In what has been one of the most fiercely debated topics of recent times between content providers and internet companies, it appears that the internet companies have come out the victors. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), have been indefinitely shelved in the House and the Senate, following months of lobbying, op-ed pieces, and heated arguments over the merits of the proposed legislation.
Essentially, the legislation, as it was proposed, would allow the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites that infringe copyright by making copyrighted material available illegally. The legislation aims to target rogue foreign websites that do not fall under U.S. jurisdiction, such as Pirate Bay and other torrent sites, that are notorious for making movies, music and TV programs easily (and illegally) available for download. Supporters of the legislation include the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of American, the American Federation of Musicians, the Directors Guild of America, and many other content creators. Under the legislation the DOJ would be able to require search engines and other sites to remove links to any sites that contain infringed material, while also banning sites such as Paypal and Ebay from any transactions with infringing sites.
There has been much outcry from both the internet companies (Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, etc.) and the general public alike, who claim that the laws provided for in the legislation are far too over-reaching and will lead to government censorship of the internet, such as that we see in China. In fact, many claim that the legislation would “break the internet”, as it would place the onus of policing every link and every instance of possibly infringing material squarely on the shoulders of the internet companies. One argument is that it would place such a financial burden on both established companies and start-ups, it would be impossible for them to continue in their current form. Opponents of the legislation claim that it would stifle innovation on the internet, if not kill it completely.
The legislation was shelved on January 20, 2012, only two days after numerous internet companies, led by Google and Wikipedia, staged a mass online-protest, blacking-out their sites and directing users to online petitions railing against the proposed laws. Time will only tell if the legislation is put forward again for voting in the House and Senate, and, if so, how will the provisions have been changed.