June 30, 2015 14:25 UTC

Science & Technology

Were the Charges Against Aaron Swartz Too Extreme?

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
From VOA Learning English, this is the TECHNOLOGY REPORT in Special English.
 
Have you ever had an RSS news feed sent to your mobile phone or computer? If so, you have Aaron Swartz to thank. He helped develop that Internet publishing technology when he was only 14. He also helped develop what came to be known as the social news website Reddit.

Aaron SwartzAaron Swartz
x
Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz
The 26-year-old Internet activist was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment on January 11. His death was ruled a suicide.
 
Aaron Swartz believed that information is knowledge. He believed the Internet should be used to make that knowledge available to everyone. This belief is what eventually got him in trouble with the law.
 
He was to face a federal trial in April. He was accused of using computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to download millions of scholarly documents from JSTOR. The online service charges fees to use its huge collection of research publications. Aaron Swarts could have faced 35 years in prison and as much as $1 million in fines. Some people have called the charges extreme.
 
Renee Hutchins is a law professor at the University of Maryland.
 
“It is questionable whether or not the prosecution in this case had a solid criminal case against Aaron Swartz. Basically what he is accused of doing is violating a user agreement with JSTOR.”
 
Professor Hutchins says Mister Swartz had legal accounts with JSTOR and with MIT, through Harvard University.  
 
“It is a really close question whether or not Aaron Swartz use of his Harvard account through the MIT network to JSTOR to download more than he should have legitimately was a criminal offense.”  
 
A Court of Appeals ruled that his actions violated user agreements and could be considered criminal.
However, Professor Hutchins notes that a more recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court disagreed.
 
“Unknowingly we may all be violating the terms of those agreements every single day, in multiple ways. And what the Ninth Circuit said is that’s really not the business of federal criminal statue; that that’s not what they were going for.”
 
Aaron Swartz’ family accused the United States Attorney’s office of fighting a crime that had, in their words, “no victims.” And they criticized MIT for refusing to “stand up for Aaron.”
 
MIT has called for its own investigation of its involvement in the case.
 
More than 40,000 people have signed a petition at the White House website for citizen opinions. It calls for the District Attorney in the case to be removed from office. The District Attorney has said the office acted appropriately in its handling of the case.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Guang Meng from: China
01/26/2013 2:34 AM
What a pity. I use RSS every day. Thanks Aaron.


by: galo braganza from: ecuador
01/25/2013 9:12 PM
How do you dear to call what young man Mr. Swartz did was a crime!! In fact, nobody, whatsoever, has come forward to accuse him of any legal offense. Evidently you haven't read spanish comments. They are written by real thugs, real evil-tongued misfits against singers, artists, politicians, religious people, ordinary citizens, you name it. And that is a real crime because these thugs write against the honor of the people, their families and that is why North Americans and Europeans call us 'third-world savages' and it would be sad to say, Americans and Europeans are probably right. Is there any authority we can complain about that? If so, please let me know.

Learn with The News

  • Audio China to Prepare Private Ships for Military Use

    China is forcing private shipbuilders to build civilian vessels that can be used by the military during times of conflict. Experts say the new “dual-purpose” ships will strengthen China’s efforts to claim territory in disputed areas of the East and South China Seas. More

  • Video Motorcycle Lovers: We Are Not Criminals

    But police say some motorcycle gang members are violent lawbreakers. Some gangs say they have been operating for many years and have never been charged with crimes. “It is no different than a ladies tennis club,” they say. | As It Is More

  • Audio Study Explores Air Pollution’s Deadly, Preventable Effects

    A new report says cleaning up dirty air could prevent up to 2.1 million premature deaths every year. Most of those deaths are said to be in Asian countries. The report notes that many people also are dying at an early age in countries with cleaner skies. Read on to learn about “particulate matter." More

  • U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L-3rd L) meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R) at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2015.

    Audio Time Limit for Agreement Expected to Pass in Iran Nuclear Talks

    There will likely not be an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear activities by June 30. Also, banks and money machines close in Greece; Asia Infrastructure Bank is officially established; US rocket going to International Space Station explodes; and second escaped NY prisoner is found, shot. More

  • Video Nigerian Immigrant Lives the American Dream

    Lookman Afolayan Mashood came to the United States in 1996 and is now a U.S. citizen. About five years ago, he and his girlfriend, Natalie Goldberg, opened their own restaurant in Brooklyn. He says the American dream is still alive. And he says “there’s no food compared to Nigerian food.” More

Featured Stories

  • Video Robots Ready to Work in Restaurants

    For many years, machines have been doing work that people once did, including some difficult jobs. Search and rescue operations employ high technology robots. But there is another area that may soon take jobs traditionally held by human beings: the restaurant industry. More

  • Audio More American Fathers Stay Home to Raise Kids

    More and more fathers in the United States are trading in the traditional role of breadwinner -- the person earning money -- for the role of stay-at-home dad. Meet two fathers who have been on this road for the past decade. You can also learn some great words such as "clique" and "masculinity." More

  • Audio Don't Be Caught With Your Pants Down

    Are you too big for your boots? Do you often fly by the seat of your pants? Learn what these clothing expressions mean and so many others. You may be excited to get started but keep your shirt on! Be patient. All you have to do is click on this episode of Words and Their Stories. More

  • Video Everyday Grammar: Words Come and Go in English

    Part of the reason that English has grown as a world language is that it adjusts easily to change. Why do some words and phrases stay the same while others change? VOA guest editor David Sullivan shares his ideas on the changes he has seen in today's English. More

  • Video 'Jurassic World' Sells $1 Billion Worth of Tickets

    The movie continues the series that began in the 1990s. It already is the second most popular movie of 2015. Critics praise the new film as exciting. A group of paleontologists praised the film as well. But they said they found the science behind the dinosaur story to be weak. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs