Ever since I read about the making of this movie “The Internet’s Own Boy”, I have been wanting to watch it. It is about the sad story of early demise of Aaron Swartz, the whiz kid of Internet who did pioneering work in RSS and galvanized the US public against SOPA.
Last week when the movie was released it was available only as a Pay per view from Vimeo and geographically restricted to US only (later they had a different link for rest of world). It was an irony that both the restrictions (pay-wall and geography lock) was against the ethos that Aaron stood for and died for. On the other hand it raises the question of how do the producers of the movie earn their investment and livelihood, after all the $93000 raised through Kickstarter would have met only a portion of the cost. This dichotomy is not surprising as it has been the defining theme of Aaron’s life.
Fortunately the movie is now available for free from Internet Archive.
The documentary film includes original clips of Aaron Swartz at the age of 12 or 13 talking in Industry working groups on upcoming Internet standards. I have been a passive watcher in W3C lists and active member in Tamil IT standards body and first-hand I am aware on how intensive these can discussions can be. Intensive both in terms of depth of technology and the politics. Watching this kid of 12 or 13 doing that with ease was unbelievable, at the same doubles our sadness on losing him on an issue which could have been negotiated.
Aaron took his life after he was hounded by US Government (and its security agencies) with a felony carrying 75 years imprisonment and millions of dollars fine over an act of illegal download of millions of scientific papers from JSTOR (academic journal firm) archives through MIT computers. When I first read about this tragic incident early last year (January 2013) I couldn’t understand on why the US Government went all-out nuclear towards a whiz-kid who was never known to be a threat to their national security and who had potential to contribute enormous value to US economy and technology leadership. I hoped the movie will answer the question, but listening to the interview by Aaron’s father and brothers throw up more questions. They keep repeating that US Government’s actions indicated that they were hell bound to make an example of Aaron, but why?, that remains unanswered and buried along with Aaron.
For all the adulation the developing world has towards USA Justice system for its citizens, Aaron Swartz case is a proof that all around the world Law Enforcement are capable of abuse and USA is no different. Its duty of the parliament (congress) to be ever more watchful, put checks and balances adequately.
The below eulogy posted in W3C forum by Tim Berners-Lee (Father of Web) captures the essence of Aaron’s life. Period!
From: Tim Berners-Lee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2013 12:06:05 –0500
Aaron is dead. Wanderers in this crazy world, we have lost a mentor, a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down, we have lost one of our own. Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders, parents all, we have lost a child. Let us all weep.