As some of you may have noticed, last week I proposed a new HTTP status code to signal the situation where a request can’t be serviced for legal reasons. Herewith the back story, and an appeal for legal help.

Back Story · What happened was, I saw a Slashdot thread about British ISPs returning 403 for Pirate Bay requests because of a court order, and how that was broken. I didn’t follow the links or read the comments, but it turns out that the root was a blog post by Terence Eden.

So I posted to the IETF HTTP mailing list: “The thinking about returning 403 when you’re forbidden to follow a link seems sound to me. This idea is superficially appealing; is it deeply broken in some way that’s not obvious?” Nobody could think of one, so I took a half-hour before dinner and wrote up the proposal. The next morning it was all over the Net.

I’d proposed 451 as a tribute to Ray Bradbury, and it turns out the idea had come up already in both the Slashdot thread and Terence’s comments. I thought I’d thought of it but maybe not; anyhow, it’s so painfully obvious. There’s room for argument as to whether a code in the 5xx range might be better, and over lots of other details. The IETF is meeting in Vancouver in late July, and the HTTP WG will give this proposal the three minutes or so of consideration that it deserves. I really don’t have the faintest idea whether enough people will like it to get official blessing.

Latin Legalisms · One of the things in the proposal is that the 451 Unavailable for Legal Reasons status is supposed to be accompanied by an explanation of what the legal restrictions are, and what class of sites they apply to. The proposal has an example, and since obviously you don’t want to use any real legal authorities in this situation, I decided to pick on the Roman Empire:

This request may not be serviced in the Roman Province of Judea due to Lex3515, the Legem Ne Subversionem Act of AUC755, which disallows access to resources hosted on servers deemed to be operated by the Judean Liberation Front.

Most readers here will have spotted the Monty Python tribute. Yeah, it should be “People’s Front of Judea”, I’ll fix that.

But I made up the name of the Roman law by typing something into Google Translate. So... does anyone reading this know what a plausible Latin name would be for such a law, and how it would be cited? Roman history is full of lawsuits, so I assume it must have been a fairly routine operation. Thanks in advance.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Eric A. Meyer (Jun 20 2012, at 11:42)

Pardon me, but “People’s Front of Judea”? SURELY you meant the Judean People’s Front.


From: John Cowan (Jun 20 2012, at 12:53)

(Second attempt to post; please disregard the incomplete first attempt.)

The names of Latin laws look like "Lex X de Y", where X is the clan name (middle name) of the legislator who proposed it, in the feminine form. Thus a law proposed by (Caius) Julius Caesar would be the Lex Julia. The relevant court order was handed down by Justice Arnold, so we could speak of the "Lex Arnoldia".

The Y part of the name is what the law is about, in the ablative case. Conveniently, "pirata" in Latin means either pirate or conspirator. Piracy would be "piratia", and the ablative form is also "piratia" (conventionally written with a macron over the last letter, but not in Roman times). We don't actually have any record of this word until the Middle Ages, but no matter.

So that gives us the Lex Arnoldia de Piratia. It wouldn't be Roman usage to add a date to this. So here's my overall wording:

This request may not be serviced in the Roman Province of Judea due to the Lex Arnoldia de Piratia, which disallows access to resources hosted on servers deemed to be operated by the Judean People's Front.

(The JPF are the scary terrorist ones.)


From: Giacomo (Jun 20 2012, at 13:06)

Individual laws would be named after the family name of the magistrate/consul/senator who "carried it" (so you have the Lex Claudia, Lex Cassia etc) occasionally followed by the actual subject being regulated. So it would look like "Lex Briana de seditione coercium" (I don't guarantee declinations are 100% correct, haven't touched Latin in about 15 years).

Otherwise you can have a Codex, which is a large batch of laws enacted by this or that Emperor, and it's just followed by the name of such emperor declined to genitive.


From: David (Jun 20 2012, at 13:12)

Judean People’s Front?



From: Paul Rodriguez (Jun 20 2012, at 13:42)

Roman laws were usually named after their sponsor in the Senate (e.g. Lex Valeria, "Valerius's Law"). Presuming that SPQR 3515 was sponsored by Biggus Dickus on his return from Judaea, its name would be something like "Lex Biggia".


From: len (Jun 20 2012, at 13:42)

I didn't get the MP reference. Something less likely to involve the IETF in the powder keg that is the Middle East today is smarter. Just saying.


Tim, I think the frame you and Terrence want to put around this will prove to be unshiny. The tide is turning. You ought to read those comments. Lowery's articles are having an impact. The death of Levon Helm has has an impact. More evidence and cases are surfacing that the laissez-faire approach taken to digital content by the server farm moguls has provably hurt others. Between this and Do Not Track, some now obviously not altruistic business models are going to have to change.

We've tried it your way. It failed. As some like to say, adapt or die. OTW, even more draconian measures are in the offing.

The web was fielded witlessly. Roosting time....


From: David Magda (Jun 20 2012, at 14:37)

IANA(Latin)L, but if you're talking about the JPF, which wanted to fight the Romans for independence, you could use Table IX of the "Twelve Tablets", which were sort of the Roman constitution:

<blockquote>Treason: he who shall have roused up a public enemy or handed over a citizen to a public enemy must suffer capital punishment.</blockquote>

There's also the "Ad legem Juliam majestatis", which dealt with 'Majestas' crimes, which roughly correspond to treason as well.

Later emperors made it cover not only treason and conspiracy, but also libel and slander. The latter may be good grounds why someone wants a document suppressed.


From: Terence Eden (Jun 22 2012, at 08:35)

Firstly, thanks Tim for developing this so far. I've been amazed at the response it has got.

Secondly, one of the common complaints I've seen about this proposal is that those being censored may be compelled *not* to return this code. That's true, of course, but in this particular case there has been a highly publicised court case and the ISPs are being quite upfront to their users about the reasons for the block. For now, I hope we can rely on such blocks being decided out in the open.

Thirdly, I don't think either Tim or I condone censorship - as some have suggested. Rather, I recognise that it's an unfortunate fact of modern life. We gain nothing from pretending that it doesn't exist, or from hiding the true cause of it.

Many thanks for all your work on this - and to everyone who has commented around the net.



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