What the Heck is SOPA?

Google's protest against SOPA.

If you’re online today – or on Twitter or Facebook – you’ve likely seen the acronym SOPA.  You may have also noticed that several website including Google, Wikipedia and Yahoo have altered their sites to protest SOPA.  Check out the blacked out Google logo above.

What’s going on?

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Privacy Act (there is a related bill to it called the PROTECT IP Act known as PIPA).  SOPA is a bill pending before Congress that would expand the authority of the U.S. government to fight copyright infringements online.

Basically, the proposed law would allow the U.S. government and copyright owners to seek court orders against websites that infringe copyright laws by putting some severe consequences to copyright violators.  This would include:

  • Banning search engines from directing U.S. citizens to sites that violate copyrights
  • Making it illegal for U.S. companies to advertise on violating sites
  • Forbidding online payment services like PayPal from making payments to those sites
  • Forcing Internet service providers to block violating sites

Proponents such as the Motion Pictures Association of America,, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Recording Industry Association of America argue that SOPA is necessary to crack down on an epidemic of online piracy – especially overseas.

This is a quote from U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), a SOPA supporter:

“Intellectual property is one of America’s chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current U.S. laws.  This legislation will update the laws to ensure that the economic incentives our Framers enshrined in the Constitution over 220 years ago—to encourage new writings, research, products and services— remain effective in the 21st century’s global marketplace, which will create more American jobs.”

Opponents, however, argue that the bill does little to actually protect copyrights and is a form of censorship.  Opponents include the White House, Google, Wikipedia and Human Rights Watch.  Opponents say the law is too broad and far-reaching.

This is from the Google blog:

“[SOPA] would grant new powers to law enforcement to filter the Internet and block access to tools to get around those filters. We know from experience that these powers are on the wish list of oppressive regimes throughout the world. SOPA and PIPA also eliminate due process. They provide incentives for American companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S. and foreign websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted website to seek restitution.”

Google and other opponents also argue that SOPA will hinder innovation and creativity and result in job losses.

Below are links to more details about SOPA.

What do you think?  Is SOPA dangerous?  Is it necessary to protect IP?


CNN article on SOPA

Wikipedia article on SOPA

Google’s reasons for opposing SOPA

ABC News’s story on SOPA

Bob Sullivan of MSNBC on SOPA and piracy

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