What is SOPA?
Is it a bar of soap?
A bad attempt at spelling soup?
Or is it what some tweets claim…
“An infringement on constitutional freedoms.”
“A power grab by the national government.”
An “Internet censorship bill.”
On Jan. 18, Wikipedia, along with Reddit, WordPress and other influential sites went black as part of a protest against the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act, or H.R. 3261 as it is officially known.
SOPA, introduced in the House on Oct. 26, 2011, is meant to protect music, movies and other copyrighted material. This bill operates under the premise that publishing businesses and record labels are losing substantial money from online piracy –illegal downloads on the Internet.
I think we can agree this seems fair. People should get paid for their work, and copyright law was created for a reason.
That aspect of the proposed bill is fine, fair and even right. But it’s the possible consequences that have the blogosphere and prominent Internet media in a tizzy; people like myself are concerned, too.
What really triggered the major backlash has little to do with the protection of intellectual property.
In the original wording, content creators could wield more power over the Internet than ever before, theoretically changing the virtual landscape.
At the heart of SOPA is the concept that intellectual property owners would have the ability to shut down or pull the plug on foreign-based sites they believe might be unlawfully using their property, as stated in Section 103 of the bill.
By the listed regulation, a production studio like Warner Bros. could claim a site based in Norway is infringing on their copyright and demand Google to remove the site from the searches, PayPal to refuse payments to or from that site and for ad services to pull ads and finances. Prior to the Internet blackout, companies could even require that the site’s Internet Service Provider prevent people from visiting a site believed to be infringing.
The House Judiciary Committee removed this clause to make the bill “more appealing.”
Backers of the bill point out that it’s purpose is to give some kind of regulation against foreign-based piracy groups like the Piracy Bay while also protecting the intellectual property. But the opposition is quick to fire back about the vague language leaving too much room for interpretation.
Read the bill for yourself. The language is vague and leaves room for interpretation.
It’s this lack of clarity where opposing parties have found the potential for an Internet blacklist.
In a Gizmodo article, Brian Barrett said that the potential lies with the “vigilante” provision that gives broad immunity to any provider that “proactively shutters sites considered to be infringerers.”
This means companies like the Motion Pictures Association of America, one of SOPA’s biggest sponsors, or the mega-property Time/Warner can publish a list of infringing sites to get them blacklisted.
According to Public Knowledge, Google could easily wipe out the competition for YouTube by de-listing every viral video site with a good faith belief that they are infringing on copyright.
When originally introduced, SOPA was supposed to glide through the House commission with ease much like its sister bill, Protect IP Act or S. 968 did in the Senate. But has reached a wall with public backlash and President Barack Obama announcing he will not support either bill.
Congress’ resolve with both bills is faltering. How can it not when up against the likes of an angry Internet?
Autumn Allison, Vision managing editor, is a sophomore journalism major.