What is SOPA and how does it affect you?

December 29th, 2011 in .News & Events
Suds McSoapdish
Clip to Evernote

There’s been somewhat of an uproar recently about SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill presented to the US congress October 26. While this is a piece of United States legislation nominally, if passed it will have far reaching ramifications for internet users worldwide, and could be considered a real game changer in many respects.

Sponsored by Republican representative Lamar Smith of Texas, SOPA aims to counteract what its proponents consider rampant internet-based piracy and copyright violation on a grand scale. There is a particular emphasis on overseas (or non-US based) venues and entities dealing in piracy of American-made intellectual property, as supporters say that this problem has been going on long enough, and it’s high time law enforcement were given better tools to deal with these issues. It’s important to note the bill generally deems online piracy and IP piracy overall as plain old theft, not distinguishing between them and actions that result in the unlawful removal of physical goods. It also makes the connection between online piracy and the distribution of dangerous goods that could harm public health, and links piracy to espionage.

Some of the key points relating to SOPA, or bill H.R.3261.IH:

-          Protecting customers by reducing the amount of counterfeit content and products on distribution

-          Stopping US customers and companies from willingly or inadvertently supporting copyright infringers

-          Enabling law enforcement agencies to combat piracy in a more effective manner through faster injunctions and much more severe penalties

-          Immunity for people and organisations that aid in the prevention of piracy

-          Stopping US entities from funding well-known overseas infringers

-          A focus on illegal content streaming

-          Stopping the trafficking of dangerous goods, reducing risks to public health, and fighting espionage

How that last highlight figures in with stopping online piracy is something I personally haven’t been able to fathom completely, guess you’d have to be a lawyer or a politician to do that. And while the benefits of stopping online piracy are self-evident, fears of mounting internet censorship and the intimidation of individual users may likewise be justified.

ASUS RT-N66U router: great tech or unwitting culprit?

SOPA wants to make it clear that streaming content without copyright holder permission is a crime, punishable by prison sentences. This is currently not the case in the US, as most copyright infringement cases, in the very rare instances where action is taken and they actually make it to court, are civil in nature. At most, offenders are ordered to pay damages, but it’s almost unheard of for a person to be incarcerated for offenses of this nature. SOPA aims to change that. It also seeks to empower government agencies such as the US Attorney General (and by inference all subsequent law enforcement agencies). If SOPA passes, agencies will be able to quickly get court orders against sites, organisations, and individuals that they consider in violation of copyright laws. SOPA basically gives the government the power to declare probable cause against anyone who streams or downloads content illegally, potentially shutting down their online capabilities and/or executing searches and impounds in the real world.

Arguments in favor of SOPA are clear: greater ability to stop illegal distribution of content means more revenue for content producers and holders, and thus greater incentive for more people to create and sell content. This obviously promotes both creativity and commerce, helping the economy and intellectual pursuits in general. The law and order argument is likewise valid, as SOPA wants to fight overseas havens for piracy that have been largely untouched so far. It also aims to deter rampant online piracy on the level of the individual, putting in place stricter penalties.

On the con side, opponents rightly point out that SOPA doesn’t clarify 100% what constitutes piracy and copyright infringement, and therefore may endanger freedom of speech, imposing a sort of self-censorship that will in fact be highly counterproductive as it will reduce creativity across the board. The alleged lack of clarity in SOPA may also mean that many of us will instantly become violators without realising it, as with stricter enforcement stuff like posting the US Department of Justice’s seal on Tech in Style could be considered an act of piracy, punishable by law.

ASUS USB Ethernet adapter: useful aid or downfall of civilisation?

The US Congress will hold further hearings on SOPA early 2012, but it will be a while before a conclusion is reached, and I suspect a compromised form of the bill will eventually pass.

What’s your take on this? Do you think SOPA and similar pieces of legislation can help us, or in fact harm us as internet users and content consumers?

You May Find These Interesting

    Share |