Hundreds attend NY memorial for Web activist Aaron Swartz

By Jonathan Allen, Reuters

NEW YORK — Supporters of Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old Internet activist who committed suicide last week, gathered in New York to remember the computer prodigy on Saturday, with some calling for changes in the criminal justice system they blame for his death. Swartz, who at 14 helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS and believed the fruits of academic research and other information should be freely available to all, was found dead a week ago in his Brooklyn apartment. The city’s chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide by hanging.

He had been facing trial on federal charges he used the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer networks to steal more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service.

Swartz, who had also worked on the popular website Reddit, had faced a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison and fines of up to US$1 million. “He told me about the 4.5 million downloads of scholarly articles, and my first thought was why isn’t MIT celebrating this?” Edward Tufte, an emeritus professor of computer science at Yale University and a friend of Swartz, said to applause from the crowd gathered in The Cooper Union’s Great Hall in Manhattan. Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner, criticized what she described as MIT’s “indifference” to the saga, saying the school could have acted to end his prosecution. The president of MIT said this week the school was investigating its role in Swartz’s case. JSTOR has said in a statement it settled any dispute with Swartz in 2011 and praised his “important contributions to the development of the Internet.” Call for Change