Aaron Swartz Memorial at the Internet Archive – Part 1

Aaron Swartz Memorial at the Internet Archive – Part 1

[Brewster Kahle] Welcome. And welcome to the
celebration of the life and work of Aaron Swartz, a man who was a spark for many of
us. I would like to thank the staff of the Internet Archive, Lisa Ryan, the organizer,
Shannon Lee, Steve Walling, Karl Malamud and Cindy Cohn for helping pull this together. [applause] [Brewster] As you probably know, there are
memorials going on all over the world. Hackathons going on. There’s an AaronSw IRC Chat for
those that are following the hackathons. And these proceedings are in the public domain.
This isn’t the type of event we imagined for this space, but I can think of no better. To the organizer and coordinated for this
evening is Shannon Lee, and he will start our program. Thank you very much. [Shannon Lee] Thank you all for being here.
Aaron Swartz has left behind a challenging legacy. Tonight, we’re going to talk about
Aaron and what he left behind, and what we can do to carry it forward. We’re going to
have an array of speakers, beginning with Danny O’Brien and ending with Karl Malamud,
and after that we’ll have an opportunity to share right here. I will see you at the end
of the speakers. [Danny O’Brien] So I first met Aaron in 2001,
when Aaron was, I guess, 14, and was already a leading light working with Tim Berners-Lee
on the project that we know as the Semantic Web, an incredibly ambitious idea to encode,
in machine-readable form, all of the world’s knowledge. And of course being a journalist at the time,
I seized on this opportunity to sneak an explanation of the Semantic Web past my editor. It’s almost
impossible to get any editor to understand the Semantic Web. But the idea of a 14-year-old
boy helping Tim Berners-Lee will always pass muster, even if they don’t know who Tim Berners-Lee
is. The editor, of course, is in charge of titling
the article, and with that supreme lack of understand, he actually titled it, “A Teenager
in a Million,” which of course was to miss the point entirely. The point was that Aaron’s
age wasn’t a particularly unique thing and Aaron himself wasn’t the exceptional part
of this. The exceptional part of this was an institution
that allowed someone like Aaron to walk in through its door and, before anyone had noticed
where he came from or what age he was or what his background was, they allowed him to start
contributing good work and learning from his peers. An institution is not truly open until somebody
you could never even imagine exists walks through the door. When Tim Berners-Lee describes
these moments at Aaron’s funeral a week ago, you could see, in a way that only Tim Berners-Lee
can convey, the sort of glee he had that at last the system was working. These open mailing
lists, this open discussion, this exchange of information was bringing new people into
building the web. He told me then, “I was worried about revealing
my age and I did my best to keep it a secret. Now, I let my words speak for themselves,”
and since then, so many words. Some written in machine-readable form in Python, in computers.
Some written in brimstone and sulfur for Congress-readable forms and all of it in plain text. All of
it in plain language for everyone to read. And if he could not read enough words himself,
his programs read and scraped and passed the rest. Aaron loved beautiful code. I think
the only time I really ever pained him was when I’d said some program that he’d written
and I’d looked at was unreadable. It turned out that it wasn’t actually his code at all.
He’d written some code that had, in turn, written that code. [laughter] And yet I think it still hurt, that somehow
his own child had not inherited his own delicate sensitivities. Words fail me now, even though I have them
written down here. I mean, try as hard as Aaron did, I don’t think you could ever encode
all of his experience in words, and I don’t think that all of the relationships that he
built between so many different peers and so many new people coming in could be ever
expressed in any number of RDF triplets. I mean I can sort of try and convey the look
Aaron’s face when he played with my daughter Erin, nine. There were some pictures downstairs
that you may have saw him. But you can’t really convey that childish glee that most of us
lose long before we begin we begin work on the semantic web at least. And I can’t really describe to you the pain
and frustration when Aaron so effectively demolished a defense I had of John Searle’s
Chinese room argument, that I actually threw down my knife and fork and stormed out of
my own Christmas dinner. [laughter] Leaving, of course, the Turkey for Aaron to
fail to eat. [laughter] There was always a sort of pleasure and ease
in forgiving Aaron for those sort of arguments. And also, to watch him so easily forgive the
rest of us. And I don’t think any archive can hold those moments. But if I can share
with you some code, if I can’t share with you the code that made up Aaron, I can, I
hope, share with you the code that Aaron believed could make more Aarons. Aaron became Aaron because of his unfettered
access to information and the knowledge and sharing of his peers. He was very lucky in
that respect. He had an incredibly loving family who supported him who would pay for
him to fly out to meetings. He had a computer. He had all the privileges and benefits that
being a young man in the United States of America in the end of the 20th century have. But he also had something new. He had a new
advantage, which was that the gates of the construction of this technology that was beginning
to share information, was beginning to open up, and he was one of the first, yes the youngest,
but one of the first to take advantage of that and use his curiosity and his drive,
even at that age, to nip into there and beginning sharing almost immediately with his peers. And if anything bound together all of Aaron’s
crusades, it was his belief that he was not alone in this. That he was not exceptional,
and he believed he was not unique, and that there were more than him out there with his
curiosity and talent. People say, when we talked about Aaron’s work
of taking the content of academic papers or the content of the US legal system and opening
it up for anyone to use and see and crunch and peruse. You know, who really is this for? Who wants to know about the legal system,
can’t in some way ask a friend or a contact to get access to PACER? Who really has a craving
for academic knowledge can’t find somebody and sneak their way in to MIT or another institution
and just get that information, or work to access it? And those people forget, they forget that
if Aaron was a teenager in a million, that soon, very soon, as we continue the great
work that we’re indulged in here, that there will be six billion people that we will connect
to the world information networks. And out of those six billion people there will 1.2
billion teenagers. And if my editors’ statistics are correct-and
he never understood statistics either, then there will be 1,200 Aarons out there, there
are 1,200 Aarons out there right now who are as smart and engaged and as curious and as
driver as Aaron was. But they simply don’t have access to that information. There is
no closed archives, no carefully guarded Ivory Tower, that can seat billions. But the open
society, the open and world wide web, the free culture that Aaron worked for, is for
all of those people. And if give them what they need, if we give
them the knowledge to feed their curiosity and the care we must never forget they, that
amazing sort of resource of future Aarons from Kabera, from Guangzhou or Asan. All of
those people will come, and they will build the kind of things that Aaron was dreaming
of. And so even though we’ve lost one Aaron, we
do have a potential, by continuing his work, to find so many more. Aaron told me back in
2001 that one of the things that the web teaches us is that everything is connected, hyperlinks,
and that we should all work together, standards. Too often school teaches us that everything
is separate, and that we should all work alone. I think one of the many, many tragedies of
the situation that we find ourselves in now is that, at least in some moment of Aaron’s
life, his belief that he was not alone failed him, and for a few moments he believed himself
to be alone. And I’m sure, out there, there are many, many
14-year-old children who feel the same way. That they have that binding curiosity, that
fascination and that urge to change the world. And that worry for a moment that it’s just
them. And there are no tools and no capabilities and no friends to help them continue in that
path. I don’t think it’s ever too soon to begin
working with the rest of the world, and I think we all need to stay together, and never,
ever again leave our friends too alone. A boy’s will is the wind’s will, and the thoughts
of youth are long, long thoughts. [applause] [silence] [Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman] The night before
Aaron died, he and I shared a grilled cheese sandwich. This was one of his favorite foods.
As probably many of you know, there weren’t many of those favorite foods. It was a really
good grilled cheese sandwich. He was really happy about it. A week before he died, we woke up one morning,
and he said, “We really need to talk about Bayesian statistics.” I said, “Right now?
It’s Sunday morning. It’s like 7: 00 AM. Can it wait?” He said, “No, it’s really important.”
We spent the next couple of hours working through a naughty Bayesian statistics he’d
already asked the Internet with no useful responses. I have the notes. We ended up with a naughty
double integral that neither of us could solve, but if anybody here wants to help me with
the solution, let me know. He was really excited the last couple of months.
He was working on a drug policy research with a friend of his, Matt Stoller, for GiveWell,
and he would read these articles, all the academic literature, talk to the experts. He got really into this one particular study
about an intervention that had been tried in Hawaii for alcoholism. Control tests indicated
that it got 90 percent of alcoholics dry in the first month, and he was so bubbling over
with excitement about all of it. We went to Burlington, Vermont over New Years.
He got the flu, but he came out and played Mafia one evening with the friends that we
rented a house with. I was really surprised, because he didn’t like playing games at all,
but Ada, Danny’s daughter, was there with us, and he really wanted to see what would
happen if Ada was the Mafia. [laughs] Unfortunately, nobody selected Ada as the Mafia, which Ada
was really annoyed about. [laughs] One of the things that I loved about Aaron
was the sheer number, and variety, and multitude of wonderful, fascinating people who animated
