Previous Next

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 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.

Activism + Politics


About The Author

Michelle Schusterman

Michelle is a musician, writer, and teacher just trying to see the world while doing what she loves for a living. She's taught ESL in Salvador, Brazil and kindergarten in Suwon, Korea, and now she's a full-time freelance writer living in Seattle (just to keep the city alliteration going). She'll try pretty much any food once and believes coffee is its own food group.

  • Eric

    Even as a filmmaker this freaks me out. Or, maybe, because of it, since I’m not one of the top 3 production houses.

    • Lieuvinh

      i think usa should follow example like china it need sencorship

  • david miller

    another classic usage of rhetoric in a bill’s title (see: ‘north american free trade agreement, or ‘the patriot act’) to obfuscate / misdirect what the bill actually establishes.

    a casual reader sees this and says, ‘ah, “stop piracy” that sounds good. i feel better, safer already.’

    what they don’t realize is how this erodes freedom and privacy.

    let’s keep our eye on the ball here folks. go to the link michelle provided above ( and take a minute. step up.

  • hdmi

     Ordinary users could go to jail for five years for posting a pop song? That’s out of hand, the bill cannot pass; it does more harm than good, and benefits the rich and powerful companies, not startups and the everyday user.

    • Rowena

      Ordinary users can already go to jail for copyright infringement. Next time you download an e-book, for instance, scroll back to the front matter and read the copyright warning.  That horse is already out of the stable. You are ranting against the wrong law.

  • Mike’s Road

    No matter the intention…if you infringe on freedom and civil liberties…it’s WRONG!

  • lakawak

    There is ZERO indication of anyone facing up to 5 years of jail for uploading avideo of their kid. That is just you being a worthless cunt and it takes away what teeny tiny bit of crediblity you might have. It is nothing but FUD and why you are NOT gaining support in your bitch ass cause.

  • Michael Tuchman

    Really now. At worst case, a copyright holder would issue a cease and desist order, and “jail time for singing Beyonce” is not really an issue, unless of course they were REALLY out of key.  You undermine your credibility, and that’s bad for our cause, if you make exaggerated claims.

    The real danger is from private interests trying to keep preferential traffic moving quickly and throttling commercially unattractive ideas (usually yours and mine).

  • Honky9998

    More importantly the goverment should be focused on stopping porn and sex chatting sites to save the children of the world from easy exposure and save millions of marriages from the ease of temptation.

  • GizmoCCXR

    I fail to see how they could even consider doing something like this. It denies very basic constitutional rights and puts me and my family at risk in numerous ways. I just don’t get it.

Stoltenberg posed as a taxi driver in order to hear from real voters about his two terms...
Tell me that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
These laws from around the world could be steps in the right direction for the United...
100% of those “dreams” are material possessions. Is that worth dreaming?
What's one day without Reddit compared to the enactment of SOPA?
The web, generic drugs, and seed patents are all targets of this "agreement."
The city of the future is still left off most people's must-know-and-visit list.
The Gypsies embark, despite having never held an iceaxe or worn crampons before.