What is SOPA, what is the PROTECT IP Act, and why do they matter?

THE STOP ONLINE PIRACY ACT (bill H.R.3261) was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 26th, 2011. It proposes to expand the ability of US law enforcement and copyright holders to protect copyrighted intellectual property and fight online trafficking of that property.

The PROTECT IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (bill S.968) was introduced to the Senate on May 12th, 2011. It proposes to give the US government and copyright holders tools to stop access to “rogue websites dedicated to the sale of infringement and counterfeit goods.”

How they will affect you

If you pirate anything – books, music, movies – you’ve probably already realized how this will affect you. But say you have never and will never illegally download a thing. Are you safe?

Hardly. Check out the above video for more details, but here’s a few examples of what can and will happen should these bills pass:

  1. The US government will have the power to make US Internet providers block access to infringing domain names. They can sue websites, blogs, forums, you name it, to have links to these sites removed.
  2. The US government and corporations will have the ability to cut off funds to infringing websites by forcing advertisers based in the US to cancel their accounts with the sites.
  3. Companies will have the power to sue any sites, including start-ups, they feel aren’t filtering well enough. The vague wording of the bill means large sites are a target too – any site with copyrighted music, TV, and movie clips. Think Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook. Think sharing a vid of your kid singing Beyonce and facing up to five years of jail time.
  4. The US government’s decision to pass a bill allowing them to censor the Internet will likely influence similar bills in other countries. Do you trust other governments not to abuse this power? For that matter, do you trust yours?
  5. The building blocks of the Internet will be altered. This is perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp, but it’s also the most dangerous. Most politicians do not have a thorough understanding of how exactly the Internet works – and that’s okay. It’s not their job. However, this becomes a problem when they attempt to pass vital legislation on something they do not have even basic knowledge of. The result could be an Internet which is both unsafe and unreliable.
What you can do

First, visit AmericanCensorship.org. Take a few seconds to enter your email address to sign a petition to either your representative or, if you are outside of the US, the State Department, voicing your concerns.

Second, copy the code the website offers and paste it into your personal site or blog. A black censored strip will appear, which will also serve as a link that will take your readers to a page informing them about these bills.

American Censorship also offers easy ways to send black-strip censored tweets and Facebook updates that allow you to raise awareness of the problem in a visual manner.

Be vocal. Call your representative, tell your friends. Repeat daily until this is no longer a threat.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.