It seems silly to compare a short, very broad infographic to our Constitution, but when it’s called Declaration of Internet Freedom and released days before Independence Day, it’s a little hard not to.
A few questions have repeatedly emerged as the document, created by an alliance of startups in the wake of the SOPA protests, has been passed around online this week. First, “What’s the point?” and secondly, “Is this thing too vague to be useful?” I asked Ben Huh, founder of Cheezburger and one of the declaration’s “founding fathers” for some answers.
He started by joking that he has no idea how the founding fathers created the Constitution without Google Docs. The Declaration of Internet Freedom came about through the efforts of a few hundred people putting hundreds of edits, comments, and debates into a shared document. (“The founding fathers had to have wasted entire forests in the process of editing that thing.”)
The resulting “doc” is purposely simple and broad, he said, but not, as some have accused, vague. “It’s broad in the same way the Constitution is broad and not vague,” he says.
“When the founding fathers created the Constitution, what they were really saying was, ‘Here is a land we want to build. We know this will require translations and adaptation and application at a very tactical level, but at the foundation, here are these principles.’” The Declaration is a set of five principles that most can agree on, which define what it is to be free on the Internet.
The point is that when Internet-related legislation comes up, it can be evaluated against the Declaration’s core principles on expression, access, openness, privacy, and innovation. It’s essentially a benchmark, Huh says. And it’s meant to spark a debate, surface ideas, and generally educate people who support Internet Freedoms (the so-called anti-SOPA Slacktivists, for example) on what the issues exactly are.
Simply being reactive to legislation isn’t as constructive, he says. Further, the hope is that politicians will be more transparent about policies, so watchdogs can actually monitor their progress toward the principles.
Politicians have been hesitant to sign on thus far but are at least aware and interested in the Declaration, Huh says. Internet players have been supportive. Mozilla, Daily Kos, and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian are on board. Which makes sense. Startups have a very real stake in this game. They’re the ones creating jobs and disruption, so the more fragmented and restricted the Internet becomes, the more likely the US is to lose its leading edge in innovation.
The trick will be getting record labels and TV studios on board. The Declaration wants to be inclusive, which may be difficult because of its roots in anti-SOPA activism. Huh says the plan is to start with the artists and actors, who will hopefully influence their labels and studios. The alliance plans to start reaching out with the message that “what we say about Internet freedom will make your business better, and here’s how we can work together and not fight against each other.”