You’ve seen the 404 error pop up on websites when they can’t be found. Or error 403 when you’re just not allowed in: Forbidden. But there’s a new error in town, and it’s inspired by the great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury and his most enduring work: Fahrenheit 451. The Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) just added the status code 451 to its roster of reasons for a site’s unavailability. 451 will signal that “legal obstacles” prevent a site from being shown. This can mean government censorship, such as is used to block pirating sites like The Pirate Bay.
The error allows ISPs to give their customers more specific information about why a site is being blocked. Fahrenheit 451, so-called for its being the temperature at which paper burns, may be Bradbury’s most famous work, but his most lyrically haunting tale is probably the short story “There Will Come Soft Rains.” That story, read here affectingly by Leonard Nimoy, imagines the end of humanity in a world where the machines still function. There will be no 451 errors then.