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Crowd-funded documentary hopes to present Aaron Swartz’s life and struggles

Crowd-funded documentary hopes to present Aaron Swartz’s life and struggles
A new crowd-funding effort is underway to raise money for a documentary about the life of Aaron Swartz, the late Internet hacktivist who committed suicide in January.

The documentary, which is to be directed by Brian Knappenberger, has thus far managed to collect $15,000 through Kickstarter, with 29 days to go to reach its funding goal of $75,000.

Knappenberger, who recently directed the Anonymous documentary “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists,” looks to depict Swartz’s early emergence on the hacktivist scene, in addition to his early interest in politics that blossomed into a prominent role in advocating for open access to knowledge and online resources.

The film will also highlight Swartz’s involvement in Reddit prior to its acquisition by Condé Nast, as well as his pivotal role in the creation of the world’s first RSS protocol, which quickly became the backbone of a multitude of online tools still in use today.

More importantly perhaps, Knappenberger will delve into Swartz’s arrest following a mass download of millions of academic articles from the online service JSTOR in 2011, and the subsequent legal battle widely believed to have driven the young activist to suicide.

Of particular interest will be the project’s focus on the federal prosecution’s tactics under US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann, who pursued an aggressive Internet fraud case against Swartz that eventually saw him charged with eleven counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 (CFAA).

The CFAA itself has been the subject of criticism from Internet activists and some lawmakers, who charge that its outdated definitions leave open the possibility for prosecutorial overreach in cases such as Swartz’s.

Screenshot from kickstarter.com

According to early clips of the film and information provided via its Kickstarter campaign, the film is currently titled “The Internet’s Own Boy,” and will include extensive interviews with family members and individuals who were close to Swartz, as well as members of the academic community at MIT.

For its part, MIT became the source of pointed criticism from the online community who rallied around Swartz’s arrest and eventual suicide, accusing the prominent institution of facilitating both his arrest and heavy-handed prosecution.

Since Swartz’s suicide, California congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has spearheaded efforts to enact “Aaron’s Law," a proposal which would seek to change the CFAA and federal wire fraud statutes to prevent prosecution over a large variety of crimes under terms-of-service violations.

Fittingly, the new documentary will be released under a Creative Commons license, which means that it is likely to be available for download in a variety of open-copyright formats. Knappenberger hopes to complete the film by the end of 2013, and expects the full project to cost around $175,000 to complete.