Yesterday we posted that Aaron Swartz would be posthumously awarded ALA’s James Madison Award today.
The award was to have been presented by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) but she was unable to attend the ceremony. Lofgren received the Madison Award last year.
However, she has released the following statement:
My apologies for not being able to be with you all today to pay tribute to a young man who was an outspoken advocate for the public’s “right to know” – and whose voice was silenced, tragically, too soon. It was a great honor to accept the 2012 James Madison Award last year and I had looked forward to participating in today’s ceremony honoring Aaron Swartz.
Aaron knew how important the Internet is as a platform for open communication and access to information.
From an early age, Aaron made significant contributions to free speech and technology. As a brilliant prodigy he helped develop the web feed format RSS, the Creative Commons, and the social news and information site Reddit. Each of these achievements was geared toward making information easily available to anyone that wants it.
Those achievements helped drive him to protect and promote the public’s “right to know.” He founded the group Demand Progress as a vehicle for his activism in favor of online free expression and against censorship of the Internet. This activism was crucial in the fight to stop SOPA.
“Aaron worked to break down barriers to the public’s “right to know.” It was Aaron who opened up the complete bibliographic data for books held by the Library of Congress, making this information free on the Open Library.
He did the same with PACER, a federal court website that charges the public to access court records – all of which are public records, and free of copyright. To Aaron, the PACER action was a civil act to alert the public, and pressure the government, about the growing problem of restricting open access to public information.
When I read about Aaron’s passing, and as the details of the prosecution against him became more publically known, I was outraged. It made me think about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his time in a Birmingham jail. When you commit an act of civil disobedience, you do so with the knowledge that you could be punished. In Dr. King’s case, it was eleven days in jail. Aaron faced thirteen felony charges with the possibility of thirty-five years in prison.
It’s appropriate we honor Aaron today with the 2013 James Madison Award. We should also recommit ourselves to a bedrock principle that goes back to our country’s founding: that society has an interest in the free flow of ideas, information and commerce. That is why we have a free press, a nationwide postal system, public libraries, and publically supported educational opportunities that are meant to be ever-expanding and accessible.
“The public domain has always been a vital source for creativity and innovation, and with the advent of the Internet, it is now more important than ever. The free flow of information and ideas is at the core of American ingenuity, and the emergence of digital technology empowers more and more of us to become creators in our own right.
“By protecting and advancing the free flow of information, we can nurture opportunity and maximize the progress of science, the furthering of discovery, and the growth of the American economy. Thank you for honoring the work of this brilliant and passionate advocate. And thank you all for the work you do to ensure and advance the freedom of information in our society.”