The young digital activist and political organiser who built a website that became part of the popular Reddit service is reported to have committed suicide on Friday in New York, just weeks before he was to go on trial for downloading millions of online scientific articles without permission.
Aaron Swartz, 26, was charged in 2011 with downloading millions of documents from an online scientific journal store JSTOR.
Swartz, whose company infogami was acquired six months after Reddit's launch, had battled hard to make web content free to the public.
The Guardian, Los Angeles Times and CNN all reported he had been found dead.
Swartz was due to go on trial within weeks over accusations he stole the scientific journal articles, in a bid to make them available for free.
Swartz faced "decades in prison and a fortune in fines", the Los Angeles Times said, over the downloads from JSTOR.
The journal website, which the Los Angeles Times said did not press charges once it reclaimed the articles from Swartz, posted on its website that it had been "deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron's family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him".
The subscription journal service was used by MIT, and offered digitized copies of academic articles from journals. The prosecutor in the case, the US Attorney for Massachusetts, had accused Swartz of intending to distribute the articles widely on file-sharing sites.
Swartz's upcoming trial had become a cause for many similar-minded figures, The Guardian said: the organisation Demand Progress, which Swartz helped to found, had compared the activities of which he was accused to "trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library".
* For help or information call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au