How Would SOPA/PIPA Affect You? [UPDATE]

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 9:13 pm,

SOPA PIPA Congress Blackout Protest

Daily users of the Internet likely noticed that some of their favorite sites engaged in a protest of two bills currently pending in Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (“PIPA”). Some sites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, and N4G replaced their normal content with a placeholder page decrying both bills, while others like Game Rant and Screen Rant, posted protest banners in addition to their normal content. Google asked its users to sign an anti-SOPA petition and 4.5 million people obliged over the course of one day. Why the outcry over a potential law that will curb internet piracy?

For those who are unaware, SOPA and PIPA were written to help content creators protect their works. Both the film and music industries in particular have claimed heavy losses due to the rampant piracy that takes place on the Internet. Unsurprisingly, the bills are supported by major media entities, including the Entertainment Software Association which represents most major gaming companies.

The purpose of the bills is to regulate access to pirated content that is hosted overseas but targeted toward users in the United States. At first blush, SOPA/PIPA would appear to be noble attempts to prevent domestic companies from losing money due the illegal activities of foreign entities.

However, critics claim that the current form of both bills contain controversial and vague language that could allow application of the enforcement provisions to domestic websites. Frankly, both SOPA and PIPA (read the full bills here and here) are poorly worded as currently constructed, giving even lawyers pause as to their meaning and whether the bills would have the intended effect. This has set off alarm bells for site owners, since under both bills, copyright owners could file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney General against an infringing site for just one page of infringement. The federal government could then obtain a court order to block U.S. access to the offending site and force search engine giants like Google to remove the sites from their search results.

Additionally, copyright owners could effectively cutoff revenue to an alleged violator by issuing a notice to the site’s advertisers, who would then be required to cease providing service to the offending site within five days. The accused site may send a counter-notice to the advertisers explaining its position, but neither bill requires the advertiser to restore service once this is done. Thus, merely the allegation of infringement may harm a website’s business without adjudication by a court.

Since a site’s lack of knowledge that it is hosting pirated material is not a defense under the proposed bills, sites would be required to actively police their content or no longer permit users to contribute content. For websites that rely upon user-generated content, such as Wikipedia, YouTube, or Facebook, this would be a huge and expensive burden would likely damage their business model.

Because of the public backlash, the authors of SOPA and PIPA have agreed to remove the draconian measure of blacklisting sites through DNS blocking. Even so, websites would still be exposed to huge fines and a potential loss of advertising revenue for any alleged copyright infringement, resulting in a chilling effect on the free speech rights of users since content providers will be fearful of copyrighted material being posted without its knowledge. In effect, many of the websites that you currently enjoy may be forced to terminate operations or discontinue user features such as forums or comment sections.

So was the Internet protest successful? In the short term, it certainly appears so. Just today, five U.S. Senators have withdrawn their support for PIPA, including the co-sponsor of the bill, Marco Rubio of Florida. In the House, several Congressmen have also changed their positions on SOPA, stating that the bill needs more work before a vote is taken. The first real test, however, will come on January 24th, which is the date that PIPA is set for a vote in the Senate. Even if PIPA were to pass through Congress, President Obama has vowed to veto the bill.

If neither bill is signed into law, the reality is that a modified version of SOPA/PIPA is likely to pass Congress in the future because internet piracy is a major concern of Hollywood. Since many lawmakers receive large donations from the entertainment sector, this issue will not go away any time soon. Nonetheless, the Internet blackout may have caused enough controversy to delay any further action until after the next Congressional election.

How do you feel about SOPA and PIPA? Does the United States need an anti-piracy law to protect its content creators?

[UPDATE #1 – January 20th]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that the scheduled January 24th vote on PIPA will be postponed. His office released the following press release:

“In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act. There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.

I admire the work that Chairman Leahy has put into this bill. I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet. We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.”

