Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Ethics Committee, has published a thought-provoking article about the legal tactic of seizing of domain names when the owners are accused of copyright infringement. She wants to do something to prevent abuse of the system. Lofgren states her goal is to “develop targeted legislation that requires the government to provide notice and an opportunity for website operators to defend themselves prior to seizing or redirecting their domain names.”
Strip away the jargon there and you see something surprisingly up-to-date for a government figure: Awareness of where the cutting edge of tech and law are at odds with each other when it comes to copyright and online content. More surprising still is that she’s intending to crowdsource some new legislation and for the source of new ideas has turned to Reddit, hotbed of social media chatter, because during the efforts to enact the pro-copyright SOPA law she saw “firsthand the Reddit community’s strong dedication to free expression.”
This dedication has prompted Lofgren to try an experiment: Asking Reddit users for ideas for a new legislative proposal that will build “due process requirements into domain name seizures for copyright infringement.” Lofgren’s post ends with a call to arms that’s as stirring as it is concise: “So, Internet policy experts and free speech warriors: How, specifically, would you suggest accomplishing these goals? I look forward to reading your thoughts and input!”
Reddit itself is all over the news right now, thanks to events like an Al Jazeera journalist in Gaza taking questions, and the moment when President Obama turned to Reddit to drum up some last-minute support in his recent election campaign.
Lofgren’s legislation would be directed at efforts like that of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to shut down sites that peddle what ICE alleges is copyright-violating material. The seizure of domains has in some cases been heavy-handed and controversial. This is a complex matter, particularly in an era where Net commerce is becoming critical for the economy (a fact that’ll be reinforced next Monday when we find our how much U.S. citizens spent online during the Black Friday sales).