SOPA, successfully sunk

Congress, caving to the explosion of protests last week, indefinitely postponed the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) as well as the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
The protests, the most prominent of which was the 24-hour shutdown of popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia on Jan. 18, were based on the claim that SOPA and PIPA could easily become censorship.
The protests mostly took place on Jan. 18, including Wikipedia’s 24-hour shutdown and Flickr’s photo darkening option, but the details of why SOPA was such a big deal can get complicated.
If SOPA had passed, a website would have been held responsible for what its users posted. It was intended to prevent foreign based sites (such as Pirate Bay, based in Sweden) from providing pirated content to United States users by allowing major corporations and the government to shut down sites that hold content or offer services provided by these sites. These website shutdowns would not have required a court hearing or trial before taking effect, which was the major sticking point for a lot of the opposition.
This applies to search engines as well – for example, if one were to search for free online downloads and a website supplying pirated content came up as a result, the search engine could be held liable under SOPA. The same applies to advertising agencies; they would not be allowed to advertise for a “foreign infringing site”, including supplying sponsored “search results, links or other placements that provide access to the foreign infringing site” (SOPA, Section 102). The full text of the SOPA proposal is available online for perusal and comment.
The main targets of SOPA were the foreign based sites, which are out of reach of the current policy, put in place by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMC).
The current process is that if a website has copyrighted content on it and the copyright holder tells them of the violation, the site is not held liable unless they fail to take it down within a reasonable amount of time. The site administrators then email the user responsible for the copyrighted content, giving them a chance to file their own claim that the material is not in violation of copyright.
These two claims can go back and forth for a while, but if not resolved it will culminate in a court date. This process is unable to do anything about foreign based web-services though, which is why SOPA and PIPA were created.
SOPA is the more extreme of the two bills and was in the House of Representatives. PIPA was waiting on a vote from the full Senate after passing through a Senate committee in May. It was scheduled for tomorrow, Jan. 24, but Senator Harry Reid announced the indefinite suspension Saturday, though he expressed hope a compromise could still be reached.
Supporters of the two acts included many Hollywood companies, Revlon, Time Warner and True Religion Brand Jeans. A full list of the supporters is available at the judiciary website.
Some people opposed both sides – they didn’t support the bill, but thought that Wikipedia and other sites should have stayed out of the fight. One of the cornerstones of Wikipedia is that they are to remain a neutral source of information and some volunteers at Wikipedia think shutting down in protest of SOPA ruins this valued neutrality, even if the protest worked.
Others, such as volunteer editor Robert Lawton, think that this was an issue not worth sacrificing their neutrality over.
“I think there are far more important things for the organization to focus aside from legislation that isn’t likely to pass anyway,” Lawton said to theAssociated Press.
“I’m glad it [the protests] are over because I think it’s a minor problem, taken way too far,” Megan Buxton, junior linguistics and communications major at Boise State, agreed.
Other big names in the internet world saw no point in blacking out websites for a protest.
“That’s just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish,” Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, tweeted on Jan. 16. He later clarified he did not mean they had no stance on the issue after followers flooded him with criticism for the comment.
Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and 24 co-sponsors introduced an alternative to SOPA to the House of Representatives, called Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) on the same day as the protests. The full text of this bill and comparisons between it and SOPA and PIPA are available at