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The Issa/Wyden OPEN Bill Debuts On New Legislative Markup Tool

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, December 8 2011

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) today released the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act — OPEN for short — on a new microsite, Keepthewebopen.com, using the House Oversight Committee-commissioned Madison platform for public markup of legislation.

OPEN is focused around the idea that any website primarily used for infringing on copyrights, and with a non-U.S. domain name, shouldn't be making money in the U.S. The bill OPEN is proposed to replace, the Stop Online Piracy Act, also proposes that payment providers be obliged to stop doing business with so-called foreign, copyright-infringing websites — but it goes farther to say that search engines and domain-name registrars should also stop routing their traffic, which has spurred cries of censorship and concern that American legislation would fundamentally change the entire Internet. The OPEN legislation would instead allow the International Trade Commission to issue cease-and-desist orders against offending sites, obliging payment providers to stop doing business with them.

Madison is also an interesting first: A sitting member of the has House green-lit a project, overseen by his committee staff, to open up a new bill for public markup by anyone, and allow anyone to share their comments and revisions. Now that project is up and running, sorta: I was able to create and account and log in, but that came despite an error message informing me my account creation had failed.

When I previewed Madison's arrival yesterday, I wrote that it was met with applause from open-government types because it signaled a willingness from House Republicans and their leadership to try new things around transparency and open government. That's still true. But on day one, they're also pointing out ways the site could improve. The terms for the site warn the user that anything they write on it will become public domain — but the code itself is proprietary. Meanwhile, OpenCongress' David Moore points out that the code that powers his organization's website, which also allows users to comment on individual provisions of bill text, is open source and has been available for some time. In theory, this means the Oversight staff could have started from that code and built on it instead of beginning from scratch. The code being proprietary means that while people like Moore might be able to make suggestions, they can't just download it, make their own changes and submit them for community review — which they'd happily do at little or no cost for a project released under an open-source license.

"Get that code on GitHub," Moore wrote on Twitter. "We'll do OpenID" — an open login standard through which users could log in with their Google accounts, for instance — "fix the design."