Just before the holidays, the House held a hearing about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would give the US Justice Department new powers to clamp down on websites that host material with disputed copyrights. The bill is hotly opposed by a number of internet giants including including Wikipedia owner Wikimedia, eBay, Google, Twitter and, as of last Friday, GoDaddy. The domain registration company had been one of the few internet companies speaking up in support of SOPA but reversed course after Reddit and other companies led a grassroots boycott campaign.
SOPA would affect all of us by ”censoring any web site capable of providing its users with the means of promoting pirated content or allowing the process,” writes Adam Dachis of Lifehacker. That is, any site that allows you to post pirated content — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, etc., etc. — can have a claim brought against it even for “something as minor as you posting a copyrighted image to your Facebook page, or piracy-friendly information in the comments of a post such as this one.” Under SOPA, a site would have only five days to submit an appeal if a claim of piracy is brought against it.
In addition, SOPA would create an “Internet blacklist” that would promote online censorship, eliminate jobs and squash freedom of speech. Under SOPA, the US Justice Department would have the right to police websites that host material whose copyright is disputed and not only sites in the US, but aboard. Even more, the US could shut down websites and also go after the companies that support them technically or through payment systems, such as Paypal.
SOPA Supporters and Opponents
Dachis notes that SOPA could “negatively change the internet as we know it.” Many of SOPA’s supporters are from the Internet community, but also from the political right and hold libertarian views. As Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica points out, SOPA’s opponents include GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul as well as members of libertarian Think Tanks including the Cato Institute and Erick Erickson of the conservative political blog RedState. James Gattuso, a senior research fellow from the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, argues that SOPA “enforces private property rights at the expense of other values, such as innovation on the Internet, security of the Internet, and freedom of communication.”
SOPA was sponsored by a Republican Rep. Lamar Smith (TX). The House anti-piracy bill and a Senate version, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), have powerful backers in the form of the the United States Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Tax Reform, the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Federation of Musicians, the Directors Guild of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Screen Actors Guild. SOPA, says Declan McCullagh on CNET, ”represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore sites such as ThePirateBay.org.” The issues of online piracy that SOPA addresses reveal a new kind of divide. Writes Ars Technica‘s Lee:
…the fight over SOPA is less about left versus right than it is about declining industries—Hollywood and major labels—versus the Internet community. Conservative bloggers like Erickson, Matt Drudge, and Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds are as offended by the legislation as are their liberal and libertarian counterparts. Conversely, even staunch civil libertarians seem to get confused about copyright issues if they’re too closely tied to Hollywood.
Other conservative and liberal bloggers are speaking out against SOPA, saying that it could mean the literal end of them.
After the drawn-out hearings about SOPA on December 15 and 16 — which also revealed how little politicians understand about the workings of the internet — lawmakers agreed to table discussion until Congress meets again in January and SOPA’s opponents have been gathering their forces. Conservative Rep. Darrell Issa (CA), Senior House Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, has been leading the hearings and has said that SOPA should not be brought to the House floor.
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