The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014) Poster

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A good documentary of a very important subject.
FunkyMan28 June 2014
This is a very good documentary of a subject that EVERYONE should be interested in. If you're interested in the Internet, technology, open publishing (science or law), or freedom, you MUST watch this documentary. It's a moving and disturbing story of a very important young man, and how the government tried to make an example out of him.

Where it fails, is dealing with Aaron's mental health issues. His struggles with depression (which he documented in his blog) were glossed over, and even dismissed (such as when he brother said he didn't remember any mood swings as a child). I think this was purposefully done to fit the thesis of the documentary (that the prosecution backed him into a corner), and ignores a major part of Aaron's life. Just because he was "at-risk" due to mental illness, doesn't mean he wasn't targeted and persecuted. Instead, his depression was swept under the rug by the filmmaker, as it so often is in our society.

Overall, this is a very important film and I would highly recommend it. However, read Aaron's blogs and writings for supplemental info!
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Aaron's story and the imbalanced US justice system
benjamin-boynton26 January 2014
This non-fictional film documents the devastating and mortifying story of the the late Aaron Swartz and his battle with politics and the US justice system. It's heartwarming, funny, and tearful. You'll need to sit down to watch this one.

Anyone that uses computers should watch this film!

The film implied important questions:

1. Do computer users have any rights in the United States at all? If not, do the lawmakers not know enough about computers to make them?

2. Why do US Federal prosecutors threaten computer users when the "injured parties" state that they do not seek prosecution?

3. Why does a university like MIT not protect the fundamental rights of its students?

4. Isn't the primary role of a university to protect and nourish the fundamental rights of students before teaching can occur?

5. How much of Aaron's prosecution was based on legal precedent and how much of it was politically motivated?

6. Should any amount of politics be tolerable in a legal case where someone's life is on-the-line?

7. Why is the U.S. secret service prosecuting civilians in matters not related to national security?

I cannot begin to answer these questions by myself, but someone much smarter than me, like Aaron, may have been able to.

Computer experts have historically been blamed for the mistakes of others that did not know what they were doing with technology. Experts are threatened, scared into submission, and punished for the smallest infraction. Schools, governments, and everyday people are scared of computer experts and the power they command.

This movie leads one to believe that the nation's leaders are letting their fears control their decisions about technology instead of seeking out the experts and being open about their policies. This film covers all of this and more.

It most importantly serves as Aaron's story. Aaron is portrayed as a brilliant young computer expert that won't give up. It shows Aaron from a young age up until his last moments. His family, his friends, dreams and aspirations are all present. It shows his success at business and his genius. The filmmakers did an amazing job in making this beautiful film. This a tribute to Aaron's life and work.

I highly recommend watching this film.
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A deeply moving and very disturbing documentary
howard.schumann3 December 2014
In a world where idealism is a scarce commodity, Aaron Swartz stood out. A computer programmer and political and social activist, Aaron had a quaint goal — to make the world a better place, to help us live our lives so that they make a difference. Ultimately, however, though he tried to save the world, he could not save himself. On January 11, 2013, Swartz, age 26, hanged himself in his New York apartment, after having been vigorously pursued by the U.S. Department of Justice for two years for hacking MIT's computer network and downloading 4.8 million documents from the JSTOR database, a private corporation that charged exorbitant fees for non-subscribers to view online research.

Swartz's story is told in a deeply moving and very disturbing documentary The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, directed by Brian Knappenberger. The film traces Swartz' life from the time he was a three-year-old prodigy able to read a meeting notice posted on the refrigerator to his later years when he created the prototype for Wikipedia, helped start up RSS and Reddit and wrote specifications for Creative Commons, an organization devoted to enabling the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. Wherever he was, however, he challenged the system and the corporate organizational structure whether it was in high school, Stanford University, or Silicon Valley.

Though the film does not break new ground stylistically, the interviews with Aaron's family, girlfriends, and friends such as Net activists Tim Berners-Lee who created the World Wide Web and author Cory Doctorow are illuminating and often inspiring. Some of the best scenes are Swartz's political campaign to defeat SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act introduced in Congress and expected to pass. He galvanized the opposition with creative use of the Internet to ultimately defeat a bill he thought would restrict Internet freedom. He also worked for now Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the few progressive voices in our politics.

