SOPA (and PIPA): What they mean for your Internet

I hadn’t heard of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) or the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (Protect-IP Act or PIPA) until an email from Demand Progress showed up in my inbox. Since I hadn’t received any politicking emails in a long time, I became interested when I read that the PIPA and SOPA would ruin the Internet as we know it.

As with all emails concerning political issues, I took the opinions with a grain of salt. Are those two aforementioned acts as bad as Demand Progress portrays them? To find out, I started doing some personal research. Here’s what I found out:

SOPA PIPA
  •  Gives the US Government provisions to shut down pirated or counterfeited content
  • The bill “is aimed at protecting industries under siege by piracy and counterfeiting.”
  • Supporters include:
    • Hollywood, amidst concerns of online piracy
    • Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
    • ABC, CBS, NBC, CMT, ESPN, and other popular channels
    • Comcast
    • L’Oreal, Revlon
    • Pfizer Inc.
    • Random House
    • United States Olympic Committee
    • Visa, Inc.
  • Opponents include:
    • “human rights groups, engineers, and others” –Senator Leahy [source]
    • DemandProgess, Fight for the Future
    • RackSpace
    • Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn (see their letter)
    • PayPal, American Express
    • The White House
  • Allows the Government to block out websites that infringe on the copyright law
  • Penalties include 5 years in prison for unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content
  •  A rewrite of an older bill, the the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA)
  • Does not alter any copyright laws
  • “enhanc[es] enforcement against rogue websites operated and registered overseas”
  • Any offending websites will be blocked off from the Internet and user access
  • Supporters include:
    • National Cable & Telecommunications Association
    • Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
    • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
    • Burberry, Nike, Reebok, Revlon
    • CBS, Comcast, Sony, Time Warner
    • Estee Lauder, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal USA
    • Ford
    • HarperCollins Publishers
    • National Basketball Association (NBA), The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Football League (NFL)
    • Nintendo, Wal-Mart
  • Opponents include:
    • GoDaddy.com
    • Google, Yahoo, Mozilla, Creative Commons, deviantART, Vimeo
    • DemandProgress
    • Fight for the Future
    • PayPal, American Express
    • The White House
THE DIFFERENCE: SOPA is broader than PROTECT-IP because it targets companies that provide Internet connectivity (e.g. Comcast, Qwest), in addition to DNS providers and ad networksSource:CNET.

This bill had its origins from government frustration with online piracy and copyright rules. According to a report, the government loses 100 billion USD a year from these illegal activities. After dealing with sites like Napster, The Pirate Bay and Wikileaks, no wonder action is being taken right now. According to a White House statement released on January 14, asserts that the bill does not infringe upon freedom of expression, nor does it stifle innovation or lawful activities.

From an unbiased standpoint, both bills seem quite similar, and well-intended. After all, if we don’t want people stealing candy bars from convenience stores, why would content creators want their copyrights infringed upon without penalty? This content isn’t restricted to purely digital media such as music, movies, and streaming TV. Anything sold online, from perfume to running shoes, are protected by these two acts, which is why companies such as Estee Lauder and Reebok have pitched support for the twin bills.

Opponents say that while the bill is well-intended, it gives the government unnecessary provisions in the fight against piracy. According to SOPABlackout.org, “It would particularly affect sites with heavy user generated content. Sites like Youtube, Reddit, Twitter, and others may cease to exist in their current form if this bill is passed.” What’s more, PIPA could stifle new start-up companies and websites, because they could look like piracy websites. So long as a site is deemed as a hub for piracy, the government can seek a court order to shut it down. SOPABlackout goes so far as to say that removing domain names could cause the web to be a less safe place.

Some other common arguments heard are that:

  • SOPA/PIPA would allow entire websites to be removed because of one infringing link
  • The government has taken it too far, including suing innocent people for minor infringements
  • The Internet has been the platform for change, and has sustained our economy more than the entertainment industry
  • The U.S. Government has already passed a number of acts combating online piracy, e.g.
    • Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998
    • PRO-IP Act of 2007
    • Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement of 2011
  • Other companies, like RackSpace, fight piracy every day already
  • It’s overkill, and it targets entire websites instead of individual content

Recently, a movement has spawned in which several big-name websites, like Reddit, Mozilla, and Minecraft.net, will “go black” in protest of these bills. Wikipedia is also considering participating, but they have not released an official statement yet.

The battle is mostly between Internet users and big corporations. A quick Google search of terms such as “SOPA” and “PIPA” reveal general discontent, even anger, towards these bills. It is clear that most tech-savvy Internet users are opposed to it, while industry giants continue to lobby Congress for support for the bill. What’s more, the SOPA has already garnered wide bipartisan support, though 60% of its support comes from Democrats.

My opinion

As an avid user of free, public-domain content, and a creator of content myself, I am opposed to SOPA and PIPA. Big media companies like the RIAA and MPAA are already working with the US Government to stop online piracy. We don’t need another redundant act that imposes an unjustified witch hunt on innocent websites. We don’t want any more dead people or people who don’t even own computers to be sued for copyright infringement. As I read more and more about this, I find ideological similarities to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the government to detain suspected terrorists without trial.

It is clear that government already has more than enough provisions against online piracy. We don’t need our network security tampered with, nor do we need more suffocating government control. If you will, there are many opportunities for you to show your opposition against this act, including:

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