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Stop Online Piracy Act
Great Seal of the United States.
Full title "To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes."[1] —H.R. 3261
Acronym SOPA
Colloquial name(s) E-PARASITE Act[2]
Citations
Codification
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as HR 3261 by Lamar Smith (R-TX) on October 26, 2011
  • Committee consideration by: House Judiciary Committee
Major amendments
None
Relevant Supreme Court cases
None

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), known in the United States Senate as the Protect IP Act (PIPA), is a bill currently going through the legislative process in the United States House of Representatives. The bill, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), deals with the ability of law enforcement and copyright holders to combat the posting of intellectual property and counterfeit goods on the internet.

Proponents of the legislation aim to combat online piracy, protect the intellectual property rights of copyright holders, and protect jobs that are claimed to be affected by a loss in revenue due to online piracy. Opponents, however, charge that the bill is aimed at repealing the notice and takedown provisions[3] of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the law currently governing copyrighted material on the internet.

Based on opposition from the tech industry and President Barack Obama, SOPA was shelved and put on hold by the House leadership for two days, and on January 17th, the bill's author Lamar Smith came out with the bill due for mark-up.

The legislationEdit

The Stop Online Piracy Act, abbreviated "SOPA," is a bill introduced into the United States House of Representatives by Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican who represents Texas's 21st congressional district. The stated intent of the bill is to expand the ability of intellectual property rights holders, as well as law enforcement agencies and perosnnel, to fight online piracy; piracy in this instance is, specifically, the illegal sharing of copyrighted material and counterfeit goods over the internet. The current law governing copyrighted material on the internet is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The law, if passed, would allow the United States Department of Justice and copyright holders to pursue judicial action against websites that are accused of either enabling or facilitating the illegal sharing and/or distribution of copyrighted materials. These court orders could include legal actions such as preventing advertisement networks and payment facilitators from conducting business with the websites in question, preventing search engines from providing links to the websites in question, and mandating that internet providers block access to the websites in question.

In addition to the aforementioned actions, the bill would make illegal streaming of content a felony crime. It would also give internet services that choose on their own to take action against infringing websites immunity from prosecution. If a copyright holder knowingly misrepresents the intentions of a website, i.e. falsely stating that a website is enabling or facilitating infringement, the copyright holder would be liable for damages.

The Bill is slated to be "marked up" (ie., the Hearings and testimony thereat taken into account) on December 15th. Stay tuned. What with the proponents being all open to changes and such.

A Judiciary Committee aide said Smith is “open to changes” in the bill and is in discussions with a wide range of parties who would be affected by new laws.

The battle lines on the bill are drawn. David Carr, a culture and business columnist for the New York Times weighs in against SOPA. It is going to be a fight between the copyright "haves" and the technology "providers". [3]

Those involvedEdit

Major proponentsEdit

The Stop Online Piracy Act was introduced into the House of Representatives by Representative Lamar Smith. The following twenty-four (31) House members, consisting of fifteen (15) Republicans and sixteen (16) Democrats, have co-sponsored the legislation at one point. During the Internet blackout protests of January 18th, co-sponsors began withdrewing their support, recognizing the many vocal concerns by tech titans and Internet users.

The entertainment and music industries support the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act. Organizations that support it include the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, | Netflix, and a number of other companies and unions within the industries. The United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) also support the bill's passage. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the movie, television and music industries spent a combined $91.7 million on lobbying efforts in 2011. Additionally, in the 2012 election cycle, the movie, television and music industry offered up $7.7 million in direct campaign contributions to congressional candidates.

Major opponentsEdit

Citing concerns about how it will impact technology companies, a number of companies in the technology industry have come out in opposition to the bill. These companies include Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay, and the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as organizations such as the Brookings Institution, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Although Microsoft initially supported the bill, it now opposes the legislation in its current form. A number of libertarian groups have also come out in opposition to the legislation. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the computer and Internet industry spent $93 million on lobbying efforts in 2011. Additionally, in the 2012 election cycle, the computer and Internet industry contributed $6.6 million in direct campaign contributions to congressional candidates.

In the 2012 election cycle, the movie, television and music industry offered up $7.7 million in direct campaign contributions to congressional candidates. The computer and Internet industry contributed $6.6 million.

