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Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA was introduced by the US House of representatives as a positive means of combating piracy but, noble as its intent may be, it could fundamentally change how we use the internet.
The new bill effectively hands over the user’s freedom of expression to the entertainment industry. If an IP address is seen as “engaging in, enabling or facilitating copyright infringement”, its domain is blocked.
The corporations who own media want to shut down sites where people download illegal content. Protect IP (what SOPA is referred to in the Senate) makes this possible in a number of ways.
Firstly, it can block access to infringing domain names. It can also sue to have these links removed. At present, these links can be hosted on any online medium. Blogs, forums, torrents, news servers and more would fall under its jurisdiction.
SOPA will also slash funds for “infringing” websites. It does this by cutting off its advertising sources (US-based ads only).
A failed plan
Let’s say that Memeburn hosts a YouTube video which is deemed illegal. Our domain would be blocked, but still accessible via the IP address.
“Illegal” files that are shared via social media or any standard form will therefore be blocked, but people will still be able to download them directly from the IP address. The site becomes liable for any content deemed illegal by SOPA.
Nothing would stop the hardcore downloaders then. A smaller site which has accidentally “infringed” SOPA’s rules, will shut be down, bankrupted and effectively ruined before it can get off the ground.
A knockdown effect
Tumblr, SoundCloud, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and many other platforms which promote freedom of expression are now potential targets. Users who mix in copyrighted content with a YouTube video could also see their profile blocked, and the site itself could face a SOPA ban.
If the bill is passed, countries across the world could create laws of their own and block websites based personal agendas.
A US-based user could face up to five years in jail for uploading any copyright protected work.
Money for nothing
The US government’s aim is to ensure that legal content is purchased, but by introducing this law, it threatens to create an unstable web. There are already countless methods used by corporations to take down copyrighted content, so why introduce SOPA? What are the limits the US government can push the protection act to? It depends on how users react to the bill and keeping the internet unregulated means writing to a member of the US Congress. There also a number of online petitions attempting to stop the act, such as this one by protest group Avaaz.