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The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

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    A cofounder of the social, news and entertainment website reddit has been found dead.
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    He certainly was a prodigy, although he never kind of thought of himself like that.
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    He was totally unexcited
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    about starting businesses and making money.
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    There's a profound sense of loss tonight in Highland Park,
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    Aaron Swartz's hometown,
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    as loved ones say good-bye to one of the Internet's brightest lights.
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    Freedom, open access and computer activists are mourning his loss.
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    "An astonishing intellect", if you talk to people who knew him.
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    He was killed by the government
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    and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles.
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    They wanted to make an example out of him.
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    Governments have insatiable desire to control.
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    He was potentially facing 35 years in prison and a one million dollar fine.
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    Raising questions of prosecutorial zeal, and I would say even misconduct.
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    Have you looked into that particular matter and reached any conclusions?
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    Growing up, you know, I slowly had this process of realizing
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    that all the things around me, that people had told me
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    were just the natural way things were, the way things always would be
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    They weren't natural at all, there were things that could be changed
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    and there were things that more importantly were wrong and should change.
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    And once I realized that, there was really kind of no going back.
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    The Internet's Own Boy.
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    Welcome to story reading time.
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    The name of the book is "Paddington at the fair".
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    Well, he was born in Highland Park and grew up here.
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    Aaron came from a family of three brothers, all extraordinarily bright.
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    Oh, the box is tipping over...
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    So we were all, you know, not the best behaved children.
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    You know, three boys running around all the time, causing trouble.
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    Hey, no, no no!
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    - Aaron!
    - What?
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    But I've come to the realization that Aaron learned how to learn at a very young age.
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    "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,seven, eight, nine, ten"
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    - Knock, knock!
    - Who's there?
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    - Aaron.
    - Aaron who?
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    - Aaron Funnyman.
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    He knew what he wanted, and he always wanted to do it.
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    He always accomplished what he wanted.
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    His curiosity was endless.
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    "Here's a little picture of what the planets are."
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    "And each planet has a symbol. Mercury symbol, Venus symbol, Earth symbol, Mars symbol, Jupiter symbol."
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    One day he said to Susan: what's this free family entertainment downtown Highland Park?
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    "Free family entertainment at the downtown [less] park"
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    He was three at the time.
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    She said: what are you talking about?
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    He said: Look, it says here on the refrigerator, "Free family entertainment downtown Highland Park".
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    She was floored and astonished that he could read.
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    It's called "My Family Seder".
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    That Seder night is different from all other nights.
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    I remember once, we were at the University of Chicago Library.
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    I pulled a book off the shelf that was from like 1900.
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    And showed to him, and said: you know, this is an extraordinary place.
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    We all were curious children, but Aaron really liked learning and really liked teaching.
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    And what we're going to learn is ABC backwards.
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    Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T...
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    I remember he came home from his first Algebra class.
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    He was like: Noah, let me teach you Algebra!
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    and I'm like: what is Algebra?
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    And he was always like that.
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    Now let's press click button, there! Now it's got that!
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    Now it's in pink!
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    When he was about two or three years old, and Bob introduced him to computers,
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    then he just took off, like crazy on them.
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    (baby talk)
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    We all had computers, but Aaron really took to them, really took to the Internet.
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    - Working at the computer?
    - Naah..
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    - How c... mommy, why is nothing working?
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    He started programming from a really young age.
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    I remember the first program that I wrote with him was in Basic, and it was a Star Wars trivia game.
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    He sat down with me in the basement, where the computer was,
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    for hours, programming this game.
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    The problem that I kept having with him is that there was nothing that I wanted done.
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    And to him, there was always something to do, always something that programming could solve.
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    The way Aaron always saw it, is that programming is magic.
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    You can accomplish these things that normal humans can't.
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    Aaron made an ATM, using, like, a MacIntosh and, like, a cardboard box.
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    One year for Halloween, I didn't know what I wanted to be,
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    and he thought it would be really really cool if I dressed up like his new favorite computer,
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    which at the time was the original iMac.
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    I mean, he hated dressing up for Halloween but he loved convincing other people
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    to dress up in these things that he wanted to see.
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    Host Aaron, stop! Guys, come on, look at the camera!
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    Spider-man looks at the camera
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    He made this website called The Info, where people could just fill in information.
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    I'm sure someone out there knows everything about gold, gold leafing.
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    Why they don't write about that on this website? And then other people can come at a later point
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    and read that information, and edit the information if they thought it was bad.
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    Not too dissimilar from Wikipedia, right?
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    And this was before Wikipedia begun, and this is developed by a 12 year old,
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    in his room, by himself, running on this tiny server, using ancient technology.
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    One of the teachers response was, like: This is a terrible idea, you cant' just let anyone author the encyclopedia.
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    The whole reason we have scholars is to write these books for us. How did you have such a terrible idea?
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    Me and my other brother will go, like: Oh, you know, Wikipedia is cool, but we had that in our house, like, five years ago.
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    Aaron's website,, wins a school competition
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    hosted by the Cambridge-based web design firm ArsDigita.
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    We all went to the Cambridge for the... when he won the art centro prize
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    and we had no clue what Aaron was doing.
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    It was obvious that the prize was really important.
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    Aaron soon became involved with online programming communities,
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    then in the process of shaping a new tool for the web.
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    He comes up saying to me, like: Ben, there's this really awesome thing that I'm working on.
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    You need to hear about it!
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    "Yeah, what is it?"
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    "It's a thing called RSS."
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    And he explains me what RSS like why is that useful,Aaron?
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    Is any site using it, like why would I want to use it?
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    There is this mailing list for people who are working on RSS, and XML more generally.
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    And there was a person on it named Aaron Swartz who was really competitive but very smart,
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    and who has lots of good ideas and he didn't ever come to the face to face meetings
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    and he'd never come to face-to-face meetings, and they said,
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    you know, when are you gonna come to one of these face-to-face meetings?
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    And he said: you know, I don't think my mom would let me. I'm.. I've just turned 14.
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    And so their first reaction was, well, you know, this person, this colleague we've been working with all year is...
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    was 13 years old while we were working with him, and he's only 14 now.
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    And their second reaction was: Christ, we really want to meet him, you know. That's extraordinary!
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    He was part of the committee that drafted RSS.
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    What he was doing was to help build the plumbing for modern hypertext.
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    The piece that he was working on, RSS, was a tool that you can use to get summaries
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    of things that are going on on other web pages.
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    Most commonly, you would use this for a blog. You might have 10 or 20 people's blogs you wanna read.
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    You use their RSS feeds, these summaries of what's going on on those other pages
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    to create a unified list of all the stuff that's going on.
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    Aaron was really young, but he understood the technology and he saw that it was imperfect
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    and looked for ways to help make it better.
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    So his mom started bundling him on planes in Chicago, we'd pick him up in San Francicso.
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    We'd introduce him to interesting people to argue with, and we'd marvel at his horrific eating habits.
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    He only ate white food, only like steamed rice and not fried rice 'cause that wasn't sufficiently white
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    and white bread, and so on...
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    And you kind of marveled at the quality of the debate emerging from this,
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    what appeared to be a small boy's mouth.
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    And you'd think, this is a kid that's really going to get somewhere if he doesn't die of scurvy.
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    Aaron, you're up!
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    I think the difference is that now you can't make companies like dotcoms.
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    You can't have companies that just sell dog food over the Internet, or sell dog food over cell phones.
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    But there's still a lot of innovation going on.
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    Think that maybe if you don't see the innovation, maybe your head is in the sand!
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    He takes on this, like an alpha nerd personality, where he's
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    sort of like: "I'm smarter than you, and because I'm smarter than you I'm better than you,
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    and I can tell you what to do."
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    It's an extension of, like, him being kind of like a twerp.
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    So you aggregate all these computers together and now they're solving big problems
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    like searching for aliens and trying to cure cancer.
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    I first met him on IRC, or Internet Relay Chat.
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    He didn't just write code, he also got people excited about solving problems he got.
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    He was a connector.
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    The free culture movement, he had a lot of this energy.
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    I think Aaron was trying to make the world work. He was trying to fix it.
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    He had a very kind of strong personality, that definitely ruffled feathers at times.
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    It wasn't necesarily the case that he was always comfortable in the world
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    and the world wasn't always comfortable with him.
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    Aaron got into high school and he was really just sick of school.
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    He didn't like it, he didn't like any of the classes that were being thaught, he didn't like the teachers.
