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January 18, 2012 / screwvala

The SOPA Soap…Part 1

Today, Wikipedia, WordPress, and other internet sites have gone dark to protest H.R. 3261, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and S. 968, the Protect IP Act (“PIPA”). Both bills are intended to combat intellectual property piracy on the internet. For the most part the bills are the same. You can read about differences here. So what’s all the fuss about?

Let’s start by looking at current law. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) targets infringing content on the internet. Internet sites, such as YouTube, can operate under a safe harbor that protects them from liability, provided that they promptly remove infringing content upon receipt of a takedown notice from the content owner. The DMCA, in essence, places the burden on content owners to police each act of infringement and targets only the infringing conduct. How do SOPA and PIPA fit in?

The bills empower the Attorney General to take action against foreign internet sites that direct infringing content to U.S. based users. In addition, the proposed law would require search engines, advertising networks, and payment providers to refrain from servicing the infringing foreign sites. In contrast to the DMCA provisions, the Attorney General has the burden to take action against infringement. Moreover, the legislation targets the entire website, not just the infringing content. The bills also provide immunity for voluntary conduct intended to prevent the dissemination of infringing content.

In Part 2, we’ll look at some of the objections to SOPA and PIPA.

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