Lessig on the Anniversary of Aaron’s Swartz Death

by Stephan Kinsella on January 10, 2014

Law professor Lawrence Lessig just penned this little note about Aaron Swartz on Huffington PostAaron’s Walk: The New Hampshire Rebellion 

A friend of Social and Internet Activist Aaron Swartz describes the movement his life has inspired:

A year ago tomorrow, Aaron Swartz left. He had wound us all up, pointed us in a million directions, we were all working as hard as we could, moving things forward. And then he was gone.

Forever, all of us close to him will wonder whether there was more we could have done to keep him. We hadn’t worked hard enough to help him. He was alone, surrounded by a million friends. And now, even now, forever it will be this now, a million friends are forever alone, having lost him.

I wanted to find a way to mark this day. I wanted to feel it, as physically painful as it was emotionally painful one year ago, and every moment since. So I am marking it with the cause that he convinced me to take up seven years ago and which I am certain he wanted to make his legacy too.

On Saturday, we begin a walk across the state of New Hampshire, to launch a campaign to bring about an end to the system of corruption that we believe infects DC. This is the New Hampshire Rebellion.

I agree that Swartz’s death—as a result of persecution by the state and its copyright law—was a terrible tragedy. But people who feel this way ought to also oppose to the state system of copyright law that murdered Swartz. Lessig does not. He is against the “excesses” of copyright, but he is not against it in principle. (See Lessig on Copyright Abolitionist “Extremists”.) As I noted previously:

We enemies of copyright are understandably upset by the Aaron Swartz tragedy. He was an innocent, heroic Internet freedom activist. He downloaded some files from JSTOR—not a real crime by any reasonable standard of justice—and then his Javert-like federal persecutor hounded him and threatened him with decades in a federal cage and a lifetime as a federal felon. Faced with the onslaught of our Kafkaesque “justice” system, Swartz ended his life, in a sad yet heroic act of defiance. I can’t say “good for him” because I weep for his anguish, his torment. But he gave the feds the finger, in his own way. (Federal copyright persecution leads RSS co-author and anti-SOPA activist Aaron Swartz to kill himself.)

This tragedy was caused not by “overzealous” prosecutors but by copyright law itself. Without copyright law, Swartz’s actions would not even have been a breach of contract, much less a crime.

So it is a bit galling to see people bemoaning the Swartz tragedy while still supporting copyright law. Sure, most of them support copyright “reform,” but they do not call for its abolition. Case in point: Tim Lee and Lawrence Lessig: “some punishment” of Swartz was “appropriate”. Ah, I see. “Some punishment” was “appropriate”—and we need “some” copyright, and thus, “some” penalties—but this crazy prosecutor went ”too far”! She was unreasonable. It’s her fault! If only she had interpreted the evil copyright statute in a more reasonable way.

(See: The tepid mainstream “defenses” of Aaron SwartzTim Lee and Lawrence Lessig: “some punishment” of Swartz was “appropriate”.)

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