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SOPA: Stop Online Piracy Act


For those who work in the digital world, defending against copyright infringement has been an ongoing battle; one with constantly evolving and elusive battle lines. So, on its face, H.R.3261–otherwise know as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)–introduced in the US House of Representatives on 10-26-11 would offer a possible solution. The bill is designed “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.” However, opponents rail against what they consider possible censorship and draconian penalties, with limited channels through which to address grievances. Both sides argue that their stance improves opportunities for the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on the creation of digital content.

Proponents of the bill argue in favor of protecting the rights of intellectual property creators, by penalizing hosts who offer a platform to individuals or companies that provide access to copyrighted materials without permission. This includes posted content, links, advertising, etc. According to the sponsors, this bill only expands existing authority–which covers domestic websites–to include foreign sites. If you’d like to read the text of the bill, along with more information provided by the sponsors, click here [1].

Opponents contend that the bill’s passage would hinder freedom of speech, although about the only thing I could understand in the otherwise incomprehensible language of the bill, was the statement, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.” However, the baffling legalese in the remaining 3,000+ words may contain loopholes. Opponents also indicate that the bill would hold site owners accountable for all posted content, resulting in undue punishment for behavior over which they may have little or no control. The web is nearly buried under an avalanche of opposition opinions, but the website, netCoalition.com [2] represents many of the Internet heavy hitters, and provides an apparently legitimate forum to opponents of the bill.

Those who favor passage, say that much of the criticism is unfounded; advanced by people with an agenda, or by those who simply misunderstand. According to Lamar Smith, the bill’s sponsor “Their concerns are based on speculation and hyperbole, rather than reality. There is no language that would criminalize actions by domestic political bloggers. There is nothing that would require Internet service providers or bloggers to ‘censor’ the Internet.”

Rumors are circulating about a possible retaliatory “Internet blackout” by such web giants as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, among others. This would supposedly result in their home pages being temporarily replaced with a black screen, requesting users to petition representatives to oppose the bill.

The bill is scheduled to be brought before the House for debate on January 24th.