While this is definitely a victory in the short term for those participating in the Internet blackout on January 18th, it is clear that Senator Reid and the rest of the Congress will continue to pursue an anti-piracy bill. If and when a modified or new bill is introduced, Game Rant will be sure to bring you the details.

[UPDATE #2 – January 20th]

SOPA is dead. The  “SOPA is dead” tagline is proudly trending on Twitter as House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith announced that he’s pulled the bill that united the internet community.

“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.

“The problem of online piracy is too big to ignore. American intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60 percent of U.S. exports. The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.

“The online theft of American intellectual property is no different than the theft of products from a store. It is illegal and the law should be enforced both in the store and online.

“The Committee will continue work with copyright owners, Internet companies, financial institutions to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property. We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem. The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.”

As a result, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) – the folks who organize E3 every year – have changed their outlook on the matter, announcing that they no longer support the bill. Keep in mind, this was after the SOPA bill was shelved and after they spent $190,000 in lobbying for SOPA. Convenient timing.

“From the beginning, ESA has been committed to the passage of balanced legislation to address the illegal theft of intellectual property found on foreign rogue sites. Although the need to address this pervasive threat to our industry’s creative investment remains, concerns have been expressed about unintended consequences stemming from the current legislative proposals. Accordingly, we call upon Congress, the Obama Administration, and stakeholders to refocus their energies on producing a solution that effectively balances both creative and technology interests. As an industry of innovators and creators, we understand the importance of both technological innovation and content protection and are committed to working with all parties to encourage a balanced solution.”

  • Kirk

    If SOPA and PIPA pass I wont be able to sat ‘First!’ on this article. lol
    I don’t want this crap to pass.

  • teshanna

    Tome there taking are freedom of the internet the only should be going after the sex offenders with this bill.If this gets passed there no freedom on internet or free speech anymore.

  • Ace

    With the blackout more people seem to be dropping their support, Luckily Obama has spoke out against it so this version won’t pass…..but I fear it’ll come back as a watered down but still dangerous peace of legislation. I fear that yet again they will be going after the little guy just like the crime on drugs. They’ll spend millions on punishing people who watch old tv shows on a website (the equivalent of having a joint IMO, I know some won’t agree) or use a song in a video, instead of going after the big boys of piracy (the drug dealers).

    As I said to my Representatives, in this country we don’t get freedoms and liberties back when we idly give them up. Passing legislation like this is a slippery slope at best and a serious violation of our rights at worst. And I’m not comfortable with giving people a virtual atom bomb with almost no accountability, a bomb that will force sites to cower in fear and force them to barely become a shell of their former selves, the sites we love (YouTube, Wikipedia, etc) will nearly shut down with needed oppressive self regulation and compliance. And it will kill the next twitter, YouTube, or Facebook before it even gets off the ground. The legislation will also create an online isolationist state, further cutting us of from the rest of the world which will hurt many many foreigners livelihood and our standing with the rest of the world.

    Most is this are extreme views on what could happen, but that’s the thing….the bills are vague that really anything could happen….and thats DANGEROUS. Hopefully everyone sent word to their representatives today to plead with them to vote no on BOTH PIPA & SOPA.

    • Robert Cooper

      you make the point best point ever. why hurt millions of people who haven’t done anything to deserve this? i wonder what goes on in Congress sometimes. Are the creator’s of SOPA and PIPA right for coming up with something that could back lash and cause a internet revolution? IDK but its not right thats all i’m saying

  • Noah

    They should be more worried about other things than entertainment companies losing a little bit of money…

    • Rob Keyes

      Exactly. Let’s worry about people getting healthcare before software piracy.

      • Astenvares

        here here

  • blackb0x

    Welcome to the United States of North Korea… only web sites will end up having a .gov address will be all that’s available.

  • ATG

    They worded these bills carefully enough to have people fooled. I’m against piracy, but I’m also against being controlled. The very foundations this country was built upon is slowly being washed away.

