NEW YORK (AP) — Computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who helped develop RSS and co-founded Reddit, has been found dead weeks before he was to go on trial on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles in an attempt to make them freely available to the public.
Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment, his family in Chicago confirmed in a statement Saturday. He was pronounced dead Friday evening at home in the Crown Heights neighborhood, Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York's chief medical examiner, said.
As a young teenager, Swartz helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users. He co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.
A zealous advocate of public online access, Swartz was extolled Saturday by those who believed as he did. He was "an extraordinary hacker and activist," the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group based in California wrote in a tribute on its home page.
"Playing Mozart's Requiem in honor of a brave and brilliant man," tweeted Carl Malamud, an Internet public domain advocate who believes in free access to legally obtained files.
Swartz apparently struggled at times with depression, writing in a 2007 blog post: "Surely there have been times when you've been sad. Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. ... You feel worthless. ... depressed mood is like that, only it doesn't come for any reason and it doesn't go for any either."
In their statement, Swartz's family expressed not only grief over his death but bitterness toward federal prosecutors pursuing the case in Massachusetts against him.
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," the statement from his family and girlfriend said.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, faculty director for Safra Center for Ethics where Swartz was once a fellow, wrote: "We need a better sense of justice. ... The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a 'felon.'"
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston could not be reached for comment. She previously has said that "stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars," The New York Times reported Saturday.