The Implications of SOPA/PIPA

SOPA and PIPA were intended to stop piracy. Unfortunately, they are far too broadly written. The Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”), introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in the House as H.R. 3261 last October, has caught millions of Americans’ attention. It caught my attention on Wednesday when, to my dismay and frustration, I was unable to access Wikipedia. Wikipedia, which has over 365 million viewers per year, protested against SOPA by shutting down for twenty-four hours on Wednesday. Google did not shut down, but plastered a black bar blocking its famous homepage iconic doodle, garnering over seven million Americans’ signatures in its petition against the anti-piracy laws in Congress. SOPA and the Protect IP Act (“PIPA”), the latter introducted as S.B. 968 by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in May 2011, have the admirable goals of combating foreign-based websites that have pirated materials; however, the unintended consequences of the two pending bills far outweigh its goals of prohibiting piracy sites, and are eerily reminscent of a “Big Brother” society.

SOPA intends to prevent people from downloading illegal materials from foreign websites. This can be accomplished in two ways. First, websites can be blocked. Google and other search engines would have to block certain websites from their web indexes. Second, the cashflow to these sites can be blocked by stopping financial providers from giving money to these sites, cutting off advertising networks, or a mixture of both. This seems to be good since online piracy is immoral and piracy website hosts steal money from companies. What is perhaps more immoral, however, are the unintended consequences as a result of SOPA/PIPA that has grasped the attention of millions of Americans.

Under SOPA, a website deemed “illegal” by U.S. standards cannot properly defend itself. Unlike the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), useful against domestic based sides like Napster, SOPA gives internet sites a timeline to discard copyright materials. If a YouTube user posts a published song, violating copyright laws, the federal government will contact YouTube to ask its user to take down the video. If the user does not abide, then a court order may take place. In the case of SOPA, there is no timeframe, and people may become annoyed or worried while using the Internet. Thus, as this video explains in further detail, they may use a foreign provided Domain Name Service service to lessen their worries. Americans may use another country’s Internet for more access. A foreign DNS may see this developing trend and try to lead American Internet users to fake banking sites. Which is worse: piracy, or increased foreign scamming?

 


 

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Supporters of SOPA are primarily big media companies that, most understandably, do not want to lose money on material that can be downloaded from foreign websites. Opponents of SOPA include Facebook, Google, Reddit, and small websites that will feel the law’s impacts. While its goals are admirable and necessary, it penalizes entire websites for an individual’s user’s actions and promotes an unclear meaning of censorship that can be interpreted in several ways. That said, ISP’s that have the power to cut websites off may, in fact, have other motives rather than protecting copyright laws. You helped us last year with this problem, so we will help shut down this company to return the favor.

Moreover, the policies of the Thought Police Internet Police mirror that of China and other foreign countries, diminishing America’s role of being the global voice that so adamantly advocates for the First Amendment. Policymakers should strive for the goals of SOPA/PIPA, but they must do so without excessive government surveillance obstructing domestic companies and hindering Americans’ freedom.

Melanie Wilcox