The remarkable and tragic story of Aaron Swartz is told in the acclaimed documentary "The Internet's Own Boy."
Written and directed by Brian Knappenberger ("We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists"), "The Internet's Own Boy" reveals a man who went from Internet pioneer to hacktivist Robin Hood.
Aaron Hillel Swartz (born Nov. 8, 1986) was introduced to computers as a child, and contributed to the development of the RSS protocol, Reddit, and Creative Commons, though he drew more attention for his later work involving civic awareness and activism. To that end, he launched the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009, became a research fellow at Harvard University's Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption in 2010 and founded the online group Demand Progress, which is perhaps best known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.
"The Internet's Own Boy" ultimately drills down on Swartz's 2011 arrest by MIT police after he mass downloaded millions of academic journal articles to release free online. He was later charged with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison... and whether his crimes deserved such an extreme punishment is one of the documentary's hot-button topics.
On Jan. 11, 2013, two days after the prosecution denied his lawyer's second offer of a plea bargain, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, where he had hanged himself. He was 26.
Knappenberger ("We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists") screened "The Internet's Own Boy" earlier this year at Sundance and SXSW, where it garnered several positive reviews. Geoff Berkshire at Variety says the film "may be the most emotionally devastating movie ever made about hacking and freedom of information" and that it "poses powerful intellectual arguments about failures in the U.S. justice system, especially when it comes to the World Wide Web" and "exposes ways in which both the legal system and the U.S. government is lagging hopelessly behind technology."
"The Internet's Own Boy" will hit theaters on June 27.