his life. I had the great privilege of sharing that life with him for the last 20 months,
but I know that I only met a small fraction of the people whose lives he touched. That’s why I came out here today, because
I know that many of you were important to him, and I wanted to meet you, and I want
you the stories like the stories I just told, because I think it’s really important that
his friends, his family, his colleagues, his admirers know that he had a lot to live for,
and that he had a lot of happy moments in those last few weeks and months. I’m also here with another message. Aaron’s
death should radicalize us. The trial and the case hung over our entire relationship.
We started dating a few weeks before he was indicted, a couple of months after he had
been arrested. I met his parents for the first time at 12:
30 AM the night before the indictment, and spent five hours with him in the courthouse
the next day. They didn’t know I existed before that, so that was an interesting first meeting.
[laughs] He hadn’t told me what was going on when we first started dating. All I knew was that there was something bad
happening in his life, and that I was a good distraction from it. He called it the “bad
thing,” and I had wild speculation about what it might be. My leading candidate theory at
one point was that he was having an affair with Elizabeth Warren and was going to ruin
her career. [laughter] He called me one night when I was at Frisbee
practice in DC, and he was in Boston. He said, “The bad thing might be in the news tomorrow.
Do you want to hear what it is from me, or do you want to read about it in the news?”
I said, “I want to hear from you.” He said, “Well, I’ve been arrested for downloading
too many academic journal articles, and they’re trying to make an example out of me,” and
I said, “Well, that doesn’t actually sound like a very big deal.” [laughs] He paused
for a second and he said, “Yeah, I guess it’s not like anybody has cancer.” In the end,
it kind of was like that. The only time I was ever really worried about
him, before the last week, was when he was trying to decide whether to accept the plea
bargain. The whole thing was so hard and so stressful, and he felt he carried so much
of the weight of it on his own. He didn’t want to involve any of his friends. He wanted
to protect people, but he wasn’t very good at protecting himself. I went to Boston with him last month in December
for a hearing, and the judge granted another evidentiary hearing about whether evidence
should be admitted, and the trial was delayed for another couple of months. He came out of the courtroom, and I tried
to give him a hug, and he pushed me away. He said, “Not in front of Heymann. Not in
front of Steve Heymann, the prosecutor.” He said, “I don’t want to show him that. I don’t
want to show him any vulnerability.” I think Aaron made the wrong choice two weeks
ago. I think the odds were decent at the trial, and I think, even if he hadn’t won, that life
still was worth living, but I think he woke up two years after this ordeal started, and
I think he just couldn’t face another day of the stress, the uncertainty, the lack of
control over his own destiny. Aaron’s death should radicalize us, and I
mean that specifically about us, about you, if you’re here in this room or if you’re watching
this online. Aaron died because of deep injustice in this world. Aaron loved to talk about the
“5 Whys” of the Toyota management system, so I’m going to ask why. Why did Aaron die? Aaron died in part because we live in a system
where the constitutional rights we’ve all come to believe in, through civic classes
and through watching “Law & Order,” don’t actually apply in the real world. There’s
no right to a speedy trial. It had been two years since Aaron was arrested. We still didn’t
have all the evidence that the government…the government still hadn’t turned over all of
the evidence to us, that they were constitutionally required to do so. Why does that happen? In part, it’s because
the system is so clogged up with cases, and has so few human resources, it takes years
for practically anybody who actually wants to go to trial to find out whether they’re
guilty from a jury of their peers. It takes them years because the system is
so clogged up, and so under-resourced, with drug cases and with the senseless overcrowding
of our criminal justice system. Prosecutors aren’t used to going to trial. Last year,
only three percent of all federal charges were taken to trial. Most of the rest were
resolved in plea bargaining. Plea bargaining processes give prosecutors
enormous amounts of power. Imagine being totally innocent of any crime and not having the resources
that Aaron had at his disposal, and the networks, and the support. Many people feel they have
no choice but to accept a plea bargain. They can’t afford lawyers for two years. You could say, in some sense, that Aaron’s
death was caused by the war on drugs. He wasn’t a victim directly, but he was a casualty at
that war, that’s aimed, actually, at quite different people from Aaron. Aaron’s death should radicalize us. He died
because of a prosecutor and a US attorney who had immense individual power over his
life, and were more interested in making a high-profile example out of Aaron than in
justice or in mercy. Why did they do it? In the case of the prosecutor,
Steve Heymann, the best theory I can offer is that he’s simply a vindictive old man who
really doesn’t like young, upstart whippersnappers, like Aaron, who are trying to save the world.
Heymann’s the kind of guy who wants to claim a notch on his belt and high-five other prosecutors
at lunch, but we have to follow the “Whys.” Why does this man have the power to ruin the
life of someone like Aaron? We can trace the problem to tough-on-crime initiatives that
have systematically transferred power from the hands of judges to prosecutors. We can trace it to punitive sentencing guidelines
and ambiguous overreaching laws, like the CFAA, that give prosecutors the power to charge
someone with decades in prison for a victimless crime. In the case of Carmen Ortiz, the US
attorney who’s Heymann’s boss, Aaron’s case was a stepping stone to higher political ambitions. Ortiz wanted to be a judge, or a governor,
or a senator someday. She probably still wants to be. Unfortunately, in our society, one
of the well-trodden paths to elected office is through the prosecutor’s office. That means that from mayors’ offices to congress,
leaders are disproportionately people who’ve made their name in being tough on crime, the
people who’ve spent the bulk of their career trying to lock people up. They’re people whose
job it is to be punitive and not just or merciful. That’s how we end up with these kinds of laws
to begin with. They’re people who embody a legal system that
locks up more than 25 percent of the prisoners in the world, and we have only three percent
of the world’s population. Why do we vote for these people? Why do we provide them with
the incentives we do? Why do we, as a country, applaud and reward them, and build structures
around them, as they lock up more than one-third of the black men in our country? Aaron’s death should radicalize us because
he’s probably the first person that most people in this room have ever met who got swept up
by this system, but there are literally millions of others whose lives are destroyed in this
country, and Aaron would’ve been the last person who would want us to fetishize his
experiences or to treat him as exceptional. In response to Aaron’s death, I and his family
are calling for five things. First, Steve Heymann and Carmen Ortiz must be held accountable. [applause] Second, MIT has lost its way, and it must
find it again. MIT could’ve saved Aaron with a single public statement, and it refused. [applause] Third, all academic research from all time
should be made openly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. [applause] Fourth, we have to amend the Computer Fraud
and Abuse Act to prevent prosecutors from these kinds of overreaches. [applause] Fifth, we have to reform a criminal justice
system where we incarcerate millions of people, and prosecutors through the book at someone
like Aaron, but not a single banker has gone to prison since the financial crisis. [applause] Aaron’s death should radicalize us, but Aaron’s
life should also radicalize us in a very different way. One of Aaron’s favorite shows was “Louie.”
There’s an episode, and I’m going to do my best Louie impression, which probably isn’t
very good, the episode where Louie gives a little stand-up routine. “I drive an Infiniti. That’s really evil.
There are people who just starved to death. That’s all they ever did. There are people
who are born and go, ‘I’m hungry.’ Then they die, and that’s all they ever got to do. Meanwhile,
I’m driving in my car having a great time, and I sleep like a baby.” “It’s totally my fault, because I could trade
my Infiniti in for any other car, and I’d get back like $20,000, and I could save hundreds
of people from dying of starvation with that money, and every day, I don’t do it. Every
day, I make them die with my car.” Aaron loved that routine, and he realized
something when we watched it together. He realized that Louie copied this bit right
out of Peter Singer. This is a Peter Singer essay as a comedy routine. Peter Singer was
one of the Aaron’s favorite philosophers, and he’s a really uncomfortable philosopher.
A lot of people don’t like thinking about Peter Singer. Here’s why. Let’s say you knew you had the power to change
a law that would save innocent people’s lives, maybe stopping a carcinogen from polluting
ground water near a town. Let’s say you knew it would save 10 people’s lives, and you chose
to do something else instead, something that didn’t have much bearing or impact on the
world. Are you culpable? Peter Singer would say yes. Most of us studiously avoid answering that
question, because the truth is, we’re faced with questions like, “Should we trade in our
Infiniti?” or, “Should we work on the carcinogen?” every day. It’s really hard to live your life
thinking about that, but Aaron’s life should radicalize us. Aaron lived a Singerian life more than anyone
else I’ve ever met. Aaron had money, we all know he could’ve had a lot more if he had
tried, but he lived out of backpacks and he stayed on people’s couches. Sometimes, I’ll admit, it went a little too
far, like the time we’d been dating for a few months, and we were meeting up in Boston,
and it was his responsibility to find us a place to stay. He thought that an air mattress
on his brother Noah’s bathroom floor was perfectly sufficient, [laughs] but I respected him for
it. He didn’t buy an Infiniti. He didn’t get a
nice apartment. When he died, he left his estate primarily to GiveWell, probably the
most Singerian of all charities, but living a life of personal austerity and charity isn’t
