A year after his death, film explores Aaron Swartz's online activism

Wed Jan 22, 2014 5:26am EST
 
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - A year after Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, a new documentary brings to light the young computer prodigy's earnest battle to bring online freedom of access to information for everyone.

"The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and director Brian Knappenberger was joined by Swartz's father Robert and two brothers, Noah and Ben, all of whom received a standing ovation.

"It's unbelievably hard for us, but Aaron is dead, there's nothing we can do about that," Swartz's father told the audience, saying he hoped the film would raise awareness of Aaron's activism and encourage others to fight on his behalf.

Swartz died aged 26 in his Brooklyn, New York apartment on January 11, 2013, after facing felony charges brought by a federal grand jury that included theft, wire fraud and computer fraud.

The federal indictment said Swartz, a fellow at Harvard University, had downloaded millions of articles and journals from digital archive JSTOR through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology servers. Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.

In the film, which is a contender in Sundance's U.S. documentary competition, Knappenberger focuses on Swartz's intellect and growing political ambitions, with interviews that shed insight into his personality from Swartz's family, friends and colleagues.

This is the second film by Knappenberger exploring those on the fringes of the Internet. His first film, "We Are the Legion," about the online Anonymous hacktivist group, premiered at the underground Slamdance film festival that runs alongside Sundance, in 2012.

"The Internet's Own Boy," financed by crowd-sourced funding website Kickstarter, where more than 1,500 backers raised $93,000, will be released under a Creative Commons license allowing others to build off Knappenberger's work, in the spirit of Swartz's desire for free, open and accessible content for all.   Continued...

 
Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008. REUTERS/Noah Berger