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    Aaron really knew how to get information.
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    He was like: "I don't need to go to this teacher to learn how to do geometry.
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    I can just read the geometry book.
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    And I don't need to go to this teacher to learn their version of American history,
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    like I have like three historical compilations here, I could just read them.
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    And I'm not interested in that, I'm interested in the web."
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    I was very frustrated with school, I thought the teachers didn't know what they were talking about.
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    They were domineering and controlling, the homework was kind of a sham
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    and it was all just like all about a way to pen students all together and force them to do busywork.
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    And, you know, I started reading books about the history of education
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    and how this educational system was developed.
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    Then, you know, alternatives to it and ways that people could actually learn things
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    as opposed to just regurgitating facts that teachers told them.
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    And that kind of led me down this path of questioning things, once I questioned the school I was in,
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    I questioned the society that built the school, I questioned the businesses that the schools were training people for,
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    I questioned the government that set up this whole structure.
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    One of the thing he was most passionate about was copyright, especially in those early days.
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    Copyright has always been something kind of a burden on the publishing industry and on readers,
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    but it wasn't an eccessive burden, it was a reasonable institution to have in place,
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    to make sure that people got paid.
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    What Aaron's generation experienced was the collision between this antique copyright system
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    and this amazing new thing we were trying to build, the Internet and the Web.
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    These things collided, and what we got was chaos.
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    He then met Harvard's Law professor Lawrence Lessig,
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    who was then challenging copyright law in the Supreme Court.
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    The young Aaron Swartz flew to Washington to listen to the Supreme Court hearings.
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    I am Aaron Swartz and I'm here to listen to the LD, to see the LD document.
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    Why did you fly out here from Chicago and come all this way to see the LD argument?
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    That's a more difficult question...
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    I don't know. It's very exciting to see the Supreme Court,
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    especially in such a prestigious case as this one.
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    Lessig was also moving forward with a new way to define copyright on the Internet.
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    It was called Creative Commons.
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    So the simple idea of Creative Commons is to give people, creators,
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    a simple way to mark their creativity with the freedoms they intended to carry.
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    So if copyright is all about "All rights reserved", then this is a kind of a "Some rights reserved" model.
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    I want a simple way to say to you: here is what you can do with my work,
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    even if there are other things which you need to get my permission before you could do.
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    And Aaron's role was the computer part.
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    Like how do you architect the licenses so they'll be simple and understandable
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    and expressed in a way so that machines can process it.
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    And people were like: why do you have this 15 years old kid writing the specifications for Creative Commons?
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    Don't you think that's a huge mistake?
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    And they're like: the biggest mistake we would have is not listening to this kid.
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    He barely is not even tall enough to even get over the podium.
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    And it was this movable podium so it was this embarrassing thing,
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    where once he put his screen up nobody could see his face.
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    When you come to our website here, and you go to "Choose license",
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    it gives you this list of options, it explains what it means, and you got three simple questions:
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    "Do you want to require attribution?"
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    "Do you want to allow commercial uses of your work?"
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    "Do you want to allow modifications of your work?"
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    I was floored, just completely flabbergasted that these adults regarded him as an adult.
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    And Aaron stood up there in fromt of a whole audience full of people and just started talking
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    about the platform that he'd created for Creative Commons.
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    And they were all listening to him. Just...
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    I was sitting at the back, thinking: he's just a kid, why are they listening to him?
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    But they did...
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    Well, I don't think I comprehended it fully.
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    Though critics have said it does little to ensure artists get paid for their work,
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    the success of Creative Commons has been enormous.
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    Currently on the website Flickr alone, over 200 million people use some form of Creative Commons license.
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    He contributed through his technical abilities, and yet it was not simply a technical matter to him.
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    Aaron often wrote candidly in his personal blog:
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    I think deeply about things, and I want others to do likewise.
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    I work for ideas and learn from people. I don't like excluding people.
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    I'm a perfectionist, but I won't let that get in the way of publication.
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    Except for education and entertainment, I'm not going to waste my time
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    on things that won't have an impact.
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    I try to be friends with everyone, but I hate it when you don't take me seriously.
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    I don't hold grudges, it's not productive, but I learn from my experience.
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    I want to make the world a better place.
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    In 2004, Swartz leaves Highland Park and enrolls in Stanford University.
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    He'd had ulcerative colitis which was very troubling and we were concerned about him taking his medication.
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    He got hospitalized and he would take this cocktail of pills every day.
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    And one of those pills was a steroid which stunted his growth,
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    and made him feel different from any of the other students.
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    Aaron, I think, shows up at Stanford ready to do scholarship
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    and finds himself in effectively a babysitting program for overachieving high-schoolers
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    who in four years are meant to become captains of industry and one-percenters
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    and I think it just made him bananas.
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    In 2005, after only one year of college,
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    Schwartz was offered a spot at a new start-up incubation firm called Y Combinator, lead by Paul Graham.
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    He's like, "Hey, I have this idea for a a website."
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    And Paul Graham likes him enough, and says, "Yeah, sure."
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    Suddenly he drops out of school, moves to this apartment...
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    So this used to be Aaron's apartment when he moved here.
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    I have vague memories of my father telling me how difficult it was to get a lease
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    'cause Aaron had no credit and he dropped out of college.
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    Aaron lived in what's now the livingroom and some of the posters are leftovers from when Aaron lived here.
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    And the library... there are more books, but a lot of them are Aaron's.
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    Aaron's Y Combinator site was called infogami, a tool to build websites.
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    But infogami struggles to find users, and Swartz eventually
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    merges his company with another Y Combinator project in need of help.
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    It was a project headed by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, called reddit.
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    That we were, starting from almost nothing. No users, no money, no code,
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    and growing day by day into a hugely popular website.
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    And it showed no signs of letting up,
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    first we had 1000 users, then 10000, then 20000 and on, and on... It was just incredible...
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    reddit becomes huge and it's a real sort of geeky corner of the Internet.
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    There's a lot of humor, there's a lot of art, and there's just people who flocked to the site
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    and made that site the main site they go to every morning to get their news.
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    reddit kind of just borders on chaos at some levels,
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    so on the one hand it's a place where people discuss news of the day, technology, politics and issues,
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    and yet there is a lot of kind of Not Safe For Work material, offensive material,
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    there are some sub-reddits where trolls find a welcome home
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    and so, in that sense reddit has been kind of home to controversy, as well.
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    It kind of sits on that edge of chaos.
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    reddit catches the attention of the corporate magazine giant Condé Nast,
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    who makes an offer to buy the company.
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    Some large amount of money, large enough that my dad was getting bugged with questions
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    about like: "How do I store this money?"
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    - Like a lot of money...
    - Like a lot of money.
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    Like probably more than a million dollars, but I don't actually know.
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    - And he's how old at the time?
    - 19 - 20...
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    So it was in this apartment, they sat around
    on what predated these couches
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    hacking on reddit, and when they sold reddit
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    they threw a giant party, and then all flew
    out to California the next day
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    and left the keys with me.
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    It was funny, you know, he'd just sold his start up so we all presumed
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    he was the richest person around
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    but he said, "Oh no, I'll take this tiny little
    shoe-box sized room. That's all I need."
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    It was barely larger than a closet.
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    The idea of him spending his money on
    fancy objects just seemed so implausible.
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    He explains it as "I like living in apartments so I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a new place to live, I'm not gonna buy a mansion.
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    And I like wearing jeans and a T-shirt,
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    so I'm not going to spend any more money on clothes.
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    So it's really no big deal."
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    What is a big deal to Swartz is how traffic
    flows on the internet.
  • 20:58 - 21:01
    And what commands our attention.
  • 21:01 - 21:04
    In the old system of broadcasting, you're
    fundamentally limited by the amount of
  • 21:04 - 21:09
    space in the airwaves. You can only send out ten channels over the airwaves, television
  • 21:09 - 21:11
    or even with cable, you had 500 channels.
  • 21:11 - 21:16
    On the Internet, everybody can have a channel.
    Everyone can get a blog, or a Myspace page.
  • 21:16 - 21:18
    Everyone has a way of expressing themselves.
  • 21:18 - 21:21
    What you see now is not a question of who gets
    access to the airwaves,
  • 21:21 - 21:25
    it's a question of who gets control over the
    ways you find people.
  • 21:25 - 21:29
    You know, you start seeing power centralizing in sites like Google, they are sort of gate-keepers that tell you
  • 21:29 - 21:31
    where on the internet you want to go.
  • 21:31 - 21:34
    The people who provide you your sources of news and information.
  • 21:34 - 21:38
    So it's not only certain people have a license to speak, now everyone has
  • 21:38 - 21:41
    a license to speak. It's a question of who gets heard.
  • 21:45 - 21:50
    After he started working in San Francisco
    at Condé Nast, he comes into the office
  • 21:50 - 21:54
    and they want to give him a computer with all
    this crap installed on it
  • 21:54 - 21:57
    and say he can't install any new things
    on his computer,
  • 21:57 - 21:59
    which to developers is outrageous.
  • 21:59 - 22:02
    From the first day he was complaining
    about all the stuff.
  • 22:05 - 22:11
    "Gray walls, gray desks, gray noise. The first
    day I showed up here, I simply couldn't take it.
  • 22:11 - 22:15
    By lunchtime, I had literally locked myself
    in a bathroom stall and started crying.
  • 22:15 - 22:18
    I can't imagine staying sane with someone
    buzzing in my ear all day
  • 22:18 - 22:22
    Let alone getting any actual work done.
  • 22:22 - 22:24
    Nobody else seems to get work done here either
  • 22:24 - 22:28
    Everybody's always coming into our room to
    hang out and chat, or invite us to play