enough. Aaron felt responsible not just for the direct costs of his lifestyle, but for
the opportunity costs. He felt responsible for the carcinogens he wasn’t stopping. Here in Silicon Valley, the idea of changing
the world is no mirage. You see examples all around you, every day, of people who changed
the world, and Aaron was one of those people, but the question is, how are they changing
the world? Facebook has changed the world, sure, but
is the world better off because of Facebook? Even more importantly, if you’re deciding
whether to take a job at Facebook, is that the place in the world where you can do the
most good? Aaron wanted to do the most good. He wanted
to apply the Lean Startup framework to impact. He was learning and iterating. He thought
we all needed to think both bigger and smaller. He said to a few of my friends once, “The
revolution will be A/B tested.” [laughter] That’s what he was trying to do. I’m here
to ask the hard questions today. If you’re not already working to change the criminal
justice system in the US, what are you working on? Is it more important than that? It might
be. There are more important things. There are places where you can have more impact,
but there are so many ways, so many things, that need to be changed about this world.
Which one of them are you working on? Aaron’s death should radicalize us, and his
life should radicalize us. The fact is, we live in a world in which very few people we
know pay the ultimate price for their political beliefs. We live in a world in which very
few people we know even suffer serious life-altering consequences for their political beliefs,
but we live in a runaway global political economy that’s taking people’s lives every
day. Aaron wasn’t trying to become a martyr when
he downloaded those JSTOR articles, but he was taking a risk on behalf of the billions
of people around the world who grew up without his privilege. More of us need to do that. There are so many ways to have impact, so
many ways to help people. Aaron had an exchange with David Segal, who runs Demand Progress,
the group that he founded, that many of you know from the SOPA fight. Aaron loved recounting this conversation.
David called him one night, and said to Aaron, “Remember that year when we defeated SOPA,
got indefinite detention ruled unconstitutional, and got both political parties to incorporate
Internet freedom into their platforms at the conventions?” That was Aaron, David Segal,
and a couple other people. They did all that in one year. Everybody here is capable of that kind of
change. There are so many places in our world where that kind of change can happen, just
from having somebody there, somebody paying attention, somebody pushing. If you’re a programmer or technologist, like
many of you in the audience today, you have special powers and special responsibilities.
I went to a talk once that Aaron gave, where he spoke to maybe a couple dozen people, like
the people in this room, to programmers who he was trying to convince to work in politics.
He told them, “You can do magic.” Aaron really could do magic, and I’m dedicated
to making sure that his magic doesn’t end with his death. I hope you’ll join me. [applause] [Lisa Rein] I first met Aaron online on various
W3C mailing lists for XML and RDF. He kind of came out of nowhere at the end of 2001,
as far as I could tell. Aaron’s comments were thoughtful and informative, and it became
clear pretty quickly that he had a better understanding of markup languages and data
modeling than a lot of others on the list, even some of the veterans. Aaron had a talent for simplifying things
and getting to the heart of everyone’s concerns. He was also rather politically disarming because
he was, well, a kid, a kid with no ulterior motives except wanting to be included and
taken seriously, as seriously as others. In April 2002, during the very early stages
of the Creative Commons, I let Aaron know that we were having a technical meeting at
Harvard that I wanted him to attend. That was it. I really wanted to include him in
the whole project almost as equally as I was involved in the project. I told him this was
happening for real, and with him included. It was then that he let me know that he was
only 14 years old, and that I needed to give his mother a call so he could figure things
out. [laughter] When I first insisted that Aaron attend this
meeting, everybody, even Lawrence Lessig, at first thought that was really weird. “Do
you need Aaron to do your job?” was a pretty popular question, and the answer was clearly,
“Yes.” I needed Aaron to make sure that our licensing markup was the absolute best that
it could be. People were usually skeptical about Aaron
and his abilities when they first found out he was only 14. But once they spoke to him
for even a little while, he would always win them over. I knew if Lessig met him in person
that that would be that, and it was. Aaron was growing up to become quite the technological
statesman. So my strategy, in the spring of 2002, was
to introduce Aaron to as many people as I could, and to introduce him to the right people.
This included people from the EFF and the Internet Archive, mainly, and also included
going to cool events like South By Southwest. In 2003, when he tried to get his own room
in the cool hotel, right across from the venue, but ended up getting a room in the janky hotel
down the road with me, where I could be his official adult supervision. [laughter] In October 2002, Aaron flew out to Washington,
DC, to camp out in front of the Supreme Court with me and about eight other people. This
was the night before Lawrence Lessig’s oral argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft. This is the
Eldred shirt from that. We were rather surprised that Aaron convinced his mother to let him
go. But there he was, staying in the same bed and breakfast where I was staying. I told them he was sort of like my little
brother, and that wasn’t very far from the truth. He was a little brother that I ended
up [crying] looking up to. EFF staff technologist Seth Schoen took over as Aaron’s chaperone
pretty quickly during that trip to Washington, DC. There was a moment at about one AM when Aaron
asked if he could walk around the block with Seth. I thought they were kidding at first.
Were they serious? Were they crazy? But then I realized it was one of those right-of-passage
moments. Plus I realized he wouldn’t be by himself, he was with Seth. I think at that moment I passed on the torch
to Seth as Aaron’s west coast guardian. But we always stayed in touch. His birthday was
two days before mine, and he would remember my birthday almost every year, and would send
me a nice little email wishing me a good next year. Thank you. [Seth Schoen] As Lisa was just recounting,
I met Aaron at the Supreme Court in October of 2002, and we had gone to hear the oral
argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft. Most of us non-lawyers had to spend the night sleeping
in the street in line in front of the court in order to get a ticket. The line for the oral argument starts the
night before. But even though Aaron was a teenager, he was Larry Lessig’s personal guest
at the argument. So since he had a ticket, he had the luxury of spending the night in
a hotel, which his parents apparently really appreciated. But Aaron decided to spend most of the night
and most of the morning before the argument hanging out with us at the encampment in front
of the court. In part to show solidarity with the people who hadn’t received a ticket, and
in part for the thrill of meeting actual, grown-up copyright activists. [laughter] Aaron was truly star struck to meet people
he thought of as legendary copyright reform activists. But within a decade, Aaron himself
would be among the most effective grassroots copyright activists in the whole world. At that moment he was the little kid markup
and metadata expert that Larry Lessig admired enough to give him a front row Supreme Court
seat. And Aaron spent the evening with us as we ordered pizza, which he could actually
eat, for delivery to the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court, which was apparently not
a very unusual request for pizzerias in DC. [laughter] And all of us gossiped about copyright law
for a couple of hours. I saw Aaron again in December. My friends Leonard and Sumana found
a picture, he’s visiting my house, and I come, like some people here, from a book family
and I have a lot of books and we spent about three hours with Leonard and Sumana and Aaron
and I just sitting on my bed sort of manually following hyperlinks between books. [laughter] “Oh, that book! Oh, well that’s a reference
to that book.” Aaron was there because Larry Lessig was unveiling his Creative Commons
project in San Francisco. And Lessig had invited Aaron, clad in a T-shirt, probably the youngest
person in the entire hall, up on stage to talk about metadata. It was very awkward.
Aaron was trying to describe why it was useful to be able to represent bibliographic information
in a machine-readable format. And in fact Aaron was always trying to describe
why it was useful to be able to represent bibliographic information in a machine-readable
format. [laughter] The audience had had a few drinks, I think,
and wasn’t as focused as it might have been, and didn’t really care to envision this beautiful
feature in which search engines would make it easy for everyone to find works they could
legally reuse and build upon. Which they now can, thanks to Aaron’s work. But the audience didn’t seem to get it. Lessig
was very gracious and he basically said to the crowd, “See, our project is going to succeed
and it’s going to succeed because we have this genius creating our infrastructure.”
Aaron reminded me how frustrating it is to be curious about things that other people
don’t understand. Or that other people regard as trivial or bizarre. He wrote a blog post about a theory that one’s
degree of nearsightedness is affected by blood oxygen levels, and that it might be possible
to use eye exercise to systematically reduce nearsightedness. “Aaron,” he wrote, “was already experimenting
on himself to see if it would work, and he said he wished he could meet a girl who wouldn’t
laugh at this project.” Later, Aaron met Seth Roberts, a researcher who advocates self-experimentation
as a way of generating potentially-useful wild ideas about health. Roberts and Aaron got along extremely well.
I think that Roberts, like many other people, felt that Aaron naturally generated potentially
useful wild ideas about absolutely everything. I visited Aaron in his dorm at Stanford a
few years later. I was thrilled that he had the opportunity to study at such a great university. But Aaron was alienated from Stanford. He
had few friends, and the students around him weren’t curious about the things he was curious
about. This wasn’t the way his Stanford adventure was supposed to pan out. I helped him pack
