Currently, our Senators and Representatives are debating the passing and institution of an act that could alter the very structure of the Internet as we know it, and potentially leave it much less free, entertaining, and useful as it is today. This legislation, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, or SOPA, was originally designed to help combat the use of foreign internet servers to facilitate piracy in the United States. The movement is supported primarily by Republican congressmen , unions in the entertainment industry, the lobbying group “U.S. Chamber of Commerce”, and several other major corporations operating in the United States. The bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain court orders to censor websites operating in or outside of the United States that have in any way brought copyrighted media to the public. The Department of Justice would also have the power to block these websites from receiving any ad money from US companies. This bill also increases restrictions on content streaming (such as Youtube) – it would define unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content as a Felony.
Unfortunately, this bill's vague wording and proposed implementation suggests that they will do massive harm, with little gains. Theoretically, the wording of this bill would allow the Department of Justice to shut down websites such as Facebook and Youtube for the actions of their users posting copyrighted material if strict and expensive measures are not implemented to prevent this. (That music video you watched on Youtube today that is not on the artist's channel, for example, could be in violation). Some major players in the potential passing of these bills have suggested that this would not be the case, although promises from this high up are never worth their weight in gold, so to speak. These bills could drive many web hosts out of the country, which would have a very adverse effect on our already stagnant job market. Startup websites and online businesses could also be discouraged due to the potential legal problems involved, as well as financial resources needed to ensure that users are not posting copyrighted content. Many opponents of the bill also argue that its section on content streaming leaves many internet users and innocent websites open to horrific repercussions, although an aid to one of the bills sponsors says this is false. Opponents suggest that the wording in this section could easily put websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube in legal gray areas with the potential to face federal charges, censoring, or blocking of ad revenue by the federal government. Internet users of sites like Youtube could also face Felony charges for posting copyrighted content, such as covering a song without paying royalties and streaming online, or simply uploading a music video or song to Youtube. One can hope that the proponents of this bill will keep their word in ensuring that this bill is not abused in this manner, but why take the risk in the first place?
Numerous well-respected companies and people have spoken out in clear opposition to this bill, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Mozilla Corporation, Nancy Pelosi, and Ron Paul. Some have even likened the possibilities this bill opens up to the censoring that occurs in China, Iran and other nations that we consider “enemies of freedom”, although the validity of this relation can be seriously questioned.
Whether you believe in clamping down on piracy on the internet with tougher federal restrictions or not, S.O.P.A.seems to be a very poorly thought out way of dealing with the issue. Unfortunately (Or maybe fortunately), our congressmen cannot read our minds. If you support this bill, or are in strong opposition to it (as I'm sure you've gathered, I am), I urge you to write your senators and Representatives, whom you can find here: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml