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The Stop Online Privacy Act

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by , 01-21-2012 at 08:47 PM (3702 Views)
Republican Lamar Smith of Texas introduced the Stop Online Privacy Act to the House of Representatives in October 2011. On the surface, the bill targets foreign sites outside the jurisdiction of the United States that engage in copyright infringement. The main mechanism SOPA uses is preventing websites in the United States from interacting with these foreign sites. The bill was controversial from the moment it was introduced, with media and internet entities immediately taking opposing sides. First, the act itself will be broken down, followed by other acts that come up in discussions of SOPA. Finally, a look at the opposing sides, why SOPA is good and bad, and the current situation.

The Act Itself
The Stop Online Piracy Act itself is divided into three parts: an Introduction, Title I – Combating Online Piracy, and Title II – Additional Enhancements to Combat Intellectual Property Theft.

Title I – Combating Online Piracy begins by defining several key terms, including ‘internet,’ ‘domestic domain name,’ ‘foreign domain name,’ and ‘owner/operator,’ among others. The bill then details the actions the Attorney General must take when a site infringes certain copyrights. A representative of the site must be informed of any actions the Attorney General takes before shutting them down.

SOPA then indicates which sites it intends to shut down – those ‘dedicated to theft of U.S property.’ SOPA aims to prevent the U.S. from supporting these sites. Internet sites dedicated to theft are those that violate copyrights laws and anti-piracy laws under Title 17 of the United States Code. ‘Sites’ includes service providers, payment network provides, internet advertising services, advertiser, search engines, and domain name registries as outline by SOPA.

Larger sites that interact with thousands of other sites on a daily basis are not allowed to interact with sites that participate in copyright infringement and piracy. This would include sites like Google, which searches the entire web for content, or PayPal, which allows many other sites to use its payments services. If these major sites interact with other sites ‘dedicated to theft of U.S. property,’ they would be equally at fault.

The last sections of Title I provide an incentive for turning in sites engaged in copyright infringement. Sites that become aware of other sites violating the act, allowing copyright infringement, and piracy, will be offered immunity for turning these sites in to the proper authorities. They would be immune from any penalties for interacting with these sites prior to making the discovery of their copyright infringement.

Title II – Additional Enhancements to Combat Intellectual Property Theft begins by amending provisions of Title 17 of the United States Code. It redefines ‘criminal infringement to a person who willfully commits copyright infringement for personal gain, or one who reproduces copyrighted works, or who distributes copyrighted works that would have commercial value on the open market. These works include music, computer programs, movies, and sound recordings. Evidence of someone doing any of the above is insufficient, the sites intent to violate SOPA must be proven.
Dangerous goods and services are the topic of the next section in Title II. It involves individuals trafficking in counterfeit labels, emblems, boxes, or packaging of any type or nature, etc. that could possible be dangerous. This includes trafficking counterfeit drugs. An element of intent is also needed under this section. The person must know that the counterfeit product could cause seriously bodily harm or death. Counterfeiting military goods and services that interfere with military operations is also a serious offense with its own separate section under SOPA.

The final sections of Title II amend certain sentencing guidelines for all of the above and provisions dedicated to defending these intellectual property rights abroad.

The Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), is often mentioned during discussions of SOPA. PIPA is the Senate’s proposed bill to combat copyright infringement. Mr. Leahy, a Senator from Vermont, introduced the bill in May of 2011.

PIPA’s defines violators more narrowly than SOPA. Sites ‘dedicated to infringement activities’ are those who have ‘no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating’ copyright infringement. Sites violate SOPA if they engage in any infringement, unlike PIPA, where are in violation if their major purpose is infringement.
Like SOPA, PIPA is still being debated and amended and has not been passed by either house.

The Lanham Act
Discussions of SOPA and PIPA often include the Lanham Act. Both SOPA and PIPA build upon and rely on provisions of the Lanham Act, which became law in 1946. This act, also called the Trademark Act, was the first major federal legislation regulating trademarks. It contains provisions defining trademarks, how to register them with the Patent and Trademark Office, and what constitutes a violation of another entity’s trademark.

The Battle, Pros and Cons
Supporters of the bill include mainstream media, the music and film industry, and organizations like the American Federation of Musicians, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Motion Picture Association of America. These organizations will highlight SOPA’s benefits. These include taking steps to improve protections against copyright infringement, specifically those outside the control of U.S. laws and jurisdiction. Pirating music and movies through foreign sites will decrease. Additionally, counterfeit drugs and products will also be targeted, decreasing the dangerous implications these may have.

Opponents of SOPA include Silicon Valley and most of the internet industry, including major sites like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Wikipedia. These opponents worry about the vagueness in the statues enforcement mechanisms. Others argue it will violate free speech and cripple the internet by interfering with the ‘free flow of information’ on the world wide web. Other critics go as far as saying a bill that does the aforementioned with encourage autocratic regimes worldwide in doing the same, as they would be following the lead of one of the world’s largest democracies – the U.S.

The White House
The White House has issued a statement against SOPA. The response said, “while we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem … we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.” Essentially, President Obama will support legislation targeting piracy, but will not support legislation that does so in the way SOPA proposes.

Current Situation
SOPA is currently being amended to increase its chances of becoming law. It was tabled at the end of Congress’ last session because there were more pressing issues to discuss. The amendment process will take at least a few weeks.

On January 18, major sites, like Wikipedia, held blackouts protesting SOPA and the negative impact it would have on the global internet.
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