"The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" premiered
at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and director Brian
Knappenberger was joined by Swartz's father Robert and two
brothers, Noah and Ben, all of whom received a standing ovation.
"It's unbelievably hard for us, but Aaron is dead, there's
nothing we can do about that," Swartz's father told the
audience, saying he hoped the film would raise awareness of
Aaron's activism and encourage others to fight on his behalf.
Swartz died aged 26 in his Brooklyn, New York apartment on
January 11, 2013, after facing felony charges brought by a
federal grand jury that included theft, wire fraud and computer
The federal indictment said Swartz, a fellow at Harvard
University, had downloaded millions of articles and journals
from digital archive JSTOR through the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology servers. Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all
counts, faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if
In the film, which is a contender in Sundance's U.S. documentary
competition, Knappenberger focuses on Swartz's intellect and
growing political ambitions, with interviews that shed insight
into his personality from Swartz's family, friends and
This is the second film by Knappenberger exploring those on the
fringes of the Internet. His first film, "We Are the Legion,"
about the online Anonymous hacktivist group, premiered at the
underground Slamdance film festival that runs alongside
Sundance, in 2012.
"The Internet's Own Boy," financed by crowd-sourced funding
website Kickstarter, where more than 1,500 backers raised
$93,000, will be released under a Creative Commons license
allowing others to build off Knappenberger's work, in the spirit
of Swartz's desire for free, open and accessible content for
FIGHT FOR ONLINE FREEDOM
The film begins with family footage of a young and mischievous
Swartz, playing with his two brothers, reading books and
expressing curiosity in the world around him.
Swartz's early life was dominated by his superior intellect and
his love of computers. His brother Ben explained Swartz was
drawn to coding as he felt like it was "magic, and could be used
to solve anything."
[to top of second column]
Soon, a young Swartz was attending meetings and
panels for computer programming, setting up an online crowd-sourced
encyclopedia, and co-authoring the Web feed RSS 1.0, which would
help users collate summaries of the latest headlines from their
favorite websites onto one page.
Much of the film focuses on Swartz's political
activism after he parted ways in 2007 with Reddit, a user-submitted
news and entertainment social platform that he co-founded, and
became engrossed with copyright laws.
Swartz's efforts to bring what he felt were public access documents
to the mass public for free, including approximately 19 million
court documents from the PACER case-law website, made him an online
Swartz was also instrumental in campaigning against the Stop Online
Piracy Act, a controversial U.S. bill that would have allowed court
orders to curb access to certain websites deemed to be engaging in
illegal sharing of intellectual property. The bill was later
Many of Swartz's friends and collaborators,
including Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, and Tim Berners-Lee,
the inventor of the World Wide Web, criticized the charges brought
against Swartz, blaming the prosecutors for trying to make Swartz an
example case for hackers.
Lessig teared up when talking about Swartz's death, saying he had
"never lost anybody in this way before."
"The movie brings out the fact that the criminal justice system is
broken, and that one needs criminal justice reform," Swartz's father
passionately told the audience.
"The fact that over 90 percent of people indicted plead guilty, and
over 90 percent who go to trial are convicted, means that the
presumption of innocence no longer exists in our system," he said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.