TLPC Students Organize Screening and Panel for the Documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

(by Stephanie Vu, Colorado Law 3L, and Stefan Tschimben, Interdiscliplinary Telecom Program student)

On October 20th, the TLPC and the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado held a screening and panel discussion of the documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. The documentary follows the life and death of Internet activist and programing prodigy Aaron Swartz. Aaron played a part in the creation of web feed format RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and was a co-founder of Reddit. Aaron was best known to some for his political activism against the Stop Online Piracy Act and his crusade for the open access to information. This crusade led to a two-year legal battle and ultimately his death at age 26. The documentary explores the relationship between civil liberties and technology and gives a heartfelt account of a young man whose life work has benefited almost everyone who has ever used the internet.

According to Professor Blake Reid, “Aaron’s life and death have left an indelible mark on public policy surrounding technology, digital civil liberties, and access to knowledge. The Internet’s Own Boy is a window into Aaron’s legacy through which anyone interested in the future of our democracy in an information age should take a careful and thoughtful look.”

A panel discussion as held following the screening of the documentary. The panelists included Paul Ohm, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Colorado Law, Michael Skirpan, a computer science Ph.D student at CU, Alicia Gibb, Executive Director of the Open Source Hardware Association and CU ATLAS Instructor, and Blake Reid, the TLPC’s Director and Assistant Clinical Professor at Colorado Law. The panel discussion ranged from Aaron Swartz as a person, to the open source information, to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Alicia Gibb and Michael Skirpan early on pointed out the advantages and challenges of Creative Commons and open access. While Creative Commons allows ‘creators’ to make their products easier to access and use, many people still often rely on charging money for access to their work in order to make a living.  As a result of the quick and easy dissemination of information and products, fast and frequent innovation is often necessary.

Blake Reid and Paul Ohm, on the other hand, explained the nuts and bolts of the CFAA, including how it can be abused and used to criminalize the wrong people, but also added that some version of the CFAA may be needed to prosecute malicious hackers.

Overall, the discussion explored the main topics brought up by the film, and the diverse panel added viewpoints from law, policy, and sociology.

You can listen to a recording of the panel discussion here. You can also listen to a short podcast from the TLPC’s student attorneys below.