The Harbinger Online

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) Attempts to Censor Various Areas of the Web

The House Judiciary Committee will make their first revision to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that could potentially block all websites that use or encourage the use of copyright and trademark infringement on Dec. 15. The bill was introduced to the US House of Representatives by committee-chair and bill sponsor, Lamar Smith on Oct. 26. The bill was created in hope to stop piracy.

Following the progress of SOPA closely, junior Sam Tulp has educated himself about all aspects of the bill.

“I am against this bill because of the justification it gives to further restrictions being made and further limiting of speech and censorship,” Tulp said. “I also feel this is an example of the rich and powerful lobbyists coming from the Music and Film industries using their money and influence to lobby and whine about how there are people out there circumventing copyright and ‘stealing’ from them.”

The purpose of SOPA is “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes” according to the bill proposal. If passed, the government will give law enforcement the power to shut down websites that display unlicensed content. This may include copyright infringement, unauthorized fixation, selling or buying recordings or videos of live performances and handling counterfeit labels, goods and services.

The passing of this bill will cause the unauthorized use of copyrighted material to become a felony, meaning both the user and website owner could potentially face legal consequences. The punishment currently being deliberated is the five year jail sentence. The government will also demand all websites and telecom service providers to oversee that there is no pirated materials on their page.

“I am against SOPA because people don’t get a say in the government anymore,” junior Ivan Novikov said.

According to the bill, in the situation that a claim is made against a company, the provider will be given five days to cut off all business with the site in question. The short amount of time to take action could possibly lead to the complete shut down of a site if they do not react in time.

“While many are making claims that this Act could inhibit freedom of speech it is not necessarily that this bill specifically does (though there are certain provisions within it that make almost a blacklist of websites that the government can restrict and shutdown).” Tulp said. “It is not the bad in this bill but rather the further things that this bill can justify in the future.

In short, the bill will be able to take URLs out of the Domain Name System which allows people to find websites. Other sites that are associated with websites that have been blocked from the internet will be banned as well whether or not they violated the bill. Due to the bill’s vague wording, actions that will constitute for means of punishment are unclear possibly putting social media websites in the path of legal trouble according to internet bloggers. Today, social media sites such as Google, Yahoo and Twitter have made their position against SOPA clear by publicly opposing the bill and sharing their concern with lawmakers.

“Currently we use the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) under this act blame does not fall on the hosts of websites and does not blame websites for copyright violations made by its users as these things are beyond their control,” Tulp said. “Under SOPA this would change and the potential exists for websites to be shutdown during times in which copyright infringement is being determined.”

#VoteSocialMedia, a past trending hashtag on Twitter, is just one of the ways people are speaking out against SOPA. Websites like encourage people opposed to the bill to talk to their senator. This website asks people to submit their contact information, and in return a representative will call each person to review discussion points and directly connect them to their senator. Mozilla Firefox also created a site similar to this.

“There are some new measures that could make downloading more difficult and riskier,” said Tulp, “but it does not seem as though the restrictions will at all dampen the way I will acquire my music.”

Controversy over SOPA has caused internet users to question their security within the Web and the power of the government; some bloggers comparing the desire to censor the Web to China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship. Bloggers have also noted the similarities that do prevail such as “corporate self-discipline” which holds companies responsible for their users’ actions. For example, if a YouTube member posts a video of themselves singing the newest hit song, the company would be punished.

“There’s not a higher power that can police what the American government does besides us,” Novikov said. “And the only way that we can police them is prevention, and the only way of prevention with the American government is protest and civil disobedience.”


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