Barely a year passed between the death of Aaron Swartz and the premiere of a documentary honoring him. Normally something like this quickly turned-around film, The Internet’s Own Boy, would be all respectful tribute and emotional testimony. Much of it is, and on the latter point there is understandably a lot of tears from the interviewees, most of them family and friends who are speaking very soon after Swartz’s suicide in January 2013. But while director Brian Knappenberger primarily offers up a loving, elegiac biography aimed at those who already or will see the subject as a hero, there’s a lot more to this doc than who Swartz was, why he was great and how much of a tragedy it is that he’s no longer around.
All of that basic stuff can be sufficiently gleaned from a Wikipedia page, and that’s surely an appropriate place to do so given that Swartz created a similar site of his own as a preteen computer prodigy and continued working on projects devoted to free information over the next 14 years of his short existence. To note some of his achievements, we have Swartz to thank in part for RSS, Reddit and Creative Commons as well as for the defeat of SOPA, the infamous Congressional bill to fight piracy that would have drastically altered the web for the worse. He also became the target of federal prosecutors looking to set an example of deterrence following his arrest for stealing academic articles from JSTOR. And the burden of that case, in which he faced numerous felony counts, led to his unfortunate decision to take his own life.