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A new bill set to pass through the United States Senate has many internet users worried about the future of online censorship. SOPA, an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act, was proposed as one the latest attempts to protect copyright and control online media pirates.
However, the bill’s vague parameters are already raising concerns and objections that the loose wording may be ripe for corporate manipulation. The aim of the legislation is to crack down on pirating by targeting rogue sites outside of U.S. borders. SOPA would allow the government to disband any website that hosts copyrighted material, and an individual who streams such material could also be tried for committing a federal offense.
Search engines, blogs, and directories with links to infringing content would be required to remove the offensive link under threat of lawsuit. It would force host websites to take responsibility for all of the material uploaded rather than merely serving as an impartial medium, hence the fear that major video sharing websites like Youtube could become targets.
Web giant Google went so far as to call the bill ‘draconian’, and Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Redditt, among others, are taking a similar stance. Vice-President Biden also has announced his anti-SOPA position, claiming that the bill would create a fragmented and divided internet.
Others point to the fact that no new statues are actually being introduced by the bill, and that the government already has the means to combat internet theft through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Although SOPA has garnered a lot of support from the entertainment industry, many technology experts fear that it would irrevocably change the internet for the worse, stifling innovation and many promising young online businesses.
Art Bordsky, a Washington-based public policy expert, recently explained some of the potential implications of the bill to The Guardian:
“The international aspects alone are very worrying,” he said. “It appears that the US is taking control of the entire world. The definitions written in the bill are so broad that any US consumer who uses a website overseas immediately gives the US jurisdiction the power to potentially take action against it.”
Despite rising opposition, SOPA’s supporters are insistent that the legislation is in fact needed to combat the issue of piracy, and that complaints of government censorship are overblown. Careful analysis of the bill reveals that sites host infringing information must demonstrate “willful intent” to be prosecuted, which would offer protection to sites like Youtube.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue on November 16th, and SOPA is expected to go to markup sometime around December 15th.