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Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act

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Manish Jindal

December 1, 2023

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Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act

Introduced in the final quarter of 2011, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are legislative bills presented to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, respectively.

Both acts were proposed as solutions to the challenge of enforcing U.S. laws on websites operating beyond U.S. borders.

Critics argued they threatened internet freedom, while supporters believed they were essential for protecting intellectual property.

The ensuing debates and protests highlighted the challenges of balancing digital rights with copyright enforcement.

This article provides a comprehensive knowledge on stop online piracy act and protect IP act.

Understanding SOPA: The U.S. Congress’s Attempt to Combat Online Piracy

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a suggested bill in the U.S. Congress aimed at enhancing the powers of U.S. authorities to tackle online copyright violations and the online sale of fake goods.

Presented on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith from Texas, the bill proposed measures such as seeking court permissions to prevent ad networks and payment processors from working with sites that infringe copyrights.

It also suggested that search engines should not link to these sites and that internet providers should block user access to them.

The bill aimed to broaden current laws, making unauthorised streaming of copyrighted materials a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Supporters of SOPA believed it would safeguard intellectual property, support related industries, jobs, and revenue, and emphasised the need for stronger copyright law enforcement, especially concerning websites based outside the U.S.

They pointed out the inadequacies in current laws that don’t address foreign sites and highlighted instances where U.S. search engines actively promoted such rogue sites.

The bill garnered widespread bipartisan backing in both the House and the Senate. It was also endorsed by various organisations and groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Governors

Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, the AFL–CIO, 22 trade unions, and the National Consumers League.

Protect IP Act

The Protect IP Act was crafted to combat websites dedicated to infringing activities, irrespective of their location.

These websites, often anonymously operated, pose challenges for U.S. copyright or trademark owners due to the high costs associated with tracking and disabling them.

The Act proposed a streamlined process to shut down such websites by disabling many of the tools these websites rely on.

  • Criteria for Infringement: The website must primarily focus on infringement. It must have “no significant use” other than engaging in copyright infringement, violating DMCA protections, or promoting counterfeit goods. The definition of “significant” remains ambiguous.
  • Remedies: If a website is proven to be dedicated to infringing activities, several remedies can be invoked:
    • DNS server operators might be required to block the domain name.
    • Financial transaction providers could be mandated to cease business with the website for U.S. customers.
    • Internet advertising services would be prohibited from providing ads to the website.

Shifting Focus from Content to Platform: The Implications of SOPA and PIPA

Existing laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), already offer protection to copyrighted materials.

However, while the DMCA primarily aims at eliminating specific unauthorised content from the web, SOPA and PIPA shift their focus to the platform or the website hosting this unauthorised content.

These proposed bills would empower the Justice Department to pursue foreign websites that deliberately engage in or aid intellectual property violations, often referred to as rogue websites, for instance, The Pirate Bay.

Consequently, the United States government could compel domestic entities, including Internet service providers, credit card firms, and online advertisers, to sever their associations with these infringing sites.

Why Content Providers Want Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act?

Content providers, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and business representatives like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, advocate for SOPA and PIPA because they believe that innovation and jobs in content-creating industries are threatened by the rising tide of Internet piracy.

They argue that overseas websites have become sanctuaries for Internet pirates who profit from their content.

These foreign website operators are currently beyond the reach of U.S. law, and SOPA and PIPA are seen as tools to curb this illegitimate Internet activity.

According to the Global Intellectual Property Center, which is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sectors that are intensive in intellectual property employ over 19 million people in the U.S. and contribute $7.7 trillion in gross output.

The main concern is that while there are existing laws to protect copyrighted material, they are deemed inadequate, especially when dealing with websites that are owned or based outside the U.S.

The proposed legislation would help address these challenges by providing more robust tools to combat online piracy, especially from foreign-based sites.

Primary Goals of SOPA and PIPA

The goals of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) were primarily centered around the protection of intellectual property rights, especially in the digital realm.

