SOPA and what it means for online content

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

There is a bill in Congress right now called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). It aims to stop websites that facilitate copyright or intellectual property infringement by allowing the Department of Justice to seek court orders against those websites.

In response to the bill, Google and Wikipedia are on “blackout” today. If you go to Google.com, you will see the image blacked out. If you click on the blacked out image, you will be directed to a page that says, “End Piracy, Not Liberty.” Wikipedia’s homepage reads, “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”

The bill is not designed to put the user at risk of facing charges. Instead, it would target the websites, many of them overseas, that facilitate the downloading of illegal content. The “powers that be” in the internet industry are opposed to the bills because they say it would mean Congress would regulate what content was available to users, therefore limiting free speech.¬†Proponents of the bill say it will end piracy and prevent content providers from losing billions of dollars in content purchases.

In an interview with a CNN correspondent in Silicon Valley, there was a discussion about whether or not this bill is the best way to accomplish the goal of ending piracy. One example was given of how people used to download music illegally through sites like Napster, then iTunes started selling music and all of a sudden people were buying music again. The suggestion was that Hollywood should innovate regarding the marketing and sale of content, as opposed to increasing web censorship through legislation. CNN also fully disclosed that its parent company, Time Warner Cable, is supporting the bill.

This is an interesting issue that seems to focus on who should be in charge of our access to the internet and web content. I am curious to see how discussions go in Congress and whether the bill passes.

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