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Reddit’s SOPA and ACTA alternative: The Free Information Act

Feb 21, 2012

reddit graphic Reddits SOPA and ACTA alternative: The Free Information Act

It should be commonly known by now that the Reddit community was instrumental in not only publicizing anti-SOPA/ACTA sentiment, but also in forcing certain members of congress—Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), for one—into retreat on the subject of internet regulation. No one expected, however, that the critical mass of internet activism could be transmogrified into something more legislative with Reddit’s alternative to SOPA and ACTA. Perhaps we should have expected this after all, since Redditors have launched an effort to unseat SOPA creator Lamar Smith.

With The Free Information Act, Redditors have crafted a document that would govern the internet domestically as well as internationally, preventing one country, or several countries working in concert, from dictating the evolution of cyberspace.

The document can be read over at Reddit, but below is a summary of its main points.

The Free Information Act begins with “Preamble: A Digital Democracy That Belongs To Us All,” before launching into a statement on the fact that all nations have attempted to claim “tangible objects” (geography, national resources, etc.); that nothing has “escaped this fate,” except the “digital domain known as the Internet.”

The drafters then lay out the various reasons that no nation can claim sovereignty over cyberspace, including: everyone has a hand in creating the internet’s content; equipment that connects to the internet is not, in fact, part of the internet, only a gateway (ISPs, servers, etc.); and, as the internet equalizes its users, no one entity can reign supreme over its domains. Also mentioned is the belief that all people are citizens of the Internet, “mankind’s truest democracy.”

It is interesting here that the Redditors should emphasize that equipment that serves as a “gateway” to the internet is not the digital domain itself. On a scientific level, this point-of-view is hard to counter. And, of course, it highlights the fact that governments worldwide attempt to restrict the internet at the gateway level, where there is at least a semblance of control. Convincing governments to cede this control will be a monumental task; but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the attempt.

Title 1 of the Freedom of Information Act includes a list of technical terms relating to the internet, which won’t be duplicated in full here. See the document for further details.

Title II, Article I begins by stating all “Federal or State Governments will not pass any law, nor ratify any treaty, which imposes or administers any kind of Censorship on the internet, except in the situations detailed in Section C.” Section C states that censorship will be allowed in cases of pornography and financial scams.

Redditors are still at work on Article II, which deals with culpability for content uploads. Section A of this article defines the “creator” as any individual or entity that creates something, and the “uploader” as someone who uploads that content. As stated, “Only the Creator or Uploader of Data is responsible for whether that data is legal to upload, possess or make available to other Users or Information Services.” This section is critical because it would protect those who download the content from legal liability.

Section B considers fair use, which states that “derived content should contain at a minimum of 40% of the original content to be illegal content.” Section C relates to judicial proceedings, while Section D states that ISPs will not be held liable for damages resulting from illegal uploads and downloads, nor will they be required to “filter, restrict or distort” uploaded or downloaded data. ISPs would also not be required to “alter” their service in any way due to the “illegal actions” of users.

This, too, is a critical section, as it it would return law enforcement to its proper duty—investigating and prosecuting individual acts of crime, not blacklisting or otherwise inhibiting internet service so as to prevent online piracy on a mass scale.

Section E considers the situations in which users would be held liable for illegal uploads and downloads. Uploaders would face prosecution under their home country’s legal system (no extradition), while downloaders would not face legal penalties at all. On the surface, this avoids what many in the music and film industries see as the real problem: the downloading. However, it is far more sensible to prosecute uploaders than to put pressure on ISPs and punish downloaders, for that is where the real criminal act originates.

Articles III through IX would prevent any country from unilaterally regulating the internet; prevent ISPs from restricting and censoring the internet; establish a content removal process; create judicial proceedings related to content uploads; establish monetary punishments; and provide for the rights of users, such as anonymity and privacy.

Overall, The Free Information Act, as created by Redditors, is an interesting document. Governments would do well to listen to internet users in crafting legislation and treaties related to the Internet. However, whether Reddit can channel the anti-SOPA critical mass into an alternative bill and treaty comes down to a question of transmission. That is, can the message of the bill make its way to American voters (and citizens of foreign countries), as well as receptive politicians like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Daryl Issa (R-CA)?

If the content of The Free Information Act can make its way into the minds of a country’s people and their politicians, then maybe is stands a chance of being absorbed into state legislation and international treaties.

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