NEW YORK: The family of a Reddit co-founder who committed suicide in New York weeks before he was to go on trial on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles is blaming prosecutors for his death. Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday night, his family and authorities said.
The 26-year-old had fought to make online content free to the public and as a teenager helped crease RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users.
In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an attempt to make them freely available.
He had pleaded not guilty, and his federal trial was to begin next month.
If convicted, he faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.
In a statement released on Saturday, Swartz’s family in Chicago expressed not only grief over his death but also bitterness toward federal prosecutors pursuing the case in Massachusetts against him.
“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 US Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death,” they said.
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston couldn’t be reached for comment.
A zealous advocate of public online access, Swartz was extolled on Saturday by those who believed as he did.
He was “an extraordinary hacker and activist,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international non-profit digital rights group based in California said.
Swartz co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.
He also apparently struggled at times with depression.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, faculty director for Safra Centre for Ethics where Swartz was once a fellow, wrote: “We need a better sense of justice...The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labelled a ‘felon.’”