Swartz defended his action in hacking MIT's computers in a manifesto that read in part, "Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier." In the tradition of Thoreau, he said, "There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture." While Aaron's decision to free scholarly works from MIT from private corporate control may have been ill-advised, the government's treatment of him as a dangerous criminal was unwarranted and out of proportion to the crime. Originally indicted on four counts, after his SOPA campaign was successful, Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the district of Massachusetts, upped the number of counts to thirteen to "send a message." She accused Swartz of violating Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which carries a maximum penalty of 50 years in jail and one million dollars in fines.

Ortiz who pursued the case even after JSTOR agreed to drop the charges, justified the indictment by saying, "stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data, or dollars." Attorney General Eric Holder defended Ortiz's prosecution before the Senate Judiciary Committee, terming it, "a good use of prosecutorial discretion." After Swartz' death, Ortiz issued a statement saying that her office had never intended to seek maximum penalties against him, a small consolation to Swartz' family.

In contrast, the U.S. Department of Justice never intended to seek ANY penalties against those responsible for the financial manipulations and fraud that wiped out the jobs and living standards of millions of people. The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz is not just an advocacy film, but a character study of a young man who was not afraid to challenge what he thought was an unjust system. A clip is shown of Swartz saying, "I think you should always be questioning, I take this very scientific attitude in which everything you've learned is just provisional, that it's always open to recantation, refutation… I think the same thing applies to society." As a fitting epitaph to Aaron's life, author Justin Peters, recalled an event held one week after his death. A large banner was spread out on a table where people recorded memories of Aaron and messages of condolence. According to Peters, "near the end of the night, a slender boy in a plain sweatshirt who looked too young to be there came over to the table. He uncapped a marker. He wrote simply, 'We will continue.'"
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In the age of piracy, SOPA, and net neutrality, this is a must see.
KnightsofNi1112 November 2014
When a documentary can illicit tears of both anger and sadness, you know it must be doing something right. Such is the case with The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz was one of the co-founders of the internet's so called front page; Reddit. He was also one of the most outspoken and inspired activists fighting to keep the internet free, protecting the rights and privileges of the American people whose government was trying tirelessly to censor the free speech granted by the web. Tragically, he took his own life at the age of 26 due to the constant pressures and endless scrutiny and indictment placed onto him by the American government. This film chronicles his tragically short life and attempts to put Aaron's name out there for the sake of carrying on his legacy. There aren't a whole lot of documentaries or films in general out there that I would say it is crucial that you watch. However, The Internet's Own Boy is one of these films. It pulls back the curtain on one of the most significant and relevant issues of our modern era, which is fighting censorship and maintaining the ability to access and attain the necessities the internet grants us. For instance the film starts out by showing us Swartz's many hacking campaigns where he would obtain legal and court documents from the American courts that one would otherwise have to unfairly pay for, and making it free to the public. It shows Aaron's fight for people's right to information, something the government seems to be stopping at nothing to revoke. It's truly sickening to see the things that Aaron, his friends, and his colleagues are put through in their fight for such a just cause. There are parts of this film that are absolutely infuriating, and there are parts that inspire as much as the other moments enrage. The victorious battle against the SOPA bill, for instance, highlights one great victory that shows off the American people's ability to make change happen, and fight back against what they know is wrong. This film shows what civil disobedience, protest, and the aptly coined term "hacktivism" are capable of, but it also shows the ignorant unfairness of what the government is capable of as well. Hence the frustration. It highlights the absurd idiocracy of a system stuck in the past, one that literally bases its bylaws off of The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act written in the 1980's when computers were a brand new idea and the endless scope of the internet wasn't even a conceived notion yet. The Internet's Own Boy strikes at a lot of issues that so easily get swept under the rug, and urges all of its viewers to be conscious of our rights and whether or not they are being stripped from us, because it can happen right under our noses. It concedes to us that we can't settle for unfair censorship and we must continue to fight back against a system that wants to tie our hands behind our backs and put duct tape over our mouths. Yes, the story of Aaron Swartz is a very sad one, and the film strikes emotional chords that give a beautiful amount of weight to the story being told. But the goal of The Internet's Own Boy is not to sour our moods with the tragic story of one of the 21st century's greatest minds. It is to raise awareness of this war against censorship; a war that can and must be won. The relevance of the issue is too immediate and too vital to our free speech system to be ignored. If you use the internet, you must see The Internet's Own Boy, and you must help carry on Aaron Swartz's noble legacy.
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It's a sad story, but one worth hearing
Mr-Fusion26 January 2015
I don't know why the Aaron Swartz story was never on my radar, which is one of the reasons why The Internet's Own Boy was an eye-opener. His is a tragic story, and although the filmmakers secured screen time with (almost) all involved, it's sad that all we have from Swartz is archival webcam interview footage. The movie makes a persuasive case for his being made a high-profile example by the justice system, and there's enough here to leave you either irate or fearful (or both).

