SOPA: Why it Matters

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If you hadn’t heard of SOPA (and, by extension, PIPA) before today, chances are you have now. The proposed bill (House Bill 3261) is primarily supported by Hollywood entertainment proprietors, but protested by thousands of Americans – including sites all over the web (Mashable, Wikipedia, Google, and many more), which have used their visibility today to convey the same opposition.

What’s SOPA?

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) would, in Wikipedia’s words, “expand the ability of US law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods” – to the point where the following penalties would be inflicted on the site the goods appeared on:

  • Internet service providers would be required to block the entire site
  • Search engines would be required to block the entire site from search results
  • Advertisers paying for space on the site would be barred from doing business with the site

As CNET says: “It’s kind of an Internet death penalty.”

What’s the justification for SOPA?

Again, from CNET: “Rogue sites. That’s Hollywood’s term for websites that happen to be hosted in a nation more hospitable to copyright infringement than the United States is.” Many countries don’t have copyright infringement laws as strict as those in the US. Since the US has no legal recourse against an individual or business who posts copyrighted content that’s legal to post in their own country, SOPA gives US Internet providers the right (and the obligation) to make the website where the copyrighted content is posted inaccessible to the public (a.k.a. censorship).

Why’s it bad?

With the enactment of SOPA, could we refer to the Internet as the “World Wide Web” anymore? It would seem an unfitting name when “rogue” and foreign sites could be blocked on the suspicion that they don’t live up to the most stringent copyright standards in the world (assuming the US’s standards are). If SOPA’s passed into legislation, it would (reasonably!) be more appropriate to call it the “websites of the world that your government says you can have access to.”

What’s also problematic: SOPA grants Internet providers immunity in the case that they “over-block” content or users that aren’t in violation. This encourages a “when in doubt, block it out” type of mentality that puts the burden of proof on the person or entity who posts the content in question, instead of first requiring the “policer” of the content to demonstrate its illegality. calls this the “Vigilante” Provision, and it represents a departure from the tradition of the protection of free speech, and the notion that one is innocent until proven guilty.

What can you do?

As Google says: “Tell Congress: Don’t censor the web.” Sign Google’s petition against the bill and encourage Congress to re-think their approach to fighting online piracy.

“There’s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of US jobs.” –Google, 18 January 2012

(image: censored)

Written by Brian Nunnery

January 18, 2012 at 7:00 am

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