'The Internet's Own Boy' documentary puts spotlight on Aaron Swartz life and death


"The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" depicts the life and death of Reddit's co-founder and an Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

The documentary is written, directed and produced by Brian Knappenberger. On January 20 this year, the documentary premiered in the competition category of U.S. Documentary Competition program at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Swartz, an American computer programmer, was involved with the development of RSS, Reddit and Creative Commons from a very early age. Swartz was also responsible for founding the online group Demand Progress, which campaigned against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Swartz was committed to make online content free to the public; however, in January 2013, he hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment when he was just 26 years.

In July 2011, Swartz was indicted on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, damaging a protected computer and unlawfully gaining information from a protected computer. Swartz was held responsible for breaking and entering charges, when he systematically downloaded academic material from JSTOR, an academic digital library.

Swartz was charged with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If Swartz was found guilty then he could have faced a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, asset forfeiture, 35 years in prison, restitution and supervised release.

The documentary puts the spotlight on Swartz's short life. How he grew up and became well-known in the technology industry. Knappenberger did not know Swartz personally but closely followed the entire episode that brought Swartz to the spotlight. He decided on the documentary after he met with Swartz's friend and journalist/blogger Quinn Norton.

"It was a very somber affair," says Knappenberger. "Everyone was reacting to his death. It seemed everybody in the symposium had a story about him. So I started filming right away trying to understand this huge wave of sympathy, anger and frustration that was coming out of the Internet even from people who didn't know him."

Some people call Swartz a martyr and some people a traitor. The documentary "Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" raises a question regarding the way people want the Internet to be. The documentary also raises the question regarding the U.S. government surveillance that came to the limelight after Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, leaked classified documents to the media.

"I reject the notion that the Internet has a mind of its own. It is a machine. It is us who decides what we want to do with it," added Knappenberger.

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