Aaron Swartz, a precocious web pioneer who advocated for free online content, was found dead in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment of an apparent suicide.
"Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment," a statement from his family and partner said. "We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing."
Swartz' federal trial on computer fraud charges was scheduled to begin in April. In 2011, Swartz was arrested after prosecutors alleged he illegally downloaded millions of scientific journals from JSTOR, an online archive within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology network.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In their statement, his family and partner blamed the prosecution for playing a role in his suicide.
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," the statement said. "Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community's most cherished principles."
When Swartz was 14 years old, he helped create RSS software, revolutionizing the way people subscribed to and consumed information online.
As an adult, he co-founded Reddit, a social news website, and rallied against Internet censorship through the political action group Demand Progress.
Technology bloggers paid tribute to the the man who "had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it."
"Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues," Cory Doctorow posted on Boing Boing.
And in true Aaron Swartz fashion, Doctorow's lengthy tribute came with a disclaimer: "To the extent possible under law, Cory Doctorow has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to 'RIP, Aaron Swartz.'"
His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday, in Highland Park, Ill., his family said, and they said that remembrances of Swartz and donations in his name could be made at rememberaaronsw.com.