Aaron Swartz was facing 35 years in prison for the “crime” of making copies of academic works. These charges were likely a factor in his decision to end his own life. A life was basically destroyed to uphold intellectual property laws, which are destined to die sooner or later. What makes this case even more absurd is that it appears as though the prosecutors wanted to cage Swartz, not because of his actions but, to justify the charges:
Some congressional staffers left the briefing with the impression that prosecutors believed they needed to convict Swartz of a felony that would put him in jail for a short sentence in order to justify bringing the charges in the first place, according to two aides with knowledge of the briefing.
I think this demonstrates one of the biggest issues with the United States so-called justice system, it’s not based on justice. Justice would have required waiting for Swartz to commit a crime but the prosecutors used previous writings by Swartz to claim he intended to commit a crime:
A Justice Department representative told congressional staffers during a recent briefing on the computer fraud prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz that Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” played a role in the prosecution, sources told The Huffington Post.
Swartz’s 2008 manifesto said sharing information was a “moral imperative” and advocated for “civil disobedience” against copyright laws pushed by corporations “blinded by greed” that led to the “privatization of knowledge.”
“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive,” Swartz wrote in the manifesto. “We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.”
Effectively the Department of Justice (DoJ) (talk about Orwellian doublespeak) brought their charges against Swartz because of something he wrote in 2008 and insisted on prison time because they felt it was necessary to justify the charges. This admittance by the DoJ also shows that censorship exists in this country, it’s just not overt. If you write something that the state disagrees with you will generally not be shutdown, blacklisted, or otherwise punished. What will happen is the state will bide its time until you do something that it believes is a prosecutable offense or usable to bully you into a plea bargain. At that point the state will use your previous works to generate more severe charges in which to hang you with. By using Swartz’s previous writings as justification for charging him the DoJ has sent a message that political dissidents can and will be punished. It’s an ultimatum. Either keep silent and avoid speaking out against the state or face the state’s wrath when it decides to finally descend upon you. In other words, shut up, slave.
A tip of the hat goes to TarenSK for this information.