by Cody Hensarling “You can’t be a conservative and support SOPA.” – Rush Limbaugh On Wednesday, the internet was abuzz with popular protests of various forms all targeting the Stop Online Privacy Act and the Protect IP Act. The highlights of said protest included a full-day blacking out of Wikipedia and a temporary graphical overhaul of Google’s main page. Due to the overwhelming show of opposition to these bills, many co-sponsors of the bills (including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah) have dropped their sponsorship and have even pledged to oppose the bill. As a result, the prognosis for SOPA & PIPA got quite bleak, and Harry Reid & Lamar Smith pulled SOPA (the House version of the bill) and PIPA (the Senate version of the bill). The idea is that they are headed back to the drawing board, rather than completely off the agenda for Congress. The goal of SOPA is to crack down on “rogue sites”, or, sites that are located in foreign jurisdictions that have a more liberal definition of copyright protection. The primary reason why this fight isn’t conducted in the courts is that due to the offshore nature of these sights, a legal fight would likely be fruitless. The primary way SOPA would work is that it gives the US Federal Government this ability to seek court orders that would virtually shut down websites; an internet death order, if you will. To quote the bill itself: “A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) that is subject to the order…Such actions shall be taken as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within five days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order.” SOPA would also require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to monitor the web traffic of customers and block any potential access to materials that are infringing on copyright. Currently, ISPs are not required to ascertain copyright infringement on any level. These steps would represent an unprecedented incursion of the federal government into the lives of average citizens. Many people legitimately worry that free speech could be negatively affected, as the federal government would get de facto censorship power with the ability to shut down sites. After all, the definition of copyright infringement in the bill is so broad that it could allow the government to shut down such staples of free speech as Wikipedia and Youtube. While internet piracy is a serious issue and copyright should be protected to foster innovation, the solution is NOT to allow the federal government to greatly expand their regulatory powers. Predictably, the majority of the remaining support for the bills comes from Democratic Party leadership. Make no mistake, this bill is not a bill to protect copyright, it is a bill designed to expand the reach of the federal government and should be treated accordingly.
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