SOPA Still Heating Up the Web

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Dorianna Valerio
Assistant News Editor

While the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been shelved by the U.S. House of Representatives for the time being, the debate still continues.

As it stands, the bill will not be addressed for the reminder of this Congressional session and additionally, the bill was postponed with no formal rejection on file. This action by Congress comes after many experts and Internet users opposed the bill because it would, they argued, infringe on constitutional rights.

SOPA, which was introduced by Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith in late October as well as the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the Senate version of SOPA, were drafted with the intent of protecting the copyrighted material of American creators.

The intent of both bills are to protect U.S. copyright owners from the Internet sites that lift their material without permission, according to Carolyn Levin, acting assistant dean of the School of Visual and Performing arts and professor of Media Law.

Under SOPA, a U.S. judge would have the ability to stop advertisers from placing ads on a website accused of violating SOPA; payment processors would be disabled and search engines would not provide links to the site. Lastly, Internet service providers, such as Verizon and Cablevision would block the accused site in its entirety.

Although old media companies support SOPA, newer companies vehemently appose it. SOPA caused such a stir that on January 18 numerous websites protested the bill. The English version of Wikipedia disabled its site and Google covered its logo with a black box. These Internet companies and others argued that the bill would infringe on Americans’ right to freedom of speech. The day was known as National Blackout Day.

“Websites had a temper tantrum and wanted to show how much power they had,” said Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation. The non-profit and nonpartisan company is dedicated to researching, developing and promoting solutions to today’s public policy concerns as described on their website. However, he agreed that the bill had provisions in it that would hurt Internet companies.

Those provisions were legal liabilities the legislation created for Internet companies. For example, if a server were hosting a foreign site that was shut down, the site owner could in theory sue the server. SOPA lacked a safe-harbor provision, which protects servers from being sued if they were acting in good faith.

Yet, the main purpose of the bill was to protect companies and artists from having their material pirated and to take down websites that don’t comply with copyright infringement laws, according to Giovanetti.

“While I support the idea of protecting artists’ right and eliminating piracy, these two bills would do more harm than good; it violates our ability to freely conduct business through the free exchange of creative ideas,” Dr. Jennifer Cusumano, adjunct professor of Media Arts, said of SOPA and its sister bill.

Along with the virtual protests of prominent websites, several Post students have expressed their displeasure with the bill. “I think it’s a terrible idea. I’m a heavy Internet user and I don’t want to see that bill passed,” Jake Luntz, a junior accounting major said.

At the height of the SOPA protests, the file sharing website Megaupload was taken down by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. The websites allowed users to upload and download all types of content without permission.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Luntz of Megaupload being shut down. “I used Megaupload. It’s one of my favorite downloading websites.”

SOPA was created to target foreign websites that pirate U.S. copyrighted material, so websites like Youtube would not be affected, said Giovanetti.

Many agree that legal cases should be made out of these claims of copyright infringement, however SOPA isn’t an adequate solution, according to John Malizia, a senior political science major.

“I’m against the bill, but if they come up with a better bill, I would consider it,” Malizia said.

The controversial bill was pulled because of the negative backlash, but the bill may surface later this year, said Declan McCullagh, the chief political correspondent and writer for cnet.com. “Proponents of the bill haven’t given up.”

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