Whether or not you agree with the man's politics, he made a difference - hell, he was instrumental in getting SOPA struck down, so he deserves our respect for that - and his story brings to light the need for fine-tuning the ancient copyright laws. Either way, this documentary delivers.

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An Important Film about a Complex Internet Pioneer's Short Life and Tragic Death.
JustCuriosity8 March 2014
The Internet's Own Boy was very well-received at its showing in Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film is simultaneously a biography of the tragic death of internet pioneer Aaron Swartz and at the same time a fascinating history of the development of the online political movements that he devoted his life to. The film tells a fascinating story of young genius deeply involved in the early development of the internet including co-founding of Reddit. His genius is unquestionable. The film really provides a tribute to a talented young man and presents a strong case that he was unjustly and selectively prosecuted and overcharged by an overzealous prosecutor. This prosecution seems to have provoked his suicide.

But the film is unable to establish any real emotional distance from its subject in order to present an objective full picture of Aaron. Early scenes show home movie pictures of Aaron as an adorable precocious toddler playing with his brothers. From this beginning it is impossible to establish the emotional independence necessary to shine any sort of critical light on Aaron's life or activities. The interviews are all with his family, friends and supporters and don't really critique his efforts. He becomes a victim who despite his incredible genius seems to lose responsibility for his own actions including his own suicide. He becomes purely a victim of government persecution with no real responsibility for his own life decisions including his various hacking activities that ultimately lead to his arrest.

The film really presents Aaron Swartz as a modern-day martyr for the cause of an open access to the internet that he deeply believed in and dedicated himself to. Perhaps because of his recent and tragic death the filmmaker seems unwilling to question the ethics of Aaron's hacker-like tactics. There really aren't any voices raising serious questions about whether his efforts to take the law into his own hands by downloading millions of documents was truly an appropriate form of civil disobedience. He did, in fact, steal millions of articles and violate intellectual property rights through his actions. He undoubtedly believed that what he was doing was right and just.

The film is thus more of a tribute to his life and a critique of the criminal justice system than it is a balanced examination of his controversial history which deserves closer examination. The filmmaker seems to be too close to Aaron's legacy to present a truly objective self-critical examination of his legacy and his somewhat radical view of open access to knowledge and information. While it is easy to argue for that view, it overlooks the complexity of case for protecting intellectual property rights.

Ironically, Aaron seems more far impressive and righteous when he is fighting successfully to defeat the SOPA bill than when he is stealing copyrighted materials. This showed his remarkable ability to organize online and unify people in a collective action that made a real difference for the future of the internet. The tragedy is that this great young activist self-destructed. The filmmaker turns his heroism into victimization and I think may actually undermine his own effort to pay tribute to Aaron. The best tributes are those that are present a complete picture rather than build-up a myth. Never-the-less, despite its flaws this is a powerful and important film that is highly recommended to begin to understand who Aaron Swartz was and to learn about the important issues of intellectual freedom online that he devoted himself to.
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The tragic story of Aaron Swartz, told by those closest to him
xWRL28 June 2014
This warm yet chilling documentary retraces the life of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide at age 26 after a couple of years of severe and deepening pressure from the criminal justice system, which was trying him for a number of felonies resulting from his breaking into MIT's computers.

We first see him as a young kid in home movies, then as a prodigy who while very young was brimming with new ideas for the Internet and applied genius-level programming skills to co-developing RSS and Reddit. Bored with college and with working for the business establishment, he turned to activism, promoting an open Web culture for the benefit of all users.

