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People who died in 2011

Lesser-known but significant figures

Photo: Illustrations by Ben Claassen, License: N/A

Illustrations by Ben Claassen


The Disney-driven Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 threatened the enterprise, leaving millions of works that would have become copyright-free protected for decades longer. Hart was recruited to be the lead plaintiff fighting that law, but when he told the lawyer – now a Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig – that he envisioned the suit as a way to “challenge the entire social and economic system of the United States” (in the New York Times’ words), they parted company.

“I am trying to change the world, and I make no attempt to hide that I am trying to change the world,” Hart wrote on his own blog, “though I must admit that every day it seems as if I am forced to learn more and more how very much the people of the world, at least those who have voices in such things, resist the simple effort I am making to provide books to the masses of the entire planet without regard to all those boundaries.”

And so now, If you want to grab a copy of, for instance, Nang Bata Pa Kami (in Tagalog), Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) is there for you. G.K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill is on the same page. Pretty much everything Mark Twain ever published is there, too.

A look through Hart’s writings reveals a single-minded, true believer in first-wave Internet nirvana. Remember that “information wants to be free” moment when the Mosaic browser ruled, “commercialism” was shunned and everyone who mattered on the Web was a Palo Alto-based hippie/nerd with long hair and ripped jeans? Those guys, who changed their minds, are all billionaires now. Hart died poor on Sept. 6 at age 64 at his home in Urbana, Ill.

“I know that sounds odd to most people, but I just never bought into the money system all that much,” he told Poynder. “I never spent it when I got it. It’s all a matter of perspective; most people spend the vast majority of their money on things I just don’t care about.” – EE

Sylvia Robinson

The mother of hip-hop

Sylvia Robinson was not necessarily the person you’d imagine as the birth mother of hip-hop. She was in her early 40s in the late ’70s and already a veteran of several waves of pop music. Born Sylvia Vanderpool in New York City in 1936, she was a professional singer from her teens. At age 20, she joined forces with her guitar teacher, Mickey Baker, to form a duo. The combination of her sultry but sweet vocals and his agile electric guitar led to a mega-hit in 1957: “Love Is Strange,” a knowingly flirty tune released under the name Mickey and Sylvia. But Vanderpool wasn’t just a pop puppet; she co-wrote songs with Baker, too.

After marrying Joe Robinson in 1964, Sylvia Robinson continued in the music business, both behind the scenes and in front of the mic. She and her new husband ran a nightclub and built their own recording studio, Soul Sound, in their new hometown of Englewood, N.J. They soon formed All Platinum Records, where Sylvia Robinson not only helped run the company, she wrote songs for its artists, such as vocal group the Moments, and produced many of the label’s records. (Female producers remain rare today; female label executives rarer still.) She even sang All Platinum’s biggest hit, 1973’s “Pillow Talk,” a slinky disco number that ended with Robinson cooing in feigned coital bliss, years before Donna Summer would become famous for that.

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