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What is SOPA all about?

January 20, 2012

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You may have noticed yesterday that your usual go-to research site, Wikipedia, was blocked.  Your dismay, while understandable, was intended by Wikipedia personnel.  The black-out was designed to bring awareness to the Stop Online Piracy Act currently circulating through the House of Representatives (the sister bill PIPA- Protect Intellectual Property Act is the Senate’s version).  Both bills exist to combat what Congress sees as a problem with international websites that provide U.S. consumers with access to pirated intellectual property, such as movies and music.
As a practical matter, the bills would give Justice Department prosecutors the ability to block the foreign sites from U.S. visitors.  For example, the attorney general could require search engines to disable links to the sites or prevent credit-card processors from processing payments to the site.  In addition, the bills would allow content owners like music studios and film production companies to sue websites that host pirated material.
The problem with the bills, claim a multitude of internet-based websites and free-speech advocates, is that they are drafted so broadly as to inhibit speech on the internet.  The bills require only a short good-faith letter that the website is allegedly hosting pirated content.  Once the letter is received, the website has only five days to either shut down the site or contest the letter in court.  Opponents claim that is impossible for websites with huge amounts of user-generated content, such as Facebook and twitter, to determine what material is pirated. 
What would SOPA mean for you?  If SOPA (or PIPA) were legalized in their current forms, every website host would need to be extremely vigilant about material, especially interactive media, posted on their site in order to ensure that none of the material is pirated.
There has been a huge outcry against the bills from non-traditional media outlets all over the county and President Obama has publicly stated he would not sign either SOPA or PIPA into law in their current forms. 
WCM is following the progress of the bills and will update the site periodically as new information comes available.
Remy Cahn
 

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