Aaron Swartz, the celebrated open internet campaigner and co-founder of the Reddit site has died aged 26 in an apparent suicide.
Talented programmer Swartz, who had long battled internet censorship and for freedom of information online was found dead in his New York apartment on Friday.
Swartz, who co-authored an early version of the RSS specification at age 14, had been suffering from depression.
His lawyer Elliot R. Peters told the MIT campus newspaper The Tech: "The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true."
At the time of his death he had been facing hacking charges and a potential prison sentence over millions of academic documents downloaded from the JSTOR online archive.
Prosecutors had argued that he intended to distribute them online for free, in protest of JSTOR's $0.10 per page retrieval fee.
Swartz had denied charges of computer fraud ahead of a federal trial, scheduled to start in February.
If guilty he could have faced $1m in fines and a prison sentence of up to 35 years.
Tributes from some of the web's leading figures have been flooding in since the news broke.
Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee wrote: "Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep."
In a statement, Aaron's family pointed the finger at the U.S justice system.
They wrote: "Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."