Famed Internet activist Aaron Swartz was honored today by the American Library Association. He became the first person to posthumously receive the association’s James Madison Award.This is an award for those who champion public access to government information.
The 26-year-old Swartz committed suicide in January. He faced criminal hacking charges in what many describe as an overzealous prosecution, led by government attorneys apparently intent on sending Swartz to prison.
In 2010, Swartz downloaded 4.8 million academic papers from JSTOR, an academic database. He planned to make them publicly available for free. Swartz was protesting how JSTOR limited academic research, meant for the expansion of public knowledge and often funded by government grants, to those who had paid accounts.
This year, JSTOR changed its policies and made several million academic journal articles available to anyone for free.
That was too late for Swartz.
Yesterday, Swartz’s lawyer publicly released a letter sent to the Justice Department that accuses Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Heymann of prosecutorial misconduct. It details the lengths he went to in investigating Swartz and accuses him of coercing Swartz into a guilty plea.
It’s a sad and depressing story.
So the library award is a silver lining for Swartz’s family, loved ones, and supporters.
Swartz is known as a cofounder of a company that became part of Reddit, and the inventor of Really Simple Syndication, a technology for distributing Web content. He founded the online group Demand Progress, which helped defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act.
Here’s the full press release about the James Madison Award.
Aaron Swartz Awarded American Library Associations’ James Madison Award
Family, Partner and President of the ALA React
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) posthumously awarded activist Aaron Swartz the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2013 James Madison Award during the 15th Annual Freedom of Information Day in Washington, D.C. According to the American Library Association, “Swartz will receive the award for his dedication to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information.”
“Aaron loved libraries. I remember how excited he was to get library privileges at Harvard and be able to use the Widener library there. I know he would have been humbled and honored to receive this award. We thank you,” said Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father in reaction to the award. “Aaron’s goal was to make knowledge freely available to everyone and we can all further his legacy by making this happen.”
The James Madison Award honours individuals who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know national information. ALA has long been a supporter of open access policies that increase the amount of research made available to the public.
“We are honored for Aaron to become the first person to win the James Madison Award posthumously. Librarians have always understood the importance of open access better than anyone, and they were great friends to Aaron. Aaron fought to ensure that the corpus of human knowledge would be available to anyone who wanted to learn, not just those with the privilege of access to a major research university. He saw the revolutionary potential of the internet in this regard,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner. “I hope that Aaron’s death and this award can serve as a wake-up call to the US Congress and the federal government: We must no longer allow corporate greed to be the bottleneck to people’s access to academic knowledge.”
“We are pleased to honour Aaron Swartz, a young man who was dedicated to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information,” said Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association. “He embodied the ALA principles that valued transparency and equal, unrestricted access to information.”
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