for his flight to Boston for his interview with Paul Graham, who was starting a fund
to invest in young people just like Aaron. It want well. Aaron dropped out of Stanford
and moved to Boston. In 2006, just after Condé Nast acquired reddit and just before they
fired Aaron, Aaron and I were at a hacker conference together in Berlin. To Larry Lessig’s
chagrin, Aaron and Lessig had, at that time, fallen out of touch. Perhaps neither of them
were deeply involved in the day-to-day work of Creative Commons, which had brought them
together. Aaron had gone off to work in the startup
world while simultaneously deepening his study of left-wind politics, macroeconomics, and
sociology. Lessig and Aaron were both planning to tell America, as matter of some urgency,
what had gone wrong with the American project, but they had slightly different diagnoses. Our friend and I took Aaron out to Wannsee,
where Lessig was spending a year at the American Academy in Berlin. Lessig looked extraordinarily
proud to see Aaron. Their meeting had, for me, the sense of an extraordinarily poignant
reunion, as if they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. Of course they had actually seen
each other a few months before. But my friend and I left the two of them alone
for an hour or so, and I remember as we walked away, seeing Lessig and Aaron leaning a wall
at the Wannsee train station, talking animatedly to each other. It reminded me of the scene
at the climax of the German film “Goodbye Lenin!” where we can see but not hear the
actors talking about incredibly urgent matters, and we have to imagine for ourselves what
they must be saying to each other. And I thought, Lessig is so proud-his protégé
is all grown up and he’s come back to show his respect for his teacher. Aaron was a free
speech absolutist’s, free speech absolutist, an idealist’s idealist, an activist’s activist,
and, I must say, a libertarian socialist’s libertarian socialist. [laughter] His credo was that bits are not a bug, that
come hell or high water we should celebrate, and not fear, people’s ability to communicate
to each other whatever they might choose to communicate, and the infrastructure that supports
that ability. Aaron came of age a long time after the end
of the cypherpunk movement. But he always seemed like a cypherpunk movement. But he
always seemed like a cypherpunk and lived up to the notion that cypherpunks write code. He channeled all sorts of different idealisms
of supposedly bygone eras. You would have thought he was too young to know about those
idealisms. And he did it in a way that mixed intelligence, creativity, and humor. In the
long run, Aaron felt that he was going to fix the world, mainly by clearly explaining
it to people. [laughter] I believe Aaron grew up to be exactly the
person that he would have been most astonished and excited to meet in the line in front of
the Supreme Court. I’ve never known anyone else like him. [Peter Eckersley] So I know we have all been
spending a lot of time thinking about Aaron and his life and what kind of person he was
and what he did. And I know many of you in the room knew him, knew him well. Others probably
never got to meet him in person, saw him on a mailing list or read his blog posts. And
then now, trying to figure out what we’ve lost, who we’ve lost. And for me, you know I was lucky enough, I
got to live with Aaron for a while, and we got to be good friends and work on things
together. But I found I was always trying to figure out exactly who he was and what
he was up to. Because he was such a complicated and contradictory human being, and he’d get
you in these ways that you weren’t expecting. Some of this was simple, obvious stuff. You
know, I, look-he and I had met before, but we moved to San Francisco at the same time.
I came here to work for the EFF. He was just in the process of selling reddit and going
to Condé Nast and going through the messy divorce that he had with the other cofounders.
And so I sent him an email and said, “Hey, I’m setting up a sharehouse. Like, do you
want a place to live?” And he said yes. And so we had this rambling Victorian in this
apartment building. And I said, “Oh, we’ve got all these open rooms we need to fill.”
And he’s like, “Oh, there’s this tiny little one in the corner, I’ll take that.” This room
was the size of a-you know, it was a closet, basically. We were pretty sure he was the
wealthiest person in the building. He’d just sold reddit, but he wanted this tiny little
thing. And getting to know him was weird, like…I’d,
I knew him, I knew his blog, I had met him before. But living with him, the first experience,
he was so shy. Like, he’d just be there, and like, in his own little world, struggling
to talk to people, until the conversation took the right turn. You’d say the right thing
to him, and he would come alive, and he would come so alive. I remember Danny mentioned the Chinese room
argument, but I remember the day that somehow I prodded him about that. And then for the
next week, you know, like we were going at it. Like, I think he was totally wrong about
the Chinese room argument, actually. I still do. [laughter] His position was crazy. He defended a crazy
position very well, and I had to argue him into so many weird corners to get anywhere.
I remember another scene, we had a film crew who showed up and stayed in our house and
filmed this thing, “Steal This Film.” You can go and see it on the Internet. You can
see Aaron in it. They were a documentary crew talking about
copyright and trying to film these takes in the middle of the night. You know, our cramped
little living room, and everyone was kind of drunk and there was chaos and I remember
some of us were struggling to say anything coherent to a camera. But someone pointed
a camera at Aaron and he caught fire. Like, he just…he taught me how to, like,
speak to a room or speak to a television or whatever it was. He just had a message that
he’d simplified out of the ether and could deliver. And that was the same skill he turned
to politics and to so much else that he did in his intellectual life, and it was beautiful
to watch. And he paired that with this…you know, honestly,
he had a flare for self-promotion. There wouldn’t be hundreds of people in this room and hundreds
of people in all the rooms for all the memorials that he’s had in different cities, and millions
of people reading about him, if he didn’t have some little talent at getting the things
he was doing out to the world in a way that people would notice. People noticed his 16-year-old
self. His 14-year-old self. But he wasn’t just a giant ego who kind of
was out there promoting himself because he thought he was awesome. He actually…The
one thing he failed to care about, often, was taking care of himself. And I remember,
like, living with him and trying to get him to eat and…He wouldn’t… He had medical things that he was struggling
with, and I said, “Aaron, you know, like, how does this work, like let’s talk about
it. Surely you’ve read the research on this condition. Like, we can go through what’s
been tried…And he said, “No, I haven’t read any of it.” Like, “I don’t know anything about
it.” And I said, “Aaron! You devour books! Like,
I can see you devouring books, you’ve read five this week. Like, you have a stack of
academic journal articles by your bed. We’re talking about half of them. Why haven’t you
read anything about this condition that is making your own life harder?” And he just
said, “Well, I don’t think I’m that important. The world’s important,” like… Watching that happen was hard. You struggle
to take care of him. He also had these days that were down. I mean, I guess it was a down
day in the end that got him. In between the days when he was doing amazing amounts of
stuff. You all know how much he did. He was too young to possible have done a third
of the things he managed, and who knows what he would have achieved with another 50 years.
But in-between those days, there’d be days when he was just blue. I remember I caught
him on one of those and said, “Aaron, this is amazing stuff. We can go and do it right
now.” And he just said, “No, the code, it’s all
terrible, it’s ugly, it’s broken.” I’m like, “OK, let’s do some science.” And he’d say,
“No, the data doesn’t work, it sucks, it’s too hard.” And I said, “Surely, there must
be something that you’d be doing. That really would feel right.” And he stopped for a while
and said, “Yes, actually. Typography.” [laughter] I could do typography. Anyway, so he was contradictory.
You never knew exactly what to make of him. He was brilliant and sometimes and infuriating
and wrong. Like, the Chinese room argument. [laughter] But then sometimes…I guess I’m talking about
paradoxes in Aaron. Sometimes he was infuriating and wrong and brilliant at the same time.
And I have one story about a paradox. He and I were talking about moral philosophy, ethical
philosophy. We were both interested in these ideas, the
[inaudible 00: 49:23] ideas of…actually, we have a responsibility to find the thing
that we can do that makes the most difference to the universe, to the world, and makes it
better, whatever that means. But I had just read a paper about a paradox
showing that actually, if you write down all of our most compelling intuitions about what
it is for the world to be good, so that we can know how to make it better. You write
them all down, you can actually mathematically prove it’s a recent result, 10 years old by
a Swedish philosopher. Our deepest intuitions about this are flatly contradictory. It’s
a ‘paradox. There is actually no completely coherent definition of what makes the world
better. And Aaron just looked at me and said, “That’s
completely wrong.” Like, “Actually, no, it’s this, this and this.” And I said, “Aaron,
you’re arguing with a mathematical theorem. I have a proof of it right here. You’re not
pointing out any flaws in the logic in this paper.” And he said, “No, no, it’s like…” Then I
stopped and I stared at him for a while and I said, “I’m not sure you’re right, but actually
maybe we can find a way out of this theorem.” It’s not an impossibility theorem, it’s not
a paradox. Actually, maybe it’s more like an uncertainty
theorem. We can rehabilitate it as a kind of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for
morality. You can’t be completely sure about what’s right. But you can actually pin the
amount of uncertainty down to minimum and still get the right answers to obvious moral
dilemmas. So he and I actually sat down and wrote a
paper about this which we still haven’t published. I now actually have a…this is a thing I
promised to Aaron’s ghost. I’m going to finish that paper and maybe people will read it.
But he was paradoxical and yet he got so much done, did so many amazing things at the same
time. There’s a lot more I want to say and there
are a lot of things that we all need to do. Because Aaron’s loss reminded us or pointed
