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Thursday, January 28, 2016
7:00 p.m.

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz—A Discussion with John Summers and Justin Peters

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The Idealist Aaron Swartz

The Baffler invites you to a free public discussion of Aaron Swartz’s life, ideals, and prosecution upon the third anniversary of his untimely death. 

On January 28, at 7 p.m., John Summers and Justin Peters will discuss his new book, The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet. Peters shows how the causes for which Swartz fought and the injustices that derailed him preceded and outlived him. Summers will remember Swartz’s contributions to The Baffler, where he was a contributing editor, and say mean things about the United States Attorney who made an example of him. Join us this evening in the People’s Republic of Zuckerstan to honor and assess our shared struggle for a more democratic culture, online and off.

Warning: no clichés admitted.

This event is cosponsored with Harvard Book Store.

More information about Justin Peters’s The Idealist is available from Simon & Schuster

To remember the connection between Aaron Swartz’s prosecution and his suicide on January 11, 2013, read our assessment, or review this selection of opinion in the days that immediately followed:

Ortiz’s vindictiveness toward Swartz may have seemed shocking given that even the victim of Swartz’s alleged offense—the academic publisher JSTOR—did not wish to press charges. But it was no surprise to those of us who have been observing Ortiz’s official conduct as the top federal prosecutor in Boston. . . . The case she was pursuing against Swartz was wildly disproportionate, and illustrated much that is wrong with our system of justice. Nothing good can come from his death. But at the very least it should prompt consideration of why such brutality has become a routine part of the American system of justice.”

—Journalism professor Dan Kennedy, Huffington Post, Jan. 13, 2013

The DOJ threw the book at him. . . . Swartz was destroyed by a ‘justice’ system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.

 —Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian, Jan. 12, 2013

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”

Statement released by Aaron’s family, Jan. 12, 2013

“When he was downloading a large number of old journal articles, he was arrested at MIT. I was shocked by this. When I was at MIT, if someone went to hack the system, say by downloading databases to play with them, [he] might be called a hero, get a degree, and start a company—but they called the cops on him. Cops.  MIT used to protect us when we transgressed the traditional. Despite many of us supporting the lawyers for Aaron, he was still hounded by prosecutors.

—Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, Jan. 12, 2013

It’s hard to imagine his looming prosecution wasn’t a factor. . . . Whether or not it contributed to his suicide, the federal government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice. Aaron shouldn’t have plugged his laptop into MITs network without permission, but that’s not the sort of crime that deserves a multi-year, to say nothing of multi-decade, prison sentence. We should pay tribute to Aaron’s memory by reforming the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prevent such disproportionate prosecutions from happening in the future.

—Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, Jan. 12, 2013