January 2012

Sopa is the Stop Online Piracy Act, a piece of legislation proposed by the US aiming to protect copyright on the web. It has been driven largely by movie studios and record labels who have been spending substantial amounts of money for lobbying to add to existing anti-piracy lawsand take action as regardsfilesharing and copyright infringement online. The targets of this legislation are the “rogue sites”, deemed to be “stealing America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.”

The main problem with Sopa (and its sister bill Pipa – Protect IP Act) is that they attempt to deal with copyright infringing sites by remaking the architecture of the web. Both acts have such broad definitions that no online resource on the web would be outside of their grasp.

The approval of Sopa would mean that the US Attorney General would be able to obtain a court order against foreign websites that would then be served on internet service providers. The result would be the disappearance of the site to users within the United States.

Such actions would have to be taken within five days and would be based solely on an accusation. Hence, a site could be shut down for a single infringing link, even if the site operator didn’t post it, for example if a forum contributor posts a copyrighted image inappropriately. Site operators would only be able to defend themselves once their site has been taken down.

Though the bill only targets foreign sites, the entire setup, compliance costs and legal liability is targeted at domestic sites as well, and thus, US websites would have to carefully monitor their sites and look out for such “rogue sites”.

There is even a special provision for the ordinary web user who could be jailed for five years for posting copyrighted work.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Yahoo, Mozilla and LinkedIn have called Sopa “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity”. Reddit, Boing-Boing, Mozilla, Wikipedia, the European Parliament, international human rights groups, hundreds of business people and entrepreneurs and legal academics have also strongly challenged this piece of legislation.


Beverly Pace