  • 22:28 - 22:30
    the new video game system that Wired is testing."
  • 22:33 - 22:38
    He really had different aspirations that were politically oriented.
  • 22:38 - 22:42
    And Silicon Valley just doesn't really quite have that culture
  • 22:42 - 22:47
    that orients technical activity for the purposes of political goals.
  • 22:47 - 22:50
    Aaron hated working for a corporation.
  • 22:50 - 22:54
    They all hate working for Condé Nast, but Aaron
    is the only one who is not going to take it.
  • 22:54 - 22:56
    And Aaron basically gets himself fired.
  • 22:56 - 22:58
    By not showing up to work, ever.
  • 23:01 - 23:05
    It was said to be a messy break-up.
    Both Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman
  • 23:05 - 23:08
    declined to be interviewed for this film.
  • 23:09 - 23:16
    He rejected the business world. One of the really important things to remember about
  • 23:16 - 23:23
    that choice when Aaron decided to leave start-up
    culture is that he was also leaving behind
  • 23:23 - 23:31
    the things that had made him famous and well-loved.
    He was at risk of letting down fans.
  • 23:31 - 23:36
    He got to where he was supposed to be going, and had the self-awareness
  • 23:36 - 23:43
    and the orneriness to realize that he had climbed the mountain of shit to pluck
  • 23:43 - 23:46
    the single rose and discovered that he'd lost his sense of smell.
  • 23:46 - 23:50
    And rather than sit there and insist that it wasn't as bad as it seemed,
  • 23:50 - 23:54
    and he did get the rose in any event,
  • 23:54 - 23:57
    he climbed back down again, which is pretty cool.
  • 23:58 - 24:02
    The way Aaron always thought it is that
    programming is magic.
  • 24:02 - 24:07
    You can accomplish these things that normal
    humans can't, by being able to program.
  • 24:07 - 24:13
    So if you had magical powers, would you use
    them for good, or to make you mountains of cash?
  • 24:15 - 24:18
    Swartz was inspired by one of the visionaries
    he had met as a child.
  • 24:18 - 24:22
    The man who had invented the World Wide Web,
    Tim Berners-Lee.
  • 24:22 - 24:26
    In the 1990s, Berners-Lee was arguably sitting on
  • 24:26 - 24:29
    one of the most lucrative inventions of
    the 20th century.
  • 24:29 - 24:35
    But instead of profiting from the invention
    of the World Wide Web, he gave it away for free.
  • 24:36 - 24:40
    It is the only reason the World Wide Web exists today.
  • 24:41 - 24:45
    Aaron is certainly deeply influenced by Tim.
  • 24:45 - 24:51
    Tim is certainly a very prominent early Internet genius, who doesn't in any sense cash out.
  • 24:51 - 24:56
    He's not at all interested in how he's going to figure out how to make a billion dollars.
  • 24:56 - 24:58
    People were saying, "Ah there's money to be made there",
  • 24:58 - 25:01
    so there would have been lots of little webs.
  • 25:01 - 25:02
    Instead of one big one.
  • 25:02 - 25:05
    And one little web, all sorts of webs doesn't work,
  • 25:05 - 25:08
    because you can't follow links from one to the other.
  • 25:10 - 25:14
    You had to have the critical masses, the thing was the entire planet,
  • 25:14 - 25:17
    so it's not going to work unless the whole planet can get on board.
  • 25:24 - 25:28
    I feel very strongly that it's not enough to just live in the world as it is,
  • 25:29 - 25:35
    it's just kind of take what you're given, and you know follow the things that adults told you to do,
  • 25:35 - 25:39
    and that your parents told you to do, and that society tells you to do. I think you should always be questioning.
  • 25:39 - 25:43
    I take this very scientific attitude, that
    everything you've learned is just provisional,
  • 25:43 - 25:49
    you know, it's always open to recantation or refutation or
    questioning, and I think the same applies to society.
  • 25:49 - 25:53
    Once I realized that there were real serious problems, fundamental problems
  • 25:53 - 25:59
    that I could do something to address, I didn't see a way to forget that, I didn't see a way not to.
  • 26:03 - 26:05
    We just started spending a lot of time,
  • 26:05 - 26:07
    just kind of as friends.
  • 26:09 - 26:12
    We would just talk for hours, into the night.
  • 26:14 - 26:18
    I definitely should have understood that he was flirting with me. I think to some degree
  • 26:18 - 26:24
    I was like, this is a terrible idea, and impossible, and therefore I will pretend it is not happening.
  • 26:25 - 26:29
    As my marriage was breaking down and I was
    really stuck without anywhere to go,
  • 26:29 - 26:33
    we became roommates, and I brought my daughter over.
  • 26:34 - 26:37
    We moved in and furnished the house, and it
    was really peaceful.
  • 26:37 - 26:41
    My life had not been peaceful for a while, and really neither had his.
  • 26:46 - 26:54
    We were extremely close from the beginning of our romantic relationship.
  • 26:54 - 26:58
    We just...we were in constant contact.
  • 26:58 - 27:02
    But we're both really difficult people to deal with.
  • 27:04 - 27:11
    In a very Ally McBeal discussion he confessed he had a theme song, and I made him play it for me.
  • 27:12 - 27:17
    It was Extraordinary Machine, by Fiona Apple.
  • 27:17 - 27:24
    I think it was just that sense of being a little bit embattled that the song has.
  • 27:25 - 27:28
    And it also had this hopefulness to it.
  • 27:28 - 27:34
    ♪ By foot it's a slow climb. But I'm good
    at being uncomfortable so I can't stop...
  • 27:34 - 27:37
    changing all the time ♪
  • 27:37 - 27:44
    In many ways, Aaron was tremendously optimistic
    about life. Even when he didn't feel it,
  • 27:44 - 27:47
    he could be tremendously optimistic about life.
  • 27:47 - 27:50
    ♪ Extraordinary machine ♪
  • 27:53 - 27:58
    - What are you doing?
    (Quinn) - Flicker has video now.
  • 28:00 - 28:02
    Swartz threw his energy into a string of new
  • 28:02 - 28:05
    projects involving access to public information.
  • 28:05 - 28:08
    Including an accountability webside called
  • 28:08 - 28:11
    and a project called The Open Library.
  • 28:11 - 28:15
    So the Open Library Project is a website you can visit at
  • 28:15 - 28:20
    and the idea is to be a huge wiki, an editable website with one page per book.
  • 28:20 - 28:24
    So for every book ever published, we want to have a web page about it that combines
  • 28:24 - 28:30
    all the information from publishers, from booksellers, from libraries, from readers
  • 28:30 - 28:35
    onto one site. And then gives you links where
    you can buy it, you can borrow it, or you can browse it.
  • 28:35 - 28:40
    I love libraries. I'm the kind of person who
    goes to a new city and immediately seeks out the library
  • 28:40 - 28:44
    That's the dream of Open Library, is building this website where both you can leap
  • 28:44 - 28:49
    from book to book, from person to author, from subject to idea. Go through this vast tree
  • 28:49 - 28:54
    of knowledge that's been embedded and lost in big physical libraries, that's hard to find,
  • 28:54 - 28:59
    that's not very well accessible online. It's really important because books are our cultural legacy.
  • 28:59 - 29:01
    Books are the place people go to write things down,
  • 29:01 - 29:06
    and to have all that swallowed up by one corporation is kind of scary.
  • 29:07 - 29:11
    How can you bring public access to the public domain?
  • 29:11 - 29:15
    It may sound obvious that you'd have public access to the public domain,
  • 29:15 - 29:21
    but in fact it's not true. So the public domain should be free to all, but it's often locked up.
  • 29:21 - 29:27
    There's often guard cages. It's like having a national park but with a moat around it,
  • 29:27 - 29:33
    and gun turrets pointed out, in case somebody may want to actually come and enjoy the public domain.
  • 29:33 - 29:39
    One of the things Aaron was particularly interested in was bringing public access to the public domain.
  • 29:39 - 29:43
    This is one of the things that got him into so much trouble.
  • 29:46 - 29:53
    I had been trying to get access to federal court records in the United States.
  • 29:54 - 29:59
    What I discovered was a puzzling system, called Pacer.
  • 30:00 - 30:03
    Which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records.
  • 30:03 - 30:07
    I started Googling, and that's when I ran
    across Carl Malamud.
  • 30:09 - 30:15
    Access to legal materials in the U.S. is a
    $10 billion per year business.
  • 30:15 - 30:23
    Pacer is just this incredible abomination
    of government services. It's 10 cents a page,
  • 30:23 - 30:27
    it's this most braindead code you've ever seen. You can't search it, you can't bookmark anything.
  • 30:27 - 30:32
    You've got to have a credit card, and these are public records.
  • 30:32 - 30:37
    U.S. district courts are very important, it's
    where a lot of our seminal litigation starts.
  • 30:37 - 30:44
    Civil rights cases, patent cases, all sorts of stuff. Journalists, students, citizens and lawyers
  • 30:44 - 30:49
    all need access to Pacer and it fights them every step of the way.
  • 30:49 - 30:55
    People without means can't see the law as readily as people that have that gold American Express card.
  • 30:55 - 30:58
    It's a poll tax on access to justice.
  • 30:58 - 31:04
    You know the law is the operating system of our democracy and you have to pay to see it?
  • 31:04 - 31:07
    You know, that's not much of a democracy.
  • 31:07 - 31:12
    They make about 120 million dollars a year on the Pacer system
  • 31:12 - 31:18
    and it doesn't cost anything near that, according to their own records. In fact, it's illegal.
  • 31:19 - 31:26
    The E-government Act of 2002 states that the courts may charge only to the extent necessary,
  • 31:26 - 31:30
    in order to reimburse the costs of running Pacer.
  • 31:35 - 31:40
    As the founder of Public.Resource.Org, Malamud wanted to protest the Pacer charges.
  • 31:40 - 31:43
    He started a program called the Pacer Recycling Project,
  • 31:43 - 31:47
    where people could upload Pacer documents they had already paid for
  • 31:47 - 31:50
    to a free database so others could use them.
  • 31:50 - 31:55