Here are the main goals of SOPA and PIPA:

Protecting Intellectual Property of Content Creators:

One of the primary goals of SOPA was to safeguard the intellectual property of content creators. Rep. Goodlatte emphasised that intellectual property is a significant job creator for America and plays a crucial role in the global marketplace.

The legislation aimed to ensure that the incentives for creating new writings, research, products, and services, which were established over 220 years ago in the Constitution, remain effective in today’s global digital marketplace.

The intent was to ensure that profits from American innovations benefit American innovators.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) also highlighted that the film and motion picture industry supports millions of jobs and numerous small businesses.

Protection Against Counterfeit Drugs:

Another significant goal was to protect consumers from counterfeit drugs sold through cleverly disguised websites.

Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical company, emphasised the challenges consumers face in distinguishing genuine pharmacies from counterfeit ones.

The legislation aimed to prevent American patients from ordering medications from potentially unsafe foreign pharmacies online.

Combatting Online Piracy:

The legislation aimed to empower the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against websites, especially those outside U.S. jurisdiction, that were accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

This included actions like barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with infringing websites, preventing search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to these sites.

Impact of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on Websites

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a proposed U.S. bill with the primary objective of strengthening anti-piracy measures.

It aimed to compel internet companies to block access to foreign websites that violated U.S. copyright laws.

Here’s how it could have impacted websites:

  1. Blocking Foreign Websites: SOPA sought to force internet companies to block access to foreign sites that hosted material infringing on U.S. copyright laws.
  2. Criminalising Unauthorised Streaming: The bill proposed making unauthorised streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with penalties of up to five years in jail for ten violations within six months.
  3. Empowering the U.S. Government: SOPA would allow the U.S. government and rights holders to obtain court orders against websites believed to be enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
  4. Restrictions on Business with Infringing Sites: U.S.-based payment services, such as PayPal, and American advertisers would be required to cease business with foreign sites deemed to be dedicated to infringing activities.
  5. DNS Blocking: Initially, the bill required internet service providers to block Internet users from accessing specific websites using DNS (Domain Name System) blocking. However, due to concerns about potential harm to the internet’s underlying infrastructure, this provision was set to be removed.
  6. Protection of Intellectual Property: Supporters believed SOPA would safeguard the intellectual property market and the associated industry. Companies, especially those in the entertainment sector, supported the bill as they had interests in preventing unauthorised sharing of films, music, and software.
  7. Concerns for Websites Hosting Content: Critics argued that the legislation could lead to internet censorship and jeopardise free speech. They believed that SOPA and PIPA could grant the U.S. government and rights holders excessive powers to shut down sites they perceive as hosting protected content, without a clear definition of “hosting.” For instance, a user comment with infringing material on a news site could be grounds for a takedown.
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    Anti-circumvention Provision
    : Both SOPA and PIPA included a provision that would criminalise informing users about how to access blocked sites. This could pose risks for websites with user-generated content, like Facebook or YouTube, if they failed to promptly detect and remove such information.
  9. Immunity for Voluntary Blocking: The bill proposed granting immunity to internet services that voluntarily block certain websites based on “credible evidence” of their involvement in the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. However, critics pointed out the potential for misuse since immunity would be granted even if the blocked websites were only believed, not proven, to be involved in such activities.

Protests and Controversies: The Impact of SOPA & PIPA on Internet Freedom

In the annals of internet governance in the United States, the protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) stand out as watershed moments.

January 18, 2012, witnessed a synchronised outcry against these legislative proposals in the U.S. Congress, driven by several core concerns:

Digital Speech and Community Concerns:

While the primary intent of these bills was to fortify defenses against copyright violations, especially from sources outside the U.S., they were perceived as potential threats to online freedom of expression.

The apprehension was that these legislations might inadvertently damage websites, digital communities, and the wider internet landscape.

Critics argued that the protective measures for platforms hosting user-generated content were insufficient.

Organised Digital Dissent and Web Shutdowns:

The momentum for the protest was set in motion by Fight for the Future, an activist group.

They rallied numerous renowned websites, such as the English Wikipedia, to momentarily suspend their services or alter their content to display opposition messages.