  • Vermin

    This is why I wouldn’t feel the slitest bit of remorse to be able to put a bullet in the back of 99% of politicians heads. I hate liers, hypocrites, and idiots

    • Mag

      I wish everyone in the world had your standard to whom you dislike. I would rather vote for a politician speaking the truth. “I won’t get much done, but these few things are what i’m going to do.” Instead of focusing the campaign on the oppenent and just burping up things they will do in the hundreds.

  • Eric

    Frankly, there’s a lot of hyperbole and paranoia floating around these bills.

    • Kholdstare89

      Just because someone is paranoid, it does not mean there is nothing to fear.

      • Charlie

        It does make you a lot less credible though. The two biggest complaints I’ve seen against the bill is “what if it gets abused” and “it won’t stop piracy”. Both complaints not only show a clear lack of understanding about the bill, and law in general, but are also horrible reasons to not make a law. Any law can be abused and no law truly stops everyone from breaking it. Is SOPA a poor law that wouldn’t really work? Yes. Does that make it the violation of rights and end of the internet as we know it? Definitely not. SOPA doesn’t “censor” free speech or original content it blocks sites that are dedicated to piracy and to block a site you have to convince the Attorney General that the site targets Americans and is profiting from piracy (fair use is not at risk under SOPA either and sites where content is uploaded by the public like Youtube are not dedicated to piracy so they wouldn’t be blocked but that fact seems to have escaped the anti-SOPA crowd who are adamant about claiming that sites like Youtube and facebook could be blocked). Of course all of this is meaningless because Congress has already tossed aside SOPA after the White house publicly spoke out against it so any complaints about SOPA (including this article and yesterdays blackout) are utterly pointless.

  • ZomB

    I’d hate for hollywood to lose any money during this recession. They deserve so much more than the guy who devoted his whole life to a company and they give him the shaft. Screw hollywood, kids need to read more anyways.

    • Ace

      ha yea, If it passed I’m sure they’d drop the ticket prices dramatically that they had to keep raising because of piracy…yea right

      • doc

        Capitalism is BS but it’s the only thing we have. Might be time for something else.

        • Estherra

          We don’t have true capitalism in America, we haven’t in a very very long time.

  • Mag

    Hollywood brought this upon themselves. Watching content from illegal websites is not great, quality might be bad, it might stop loading and so on. Supply an alternative and people will use it.

    I buy a DVD legally and when I want it on my iPod, I have to buy it from iTunes?!
    Then i buy from iTunes and i can’t burn it to a DVD to watch it in the car?!
    Thank godness for Handbrake (Free DVD conversion software)

    I’m missing a streaming service which works worldwide.
    For the nonpaying customer, they could include adverts, which relates to personal info supplied (Not sent to third-party companies, without my conscent). Then I can rate the comercial, supply info on why it resonated with me or not, choose if I want to see it again and supply changes which might be more effective. (Let us be involved in the adverts and we wont mind seeing them). If I’m a good boy and supply lots of usable info, they could reward me with one month advert free TV.

    TV is losing ground due to the fact that they have to prioritate their content for different groups.

    Someone tell me if Hulu is like this and I will be jealous that I don’t live in the United States when I want to watch my shows.

    • Hunter

      Its interactive in the sense that you can watch a long ad in the begining or a couple short ones throughout, but the selection on hulu just ins’t quite enough to replace other means.

  • Volc19

    The bills are dead? That’s a nice start, now all we have to fear is the possible detainment, torture, and assassination of American citizens without trial. No pressure, take your time, government, I’ll wait.

    • nice guy

      That’s the first thing i thought of when i heard of this sopa crap. What happened to a limited gov, it seems now we are giving as much control as we can to it.

      • Volc19

        But the terr’sts going’ git us if we don’t.

