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Examining the Case Against Aaron Swartz

From VOA Learning English, we welcome you to news about Technology. 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 14 years old. He also helped develop what came to be known as the social news website Reddit.

But sadly, the 26-year-old Internet activist was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York on January 11. His death was called 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.

Aaron Swartz was to face a federal trial in April. He was accused of using computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to download millions of academic documents from JSTOR. He 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. She said it is unclear if government lawyers had a solid criminal case against Aaron Swartz. She said he was basically accused of violating a user agreement with JSTOR, which charges fees to use its huge collection of research publications.

Renee Hutchins says Aaron Swartz had legal accounts with JSTOR and with MIT, through Harvard University. A Court of Appeals ruled that his actions violated user agreements and could be considered criminal. But a recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court disputed the idea that federal criminal law is meant for that purpose.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 21Jan2013)