Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I really don’t mean for this to be an activism blog, but I just wanted to highlight one more piece of legislation that has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately. It’s called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, or H.R. 3261), and was introduced in the house in October by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). I don’t know much about this sort of thing, so I’ll outsource some of this to Wikipedia:
The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Now before the House Judiciary Committee, it builds on the similar PRO-IP Actof 2008 and the corresponding Senate bill, the Protect IP Act
The bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the infringing website; barring search engines from linking to such sites and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a felony. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
So, the bill would give the government more power to shut down websites containing (or linking to websites that contain) copyrighted material. Currently, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, websites such as YouTube are protected from legal liability if they “act in good faith to remove user-uploaded infringing content from their sites.” It appears that websites would lose this legal protection if the SOPA legislation were to pass. This is one of the reasons Google opposes the bill, along with a litany of venture capitalists, who provide critical funding for Silicon Valley’s startup companies.

Supporters include the RIAA, MPAA, Nike, the US Chamber of Commerce, NBCUniersal, Ford, Revlon, the NBA, and Pfizer. Opponents consist of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Mozilla, Reporters Without Borders, and ACLU, and Human Rights Watch. The main concern with such a bill is the power it would give the government to shut down websites, rather than just have them remove offending content. Apparently even if a website simply links to another site with such content the former would be in danger of being shut down. While respecting copyright is an important part of a developed economy, giving more power to the government to close websites and regulate the internet is dangerous path to go down.

The House Judiciary Committee will review the bill and its recent changes tomorrow, so now looks to be a good time to act if you’re inclined to do so. Read more on this piece of legislation from

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