Well-known Internet entrepreneur and programmer Aaron Swartz was indicted today on charges accusing him of stealing millions of documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and academic document library JSTOR. Swartz most recently founded the civil liberties activist group Demand Progress, having previously been involved with launching Creative Commons and co-founding, Jottit, Open Library and He also co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification and released as free software the web framework he developed for Reddit.

The charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen M. Ortiz, and could result in up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine, according to the New York Times’ Bits blog. Swartz surrendered voluntarily, pled not guilty to all counts, and was released on $100,000 unsecured bond.

Ortiz’s office issued a statement detailing the charges filed against Swartz, which include wire fraud, computer fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer and criminal forfeiture. The legal documents allege Swartz broke into a restricted area of MIT and entered a computer wiring closet to access the M.I.T. computer network and obtain the 4 million JSTOR documents.

“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” Ortiz said. She said her office believes Swartz intended to distribute the documents, which normally are accessible only with an expensive paid subscription, on file sharing websites.

“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress executive director David Segal; “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library. It’s even more strange because JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute.”

Related Links:

New York Times’ Bits post:

Demand Progress statement:

Swartz indictment (PDF, courtesy of The Boston Channel):