Internet activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide

The 26-year-old hacker and information activist had faced charges for his alleged role in making MIT academic journal articles public.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
Aerial view of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT

Computer activist Aaron H. Swartz committed suicide in New York City yesterday.

The news was first reported by the MIT newspaper The Tech, citing both his uncle and his attorney. Swartz was 26.

Police had arrested Swartz in July 2011. He was accused of stealing 4 million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. The authorities claimed that he broke into a restricted-access computer wiring closet at MIT and accessed that network without authorization.

Jstor said that the downloaded content included "more than 4 million articles, book reviews, and other content from our publisher partners' academic journals and other publications."

If convicted, Swartz faced a maximum of $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison after the government increased the number of felony counts against Swartz to 13 from 4.

News of Swartz's suicide came only days after Jstor announced this week that it would make "more than 4.5 million articles" publicly available for free.

A couple of years ago, Swartz sold a company he founded called Infogami to Reddit. He was also the founder of the nonprofit group Demand Progress, which was active in the anti-SOPA battle.

Cory Doctorow, a friend of Swartz's, noted today that Swartz had battled depression for several years.

"To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it," Doctorow wrote.