Major persons, like Mythbuster's Adam Savage, and Swedish game developer Markus "Notch" Persson have taken firm stances against the bill. Their influence in culture and the world at large allowed their views to become distributed and well-known.[4][5][6]

One of the leading Constitutional Law professors, Harvard's Laurence H. Tribe, also opposes SOPA. Tribe was President Barack Obama's Constitutional Law professor.[7]

Anonymous, an online activist group, also strongly opposes the legislation. In protest, the group posted online personal information about the CEOs of Viacom and Time Warner and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The information included home addresses and contact information. The effort, which the group called "Operation Hiroshima," began January 1 when the group posted the information on websites like Scribd.com and Pastebin.com.

A Judiciary Committee aide said Smith is “open to changes” in the bill and is in discussions with a wide range of parties who would be affected by new laws.|What's even more telling is that Microsoft had enthusiastically endorsed a narrower version of the copyright bill, called Protect IP, earlier this year. That concern about SOPA, which is heading toward a committee vote in the House of Representatives next month, led to a rare and embarrassing about-face on the part of the Business Software Alliance, a trade association that represents Microsoft's interests in Washington, D.C. (BSA, along with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, is among the seven members of the International Intellectual Property Alliance.)

Currently, as of early January 19th, there are 83 opponents to SOPA in the House[8]. Despite this, according to Fight for the Future, opponents are against SOPA because they know it is unpopular, but not why, and will be likely to change their stance if superficial changes are made to the bill in committee and the floor. Fight for the Future recommends flooding in phone calls and visiting district offices to counteract this.

ViewpointsEdit

SupportEdit

Republican and Democratic representatives have stated that new laws are needed to help media outlets, software developers, and content retailers, curb the continuation of online piracy, which is the illegal distribution of copyrighted media over the internet.[9]

A major source of support for the legislation is the entertainment industry in Hollywood, particularly the Motion Picture Association of America. The MPAA, as it is commonly referred to, along with pharmaceutical companies, media outlets, and the United States Chamber of Commerce, has lobbied Congress to provide increased protection for intellectual property rights.

According to the MPAA, "$58 billion is lost to the U.S. economy annually due to content theft, including more than 373,000 lost American jobs, $16 billion in lost employees' earnings, plus $3 billion in badly needed federal, state and local governments' tax revenue."Citation

The MPAA has also stated that passing the legislation helps job creation and keeps jobs in place. The Chamber of Commerce has estimated that entertainment outlets lose $135 billion in revenue every year as a result of pirated and counterfeited content.[10]

Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet as well one of the co-sponsors of SOPA, stated that: “Intellectual property is one of America’s chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current U.S. laws. This legislation will update the laws to ensure that the economic incentives our Framers enshrined in the Constitution over 220 years ago—to encourage new writings, research, products and services—remain effective in the 21st Century’s global marketplace, which will create more American jobs."[11]

OppositionEdit

Those concerned about the ramifications of the bill believe that SOPA would allow putative rights holders to file suit against putative infringers; it would authorize the United States Justice Department to seek injunctions against “rogue” websites dedicated to providing access to pirate goods or content, and the legislation would also allow the federal government and rights holders to demand that third parties, including payment processors and online advertisement networks, cut ties with such sites.

In a letter to Congress, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and NetCoalition stated: "As currently drafted, we believe SOPA is an alarming step backwards in Internet policy, creating a thicket of Internet regulations containing 16 new legal definitions for evolving Internet technology (including a definition for the word “including”). Further, the definition of “dedicated to theft of U.S. property” is so broad it would unduly ensnare legitimate companies’ websites, products and services."[12]

Perhaps the biggest source of controversy is the assertion of opponents that the bill could undermine the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law in 1998 by President William J. Clinton, and create new risk of litigation for cloud service providers, social networks, and other new technologies that could be misused by customers.[13]

The aforementioned joint letter also stated: “In short, this is not a bill that targets ‘rogue foreign sites.’ Rather, it allows movie studios, foreign luxury goods manufacturers, patents and copyright trolls, and any holder of an intellectual property right to target lawful U.S. websites and technology companies.”[12] Many opponents of SOPA consider legislation as an ill-equipped means for curbing piracy. Retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-educator Steve Blank opines SOPA "is what happens when someone with the title of anti-piracy or copyright lawyer has greater clout than your head of technology." Steve Blank - SOPA is a Symbol of the Movie Industry's Failure to Innovate Blank specifically takes aim at movie studios for their consistent claim that legislation is essential to stop piracy. He, like many opponents, suggests the movie industry welcome new technology and trust market forces to provide equilibrium in balancing interests.