out that they needed to be done. Some of them are things that matter a lot to this community
here in this room. We need to free the literature, the scientific literature, that Aaron died
trying to free. And we also need to figure out what we can
do to fix the insane criminal justice system in the United States. [applause] But I’ve said enough for tonight, and there
other people who will take up these threads. [Tim O’Reilly] I’ve been asked how I as a
publisher who has an online service that puts content behind a paywall could possibly be
a support of Aaron Schwartz, this guy who downloads content from services like that.
And my answer is that we’re trying to invent the future, and the future does not look like
the past. And the future is uncovered by struggle to figure out what works and what doesn’t
work. And the people who figure that out are people to whom we owe an enormous debt. I was trying to think of, you know, past experiences
with Aaron. When I first met him, he came to our Foo Camp and our Etech Conferences.
But what I decided to share with you is a poem that I read as part of a talk that I
gave at our Etech Conference in 2008. And I checked, and just to refresh memory, Aaron
was there. The poem was part of a talk entitled, “Why
I Love Hackers.” And I started out with a picture of some berries, some poisonous ones
and some ones that were good to eat. And I said, “Somewhere way back in time, somebody
had the courage to figure out which of these things were good to eat.” And I talked about
people wanting to fly, and how it was this crazy dream, and eventually, we figured it
out, and lots of other stories from the history of hacking. And then I ended with a poem, which seems
singularly appropriate for Aaron because it’s about both the courage to try to do what hasn’t
been done, to change the world, but also how hard that is, and the challenge of it. It’s
a poem called “The Man Watching,” by Rainer Maria Rilke, in translation by Robert Bly. He said, “I can tell by the way the trees
beat, after so many dull days on my worried window panes, that a storm is coming, and
I hear the far-off fields say things. I can’t bear without a friend. I can’t love without
a sister.” “The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives
on across the woods and across time, and the world looks as if it had no age. The landscape,
like a line in the psalm book, is seriousness and weight and eternity.” “What we choose to fight is so tiny. What
fights us is so great. If only we would let ourselves be dominated, as things do, by some
immense storm. We would become strong too, and not need names.” “When we win, it’s with small things, and
the triumph itself makes us small. What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to
be bent by us. I mean, the angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament. When
the wrestler’s sinews grew long like metal strings, he felt them under his fingers like
chords of deep music.” “Whoever was beaten by this angel, who often
simply declined the fight, went away proud, and strengthened, and great from that harsh
hand, that needed him as if to change his shape. Winning does not tempt that man. This
is how he grows, by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.” I don’t know whether Aaron was defeated or
victorious, but we are certainly shaped by the hand of the things that he wrestled with. [applause] [Molly Shaffer Van Houweling] I didn’t know
Aaron quite as well as many who have been so generous in sharing their memories. But
as a member of the board of directors of Creative Commons, I am honored to be here to convey
CC’s grief, our gratitude, and our commitment to continuing to work toward the world of
openness and sharing that Aaron worked to architect for all of us. Many of you recently helped us celebrate the
tenth birth of Creative Commons, commemorating the launch in December, 2002 of our first
suite of open content licenses at the party that Seth described. But of course there was
a gestation period before the birth of CC and that’s when I met Aaron thanks to Lisa.
I think he was 15 when I met him, but appeared to be about 11. As most of you know, Creative Commons is a
steward of a set of public content licenses. They have licensed deeds and legal code and
RDF metadata that is designed to make the license human-readable and lawyer-readable
and machine-readable. That’s the beauty of the CC vision. But it’s also a challenge. It’s a challenge
to find any one person who can really wrap their heads around and talk about this idea.
A person who understands humans and lawyers and machines. So when Lisa and I first described
CC at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in May, 2002, we needed some help. Speaking for myself, I was human and I was
a lawyer, but I didn’t read or speak machine. So the idea of explaining what CC would have
to do with HTML, XML, RDF, and the W3C terrified me. So I gave a presentation in which I said
some boring things about law and some vague things about metadata. Lisa gave a demonstration
that I think was more exciting. But when the complicated questions from the audience started,
we handed the mic down to little Aaron. With some trepidation…I’d just met the kid-but
it was an act from me of pure desperation. I couldn’t answer those questions about RDF,
and I figured, well, at least he’s adorable. [laughter] Of course, I found Aaron’s notes on the presentation
still online this afternoon. They read almost like poetry. “We did the Creative Commons
intro in the morning. Lisa forgot the VGA dongle for her iBook, so I donated mine instead.
Whole thing seemed to go over pretty well. I answered a couple of questions at the end.” I think Aaron answered all of the questions,
and I was wrong to be nervous about it. Of course he could answer the questions and delight
the audience, not with his adorableness, not only that, with his vision and with his ability
to communicate it to all of us. We were finally hearing from someone who could
explain to humans, and even to lawyers, how to harness the power of machines to overcome
unnecessary limits on sharing. Aaron’s vision, more powerful than I could explain or even
comprehend, how to harness the power of machines to overcome unnecessary limits on sharing. It was a vision Aaron pursued for CC, but
far beyond CC as well, as many of you can attest better than I, but Aaron was not a
machine, and he was not a lawyer. He was a human, and tragically mortal, but his vision
was not. The answers he gave to our questions were not. He shared them, and so we still have them,
and the people in this room are dedicated to sharing them forward, and to making the
machines for sharing them forward work better and better, and to making the law for sharing
them forward work better and better. I want to end with something else that Aaron
shared. It’s just a casual email to a W3C list from August 2002. To me, it captures
his brilliance, his gift for communicating, his vision of sharing, and his generous spirit. “Hi there. If you haven’t already heard, Creative
Commons is a new nonprofit organization working to make it easier for copyright holders to
share their work by dedicating to the public domain, or licensing it to the public on generous
terms. As part of that effort, we’ve been working hard to develop our licenses and metadata
strategy over the past few months.” “When we launch our site, we want to not only
give our users licenses, but also a sample of RDF that they can add to their web page.
We’re hoping that by spreading these chunks of RDF around the web, we’ll provide a useful
base that interesting projects and applications can exploit. For more information, please
check out our website.” “We’d appreciate your comments, thoughts,
and code. Please send them to the cc-metadata mailing list. We’ll be monitoring the list
and responding to your questions. Thanks. Aaron.” “We’ll be monitoring the list and responding
to your questions.” I hope that, somehow, Aaron is monitoring this list. [applause] I hope we return to his words and his vision
to help answer our questions, and that we share those answers with our fellow humans.
To Aaron, thank you. Thank you for sharing. [applause] [Alex Stamos] Unlike a lot of the people here,
I didn’t know Aaron. I never met him, didn’t speak to him on the phone, never even got
to exchange emails with him, which, ironically, is why I’m here. The fact that I didn’t know him is the reason
why I was going to be the person that was put forth to objectively explain to the jury
of what Aaron did, and I think I was able to hold onto that objectivity until the last
week and a half, and per Teran’s comments, I’ve perhaps become much more radical than
I was before, which you can tell, because I’m wearing my radical tie today. [laughter] What we were going to do is…I was objectively
going to go in front of that jury, and explain to them that these horrible hacking crimes
that Aaron was accused of is functionally the same as putting in the incorrect email
address to an airport WiFi, or going down the street to Starbucks to change your IP
address. Dan Purcell was going to get up there and
grill MIT and JSTOR witnesses, and talk to them about how this kind of thing happens
dozens and dozens of times a year at MIT, and yet Aaron is the first person to ever
have the Secret Service get involved. That JSTOR witness was going to talk about how,
“Oh, there wasn’t really any damage. We were a little ticked off, but this isn’t a big
deal for us, and we don’t want this to happen.” Then Elliot Peters was going to get up and
give this fiery defense attorney speech, pounding the table, and pointing to Boston Harbor,
and invoking the American Revolution, and the spirit of freedom, and how Aaron lives
up to the greatest ideals in our founding documents. Then Aaron’s future was going to be in the
hands of 12 normal people, I mean, normal people who couldn’t get out of jury duty,
but hopefully people who, I think, would have had the sense to understand that there is
a huge chasm between the way Aaron was being portrayed by the government and the young
man who was sitting there at that table. I had faith in them, and we’re not going to
get that chance to do all those things, and we can’t help Aaron anymore, but I think we,
and by “we,” I mean everybody who is listening to this, we can help the next Aaron, and we
didn’t have to wait very long for the next Aaron. The next Aaron is the Chinese-American man
who is accused of stealing source code from a hedge fund, and is being prosecuted under
the Espionage Act. The next Aaron is the Canadian student who was expelled from his university
for pointing out security flaws to the university in their software that exposed his personal
information. The next Aaron is going to be that young lady
whose DEFCON speech is interrupted by the clink of handcuffs, or that grandfather who
