On October 26, 2011 the Stop Online Piracy Act, H.R. 3261 was introduced to Congress by Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas plus a bi-partisan group of twelve co-sponsors. The purpose of this bill is to allow United States law enforcement plus copyright holders fight online piracy, something that has plagued the online world for years. Title I of the Stop Online Piracy Act focuses on fighting websites outside U.S. jurisdiction that help facilitate copyright infringement. Title II of this bill increases penalties when intellectual property is stolen via digital means.
Yesterday, November 16, 2011 the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss H.R. 3261. As one would imagine there has already been both wide support and backlash from several high level companies regarding this bill. Supporters claim that intellectual property is critical to keep jobs in the United States. Institutions that rely on copyright such as the Motion Picture Association of America support this bill as do companies that rely on trademarks such as Nike.
However, several giants in the web industry are up in arms over the Stop Online Piracy Act and they are poised to actually take action to protest the bill. Yahoo has already dropped its membership from the U.S. Chamber of Congress because of this bill. Google and the Consumer Electronics Association are threatening to follow suit.
The reason companies in the web industry are so upset is the fact that H.R. 3261 would make those companies and other online services liable when pirated content appears on their sites. On Tuesday November 15 companies such as eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla and Yahoo co-wrote a letter and sent it to Congress urging its members to reconsider the measure. Their argument is that this bill would give too much power to law enforcement, making it easy for them to shut down an operation that had copyrighted media such as movies and music appearing on the sites without permission. These web companies also expressed concern over the fear of potential lawsuits because of what the bill states.
The biggest concern that online users need to think about is the distinct possibility of online censorship if this bill is passed. Imagine suddenly having sites that you visit on a daily basis blocked. Imagine links and content you share on social mediums suddenly being monitored and possibly even censored. The Stop Online Piracy Act will affect anyone that spends time online. Take some time to become acquainted with H.R. 3261.