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Researchers honor Swartz’s memory with PDF protest

Links to hundreds of articles appear on Twitter in tribute to the Internet activist who committed suicide Friday.

Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

(Credit: Daniel J. Sieradski /CC: Flicker)

In a tribute to Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide Friday, researchers have begun posting PDFs to Twitter to honor his campaign for open access.

Swartz, 26, had faced the possibility of $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison for allegedly stealing 4 million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. The authorities claimed that he broke into a restricted-access computer wiring closet at MIT and accessed that network without authorization.

The PDF campaign was born out of a desire to honor Swartz’s memory and his battle for open access to documents on the Internet, said Micah Allen, a researcher in the fields of brain plasticity, cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive science.

“A fitting tribute to Aaron might be a mass protest uploading of copyright-protected research articles,” Allen wrote yesterday onReddit. “Dump them on Gdocs, tweet the link. Think of the great blu-ray encoding protest but on a bigger scale for research articles.”

As of Sunday morning, it appeared that hundreds were participating in the protest/tribute, posting links to thousands of documents on Twitter using the hashtag #pdftribute, the creation of which Allen attributed to Eva Vivalt and Jessica Richman.

“It gives us some action to take in response to our sorrow and frustration about Aaron’s death,” Richman told CNET. “I had met him several times and have friends that knew him well. It’s a tragic loss.”

The original #pdftribute tweets.

(Credit: Jessica Richman)

In a tweet this morning, Vivalt said the campaign was attracting growing attention.

I caved & got a TweetReach report for . We’re getting over 500 tweets/hr, >2.5 million impressions! (Too many to count.)

News of Swartz’s suicide came only days after Jstor announced this week that it would make “more than 4.5 million articles” publicly available for free.

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