In a recent Internet Evolution post, Ron Miller likened the current legal battles regarding intellectual property and the Internet to a fantasy universe. While Ron specifically invoked The Lord of the Rings mythos in his piece, new developments on Reddit suggest that this fantasy realm analogy may more properly reflect the DC Comics Universe.
In the DC Comics Universe, there exists a cube-shaped planet known as "Bizarro World." Bizarro World is more or less the exact opposite of Earth (its proper name, "Htrae," is "Earth" spelled backwards); the Bizarro Code boasts, "Us do opposite of all Earthly things!" It is best known as the home of Bizarro, a Superman antithesis; whereas Superman has powers such as freeze breath and x-ray vision, for instance, Bizarro has flame breath and x-ray hearing. There are Bizarro versions of other DC superheroes and supervillains too.
Back in our own universe, important technological freedoms are being threatened by overzealous IP laws, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) -- a not-yet-ratified multinational treaty. ACTA would, by some accounts, make ISPs spy on customers, allow broad border searches of digital media (although this might not differ much from the present), and result in widespread Internet filtering.
I use the qualifier "by some accounts" in recognition of what may be ACTA's biggest problem: Almost nobody knows for sure exactly what it says. ACTA negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy. In one of the few "public" information meetings on ACTA, one activist attendee was thrown out for live-tweeting the meeting.
Now comes from the Internet what could reasonably be called "Bizzaro ACTA" -- the Free Internet Act ("FIA").
Bizarro ACTA Characteristic No. 1: FIA offers transparency. The brainchild of Reddit users, FIA is a treaty proposal being crowdsourced on the Internet as a Google Document. Unlike ACTA and its double secret negotiations, FIA is viewable to all and open to proposed edits by all.
Bizarro ACTA Characterstic No. 2: FIA is libertarian. Counter to ACTA, FIA has the lofty goal of requiring, with certain exceptions, that "Federal or State Governments... not pass any law, nor ratify any treaty, [that] imposes or administers any kind of censorship on the Internet[.]" Moreover, unlike ACTA's privacy-invasive measures, FIA proposes that Internet anonymity be a human right, while strictly limiting the instances in which a user's Internet privacy can be breached. Furthermore, FIA (as of its February 24 draft) would acutely limit and, in many cases, eliminate liability for copyright infringement. It also attempts to radically broaden fair use doctrine as protecting, inter alia, any use of copyrighted content that is non-profit or non-commercial, while affirmatively extending "ignorantia juris excusat" protection to certain infringers who mistakenly assert fair use. (The redefinition of fair use might be partially inadvertent; as I mentioned in the 7DEE Social Business lecture series, many people do not fully understand what fair use actually is and is not.)
Bizarro ACTA Characteristic No. 3: FIA lacks artfulness. Unlike ACTA, FIA is not the product of professional lawmakers but of laypeople. Unfortunately, this ultra-democratic strength of FIA may also be one of its weaknesses. Although praising Reddit's efforts, TechDirt CEO Mike Masnick recently characterized FIA's legally inarticulate text as "cringe-worthy." Current drafts of FIA remain rife with ambiguities, superfluities, and a few grammatical flubs -- including at least one pseudoword ("includient").
These shortcomings may not matter much, however. FIA's contributors have openly recognized their lack of legal savvy. One of its organizers, "Downing Street Cat," has announced plans to consult legal experts as part of a proposed timeline for developing and implementing FIA.
Indeed, how FIA reads now is not the point. The point is that a large segment of the population is upset and feeling underrepresented -- and is attempting to do something productive about it in an ambitiously organized manner. In this way, FIA is less legislation and more the beginning of a conversation -- one that may bring about real, positive change. What's more, even if FIA fizzles, it may inspire similar political movements in the future (as an improvement upon much criticized online petitions).
To these ends, FIA may be Bizarro, but that doesn't make it bad.
— Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.