Aaron Swartz, a 24-year old programmer who helped popularize nerd-news depository Reddit.com, was indicted on data theft charges (PDF) for illegally downloading over 4 million documents from JSTOR, a research database typically used in academia.
The New York Times‘ Bits blog has the scoop, reporting that if found guilty, Swartz could face 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
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“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” writes Carmen M. Ortiz, the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts in a press release.
Swartz is considered one of Reddit’s co-founders, joining originators Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanianin when the company acquired Infogami in 2006. However, Swartz has had a murky history with Reddit, and was eventually asked to leave in 2007 for unspecified reasons. Swartz is also the founder of activist group Demand Progress, who run online campaigns to help promote policy change.
JSTOR has issued an official statement regarding the filing that you can read over here. Reaction from the Reddit community can be found over here.
UPDATE: Demand Progress just posted a lengthy statement on their site, which you can read here. Here’s a key bit:
“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal; “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”
“It’s even more strange because JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal added.
[via New York Times]
Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.