A Blueprint for the Internet

Following citizens’ victory against the SOPA & PIPA censorship legislation, citizens groups and advocates for open technologies are proposing forward-looking proposals and agendas for our digital future.

One of the leaders in the space, Public Knowledge, has worked with other groups to launch Internet Blueprint. Its focus is copyright law–only one of the many legal policies that could undermine Internet freedoms and access, yet a very important one.  The Internet Blueprint proposes strengthening DMCA safe harbors–a geeky legal exemption that is actually one of the most important policies preserving our speech rights and powering speech-enabling policies. My friend Nick Bramble, at Yale, has an amazing draft paper setting out the case for how the DMCA safe harbor, along with another immunity, advances the First Amendment through both legislative and judicial decisions powering open platforms like Twitter, WordPress, and Tumblr.

Other proposals in the Blueprint include: shortening the disturbingly long copyright terms that undermine innovation and freedom of speech (something that Lawrence Lessig famously challenged in the Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft) and strengthening fair use, a right to use copyrighted material for criticism, remixing, educational uses, and personal uses.  Fair use is rooted in the First Amendment and central to creativity.

The important overall picture is this: the Internet is not just a one-to-many distribution medium for content. It’s not another way for Hollywood to distribute movies–after theaters, DVDs, HBO, TBS, and CBS. It is a platform for speech and association that has disrupted regimes and empowered millions. We should keep the Internet and evolving technologies open, not closed. We should not close them either for governmental interests nor for the commercial interests of studios and labels (or cable or phone companies). The blueprint for the Internet’s architecture should be openness, and that openness rests on good policy as much as it rests on good technology.

And we can’t look to the courts or Congress to choose the right policies for openness unless we’re all involved. Just as the “environmental movement” has consisted in yearly fights and battles for decades to preserve healthy natural ecosystems, the freedom movements must remain “eternally vigilant” (in the words of a famous Supreme Court decision) year in and year out to preserve an open Internet ecosystem. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. And this Blueprint is important for setting some goals in that ongoing struggle for online freedom.

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