SOPA and PIPA in 600 words

Google's "censored" homepage on Tuesday

Why did Wikipedia and WordPress black out on Wednesday? Why did thousands of users boycott GoDaddy (a web hosting service) and what is this I am hearing about soap?

  • There are 2 bills intended to prevent the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online (mostly from web sites operating overseas). Stop Online Piracy Act in the House was introduced on October 26, 2011 and its primary sponsor is Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas. The senate’s version is the Protect Intellectual Property Act, which was introduced on May 12, 2011 and is authored by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.
  • Under SOPA, private companies would be allowed to sue ISPs (Internet service providers) for hosting content that they say infringes on copyright. This represents a departure from current law (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which grants immunity to web sites as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content upon notification.
  • Under the terms of each proposed bill, the federal Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, could seek a court order against a web site that illegally hosts copyrighted content and then wall off the site permanently.
  • The white house said it opposes parts of the two bills and anyone who has taken civics knows, if either bill passes the senate, the president can veto it but the senate could override his veto with a 2/3 majority.
  • Who’s concerned? Mainly the tech industry, as they had little influence on the language of the legislation, which is still in flux. Big Internet companies say the bills could prevent entire web sites from appearing in search results — even if the sites operate legally and most content creators want their videos or music to appear there
    • The fear is that on blog communities like Tumblr, any user who uploads an unauthorized clip from a movie or an unreleased track from an album is putting the whole company in the line of fire.
    • In November, Tumblr “censored” the page its users see when they log into the site, explained the legislation and routed them to contact information for their representatives in Congress.
    • Reddit declared Dec. 29 “Dump GoDaddy Day” after the domain hosting service declared they supported the legislation. Although GoDaddy reversed its position, it lost more than 20,000 accounts because of the boycott.
  • There may be a potential compromise called the OPEN Act, which would provide for the International Trade Commission to judge cases of copyright or trademark infringement. If the commission found that a foreign site was largely devoted to piracy, it could compel payment processors and online advertising companies to stop doing business with it.
  • Rep. Smith recently announced he would remove the controversial section of the bill that would give copyright holders and the federal government the right to remove infringing web sites from the DNS (Domain Name System). DNS works as a sort of “phone book” for the Internet. When a user types a URL into a browser, DNS helps the users’ computer find and speak with the correct server hosting the content the user wants to access. If a web site is taken off the DNS system, it becomes more difficult for the average Internet user to arrive at that site, but savvy Internet users might still be able to access blocked sites.
  • Rep. Smith, scheduled a markup session (where the bill will be open to members of the House Judicial Committee for debate, amendments and other changes) for February in which the bill might be altered. The House will not be taking a final vote on SOPA then.

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