With websites like Wikipedia, Wired and Google going dark in support, you might be wondering: What are SOPA and PIPA? SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are two bills that are mostly intended to curtail the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online. Is that really the case?

The companies that are protesting SOPA and PIPA support current law, which states that web sites with copyright infringing content should remove it if the copyright holders ask, whout disrupting the rest of the website.  For example, in the last year Google (owner of YouTube), received five million requests to remove copyrighted content or links.  The company reports that this can be done in less than six hours if the request is legitimate.

Supporters of this bill say it is aimed primarily at foreign sites that are offering illegal copies of songs or movies. The bill would give the copyright owners court mandated orders to force sites like Google to remove links to the website and halt payment from advertising companies.

American companies fear that entails “monitoring” all of the content uploaded by their users which could be a costly and time consuming task, yet one that would essentially be required in order to avoid expensive litigation under these new bills.  Furthermore, the verbiage of SOPA is so vague, that a single compliant could be enough to block an entire website. An example of how this could harm a website like Wikipedia:

How could SOPA and PIPA hurt Wikipedia?
SOPA and PIPA are a threat to Wikipedia in many ways. For example, in its current form, SOPA would require Wikipedia to actively monitor every site we link to, to ensure it doesn’t host infringing content. Any link to an infringing site could put us in jeopardy of being forced offline

What does this mean for WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger or even Facebook? That seems to depend on what side of the fence you reside on.  Supporters say the bill has nothing to do with censorship. While opponents believe that a single complaint against one blog hosted on a domain would be enough to take the down the entire domain, punishing an entire online community for the actions of the minority.  I believe real issues lies in the vague verbiage found in the bills and the future implications that could results from unclear definitions.

Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, posted an open letter on the internet which stated “undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet…and it would violate the First Amendment.”

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.


The New York Times, Protest on Web Use Shutdown

Wikipedia, SOPA

Wikipedia, PIPA


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