  • Astenvares

    The thing that kills me is that some of the people who are so opposed to this are the people who cause these bills to come up. Dont get me wrong lots of people opposed to this are people who go through the right channels. But I hate the hipocracy of the illigal downloaders whos only reason they dont want these bills to pass is that it would cut out what it was ment to. I think we need harsher punishments on the people who caused this bill to come up. If we can spend billions upon billions of dollars on war we can spare some change on a government software that tracks the downloaders and not, no hold bar stops to the uploaders.

    I’d love some feed back on what people think of my veiw on this so please discuss with me what you think. (this is for personal perposes nothing will be republised without proper consent(if ever))

    • Hunter

      Do you really want to give the government permission to know what your downloading? That is a clear violation to your to privacy. When a citizen is willing to give up some freedom, for a little stability, he deserves neither and looses both.

    • Mag

      I think you are right that they should be punished for uploading and downloading illegaly, but not before there are options. They need to create alternatives for the common user of this content.

      I buy all my movies, yet getting a legal digital copy is difficult. I can’t just transfer the DVD into my computer, it won’t let me. So I use Pirate Bay to get the digital copy. Is this wrong? No, I have already bought it, but is it illegal? Yes! That tells me that something’s not fair about copyright infringement laws just yet and SOPA and PIPA would remove my ability to not get screwed by the entertainment industry.

      Video streaming services are on the up and comming, but they are not perfected. To use them you need a subscription, but that only allows you to watch their purchased content. So to watch what you want between Sports and Entertainment and so on you would probably need subscriptions to several different streaming sites. Neither are they worldwide (except the illegal ones, maybe why they are doing so well).

  • asdf

    LOL “Donations”…

  • DarthMalnu

    The bills are preposterous, but so is the gaggle of trendy protesters that cry about their rights and freedoms while a thousand stolen songs play on their ipods. Same as those who scoff at the plight of the entertainment industry as if the only people affected would be Tom Cruise or Steven Spielberg. How ignorant do you have to be to think that Hollywood only employs spoiled movie stars. Way too many people are stealing movies and music without batting an eye and although Travolta gets to keep his airport, John the grip who has been hanging upside down fixing lights for 30 years gets fired because you didn’t feel like paying to watch for Maid in Manhattan. We are all criminals, the only difference is that the politicians are in the spotlight.

    • Hunter

      Even criminals deserve some rights. What would we be without the right to due process? Saying that just because a person has illegally downloaded something can’t oppose these bills because they are being hypocrites is just as preposterous as the bills themselves. Downloading an mp3 you didn’t pay for doesn’t deserve the punishment of having your freedom of speech, expression, and information taken away from you.

  • Stuporman

    Until the government stops lying to us and stealing from us, I don’t want to hear anymore crap from them about “protecting” anything. The only thing they’re interested in protecting is their position of power.

  • Hunter

    Too bad the gov doesn’t even need these bills to shut sites down. Just yesterday they shut down, a site not even based in the united states. Seriously, who gave them the authority to arrest people in New Zealand? Also, in response to this, the activist group anonymous and several others shut down numerous government sites. I personally cannot cheer enough for these true patriots, willing to sacrifice themselves to protect our freedom of speech. to learn more about there efforts to protect the internet along with American citizens right to free speech, just google anonymous while you can!

    • doc

      Anonymous aren’t patriots, they aren’t even a “group”. The guys who attacked government sites could be from south africa for all you know.
      It’s an interesting phenomenon, american politics, if they are affecting the internet, are affecting the entire world.

      And as long as your government or iluminati overlords or whoever seems to be in charge right now keeps screwing up the internet these attacks will keep up.

    • Charlie

      New Zealand gave them permission to arrest people in New Zealand. Actually that’s not entirely accurate because New Zealand arrested the people for the U.S. SOPA in no way would deprive anyone of free speech and Anonymous is not protecting anyone’s free speech.

  • Joseph

    Another way for the government to control our lives.
    I have never heard of so much crap in all my life. I can guarantee that this trouble started because of some liberal “do-gooder”.