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What is SOPA and Why Should You Care?
On Wednesday, Wikipedia shut down its site for the day and Google blacked out its logo. Hundreds of other websites shut down or posted messages explaining their opposition to SOPA. But what exactly is SOPA? Why are Internet companies opposed to it? And why should you care?
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a bill making its way through the House. PIPA (Protect IP Act) is the Senate version. The legislation’s intent is to prevent copyrighted pirated material from being sold on the web. The legislation is championed by the entertainment industry led by movie and cable TV companies.
Almost everyone agrees that piracy is a problem that costs the entertainment industry millions if not billions of dollars. But those opposed–web-based companies, such as Wikipedia and Google–argue that the legislation is overkill. It’s akin to killing a fly with a semi-automatic. They believe the bill will hamstring Internet companies because it makes them responsible–and legally liable–if the company even inadvertently posts pirated content. The legislation also gives the Federal government the power to shut down a website that contains pirated content.
Under this scenario, the government would be able to shut down Google if search results included a link to a rogue site. Internet companies say it would be impossible for them to monitor their content and weed out pirated content. In addition, the bills give people and companies the right to sue the Internet company if their copyright is infringed, potentially bankrupting them.
A Win for Internet Companies
What makes this battle an epic saga is that the Web companies harnessed people power to fight the entertainment industry and they won. In a matter of hours, 4.5 million people signed Google’s anti SOPA petition. Congress was caught off guard by the overwhelming volume of phone calls and emails. Eighteen senators quickly dropped their support of the legislation. It turns out that many lawmakers didn’t understand–or even read–the legislation they supported. They were merely taking the position of the politically powerful entertainment industry. Finally, President Obama climbed on board the Internet juggernaut. The White House issued a statement opposing SOPA, effectively killing the legislation.
The Battle Continues
But the controversy over the Federal government’s authority to shut down websites that are infringing copyright law continues. The day after the Internet industry’s seeming win, the Justice Department shut down Megaupload’s website, estimated to be the one of the top 100 most frequently visited websites. Justice alleges that the file- sharing site trafficked in pirated content costing copyright holders more than $500 million. The battle over copyright and piracy is far from over.
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