Web-based activism showed a glimpse of its strength through widespread online protests last January specifically directed against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act or PIPA). These two are the latest of the copyright enforcement bills that never fail to be controversial. While these bills aim to provide protection to specific trade groups, the proposed censorship also pose a threat to the freedom of online speech.
SOPA seeks to reinforce the ability of the US Law Enforcement to stop online trafficking of copyrighted materials. It will seek to accomplish its objective by preventing transactions with infringing websites by means of barring advertising networks and payment facities from dealing with such sites, preventing links to search engines and getting court orders to require Internet service providers to block access to the same sites. PIPA’s objective is not different as it seeks to “curb access to rogue websites ” specifically those operated and registered outside the U.S. These bills have obvious supporters in copyright and trademark owners in various industries.
Opponents to the bills are people and enterprises that see the bills as possible threats to free speech and innovation. There is special concern with regards to the proposal that will result to the blocking of access to an entire Internet domain based on the existence of an infringing material on even one blog or site. Congressional opponents of SOPA and PIPA counter the proposed bills with still another proposed bill – the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN Act).
Unless the right balance is achieved between the need to combat online piracy and the need to protect online freedom of speech, we might just find ourselves running out of acronyms to name subsequent bill proposals before we settle on a law that is acceptable to both sides.