Death by Copyright
No one should ever go to jail over copyright law.
It is inconceivable to me that anyone should ever die over it. Now someone has.
Aaron Swartz killed himself on Friday. He was 26. A legend in the tech community, probably a dotcom millionaire. He could have lounged around poolside sipping designer martinis for the rest of his days.
Instead he worked for the public good, fighting the copyfight, defending the internet and the public domain.
Sometimes people of principle feel the need to challenge unjust laws. And like many reformers before him, Aaron Swartz ran afoul of the law in trying to change the world.
A murderer might have to serve as many as seven years for taking a life.
But 26 year old Aaron Swartz faced perhaps more than 35 years in jail. Over copyright.
Lawrence Lessig characterized it as bullying.
I seem to spend an awful lot of time writing about what’s wrong with copyright law. Since I started looking at copyright with new eyes, I can’t seem to avoid seeing the harm that it does.
Copyright law isn’t a right, its a government backed monopoly that supposedly promotes innovation. Aaron Swartz was certainly an innovator. He, too, was disturbed by the harm copyright does, and so he tried to push against it. But copyright law pushed back, and made sure he will innovate no more.
There is a great outpouring of agony across the Internet. Having myself struggled with the demons of depression, Cory Doctorow’s eulogy makes me weep. Depression can seem interminable; I can’t imagine how much worse would it be looking at potential decades of imprisonment.
But what gets me is this comment made by someone I’ve never met on Lawrence Lessig’s blog:
No amount of IP will ever be worth a human life. I don’t care how you justify it. Putting Aaron away for 35yrs may be legally justifiable, just as sending slaves back to slave owners from non slave states once was. I however cannot begin to align the life of any human with imaginary property.”
Aaron was only a little older than my own bright and principled child. My heart aches for Aaron, and his family. No family should have to endure this. This is simply beyond acceptable. There is no harm greater than this.
Aaron Swartz, released under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication by Cory Doctorow