MIT, JSTOR ‘saddened’ by Reddit co-founder’s death

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology President L. Rafael Reif offered his condolences to the family Aaron Swartz in an email to the MIT community Sunday after the academic institution was fingered as playing a role in the suicide death of the Internet activist and pioneer. 

In the email, Reif praised the Reddit co-founder’s “brilliant creativity and idealism.”

“Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011,” said Reif.

Swartz, the 26-years old co-founder of a popular social media website, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment Friday after battling the Justice Department for more than a year and a half over allegations he illegally downloaded approximately four million scientific documents at MIT’s campus, with the goal of making the information freely and publicly available.

The documents were obtained through JSTOR, a private online archiving service for academic research papers that contracted with MIT to provide students and researchers access to the information. Many of the documents contained research funded by taxpayers.

“I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many,” said Reif.

“It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy,” he said, stating that he asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of what role MIT played in Swartz’s struggle.

“I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it,” he said.

JSTOR also issued a statement on Saturday in which the company offered condolences to Swartz’s family, stating that the company is joining “those who are mourning this tragic loss.”

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,” said JSTOR.

“At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content,” said the company.

“To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011,” the statement added.

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