Aaron Swartz was a young, bright genius who believed in the open Internet. A self-made millionaire by the age of 19, he co-founded Reddit, was part of the creation of RSS and became a political organizer and Internet hacktivist who was instrumental in the fight against SOPA.
The Internet’s Own Boy, a film first released at Sundance and now opening to the public today, follows the story of his life and his tragic suicide in 2013 at the age of 26.
Swartz had been in a two-year legal battle for using MIT’s network to systematically download 4.8 million academic journal articles from JSTOR. He was facing $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison. As Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow put it, Swartz was being prosecuted for “taking too many books out of the library.”
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Film director Brian Knappenberger, who crowdfunded the film on Kickstarter, believes this movie is more than just about Swartz’s life, tragic though it was. He says it’s a commentary on the system, the Internet and the challenges we as a society face to keep it free.
“Aaron’s rallying the troops against SOPA. He’s talking to a lot of people and on TV, but at the same time he’s going through his own private hell, taking away his personal freedom, his own money. The prosecutor put all this pressure on him and he couldn’t even talk about that and it was really isolating,”
Knappenberger, who previously wrote and directed “We Are Legion,” a film about hacktivism, happened to be on a panel with Wired reporter Quinn Norton about a week after Swartz’s death. Norton had just written an in-depth account about the federal investigation into Swartz.
“I began to notice this anger in the industry that was welling up from the net,” Knappenberger told me over the phone. Though he included a lot of moving parts in the story (Swartz was involved in quite a bit), Knappenberger said it was so striking to him that what had happened to Swartz was not uncommon in our criminal justice system.
The story of Aaron Swartz is not just about being an activist caught up in the legal system. It’s a fight between government and hacktivism. It’s about exploring new territory and protecting freedom for us all. As Knappenberger put it, “[Swartz] symbolizes a kind of choice. He is the Internet’s own boy.”
The film opens in theaters across the country and online today.
You can also sign the petition to counter federal attorney misconduct. Tell the Department of Justice #NoMoreAarons by clicking here.
We’ve also been informed that the entire film can also be viewed under a Creative Commons license at Archive.org
BitTorrent urges those concerned to get involved. To voice your opinion on Net Neutrality go to DearFCC.org.