Stop Online Piracy Act
| It's not just|
a good idea
The Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) is a proposed bill in the U.S. House of Representatives intended to discourage internet
privacy piracy and protect the intellectual property rights of copyright holders. While it sounds good at first, some of its provisions just aren't kosher; they could potentially repress free speech and "break the internet," which would have dire consequences for both civil liberties and the economy. Though most of the entertainment industry likes the bill, it faces fierce opposition from Silicon Valley and certain legislators.
Its Senate counterpart is the PROTECT IP Act, otherwise known as PIPA.
The bill would let the copyright holders and the Department of Justice obtain court orders disciplining sites accused (but not legally convicted) of copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with accused websites, barring search engines from linking to them, and requiring Internet service providers to block access. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. ISPs would have to block offending sites and search engines would be permanently barred from linking to them. This would essentially create something akin to China's "Great Firewall."
The bill would force individual websites to patrol only every single upload and every single link to ensure that it is "fair use." Also, the cost of proving that something is fair use would have to be shouldered by small sites like RationalWiki, or big sites like Wikipedia that are not-for-profit; a cost neither site can easily bear. Implications for sites like RationalWiki could include: being shut down or fined if one of the users uploads a music video or links to an uploaded Youtube video that is "illegally" streamed.
 Potential abuses
One of the dangers that arises out of a bill which allows any company to get an injunction to cease and desist prior to proving that a crime has been committed means that a political party who wishes to shut down an opponent's site or a company that wishes to shut down a competitor's site would find the process not overly difficult to abuse.
Further, to limit pirates from "getting around" the blocks, the law allows for the limiting of proxy servers, something which has legal and political ramifications, by limiting a person's right to be anonymous in his or her communications. The Arab Spring happened largely because of proxy servers.
Outside of Hollywood, the bill is terribly unpopular. Companies like Google, lobbyists like the ACLU, and even Wikipedia (a traditionally neutral site planning a blackout over it) oppose it. Even within the entertainment industry, the Writers Guild of America, West and the Graphic Artists Guild have come out in opposition to SOPA in its current form, as have many authors, musicians, writers, actors and filmmakers.
Although piracy is a serious problem, most tech magnates agree that outright blocking out sites isn't the solution. Even if the bill passes, this would only keep casual users from pirating, as other solutions like proxies and TOR nodes are well-known by knowledgeable users. The Bill may restrict proxies, but like evil drugs, they'll always exist in some form. ISPs report that more hardcore users pirate dozens of gigabytes per month as well.
It could potentially limit free speech and whistleblowing as well. Traditionally, whistleblowing sites like WikiLeaks aren't doing anything illegal. WikiLeaks just passing along information given to them by outside sources, like the Cablegate fiasco, regardless of the legality of how the information was obtained. Under SOPA, sites reposting illegally-obtained material could be censored or outright prosecuted. All a government or corporation has to do is send a infringement notice to the site's host, and it will most likely comply.
 How effective would the law be?
That's the trouble. Even if every single questionable part of the law were removed, and only true pirates were affected, what would the result be? Neither the US Government, nor any lobby group associated with SOPA has ever studied the effects of this or any other measure to reduce piracy.
The trouble is that the movie and music industry give statistics of "jobs and money lost" based on the assumption that every single person downloading something illegally would have gone out and bought that item, had they not done it illegally. The problem with this assumption is it is total crap. People's entertainment budget has not gone down; in fact, even in times of recession it has gone up. People are buying the music they want to own, seeing the movies they want to see, going to concerts and sporting events in greater numbers than they were 10 years ago. Piracy has not made the movie industry lose money, though there is argument that it has made movie rentals (not the movie industry, just the rental places themselves) lose enough that they are largely shutting down. In other words, Blockbuster might have a beef with piracy, but the movie industry at large has a hard time making the claim that they are losing money, when their profits are going up.
SOPA was introduced by Lamar Smith (R), and most initial co-sponsors were Republican lawmakers. On the other hand, SOPA's sister bill, PIPA, was introduced by Patrick Leahy (D), and the sponsors are now evenly Democrat and Republican. Opposition has also been bipartisan -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), Representative Ron Paul (R), and many other legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed disapproval. The Obama administration also opposes the bill in its current form, which leads to speculation that Obama will veto it if it gets the Congressional stamp of approval.
 See also
- ↑ English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout
- ↑ On Capitol Hill
- ↑ Graphic Artists Guild - SOPA
- ↑ SOPA: An Open Letter to Washington.
- ↑ Proposed Copyright Bill Threatens Whistleblowing and Human Rights
- ↑ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/sopa-blackout-internet-censorship_n_1211905.html?ref=technology&ref=technology
- ↑ http://www.quora.com/How-much-income-does-the-film-industry-lose-to-piracy
- ↑ H.R. 3261: Stop Online Piracy Act
- ↑ Strange bedfellows: Nancy Pelosi, Ron Paul join SOPA opposition
- ↑ The White House & SOPA