Stop Online Piracy Act

Stop SOPA

Click to sign petition

Don’t know what the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or Protect IP Act (PIPA) are, or why they’re so controversial? Gizmodo has a pretty thorough overview here.

In a nutshell: It is legislation — SOPA in the U.S. House and its counterpart PIPA in the Senate — that aims to stop online piracy, copyright infringement and illegal downloading, such as the illegal file-sharing of music and movies, for example. In and of itself, not a bad thing.

Here’s the problem, which the National Post has articulated so nicely:

Not only would SOPA and PIPA force American website operators to police every single piece of user-generated content on their sites — an impossible job with potentially huge liability costs. The bills would also allow copyright holders to obtain unopposed court orders, forcing Internet companies to block access to foreign sites that are alleged to have violated U.S. intellectual property laws. Court orders could be used to prevent advertising and online payment companies from doing business with foreign sites and to prevent search engines, such as Google, from linking to certain content.

Even more worrisome is the fact that SOPA and PIPA would give the U.S. government the direct authority to block entire domains and blocks of IP addresses. Canadians should be especially concerned about this, since the legislation treats all dot-com, dot-net and dot-org domains — as well as all North American IP addresses — as “domestic Internet protocol addresses” that would be subject to U.S. law. [My emphasis -AW] The bills would employ the same practices used by authoritarian regimes, such as China and Iran, to censor information and quash dissent. Ironically, they would also outlaw the technologies that foreign activists use to evade censorship, including those developed by the U.S. government.

SOPA and PIPA directly target the very aspects of the Internet that make it powerful and worthwhile — the ability to share and link to information that can by published by anyone, anywhere. That would be reason enough to oppose the legislation. But there’s more to the story.

The debate over SOPA and PIPA draws a clear line between new media and old— and between entrepreneurship and reliance on government intervention. On the one side are the opponents of the bill — organizations and companies that are products of the self-starting Internet age, such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Wikipedia, WordPress and the like. On the other side are the dinosaurs advocating for the bill, including the motion picture and recording industries, which have been slow to adapt to the realities of the Internet, and would rather lean on government to provide them protection, than come up with innovative new business models that would be attractive to modern consumers.

On Wednesday, several major websites including Wikipedia, Google, WordPress and Reddit will blackout some, or all, of their sites in protest. See what that looks like here.

ProPublica has a pretty handy graphic showing who in congress supports and opposes the legislation. As of early Wednesday morning, they had 80 for and 31 against, although the New York Times reported Republican senators Marco Rubio (a PIPA co-sponsor) and John Cornyn — on ProPublica’s “supporters” list — announced they would no longer back it, changing the figure to 78 for, 33 against.

As Cornyn said on his Facebook page: It is “better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong. Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time.”

10:30 a.m. UPDATE: Reps. Lee Terry and Ben Quayle, also co-sponsors of the bill, have also said they will withdraw their support for SOPA. In the Senate, Roy Blunt has withdrawn his support for PIPA, saying it “is deeply flawed and still needs much work.” Won’t be able to update this too frequently throughout the day, but I’m hoping the figure keeps changing.

6:30 p.m. UPDATE: ProPublica now has it at 70 supporters and 64 opponents.

8:20 p.m. UPDATE: 68 supporters, 71 opponents

Jan. 19, 9:45 a.m. UPDATE: 64 supporters, 108 opponents