Honoring Ray Bradbury: 451 Errors for Content Removed for Legal Reasons

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You've seen "404 Not Found" errors. Now a proposal introduces the idea of a 451 error to mark sites where content has been removed because of copyright violations.

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You've seen "404 Not Found" errors and maybe even "403 Forbidden" or "500 Internal Server Error" messages, but the Internet has no formal protocol for a message when content has been removed for legal reasons. Sometimes you'll get a 404 or a 403 message, but that's not perfectly precise, and they bury the fact of the censorship beneath a technicality.

Now Googler and Ray Bradbury fan Tim Bray is pushing forward with a proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force to introduce a new error message -- 451 -- to mark sites where content has been removed because of copyright violations in honor of Ray Bradbury's book Farenheit 451, according to a report in The Guardian. The IETF is set to consider the idea when it meets in July.

Bray told The Guardian:

"We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech. On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently; for example, most civilised people find Britain's system of superinjunctions loathsome and terrifying. ... While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful. Also, since the internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the net, in the year of his death."

He explained there may be technical reasons why such a code could not work, saying additionally, "I'd be mildly surprised, but not too terribly; designing the internet is hard."

Ironically, Bradbury didn't want his own books published online, telling The New York Times, "Yahoo called me eight weeks ago. ... They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? 'To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.'" Meaning, sigh, that had Yahoo put the book up, and Bradbury yanked it down, a hypothetical world with this error message could have had a 451 censorship page for ... Farenheit 451 itself. 


Via @pourmecoffee.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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