SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, has triggered one of the biggest industry-based protests in history to hit the World Wide Web. Most notably, the popular Wikipedia site closed down in protest, and there was action from other heavyweights such as Facebook, Amazon and Twitter. In the US, a petition set up by Google attracted 4.5 million signatures.
While the bill is only applicable in the United States, the fact is that much of our content in Australia is generated and managed in the US. Many experts believe the mechanics of the internet would also break down if the SOPA bill (and sister legislations) were passed.
The entertainment industry claims that piracy costs business US$200 billion each year. But that figure is disputed, and consumers also contribute to the entertainment industry in other ways. Critics also claim the bill would do little to stop the pirates doing actual damage - most could still access copyrighted material easily despite SOPA’s proposed measures to eliminate the problem.
The proposed measures include blocking any domain that links to copyrighted material; giving the entertainment industry the power to sue anyone from individuals to search engines that link to copyrighted material; and, blocking any financial resources available to sites featuring copyrighted material.
The extreme measures aren’t the only issue – it’s also the loose definition of "copyrighted material’" which has previously included posting a home video with a song in the background. There's also a long history of the industry in the US arguably mishandling its already substantial powers, and the new bill is no better - individuals infringing copyright could receive up to five years in jail time for a first offense.
Even more significant, critics suggest it's likely the bill would have a detrimental effect on important social movements, such as the recent protests in the Middle East otherwise dubbed the Arab Spring. In most cases, the spread of the protests has been accompanied by a range of supplementary media from music to news broadcasts.
Fortunately, the recent protests have not gone unheard with many withdrawing support from the bill. However, whether it's SOPA or a new bill down the track, it’s clear this battle is just beginning.
Is the recent Stop Online Piracy Act a necessary move to curb copyright infringement, or a threat to internet freedom?