On Oct. 26, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) proposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The bill has bipartisan support from 25 cosponsors and is supported by the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Pictures Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and others.
“There are four tracks to the bill and not all four are controversial,” said a judicial aid for the House Judiciary Committee, in which Smith is chair. “In , there was a bill called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was the first time Congress addressed the issue of infringing websites because the internet was relatively new at the time.”
According to SOPA, the four tracks expand existing authority for law enforcement and provide a mechanism for rights holders to protect their internet protocol (IP) rights.
One would need to take out a court order and have a judge determine whether the website is engaging in illegal activity.
“But it didn’t touch any foreign websites,” the aid said. “Now we are in this global marketplace and there are foreign websites dedicated to stealing American intellectual property and selling it.”
Foreign websites that steal intellectual property, sell it and profit off it are known as rogue websites because consumers come across them unassumingly.
“The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs,” said Smith in a statement. “Rogue websites not only steal America’s intellectual property, they steal the profits and jobs that belong to American innovators.”
The main goals under SOPA are to shut off flow of money to rogue websites, prevent the websites from getting ad revenue from the U.S. and prevent U.S. consumers from being sent to these websites.
“SOPA is a similar bill to the PROTECT IP Act,” the judicial aid said. “But SOPA took a step further and created a two-step process.”
The aid said if a rights holder sees an infringing website and wants to take the site down, under SOPA the rights holder is required to go a financial intermediary or ad providers. Then the rights holder can tell them to take down the website because it is selling the rights holder’s products.
“Rather than going to court, if they can work it out amongst themselves, it saves time and money,” the judicial aid said. “It does what Congress wants by cutting flow of money to [rogue websites].”
The aid said if Google or the ad company disagrees, the rights holder could then go to step two by going to court. The aid said the rights holder still has to prove to the federal judge the website is engaged in illegal activity for the judge to then give order to the companies to sever ties with the rogue websites.
“You have to basically win the case for sites to be taken down,” the aid said. “The hyperlink for a free movie download would no longer exist because Google would take it down. There’d be no access in the U.S., although the website could still get revenue from other countries.”
According to the aid, the bill is only dedicated to entire websites because, under the DMCA, websites are already required to take down pirated material.
“We support the bills’ stated goals,” stated various online corporations in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee. “Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites.”
Likewise, Reporters Without Borders sent a statement to the House Judiciary Committee.
“Through SOPA, the United States is attempting to dominate a shared global resource,” the letter stated. “Building a national firewall and creating barriers for international website and service operators makes a powerful statement that the United States is not interested in participating in a global information infrastructure.”
The bill will be amended next month in regards to the discussions with stakeholders.
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at email@example.com.