Friday, January 20, 2012

SOPA & PIPA explained.

What is SOPA & PIPA?
At its core, the Stop Online Piracy Act is an anit-piracy bill making its way throughout Congress. Introduced by Republican House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith on October 26, 2011, the bill calls for intellectual property (IP) owners (movie studios, record labels) to have the ability to shut down any foreign site that violates their intellectual property and copyrights. The Protect IP Act, SOPA's Senate equivalent, is meant to give the same power to companies that make physical goods that are being counterfeited and sold over the Internet. The bill's supporters claim that both bills are aimed at foreign companies that are illegally making money using U.S.-made goods.

How will this affect me?

If passed, SOPA and PIPA will give corporations the power to censor the Internet as they see fit. If Sony Pictures discovers that a certain website is allowing users to download The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it can demand that the site's ISP block access to users, that Google remove the site's links from its search results, and that companies stop running their ads on the site. Or, if Sony realizes that a certain website is allowing users to download music from one of its artists illegally, it can have that site shut down.

But can't they already do that? Look at what happened to OnSmash.

True. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), there are laws on the books to that make it a crime to pirate copyrighted material. We've recently seen the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) go after a number of websites it believed was pirating copyrighted material or selling counterfeit goods in the name of the DMCA. However, many of the seizures conducted by ICE were of dubious legality and are currently under investigation. With, SOPA and PIPA, there will be no need for legal recourse because it will all be legal. What's more, the copyright holders will only need to have it on "good faith" that certain websites are violating their rights. All of which could lead to an Internet Black List: A list of websites created by IP owners that are believed to be breaking the law. 

Damn, that's crazy. People will figure out a way around it, though, right?

It is crazy. And you're right, we're sure the legions of hackers will figure out a way to circumvent whatever happens, just as The Pirate Bay has been able to do time and time again. However there's a provision in SOPA that will allow the government to shut down any site that gives users a way to go around the blocks and censorships. Also, as Gizmodo points out, if you were to send out a tweet or email that links to a torrent site with illegal content , Twitter and your email provider will be legally obligated to delete the tweet. And that will go for any social media outlet. Free speech will grind to a halt.

What can I do?

The bills are scheduled to stand for vote on January 24th. You can contact your congressman or congresswoman and let 'em know that you oppose the bill. There are a number of websites, like American Censorship and SOPA Strike, that make it easy for you to do so.

The term SOPA may have meant absolutely nothing to you until Wednesday, Jan. 19, when you attempted to use Wikipedia to figure out what exactly the Cuban Missile Crisis was or who won the 1959 World Series.

So what is SOPA? Other than the reason some of your favorite websites were blacked out for a day, SOPA, is the Stop Online Piracy Act, and its partner in crime is the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act, or PIPA. The two are bills, except SOPA is in the House and PIPA is in the Senate. PIPA was approved in May by a senate committee and is now pending before the whole senate, CNN reported. Their purpose is simple: stop foreign-based websites from selling pirated movies, music and other products, the Wall Street Journal reported.

With these bills, the federal government would have the authority to shut down US based websites that offer pirated content, although they won’t be able to do that to foreign sites. The bills will attempt to stop piracy simply from preventing US companies from providing funding, advertising, links or other assistance to foreign sites, the WSJ reported.

While the new rules seem simple enough, many argue that this form of censorship is actually harming Americans’ right to free speech. Internet companies feel the bills will not only promote censorship of the world wide web, it will take away their ability to innovate, as well as the web’s natural infrastructure, the Washington Post reported.

Plus, the legislation is so broad in the House bill SOPA it could allow content owners to target US websites that don’t even know they are hosting pirated content, such as Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia, the WSJ reported.

The bill’s main backer is the Motion Picture Association of America, which estimates 13 percent of adults in the United States have watched some form of illegal copies of movies or television shows on the Internet, which costs media companies billions of dollars.

Motion Picture Association of America, the legislation's main backer, estimates 13% of American adults have watched illegal copies of movies or TV shows online, and it says the practice has cost media companies billions of dollars.

In response to the bill possibly being passed, Internet hot sports such as Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing blacked out their sites yesterday in protest of SOPA and PIPA. The blackout and public outcry that followed did seem to change the mind of some lawmakers, CNN reported.
"We can find a solution that will protect lawful content. But this bill is flawed & that's why I'm withdrawing my support. #SOPA #PIPA," Republican Sen. Roy Blunt tweeted, CNN reported.

One of PIPA’s cosponsors, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also yanked his support of the bill after the blackout.

"I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet," Rubio wrote on a Facebook post, CNN reported.

In total eight US lawmakers withdrew their support from the bill, and 8 million people followed the instructions of their favorite websites by contacting their local politicians, BBC reported.

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