The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a US bill that aims to tighten anti-piracy legislation by forcing internet companies to block access to foreign sites offering material in breach of US copyright laws.
The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, and while voting on it has been delayed until consensus can be reached, the Senate version of the bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), is expected to face a vote on January 24.
UP TO FIVE YEARS IN JAIL
The Stop Online Piracy Act bill would make unauthorised streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in jail for 10 infringements within six months.
The bill would also allow the US government and copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
BUSINESS WITH 'INFRINGING SITES' BANNED
The SOPA legislation also requires US-based payment services, like PayPal, or American advertisers, to stop doing business with foreign sites that are found to be “dedicated to infringing activities.”
DNS BLOCKING CLAUSE TO BE REMOVED
In addition, the bill requires internet service providers to block users from accessing specific websites using DNS (Domain Name System) blocking.
However, because of an outcry from a large number of technical experts who says that DNS blocking could cause damage to the underlying infrastructure of the internet, the sponsors of the bill have agreed to delete the DNS-blocking provision, Digital Trends reports.
SUPPORTERS AND CRITICS
Supporters of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry.
The bill has the support of companies that had an interest in preventing file-sharing films, music, and software.
This week, for example, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch accused Google of profiting from advertisements sold against pirated materials.
FEARS FOR WEBSITES 'HOSTING' CONTENT
But critics say such legislation would enable internet censorship and threaten free speech.
Mashable says, if enacted, The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act would give the US government and copyright holders excessive and far-reaching powers to take down sites they deem to be hosting protected content with little regard for the definition of “hosting”.
"If a user of a news site leaves a comment with offending material, that could be grounds for a takedown. And YouTube could be in hot water should it fail to promptly detect a user who uploads copyrighted material," Mashable says.
The same problem exists for all community-based websites, the online magazine says.
The bill has been opposed by Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others.
Also included in the SOPA and PIPA bills is an anti-circumvention provision, which would make it illegal to inform users how to access blocked sites.
First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori, told Digital Trends this provision could mean that any website that features user-generated content (like Facebook or YouTube) could risk legal action if circumvention information was posted on their site.
The bill also gives immunity to internet services that voluntarily block certain websites if they have “credible evidence” that these sites are devoted to illegally distributing copyrighted material.
Critics say that because under the proposed laws immunity is given even when the blocked websites are believed - but not proven - to be dedicated to the illegal distribution of intellectual property, there's potential for abuse of such immunity.
Watch this video by The Guardian explaining the proposed laws: