The House of Representatives introduced a new bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), in late October. Now, they've announced that the congressional vote for the controversial bill will be delayed until an undetermined date in 2012. If SOPA passes, the very Internet we have all come to know could drastically change.
It's no secret that people all over the world use the Internet to download movies. Many are honest about it and subscribe to video streaming companies, like Netflix or Blockbuster, which give consumers unlimited access to their favorite movies and television shows. However, some people bypass the low fees charged by these companies and choose to download their videos from foreign websites for free.
Big media companies have been fighting against this piracy for years. The illegal act costs producers billions of dollars in music, software and video revenue every year.
SOPA aims to put an end to copyright infringement by eliminating websites that allow people to download videos, software and music for free. House members have proposed dozens of amendments to the bill, extending the amount of time it will take to pass it on for a full vote. Now, the bill has been pushed back for review until sometime in 2012, and debates are running rampant on whether it should even be up for discussion.
Under SOPA, copyright holders would be able to report piracy websites to law enforcement officials to have the website shut down. A judge would be able to order search engines to block the sites, and websites could even be punished for hosting the illegal content. This is causing Internet companies to worry that they could be held accountable for the actions of their users.
Those with the most to lose (obviously the music and movie industries) are backing the bill, but critics fear supporters don't understand the repercussions. They believe SOPA would bring down the Internet as we know it, and hundreds of sites have adopted "Stop Censorship" logos. Even though they support the objectives of SOPA, Fortune 500 tech companies are asking Congress to consider another way to terminate piracy websites.
Even if SOPA passes, I highly doubt that the days of piracy are over. If the Napster scandal taught us anything, it's that people won't stop illegally downloading just because some people were punished. Even if a website gets shut down, there will be three more waiting to take its place. Law enforcement officials simply would not be able to keep up with them.
The House of Representatives needs to look at the bigger picture. Their bill would transform the Internet from a place of free expression to one that is subject to government censorship. It's too close to violating constitutional rights for me to be okay with it. Media conglomerates need to stop their complaining, continue collecting their billions and leave the rest of us alone.
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