OPEN: Using crowdsourced legislation to beat SOPA


SOPA, The Stop Online Piracy Act, is big news in many ways, not least in marking what is likely to be a historical landmark in the battle between traditional media and a now-powerful new media, played out in political influence and the shaping of critical legislation.

One of the most important ways to beat SOPA is to provide a good alternative. The majority of politicians seem to think that online intellectual property rights need better protection, so to kill SOPA requires providing something that can supplant it.

Into this field comes Rep. Darrell Issa, whose involvement in legislation to allow equity crowdfunding I wrote about a few months ago. Issa is essentially seeking to ‘crowdsource’ a bill. reports:

A vocal opponent of SOPA and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa started, a website that allows anyone to contribute to the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, known as OPEN. The site functions like a combination of Wikipedia and any familiar commenting system: Click a sentence in the bill and add your changes. Though ultimate authorship will fall to Issa, user markups and comments are expected to make their way to the draft presented to the congressional committee.

Whether or not the bill makes any headway in Congress, the hands-on drafting of the OPEN Act offers a glimpse of the future of constituent engagement and legislative sausage-making. “This is a grand experiment,” Issa told The Washington Post in December about the unorthodox approach. And while some dismiss crowdsourced legislation as a public relations ploy, many who work on Capitol Hill see it as a promising way to promote government transparency.

I wrote last June about how Iceland is using crowdsourcing approaches to create its new constitution. In both the cases of the Icelandic constitution and the OPEN bill, there is only partial crowdsourcing, in that citizens are contributing ideas and comments, but the final drafting of the acts rests with the legislators.

This is still a big step forward, and a move towards the rise of true participatory democracy.

I have said before that I believe that crowdsourcing is the future of everything. That absolutely includes government and how we collectively create the social frameworks in which we live.

The flash-point of SOPA may help bring crowdsourced legislation to the fore. Including, hopefully, consigning SOPA to the garbage bin of history.