    The Pacer people were getting a lot of flack from Congress and others about public access,
  • 31:55 - 32:01
    and so they put together a system in 17 libraries across the country that was free Pacer access.
  • 32:02 - 32:08
    You know, that's one library every 22,000 square miles, I believe, so it wasn't like really convenient.
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    I encouraged volunteers to join the so-called Thumb Drive Court,
  • 32:12 - 32:17
    and download docs from the public access libraries, upload them to the Pacer recycling site.
  • 32:17 - 32:21
    People take a thumb drive into one of these libraries and they download a bunch of documents
  • 32:21 - 32:25
    and they send them to me... I mean, it was just a joke.
  • 32:25 - 32:29
    In fact, when you clicked on Thumb Drive Court, there was a Wizard of Oz [movie clip],
  • 32:29 - 32:32
    you know, the Munchkin singing, so a videoclip came up:
  • 32:32 - 32:35
    ♪ We represent the lollipop guild. ♪
  • 32:35 - 32:39
    But of course I get this phone calls from Steve Shultz and Aaron, saying:
  • 32:40 - 32:43
    Gee, we'd like to join the Thumb Drive Court.
  • 32:43 - 32:48
    Around that time I ran into Aaron at a conference.
  • 32:48 - 32:52
    This is something that really has to be a collaboration between a lot of different people.
  • 32:52 - 32:53
    So I approached him and I said:
  • 32:53 - 32:58
    Hey, I am thinking about an intervention on the Pacer problem.
  • 33:00 - 33:04
    Schultz had already developed a program that could automatically download Pacer documents
  • 33:04 - 33:06
    from the trial libraries.
  • 33:06 - 33:09
    Swartz wanted to take a look.
  • 33:09 - 33:13
    So, I showed him the code and I didn't know what would come next,
  • 33:13 - 33:19
    but as it turns out, over the course of the next few hours at that conference,
  • 33:19 - 33:25
    he was off sitting in a corner, improving my code, recruiting a friend of his
  • 33:25 - 33:32
    that lived near one of these libraries to go into the library and to begin to test his improved code,
  • 33:32 - 33:38
    at which point the folks at the courts realized something is not going quite according to plan.
  • 33:38 - 33:43
    And data started to come in, and come in, and come in
  • 33:43 - 33:48
    and soon there was 760 GB of Pacer docs, about 20 million pages.
  • 33:49 - 33:52
    Using information retrieved from the trial libraries,
  • 33:52 - 33:57
    Swartz was conducting massive automated parallel downloading of the Pacer system.
  • 33:57 - 34:04
    He was able to acquire nearly 2.7 million Federal Court documents, almost 20 million pages of text.
  • 34:04 - 34:10
    Now I'll grant you that 20 million pages had perhaps exceed the expectations of the people
  • 34:10 - 34:15
    running the pilot access project, but surprising a bureaucrat isn't illegal.
  • 34:15 - 34:19
    Aaron and Carl decided to go talk to The New York Times about what happened.
  • 34:20 - 34:26
    They also caught the attention of the FBI, who began to stake out Swartz's parents' house in Illinois.
  • 34:27 - 34:31
    And I get a tweet from his mother, saying: "Call me!!"
  • 34:31 - 34:34
    So, I think, like, what the hell's going on here?
  • 34:34 - 34:39
    And so, finally I get a hold of Aaron and, you know, Aaron's mother was like: "Oh my God, FBI, FBI, FBI!"
  • 34:40 - 34:46
    An FBI agent drives down our home's driveway, trying to see if Aaron is, like, in his room.
  • 34:47 - 34:52
    I remember being home that day, and wondering why this car was driving down our driveway,
  • 34:52 - 34:55
    and just driving back up. That's weird!
  • 34:57 - 35:05
    Like, five years later I read this FBI file, like, oh my goodness: that was the FBI agent, in my driveway.
  • 35:05 - 35:09
    He was terrified. He was totally terrified.
  • 35:10 - 35:15
    He was way more terrified after the FBI actually called him up on the phone,
  • 35:15 - 35:19
    and tried to sucker him into coming down to a coffee shop without a lawyer.
  • 35:19 - 35:24
    He said he went home and lay down on the bed and, you know, was shaking.
  • 35:26 - 35:30
    The downloading also uncovered massive privacy violations in the court documents.
  • 35:30 - 35:35
    Ultimately, the courts were forced to change their policies as a result.
  • 35:35 - 35:43
    And the FBI closed their investigation without bringing charges.
  • 35:43 - 35:48
    To this day, I found it remarkable.
  • 35:48 - 35:51
    That anybody, even the most remote podunk field office of the FBI
  • 35:51 - 35:53
    thought that a fitting use for tax-payers dollars was investigating people
  • 35:53 - 35:55
    for criminal theft on the grounds that they had made the law public.
  • 35:55 - 35:58
    How can you call yourself a lawman
  • 35:58 - 36:02
    And think that there could possibly be anything wrong in this whole world
  • 36:02 - 36:04
    with making the law public ?
  • 36:04 - 36:10
    Aaron was willing to put himself at risk for the causes that he believed in.
  • 36:10 - 36:16
    Bothered by wealth disparity, Swartz moves beyond technology and into a broad range of political causes.
  • 36:16 - 36:20
    I went into Congress and I invited him to come and hang out and intern for us for a while
  • 36:21 - 36:24
    so that he could learn, you know, the political process.
  • 36:24 - 36:29
    He was sort of learning about new community and new sets of skills and kind of learning to hack politics.
  • 36:30 - 36:35
    It seems ridiculous that miners should have to hammer away until their whole bodies are dripping with sweat
  • 36:36 - 36:41
    faced with the knowledge that if they dare to stop, they wouldn't able to put food on their table that night.
  • 36:41 - 36:47
    While I get to make larger and larger amounts of money each day just by sitting and watching TV.
  • 36:47 - 36:49
    But apparently the world is ridiculous.
  • 36:49 - 36:53
    So, I co-founded a group called "The Progressive Change Campaign Committee",
  • 36:54 - 36:59
    and what we trying to do is we try to organize people over the Internet who care about progressive politics
  • 36:59 - 37:03
    and moving the country toward a more progressive direction.
  • 37:03 - 37:06
    To kind of come together, join our e-mail list journal campaign
  • 37:06 - 37:10
    and help us to get progressive candidates elect all across the country.
  • 37:10 - 37:17
    The group is responsible for igniting the grassroots effort behind the campaign to elect Elizabeth Warren to the Senate.
  • 37:17 - 37:22
    He might have thought it was a dumb system but he came in and he said, "I need to learn the system,
  • 37:22 - 37:26
    because it can be manipulated like any, you know, any social system".
  • 37:26 - 37:30
    But his passion for knowledge and libraries didn't take a back seat.
  • 37:30 - 37:34
    Aaron began to take a closer look at the institutions that publish academic journal articles.
  • 37:34 - 37:39
    By virtue of being students at a major US university, I assume you have access to a wide variety of scholarly journals.
  • 37:39 - 37:45
    Pretty much every major university in the United States pays some sort of licensing and fees to organizations like
  • 37:45 - 37:51
    Jstor and Thompson Isi to get access to scholarly journals that the rest of the world can't read.
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    These scholarly journals and articles are essentially the entire wealth of human knowledge online
  • Not Synced
    And many have been paid for with taxpayer money or with government grants.
  • Not Synced
    But to read them, you often have to pay again handing over steep fees to publishers like Reed-Elsevier.
  • Not Synced
    These licenses fees are so substantial that people who are studying in India instead of studying in United States
  • Not Synced
    don't have this kind of access, they are locked out from all of these journals.
  • Not Synced
    they are locked out from our entire scientific legacy. I mean, a lot of these journal articles, they go back to the enlightenment.
  • Not Synced
    Every time someone has written down a scientific paper, it's been scanned, digitized and put in these collections.
  • Not Synced
    That is a legacy that has been brought to us by the history of people doing interesting work, the history of scientists.
  • Not Synced
    It's a legacy that should belong to us as a commons, as a people,
  • Not Synced
    but instead, it has been locked up and put on line by an handful of for-profit corporations
  • Not Synced
    who then try to get the maximum of what they can out of it.
  • Not Synced
    So a researcher paid by the university or the people publishes a paper
  • Not Synced
    and at the very, very last end of that process, after all the work is done
  • Not Synced
    after all the original researches and the thinking, the lab work, the analysis, after everything is done
  • Not Synced
    at that last stage, then the researcher has to hand over his or her copyright to this multi-billion dollar company.
  • Not Synced
    And it's sick.
  • Not Synced
    It's an entire economy built on volunteer labor, and then the publishers sit at the very top and script off of the cream.
  • Not Synced
    Talk about a scam. One publisher in Britain made a profit of three billion dollars last year.
  • Not Synced
    I mean, what a racket!
  • Not Synced
    JSTOR is just a very, very small player in that story but, for some reason, JSTOR is the player that Aaron decided to confront.
  • Not Synced
    He'd gone to some conference around Open Access and Open Publishing, and I don't know who the person from JSTOR was
  • Not Synced
    but I think they, at some point Aaron asked the question, like : "How much would it cost to open up JSTOR in perpetuity?"
  • Not Synced
    And they gave some, I think it was two hundred million dollars
  • Not Synced
    something that Aaron thought was totally ridiculous
  • Not Synced
    Working on a fellowship at Harvard, he knew users on MIT's famously open and fast network next door had authorized access to the riches of JSTOR, Swartz saw an opportunity.
  • Not Synced
    You have a key to those gates
  • Not Synced
    and with a little bit of shell script magic, you can get those journal articles.
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    On September 24th 2010,
