Stop the Stop Online Piracy Act

Congress is once again considering passing new laws regulating piracy on the Internet. The House of Representatives is currently considering passing the Stop Online Piracy Act. But many oppose the Act—and you should too. If it becomes law, as one Congresswoman exclaimed, it “would mean the end of the internet as we know it.” Similarly, Internet companies like Google and Facebook also openly oppose it. The Act even prompted online protests by Tumblr, Reddit and Firefox. Why do so many oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act, and why should you be concerned? Read our coverage to find out.

What the Act Does

Basically, the Act creates a mechanism for both the U.S. Attorney General and private parties to target websites hosting infringing materials. For the Attorney General, the Act grants it the power to both block access to it and cutoff its financial resources. But for private parties, the Act grants them only the power to cutoff an infringing website's financial resources.

The Legal Language

Section 102 of the Stop Online Piracy Act allows the U.S. Attorney General to block access to websites that "commit[] or facilitat[e] the commission of [trafficking in counterfeit labels or goods], [criminal infringement of copyright], [unauthorized fixation of and trafficking in sound recordings], [unauthorized recording of motion pictures], or [violation of trade secrets laws]." And after obtaining court approval, the Attorney General can then force certain types companies to take "technically feasible and reasonable measures" to take certain acts. She can force Internet service providers to "prevent access" to the site, Internet search engines to not link to the site, payment network providers (such as PayPal) to prevent payment transactions with the site, and she can force Internet advertising services (such as Google AdSense) to not provide advertisements to the site. Similarly, Section 103 of the Stop Online Piracy Act grants some of these same rights to private parties. It allows private parties to cutoff funding from websites that "offer[] goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates . . . [copyright infringement or circumvention or trafficking of stolen goods]". It also creates a notice-and-takedown system similar to the DMCA. This means that after a private party claims a website enables or facilitates infringing content, the offending site can either remove the offending material (and escape liability) or file a counter-notification. If the site doesn't remove the offending material, the private party can sue the website. The private party has the same two remedies towards payment network providers and Internet advertising services as the Attorney General has under Section 102.

Why You Should Be Concerned

We could criticize the Stop Online Piracy Act at length. But three of the most glaring criticisms are the Act's breadth, risk of abuse, and their resulting consequences. The Stop Online Piracy Act is incredibly broad. Whenever a website enables or facilitates copyright infringement, it grants the copyright holder the right to order removal of the infringing material or to face the consequences of cutting financial resources. This includes virtually every single activity on the Internet, including email and social media. The Act also creates a danger of abuse, such as from false takedown claims. Many have made false DMCA takedown claims; the same could easily happen with the Stop Online Piracy Act. Increasing this risk is the breadth of the Act. It may lead to copyright holders suing over activities that would normally be considered legal. The Act's breath and abuse create several consequences. It would, for example, "significantly chill innovation in social media and undermine social websitesʼ central role in fostering free expression."

Conclusion

As of recently, it appears that the House of Representatives will not pass the Stop Online piracy Act. But that result is not yet certain. And further, the Senate has a similar prospective law (the Protect IP Act) that creates almost as devastating consequences. We urge you to join the fight against this ill-conceived legislation by contacting your Congressmen.

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