Search engine and social media firms have also voiced concerns that they will be required to actively monitor and police the content that has been posted onto their sites. In response, Rep. Goodlatte stated: “We’re open to working with them on the language to narrow [the bill’s provisions], but I think it is unrealistic to think we’re going to continue to rely on the DMCA notice-and-takedown provision."[13]

Opponents to SOPA believe that what Goodlatte has referred to, the DMCA notice-and-takedown provision that online companies currently follow for copyright disputes, is the key element the entertainment industry is fighting against, not piracy itself.

Global blackoutEdit

In response to the continued content industry and legislative push to pass SOPA and PIPA, many content-generating websites, search engines, and other websites that oppose PIPA and SOPA held a global day of protest on January 18, 2012. The websites went offline for 24 hours beginning on January 18th, and the inability to use the websites was meant to portray how they possibly would become inaccessible if PIPA and SOPA were to become law.

Websites that participated in this global blackout, which effected both American and international visitors, included the Wikipedia, MoveOn, Reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, WordPress, TwitPic, Open Congress, and ICanHasCheezBurger websites. Google also protested on their home page.[14] The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the protests were the biggest in Internet history, with approximately 115,000 websties altering their webpages. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr did not protest, however, they did state their opposition to the legislation.[15] Engine Advocacy, a service that assists people in calling their local Congressional representatives, reported that it received 2,000 phone calls per second at the height of the protests (though the vast majority of these calls were unsuccessful because of the heavy demand).[16]. The CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, stated that his website would not shut down operations during the global blackount because, "closing a global business in reaction to single-issue, national politics is foolish." The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, posted on his wall: "The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can't let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet's development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet. The world today needs political leaders who are pro-internet. We have been working with many of these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-internet." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/mark-zuckerberg-sopa_n_1214090.html).

Wikipedia's participation sparked a number of news reports about its involvement, with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales calling the bills a threat to to a free and open internet. Wales further stated that he is

personally asking everyone who cares about freedom and openness on the Internet to contact their Senators and Representatives. One of the things we have learned recently during the Arab spring events is that the Internet is a powerfully effective tool for the public to organize and have their voices heard.[17]

Wikia, also co-founded by Wales, also joined the day of protest, but was not inaccessible. Instead, Wikia ran a high-impact campaign to raise awareness of the problems associated with the laws and called its users to action on the legislation.

However, there have also been concerns that some statements made during the blackout by organizations such as Wikipedia and Google with regard to the effects of SOPA and PIPA were inflammatory and inaccurate. In an op-ed published by The New York Times on February 7, 2012 , the chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America accued Wikipedia and Google of crossing an ethical boundary between neutral reporting and presentation of editorial opinion in disseminating information about the potential effects of the legislation.[16]

The Role of Social Networking Sites & WikipediaEdit

Facebook and other social networking sites played an enormous role in facilitating the public backlash against SOPA. However, the sites' involvement raises a debate over whether they engaged in a misuse of power or simply facilitated public discourse about an important piece of legislation. It is unclear whether and to what extent these companies used their control over social networks and information sharing to promote their private political agendas.[18] A particularly powerful amount of backlash was aimed at the Wikipedia Foundation, on the grounds that their policy of neutrality was compromised. Jimmy Wales, founder and CEO, refuted the claim, saying that the policy applied to Wikipedia, and the Wikipedia Foundation had acted to educate the public and preserve its ability to function. Wales and Kat Walsh, both members of the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees, also wrote an opinion piece about the important and vital role ordinary citizens played in opposing the bills. At the same time, the huge amount of information about SOPA shared through these sites significantly increased public awareness of legislation affecting both free speech and intellectual property rights. The continued legitimacy of these sites as neutral forums in the face of future opportunities to gain political leverage and promote private interests - including users' vulnerability to such influences - remains an open question.

Current statusEdit

On November 16, 2011, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing about SOPA "to examine issues that relate to [the bill]."[19] Representative Smith, who is also the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, scheduled the bill for markup—a process by which members would be able to debate and alter the legislation—on December 15, 2011. Smith stated he is "open to changes but only legitimate changes."[20]

The bill underwent markup on December 15th. Twenty proposed amendments to the bill were rejected in this process. This included an amendment by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) which would have kept the bill from targeting search engines and internet providers. The amendment was rejected 22-12, suggesting strong support for SOPA by the Judiciary Committee and a good chance of being successfully voted out of committee.

