The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), H.R. 3261, is a bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Representative Lamar Smith of Texas in order to “promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property.” In short, this bill combats intellectual property infringements by giving both the United States government and copyright holders more power to be able to shut down websites that are providing illegal content, such as counterfeit goods and unauthorized media.
According to Lamar Smith’s website, “IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such.”
This bill is broken down into two sections. The first section deals with foreign websites that are freely circulating copyrighted material, allowing the U.S. Government to have power to shut down a website after it has been reported and looked into for infringing activity. The second section of the Act deals with increased penalties for criminal infringements.
At first introduction of the Act, there was a huge line drawn between those who are in support of this Act and those who are against it. Those who showed a lot of support for this bill are the moguls of the entertainment industry as well as leaders of both political parties. Parties against SOPA were the major tech companies, like Google, YouTube, and Facebook, just to name a few, as well as many who claim that this Act is an infringement upon our First Amendment right of freedom of speech through censorship.
You may be asking yourself, why would major tech companies be against this? As a whole, they agree that with the way the Act is written that it gives the government too much power to control censorship on the internet. For example, big websites like YouTube, where many amateur artists out there remix and recreate copyrighted song lyrics, feel very threatened because, under the Act, YouTube would have to monitor, shut down, and block all of these infringements. This is the same issue Facebook runs into, because people are sharing this “infringed” content with each other at an uncontrollable rate, which would therefore put Facebook at risk of being shut down by the U.S. government.
Soon after all of the opposition amongst the big names in the internet industry arose, Mr. Smith amended the Act to make it so that these law abiding sites like Facebook and YouTube would not get in trouble. Mr. Smith says that this act is directly targeted at the “rogue-sites” that advertise and sell “counterfeit medicine, automotive parts and even baby food that pose a serious threat to the health of American consumers.”
The result of this Manager’s Amendment has since gained some industry and bipartisan support and further ensures American innovation and job security. This has slimmed down the critics of the Act to those who make enormous profits by advertising these “rogue-sites” to American consumers. One such opponent is Google. Why is Google still in opposition? Well, they recently settled a dispute with the U.S. Justice Department for $500 million dollars because they got caught promoting ads that sold illegal prescriptions from Canada in the United States.
The very nature of this Act is not for the government to take control of the internet and increase censorship, but to make the internet a safer and more secure market place for American consumers and intellectual property owners. The House Committee is scheduled to continue debate when Congress returns from its winter recess within the next few weeks.