Swartz's activism turned into hacktivism, landing him in deep trouble with the Justice Department, which charged him with crimes that could have sent him to prison for 35 years. Touching, pointed accounts from family members and close associates describe what Aaron was like and how he responded to unyielding Justice Department efforts to use him as an example.

The interviews with law professor Lawrence Lessig and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee are unforgettably moving. The film does a good job of calling into question Swartz's harsh treatment by the same Justice Department that shied away from prosecuting the big money interests that brought down our financial system.

Whether you sympathize with Swartz or not, the film does a solid job of showing how blind justice in the U.S. can be when it wants to be.
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Time well spent
zzyzx000-124-27155824 January 2015
I've been giving "1" ratings to a lot of recent Hollywood films, but not this one. Here is a real documentary, and it presents and honest and thorough biography of an exceptional individual.

I like to bring attention to this approach , Documentary, as opposed to "Based on a true story." I am really sick and tired of the latter and the most recent abomination is American SNIPER, a warped work of fiction which some have compared to an un-animated version of TEAM America: WORLD POLICE.

Usually when I see a highly rated movie that I didn't like, I come here and read the reviews sorted by "Hated it' first, so even thought I liked this documentary a lot, I decided to do that for this one.

One reviewer said, "I saw nothing in Aaron but an average kid who was way over-hyped as a "prodigy" while doing nothing of real significance."

Personally, I have the ability to recognize when someone else is a whole lot smarter than me and Aaron Swartz was one of those people. Watch this biography, and you'll learn a lot.

Aaron Swartz was smart enough to see that one powerful Federal prosecutor was about to ruin the rest of his life, and was both gutsy and smart enough to prevent that from happening. Such is life. It's not much different than if he went swimming in the ocean and got eaten by a shark. We live in that kind of a world and always have.

Aaron Swartz got more things done for the betterment of our world in his 26 years than a billion of us will do if we live to be centurions.

RIP Aaron Swartz, well done.
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Sad interrupted brilliance in bloom
FloydAgain11 February 2015
Seeing some comments makes me wonder did we watch same film here. Aaron was not politician, he was not anarchist, he was not even a dedicated hacker, merely researcher who always spoke off common good, science and law. Motivating people to write petitions and demanding knowledge was his thing, not stealing and personal gains. So anyone who finds any excuse in prosecutor pushing this kid to the brim should really take a good look in mirror and ask himself what is going on with this world that made you so mad and angry on kind people.

I mean did you see that smile? Have you heard his goals? Did you feel pain when you saw father of Internet back in 2013. say: Aaron is dead. Wanderers in this crazy world, we have lost a mentor, a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down, we have lost one of our own. Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders, parents all, we have lost a child. Let us all weep.

I still shed a tear, feel pain, even if i am unsure any more is it because of Aaron, or inevitability of what future brings.
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The struggle for free data continues
ecotech_nz7 July 2014
Orin Kerr, professor and former federal prosecutor, describes the motivation of the government's case as their fear that, as stated in his "Open Access Manifesto", Aaron believed it was a moral imperative to be committed to breaking the law to overcome a law that was unjust, and that, if allowed to succeed in "nullifying" the law, that everyone would have access to the data base and therefore "the toothpaste would be out of the tube" and somehow chaos would ensue, or as he phrases it, "Swartz's side would win". Apparently, free access to scholarly and scientific journals must be restricted to protect the people from themselves.

There is also the issue of civil disobedience in general and the ways those in power portray such actions and those who encourage them. As one other reviewer here states, "when you commit an act of criminal civic disobedience, you should do so accepting that you will most likely pay the price for that action". That is true, however, as Gilbert and Sullivan suggested, the punishment should fit the crime, especially when, as in this case, the "crime" is questionable at best. I wonder how the current US administration would view the acts of Gandhi or Mandela were they occurring now and posing a threat to their political status quo and not seen safely through the rear view mirror of history. It wasn't that long ago that many in power in America considered Mandela , in particular, a "terrorist".

This excellent documentary is a cautionary tale that all free thinking and well meaning people must see and understand. Secrecy is power and governments will do whatever they can to protect it. As Aaron himself suggested, this is a battle that will never be won, but can never be abandoned.

See this film.
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Morality-Tale for Our Times
l_rawjalaurence25 October 2014
The story of Aaron Swartz, who killed himself at the age of 26, is sad but inevitable consequence of the world we inhabit.

From his earliest days, he was a prodigy, not only developing the skills of reading and processing information at an early age, but acquiring a unique ability to write programs and offer innovative solutions to many problems presented in the early years of the Internet. With the help of testimonies from Swartz's family, plus colleagues and friends including the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, Brian Knappenberger's film traces the meteoric career of a genius who appeared to be able to offer solutions that no one else could. More significantly, Swartz had the ability to communicate with his interlocutors, not just in small-group situations but in public arenas as well. This is what rendered him such a powerful figure; although physically diminutive, he had a gift for speech-making that proved hypnotic in its effect.

Matters came to a head, however, when Swartz hacked the JSTOR sits, an address used mostly for publishing scholarly journals across all disciplines, downloaded the information and made it available to all web users. This completely contravened JSTOR's principle, which was to make that information only available to subscribers, mostly in academic institutions. The principle might have been a noble one (why shouldn't all users have equal access to information, especially if it aids their research?), but the American government's response was predictably harsh, as they charged Swartz with a variety of crimes under an Act issued as long ago as the mid- Eighties.

Knappenberger's film suggests with some justification that this reaction was ludicrously out of proportion to the nature of Swartz's so-called 'crimes.' He had neither challenged the Constitution nor caused harm to others; on the contrary he had simply worked in the interests of democratization. He was the victim of the same kind of paranoia that underpinned the anti-communist campaigns six decades ago, when legions of innocent people were rounded up and made to 'confess' their alleged involvement with a plot to subvert the American way of life, even if they had not done anything. The same applied to Swartz, who was offered the promise of lenient legal treatment in exchange for a 'confession.'

The familiarity of Swartz's plight suggests that a climate of intolerance still exists in a country that consistently advertises its democratic credentials, especially when compared with other territories in the world. THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY suggests otherwise; if the government was truly democratic, it would either have understood Swartz's motives, or meted out the same harsh treatment to other criminals - such as those who precipitated the Wall Street crisis of 2008. But who said anything was truly equal in American society?

THE INTERNET'S OWN BOT is a polemical piece that leaves viewers feeling both angry and frustrated - angry that a talented soul like Swartz should have had his life cut brutally short, and frustrated that the government should have pursued such heavy-handed treatment. If the film can inspire more activism to try and change official policies, it will have achieved much.
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Heros are among us
oliveram-6793716 May 2019
A story about a hero. I was so touched by this movie that I felt I had to write my first review. The film presents emotions and strength that one boy had in himself. His ideas, his plans and will to make the world a better place must touch all of us.

This is not a ordinary documentary movie. It doesn't just show the story of Aaron Swartz, it makes us wonder about justice in this world. Who creates the justice and who controls it? I have read somewhere that this is a "must watch" film for every computer user. I totally agree, but would recommend the movie to every person just to watch it and ask himself a lot of questions about how this world works and why like that?
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what a talent we lost
magnuslhad21 March 2015
The Internet's Own Boy is a powerful indictment of big power, and a heart-rending portrait of a talented, driven individual eventually worn down by the system. Aaron Swartz was a precocious talent with a strong moral core. We all forget how young the Internet is, and how we are still forging the ground in this territory. That journey needs leaders with vision who can take the development in the right direction. Swartz was that leader. To ponder on his potential, on what has been lost by losing him at the tender age of 26, is almost unbearable. "It's not like he was curing cancer" is a clichéd, weary, cynical response at times these days. And as this film shows in its climax, it is a wildly inappropriate comment. This film is both a closely observed portrayal of one remarkable individual, and a mirror to our morally-skewed times. Unmissable.
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The genius with a Moral imperative ! Inspirational !
kellwyn8630 October 2014
what is the price for freedom ...apparently aaron was right...and its priceless !

Information is power ...... But like all power, there are those who want to keep it to themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage is being digitized and locked up by private organizations.

Should we tap somebody's phone ? Should we film them ? Should we turn somebody against them and get them to testify against these other people?

That's how federal agents and prosecutors think to solve a problem.

