Technology has developed at a breakneck pace, and our nation’s laws have been struggling to keep up. As a result, laws like the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, are being introduced as a way to protect companies and individuals from online piracy. The bills have come up against strong opposition, both from tech companies and Internet users; detractors believe that one violation could affect an entire site and its users, which could lead to an unfair punishment of users.

Supporters, however, believe SOPA would encourage website owners to be more aggressive in ensuring their sites don’t allow copyright infringement. The bill was tabled by Congress and will be taken up again in the new year, but both sides are still fighting for and against its future passage.

The pros

Despite the controversy surrounding it, SOPA was created because of a real need for Internet regulation was identified: piracy and theft is a serious problem online, and billions of dollars are lost each year. Protection of intellectual property and technological innovation is important, and companies should have the right to protect their assets beyond information governance. Competition is healthy for companies and consumers but, according to the supports of the bill, piracy could threaten both innovation and job creation stateside.

The cons

SOPA is a controversial bill not only because its ostensible goal, stopping copyright infringement and piracy would be relatively impotent against sites on servers outside of the United States; but because it also has the potential to shut U.S. sites down without giving them sufficient time to appeal the decision. Regular denizens of the Internet believe this could lead to both an unnecessary censorship of random websites, and a more targeted blackout of sites that are deemed competition by various media corporations. Others argue that the bill would undermine the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
SOPA supporters and detractors

Website hosting company GoDaddy did an about-face at the end of last year after tens of thousands of site owners dropped the company because of their support of SOPA. Now other companies have backed away from vocal support of the bill. Companies and organizations, like the Entertainment Software Association, BMI, HarperCollins Publishers, Major League Baseball, and Nike still actively support SOPA. But organizations like AOL, Google, Etsy, and Yahoo! are opposed. The divide between tech companies and more traditional corporation suggests a difference in how intellectual property on the Internet is viewed: while those who oppose SOPA favor sharing content and self-policing, larger organizations support government regulation and protection of their intellectual property.

When SOPA is reintroduced in Congress, the fight for and against it is sure to resume at a fever pitch. But until then, everyday Internet users and companies alike will continue to debate the advantages and drawbacks of SOPA.


[photo credit: cykocurt]