What is SOPA/PIPA and Why Should You Care?

Congress has found a worthy adversary in the form of the online community over the battle to stop internet piracy. Specifically, Congress’ recent attempts to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) have faced incredible opposition since they have been written. A closer look at these bills shows some potential problems and why the online community has been relentlessly fighting against their approval.

What is SOPA/PIPA?

SOPA and PIPA both aim to allow the entertainment industry to censor websites that “engage in, enable or facilitate” copyright infringement. To accomplish this, companies would have the power to censor websites that seemed to encourage, or even were capable of copyright infringement. In addition, rights holders would be able to cut funding for these websites by forcing any other company doing business with the website to stop immediately. Every citizen is encouraged to read the text of SOPA and PIPA.

How Are They Different?

SOPA is the broader of the two Acts. It targets any site that facilitates copyright infringement, even if it only does so by offering a tool that could be used for piracy. PIPA is stricter and requires that a site have no use besides copyright infringement to fall under the criteria. Essentially, SOPA represents a view of “Guilty until proven innocent,” while PIPA is less vague with what is an infringing site.

What Are the Problems?

SOPA and PIPA are facing resistance mainly because they are too strong for what they are trying to stop. Instead of removing copyrighted content, the bills focus on censoring entire websites. SOPA even goes beyond that, and has the ability to censor sites that aid copyright infringement, even if they do not allow piracy or contain illegal content. Another concern is their effectiveness. These two laws censor offending sites by blocking their domain names. This does not stop piracy because the site can still be accessed through an IP address. For example, if Google were hacked, one could just travel to and arrive at the same website. Even before the bills were voted on, tools to reroute to IP addresses were created. This effectively makes the bills worthless, and as such, the IP section of both bills was removed. Finally, these bills give the power to censor to the entertainment industry, which already has the ability to request that infringed content be removed through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), as well as the ability to sue for lost revenues. This increased power is coming at a time when U.S. citizens are incredibly wary of corporate power in the United States. This distrust is shown through the Occupy Movement and public outcry from the Citizens United decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that corporations could donate unlimited amounts of money to election campaigns. With the RIAA’s history of suing anyone it can, including a Boston University graduate student for $4.5 million, a twelve year old, and a deceased woman, it is understandable why the internet community does not want the entertainment industry to have this increased power.

Response to the Bills

As noted, the online community has delivered a large negative response to these bills. On January 18, many websites went dark to protest.

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