Aaron Swartz tragic suicide reignites the call for Open Access Publication

Tendai Marengereke Avatar

Aaron SwartAaron Swart was a brilliant programmer, Open Access fighter and internet freedom activist. At age 14, he was involved in the creation of RSS (Rich Site Summary), web feed formats used to publish frequently updated features such as blog entries, news headlines, audio and video in a standardized format, enabling millions of news sites and blogs to share their posts easily and consistently.

He later went on to become one of the co-creators of the popular social-new site Reddit, amongst other amazing project he was involved in. Swartz was deeply involved in the development of the Creative Commons copyright alternative licenses.

He was found dead in his apartment, the result of a suicide. He had been facing a lengthy prosecution for the alleged illicit downloading 5 million journal entries from the JSTOR archive, regardless of the fact that the supposed victim, JSTOR, had declined to file charges. Many believe the strain of an unwarranted prosecution and the daunting expectation of facing decades in jail for a harmless crime finally got the better of him, resulting in his suicide.

Academics across the globe have started a tribute to him on twitter, using the hash tag #pdftribute, and have reignited the calls for Open Access to publications. The tribute is asking academics, students, researchers to share their research online using the hash tag #pdftribute.

The prevalent model for publication requires users to pay large subscription fees to access research papers, and other journal entries. The money does not go back to the authors (the Professors, academics) but is mainly enjoyed by the publishers.

In 2008 Swartz wrote the now popular Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, advocating a change in publishing standards, asking scientists and academics to openly share their research. Here’s an excerpt from the manifesto.

It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

The online tribute has sparked interest and support from people who, like me, in one way or the other have been directly affected by the work of a brilliant genius we didn’t even know about.
So far the tribute has over 1,500 previously copyright protected research. The full list has been aggregated at pdftribute.net.

If you have studied a course or degree program that required a research paper or study then you realize the merits of his manifesto. Research Papers should be freely available for all to access.


  1. bitchsbrew


  2. Baynham Goredema

    Sad indeed

  3. Chris Mberi

    We live in a capitalist world

  4. vbrundx

    What a great loss. Its incredible that at such a tender age, his contribution has impacted us so significantly.

  5. chrispen machipisa

    It’s indeed a very huge loss to humanity.