News about SOPA has been making its way across the internet in the last few weeks, with good reason. The passing of SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, would change the very face of the internet. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in October in an attempt to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property. While protecting copyrighted material seems fair, the act itself will allow federal law enforcement to seek court orders forcing ISPs and search engines to filter domain names and block websites accused of copyright infringement. This is dangerous territory because it not only makes censorship very easy to seek as a result, but something that could be widespread across the internet.
Giving the government the power to decide what websites are violating copyright also has the unfortunate implication of giving them the power to censor, block, or shut down nearly any site it chooses. Throw in the fact that this is taking place mere months after Arab Spring and it’s no wonder many are concerned. The bill would allow websites to be taken down, blocked from search engines, and halt any business advertisers or payment processors had with the site. This means a site could be stripped of the advertisement revenue it relied on to run and that if the site was a business that sold goods, it could be cut off from services like Paypal. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr would be among the first censored because its user bases are so large. It is obviously also an extremely invasive bill. In preventing access to some sites, the ISPs would inspect the internet traffic of its entire user base. To top it off, the bill would crush online businesses. Digital media investors would drop off like flies, and web hosting services would move outside the U.S.
Luckily, today the House Judiciary Committee adjourned without voting on the bill and its many problematic amendments. However, SOPA will be brought back up again in 2012. While the bill has been opposed by some big names, many are still encouraging internet users to contact their Congress person. Mobile Commons, for example, makes the call easy. While people have protested all over the internet, tellingly enough, those in Congress are not always internet savvy, and a phone call makes a much bigger difference than an e-mail or online petition. With Engine Advocacy, a site will connect users with their Congress person and briefs the user on some talking points to make the call go smoothly.
The internet is safe for now, but in a few months SOPA will be back. We'll keep readers updated as news arrives!