This is the proposed dummy text for "Status Code 451," a suggested error message for censored sites. (CNN)
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- If a website you're trying to reach is blocked for legal reasons, do you have a right to know about it?
advocate Tim Bray thinks so, and he's got a perfect error code for it:
451, a tribute to the late Ray Bradbury's landmark novel about
censorship, Fahrenheit 451.
Bray, a self-described "general-purpose Web geek" who helped develop several key Internet standards, wrote a formal specification
for his proposal and submitted it to the Internet Engineering Task
Force (IETF), the body that develops and promotes Internet standards.
The group is slated to take up Bray's proposal at next week's annual
meeting, which begins Sunday in Vancouver, Canada.
"I've been told
by the chair of the IETF HTTP Working Group that he'll give the
proposal some agenda time at the next IETF meeting," Bray told CNNMoney
by email. "It's not a big proposal; shouldn't take long."
internet users are familiar with "404 Not Found" errors, the HTTP status
messages that come up when you click on a broken or dead link. Another
common error, "403 Forbidden," is displayed when you try to reach a site
whose server won't grant you access to it.
That's the error code U.K. blogger Terence Eden hit when he tried to reach The Pirate Bay, a notorious hub for pirated content
that is frequently targeted in lawsuits. Eden's Internet provider had
been ordered to block out the site, but Eden wasn't happy with the 403
error response it generated.
"As far as I am concerned, this response is factually incorrect," Eden wrote on his blog.
points out that it wasn't Pirate Bay's server that refused to allow him
access. "The server did not even see the request. It was intercepted by
my ISP and rejected by them on legal grounds," he wrote.
Eden called for a new "HTTP code for censorship" -- a call Bray answered with literary flair.
The idea quickly caught on, sparking discussions on nerd-news gathering spots like Slashdot and Hacker News. Commenters kicked it around in Spanish on meneame, in Russian on habrahabr and in German on NetzPolitik. One Slashdotter commenter called the idea "so painfully obvious."
the proposal gets the official nod -- what Bray calls "the famous IETF
'rough consensus' level of approval" -- the spec would be revised and
eventually published. Then it would be up to browser makers and website
operators to implement it.
"There'd be remarkably little
engineering required on the server side," Bray said. "My bet is that
should this go forward, most servers would provide explanatory text with
Bray's proposal suggests that the 451 "Unavailable For
Legal Reasons" status return details on the restriction and what legal
authority is imposing it. The code would remain optional -- and Bray
acknowledged that its use could be controversial.
idealistic moments, I hope that the likelihood of being so identified
might encourage certain parties to think twice about seeking to block
parts of the Web," he said. "I think most people agree that censorship
is sometimes justified, but it's just common sense that when it happens,
it should happen out in the open."