The Judiciary Committee adjourned after the markup process and planned to continue to debate the bill after winter recess. After continued controversy over the legislation, Representative Smith removed one of the most-debated provisions of the bill, namely that ISPs would be forced to block their subscribers' access to foreign websites that have been accused of copyright violations against American companies. The removal, according to Smith, would allow lawmakers to "further examine the issues surrounding this provision." Opponents still contend, however, that the bill is still too over-reaching.[21]

On January 14th, the Obama administration stated that they were opposed to SOPA, as well as PIPA, and would not support anti-piracy legislation that would "inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small."[22]

Currently, SOPA has been put on hold, and is no longer heading for markup in February. [23][24]

On January 20th, thanks to Internet blackout protests, Lamar Smith announced that his committee is postponing consideration of the bill until agreement can be closer achieved. [25] It is highly unlikely the bill will return to Congress for the rest of 2012, experts say.[26]

ShelvingEdit

As a result of the Obama administration's opposition and continued opposition from the tech industry, Congressional leadership shelved the bill, putting the bill on hold indefinitely. Representative Issa announced that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told him that the House "will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote."[27]

Despite the shelving and statements by President Obama and Representatives Issa and Cantor, it was unclear as to what the future of the legislation will be. The White House's opposition stated that "online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response," while also calling on "all sides" of the debate to "work together to pass legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders.” This means that the Obama administration still wants to pass legislation before the end of 2012.[28] On February 6, Rep. Issa unveiled his own "crowdsourced" modifications to the Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, the anti-piracy bill he introduced with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), which some argue would be less demanding than SOPA/PIPA because it puts the burden of enforcement on the International Trade Commission and only applies to foreign websites trafficking in pirated material.[29] Rep. Issa said, "It is an ongoing experiment in the direct digital democracy, but the introduced version of the OPEN Act is proof that crowdsourcing can deliver better bills and a more accountable government."[29] A spokesman from the International Trade Commission said that although the Commission is aware of the OPEN Act bill, it does not comment on pending legislation.[30]

Along with Eric Cantor's promise that a vote would not happen until consensus was reached, there was concern that these requirements for a vote—consensus and President Obama's "unspecified specifications"—are vague and do not give a clear indication as to the intentions of the House leadership and the White House.[28]

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—Full Text from the House of Representatives
  2. The Article On The E-PARASITE Act That You Need To Read on Tech Dirt
  3. Carr, David. “The Danger of an Attack on Piracy Online”, The New York Times. January 1, 2012.
  4. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/mythbusters/articles/mythbuster-adam-savage-sopa-could-destroy-the-internet-as-we-know-it-6620300
  5. http://notch.tumblr.com/post/14682147961/mojang-has-never-supported-sopa
  6. http://stopthewall.us/artists/
  7. THE "STOP ONLINE PIRACY ACT" (SOPA) VIOLATES THE FIRST AMENDMENT, a memo by Professor Laurence H. Tribe
  8. http://projects.propublica.org/sopa/
  9. SOPA, controversial online piracy bill, gains support as lobbying intensifies on The Washington Post
  10. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) debate: Why are Google and Facebook against it? on The Washington Post
  11. GOODLATTE INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO PROTECT AMERICAN JOBS
  12. 12.0 12.1 Letter to Congress, by the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and NetCoalition
  13. 13.0 13.1 Tech groups say online piracy bill would create 'nightmare' for Web and social media firms on TheHill.Com
  14. Google will protest SOPA using popular home page on CNET
  15. Wikipedia, MoveOn, Reddit, Mozilla shuts down to protest SOPA/PIPA, how to prepare on CBS News
  16. 16.0 16.1 With Twitter, Blackouts and Demonstrations, Web Flexes Its Muscle on New York Times
  17. Wikipedia to be blacked out over anti-piracy bill on SFGate
  18. Brake the Internet Pirates on The Wall Street Journal Online
  19. Hearing on: H.R. 3261, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" at the House Judiciary Committee
  20. SOPA goes for House debate Dec. 15 on The Washington Post
  21. SOPA author to remove ISP blocking provision on InfoWorld
  22. White House Will Not Support SOPA, PIPA on The Huffington Post
  23. http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/17/sopa-markup-resume-february/
  24. SOPA, PIPA put on hold in wake of protests on CBS News
  25. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57362675-503544/pipa-sopa-put-on-hold-in-wake-of-protests/
  26. http://mashable.com/2012/01/20/could-sopa-rise-from-the-dead/
  27. Putting SOPA on a shelf on Washington Monthly
  28. 28.0 28.1 So is SOPA Dead? Not Exactly on Forbes
  29. 29.0 29.1 [1]
  30. [2]

External linksEdit

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