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SOPA, PIPA, Anti-Piracy Legislation: Issue Backgrounder

The English-language Wikipedia is ‘dark’ today, in protest against a set of bills (nick-named SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate). These bills are intended to create new tools to address both the online commerce in copyright-infringing works and of counterfeit goods (i.e. both Copyright Act and Lanham Act violations). In particular, they aim to target the use of foreign-registered websites for “piracy,” although opponents point to several ways in which domestic websites can also be affected.

Along with Wikipedia, other websites (such as the “social news site” Reddit) are down for the day with a place-holder page urging visitors to protest the two bills. Google’s search site remains live today, but the usual “Google doodle” version of its logo is replaced by a blackout stamp “censoring” the logo. Normally clicking on a “Google doodle” performs a Google search for information about the subject or topic of the doodle. Today, it instead links to a Google-hosted advocacy page in opposition to SOPA and PIPA. Google has also taken the unusual step of slowing the Googlebot, so that sites that have gone dark today in protest of the two bills will see less negative impact on their search rankings.

While much of the technology industry is now engaging is such an unusual protest of the proposed legislation, the bills had already advanced fairly far in the legislative process with the backing of “content industry” associations (the MPAA, ASCAP, AAP, etc.), but also of a wide array of business and labor organizations motivated by the economic importance of U.S. intellectual property and a perceived need for stronger anti-piracy tools—particularly tools capable of reaching foreign sites.

As a result of the uproar in the Internet community, some news reports as of today indicate that DNS blocking may be removed from the bills.

(We provided a “quick guide” to SOPA in December, but given the rapid movement on this legislation, this additional “backgrounder” seems to be in order.)

Politics

While many contested issues have a clear partisan alignment, this graphic from ProPublica makes it very easy to visualize just how bipartisan both the support and the opposition to these bills is within Congress.

Bill Sources and Tracking

SOPA, 112 H.R.3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act is the House version of the legislation. As usual, Thomas is an excellent tool for tracking the legislation.

PIPA, 112 S. 968, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, is the Senate version of the legislation. The Senate legislation was reported out of the Committee on the Judiciary. S. Rep. No. 112-39 (2011), recommending passage.

For CWRU affiliates, Proquest Congressional (subscription electronic resource) is likely the best source to access the text of the several hearings related to the two bills in this Congress. Selecting the “Search by Number” tab and entering either the House or Senate bill number will display links to the hearings in each house of Congress, respectively.

S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was the version of the legislation introduced in the previous (111th) Congress. It was also reported out of committee. S. Rep. No. 111-373.

A handful of Senate opponents of PIPA have introduced S. 2029, Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, to demonstrate an alternative approach.

Issue Analyses

Neutral

  • Information on S. 968: PIPA, at OpenCongress.org

    Includes a (very) short summary, lists supporting and opposing companies and organizations, and gathers links to news coverage. Note that this is neutral in content, but Opencongress.org, itself, is an opponent of SOPA/PIPA.

  • Declan McCollagh, How SOPA Would Affect You: FAQ, CNET.com.

In Favor

In Opposition

Scholarly (Law Journal) Articles

Selected Other Items

Much of the most fervent opposition has been related to the provisions of the bills that would create a procedure to compell removal of targeted websites from the databases of DNS and search-engine operators within the United States. Opponents argue that this would be over-broad, and impose major compliance burdens on linking sites, search engines, and any websites hosting user-created content. Opponents have have also argued the likelihood of unintended technical consequences that would “break the Internet.”

It is at the very least interesting to note that this is a move that might seem to cut against the logic of U.S. efforts (via the structure of ICANN, discussed in a previous quick guide) to keep foreign governments or transnational organizations away from political influence on at least the global level of DNS management. (Though other nations can and do manipulate DNS within their territorial jurisdiction and for their domestic users.)

3 comments

  1. Andrew Plumb-Larrick says:

    This post from the Atlantic Magazine’s AtlanticWire site, has Jonathan Zittrain expressing skepticism about OPEN, as well, and more broadly about Congresses ability to make useful law in this area.

  2. The House is considering CISPA today. We haven’t added anything much about it in a new post, but it is not uninteresting on its own merits. Note that the coalition politics around CISPA are very different than those for SOPA/PIPA.