is mystified by the demand for $50,000 to pay for copyright violations, because his
next door neighbor uses open WiFi to do a little BitTorrent. Those are the next Aarons,
and those are the people we can help. One of the reasons, I think we really to need
help them is, while I think all of us feel gratified about the outpouring of love and
care, and the feeling of momentum that has come out of the last week and a half. We also have to be really aware that we want,
that when people face the same kind of odds that Aaron faced, many of them without Aaron’s
resources, that we want them not to think Aaron’s final moments of weakness and doubt
to be the kind of thing that they need to do to bring about change. There are two things we need to do for that.
One… [applause] One, we need to give those people as much
as much support as Aaron was able to give. Those people don’t know Larry Lessig. They
don’t hang out with MIT professors, yet they need the kind of support that Aaron was able
to muster. One of the things I realized through this
whole thing is we never considered computer science to be the kind of thing that is a
profession that changes lives, and something this has demonstrated is that being able to
make an argument of whether a MAC address is just something that you use to keep collisions
from happening on a network, it is not equivalent to the serial number on a gun. Making that argument is the kind of thing
that can mean spending decades in prison. There are other professions that are life-changing,
medicine and law, and in those professions, people have an idea about equal access and
helping people, and that doesn’t happen in reality, but at least they try. There’s an idea that everybody has a defense
lawyer. There’s an idea that you can go and get treated by a doctor, and they have an
ethical obligation to you. I think those of us in the computer world need to see, via
Aaron’s tragedy, that we have the same kind of obligation. [applause] The second thing we all need to do is when
we are up here speaking, or we’re commenting on Reddit, or Hacker News, or talking to people
about Aaron, while we talk about the positive change that is going to come out of his death,
we have to make it clear that all of those positive things pale in comparison to what
he would’ve done had he lived. [applause] That’s an important part of the message, because
we don’t want those young people to think that their only way out is to sacrifice themselves,
that they deserve to live too, and that they have people who are standing behind them.
Thank you. [applause] [Cindy Cohn] Good evening. Thank you everybody.
We’re all starting with how we met Aaron. I think I met Aaron before this, but my first
real memory of him is on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on the night before
the Eldred argument in 2002. I remember thinking, “Does your mother know you’re here?” I recently found his account of that night,
and it reminded me of how very young he was, how excited he was to be at the court, and
yet, his understanding of the nuances of the Copyright Term Extension Act were better than
mine at that time. I also realized that by having our first…or least, the first I’d
met, really, Fanboy, that we were building a movement. Since the early morning of January 12th, when
I learned that Aaron had passed away, I feel like I’ve had a little Aaron on my shoulder,
reminding me that we are still part of a movement, and demanding that we push forward, push further,
and that the tragedy of his death be parts of the roots of something good and something
better. I don’t think Aaron named his organization
Demand Progress by accident. At EFF, we feel this intensely, and I think we feel it in
two directions. First, we feel the need to continue his work, opening access to publicly
funded and public domain information for all people, so that you don’t have to be in an
ivory tower to learn. [applause] The second, though, is the one that I’ve spent
most of my time on for the last few weeks, and that was number four on Taren’s list,
which is trying to fix the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. EFF has a draft of some modest fixes that
would reduce the ability of prosecutors to use the CFAA, and similar computer laws, to
ratchet up threats on people like Aaron. It’s on our website. It’s on Reddit. Representative Zoe Lofgren, as many of you
know, had led the way, and remains willing to help, but we have to create the space for
real change, not not-real change, and that remains to be done. Her initial proposals
are not sufficient. We have a lot of work to do to get this where
it will be, but we need to ensure that what happened to Aaron never happens to another
bright, idealistic, geeky kid who wants to make the world a better place, and if we can’t
do it in Congress, then we need to do it in the courts, but we need your help. In fact,
we need the help of everyone you all know. We need to marshal the same sort of support
for this fight that we were able to marshal with SOPA about SOPA and PIPA, and maybe even
more, since this involves not just Hollywood, but federal power, and we won’t have Aaron. I was hesitant to make this bold pitch at
Aaron’s memorial, but honestly, I don’t think Aaron would’ve forgiven me if I didn’t. We
can’t help Aaron directly anymore, but we can help the next Aaron, and the one after
that, and all of us who would be the beneficiaries of what those next Aarons will create for
us, and the knowledge that they will make available to all the rest of us and all the
people around the world. I think we built the movement that I first
saw by seeing the little fanboy, Aaron Swartz, in 2002, so now, let’s use it. [applause] [Brewster Kahle] Wow. I learned from Aaron
what living an open source life was like. I think he really live that way. He floated
and helped others. He gave everything away. He really wasn’t tied to an institution. He
really was not a company man in any sense. He was really quite pure in his motivations,
and it made him incredibly effective of cutting through a lot of the stuff that most of us
deal with, an open source life. He was able to keep his self-interests at bay, which is
kind of remarkable for a lot of us, but he was able to do it, and he was able to communicate
well with an open smile and a kind heart. He had a way of spending time, and his energy,
on things that mattered, and he had a genius at finding things that mattered to millions
of people. There are lots of things to work on, but the things that he worked on were
incredibly effective. We first met, I think, in 2002, at the Eldred
Supreme Court case in Washington, DC, when we drove a bookmobile across, celebrating
the public domain by giving away books that kids made, and also, then, at the Creative
Commons launch. I really got to know Aaron when he said, “I’d
really like to help make the Open Library website with the Internet Archive, to go and
give books, and integrate books into the Internet itself.” He said, “I’ve got this cool technology
called Infogami. It made possible to make Reddit happen. Let’s use it again for this
other thing.” It was wonderful to work with him, but it
was really unlike working with anybody else I’ve ever met. You certainly couldn’t tell
him what to do. He just did what was the right thing to do, and he was right, certainly,
a lot more often than I was. We worked together in other areas when he
was a champion of open access, especially of the public domain, bringing public access
to the public domain. Most people think that’s kind of an obvious thing. “Isn’t the public
thing mean that it’s publicly accessible?” Of course, all of us are like, “No.” It’s sort of like there are these national
parks with moats, and walls, and guns, and turrets pointing out in case somebody might
want to come near the public domain, and Aaron didn’t think this was right, and he spent
a lot of time and effort freeing these materials. One of the first ones that we were actively
working together on was freeing government court cases, so that anybody could see this
without having to have special privilege or money, and also, to make it so you could data
mine it, and go and look at these things in a very different way. He freed and liberated a lot of court cases
from the PACER system, and uploaded them in-bulk to the Internet Archive, so that people could
have access to these. There are now four million documents from 800,000 cases that have been
used by six million people because of the project that Aaron Swartz and others helped
start. [applause] It was an interesting project because it went
over many different organizations, each playing a role, and all cooperating in a very non-corporate
way. It was a very Aaron style way of making things happen, and the idea of making court
documents and legal documents available more easily struck a chord with me, because in
college, I was trying to figure out how I was going to try to get out of the draft. My college didn’t have a legal collection,
and the only way I could try to get to legal court documents was to get an ID from my professor
and break into the Harvard Law Library to go and read court documents. [applause] That sucked. It really makes no sense, and
Aaron not only saw that it doesn’t make sense, he decided he was going to try to help solve
this, not just for himself, but for everyone. Then there were other public domain collections,
like the Google Books collection. Google Books was a library project to go and
digitize lots and lots of books. A lot of them were public domain. Google would make
them available from their website, but really, really painfully. It would make it so that
if you wanted one book, you could get one book. If you wanted 100 books, they’d turn
off your IP address forever. This is no way to have public access to the
public domain. The Internet Archive started getting these uploads of Google Books, going
faster, and faster, and faster. It was like, “Well, where are these coming from?” Well,
it turns out, it’s Aaron. He and a bunch of friends figured out that
they could go and get a bunch of computers to go slowly enough to just clock through
tons of Google Books and upload them to the Internet Archive. Interestingly, Google never
got upset about it. The libraries, on the other hand, grumbled. Anyway, they’ll get
over it. [laughter] When this started happening, we said, “OK,
what’s going on? Should we be concerned?” “No, it’s public domain. We just made sure
that we got the cataloging data right, and we linked back to Google, so that if you’re
on the book, you can go back to the original page and see…” It all worked well, but there
was Aaron doing it again, bringing public access to the public domain. What is crushing to me is that Aaron got ensnared
by the Federal Government for doing something that the Internet Archive actively encourages
others to do for our collections, and we think all libraries should encourage, which is bulk
