In a powerful example of the internet grassroots in action, a viral campaign through Reddit played a large role in stopping the passage of s SOPA and PIPA and that effort has now expanded into an movement to produce alternative legislation which would address copyright concerns but also protect the rights of internet users and providers.
This collaboratively produced legislation is called the Free Internet Act. It has as its stated goal:
“To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by preventing the restriction of liberty and preventing the means of censorship. FIA will allow internet users to browse freely without any means of censorship, users have the right to free speech and to free knowledge; we govern the content of the internet, governments don’t. However enforcements/laws must also be put into place to protect copyrighted content.”
The effort is ambitious, and goes beyond just proposing a law for the United States and includes the idea of an international treaty to address not just SOPA but also the European Union’s equally troublesome and unpopular ACTA legislation, effectively as a new international treaty on online copyright and free speech.
The proposed bill would make it more difficult for copyright holders to remove suspect content and limit the amount they could sue for, while still giving reasonable protections against piracy. It provides guidelines for fair remedies to get content removed and gives site owners and uploaders a 30 day grace period to deal with problems and defend their content, addressing the concern that SOPA provided no remedies or due process for the accused. It provides for enforcement through the court system and suggests unspecified penalties for abuse of the process or efforts to intimidate content providers. It even provides the rough elements of a sort of internet bill of rights.
Right now the FIA is in rough form, produced through a collaborative process which is not efficient and not well suited to refining and focusing the language, but it’s an excellent starting point which includes sensible alternative proposals which address the legitimate concerns behind SOPA while also protecting civil liberties and the rights of internet users and businesses.
An online community like Reddit is great for getting the ball rolling on an effort like this but is not well equipped to take the subsequent steps necessary to produce a working piece of legislation and get it introduced in Congress. The next step in the process is for the FIA to be taken up as a cause by advocacy groups which have been involved in this fight, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Republican Liberty Caucus, and from there pass it on to sympathetic lawmakers to be introduced in Congress, with a strong push from the internet grassroots. In the process the language of the bill will need to be clarified and refined and brought in line with legislative standards.
Senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) and Congressmen like Justin Amash (R-TX) and Ron Paul (R-TX) who were outspoken in opposition to SOPA should have a natural interest in sponsoring such legislation. A promise to introduce a version of the FIA migh talso be a powerful campaign issue for Richard Mack who is challenging SOPA author Lamar Smith (R-TX) in the Texas GOP primary. Producing a resolution for inclusion in state Republican Party platforms endosing the FIA might also be a useful tactic.
The internet remains one of the strongest and most productive sectors of our economy with huge potential for future growth, but we cannot allow that potential to be stifled by unwise legistlation. The benefits to individuals and to the nation of preserving a free and open internet environment are obvious to everyone except for big media and their lobbyists. The internet grassroots have started a wave of change on Reddit and they’ve come up with a good start on a real solution. It’s time to take the next step and make it into a real law.
(This article appeared previously in a slightly different form in Blogcritics Magazine)