A Must Must watch !!
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On liberty and naiveté
paul2001sw-18 February 2015
Aaron Swartz was an internet hacker and activist who committed suicide under pressure from a U.S. government attempt to prosecute him for a crime (stealing data) where he meant no harm and sought to make no money. I certainly agree that the legal case against Swartz was absurdly overcooked; but the film throws up a number of interesting issues about theories of government in general, and the techno-utopian world-view that Schwarz subscribed to. Technological advance can make previous ways of doing things obsolete, and measures of control superfluous and/or unnecessary. They threaten vested interests (or, more probably, they threaten to replace an old elite whose interests are vested in the old technology with a new one unencumbered by attachment to the past). One can believe these changes are good in themselves; one can believe the death of the old control structures is an added bonus; one can believe that the changes are good precisely because they lead to the end of the old control structures. And this way of thinking (in the context of technologies for the storage and dissemination of data) leads to the idea that 'data wants to be free'; and that any attempt to restrict data availability is a form of human rights violation. This leads to some strange positions. For example, academic journals have existed, in some cases for hundreds of years, because publication has been intrinsically difficult. Now, it's easier, the traditional model may be obsolete, and of course, the publishers fight changes that threaten to end their cosy oligopoly. And yet, for an academic journal publisher to seek to defend their copyrighted material is not evil (unless one believes in the complete abolition of intellectual property, which is a different kind of argument). Being on the wrong side of history is ultimately a practical matter, not a moral one. And new models of publishing still come at a cost and still have to be paid for - data is not free (in that other sense of freedom) and in a world with differential ability to pay, that means it cannot be universally free in the other sense either.

And as a scientist, supportive of the principle of open access, I find myself in agreement with most of Swartz's positions; and yet alienated by his friends and collaborators, who insist that the government should not have prosecuted Schwarz at all, basically because he was right and they were wrong. One really doesn't need a very advanced theory of power to see that this is a naive way of looking at the world, or an advanced theory of psychology to consider it an arrogant one. The world needs its Aaron Swartz's, and a wise and humane government would not seek to hand down excessive sentences on such people merely to assert its own right to make the rules. But the world also needs people to (mostly) obey the law, and while there may be many decisions of government that people might justly object to on grounds of conscience, Swartz's objections to copyright law lie mainly in the fact that it prevented him from doing cool and interesting things. I find myself in support of most of Swartz's specific views, yet sometimes I feel as scared of libertarians of left (like Swartz) and right as I am of the big government they oppose, whose optimism is invigorating yet in some senses selfish, with their apparent belief that government's worst crime is acting to prevent brilliant and privileged people from reaching the height of their potential. Whatever, it's a documentary that certainly makes you think, but one should screen the views of Scwartz's acolytes before swallowing them in their entirety.
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Engaging and enlightening. A call to arms.
Sergeant_Tibbs22 August 2014
On January 11th 2013 Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist who was facing a maximum of 50 years jail time and $1 million fine for the crime of illegally downloading academic journals, committed suicide. I was in the midst of the initial outcry and mourning on, a website that lists him as a co-founder. I regret that I had no idea who he was, what he did, or why he died. Although the unfathomable idea of the weight of the punishment was understandable, it seemed like it meant more than that. It wasn't until I saw this documentary, Brian Knappenberger's The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, where I finally found out more about him.

It is a film that treats Aaron with a bittersweet fondness, as if he is a true one-of-a-kind lost forever, though there are many like him. Instead of trying to pretend that it isn't emotionally involved with him, it embraces that aspect and tries to wrap you around with it, beginning his story with charming home video footage that conveniently displays his intelligence and personality. The documentary details how he was a prodigy in the world of programming and took the heads of influential Internet companies by surprise with his age.

However, bored and frustrated with college classes, he instead took an interest in activism against the crippling protection laws against important academic information. He offered the data on openlibrary, which offers free books, and actively fought SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which threatened the end of many of the Internet's most popular websites and freedoms. It lead him to hacking the information himself but he was eventually arrested with an exaggerated punishment in a 'head-on-stake' effort by the government to threaten others from following his footsteps.

The Internet's Own Boy is a politically motivated documentary that promotes the civil liberties that Swartz stood for, and it makes a compelling argument why it's in the right. As the film frequently states, if a law is unjust then the most important thing you can do is to fight it. It's a deliberately heavy-handed rallying call, one against government policies as a single injustice can spark a war, and it's quite effective, providing convincing evidence of the benefits of what Aaron did as the medical journals he's made available have already saved lives. Above all it's about the tragic figure of Aaron, with the documentary almost trying to make him out a martyr, and that weight looms over the events all the way leading to when they talk about his death.

