by Isaac F '14

SOPA and PIPA Explained

The reason millions of people are now aware of SOPA and PIPA lies in powerful organizations’ strive to make the Internet a free place. In fact, among the numerous organizations that joined the  strike on Wednesday, January 18 was Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. Their goal was to get as many people as possible to become aware of the effects of SOPA and PIPA, should they be passed. Many other website giants have opposed it, like Facebook and Google.  SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act; PIPA stands for Protect IP Act.
The reason why these bills were first proposed are seemingly noble: congress wants to stop copyright infringement. The power that they give to media companies is, however, outrageous. They are attributing them the power to shut down sites that so much as pose a threat to their business, regardless of whether they host copyrighted content. Instead of targeting the problem- those who produce pirated software-they are targeting people who might have nothing to do with this. Google, for example, is a search engine with an innumerable amount of links to websites and doesn’t censor their results to exclude websites that infringe copyrights. This could lead to problems with the media companies and the government.

What they Comprise
SOPA and PIPA are contentious bills circulating the minds of the US government, SOPA in the U.S. House of Representatives and PIPA in the U.S. Senate. Many people are against it because of what it requires from website owners. These bills require that website owners monitor their website content to make sure that they don’t link to websites that infringe copyright. If they don’t comply with these new rules, those domains will be censored on the internet. This poses a threat to open-source websites such as Wikipedia, where users write the content. This requires that, for Wikipedia, administrators closely monitor every website they link to in nearly 4 million pages with 16,129,600 users writing content. Since the consequences of failing to conform to the rules may cause a website to be forced offline, an abuse of power may be at hand by the powerful media companies.

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)
The Original bill- The bill’s name might make you think that it is going to stop online piracy. It does, nevertheless, battle websites that link to the pirated content, rather than eliminating the root of the problem: the actual piracy. Originally, what SOPA attempted to do was to block the domain name of the websites that “engage in, enable or facilitate” copyright infringement. To understand how ineffective this is, one needs to know what a domain name really is. A domain name, such as is simply a representation of an IP (Internet Protocol) resource, a unique set of numbers assigned to either a personal computer used to access the Internet, a server computer hosting a website, or the website itself. If this bill will block the domain name, the website will still be accessible via its actual address. For this inefficacy and the fact that many programmers had already found a way to circumvent the protocol by creating plugins that automatically redirect to the domain name’s IP Adress, this portion of the bill was eventually removed.
The Revised Bill The other part that still remains active is that the media copyright holders have the ability to cut the funding from websites that are deemed a copyright infringement threat. What is their funding source? Well they are funded by other, innocent, online businesses. This also entails links in search engines and advertisements and the like. They will all have to be removed.

PIPA (Protect IP Act)
PIPA is slightly different. PIPA can only censor websites if they actually have infringed copyrights by providing illegal content. This might prove troublesome because great internet sources like Wikipedia, which is basically user-generated content, will have to monitor the content they host. There are bills, however, that already protect the media’s rights. Copyright holders have the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) at their disposition, which entitles them to request the removal of the content, or even sue for damages.     The overarching concept behind these two bills is, superficially, for a righteous cause. Upon further examination, these two bills’ effectiveness is minimal because of the way in which they approach the problem of online piracy, penalizing hosts of links to websites that have copyrighted content rather than battling the removal of the content, thereby inevitably causing outrage among big website companies that can be affected like Google (and their services such as YouTube), Wikipedia, Facebook, causing the online chaos about these bills. In their endeavor to get people to speak out, Wikipedia has seen positive results in conspicuously blacking out in sign of strike against SOPA and PIPA. They claim that their site was viewed 162 million times. Eight million people followed their instructions to contact their representatives. The result? According to BBC, this led to eight lawmakers withdrawing their support for the bills.

Update 1/30/12:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office recently released a statement declaring the the debate and vote for the Protect IP Act had been postponed. PIPA’s ferocity had been dissipating in the past days, and more as more representatives are opposing the bills.


By Mr. Lakhaney

TOK Teacher

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