SOPA: What Is It & Why It’s Important

By - Posted under: News, Web on December 28, 2011

Have you heard of SOPA before? If you haven’t, then its time to sit up and pay attention.

This is important, not only for companies with businesses online or web developers, but also for consumers and regular internet users alike. In this article we will explain what is SOPA and the impact it can cause in a long term basis.

SOPA, which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, is a bill tabled by US Senate together with PIPA, Protect IP Act.

Here’s what the government can do to foreign websites under even the most narrow reading of SOPA section 102 and PIPA section 3:

  1. Order internet service providers to alter their DNS servers from resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos.
  2. Order search engines like Google to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  3. Order payment providers like PayPal to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  4. Order ad services like Google’s AdSense to refuse any ads or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content.

Under SOPA, IP rights holders can proceed vigilante-style against allegedly offending sites, without any court hearing or any judicial intervention or oversight whatsoever. For example, SOPA establishes a scheme under which an IP rights holder need only notify credit card companies of the facts supporting its “good faith belief” that an identified Internet site is “primarily designed or operated for the purpose of” infringement. The recipients of that notice will then have five days to cease doing business with the specified site by taking “technically feasible and reasonable” steps to prevent it “from completing payment transactions” with customers. And all of this occurs based upon a notice delivered by the rights holder, which no neutral third party has even looked at, let alone adjudicated on the merits. If they get the assistance of a court, IP owners can also prevent other companies from “making available advertisements” to the site, and the government can prevent search engines from pointing to that site.

So how does a website get blocked under SOPA? The answer is a frightening “if your website has a few links that link to infringing websites, you are subject to the law and you will be blocked”. What’s more scarier than that is once they found out you are providing even just ONE infringing links, and you won’t be aware even if a complaint has been made. One comment from an unknown user is enough to get your website blocked, or even the whole domain. If you use any online services for backup or work related issues, you don’t even have to infringe any copyright material because if someone else do, the whole website will be shutdown.

The SOPA is an American law, but China, Syria and Iran has started long ago on Internet censorship. But once it is passed in USA, very soon other countries will follow suit and adopt it as the new Internet standard.

In summary, let me explain SOPA in a metaphoric manner: there is a DVD shop selling pirated movies in Tokyo city. The U.S government wants to destroy the roads, walkway, tunnels, and pedestrian crossing surrounding the DVD shop (but left the DVD shop untouched) to prevent American citizens from visiting the DVD shop.

Internet has been booming for many years, and many businesses, including many start-ups, manage to stay afloat or make an in-road to their demographic because of the freedom in Internet. Once this freedom is removed, Internet will not become what we know it because censorship will be happening all around the world.

We believe that SOPA should not even exist. Yes, the infringement on copyright material is a serious issue, and we do not encourage it. What we want is something to be done that won’t censor the Internet.

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