacker, bucking a freewheeling culture". The New York Times. p. A1. Archived from the original on October 6, 2018. Retrieved February 23, 2017. 'Suspect is seen on camera entering network closet' [in an unlocked building] ... Within a mile of MIT ... he was stopped by an MIT police captain and [U.S. Secret Service agent] Pickett.
^Peters, Justin (February 7, 2013). "The Idealist: Aaron Swartz wanted to save the world. Why couldn't he save himself?". Slate. N.Y.C. 6. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved February 10, 2013. The superseding indictment ... claimed that Swartz had 'contrived to break into a restricted-access wiring closet at MIT.' But the closet door had been unlocked—and remained unlocked even after the university and authorities were aware that someone had been in there trying to access the school's network.
^ abMerritt, Jeralyn (January 14, 2013). "MIT to conduct internal probe on its role in Aaron Swartz case". TalkLeft (blog). Att'y Jeralyn Merritt. Archived from the original on October 16, 2017. Retrieved April 7, 2013. The wiring closet was not locked and was accessible to the public. If you look at the pictures supplied by the Government, you can see graffiti on one wall.
^Hak, Susana; Paz, Gabriella (January 26, 2011). "Compilation of December 15, 2010 – January 20, 2011"(PDF). Hak–De Paz Police Log Compilations. MIT Crime Club. p. 6. Archived(PDF) from the original on March 17, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2013. January 6, 2:20 pm, Aaron Swartz, was arrested at 24 Lee Street as a suspect for breaking and entering....
^Singel, Ryan (February 27, 2011). "Rogue academic downloader busted by MIT webcam stakeout, arrest report says". Wired. N.Y.C. Archived from the original on March 22, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2017. Swartz is accused ... of stealing the articles by attaching a laptop directly to a network switch in ... a 'restricted' room, though neither the police report nor the indictment [mentions] a door lock or signage indicating the room is off-limits.
^Hawkinson, John (November 18, 2011). "Swartz indicted for breaking and entering". The Tech. MIT. p. 11. Archived from the original on April 22, 2017. Retrieved May 18, 2013. Swartz ... was indicted ... in Middlesex Superior Court ... for breaking and entering, larceny over $250, and unauthorized access to a computer network.
^Lessig, Lawrence (January 12, 2013). "Prosecutor as bully". Lessig Blog, v2. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer.... [M]y obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer.... I get wrong. But I also get proportionality.
^Doctorow, Cory (January 12, 2013), "RIP, Aaron Swartz", Boing Boing, archived from the original on January 17, 2013, retrieved January 16, 2013
^ abAnte, Spencer; Anjali Athavaley; Joe Palazzolo (January 14, 2013). "Legal case strained troubled activist". The Wall Street Journal. p. B1. Archived from the original on August 26, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017. With the government's position hardening, Mr. Swartz realized that he would have to face a costly public trial.... He would need to ask for help financing his defense....
^Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman (March 13, 2013). "TarenSK: MIT Memorial Service". Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013. including links to video of the ceremony/speeches.
^"homepage". Swartz Review. MIT. January 23, 2013. Archived from the original on February 6, 2013. IS&T has created this web site so [community members] can suggest questions and issues to guide the review... What questions should MIT be asking at this stage of the Aaron Swartz review?
^Dobuzinskis, Alex; P.J. Huffstutter (January 13, 2013). "Internet activist, programmer Aaron Swartz dead at 26". Reuters. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2017. That belief – that information should be shared and available for the good of society – prompted Swartz to found the nonprofit group Demand Progress.
^Kao, Joanna (January 23, 2013). "MIT DNS hacked; traffic redirected". The Tech. MIT. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 23, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2013. From 11:58 a.m. to 1:05 pm, MIT's DNS was redirected ... to CloudFlare, where the hackers had configured servers to return a Harvard IP address.... By 7:15 pm, CloudFlare removed the 'mail.mit.edu' record, which referred to the machine ... at KAIST.
^"Anonymous hackers target US agency site". BBC News. January 26, 2013. Archived from the original on September 26, 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2018. The hackers ... said the site was chosen for symbolic reasons. 'The federal sentencing guidelines ... enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial ...,' the video statement said.
^Stanza, Arrow (January 6, 2014). "Springer Link hacked in honor of Aaron Swartz" (Press release). Slashdot. Archived from the original on January 14, 2014. Retrieved January 14, 2014. The material is published in honor of Aaron Swartz in springer-lta.co.nf. [Author's pseudonym is an anagram of "aaron swartz".]