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SOPA & PIPA Explained

January 18, 2012

You’ve probably been hearing about SOPA and PIPA these past few days as they’ve been getting a lot of coverage, but maybe you don’t really understand what they are, or what it would mean if they actually were to become law. We’re here to help you sound like you know what you’re talking about next time this comes up in conversation. Maybe we can even convince you to take action against them.

Ok, so it all started with a Senate Bill called the PROTECT IP Act (aka PIPA) that was introduced in May 2011. Later on, the House of Representatives was presented with its own version of the bill: the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA). Basically, both these bills aim to protect intellectual property (such as music, movies, images etc…) by allowing the US Department of Justice to seek action against websites that infringe copyright laws or that enable this infringement. The Department of Justice can also require Internet Service Providers, Ad Networks (for example Google Ads), and payment processors (such as PayPal) to stop doing business with said sites, thus shutting the site down. All this is well and good, piracy is still very much a real problem, the issue here is that these bills will most likely not solve the problem and they come with rather dire consequences. Here are some of the most worrisome aspects of the bills:

-Some experts believe that the blocking of websites will break the Domain Name System and would lead to technical and security issues.

-Websites that are blocked can still be accessed directly through their IP address. Infringing websites could also just keep changing their domain name every time they’re blocked. The bills will therefore not do much to stop piracy.

-The bill’s definition of “infringing websites” is not very specific. This is dangerous as it becomes something subjective and important whistle-blowing sites such as Wikileaks could be shut down.

-The bills violate the basic principles of due process because the owner of the site need not be present in hearings or made aware that action is pending on his/her site. Website owners would therefore not have a fair hearing or have a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves.

-The bills have the power to take action against sites that should legally be out of US jurisdiction.

-SOPA and PIPA do not only target foreign rogue sites but also U.S. sites that “facilitate or enable” infringement. This means that sites such as Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Facebook whose users post links to infringing content could be blocked.

-What if the world follows suit and creates their own definitions for infringement and start blocking US sites subjectively? What if Twitter had been blocked in Egypt? The bills completely undermine the free exchange of information that is the core of the internet.

-Entire domains could be taken down for a single infringing page. For example all websites that use the WordPress domain name could be blocked if a single user posts a copyrighted video on his blog (same with Tumblr).

-Maybe most importantly, the bills would stifle innovation and startups by creating barriers of entry: startups would have to be prepared to incur high legal costs to fight suits. Investors would also be less likely to fund internet startups due to the increased legal risk. SOPA and PIPA could kill the next Facebook or Twitter.

These two bills would essentially protect an industry in decline (entertainment) by putting in jeopardy the very core of the growing internet and tech industries. SOPA and PIPA are overly simple solutions to what is a very complicated problem and we find the inherent subjectivity in their execution very scary.

So, what can you do? Go to blackoutSOPA.org and raise awareness to the issue by changing your Twitter and Facebook profile pictures (the awesome picture at the beginning of this post is also the perfect size for a FB cover photo. Don’t hesitate to use it! Just click on it to get the full-size image and then save it). After that’s done, contact your House and Senate representatives HERE to tell them you oppose the bills. Increase your impact by sharing this post with all your friends.

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