The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, bill H.R. 3261), which would increase penalties for trafficking copyright materials, streaming unauthorized videos and selling counterfeit drugs or goods online, will be voted on by the House Judiciary committee when congress resumes after winter break.
Chairman Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), who introduced the bill in October of 2011, said, “This much-needed legislation makes it harder for foreign thieves to steal and sell America’s intellectual property. The Stop Online Piracy Act protects the profits, products and jobs that rightly belong to American innovators.” But the bill has been controversial.
SOPA is intended to prevent foreign rogue sites from offering or providing goods or services directed at users located in the United States by blacklisting sites when they are deemed to be directed at the U.S., and to “promote acts that can infringe copyright.” First-time offenders may face a five-year jail sentence.
Supporters of the bill reason that some sites steal America’s creative and innovative products and take away 19 million American jobs by attracting 53 billion visits. Without additional protection, content creators are have little recourse when their work is stolen by infringers; these acts are currently beyond the reach of U.S. laws.
But exactly what type of activity is deemed “criminal” by the bill is, according to critics, far too poorly defined, which could result in a serious, negative impact on ecommerce, infringe on the right to freedom of speech and potentially shut down social media sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Critics also fear the bill could fail to stop the conduct it is meant to halt. Offenders may easily move illegal content to another site.
Current wording of the bill is such that Facebook.com could possibly be blacklisted and shut down if there is one instance of a user having posted protected material—for example, a video of a child singing a copyrighted song—and it not being removed within five days after being served a removal order.
An aide to bill sponsor Lamar Smith said that the bill is specifically targeted toward illegal conduct, and that sites that host benign user content, like social media sites, have nothing to worry about.
While the Facebook example above is extreme, it’s feasible that the bill, if passed, would at minimum result in reduced user engagement. People may no longer feel comfortable sharing, and company websites will also have to be extremely careful not to host any copyrighted material as well, because the Department of Justice would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site.
A press release dated December 16, 2011 states that the House Judiciary Committee adjourned its markup of the act by voting down all amendments 2-1. The committee will reconvene the markup when Congress is next in session.
Read the official bill and a summary, and see a list of supporters and opposition.