If you're just hearing about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) today because of the internet blackout, don't worry! I put together a quick primer on the issues.
If you're too lazy to read, here's a cute video put together by an internet freedom group that actually does a good job explaining the complicated issue:
What is the proposed bill exactly? The anti-piracy bill lets US companies shut down foreign sites that they believe are infringing on one of their copyrights. Without needing a court appearance or judicial sign-off, companies can sign a letter of "good faith" that a site has gone rogue, engaging in behavior that would be illegal under US intellectual property law, and demand the site be removed from search results and that ad and finance companies stop working with the site.
Who's behind it? Big entertainment companies and groups that are losing millions to piracy. The Motion Picture Association of America is a big backer and has a whole page about rogue websites. The Chamber of Commerce says piracy "threatens 19 million jobs" and has been a strong supporter.
Who's against it? Pretty much every major website you use on a regular basis. Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, eBay, Yahoo and others signed on to a letter in the fall saying that SOPA would allow corporations to crush innovation, take out sites subjectively, and hurt overall internet security without actually stopping the big piracy users.
How likely is it to become law? Not likely, in its current form. Obama recently came out against SOPA, writing a lengthy response to anti-SOPA initiatives filed with his office. Congressional discussion of SOPA has been tabled till February, when supporters are expected to regroup and try to pass a more focused version of the bill.
What is it? Like SOPA, this bill aims to eradicate internet piracy of US media. But unlike SOPA, it says sites can only be shut down is their primary purpose is copyright infringement.
Why are people still mad about that? Internet freedom advocates think PIPA could be used to censor sites that big companies (or governments) don't like. Companies could, for example, argue to shut down early versions of YouTube, since users uploaded so many copyrighted materials.
How likely is it to become law? More likely than SOPA, that's for sure. It has support from major US companies ranging from Nike to Nintendo. The Senate has a vote on the bill scheduled today and it has sponsorhip from 40 senators across party lines—though both of Oregon's senators are against it. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden says the bill "establishes a censorship regime that threatens speech, innovation, and the future of the American economy." Yikes.