The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Now before the House Judiciary Committee, it builds on the similar PRO-IP Act of 2008 and the corresponding Senate bill, the Protect IP Act.
The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for 10 pieces of music or movies within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws especially against foreign websites. Opponents say that it infringes on First Amendment rights, is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech.
The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on SOPA on November 16 and December 15, 2011. The Committee is scheduled to continue debate when Congress returns from its winter recess.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has expressed opposition to the bill, as well as Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX), who joined nine Democrats to sign a letter to other House members warning that the bill would cause "an explosion of innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation." "Issa said the legislation is beyond repair and must be rewritten from scratch," reported The Hill. Issa and Lofgren have announced plans for legislation offering "a copyright enforcement process modeled after the U.S. International Trade Commission's (ITC) patent infringement investigations."
EFF home page with American Censorship Day banner
Opponents of the bill include Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, the Wikimedia Foundation, and human rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch.
On December 13, Julian Sanchez of the Libertarian think tank Cato Institute came out in strong opposition to the bill saying that while the amended version "trims or softens a few of the most egregious provisions of the original proposal...the fundamental problem with SOPA has never been these details; it’s the core idea. The core idea is still to create an Internet blacklist..."
The Library Copyright Alliance (including the American Library Association) objects to the broadened definition of "willful infringement" and the introduction of felony penalties for noncommercial streaming infringement, stating that these changes could encourage criminal prosecution of libraries.
On November 16, Tumblr, Mozilla, Techdirt, the Center for Democracy and Technology were among many other Internet companies that protested the Stop Online Piracy Act by participating in a so-called "American Censorship Day". They displayed black banners over their site logos with the words "STOP CENSORSHIP". On November 22 Mike Masnick for Techdirt published a detailed criticism of the ideas underlying the bill, writing that "one could argue that the entire Internet enables or facilitates infringement", and saying that a list of sites compiled by the entertainment industry included the personal site of one of their own artists, 50 Cent, and a wide variety of highly successful legitimate internet companies. The article questioned the effect of the bill on $2 trillion in GDP and 3.1 million jobs, with a host of consequential problems on investment, liability, and innovation. Paul Graham, the founder of venture capital company Y Combinator opposes the bill, and bans all SOPA-supporting companies from their "demo day" events. "If these companies are so clueless about technology that they think SOPA is a good idea," he asks, "how could they be good investors?"
The Center for Democracy and Technology maintains a list of SOPA and PIPA opponents consisting of the editorial boards of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, 34 organizations, and many hundreds of prominent individuals.
In December 2011, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales initiated discussion with editors regarding a potential knowledge blackout, a protest inspired by a successful campaign by the Italian-language Wikipedia to block the Italian DDL intercettazioni bill, terms of which would have infringed the encyclopedia's editorial independence. Editors mulled interrupting service for one or more days as in the Italian protest, or alternatively presenting site visitors with a blanked page directing them to further information before permitting them to complete searches.
Computer scientist Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet and Google vice president, wrote House committee chairman Lamar Smith, saying "Requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented 'censorship' of the Web," in a letter published on CNet.
In November 18, 2001, the European Union Parliament adopted by a large majority a resolution that "stresses the need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names."
On December 15, 2011 a second hearing was scheduled to amend and vote on SOPA. Many opponents remain firm on their opposition to the act after Lamar Smith proposed a 71-page amendment to the bill to address previously raised concerns. NetCoalition, who works with Google, Twitter, eBay, and Facebook, appreciated that Lamar Smith is trying to address the issues with the bill, but says it nonetheless cannot support the amendment. Darell Issa, a Republican who proposed an alternative to SOPA, stated that Smith’s amendment, “retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor by blocking Americans' ability to access websites, imposing costly regulation on Web companies and giving Attorney General Eric Holder's Department of Justice broad new powers to police the Internet.”