Aaron Swartz, 26, a computer prodigy who helped develop RSS and co-founded Reddit, died weeks before going on trial on federal charges for stealing millions of scholarly articles to make them freely available to the public.
He was found in his Brooklyn apartment where he hung himself, his family in Chicago confirmed in a statement Saturday. He was pronounced dead Friday evening at home in the Crown Heights neighborhood, Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York’s chief medical examiner, said.
Swartz helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users. He 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 was considered an “extraordinary hacker and activist” for public online access.
It was known that Swartz struggled with depression. The Swartz’s family expressed bitterness toward the federal prosecutors who were pursuing the case against him.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, faculty director for Safra Center 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 labeled a `felon.'”Swartz faced 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges. His federal trial was to begin next month. If convicted, he faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.
It was announced this week that it would make “more than 4.5 million articles” publicly available for free.