Wunderkind Aaron Swartz (26) was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment Saturday NZ time.
US media reports say he hanged himself.
Charges were pending against Swartz for allegedly hacking JSTOR, a subscription-only academic site, and downloading 4.8 million literary and scientific articles.
If convicted of wire fraud and computer fraud, he faced penalties of up to 35 years in prison and up to $US1 million in fines.
As a 14-year-old, Swartz was one of the co-creators of RSS, the web technology that lets people subscribe to a newsfeed. It's hard to find a site that doesn't use RSS.
He also founded a company that merged with popular news aggregator and discussion site Reddit, and co-founded Demand Progress, an internet freedom lobby group that campaigned against PIPA and SOPA - two pieces of heavy-handed anti-piracy legislation that were ultimately abandoned by Congress after the Obama White House indicated it would support them.
Any suicide is a sad and complex event. Angry Swartz supporters say he was being hounded by US authorities over the alleged JSTOR hack.
Local entrepreneur Nat Torkington (@gnat) offered this raw reaction:
According to an account by high-profile intellectual property lawyer Lawrence Lessig (read: Prosecutor as bully), the not-for-profit JSTOR did not want to press charges. Swartz was using a laptop on MIT's network at the time of the alleged offence. "MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the 'criminal'," Lessig wrote. MIT said today it would mount an internal investigation into its role in Swartz' prosecution.
Kim Dotcom - which is launching his new file sharing service, Mega, on Sunday - also weighed in with several cutting tweets, several highlighting common cause with Swartz:
Kim's tweets have the look of crass bandwagon jumping.
But the entrepreneur says that's not the case at all.
"I knew Aaron and Demand Progress has helped us early on. I was just super angry" he told NBR today.
"What a tragedy. What a loss," Dotcom said. "They want to do the same to us. Thank God that New Zealand judges are protecting our rights and the New Zealand media sees this case for what it is."
And it's certainly no exaggeration that Swartz was a major critic of the US government's case against Megaupload - on which he makes several eloquent points in the video below: