Currently working its way in the U.S Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA has received its fair share of supporters and detractors. This bill was proposed as a counterpart of the US Senate’s PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) to strengthen the government’s initiative and copyright holders’ fight against copyright infringement in the Internet. However, media justice advocates say that this bill will entirely threaten the functionality of the Internet and disrupt much of the activities that occupy the worldwide web. Because of this debate surrounding SOPA, it has drawn much attention on the battle between those who generate “content” versus those who maintain the electronic infrastructure in which creative material (patented or not) can be produced, distributed, and retrieved.
Recently, SOPA has got the Internet up in arms of protest. Hundreds and thousands of websites are joining in the gripe and dispute to the impending threat of SOPA towards freedom of expression on the web. The “Internet strike” has even led civil rights and racial justice organizations to close their websites as protest. The internet blackouts to protest SOPA paved the way for debates and discussions even beyond the subject of censorship in the United States.
Yet, there are still some confusion surrounding SOPA particularly among those who are not so familiar with it. Since the time SOPA created a widespread online protest, questions still linger on the minds of people. Questions such as: What is the real purpose of SOPA? How does it protect copyright holders and fight piracy? What powers will SOPA give the government? What will happen when SOPA becomes a law? What is the extent in which website administrators or operators be affected when SOPA will be enacted?
Here are some significant information about SOPA to give you a much clearer view on this online piracy bill.
SOPA: Understanding How It Works
Basically, SOPA will allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites who are enabling and facilitating copyright infringement. The court order requested will block online advertising networks and payment facilitators from conducting any business with websites who are found to have defied federal criminal intellectual property laws. Additionally, the court order will also bar search engines to link to these websites and require ISPs to block access to such sites.
Intellectual property-rights holders will find relief with this bill if they are harmed by websites dedicated to copyright infringement. The copyright holder can notify related advertising networks and financial facilitators connected to the identified websites. The identified websites who have infringed content will be notified and suspended unless they can provide a counter notification explaining how they are not in violation.
SOPA will also penalize those who are streaming video and for selling counterfeit drugs, consumer goods, and military materials. This bill will also increase penalties and expand copyright offenses which include unlawful video streaming of copyrighted content and other intellectual property offenses. However, those credit card companies and advertising networks will be immune from any liability if they comply with SOPA or take voluntary measures to cut bonds with sites allegedly hosting pirated materials.
Now, when the court order is granted against a rogue website, the entire website will be taken down. When Internet users will attempt to browse on that certain website, the users will only receive an error message and would appear as if the site does not really exist.
Of course, supporters of this bill claim that it will offer great help copyright holders. This bill has certain harbour support from industry giants and organizations such as The Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But then again, we can’t deny that SOPA can create an online monopoly. As it barricades advertising networks and financial companies from doing business with websites and web operators engaging and facilitating copyright infringement, it creates monopoly by allowing copyright holders to dictate terms and creating overheads or strangulating many of these business firms.
SOPA: How It Would Impact
Many SOPA opposers have expressed that the language of the bill is quite unclear. It will likely set the shutdown of many websites that inadvertently make use of scraps of copyrighted material that they assume to be available due to “free use” standards. In general, SOPA will likely expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new and vague legal responsibilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would necessitate the monitoring of websites. Due to this, SOPA can greatly affect security and safety on the Internet. Additionally, this legislation will pose significant threat not only to online freedom of speech and social media, but also to web-related businesses and search engines.
- Effect on Cybersecurity.Many websites are concerned of SOPA’s provision wherein they will require ISPs to redirect online traffic from away from websites hosting pirated materials via “DNS blocking.” DNS or the domain name system is an important part of the Internet as it will ensure traffic goes to where it’s supposed to when users type the addresses of websites in their browsers. The addresses are then converted into a series of numbers that will make the site’s IP address.However, the redirection will create problems in cybersecurity. Experts report that the redirection can be used somehow by hackers to deceiver internet users and commit cyber crimes. Yet, SOPA pushes its endeavour to censor sites as it is in the name of Intellectual Property enforcement even if internet security is put in danger.
- Effect on Websites and Search Engines.We have already established that SOPA will have a great effect over the Internet and its activities. With SOPA, a web operator could face blocked U.S. web traffic, blocked search engine ranking, and blocked Ad revenue. For those who are creating or consuming content, the SOPA will allow the government to pull the plug on your websites. As a result of this bill, a website’s self-censorship will increase dramatically. Essentially, the SOPA will likely set every website that accepts a link or submitted content at risk of being shutdown. Every website invariably will get affected with this bill and will likely lead to the death of the Internet.For search engines, it will be very difficult for them. Search engines will have to spend considerable amount of time and effort to identify websites that defies SOPA provisions, mark them, and ban them. Google and other search engines will likely ban every website at the slightest issue. In the long run, search engines will be without any function since there won’t be any website anymore.
- Effect on Social Media or Websites hosting User Content.This legislation will also pose a great risk to social media and websites that host user content. Social media networks, personal pages, hosting sites, and anywhere people can express themselves or can find content are at the greatest risk. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube are just some of those websites that will be made liable for their user’s actions such as posting links of pirated material. These websites will certainly feel and experience the chilling effects of SOPA with which the very worse is the shutdown of their entire social media site.
- Effect on Online Business and Start Up Companies.Entrepreneursand venture capitalists are settled with how effectively and adequately the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to handle their concerns on piracy. DMCA has also protected their welfare since it has created safe harbor to keep their online businesses operational as long as they respond to claims of copyright infringement.However, with SOPA, online business owners fear that will create a devastating and eerie business landscape on the Internet. SOPA will undermine and threaten DMCA, as well as the foundations of the Internet, which will have a negative impact on online business and start up companies. SOPA will undo the legal safe harbours that have allowed online businesses and the Internet industry as a whole to flourish for many decades. Many American businesses will be exposed to broad and open-ended liabilities. As a result of this, existing American online businesses will face more claims and lawsuits, decreased venture capital investment, and fewer new jobs. Moreover, because of the stricter and riskier legal climate, there will be fewer start-ups that will be launched.
These are just some of the significant effects that SOPA can cause. Additionally, it will also affect average and ordinary American internet users. It will likely block the websites that they regularly visit. Censorship on the links they need and want to share through their emails and social networks will be enforced. In a nutshell, internet users’ basic internet freedoms are set on the chopping block when SOPA will become a law.
The only question to be asked right now is “Could SOPA possibly become a law?” Of course, the chances of this bill passing in the U.S. House will greatly depend on the actions and persistence of its numerous lobbyists in Congress. Yet, this does not discredit the fact that many SOPA oppositions are taking action to stop this bill.