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Summary:

If you’re just hearing about SOPA and PIPA, the complexity of these controversial bills can seem daunting. Here’s your quick guide to the proposed pieces of legislation and a one-stop shop of resources that can help you learn much, much more.

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If you have just clued into the hotly raging debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect Intellectual Property Act, thanks to a variety of popular sites replacing their content with anti-SOPA/PIPA messages, your first reflex may to be shout, “I love the Internet, thus I hate SOPA and PIPA.” But there’s plenty more to learn about these complex and controversial bills. Here’s your quick guide to the proposed pieces of legislation and a one-stop shop to resources that can help you learn more.

What are SOPA and PIPA in general?

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was introduced in the House in October, and sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith. A copy of it can be found here. PIPA is the Senate version of the same bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and others, some of whom have begun distancing themselves from the legislation. The bills aim to halt the spread of pirated content on the web by several means, which originally included taking the names of offending sites from the DNS directory — the address book for the Internet. So far, SOPA sponsor Rep. Smith said he would remove the DNS provisions from the bill, while PIPA sponsor Leahy said he would hold hearings on the issue. The bills also seek to force payments processors to halt money flowing to pages that host potentially pirated content. More detailed information can be found here.

Why is everyone so upset?

While the stated intent behind SOPA is to halt the spread of pirated goods and content from bad actors, the way the bills are written the punishments associated don’t match the crimes. Having pirated content appear on a site, even without the knowledge or action by the site’s owner, can lead to a site being shut down without the owner having a chance to defend itself. It also threatens content hosting sites by cutting off their money flow if they are deemed to be hosting an infringer, until they can otherwise prove they are exempt from the infringement claims. Basically it turns the American idea of innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent. For more takes on this see a publisher’s comments, a venture capitalist’s and a cloud entrepreneur’s take.

What is the argument for these bills?

The argument made by those in support of the bills is that intellectual property theft is out of hand and is expedited by the web. Current controls such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act do not offer a big enough stick to stop bad actors from sharing and spreading priated content and goods. Additionally there is an argument that counterfeiting goods not only results in losses to their original manufacturer, but in the case of food, drugs and even watches, can cause potential harm or inconvenience to the buyer if they are unaware of the subterfuge. Finally, there is an argument that the web is freaking out over the bills for no reason.

Where can I learn more?

For discussions of SOPA, check out this article from my colleague Mathew Ingram, this one offering a historical perspective from Ars Technica, or this fact sheet from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. You could also read the bill.

For the information on PIPA, read this article, this Reddit analysis, or the bill itself.

  1. Hollywood is absolutely out of visionaries. The studios have been taken over completely by lawyers and MBAs – even in the creative areas. Most new innovation has moved over the last few years to Silicon Valley and it probably won’t return. The ‘dinosaur’ term for old media may be here to stay unless they start to think differently.

    http://mankabros.com/blogs/chairman/2011/09/28/hollywood-is-out-of-visionaries/

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  2. Thank you!

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  3. Whats next,if im playing a song on a radio out in public i can get into trouble because i let some strangers hear the song so now i violated someones copyright? So the next time i dvr a movie on cable and i happen to let my neighbor catch part of the movie because i didnt close my drapes i violated some other persons rights? You have to be kidding. This is just the start of censorship that the goverment wants because they want to control what you say. They see now how internet brings people together on issues and it threatens them. Dont be fooled by this bs. This is just the beginning of an even bigger censorship that will follow soonafter. They want to prevent things like Occupy from happening again or another type of uprising against the machine.This must be stopped. Dont let them take freedom of speech away by masking it with this pirating crap.

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    1. an0nymousR3v3ng3 Thursday, January 19, 2012

      bama it all ties together and will be implimented soon if we dont stand together and act…….i take tht back its not time to act time has run out we act now or its too late………….

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  4. Annabel Jane Williams Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    sorry but why on earth do the americans think they have any right to dictate what i, as a british citizen, can view on the internet. these record companies make billions of dollars in album sales regardless of pirating on the internet, this is just greedy multimillion companies wanting more and more money, for less and less.

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  5. I pay monthly for access to this info forget paying for Internet of I can’t use it, they need to take money from the company’s who subscribe us Internet access not people who pay for sites but the people allowing us access to the world wide web if it’s all about money and copyright we the people are created the gov we the people can change the gov

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  6. So does this mean no more free porn???

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  7. Richard Bennett Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Is this article supposed to be a joke?

    Both of these bills have been amended since their first drafts, SOPA very heavily, yet you reference analyses and text of the original, non-amended bills. In particular, the DNS provisions have been completely removed, yet the final three articles you reference comment on them as if they were still live features.

    The Social Media Collective article says: “They both require DNS blocking” but neither does. The Reddit article says: “Note: In recent news, several legislators have suggested that they will be removing the DNS provisions from both SOPA and PROTECT IP. However, those provisions still exist in the bills today, and they are likely to still be debated. For these reasons, I’m going to include the DNS provisions in this discussion” and the bill text references for SOPA are to the first draft, not the third draft that’s the current topic.

    No one should take this article to be a fair and accurate commentary on the state of Protect IP or SOPA today.

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