The debate in Congress over intellectual property – particularly patent law – has been picking up more and more media coverage lately. However, one area that has mostly flown under the radar until now is the topic of online piracy. That is about to change, as members of Congress are poised to introduce the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA), a controversial law that is shaping up to be a battle between content creators and content compilers.
SOPA, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), is a law intended to prevent the swarm of online piracy by punishing web companies that host unauthorized and unlicensed copyrighted content. It is the cousin to a similar bill introduced in the Senate called the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act,” (Protect IP Act). While well intentioned, critics are claiming both proposed bills (especially SOPA) go way too far in their attempts to curb online piracy, with some even claiming SOPA borders on censorship.
As expected, the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are in favor of the proposed legislation, citing reports that estimate the financial loss to piracy to be $135 billion. However, some major internet content and provider companies, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Verizon, are lobbying against SOPA. Companies like Google, which owns the video hosting website YouTube, say that SOPA’s vague and broad language would require them to shut down infringing websites and accounts. Internet provider Verizon echos Google’s concerns, saying that the proposed bill would require them to shut down traffic of websites hosting and transferring pirated content, an expensive and technically difficult task.
Some outside critics of SOPA state that when faced with the massive expense and time needed to monitor whether content is legal, some companies – like YouTube – would choose just to shut down. Additionally, due to the broad language in SOPA, producing remixes of copyrighted videos and songs would no longer be legal. In other words, say goodbye to all your fun YouTube remixes of Lady Gaga made by research scientists. Or perhaps more nefarious, this could open Pandora’s Box in regard to the government censoring certain content online.
SOPA currently has 21 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, with both Republicans and Democrats signing on. So far, the White House has not commented on the proposed legislation.