The biggest focuses out of Aaron are on the people around him, including his brothers, mother, girlfriends and colleagues, and the more animated and emotional people make for involving interviewees to watch. Their passion for the cause and Aaron really shine through, especially when they're particularly broken up about it, of which Knappenberger captures in candid intimate moments. What really binds the documentary together is its intense soundtrack which always brings a heart-in-throat tension about the poignant inevitability without breaching sentimentality.

It's great to have a documentary about the Internet that really works, as last years We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks and TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard weren't satisfying enough for some. It's a film to match the contemporary yet sinister energy of The Social Network, and makes a story that would otherwise be overly dry engaging and enlightening. The Internet's Own Boy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is now currently legally online in full on YouTube. It's certainly worth watching as one of the best documentaries of the year so far and it will most likely stay that way.

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A tragic loss raising a plethora of important issues
bm-2531 December 2014
First thing to note is that the producers have made this film available on YouTube, for free:

So, if you are interested about who controls the Internet, about fundamental freedoms, about access to research and similar "scholarly articles", you have no excuse to not watch it.

And you will be rewarded for doing so by a truly moving story of a remarkable young man. Aaron Schwartz was an Internet pioneer and a precocious prodigy who developed Wikis, Reddit, RSS, Creative Commons among others and was a major contributor to the campaign that eventually stopped the SOPA bill.

Part of his campaigning was targeted at open access to research material which is controlled and capitalized on by commercial companies who contribute little to their publication but make huge profits from doing so.

This led him to download huge volumes of one such publisher, JSTOR via a laptop secreted in a switch room in MIT. The government chose to indict him with several felonies despite the fact that JSTOR chose not to pursue any litigation.

This government prosecution, "to deter others" was in poignant contrast to lack of any such prosecutions following the loans and banking crises that led to the worldwide recession.

The questions that Aaron and this film about him raises are important and are well articulated here. That is his powerful legacy and this film is a must-see, in my view.
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Rate this at 10
kristiansimonsen2122 January 2015
I rate this movie 10 just because it is something that everyone needs to see. It is one of the most important subjects of our generation. Your and your kids freedom is at stake.

If you think freedom of speech is important you should recommend this to everyone you know and don't know.

If you think the U.S legal system is to hard on people threatening the establishment you should recommend this to everyone you know and don't know.

If you think laws should bee public and accessible to everyone for free you should recommend this to everyone you know and don't know.
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Nicely Told
vivekakulharia22 October 2015
The story has been presented in very compelling way. Views of a lot of people have been taken. Everyone seemed logical in whatever one said.

The videos of Aaron are also smartly inserted whether it's from news or his own. It gets the experience of Aaron to a new level.

I am thankful to everyone involved in making this movie, otherwise I may not have understood what it's like to be Aaron. There are flaws in government system, but they can't be overcome without people's participation. Aaron had an illustrious carrier yet he thought about others which is great. But better still, the method's he adopted to bring the change weren't harmful to anybody, which is a great deal.

I would recommend it to anyone who wants to do something significant in his/her life but doesn't know how, this movie can definitely give a push to one's life.
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Triumph and tragedy in an engaging little documentary
Leofwine_draca16 February 2015
THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY is a great little documentary telling a story about somebody I never heard of: Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer who became a driving force behind various websites on the Internet and who eventually found himself falling foul of the US government when he attempted to change things for the better.

This is a simple tale of genius and tragedy, well told in a straightforward style by film-maker Brian Knappenberger. There's a just-right mix of talking head interviews and archive footage which really brings the story to life and helps to teach the viewer a little more about the world which we're living in today. Unlike some documentaries, Swartz's story is definitely one that needs telling, and you can't say fairer than that.
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A look into a tragic truth .....
cekadah15 July 2014
.... and how an out of -'the peoples control'- government can and will destroy those who take a stand for democracy.

Here we have Aaron Swartz - a genius capable of reasoning the truth out of the often boggle of information most of us find ourselves lost in. Aaron showed initiative to better society - he was punished for this. Aaron did not commit a crime. The government arrested him and then assigned a crime upon him - speaking the truth is not a crime. So the powers that be came up with one and charged him with it - a total of 13 crimes he never committed. What is the motive behind this criminal act by the US government?

