Two months after Aaron Swartz hanged himself in the face of federal prosecution of felony computer fraud charges, the American Library Association and the Office of Government Relations are posthumously presenting him with the James Madison Award, for his service to the cause of information freedom.
Swartz is receiving the award for the same reason the Department of Justice wanted to fine him $1 million and lock him in prison for 30 years: his efforts to liberate academic information kept behind research database paywalls, among other contributions to Internet and copyright innovations over the past decade.
“Before his untimely death in January, Swartz was an outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles,” ALA.org says, explaining the reasoning for the award. “Swartz was a co-founder of Demand Progress, an advocacy group that organizes people to take action on civil liberties and government reform issues. Swartz was also a leader in the national campaign to prevent the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that would have diminished critical online legal protections.”
The award is being presented in his honor by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) who won the award in 2012 for her work in Congress on similar issues, including her own contributions to the campaign against SOPA.
Aside from presenting the award for Swartz, Lofgren is also the sponsor of Aaron’s Law, a proposed reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that served as the DOJ’s basis for prosecuting Swartz.
Swartz was arrested in 2011 for having hidden a laptop in a closet at MIT, which was set up to download academic articles from the JSTOR research database, cycling through various digital disguises along the way to circumvent limits on one computer’s access to the information.
He was charged with 13 different felony charges, which he saw as the end of all his aspirations. His parents still blame the government’s prosecution for the death of their 26-year-old son.