For the past few weeks, internet news has been heating up with the news of the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and Protect IP Act hitting the Congressional floors in Washington D.C. As with any proposed legislation, these bills have their supporters and their nay-sayers. So what is SOPA (other than a catchy acronym?), and what does it mean for internet sites? What about for legitimate internet sites – if anything?
SOPA aims to protect artists (musicians, actors, etc.) from their work being freely and illegally distributed across the internet – a goal that is completely valid and can be supported by anyone who has ever put in time on the job (who wants to work for free?!). So what’s the problem?
The means with which SOPA wants to regulate these copyright infringements is what has people in a frenzy. In a summary from the New York Times, the bill says that copyright owners could direct payment providers (Visa) and advertising networks (Google, Microsoft) to cut off business to a Web site simply by filing notice that the site — or “a portion” of it —“engages in, enables or facilitates” intellectual property infringement or is being willfully blind to it. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/opinion/sunday/going-after-the-pirates.html?_r=1).
Of course, supporters of the bill say this is framing it as an extreme, and that “cut off” or “shut down” are harsh words. These measures will simply make these sites “less profitable to operate and harder to access” (http://blog.copyrightalliance.org/2011/10/can-i-buy-a-fact/) and put emphasis on the fact that sites must be “willfully blind” to the infringement. But what about sites like Twitter or Facebook where people post links to illegal content daily? This would be impossible to monitor, and penalizing these giants would impact jobs and industry growth.
The other issue of this bill, again summarized by the New York Times, is that accused Web sites would have only five days to assert their innocence. And the payment providers and ad networks could not be sued by sites that were wrongly cut off. Worries that such a simple process to limit access to ANY site hosting illegally downloaded content is being argued as infringement on free speech.
SOPA is being backed by the Chamber of Commerce to the shock of many, as their “core purpose is to fight for free enterprise” and “individual freedom”(http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-57334409-281/sopas-most-aggressive-defender-u.s-chamber-of-commerce/) . Other groups supporting the bill include (unsurprisingly) the Motion Picture Association of American and the Recording Industry Association of America, among others.
The rally opposing the bill has been far stronger than that supporting it. Some huge Silicon Valley names wrote a letter asking the bill to be re-written, including AOL, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Yahoo! (who recently dropped their CoC membership – supposedly over the bill). You can see the entire letter here: http://www.protectinnovation.com/downloads/letter.pdf
While it’s easy to say that only illegitimate sites would be impacted, as the bill is written now it seems far too lenient and too easy for infringements to be brought.
What’s your take on SOPA? Good idea? Bad idea? Let us know in the comments!
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