Share & Connect
SOPA. It started out as just another seemingly innocent yet-to-be-passed bill of the United States. It has now made waves all over the world and resulted in a massive passive war. And it has not even been passed yet. Why the outrage? Why the heated arguments, online protests and huge sums of money involved? It’s simple. This law has to do with the big “P” word: prohibition. SOPA is a bill that has to do with prohibition – prohibitions that extend beyond national boundaries and into the heart of the internet.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) wants to allow the U.S. judicial system to aggressively fight online copyright infringement. It was proposed by U.S. Republican, Lamar S. Smith, in the United States House of Representatives. It was initially proposed on October 26, 2011, but is still currently being amended and considered. In the meantime the entire internet community is waiting with bated breath.
What this bill proposes to do is relatively simple: control the sharing of information and material on the web. It aims to do this by extensively reducing or even completely barring access to sites that facilitate or enable copyright infringement. Basically, an online blacklist will be created. Advertising companies and online payment facilities will not be allowed to do business with these “infringing” sites. These sites won’t show up on search engines anymore and Internet service providers will be forced to prevent access to these sites.
This means that, together with sites from all over the world, websites run by companies and individuals within South Africa might also be banned. Indeed, those websites that outrightly infringe on others’ copyrights will be banned on popular search engines and possibly completely inaccessible. The problem with this is that some of these websites are certainly of use to us South Africans.
There is fear that websites promoting popular entertainment, informing South Africans of events occurring in certain provinces at certain times and even blogs just being popular for their commentary or humor might disappear from our search engines. These websites are useful to locals and visitors to South Africa and the possible loss of these sites could affect tourism, events management, advertising and even businesses adversely.
On a more individual level, SOPA could affect any individual online who seems to enable copyright infringement. If your facebook page refers to an illegal or pirate site, for example, your facebook might just get deleted. An individual’s blog that contains cherished memories, photos or events might be lost forever if a hint of copyright infringement is found. And access to many a South African’s favorite websites might not be possible anymore. This is, of course, assuming that any South African websites infringe on copyright laws.
This bill might not be all bad. Many important and influential companies such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support the passing of this bill. It would, hopefully, decrease the illegal downloads of their material and disrespect for their copyrighted material significantly. SOPA’s motives seem to be pure as well: fight copyright infringement, fight piracy and provide all copyright holders with safety of their material.
This bill promises to achieve a seemingly insurmountable goal, however. The real offenders could be quick enough to remain out of harm’s way. Pirate Bay seems to laugh in the face of SOPA. And the multitude of sites like Pirate Bay makes it difficult for this bill to be very effective.
Various illegal websites are also technologically-savvy enough to be able to change their domain and name often enough for SOPA to never catch hold of them. And on top of this, copyright is already relatively difficult to control when it comes to books, newspapers, music and movies. How much more difficult would copyright control not be on the internet?
If this bill succeeds, it will be a massive success for American copyright holders. If this bill fails, the internet world will be drastically changed: a new level of control will exist over the internet and all the sites it houses, changing and possibly diminishing the online global community created by the internet. These ‘ifs’ only apply if the bill is passed. And so the world waits.
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