I fight laws that restrict what bits I can put on my website.

Unlike humans, computers see everything as bits (numbers). They can't tell the difference between the random movement of a lava lamp and a copyrighted song. I believe that our technology should similarly make no distinction and that I have the right to transmit arbitrary bits.

Here's a list of laws that restrict this right, in order from least controvertial (i.e. most people agree this freedom shouldn't be restricted) to most.

Link

Linking is the fundamental act of the Web. It says, "this thing is over there". Some courts have been misled into thinking a link is a piece of code that say "go to this page". It's not. It's a statement that says "this bit of text is related to this page over there". The difference is crucial.

Don't Link to Us! catalogs stupid linking policies.

The W3C's Technical Architecture Group is currently deciding what to say in defense of linking.

Export

Cryptography is the study of preventing messages from eavesdropping and forgery (mostly). The government would like to eavesdrop on you; what if you're a dangerous criminal? In the US at least, the government isn't supposed to eavesdrop on its own citizens, but it can eavesdrop on those of other countries. To try and make this easier, they passed laws against exporting cryptographic software. This ignores reality. Perfect, unbreakable encryption has been around for decades and is well known. These export regulations make honest Americans more vulnerable, and do nothing to hurt the criminals.

D. J. Bernstein sucessfully challenged the regulations under the First Amendment. The government made the regulations much weaker and Bernstein is now challenging the weaker version.

Circumvent

In the US, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to create, use, or share tools that give you access to a copyrighted work. In the US, it's not illegal to watch a movie you purchased in another country. But the makers of movies on DVD don't want you to. So, under the DMCA, it's illegal to distribute a program that lets you watch a DVD you purchased in another country.

DeCSS is just such a program. The makers of movies on DVD have been trying their hardest to get rid of it. David Touretzky has a gallery of things that do the same job, the point is to show the futility of drawing a line between code and speech.

Infringe Patents

Patent laws were designed to give inventors a limited monopoly on new inventions, in exchange for explaining how their inventions work and the time, effort, and money they put into inventing them. Unfortunately, courts have ruled that software can be patented, and that providing software that infringes patents is contributory infringement.

The normal reasons don't apply to software patents: patent applications are unreadable to the average programmer, and most avoid reading them anyway so they won't accidentally use a patented invention. Furthermore, most software ``inventions'' would be created without the incentive of a patent and those with any use are often explained in technical papers, not patent filings.

Worse, patented computer algorithms are often difficult (and in some cases, impossible) to distinguish. Indeed, there are many examples of the patent office assigning two patents on the same algorithm, sometimes only weeks apart.

The Leage for Programming Freedom has more information on why patents are harmful.

Infringe Copyrights

Copyright law originally restricted the small number of printers from printing and selling another author's book without permission within 14 years (renewable once) of when it was written. Since then it has grown to cover almost everything for near forever. It also covers modifications and derivatives of a copyrighted work (this is likely unconstitutional).

Copyright law no longer makes sense. As an average person (not a printer), I shouldn't be restricted from noncommercially redistributing someone else's work. I shouldn't be prevented from using it as part of someone else's work.

Share Trade Secrets

Trade secrets protect a company's proprietary knowledge from being used by other companies. However, trade secrets are secret. By putting them on a website, they are clearly no longer secrets.

This hasn't phased the DVD CCA, however. They claim that how to read DVDs is their trade secret, and are trying to use trade secret law to prevent people from publishing the information on their website.

A related issues is privacy: I'm tempted to agree that embarassing photos of and facts about people shouldn't be released without their permission, but doesn't this prevent me from putting such information on my site? One argument is that a person's right to privacy is more important than my right to free speech.

Share Child Pornography

In the US, it is illegal to possess or distribute child pornography, apparently because doing so will encourage people to sexually abuse children.

This is absurd logic. Child pornography is not necessarily abuse. Even if it was, preventing the distribution or posession of the evidence won't make the abuse go away. We don't arrest everyone with videotapes of murders, or make it illegal for TV stations to show people being killed.

Wired has an article on how these laws destroy honest people's lives.

More

I'm interested in hearing about other restrictions on bits, in the US or other countries. I'm also happy to discuss the beliefs above. Email me.

D. J. Bernstein explains:

Here's a thought experiment that may help you understand free speech.

Imagine that you really could say anything you like, as long as you started by saying ``I will not be held liable for the contents of the following communication.''

Now someone in a crowded theater could shout ``I WILL NOT BE HELD LIABLE FOR THE CONTENTS OF THE FOLLOWING COMMUNICATION. FIRE!''

Do you think he'd be taken seriously?

Someone could publish pamphlets saying ``I will not be held liable for the contents of the following communication. Former associates of Ben Quick, President Clinton's latest appointee, revealed that Quick has set fires, beaten his wife, and engaged in execution-style killings of his children's pets.''

Would a clever liar be able to ruin someone's reputation, if everyone knew that defamation couldn't be punished?

Think about your examples of lynch mobs, politicians lying to Congress, and witnesses lying in court. Think about fraud and breach of contract. What you can see in all these examples is that the dangers of free speech are eliminated by public awareness of the freedom of speech.

Now think about export controls.