The Stop Online Piracy Act, which is more formally known as, “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combatting the theft of US property, and for other purposes,” is a bill put forward in the House of Representative by Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas on October 26. A similar bill, in terms of intent and language is also being presented before the Senate; however, SOPA has received a significantly larger portion of media attention due to its more rigorous and strict guidelines with respect to enforcement and punishment of pirates and those deemed to be supporting pirates.
Proponents of the bill include the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, MacMillan Publishers, Viacom, Nike, L’Oreal, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The basis of their support is that the bill would work to strengthen protection of intellectual property by working to create a larger definition for theft or misuse and by drastically expanding the ways in which an offending site may be shut down.
Opponents of the bill include Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, and the Mozilla Corporation. In addition to this, the Library Copyright Alliance, which includes the American Library Association, has publicly objected to the bill because the redefining of willful infringement could encourage the criminal prosecution of libraries.
The bill gives a much broader definition of what constitutes willful infringement of a given piece of intellectual property while giving the legal system more tools with which to punish the offending infringer, such as requiring any and all service providers to deny their subscribers access to the offending site, requiring search engines to not link to offending sites, requiring any payment network (like PayPal) to not allow any transaction involving the offending site, and all ad services to cease all interaction with the website.
The bill also removes the “safe harbor” part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gave providers of services amnesty from charges based on what their users did. This part of the DMCA allows websites like YouTube to exist by not holding them responsible for copyright infringement as long as they act quickly when notified of copyright infringement issues on the part of their users. The removal of the “safe harbor” portion of the DMCA also makes it so websites that host the content are responsible for constantly filtering all of their content so nothing can be posted that violate copyrights, so the site itself does not become cut-off from all of its vital services.
There is also a brief provision on Domain Name Service usage. This provision in the bill, according to Sandia National Laboratories, is “unlikely to be effective, would negatively impact U.S. and global cybersecurity and Internet functionality, and would delay the full adoption of Domain Name System Security Extensions and its security improvements over DNS.” The DNSSEC system requires a secure DNS, which is something that this bill undermines in the name of copyright protection, according to Sandia.
In summary, SOPA does a lot to further the protection of intellectual property, according to its authors, while its detractors say that it would threaten much of the way in which the Internet currently functions in the U.S. today.