  • Not Synced
    Swartz registered an newly purchase acer laptop
  • Not Synced
    on the MIT network under the name Garry Host.
  • Not Synced
    The client name was registered as Ghost laptop
  • Not Synced
    He doesn't hack JSTOR in the traditional sense of hacking.
  • Not Synced
    The JSTOR database was organized
  • Not Synced
    so it was completely trivial to figure out how you could download all the articles in JSTOR
  • Not Synced
    because it was basically numbered
  • Not Synced
    It was basically slash slash... number article 400 and 44000, 24 and 25 and 26
  • Not Synced
    He wrote a Python script called keepgrabbing.pi
  • Not Synced
    which was, like, keeping grabbing one article after another.
  • Not Synced
    The next day, Ghost laptop begins grabbing articles
  • Not Synced
    but soon, the computer's IP address is blocked. For Swartz, it'a barely a bump in the road.
  • Not Synced
    He quickly reassigns his computer's IP address and keeps downloading.
  • Not Synced
    Well, JSTOR and MIT take a number of steps to try to interfere with this
  • Not Synced
    when they notice that this is happening
  • Not Synced
    and when the more modest steps don't work,
  • Not Synced
    then at a certain stage, JSTOR just cuts off MIT from having access to the JSTOR database.
  • Not Synced
    So there's a kind of cat-and-mouse game around
  • Not Synced
    getting access to the JSTOR database.
  • Not Synced
    Aaron, ultimately obviously, is the cat because he has more technical capability
  • Not Synced
    than the JSTOR database people do and defending them.
  • Not Synced
    Eventually, there was an unlocked supply closet in the basement of one of the buildings
  • Not Synced
    and he went, instead of going through wi-fi, he went down there and he just plugged his computer directly into the network
  • Not Synced
    and just left it there with an external harddrive downloading these articles to the computer.
  • Not Synced
    Unknown to Swartz, his laptop and harddrive had been found by authorities.
  • Not Synced
    They didn't stop the downloads, instead,
  • Not Synced
    they installed a surveillance camera.
  • Not Synced
    They found the computer in this room in the basement of an MIT building.
  • Not Synced
    They could have unplugged it, they could have waited for the guy to come back and said,
  • Not Synced
    "Dude, what are you doing, you know, cut it out. Who are you?"
  • Not Synced
    They could have done all that kind of stuff, but they didn't.
  • Not Synced
    What they wanted to do was film it to gather evidence to make a case. That's the only reason why you film something like that.
  • Not Synced
    At first, the only person caught on the glitchy surveillance camera
  • Not Synced
    was using the closet as a place to store bottles and cans.
  • Not Synced
    But days later, it caught Swartz.
  • Not Synced
    Swartz is replacing the hard drive. He takes it out of his backpack,
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    leans out of frame for about five minutes,
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    and then leaves.
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    And then they, like, organized like a stakeout where, as he was biking home from MIT, these cops came out from like either side of the road
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    or something like that and started going after him.
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    He describes that he was pressed down, and assaulted by the police.
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    He tells me that they--it's unclear that they were police that were after him. He thought that someone was trying to attack him.
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    He does tell me they beat him up.
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    It was just devastating. The notion of any kind of criminal prosecution of anyone in our family or anything
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    was so foreign and incomprehensible, I didn't know what to do.
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    Well, they execute search warrants at Aaron's house, his apartment in Cambridge, in his office at Harvard.
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    Two days before the arrest, the investigation had gone beyond JSTOR and the local Cambridge police.
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    They had been taken over by the United States Secret Service.
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    The Secret Service began investigating computer and credit card fraud in 1984,
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    but six weeks after the attack on 9/11, their role expanded.
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    President Bush used The Patriot Act to establish a network of what they called "Electronic Crimes Task Forces"
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    The bill before me takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists.
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    According to the Secret Service, they are primarily engaged in activity with economic impact,
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    organized criminal groups, or use of schemes involving new technology.
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    The Secret Service turned Swartz's case over to the Boston U.S. attorney's office.
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    There was a guy in the U.S. attorney's office who had the title:
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    "Head of the Computer Crimes Division or Task Force"
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    um, I don't know what else he had going,
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    but you're certainly not much of a "Computer Crimes Prosecutor" without a computer crime to prosecute,
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    so he jumped on it, kept if for himself, didn't assign it to someone else within the office or the unit
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    and that's Steve Heymann.
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    Prosecutor Stephen Heymann has been largely out of public view since the arrest of Aaron Swartz,
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    but he can be seen here, in an episode of the television show "American Greed", filmed around the time of Aaron's arrest.
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    He is describing his previous case against the notorious hacker Alberto Gonzales,
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    a case that garnered Heymann enormous press attention and accolades.
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    Gonzales masterminded the theft of over a hundred million credit card and ATM numbers,
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    the largest such fraud in history.
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    Here, Heymann, describing Gonzales, gives his view on the hacker mindset:
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    These guys are driven by a lot of the same things that we're driven by.
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    They have an ego, they like challenge, and of course they like money and everything you can get for money.
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    One of the suspects implicated in the Gonzales case was a young hacker named Jonathan James.
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    Believing Gonzales' crimes would be pinned on him,
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    James committed suicide during the investigation.
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    In an early press release describing the governement position in the case of Aaron Swarz,
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    [lessing] boss US attorney for the district of Massachussets Carmen Ortiz, said this :
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    "Stealing is stealing, wheter you use a computer command or a crowbar
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    and whether you take documents, data, or dollars".
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    It's not true; it's obviously not true.
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    I'm not saying it's harmless,
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    and I'm not saying that we should'nt criminalize stealing of informations
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    but you got to be much more [lessing] in
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    trying to figure out exactly which kinds of arms are handful here.
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    So the thing about the crowbar is
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    every time I break into a place with a crowbar
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    I do damages there is no doubt about it.
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    But when Aaron writes its script that says
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    download download download an hundred times in a second
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    there's no obvious damage to anybody.
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    If he does that for the purpose of gathering
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    an archive to academic researchers
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    there is never any damage to anybody.
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    He wasn't stealing, he wasn't selling what he got, or giving it away. He was making a point, as far as I could tell.
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    The arrest took its toll on Swartz.
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    He just wouldn't talk about it.
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    I mean he was very stressed.
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    If you would thought that like the FBI
