Posted in General, on March 4, 2012, 5:32 pm by Andrea S. Fuelleman, Managing Editor
Talk about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been
fairly quiet in the past few weeks but that does not mean the proposed bill has
fallen off Congress’s radar.
haven’t heard of SOPA before, you probably have by now as many of the most
influential websites including Wikipedia, Google, Tumblr, and Reddit went
earlier in January to protest the highly debated bill.
What’s so bad about SOPA and what good could
it actually do if passed?
Generally speaking, SOPA is an anti-piracy bill working its
way through Congress.
introduced on October 26, 2011, debate on SOPA has consisted of one hearing on
November 16, 2011 and a "mark-up period" on December 15, 2011, which
was designed to make the bill more agreeable to both parties.
The originally proposed bill would allow
the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as copyright holders, to
seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of
enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
A court order requested by the DOJ could
include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from
conducting business with websites found to infringe on federal criminal
intellectual-property laws, barring search engines from linking to such
sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such
sites. (click here
for CRS Summary of proposed bill, as initially introduced and here
The purported benefit of SOPA is
the ability of IP owners to effectively pull the plug on foreign sites against
whom they have a copyright claim. Supporters of the bill include the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA), pharmaceuticals makers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Proponents state it will protect the
intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and
is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against
foreign websites. (click here for House press release discussing benefits of bill). They assert that stronger enforcement tools
are needed. However, not everyone agrees
that the bill, as introduced, effectively achieves that benefit.Opponents
state the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and
enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to
infringing content posted on a single blog or webpage. They argue that the notice procedures are some
of the most upsetting things about the bill.
Specifically, in its original construction, IP owners could take action
without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. The bill only required IP owners to issue a
single letter claiming a "good faith belief" that the target site has
infringed on its content. For example, once
Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have
five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court.
One of the most
adverse effects that opponents address is the potential to for SOPA to shut
down an entire domain for a single violation.
For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned that websites Etsy, Flickr
and Vimeo all seemed likely to shut down if the bill becomes law.
Similarly, policy analysts for New America Foundation say
this legislation would enable law enforcement to take down an entire domain due
to something posted on a single blog, arguing, "an entire largely innocent
online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority."
SOPA, backed by
Hollywood and opposed by large web companies and civil liberties groups,
remains in limbo. During the December
15th debate, it became clear that SOPA supporters have a commanding majority on
the committee. But
where it goes from here is an open question that depends on where the House
Republican leadership stands.