How SOPA would affect you: FAQ

When Rep. Lamar Smith announced the Stop Online Piracy Act in late October, he knew it was going to be controversial.

But the Texas Republican probably never anticipated the broad and fierce outcry from Internet users that SOPA provoked over the last few months. It was a show of public opposition to Internet-related legislation not seen since the 2003 political wrangling over implanting copy-protection technology in PCs, or perhaps even the blue ribbons appearing on Web sites in the mid-1990s in response to the Communications Decency Act.

Tumblr’s virtual call to arms against SOPA during November’s U.S. House of Representatives hearing.

Consider the concerted protest on January 18 by high-profile Web companies and organizations. Wikipedia’s English-language pages, for instance, went completely black, while Google put a big black box over the prominent logo on its home page, with a link to a page from which users could sign a petition entitled “Tell Congress: Don’t censor the Web.” Street protests have also been scheduled for that date in cities including New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

As reported in December, Smith, a self-described former ranch manager whose congressional district encompasses the cropland and grazing land stretching between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, has become Hollywood’s favorite Republican. The TV, movie, and music industries are the top donors to his 2012 campaign committee, and he’s been feted by music and movie industry lobbyists at dinners and concerts.

To learn how SOPA, and its Senate cousin known as the Protect IP Act, would affect you, keep reading.

Q: What’s the justification for SOPA and Protect IP?

Two words: rogue sites.

That’s Hollywood’s term for Web sites that happen to be located in a nation more hospitable to copyright infringement than the United States is (in fact, the U.S. is probably the least hospitable jurisdiction in the world for such an endeavor). Because the target is offshore, a lawsuit against the owners in a U.S. court would be futile.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, put it this way: “Rogue Web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.” The MPAA has a section of its Web site devoted to rogue Web sites. Jim Hood, the Democratic attorney general of Mississippi, and co-chair of a National Association of Attorneys General committee on the topic, recently likened rogue Web sites to child porn.

Who’s opposed to SOPA?

Much of the Internet industry and a large percentage of Internet users. Here’s the most current list (PDF) of opponents.

On November 15, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn wrote a letter to key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, saying SOPA poses “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.” Yahoo has reportedly quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the organization’s enthusiastic support for SOPA.
Blackout! SOPA protests hit the Web

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