Aaron Swartz: A life remembered, a legacy debated

Is Aaron Swartz a martyr, crook, or coward? Depends on whom you ask

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W. B. writes:

I agree with most of your arguments.... Government behavior was outlandish. However, suicide was a gross over-reaction. He was facing jail time; he had not been convicted. And the fact that JSTOR made its articles freely available suggests that he could have beaten the charges. Aaron Swartz could have fought back to defend the principles he believed in - instead he took the coward's way out.

As I understand it, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz was insisting that Swartz spend at least six months behind bars as part of a plea bargain. Given what we know about the fragile state of the 26-year-old's psyche, it doesn't surprise me he chose suicide instead. You could argue whether six months was still too excessive in the JSTOR case, but it's a moot point now.

Reader D. B. was among those who concurred with me that jail time for this kind of crime is a bit harsh:

Unfortunately, you are too close to the truth. It costs the tax payer around $45,000 a year to put someone in jail. And our government seems to do it for all the wrong reasons.

On the other hand, Cringester M. D. took exception to my including the Bradley Manning case as an example of an overzealous government treating cyber offenders more harshly than others. He wrote:

The Bradley Manning comparison?!?!?! With all due respect, way off base, man. Waaaaayy, off base. Treason is sort of a big deal. Any attempt at slipping "gray area" into the Manning situation is just an exercise in rationalization. The damage that kid and his albino buddy did may never be known. If Manning had done this back in the days when you were just a child, Manning would have already been executed. ... Don't try to make Manning a poster child for any cause. He's not worthy of it. Stick to Swartz.

I have to say he's right. The Manning comparison was off base. Mea culpa.

A more apt comparison would have been Kim Dotcom, who was the victim of a drug cartel kingpin-style takedown by New Zealand commandos working under the direction of the FBI, all for alleged crimes against copyrights. Even if Dotcom is guilty of making millions from facilitating illegal downloads of movies, the actions against him were ludicrously over the top -- and New Zealand's top court agreed.

How does the Aaron Swartz tragedy make you feel? Share it with us below or email me directly: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Aaron Swartz: A life remembered, a legacy debated," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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