by: Tom Yadron
After widespread protest by Internet activists and major information sharing sites like Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit on Wednesday, January 18th, Congress decided to halt both the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) from advancement “until there is wider agreement on a solution,” said Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chief sponsor of SOPA in a statement on Friday, January 20th.
While neither acts were completely removed from further consideration, the fact that enough people – and corporations – were able to come together to stop the bills from advancing marks a major victory for the protest movement and file sharing websites.
On one side of the debate, proponents of the measurements believe that action needs to be taken to stop the amount of copyright violations taking place every day online through content sharing (like music, video, and print) without the owner’s permission. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asserts “counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year.”
On the other side, protesters argue that the provisions being offered are a threat to the freedom of Internet users and the potential for innovation online. They also fear that the introduction of such bills would only open the door for more censorship in the future.
While the bills, in their current forms, are only intended for taking action against foreign sites that illegally share copyrighted, American content, what exactly deems a site as “foreign” has remained a vague topic. For example, could a site like YouTube, which is open to an international audience for both uploading and viewing, be considered foreign?
While defenders of the bill seem to be saying no to that question right now, this ambiguity has become a cause for concern for American sites that are open to international audiences, as they worry that SOPA/PIPA could open the door for censorship against them. Search engines also feel threatened, as the acts call for them to remove offending websites from their search results. After the recent censorship fiasco in China, the last thing Google wants right now is more restriction.
If the bills were passed in there present forms, websites found in violation would be shut down (or at least the means of accessing them would be). Since these sites operate on the premise of giving their audience free content, they often rely on advertising to turn a profit. Advertisers, likewise, have found these sites to be great places for targeting Millennial-age viewers. However, if the acts are passed, advertisers are banned from promoting on sites found in violation. Depending onwhere the final drafts draw the line on copyright infringement, this could be a lot of lost advertising.
Still, it is a controversial issue, and piracy IS occurring daily. In the end, it comes down to determining whether taking action would do more harm than good, and if action is taken, to what extent should it be.
It is important to “forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property and maintaining openness and innovation on the Internet,” said Mr. Reid.