Unexpected Martyr For The Open-Access Movement

Jon Marcus | Times Higher Education | January 24, 2013

Reddit co-founder's death may bring closer what activist hoped for in life. Jon Marcus reports

The suicide of a radical advocate of open access to academic research has elevated the topic to the forefront of conversation in the US, and could ultimately widen the availability of documents and prompt copyright reform. The number of academic papers open to all without charge has increased rapidly in recent years, even before Aaron Swartz, an open-access activist, was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment.

Mr Swartz, 26, co-founder of Reddit, the social news and entertainment website, was set to face trial in a federal court in Boston in April. He had been charged with using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's network to illegally download some 4 million documents from the JSTOR archive, a non-profit portal that charges fees for access to scholarly journal articles. The act was allegedly perpetrated in 2011.

Thousands of academics worldwide responded to Mr Swartz's death by posting their work online for free in tribute. Other supporters illegally downloaded further journal articles from JSTOR, and the hacker group Anonymous briefly disabled the MIT homepage in remembrance. But it is the saga's long-term effects that are likely to be the most dramatic...