by BRITTANY HASTABA
Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, on October 26, sparking a backlash from media giants across the Internet. This bill is designed to thwart music and movie piracy by allowing copyright holders to shut down websites or online services found with infringing content. The bill, also known as the Protect IP Act in Senate, would allow the U.S. government to blacklist websites found with infringing material, blocking access to the sites by stopping search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo from linking to them.
Infringing material is violation of copyright, including posts by users in an online forum or social network, and even links sent in an email. Websites would thus be held accountable for any infringing content, and the government would be authorized to cut off revenue to the owners of those sites.
A powerful group of lobbyists originally aimed these bills to shut down foreign sites that posted intellectual property created by U.S. firms. Organizations that support this measure include the Motion Picture Association of America, pharmaceutical makers, media firms, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber estimates that Hollywood Studios, record labels, and publishing houses lose $135 billion in revenue each year as a result of piracy and counterfeiting. Since SOPA protects artists’ intellectual property, it allows them to pursue a profit by preventing consumers from obtaining free downloads and forcing them to purchase the work.
The types of content prohibited under these bills would include even amateur works, such as YouTube covers of songs or mash-ups of movies. These works would be viewed as copyright violations and the creator, as well as the host of the content, could be in trouble.
However, Internet giants strongly oppose SOPA and argue that this legislation would give the government too much power to shut down sites accused of pirating content. Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt attacked the bill while visiting the MIT Sloan School of Management.
“The solutions are draconian. There’s a bill that would require ISPs [Internet service providers] to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked,” said Schmidt. Venture capitalists, civil liberties groups, and Web-based businesses including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and eBay share Schmidt’s distaste for the bills. The companies sent a letter to Congress opposing the legislation, which appeared in a full-page New York Times ad. They wrote: “We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as our nation’s cybersecurity.” The companies also asked politicians to “consider more targeted ways to combat foreign ‘rogue’ Web sites.” Students would also be affected by the restrictions of SOPA. In addition to controlling their online recreational sites, they may suffer from the censure of free knowledge databases, like Wikipedia.
Tumblr, the microblogging website which thrives on sharing content, joined the opposition to the bills with a protest page called “Protect the Net.” Tumblr administrators motivated its members to make calls to their congressional representatives about the act. “As written, they would betray more than a decade of US policy and advocacy of Internet freedom,” said a statement on Tumblr, “by establishing a censorship system using the same domain blacklisting technologies pioneered by China and Iran.”
This act has a large chance of passing, given that it is backed by such powerful business lobbies greatly invested in protecting copyright, and also has a strong bipartisan majority support in Congress. If SOPA does indeed pass, the Internet may never be the same.
Sign the petition here to tell your Congressmen to put a stop to SOPA.