What Is SOPA/PIPA and How Could It Affect You?
H.R. 3261, also known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (or SOPA), is a bill introduced in the House by Representative Lamar Smith from Texas. The aim of the bill is to “expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.” It has a sister bill in the Senate called the PROTECT IP Act (or PIPA), which does much of the same.
Technically speaking, the teeth of these bills lie in the ability of the Department of Justice and copyright holders to force the DNS of an infringing site to “stop referring requests for infringing domains to their assigned IP addresses.” In lay terms, this proposed legislation would allow an entity that believes their intellectual property has been infringed upon to block the domain of the infringer. For example, ABC, LLC, owns the rights to a movie. A group of pirates have uploaded the movie to a torrent aggregate site called xyz.com. ABC, LLC, could then shut down xyz.com. However, the IP address of xyz.com could still work. This legislation would also affect websites that link to infringing domains, in effect limiting the “safe habor” clause of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Hypothetically, if someone linked to the aforementioned pirated movie at xyz.com on their personal Facebook wall, then Facebook could be held liable for that offending content and be shut down. To clarify, this legislation would affect domains outside of the United States.
Proponents of the bill argue that SOPA and PIPA will protect jobs in an already anemic economy. SOPA sponsor Representative John Conyers said, “Millions of American jobs hang in the balance, and our efforts to protect America’s intellectual property are critical to our economy’s long-term success.” Smith added, “The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue websites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.”
Consumers who purchase their prescription drugs online would also be affected by these bills. Counterfeit drugs and websites that sell them are often hard to discern from their legitimate counterparts. In a settlement last August, Google agreed to pay $500 million to the U.S. government over allegations that “advertising for online Canadian pharmacies on its website allowed illegal imports of prescription drugs.” Rep. Smith blasted Google for “obstructing” SOPA by allowing ad links to be placed on their search engine.
Opponents of the bill, which include Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, Reddit, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU, among many others, fear that the bill will create a chilling effect on user-generated sites, as well as stifling free speech and innovation. Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, wrote in a letter to Smith, “Requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented ‘censorship’ of the Web.”
On January 18, the day of the SOPA hearing, the social media aggregate reddit.com will be blacking out their site in protest. Other prominent tech organizations such as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, AOL, LinkedIn, and Paypal are also considering a blackout on the day of the hearing.
EDIT: SOPA has been shelved. It will not come up for a vote, however the Senate version, PIPA, is still alive.