What are SOPA and PIPA and Why Are We Protesting Them?

There are currently two bills before Congress – the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives.  The simplest explanation is that these bills would censor the Internet and impose dangerous regulations on US businesses and consumers.  The intent of the bills is to fight online piracy.  We are OK with that – countless studies have shown that billions of dollars are lost by companies due to piracy.  Where we stop being OK is when the government says that to fight piracy, they will control the Internet and interfere in businesses.  Google sums it up best:

“Fighting online piracy is important. The most effective way to shut down pirate websites is through targeted legislation that cuts off their funding. There’s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. jobs.”

Top 5 Things That Scare Us About SOPA

1. A big red button to shut down websites

If passed, the SOPA and PIPA acts would allow the US government to obtain court orders to shut down any website that contains unauthorized copyrighted content or a link to unauthorized copyrighted content.  To put this into perspective, if one person on Facebook posts a link to unauthorized copyrighted content, the US government would have the power to shut Facebook down.  Entirely.

2. Government interference in business and commerce

SOPA and PIPA allows the US government to ban advertisers or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from doing business with anyone who posts unauthorized copyrighted content or a link to unauthorized copyrighted content.  Let’s say you run a blog on your website and someone posts a comment that links to unauthorized copyrighted content, the US government would ban your ISP from doing business with you.  There goes your entire website – all because of 1 comment made by 1 user on 1 page of your website).  If that’s not bad enough …

3. Business owners are criminals?

If you allow for comments or user interaction in any part of your website and you don’t screen every single word that anyone can post and confirm that every single word does not violate a copyright, you would be classified as a criminal under SOPA. And if that’s not bad enough …

4. You stop getting paid

Again, if you allow for comments or interaction on any part of your website, this would be classified as a vehicle or feature to post unauthorized copyrighted content and anyone can accuse you of infringement.  When this happens, all payment processors are required to stop payments to you within 5 days. And, SOPA does not stipulate that you have to be given any notice so the first time you’d likely become aware of the accusation is when the money stops coming into your business.

5. Hypocrisy

During the January 2011 protests in Egypt when the Egyptian government shut down the Internet, many people around the world decried this action as standing in the way of democracy.  Ironically, the senior technology adviser (Alec Ross) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that the US State Department was focused on “making sure that the Internet remains open to communication, collaboration and commerce.”  Apparently, it’s bad when other governments interfere with the Internet, but it’s OK if the United States government wants to.  Interesting.

For more legal analysis of the most dangerous clauses of SOPA, head to Mashable.

OpenSpark will be joining tens of thousands other sites in going dark on January 18, 2012 to protest SOPA and PIPA.

Last Look

Sometimes a movie is better than words.