In memoriam Philippe Aigrain (1949-2021)

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It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Philippe Aigrain on Sunday 11th of July, in the mountains, near his home in the French Pyrénées.

Philippe was a computer scientist and a great humanist, a tireless activist, a researcher and an intellectual who helped us see things more clearly in these troubled times. Philippe was one of the historical co-founders of La Quadrature du Net in 2008 and went on to become President of the Association from 2013 to 2017. As a young man, he had taken part in the May 1968 uprising. He was later a fellow traveler of the Free Radio Movement in the 1970s, before exploring the democratic potential of the Internet and becoming an ardent defender of Free Software and the Commons. In recent years, he focused on solidarity in refugee reception, and directed the publishing house PublieNet, while also publishing poems of his own and, more recently, his first novel, Sœur(s).

Philippe was one of those people who immediately commanded respect and admiration for his exceptional human qualities, his immense kindness and great sensitivity, but also for the depth of his thinking, his curiosity, his generosity, his ability to combine knowledge from the many fields he was versed in. All of this allowed him not only to move easily between activist, intellectual and artistic communities around the world, but also to make valuable contributions and build bridges between them.

At La Quadrature, he was a role model for many of us, a mentor and a friend. Always curious, open, but also very supportive of people new to the organisation. He was one of the pillars that kept us going and got us through tough times. We admired his capacity for indignation, the thoroughness and depth of his analyses, the way he could set aside certain activist reactions to size up a situation in all its complexity. When there was a risk of drowning in the details of an issue, he would encourage us to step back and return to the fundamental political issues at stake. During an internal debate at the end of 2016, we were discussing our position on the creation of the TES biometric file in France, which the government was then presenting as a way of fighting “identity fraud”… We were cooking up arguments that were a little too technical and legal for his liking. He got everyone on the same page by referring to the Resistance during WWII and reminding us that forgery-proof identity documents are simply contrary to a democratic way of life.

Right from the beginning, Philippe insisted that La Quadrature should be proactive and produce positive proposals. He created an entire system to allow the public and creators to engage around their works by allowing the free sharing of these works, while financially supporting and encouraging creation. He was the instigator of the Creative Contribution, an avant-garde idea allowing generalised access to culture balanced with material support for creation. With Lionel Maurel, he compiled these proposals in the positive proposals for copyright reform, published by La Quadrature following the rejection of the ACTA anti-counterfeiting trade agreement, in the summer of 2012.

Over all these years, Philippe taught us that it is possible to combine a lucid view of the world and a high level of political commitment, while never forsaking either care for others or for oneself, nor indeed joy and poetry.

We will take the time to honor his memory. We will keep his legacy alive by continuing the fight, whether for Human Rights in the digital environment, the sharing of knowledge or, simply, for more beauty and humanity in this world.

For now, our thoughts and sympathy are with his wife Mireille, his daughters and his grandchildren.

  • Sister(s), a novel addressing the issues of surveillance, published September 2020 by Publienet.
  • Sharing, Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age, a plea for the right to non-market sharing of cultural works, published in 2011 by the University of Amsterdam Press.
  • Cause Commune, an essay in favor of the information commons and against intellectual property, published in 2005 by Fayard.
  • Some of Philippe’s poems can be found here