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    was like going to come to your doorstep any day
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    anytime you went down the hall
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    even to do your laundry
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    and they'd break in into your appartment
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    'cause you left the door unlocked
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    like... I'd be pretty stressed
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    and it was clear,
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    and so Aaron was always sort of like in, like in a dour mood.
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    He wouldn't give off any sensitive information
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    about his whereabouts during this time,
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    because he was so afraid
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    that the FBI would be waiting for him.
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    It was a time of unprecedented social and political activism.
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    Time Magazine would later name as their
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    2011 Person of the Year "The Protester".
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    There was a kind of hotbed of hacker activity going on.
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    WikiLeaks had released a trove of diplomatic cables,
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    Manning had been under arrest
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    at the time it was unknown whether he was the source of the leak.
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    Anonymous, which is a kind of protest ensemble,
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    and has a lot of hackers in its ranks
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    were going on various sprees of sorts.
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    If you compare that to what he did,
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    this stuff should have been left behind for MIT and JSTOR to deal with
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    in a kind of private, professional matter.
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    It should have never gotten the attention of the criminal system.
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    It just didn't belong there.
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    Before he was indicted, Swartz was offered a plea deal
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    that involved three months in prison,
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    time in an half-way house,
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    and a year of home detention,
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    all without the use of a computer.
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    It was on the condition that Swartz plead guilty to a felony.
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    Here we are, we have no discovery, no evidence whatsoever
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    about what the government's case is,
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    and we have to make this immense decision
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    where the lawyer is pushing you to do this,
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    the government is giving you a non-negotiable demand,
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    and you're told that you're likelyhood
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    of prevailing is small
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    so whether you're guilty or not,
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    you're better off taking, taking the deal.
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    Boston has its own Computer Crimes Division,
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    lots of lawyers, probably more lawyers than they need.
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    So, you know, you can imagine all sorts of cases
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    that'll where it's be really hard to prosecute
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    'cause you've got some criminals in Russia,
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    or you've got some people inside of a corporation
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    that are gonna five hundred dollar lawyers or seven hundred dollar-an-hour lawyers
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    sitting down against you,
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    and then you got this case with this kid
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    which is pretty easy to prove
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    that he did something
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    and he's already marked himself
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    as a troublemaker with the FBI,
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    so why not go as tough as you can
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    against that guy?
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    It's good for you the prosecutor,
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    it's good for the Republic
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    'cause you're fighting all those terrorist types.
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    I was so scared, I was so scared
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    of having my computer seized,
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    I was so scared to going to jail
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    because of my computer being seized,
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    I had confidential material
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    from sources from my previous work on my laptop,
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    and that is above all my priority
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    is to keep my sources safe.
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    I was so scared of what was going to happen toAda.
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    Aaron told me that they offered him a deal
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    and he finally just said that he would take it
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    if I told him to.
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    And I say, I came real close to saying,
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    "Take it."
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    He had these, he had developed, like, serious political aspirations
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    in the meaning intervening time between when,
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    you know that moment when he ended that entrepreneurial startup life,
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    and begun this new life that had come to this political activism,
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    and he just didn't believe that he could continue in his life with a felony.
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    You know, he said to me one day,
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    we were walking by the White House, and he said to me,
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    "They don't let felons work there."
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    And you know he really, he really wanted that to be his life.
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    He hadn't killed anybody, he hadn't hurt anybody,
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    he hadn't like stolen money,
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    he hadn't done anything that seems felony worthy, right,
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    and there is this idea that like,
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    there is no reason that he should be labelled a felon
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    and taken away his right to vote in many states
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    for doing what he did like, that's just outrageous.
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    Like it makes sense for him to be, you know,
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    maybe find a bunch of money or, you know,
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    asked not to come back to MIT again.
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    But like, to be a felon? To face jail time?
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    Swartz turned down the plea deal.
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    Heymann redoubled his efforts.
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    Heymann continued to press us at all, at all levels.
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    Even with the physical evidence seized from Aaron's
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    Acer computer harddrive and USB drive,
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    the prosecutors needed evidence of his motives.
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    Why was Aaron Swartz downloading articles from JSTOR,
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    and just what did he plan to do with them?
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    The government claims that he was planning to publish these.
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    We don't really know whether that was his real intention
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    because Aaron also had a history of
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    doing projects where he'd analyze giant data sets of articles
