SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are two controversial bills that promise to implement strong anti-piracy measures and strengthen the dragnet against intellectual property theft and violation of copyright. The focus of the bills is to prevent copyright infringement by preventing access to websites which allow the hosting of pirated content.
SOPA and Protect IP target overseas sites which have become hubs for the download of illegal content, especially music, TV shows, and movies. The infringing sites can be blocked by the government and private corporations at will, if the bills are passed. While direct action against these sites may not be possible, since their servers are based out of the USA, the SOPA and Protect IP propose to shoot down these sites by getting US based search engines and advertisers to blacklist them. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be required to block these sites and payment providers such as Visa and Paypal will be prohibited from providing these sites their services.
The SOPA allows the US Attorney General to initiate action against the foreign sites found facilitating infringement of copyrighted content. What is noteworthy here that the site itself need not be involved in piracy. A site will become liable for all infringement committed by its users by way of sharing or uploading pirated content. This means sites will constantly need to monitor all the content shared by the users all the time.
How are they different from other copyright infringement laws?
Copyrighted content is already protected by a number of laws such as the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and the PRO-IP Act. While existing copyright infringement protection laws target the content itself and seek its removal the SOPA and Protect IP go after the sites that assist the distribution of copyrighted content.
Why are the SOPA and PIPA being protested then?
Protestors claim that the laws will not stop downloaders since the blocked sites can be accessed by entering the IP instead of the domain name. The bills will inhibit the growth of new sites since it allows a company to sue any website for not constantly monitoring and filtering out its user shared content. Search engines, advertisers, Social Media sites, and payment service providers are left exposed to flimsy lawsuits, protestors feel. The major concern, though, are the restrictions imposed on the freedom of speech and expression and the ability to organize protests over the Internet. In the wake of the uprisings of 2011 where Social Media and the Internet played a major role, the thought is a scary one. SOPA and Protect IP will also make the World Wide Web less secure for people the world over.
Who supports the SOPA and PIPA?
The three main supporters of SOPA are the US Chamber of Commerce, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), and the Recording Industry Association of America. The entertainment industry of the USA on the whole is united in its support of the two bills. In the US Congress, the Protect IP Act enjoys quite a widespread support vis-à-vis the SOPA. Since the SOPA and Protect IP are mainly involved with the content provided by artists and entertainment companies, Hollywood has a huge pro-SOPA lobby.
What happened after the Blackout?
On January 18, 2012, a huge protest was organized to protest SOPA and PIPA. 7,000 sites worldwide including eleven major sites such as Wikipedia (English Version) and Reddit joined the protest. While some blacked out, others posted protest messages. Google ran a petition drive and gathered the support of over seven million users. Offline, protest rallies were held in New York City, Washington DC, Seattle, and San Francisco.
Overwhelmed by the protests, the Senate and the House of Representatives indefinitely shelved the SOPA and PIPA. The Senate was due to vote on the Protect IP on January 24, 2012 but that has also been postponed.
Does this mean the SOPA – PIPA are dead?
Have the protestors succeeded? Are the bills dead? These are the questions currently being debated. It seems highly unlikely that the bills will return in their current versions, say protestors. Majority leader Harry Reid stalled the voting of the PIPA in the Senate. But this could simply be an opportunity for the lawmakers to redraft the bill having addressed the concerns regarding the wording of the bill. The entertainment industry of USA believes that SOPA and PIPA are far from dead. It is generally believed that there will be further SOPA hearings in the House of Representatives and a final vote, though imminent will be delayed.