SOPA Causes a Serious Stir

Opposition to the controversial act mounts

Many legislation observers in the US are quite concerned these days that the freedom of the Internet will be endangered by the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and very severe opposition has been expressed against it in the face of a key Congressional committee hearing which should be held on January 18.

The proposed act, which will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee, strives to prevent copyright privacy and protect the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, but on that path it envisages draconian measures, which can easily be misused and thereby serve as a means to limit the independence and freedom of the Internet.

Some of those restrictive measures include restrictions on payment processors and domain seizures, and there are also clauses that hold Internet Service Providers, social networks, online advertising networks to account. It even allows authorized bodies to bar search engines from directly linking to websites found to be distributing pirated goods.

Many industry players have joined the fight and the global blackout initiative against the act, the latest one being Major League Gaming (MLG), which will black out between 8 am and 8 pm Eastern Time on the day of the committee meeting, displaying messages that point to the dangers of the bill. In addition, the company has even removed around 100 of its domains from domain registrar GoDaddy, one of the measure’s initial supporters.

Other companies that took part in the protest are web news provider Reddit, gaming giant Destructoid, and the entire 50-site network of Cheezburger.

So far, big companies such as Google, Yahoo and AOL have not shown any particular reaction, whereas Wikipedia founder James Wales expressed his protest openly, and Wordpress strongly condemned SOPA using a plug-in through calling on users to join the cause.

In terms of political opposition, bipartisan congressmen and women like Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Nancy Pelosi all criticized the measure. Also, Rebecca MacKinnon, journalist and one of the founders of Global Voices Online, opined that SOPA's practical impact will be quite similar to Chinese censorship of the Web, even though the motivation behind them is different.

As it was observed by one of the opponents, "SOPA is the politicians’ way of stating that the ends justify the means. But with such woefully unclear goals, who can be sure where these new and terrible powers will lead us?"

To add weight to the confrontation to the controversial act, three White House officials, advisers to the US president, wrote in blog posts that they think SOPA and other bills could make businesses on the Internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.

"Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," said the officials.

One of them, White House cyber-security chief Howard Schmidt, added that the administration was ready to work with lawmakers on a "narrower, more targeted approach to online piracy," which would ensure that legitimate businesses are not harmed.

On the other side, the author of the bill, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, tried to explain: "It is not censorship to enforce the law against foreign thieves," estimating that intellectual-property industries provide 19 million high-paying U.S. jobs and are responsible for more than 60 percent of American exports.

"Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America's most profitable and productive industries are under attack," he responded.

He received support from the Recording Industry Association of America, which stated that, as the world's top exporter of creative works, the US must not allow Internet companies "to direct law-abiding consumers to unlawful and dangerous sites."

Still, expressing his opinion on the measure, Sherwin Siy, a legal spokesman for the consumer rights group Public Knowledge, stated that lawmakers should set aside the existing bills and start working on a new "consensus bill" responding to the White House concerns.

He concluded: "The messages being sent by the public in opposition to this bill are finally getting through to Washington."

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