A Quick Overview of SOPA — Will It Pass?

As the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) awaits a vote by The House Judiciary Committee, critics complain that the anti-piracy bill goes too far in giving the government – and the entertainment industry – too much power in protecting intellectual property.

SOPA, which would allow government intermediaries to shut down sites for hosting pirated content, was introduced to the United States House of Representives on October 26, 2011 by Texas Representative Lamar Smith and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors.  On December 14th, Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars stated in support of the bill:

The impact of intellectual property theft by rogue sites is felt in countless ways and across every creative genre, from romance authors, to church and gospel music songwriters, to independent filmmakers. For these creators, whose work is being rendered economically meaningless by rampant infringement, the Stop Online Piracy Act represents welcome action by Congress to protect American businesses and jobs.

But E.D. Kain at Forbes.com writes that the proposed  legislation would allow these “rogue sites” to be firewalled without due process.  Under the new law, if one party complains that its copyrights are being violated, The State Department could order an intermediary to shut down the violator’s site until that party has proven its innocence in court. In other words, the entertainment industry would effectively be enforcing the law rather than the legal system.

Worse, even a person with no commercial interests in the copyrighted material could be shut down just for grabbing a link from an offending site and sharing it with friends.

This would greatly affect sites like Reddit, which thrives on user-generated news links. The site  plans to shut down for 12 hours next Wednesday in protest of the bill.

Dan Nguyen at SOPAOpera.org has been keeping an unofficial, but well-reasoned list of which congress members support and oppose the bill, which will be voted on at the end of January.  As of the time of this post, there are 81 supporters and 21 opponents.

Dan Mitchell at CNN Money writes that the support from Congress could be due to the $1.9 million the entertainment industry has given to SOPA’s sponsors since the start of the 2010 election season.  The computer software and online computer services industries have less influence with only $524,977 in campaign contributions, according to an analysis by Maplight.org.

Still, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform plans to meet on January 18th to discuss impact of the proposed legislation.

“An open Internet is crucial to American job creation, government operations, and the daily routines of Americans from all walks of life,” said chairman Darrell Issa. “The public deserves a full discussion about the consequences of changing the way Americans access information and communicate on the Internet today.”

Image: RichWolf via Shutterstock


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