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    in order to learn interesting things about them.
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    The best evidence for that was that when he was at Stanford,
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    he also downloaded the whole Westlaw legal database.
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    In a project with Stanford law students,
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    Swartz had downloaded the Westlaw legal database.
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    He uncovered troubling connections between
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    funders of legal research
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    and favorable results.
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    He did this amazing analysis of for-profit companies
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    giving money to law professors who wrote law review articles
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    which were then beneficial to, like, Exxon during an oil spill.
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    So it was a very corrupt system of funding,
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    you know, vanity research.
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    Swartz had never released the Westlaw documents.
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    In theory, he could have been doing the same thing about the JSTOR database.
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    That would have been completely okay.
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    If he were, on the other hand, intending to create
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    a competitive service to JSTOR,
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    like, we're going to set up our own, you know,
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    access to the Harvard Law Review and charge,
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    you know, money for it, then you know, okay now
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    it seems like criminal violation because you are
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    commercially trying to exploit this material,
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    but it's kind of crazy to imagine that that was what he was doing.
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    So, but then there's the middle case: well, what if he
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    was just trying to liberate it for all of the developing world,
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    but depending on what he was doing,
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    it creates a very different character to how the law should be thinking about it,
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    um, the government was prosecuting him as if this was like a commercial criminal violation,
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    like stealing a whole bunch of credit card records that it was that kind of crime.
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    I don't know what he was going to do with that database,
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    but I heard from a friend of his that Aaron had told him
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    that he was going to analyze the data for evidence of
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    corporate funding of climate change research
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    that led to biased results,
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    and I, I, I totally believe that.
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    I was just told that Steve wanted to talk to me...
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    um, and I thought that maybe this was a way I could get out of this,
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    just, just exit the situation,
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    and I didn't want to live in fear of having my computer seized,
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    um, I didn't want to live in fear of having to go to jail
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    on a contempt of court charge if they tried to
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    compel me to decrypt my computer.
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    When they came to me and said,
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    "Steve wants to talk to you"
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    that seemed reasonable.
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    They offered Norton what is know as:
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    a "Queen For A Day" letter or a proffer.
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    It allowed prosecutors to ask questions about Aaron's case.
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    Norton would be given immunity from prosecution herself,
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    for any information she revealed during the meeting.
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    I didn't like it, I, I told my lawyers repeatedly
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    that I didn't...this seemed fishy, I didn't like this, I didn't want immunity,
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    I didn't need immunity, I hadn't done anything,
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    but they were really, really stringent that there was,
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    they did not want me meeting the prosecutor without immunity.
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    [Interviewer] But just to be clear, this is a "Queen For A Day" deal, a proffer.
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    [Norton] Right, a proffer letter.
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    [Interviewer] In which you basically handed information to them
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    in exchange for protection from prosecution.
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    [Norton] So, um, it wasn't handing information over,
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    it was, at least that's not how I saw it,
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    it was just having a discussion, having an interview with them.
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    [Interviewer] Well, it's, they're asking you questions...
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    [Norton] They're asking me questions...
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    [Interviewer] and they can ask about whatever they want.
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    [Norton] Right.
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    [Interviewer] and whatever they learn...
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    [Norton] I really...
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    [Interviewer] ...not allowed to prosecute...
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    [Norton] Right, and I repeatedly tried to go in naked.
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    I repeatedly, I repeatedly tried to turn down the proffer letter.
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    I was ill, I was being pressured by my lawyers,
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    I was confused, I was not doing well by this point,
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    I was depressed and I was scared
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    and I didn't understand the situation I was in
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    I had no idea why I was in this situation.
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    I hadn't done anything interesting, much less wrong.
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    We went out of our minds.
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    Aaron was clearly very distraught about it.
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    We were very distraught about it.
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    Aaron's attorneys were very distraught about it.
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    We tried to get Quinn to change attorneys.
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    I was very unused to being in a room
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    with large men, well-armed
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    that are continually telling me I'm lying,
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    and that I must have done something.
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    I told them that this thing that they were prosecuting
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    wasn't a crime.
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    I told them that they were on the wrong side of history.
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    I used that phrase.
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    I said, "You're on the wrong side of history."
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    Um, and they looked bored.
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    They didn't even look angry, they just looked bored,
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    and I, I, it began to occur to me that we weren't having
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    the same conversation.
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    I mean, I told them plenty of things, about you know,
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    why people would download journal articles,
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    and eventually, I don't remember what was around it
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The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