Tech giants like Google, Reddit, and Mozilla stood in solidarity. Remarkably, as per Fight for the Future, the digital demonstration saw participation from over 115,000 websites.

On-the-Ground Protests:

Parallel to the digital dissent, on-the-ground protests sprang up in several U.S. cities, including New York City and San Francisco, aiming to amplify the concerns about SOPA and PIPA’s potential repercussions.

International Spotlight and Responses:

The scale of the protests drew global media attention.

Their impact was palpable when the White House articulated its stance, emphasising that it wouldn’t endorse any bill that might curtail freedom of speech or impede the internet’s global innovative spirit.

The day witnessed millions actively seeking information, endorsing petitions, and expressing their reservations about the bills.

Aftermath:

The aftermath of the protests saw a significant shift in the political winds. Several legislators, once proponents of the bills, retracted their support or voiced reservations.

While there were indications of potential revisions to the bills, the prevailing sentiment was that they had been effectively sidelined due to the overwhelming public opposition.

Voices of Critique and Praise:

The protests, though largely successful, weren’t immune to criticism. Entities like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) perceived the widespread website blackouts as an overreach.

Conversely, esteemed publications like The New York Times interpreted the events as a defining phase for the tech sector, signaling its maturation in the political arena.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) debates marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the internet and the battle over copyright.

These proposed legislations, aimed at enhancing copyright enforcement and taking action against websites, especially rogue websites outside the U.S., sparked a massive internet blackout, with numerous websites, including giants like Wikipedia and Reddit, protesting the potential implications of the bills.

The technology industries were at the forefront of this opposition, emphasising the potential harm to freedom of speech, innovation, and the very architecture of the internet.

The proposed legislations were seen by many as an attempt to create an internet blacklist, undermining the principles of an open and free web.

While SOPA and PIPA were designed to strengthen American copyright law, the widespread protests highlighted the complexities and challenges of balancing copyright enforcement with the preservation of internet freedom.

The global response to these bills underscored the internet’s role as a shared global resource and the collective responsibility to protect its integrity.

FAQs

Who supported SOPA?

The primary supporters of SOPA were mainly media companies, including record labels, TV networks, movie studios, and book publishers.

Who opposed SOPA?

The list of opponents is vast and includes tech giants like Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, and Mozilla Corporation.

Gaming companies like Mojang, Riot Games, and Epic Games also opposed, as did platforms like Reddit and Wikipedia.

Human rights organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch voiced their concerns.

Notably, Kaspersky Lab, a significant computer security company, showed its opposition by discontinuing its membership in the BSA.

How does SOPA differ from the DMCA?

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides a “safe harbor” for websites hosting content.

If copyright owners believe a site is hosting infringing content under DMCA, they must request the site to remove it within a specific timeframe.

SOPA, on the other hand, would have bypassed this “safe harbor” provision, putting the onus on the site itself to detect and police infringement. It would also allow judges to block access to websites “dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”

What powers would SOPA provide?

SOPA was poised to grant extensive powers. Companies claiming intellectual property infringement could seek court orders to prevent advertising networks (like Google) and payment facilities (such as PayPal) from doing business with the infringing websites.

They could also stop search engines from linking to these sites and could get court orders making ISPs block access to these sites.

The legislation aimed to expand the current U.S. criminal laws to include unauthorised streaming of copyrighted content, risking a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Why were such powers sought after?

The main push for these powers came from the influential lobbying of U.S. and international multimedia companies, including movie studios, record companies, and publishers.

These entities were concerned about revenue losses due to rampant online piracy.

They believed that the current U.S. laws were insufficient to tackle infringing websites based or owned in other countries.

The legislation also targeted U.S.-based search engines and other services, which, according to proponents, were engage in active promotion of sites that infringed on copyrights.

Why did proponents of SOPA feel the need for stronger enforcement tools?

Proponents of SOPA believed that stronger enforcement tools were necessary to combat online piracy, especially against foreign-owned and operated websites.

They argued that existing laws had gaps that did not cover these foreign websites, and there was a need for more robust measures to protect intellectual property rights.

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