Swartz's legal troubles began two years ago when prosecutors say he illegally downloaded millions of scientific journals. The federal government considered him a thief for downloading academic papers without permission, a case many believe led to his suicide.
Swartz's Robin Hood-like advocacy had a strong Bay Area influence. He was an outspoken advocate that people should have access to knowledge through the internet. "If we lost the ability to communicate with each other over the internet, it would be a change to the Bill of Rights, the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution," he said during a lecture he gave last May in reaction to efforts to block sites that infringed on copyright.
Swartz dropped out of Stanford but maintained a close friendship with Lawrence Lessig who created the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. Lessig spoke about him Monday on democracynow.org. "He was an incredible soul, an incredible soul who inspired millions who now weep, as we've seen across the internet, in outrage and devastation that he would have been driven to the cliff that he stepped over," he said. The "cliff" was felony charges by the Department of Justice when Swartz downloaded research papers at M.I.T.
Cindy Cohen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation met him six or seven years ago. The Bay Area influenced him. "I think Aaron came here and found a bunch of kindred souls, certainly. When he first hooked up with Larry Kessig, Larry was here. When he first hooked up with Cory Doctorow, Cory was here. It's kind of a testament to this movement that's now all over the country," she said.
Now that he's gone, Swartz's website is filled with testimonials calling him a hero. "There's a whole group that says that they will do those kind of activities in his name and in his honor, and that they want information to be free, and there should be open access, and they will fight to continue his struggle," said Irina Raiku at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
Swartz was to go on trial later this year. He was facing a $1 million fine and up to 35 years in prison. M.I.T has said it will launch its own investigation into the events that led up to Swartz's suicide.