When 26-year-old Internet prodigy and freedom of information activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide on January 11, the tragedy was the direct result of US attorneys deciding to throw criminal charges at him for violating a website’s “terms of services” while accessing publicly subsidized academic research. Swartz entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s open campus, accessed its open network and downloaded a few million academic articles owned by the digital library JSTOR, whose database contains content belonging to hundreds of publishers. JSTOR and MIT now insist they would have been only too happy to drop the matter, but prosecutors pushed forward, throwing four felony charges at Swartz, who then faced a maximum sentence of thirty-five years in prison, along with fines of up to $1 million. Prosecutors shoveled on nine more felony counts in September, bringing the total to thirteen.
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