downloading to support data mining and other research using computers. This is just the
way the world works. [applause] The first step is, for a computer to read
and analyze materials, to download a set of documents. When Aaron did this from one library,
JSTOR, they strongly objected, and demanded that MIT find and stop that user, which then
led US prosecutors to pull out their worst techniques. Did anybody stop to ask if bulk downloading
is a crime? I say, “No.” Bulk downloading is not in itself a crime. Let’s stop this
practice of discouraging bulk downloading because there are encouraging projects that
are learning amazing new things by having computers be part of the research process.
Let’s not stop this, and discourage young people from coming up with new and different
ways to make access, to learn things from our libraries. What resulted, in this case, was tragic and
not necessary. Really, what we want is computers to be able to read. Aaron knew this, we were
all building this, and he got ensnared anyway. Let’s let our computers read. Because of this tragedy, JSTOR, I talked to
this morning, and the Internet Archive have agreed to meet to discuss the broad issue
of data mining and web crawling. I hope that we really make progress. At least there are
reasons to be positive. This assault on Aaron would disillusion, discourage,
and depress a principled young man, and if there ever was a principled young man, it
was Aaron Swartz. We miss you, and we will carry on your important work. [applause] [Carl Malamud] Do not. Do not think for a
moment. Do not think for a moment, that Aaron’s work on JSTOR was a random act of a lone hacker,
some kind of crazy, spur-of-the-moment bulk download. JSTOR had long come in for withering
criticism from the net. Larry Lessig called JSTOR a moral outrage
in a talk, and I suppose I have to confess he was quoting me, and we weren’t the only
ones fanning those flames. Sequestering knowledge behind pay walls, making scientific journals,
only available to a few kids fortunate enough to be at fancy universities, and charging
$20 an article for the remaining 99 percent of us, was a festering wound. It offended many people. It embarrassed many
who wrote those articles, that their work had become somebody’s profit margin, a members-only
country club of knowledge. Many of us helped fan those flames, and many of us feel guilty
today for fanning those flames, but JSTOR was just one of many battles. They tried to paint Aaron as some kind of
lone wolf hacker, a young terrorist who went on a crazy IP killing spree that caused $92
million in damages, but Aaron wasn’t a lone wolf. He was part of an army, and I had the
honor of serving with him for a decade. You’ve heard many things about his remarkable life,
but I want to focus tonight on just one. Aaron was part of an army of citizens that
believes democracy only works when a citizenry are informed, and we know about our rights
and our obligations, an army that believes we must make justice and knowledge available
to all, not just the well-born, or those that have grabbed the reins of power, so that we
may govern ourselves more wisely. He was part of an army of citizens that rejects
kings and generals and believes in rough consensus and running code. [applause] We worked together on a dozen government databases.
When we worked o something, the decisions weren’t rash. Our work often took months,
sometimes years, sometimes a decade, and Aaron Swartz did not get his proper serving of decades.
We looked at and poked at the US copyright database for a long time. It was a system
so old it was still running [inaudible 01: 25:25] . [laughter] The government had, believe it or not, asserted
copyright on the copyright database. Now how you copyright a database that is specifically
called out in the United States Constitution is beyond me. But we knew we were playing
with fire by violating their terms of use. So we were careful. We grabbed that data and
it was used to feed the Open Library here at the Internet Archive, and it was used to
feed Google Books, and we got a letter from the Copyright Office waving copyright on that
copyright database. But before we did that, we had to talk to
many lawyers and worry about the government hauling us in for malicious, pre-meditated
bulk downloading. [laughter] These were not random acts of aggression.
We worked on databases to make them better, to make our democracy work better, to help
our government. We were not criminals. When we brought in 20 million pages of US District
Court documents from behind their eight-cent-per-page PACER paywall, we found those public filings
infested with privacy violations. Names of minor children, names of informants,
medical records, mental health records, financial records, and tens of thousands of Social Security
numbers. We were whistleblowers, and we sent our results to the chief judges of 31 District
Courts. And those judges were shocked and dismayed, and then redacted those documents,
and they yelled at the lawyers that filed them, and the Judicial Conference changed
their privacy rules. [applause] But you know what the bureaucrats did? You
know what the bureaucrats did who ran the Administrative Office of the United States
Courts? To them, weren’t citizens that made public data better. We were thieves that took
$1.6 million of their property. So they called the FBI. They said they were hacked by criminals,
an organized gang that was imperiling their $120 million per year revenue stream selling
public government documents. The FBI sat outside Aaron’s house. They called
him up, and tried to sucker him into meeting them without his lawyer. The FBI sat two armed
agents down in an interrogation room with me to get to the bottom of this alleged conspiracy. But we weren’t criminals! We were only citizens.
We did nothing wrong. They found nothing wrong. We did our duty as citizens and the government
investigation had nothing to show for it but a waste of a whole lot of time and money. If you want a chilling effect, sit somebody
down with a couple FBI agents for a while and see how quickly their blood runs cold.
There are people who face danger every day to protect us, police officers, and firefighters,
and emergency workers, and I am grateful and amazed by what they do, but the work that
people like Aaron and I did, slinging DVDs and running shell scripts on public materials,
should not be a dangerous profession. We weren’t criminals, but there were crimes
committed, crimes against the very idea of justice. When the US attorney told Aaron he
had to plead guilty to 13 felonies for attempting to propagate knowledge before she’d even consider
a deal, that was an abuse of power, a misuse of the criminal justice system. [applause] That was a crime against justice, and that
US attorney does not act alone. She is part of a posse intent on protecting property,
not people. All over the United States, those without access to means don’t have access
to justice, and face these abuses of power every day. It was a crime against learning when a nonprofit
corporation like JSTOR charged with advancing knowledge, turned a download, that caused
no harm and no damage, into a $92 million federal case, and the JSTOR corporate monopoly
on knowledge is not alone. All over the United States, corporations have
staked their fences on the field of education, for-profited colleges that steal from our
veterans, nonprofit standard bodies that ration public safety codes while paying million dollar
salaries, multinational conglomerates that measure the work of scientific papers and
legal materials by their gross margins. [applause] In the JSTOR case, was the overly aggressive
posture of the department of justice, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials revenge, because
they were embarrassed that, in their view at least, we somehow got away with something
in the PACER incident? Was the merciless JSTOR prosecution the revenge
of embarrassed bureaucrats because they looked stupid in the “New York Times,” because the
United States Senate called them on the carpet? We will probably never know the answer to
that question, but it sure looks like they destroyed a young man’s life in a petty abuse
of power. This was not a criminal matter. Aaron was not a criminal. If you think you own something, and I think
that thing is public, I’m more than happy to meet you in a court of law, and if you’re
right, I’ll take my lumps if I’ve wronged you, but when we turn armed agents of the
law on citizens trying to increase access to knowledge, we’ve broken the rule of law.
We’ve desecrated the temple of justice. Aaron Swartz was not a criminal. [applause] Aaron Swartz was a citizen, and he was a brave
soldier in a war which continues today, a war in which corrupt and venal profiteers
try to steal, and horde, and starve our public domain for their own private gain. When people try to restrict access to the
law, or they try to collect tolls on the road to knowledge, or deny education to those without
means, those people are the ones who should not face a stern gaze of an outraged public
prosecutor. What the Department of Justice put Aaron through for trying to make our world
better is the same thing they can put you through. Our army isn’t one lone wolf. It is thousands
of citizens, many of you in this room, who are fighting for justice and knowledge. I
say we are an army, and I use the word with cause, because we face people who want to
imprison us for downloading a database to take a closer look. We face people who believe
they can tell us what we can read and what we can say. But when I see our army, I see an army that
creates instead of destroys. I see the army of Mahatma Gandhi walking peacefully to the
sea to make salt for the people. I see the army of Martin Luther King walking peacefully
but with determination to Washington to demand their rights. Because change does not roll
in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through continuous struggle. [applause] When I see our army, I see an army that creates
new opportunities for the poor. An army that makes our society more just and more fair.
An army that makes knowledge universal. When I see our army, I see the people who have
created the Wikipedia and the Internet Archive, the people who coded GNU and Apache and BIND
and Linux, I see the people who made the EFF and the Creative Commons. I see the people
who created our Internet as a gift to the world. When I see our army, I see Aaron Schwartz,
and my heart is broken. We’ve truly lost one of our better angels. I wish we could change
the past, but we cannot. But we can change the future and we must. We must do so for
Aaron. We must do so for ourselves. We must do so to make our world a better place, a
more humane place, a place where justice works and access to knowledge becomes a human right.
Thank you. [applause]