This documentary is a must see and is so nicely edited it is difficult not to become emotionally involved. Aaron Swartz was a man of integrity and driven by the quest of knowledge and understanding. Which seems to be considered anti-American by many 'in charge' people in this 21st century!
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A real appreciation and a sadness at the loss
adrian-701-567599 August 2014
I had come across Aaron through some of the (tech) sites that I frequent. From what I remember he was a very opinionated person, but someone who had achieved a lot in his short life. Watching this film gave me a real appreciation for his accomplishments, passion and drive. I feel very sad that someone with so much potential isn't around to help the world and interestingly this documentary has made me seriously think about what I should be doing. Do I need to focus on making more money than I already have or should I actively do something to help. I'm hoping I feel the same way in the morning as I do now. This documentary is worth watching.
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Loves Schwartz, forgets facts.
peter-j-downey3 May 2015
Being a redditor, and being just an avid internet consumer, led me to follow what happened to Aaron Schwartz, and going into this film I was already disgusted by what the DA had done during his investigation and prosecution. Therefore my expectation for this film were minimal; I just wanted to be informed about the aspects of the case that were did not pop up in the shallow articles on the net. And in that aspect the film doesn't fail.

Brian Knappenberger reveals the case against Schwartz chronologically, so as each piece of Schwartz's case was pushed against him we cut to reaction or an interview with a family member or friend who was there for these revelations. The feeling in the film is one of frustration, exhaustion and anger; Schwartz's family seem particularly distraught by the whole experience, and this is conveyed well through the talking head format. Knappenberger structures the documentary in black and white terms though. Schwartz is given this messiah like platform in the film, each talking head that speaks about his youth sing nothing but his praises. He is given no flaws at any stage; genius, family man, best friend one could have, etc. This created a sense of disconnection, and I felt that in showing the loss of a "great man" we are supposed to be more outrage than the loss of a "human".

The documentary's black side; the villains, the betrayals etc. I would also consider a distraction. Quinn Norton is given a particularly difficult time and coming away from the film she easily became a lightning rod for people's anger. A conversation I had a few days after watching the film focused mainly on how stupid she was, and only briefly spoke about the structures of society that allowed Schwartz's to end up this situation.

Splicing the film with homemade footage and only speaking from personal experience about the events that transpired, also made the structure feel shallow. Exposing exactly what went on seems like a secondary objective for Knappenberger, and can't understand why this is. After the film do I feel like I know more about the Aaron Schwartz case? A little bit more. If this is a biographical documentary do I feel like I know Schwart more? Nope. This feels like something emotionally cathartic than an actual informational film.
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Wooo..nice history
KASRA1027 August 2021
I like this have many thigs to say.

Very nice and good.

Thanks for this.
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Why? I believe I know.
rwmitchem4 February 2020
It's not a spoiler to say that Aaron killed himself. So I'm going to tackle that subject alone very quickly after discussing the merit of the documentary. This documentary was masterfully created and hits off to those responsible. This is a must see for anyone that wishes to know truths over self indulgent security blankets. To see his loved ones and colleagues talk about Aaron throughout this film, knowing ahead of time what transpired was heartbreaking. Yet at the same time it was well worth the time to understand more about the young man. The genius young man. Patriot is the word I'd use to describe him. Humanist is another. I believe I understand why he killed himself. To me, it seemed that he had spent so much of his life trying to show people the way things could be, if not should be. And he was afraid the battle he was currently fighting was being lost. Aaron was analytic in his thinking. He saw patterns and had an understanding of the consequences of actions. He could see the "grand picture" so to speak. He knew that his death would bring an awakening, a shockwave across the continent, if not the world, because of what he was fighting for. I believe he believed his sacrifice would not be in vain. His analytic mind could see the difference his sacrifice would make. I could be completely wrong, but I don't believe I am. Is goal seemed to be to make a difference in the world. It wasn't for money or fame, but a better world for others to live in. He could see the bigger picture, and for that he gave himself for a cause. This type of story has been around for thousands of years. There are no supernatural elements to it, just a pure of heart trying to make things better for others. And that is his legacy.
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