Political Science 1
01 May 2012
Is SOPA the right answer to online piracy?
In 1998, the Chinese government embarked on a path towards the creation of a censorship and Internet surveillance program (Walton 197). On November 2003, the Golden Shield Project, nicknamed the ‘Great Firewall of China” was implemented in an effort to regulate the Internet, serving to block Chinese citizens from websites containing information that may deemed unlawful by government and essentially censoring access to public content (Walton 197). On October 26th 2011, Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, along with twelve co-sponsors, unveiled the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (Pike 24). The bill is an anti-piracy initiative, which in effect would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to halt any websites or services using copyrighted material without legal consent (Pike 24). While it is unreasonable to wholly compare China’s Internet-policing methods to the U.S.’s proposed plan, it is not unreasonable to speculate on SOPA’s possible detrimental consequences as it attempts to battle online piracy. Will SOPA bring more good to the world through economic alleviation, job protection, and the protection of intellectual property, or will it cause the destruction of the Internet’s symbiotic rapport with the world and sacred constitutional rights? As previously mentioned, SOPA was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives late last year, but it truly came to the forefront as a newsworthy, topical issue on January 2012. Further debate of the act was scheduled for the early months of 2012, but on January 18th, the process was interrupted as widespread online protests emerged involving the “blackout” of Doe 2
several websites. The massive events of that day lead to an indefinite postponement of the bill. It is crucial to keep in mind though that SOPA was also likely pulled due to the amount of surrounding controversy and the fact that it would not take precedent during an election year. This also means that after 2012, SOPA could re-emerge and the possibility of its instigation in the near future cannot be disregarded. With that, we must analyze the arguments presented by supporters of the legislation, as well as those delivered by its challengers. Before delving into these contrasting viewpoints, we must first understand what SOPA really entails. SOPA was specifically designed to curtail the sale or exchange of pirated US products, mainly those of digitized media. Under SOPA, any website promoting or distributing pirated materials in the form of films, books, music, television programs, software, or more will be pursued with a court order. The U.S. Department of Justice would have command over issuing court orders against sites or services infringing copyright laws, after which the site would have to act in accordance with SOPA by remedying any of its actions that violate the legislation (Clemmitt 335). With SOPA, search providers like Google would be held liable for all of their site’s content and thus would have to limit or alter their search results to exclude any links to sites illegally hosting copyrighted material (Clemmitt 335). For companies like PayPal, which specialize in online business transactions, SOPA would require them to close the accounts they carry that are used by websites engaging in online piracy (Clemmitt 335). Moreover, Internet service providers will be required to use the DNS blocking method to stop access to sites, much like what is already employed in China, Iran, and Syria (Lemley, Levine, and David G. Post 35). With SOPA institutionalized, any US citizen found to have played copyrighted music or films without authorization for ten or more times in six months would face a felony sentence of five years in prison. While SOPA supporters cite economic matters, a reduced risk of job losss, and Doe 3
the importance of intellectual property as major reasons for the bill’s passage,...