The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Claiming flaws in present laws that do not cover foreign owned and operated sites, and citing examples of “active promotion of rogue websites” by U.S. search engines, proponents say stronger enforcement tools are needed.
Opponents say the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing material posted on a single blog or webpage. They have raised concerns that SOPA would bypass the “safe harbor” protections from liability presently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Library associations have expressed concerns that the bill’s emphasis on stronger copyright enforcement would expose libraries to prosecution. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a domain name could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web and violates the First Amendment.
On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia, Reddit, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, or posted links and images in protest against SOPA and the Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), in an effort to raise awareness. In excess of 160 million people saw Wikipedia’s banner. A number of other protest actions were organized, including petition drives, with Google saying it collected over 7 million signatures, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and a rally held in New York City.
Infographic courtesy via Boing Boing