  1. John Ramirez says:

    R.I.P Aaron Swartz

  2. Emily Ramos says:

    For those who want to break this long chunk of video down.

    Danny O'Brien (1:55)
    Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman (11:06)
    Lisa Rein (29:44)
    Seth Schoen (34:34)
    Peter Eckersley (42:10)
    Tim O'reilly (52:23)
    Molly Shaffer van Houweling (56:48)
    Alex Stamos (1:03:13)
    Cindy Cohn (1:09:05)
    Brewster Kahle (1:12:55)
    Carl Malamud (1:22:35)

  3. Everton Zanella Alvarenga says:

    Hi. Is is possible to change this video license to CC-by, please? Carl Malamud speech is astonishing.

  4. Madigan Storms says:

    Thank you for posting this.

  5. BOB ROBERTS says:


  6. PublicResourceOrg says:

    they'll flip the license over. you can also grab the video from Internet Archive at AaronSwartzMemorialAtTheInternetArchive

  7. Dan Brickley says:

    Louis CK routine mentioned by Taren, … /watch?v=lC4FnfNKwUo

  8. O'Reilly says:

    @Everton Zanella Alvarenga this video is CC licensed.

  9. Peter Harris says:

    a thank you

  10. Buzz Patrol says:

    Thank you for posting this

  11. raymondoe1997 says:

    Does this belong on YouTube?

  12. mariah814 says:

    RIP Aaron.

  13. openworldforeveryone says:

    Oh god thanks a lot ,also I am really grateful for english subtitle!
    We will miss you hero :((

  14. sabesqsabes says:

    ¿Sabés quien fue Aaron Swartz? ¿Querés saber qué cosas hizo durante su vida? Mirá este SabésQ para conocer un poco de su obra. Entrá a nuestro channel sabesqsabes y enterate de muchas más cosas.

  15. thinnairr says:

    O'Brien makes a great point!

  16. JJVC61 says:

    I love the five points of Taren, but most of all, we love Aaron's soul. I didn't know him, but from the first day, I knew his dead was a very big loss. R.I.P.

  17. MrShadyCash says:

    A great loss

  18. Abdul Hashi says:

    Rip Aaron from Abdi salim

  19. Micah Daranciang says:

    Um. How did I get here and sorry but who is Aaron Swartz?

  20. Jerod Morgan says:

    What if there's no god. That would mean we've wasted our lives praying to nothing,killing for nothing. Oh wait. Nevermind.

  21. hungrybadgerr says:

    Micah, Aaron Swartz was the person who invented the RSS feed. He was a technological genius with universalist intentions. He was brought up on internet crimes (which if you ask me are far too harsh) and would have been sentenced to thirty years in federal prison. He killed himself three weeks ago. It's sad.

  22. hungrybadgerr says:

    Rest in peace, Swartz. You were a very talented individual who was pushed to the point of no return. You will be greatly missed.

  23. iwoozy1 says:

    RIP Aaron Swartz.

  24. TheAnakaye says:

    You will always be in my heart Aaron Swartz.

  25. wilhard45 says:

    Munchkin — No, Swartz did not invent the RSS feed. He was simply part of dev group which included one of the actual Inventors, R.V. Guha.

  26. matooni says:

    Thanks Aaron

  27. RiserTheGreat says:

    R.I.P. Aaron

  28. Mark Marketing says:

    He knew a little too much about things we dont want to know about.
    He scared the wrong people one to many times. Beware big brother is out to get the rest of us. God bless

  29. Weiszcracker says:

    Be afraid of the government…..

  30. el_juano says:

    We scare the hell out of the power hungry. It is a fight that has been fought in many guises and on many fields. There have been casualties among the righteous of every leaf. The white collar executive who just can't keep quiet any more. The gangsters and cliques that are tired of being beaten on by law enforcement. The "outlaw" motorcycle clubs who are trumped up as criminal organizations and subjected to RICO trials. You're not the first. You're not alone. The war is old and continues.

  31. vun vun Ku says:

    向偉大創建信息自由與知識共享的網絡天才Aaron Swartz致敬。

  32. Lance says:

    Horribly sad. Even sadder people will pay for what they've lead Aaron to.

  33. nemo9xiphos says:

    A hacker. A suicide. A loser. Not dead soon enough

  34. Scribanerds says:

    Wow you guys are advertising on here. ( the comments below mine) you obviously have no respect for the passed

  35. iosbase says:

    Rest in peace, man.

  36. Katie Kelley says:


  37. Ilias Bartolini says:

    @OreillyMedia: a fix suggestion for the captions: "inaudible 00:49:23" is "Singerian" as for Peter Singer (search wikipedia)

    How can I fork youtube captions ?

  38. matooni says:

    Sensational speeches

  39. Everett Scott says:

    No disrespect…but who is this guy? What did he do? How did he pass?

  40. Lolidiot says:

    what is google? what does it do?

  41. DoctorNoob says:

    Helped create RSS which is what you use everyday! Google it. He also helped create reddit.com if I remember correctly. Aaron committed suicide. Many believe it is because he was looking at 50 year prison sentence and a 1 million dollar fine just for preaching terms of service for the fight for freedom. We owe a lot to him.

  42. City Living says:

    Such a sweet soul – rest in peace

  43. condorito24 says:

    Thank you! I hope that we are going to become witnesses of many more Aarons!

  44. condorito24 says:

    Google is your friend in that case 😉

  45. Titin Kartini says:

    Guys, improve your website's google ranking does not have to be difficult (I used to think it did). I'll give you some advice right now. Search a SEO services known as MoboRank (search on google). Seriously, that service has changed my entire life. I probably should not even be mentioning it because I don't want a bunch of other folks out there running the same "game" but whatever, I am just in a good mood today so I'll share the wealth haha.

  46. JK says:

    Stinebrickner-Kauffman that was a bloody good speech.

  47. FireEyedMaidOfWar says:

    There can be very little doubt that this nerd was murderer, as he did really annoy the government by stopping their precious SOPA, harmed serious corporate interests and was likely to stop all attempts to renew this scheme and more over he was talking about constitutional rights and attracted young people to this subject; so he was charged with some phoney crimes and than executed at prison and a couple of months later SOPA passed as CISPA unanimously again.

  48. Randy McTurnan says:

    I think the main reason the FED went after him was to make an example and to silence him. He was a threat to their control of knowledge.

  49. freemanfriend says:

    dangerous to the banksters! he was killed. direct or indirect….not matters…but his death is good to many…banksters

  50. Shredded Beast says:

    Very good training

  51. Monte Town says:

    its strange this Aaron Swartz is about the first person who ever really impressed me that I feel guided by them in inspiration.
    he is passed away 2012. But there is a legacy of his work all over the internet in the background.
    And he tried to copy JSTOR's database, and only failed because someone spotted the laptop in the server warehouse of MIT, downloading the whole database over a period of some weeks.
    And that mistake he made, not having concealed the laptop properly from discovery, it changed everything, it changed the future of humanity.

  52. Brass Matrass says:

    Simply just a hero fighting the good fight against fear, wealth and greed. He was one very bright light among the 99%, showing us what we are actually capable of. Again, a good kid and a true hero. RIP

  53. my12steptruth says:

    There would be a LOT more young people like Aaron a LOT better off if they only realized a LOT sooner how corrupt the American school system is and how deliberately limiting and why. www.Educate-Yourself.org YOU DON'T NEED COLLEGE — DONT BUY THE LIE!

  54. Ivan G. says:

    At the subtitle/caption at 49:22 there is an [inaudible] comment, it should say 'Singerian ideas'

  55. Phillip Wilcher says:

    Voltaire: "Announcing truths, proving something useful to men is a sure recipe for being persecuted."

    Before watching the documentary 'The Internet's Own Boy' tonight, I did not know who Aaron Swartz was. Now that I do, I will never forget him.

    Some people are born to make a difference. Clearly, Aaron was one of those people. He still is, and always will be.

    Requiescat In Pace, Aaron … Rest In Peace.

  56. Phillip Wilcher says:

    Freedom is sacrifice; a measure of caring that is the leaven of love. Rest in peace Aaron, for all that you were to freedom, and for who you were in life: an ambassador for truth at its finest.

  57. lovBolan fmpetergreen says:

    Dang, couldn't she wash her hair?

  58. lovBolan fmpetergreen says:

    Another greasy haired person, yuk

  59. yan k says:

    thanks for sharing O'Reilly

  60. Percy Elgar says:

    In his short life he has managed to achieve what several people would have achieved in their entire lives! Imagine if they hadn't killed him…

  61. Bernardo Fitzpatrick says:

    Aaron Swartz was NOT a criminal! Never a truer word spoken. Those who restrict access to Academic Journals and to knowledge generally are criminals! Vendors of Academic Journals need to be brought down. The US attorney general was a disgrace … "theft is theft" she said. What a narrow minded idiot.

  62. Percy Elgar says:

    Is writing in machine code at 9 years of age unusual? Just asking.

  63. Vegan Unicorn says:

    Thank you so much for posting.

  64. gamini susanhinda says:

    I have never met aron or any guy like. but when i touch the story all Aron on my body if he need heart to live more I would give mine

  65. Cecilia Torres says:

    Aaron was a great example for many youths growing up then and now and adults. Every day was he worked hard to make this a better world in helping the less fortunate and helping important causes to make this a better world. Aaron was a brilliant and inspiring person who was killed by the corruption of the political system who cares less for justice. Shameful for all who could have a difference to help a venerable spirit and nothing, but instead hit him with furthermore charges like that would have bewildered and scared anyone by these evil acts against him: MIT, Carmen Ortiz and Steve P. Heyman shame on you!

  66. Maria A. says:

    His girlfriend mentioned that he’d pushed her away at some point in court as she was about to embrace him because he did not want to show any sign of vulnerability to the s.0.b. that was prosecuting him, but we’re to swallow the suicide? Hmm 🤔

  67. Rachel S says:

    I have become full on sick that we held a witch hunt for this man, but never held anyone responsible for 2007s crash. SICK SICK SICK AND crying. The world lost so much when Aaron left.

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