Hundreds of researchers have been sharing PDFs of their work on Twitter as a tribute to Aaron Swartz, the internet freedom activist who committed suicide on Friday.
Swartz was facing hacking charges from the US government after accessing the network of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloading nearly 5 million articles from the digital library JSTOR.
Academics are now offering open-access versions of their work using the hashtag #pdftribute in memory of Swartz and building a collection of papers at pdftribute.net. The tribute was started by Jessica Richman, a computer scientist at the University of Oxford, and Eva Vivalt, a development economist at the World Bank in Washington DC, who wrote earlier today that there have been about 30,000 tweets so far.
"We are at the beginning of a revolution in tools to create and communicate science. Thank you Aaron," tweeted Richman. The move is supported by hacktivist group Anonymous, which also appears to have defaced MIT websites with tributes to Swartz.
Swartz helped develop RSS and Reddit, two mainstays of the modern internet, and was instrumental in fighting the Stop Online Piracy Act, which aimed to give copyright holders more control over the internet. Numerous sites including Wikipedia and Reddit self-censored for 24 hours in protest against the proposed law.
Swartz's desire for open access to information led to criminal charges, however, after he broke into a computer wiring closet at MIT and set up a laptop to download millions of files from JSTOR. The move crashed servers and caused JSTOR to temporarily block MIT.
Wise elder lost
Swartz eventually gave the hard drives containing the downloads to JSTOR, which dropped all charges against him ? but he was charged with hacking and fraud by the US government and faced a sentence of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Those charges have now been dropped as a routine consequence of his death.
In a statement following his death, Swartz's parents criticised the Massachusetts US attorney's office for pursuing charges against their son, and MIT for failing to support him.
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, tweeted his own tribute: "Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep."
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