What You Need to Know about SOPA (H.R.3261)

Internet activists and big businesses such as Google and Facebook, as well as a number of everyday citizens like you and I, have been up in arms attempting to spread the word about SOPA and stop it’s becoming the law of the land. While Hollywood and recording industry lobbyists push for the controversial bill to go through Congress, many still don’t know what the big deal is. So, here’s what you need to know.

Legislation 101 (Or, how a bill becomes a law):

The Stop Online Piracy Act is about halfway through the legislative process, and has its biggest hurdles yet to come. The bill is in the midst of a full committee markup, which means any member of the committee (in this case, Judiciary) can submit amendments. Those are then discussed and voted upon. Once all the amendments are offered, the bill is voted out or not out of committee.

Once the bill is on the floor, any member of the House can offer amendments, and the debate and vote process starts again. If the House votes to pass it, it will go to the Senate floor, where it will be read, sent to Committee, and the whole amendment process starts again. Only when both houses of government have read the bill, amended the bill, voted on the bill, and combined both sets of amendments, will the bill come to a full vote. So with that being said, everyone just take a deep breath and relax, this is not happening tomorrow.

Where does SOPA stand now (Or, What the hell are we talking about?)

When SOPA was first introduced there were some wide-reaching effects that would have seriously hindered the internet’s ability to be an open-sourced well of information. There were concerns over constitutionality, legality, first amendment rights, and (of course) our future ability to watch movies and porn for free online.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the porn sites might take a bit of a hit, at least the good ones. (You will most likely still get the home movies and amateur stuff if you’re really desperate.)

But in all seriousness, many of the more terrifying aspects of the bill were removed and many of the restrictions were toned down in what is called a “managers” amendment, which replaced the entirety of the original language with a substitute. The Smith amendment is now the basis of the bill.

To sum it up, SOPA would broaden the Attorney General’s authority to crack down on websites/IPs/service providers that willfully commit copyright infringment.

What does SOPA actually do (Or, How screwed are we?)

Title I: Combating Online Piracy, is the most un-nerving for those of us who love online content, and more specifically, free online content that does not belong to us. It breaks websites down into two categories: foreign infringing sites, and sites dedicated to the theft of U.S. property.

Foreign Infringing sites are those used in the United States, are located outside of the United States jurisdiction and violate these sections of Title 18 and 17 of the U.S. Code:

  • Trafficking in counterfeit labels, illicit labels, or counterfeit documentation or packaging
  • Criminal infringement of a copyright
  • Unauthorized fixation of and trafficking in sound recordings and music videos of live musical performance
  • Unauthorized recording of motion pictures in a motion picture exhibition facility
  • Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services
  • Circumventions of copyright protection systems

Sites dedicated to the theft of U.S. property are sites used in the United States, is located within United States jurisdiction and violate these sections of Title 18 and 17 of the U.S. Code:

  • Infringement of copyright
  • Circumvention of copyright protection systems
  • Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services

Title II: Additional Enhancements to Combat Intellectual Property Theft. This outlines the revised repercussions and punishments for violating the outlaid sections of Title 18 and 17, and also includes protections from online public health dangers, and military actions online.

All in all, if you are participating in copyright infringement, making money from it, and are aware of it, you are in some trouble. If a court determines that you qualify as one of these two types of sites, the following actions may be taken: no payment services will be able to receive or send payments to your site from U.S. based accounts, no advertisements for or to your site will be allowed, and no search engine will return results from your site.

This is not for sites like Facebook, or YouTube, or Google. The bill doesn’t care about your cat playing the piano, and has no interest in what you say on Facebook. In fact, many sites fall under a protective provision that says that all you have to do is make a reasonable effort to remove stolen or pirated content from your site.

What can you do (Or, Something new to Occupy!)

  1. Take piratebay off your Bookmarks Bar, that site is dead
  2. Download as much as you can as quickly as you can
  3. DO NOT SEED; repercussions exist for individuals who share stolen goods
  4. Call your Senator/Representative

The most damaging repercussion of this bill is not the limited availability of stolen movies. Its not even the slippery slope towards censorship this puts us on. The most damaging repercussion is, as Secretary Clinton said, “The internet would contain people in a series of digital bubbles, rather than connecting them in a global network. Breaking the internet into pieces would give you echo chambers rather than an innovative global marketplace of ideas.”

By closing off the United States to some foreign websites, SOPA will create a marketplace of ideas and content that is not only limited by its contributors, but for the first time in our history, is limited by our borders.

Jen Schmidt I currently live in Washington D.C., though i still call New England home. I have a master's degree in public health and policy and a background in political science and communications. I work for social justice in health care, and am eager to engage social media, public movements, and sound policy to create and sustain lasting change. Twitter: @Jschmidt19

View all posts by Jen Schmidt

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