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Stop Online Piracy Act

What you should know

Tech Columnist

Published: Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 12:12

SOPA

Graphic by Burke Stanion/Prospectus News

Supporters of the congressional bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act maintain that its intent is to fight the theft of copyrighted intellectual material, but its opponents believe that it amounts to internet censorship.

The bill grants the Attorney General the right to begin actions against any website accused of hosting copyrighted materials. The bill states that once the action has begun, a court would be able to "issue a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, or an injunction" against the owners of the site. It goes on to state that the courts would also have the right to issue a demand to internet service providers to "take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers." In addition to being able to order service providers to block sites accused of piracy, the courts will also be able to mandate that the owners of search engines block listings to the alleged offending sites.

The Stop Online Privacy Act will also give courts the right to forbid the sale of advertising located on the accused site or referring to the site, and prohibit advertisers from receiving any further compensation from ads running on the defendants. Rather than burdening the state with the necessity to prove guilt, the bill stipulates that it will be up to the defendant to provide its own "affirmative defense" by showing that they are unable to comply or by proving that they are innocent by showing that the order is not authorized according to the terms defined in the section relating to them. The act also stipulates that individuals accused of streaming copyrighted materials such as movies or music on the internet would now face felony charges.

According to CNET News, the chief supporters of this legislation are the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. CNET explains that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which traditionally has fought for free enterprise and individual freedom, is losing members over this stand. Yahoo is one American company that has chosen to step away from the chamber, and there is pressure on Google to follow suit. While the company remains affiliated with the chamber, according to the Washington Post both Google and the more than 2,000 companies which make up the Consumer Electronics Association are contemplating quitting the chamber as well. In addition to Yahoo and Google, other American companies in opposition to this bill include Facebook, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Zynga.

Supporter of the act Lamar Smith of "National Review Online," in his article "Defending SOPA," says that "claims that the Stop Online Piracy Act will censor legal activity on the Internet are blatantly false. Enforcing the law against criminals is not censorship." He goes on to explain that the act is only intended to protect consumers and owners of copyrighted material from sites which are "dedicated to" illegally selling and distributing pirated goods. He claims that the bill not only safeguards intellectual property, but protects free speech as well. He compares online piracy to child pornography and claims that critics of this bill are ambivalent toward intellectual property and that "their opposition to this legislation is self-serving because they profit from doing business with rogue sites."

Opponents of the bill compare the Stop Online Piracy Act to the actions taken by Communist China, stating that it will severely hinder the functioning of the internet as a whole, and will violate first amendment rights to free speech, silencing would-be whistle blowers. In his article entitled "Tech at Night: USF Reform Reactions, We must stop SOPA and PROTECT IP censorship," Neil Stevens states that "SOPA seems to operate under an implicit assumption that US law should apply worldwide on the Internet, and that if the entire world does not obey US law, then we must cut off America from the Internet." Many of those against the bill see it as a grab for more money by organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Critics of the bill claim that the terms defining the bill are too broad, and that legislation intended to protect intellectual materials will actually undermine individual rights and could jeopardize America's position of leadership in the technology and Internet fields.

The House of Representatives Judiciary committee is scheduling the bill for markup on December 15, when they will discuss any changes proposed to the bill before voting on it at a later date. Readers wishing to state their support or opposition to this bill are urged to do so by contacting their local congressional representative. Residents of the Urbana Champaign region belong to Illinois' 15th District served by Rep. Timothy V. Johnson, and can contact him online at his website located at timjohnson.house.gov. Readers outside of the 15th district who are unsure of how to contact their representative can find out at www.house.gov/writerep.

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