The Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA was introduced to the U.S. House on October 26.  You’ve probably been following the bill through the news and recent hearings on November 16 and December 15 regarding details to the bill, but if you haven’t, I’d like to give a general overview of what SOPA is, what supporters and opponents of this bill are saying, and how it could potentially influence the way we use the Internet in the future.  As an Internet Marketer, I’ve been following news on SOPA and juggling back and forth on potential possibilities for the future of the web, and I’m eager to see where it ends up.

What is SOPA?

Essentially, SOPA is looking to crackdown on online copyright infringement and counterfeit products, such as torrent websites (aka Rogue Sites) like The Pirate Bay or counterfeit pharmaceuticals sold online.  Petitions have popped up amongst opponents of the bill, claiming that SOPA is the first step toward the end of the Internet as we know it.  If SOPA passes, copyright holders will be able to file complaints seeking a website shutdown of the infringer.  In addition, search engines and Internet providers would have to block these copyright violation websites.

Who Supports SOPA?

Some of the more notable supporters of SOPA, in addition to the Government supporters, include the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).  For years, companies have been battling against pirating, and in 2006/2007 things got really heated when lawsuits started hitting users sharing music and movies on sites like Kazaa and Limewire.  The battle against piracy started as media sales started slumping following the digital popularity of music and movies, which made sharing without purchasing that much easier.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that illegal online retailers cost legitimate businesses $135 billion from the 53 billion site visits they attract per year.

Who Opposes SOPA?

Companies like Google, Yahoo!, Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon (and many more) are concerned about the censorship power that this bill would give to lawmakers regarding the Internet and they question its constitutionality.  SOPA supporters like Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont) argue that the First Amendment doesn’t give Americans the right to steal, and the bill would protect intellectual property and promote jobs and economic growth.  Opponents stress that the web must remain open in order to continue promoting the communication and innovation we’ve become used to online.  They see SOPA as a slippery slope for Internet censorship by the Government.  Google’s Eric Schmidt stated that it would be a mistake for Congress to approve SOPA as it would be ineffective and could fundamentally change the way the Internet works, and that his alternative recommendation to SOPA would be to make it “more explicitly illegal to make money from that type of content. . .” In addition to the issues noted above, opponents are worried about potential threats to open source software, users, online businesses, privacy, security and SOPA being ineffective and making piracy worse.

SOPA Impact and Protests

Several companies have been scrutinized and boycotted due to support or alleged support of SOPA.  Microsoft and Apple’s position in SOPA has been debated and were initially thought to support SOPA, while now its being reported that they oppose it.  Go Daddy revoked their initial support of the bill as users threatened to move their domain to other providers.  Internet heavyweights like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Ebay, AOL and Mozilla Firefox are banding together in opposition of the bill, claiming that SOPA puts an uncertain liability on the law abiding U.S. web/tech companies to monitor for pirate activity, which could potentially land those companies in trouble due to the unintended consequences that SOPA poses.

Go Daddy spent December 23 Tweeting Their New Stance on SOPA

Many have promoted their opposition to the bill by adding anti-SOPA banners on their websites to inform visitors.  Websites like Fight for the Future and Keep the Web Open have popped up encouraging visitors to contact their representatives or support alternatives.  The SOPA debate will continue when the House returns from Winter Recess.

What do you think about SOPA? Share in the comments below – thanks for reading!

Resources and extra reading for SOPA: