By Naima Abdi
If passed, SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act will strike access to websites facilitating copyright infringement by hosting pirated content. The controversial bill has created an eruption of public opposition from a slew of web companies, Internet engineers, Congressmen, human rights organizations and net surfers. All of which deem the type of censorship SOPA promotes as a violation of free speech.
“The internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse. I do not support H.R. 3261 in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House,” stated Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) in a press release.
So far 100+ web founders, companies and websites have publicly opposed SOPA, including Internet-search giants Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Mozilla and Amazon.
For popular user generated content sites: Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and Reddit, the legislation poses a huge threat because the censorship outlined in SOPA would not only prohibit members from producing certain posts, but would also hold the website liable for any content that is considered to be infringing by the copyright holder. Which inevitably could lead to the site’s shutdown.
“Many sites will predictably be chilled from engaging in fully protected and lawful speech, for fear that they will be accused of a SOPA violation and suffer a cutoff of revenue from online advertising or credit card payments for transactions. The threat of such a cutoff would deter Internet companies from adopting innovative approaches to hosting and linking to third party content and from exploring new kinds of communication,” said Congressional Scholar Laurence H. Tribe in a letter to Congress discussing the detriments of SOPA.
Introduced in late October by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), SOPA’s intent is to abolish online piracy by granting copyright holders the right to legally pursue action against any site that appears to condone or possess the potential to endorse copyright infringement. Similar methods of web-censorship are used in China, Iran and Syria. The legislation is aimed at foreign sites that capitalize from hosting pirated content on U.S. net-territory. But the broad language of the bill suggests that if any website (despite their stance on online piracy) is suspected of hosting pirated content, then it is likely that the web address will be cited and potentially blacklisted from the Internet.
The twenty-three co-sponsors and major companies in the entertainment industry, view SOPA as the opportunity to recapture content dollars lost from free virtual distribution of creative works available to Americans by pirate and link sites. Some of the top companies on board with SOPA include ABC, Comcast/NBCUniversal, Disney Publishing World Wide, MPAA (Motion Pictures Assoc. of America), Sony Music, Time Warner and CBS. Seemingly, these companies are the only ones that would benefit from the bill’s passing. And as a result, mainstream coverage from major news networks attached to SOPA through parent companies, will be virtually nonexistent.
Author of SOPA, Smith who is also the head of the House Judiciary committee responsible for drafting copyright laws, is well known within the entertainment industry as Hollywood’s favorite house republican. Critics contend that Smith’s role as the crusader, on the front lines fighting against copyright infringement, has less to do with
protecting intellectual property and more to do with the financial support he’s received from the music, television and movie industries at the top of the contributors list for his 2012 campaign.
In response to the voracious uproar SOPA has caused, last Friday, Smith reneged on a crucial part of the bill that allowed domain name blocking of sites found in violation. This has done very little to pacify the rapid resistance speaking out against SOPA.
Next Wednesday Reddit will stage a site-wide shut down possibly coined P.R.O.T.E.C.H. J.O.B.S., (Promote Real Online Technical Entrepreneurship and Cancel Horrific, Job-killing Bills like SOPA) set to take place on January 18th. The same day that Congress plans to hold a hearing on the bill for opponents to further discuss the deeper ramifications and possible negative impact of SOPA on the Internet industry.
What are your views?