The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that co-founder and long-time Board member John Perry Barlow has died at the age of 70.
Barlow rose to cult fame as lyricist for the Grateful Dead. His collaborations with rhythm guitar player Bob Weir included some of the band's all-time classics, including Cassidy, Estimated Prophet, The Music Never Stopped, Throwing Stones, and numerous others.
In the early 1990s, while others were thinking about ‘cyberspace' in terms of technology, Barlow was one of the first to deeply consider the social systems that would evolve in this new world.
Barlow became a prominent advocate of online freedom on the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), one of the earliest online discussion forums, pre-dating the rise of the consumer Internet. In addition to frequent contributions to Wired magazine, Barlow posted a number of documents establishing the basic principles that continue to define a free and open Internet: Crime & Puzzlement (1990), A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace (1996) and Napster.com and the Death of the Music Industry (2000).
In 1990, Barlow founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation along with Mitch Kapor (founder of Lotus Software) and activist John Gilmore (fifth employee of Sun Microsystems and creator of the alt. hierarchy on Usenet). The EFF has remained the world's pre-eminent champion of online rights
Barlow reportedly passed away peacefully in his sleep Wednesday morning.
"It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow's vision and leadership," wrote Executive Director Cindy Cohn on the EFF blog. "He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance."
Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace will remain a historical document, sure to influence and inspire generations to come. "We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity," wrote Barlow. "We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before."