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stop sopa / pipa

Online Piracy, Property Bills Shelved

By John M. Williams

The Stop Online Piracy Act ( SOPA ) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are aimed at curbing access to overseas websites that traffic in pirated content and counterfeit products, such as movies and music, especially those registered outside the United States. For now, voting on both bills has been postponed.

SOPA (H.R. 3261) was introduced by Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in October 2011; PIPA was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in May 2011. SOPA's provisions include requesting court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, while requiring Internet service providers to block site access. SOPA also would expand laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material and an imposition of a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Supporters (mainly movie and music lobbying organizations ) say SOPA protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws , especially against foreign websites. Proponents have said that flaws in laws do not cover foreign-owned and -operated sites and have cited examples of active promotion of rogue websites by domestic search engines. They also say that stronger enforcement tools are needed.

The technology community has come out strongly against SOPA . Opponents say the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and that it would enable law enforcement to block access to entire Internet domains because of infringing material posted on a single blog or webpage. They fear that SOPA could bypass the protections from liability currently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Library associations have expressed concerns that the bill's emphasis on stronger copyright enforcement would expose libraries to prosecution. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a domain name could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship and violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Opposition to the legislation produced a torrent of more than a million emails directed to Congress that carried the phrase “Don't Break the Internet."

On January 18 th , thousands of websites, including Reddit and the English Wikipedia's community of editors, coordinated a service blackout or posted links and images in protest against SOPA and PIPA. Google said that it collected more than 7 million signatures in favor of the blackout; about 160 million people saw Wikipedia's banner that day. Other protest actions were organized, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that supported the legislation, and a rally in New York City.

Opponents of the bill have proposed the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) as an alternative. On January 20 th , House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith, the Texas Congressman, postponed plans to draft the bill. Clearly frustrated, he said, “The committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation. The House Judiciary Committee will therefore postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

In the wake of online protests held January 18 th , Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that a vote on the bill would be postponed. Reid cited “billions of dollars” in piracy costs to the American economy each year and concluded that there's “no reason the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved.”

Meanwhile, the SOPA and PIPA bills have been shelved. They may come back with a face-lift.

John Williams coined the term "assistive technology." His website is: www.atechnews.com .


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