An Overview of SOPA And How It Affects You!

If you have been paying even only a little bit of attention the last couple months to platforms like news feeds, leading websites and even Twitter (the micro-blogging platform where revolutions are started), you would have noticed a lot of online chatter about SOPA. Sounds like somehow near around on JAN 23rd, all the internet world will going to blackout on this date.

What is SOPA?

SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR. 3261) was probably started with good intentions. It was introduced in the U.S House of Representatives on October 26 2011 and sounds good on the outset or upon introduction, because the Bill would expand the ability of U.S Law Enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Let’s look at what this means:

What will SOPA do?

Well, well look at the surface first. The ‘good intentions’ part. As the bill was proposed originally, it will empower both the U.S Department of Justice as well as copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

What’s the problem?

Well, as this article progresses, you will see lot’s of problems cropping up. We will look at them, but here are a few on the surface:

The bill has been criticized by many online entities as being too vague.
The actions could give power to have a certain website, let’s say yours, who have only been accused, have the following entities barred:

Paypal from doing business with yours.
Online advertising networks from working with you.
Search engines from linking to your site, or ranking it.
Requiring Internet Service Providers to block access to your sites.
It would make unauthorized streaming of copy written material a crime with a penalty of 3 years in jail.

I know, those sound great (some of it) but the problem is the power it gives lawmakers and Law enforcement agencies. The internet has always had pride in the fact that it ‘sort of’ protects free speech. Imagine a government bill (like this one) is being passed and there’s an uproar on Twitter about it (like there currently is), and Twitter is ordered to NOT publish any tweets about it? Scary.

There are two camps in this ‘struggle. And here is a synopsis of their stances:
Proponents say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industries, jobs and revenue and is necessary so that action could be taken against sites that infringe on copyright laws – especially foreign sites.
Opponents of the bill is of the opinion that it infringes on First Amendment Rights. And as the best form of internet censorship, will cripple it completely. It will also threaten whistle blowing (like WikiLeaks) and other kinds of free speech. A similar bill is being tabled in South Africa, called ‘The Protection of State Information Bill’.

SOPA until now.
Lets look at a little history of published material around SOPA.

  • Godaddy’s presence on a supporter list sparks an impromptu user exodus.
  • With the exodus, Namecheap accuses Godaddy of blocking domain transfers. (Dec 26)
  • Andrew Keen from TechChrunch weighs in that he doesn’t think it will kill the internet. (Nov 14th)
  • House minority speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has come out against SOPA (Nov 17th).
  • ‘I work for the internet’ is launched where people can upload their photos and occupation to show Congress on whose side they should be on. (December 12th).
  • Warren Adelman, GoDaddy’s CEO, does damage control after it’s reversal of stance on SOPA. (Dec 23rd).
  • GoDaddy’s name is removed from the House of Reps SOPA supporter list (Dec 27th)
  • A public internet outcry starts, right before the bill is ‘quietly’ passed (Nov 16th).
  • Eric Smidt from Google calls the bill ‘censorship’, becoming the most high-profile opponent of the Bill. (Nov 15th).
  • Startup SendWrite launches an initiative to send Congress a real, physical letter denouncing SOPA (Dec 15th).
  • Tumblr launches an initiative to give people access to their representative. (Nov 16th).
  • A judge applies a SOPA-esque solution seizing 228 domain for counterfeit goods. (Nov 28th).
  • The Stanford Law Review posts an article saying the act nullifies due process and questions its constitutionalism. (December 19th).
  • With 50 objections and proposed amendments, SOPA is delayed until after the holidays. (Dec 16th).
  • Brad Burnham, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, came into the TCTV studio in New York City to explain why SOPA is misguided and how it threatens to break the internet. (Dec 15th)
  • Scribd Protests SOPA By Making A Billion Pages On The Web Disappear (Dec 21)
  • TechCruch interviews Congressman Bill Owens about his support of the act (Dec 23rd).
  • Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger, says he will take his 1000+ domains elsewhere if GoDaddy keeps its support of SOPA. (Dec 22nd).
  • Paul Graham removes invites to YC Demo Day of employees of companies that SOPA.
  • Over 40 internet companies come out in opposition of SOPA (Dec 22nd).
  • GoDaddy goes from ‘not support’ to ‘opposes’ SOPA. The day dubbed ‘leave GoDaddy day’. (Dec 29th).

That’s a little internet revolution for you right there. Let’s look, in point form, what are the arguments for and against SOPA, and then I’ll leave you to your thoughts.

Arguments for SOPA.
It will protect revenue for content creators.
Protection against counterfeit drugs.

Arguments against SOPA.
It’s a threat against online freedom of speech.
It will have a negative impact on web hosting services.
It’s a general threat against web related services.
It’s a threat to user uploading content.
It’s a threat to internal networks.
It’s a threat to open source software.
It hasn’t got an effect on piracy.

Weakening of Digital Millennium Copyright Act protections for websites
Its deep-packet inspection and an invasion of privacy.
It has a negative impact on DNS, DNSSEC and internet security.
There’s a lack of transparency in its enforcement.

As you can see, it has a lot more arguments against it than there are pro-arguments. And it seems that its intentions were good initially, but it’s implications would have a great negative impact on the life of the internet as a whole.
Your turn.

Weigh in on the discussion today. Make your voice be heard. Share your sentiments in the comments below or join some of the many movement opposing SOPA and get involved before it is too late.

Sources: TechCruch.com and Wikipedia.com