The film follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz's help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz's groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron's story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties.

Film by Brian Knappenberger - Luminant Media
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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Video Language:
  • I think the English version is more or less complete now.

    Let's review it and try to consistently apply the recommendations listed in the Guidelines box.

  • Hi there,

    I'm one of the French contributors to the French subtitles, and I noticed something that might be a (tiny) mistake in the English subtitles. Here are the present subtitles around 87:28:

    87:28 - 87:31 I was a federal prosecutor at the Justice Department for three years.
    87:31 - 87:34 Before I started teaching, the government came forward
    87:34 - 87:38 with an indictment based on what crimes they thought were committed,

    The guy's tone is a bit misleading, but there is a little silence after "teaching", sufficient for me to think that in fact, the first sentence stops there (and hence the 2nd begins), so IMHO he's in fact saying that:

    1) he was a federal prosecutor for 3 years before he started teaching, and
    2) the government came forward with an indictment based on what crimes they thought were committed, etc. etc.

    So there should be a comma (or nothing) after "three years", and a full stop after "teaching".

    Furthermore, with the present punctuation, the second sentence is a bit weird: why would it be important to state that the government came forward with Aaron's indictment before this guy started teaching ? Strange, isn't it ? ;-)

    As one of the golden rules in subtitling is that only natives of a language should change the subtitles in that language, I leave it up to you to review my comments, and agree... or not. ;-)

    Best regards,


  • bruno.treguier Yeah, that makes much more sense. I think it's fixed now. Let me know if you find anything else.

    Also, at 13:13 to 13:23, we had "LD documents" for the longest time, but I looked into it, and I'm pretty sure it should be "Eldred documents" so I changed it fairly recently. I'm not sure if it's been changed in the other languages, though.

    It's great that this important documentary has been translated into so many languages!

    Thanks :)

  • Hi lauren3467,

    I'll sure let you know if I notice something else that should be changed.

    Regarding "LD" vs "Eldred", yeah, it's very difficult to catch what Aaron and his interviewer are precisely saying at that moment but I think you're perfectly right ! The "Eldred v. Ashcroft" oral argument at the Supreme Court, which precisely is about copyright, took place at the end of 2002/beginning of 2003, which fits perfectly !

    Best regards,


English subtitles

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