Banning a website just by saying it might reference something else without someone’s permission — SOPA & PIPA, active bills in the U.S. Congress

SOPA/PIPA will enable the U.S. government to force actions such as having a website’s domain name blocked from all search engines & having all advertising removed from the site, within five days, based on only an accusation of copyright infringement. Search engines, social media sites, and web site hosting companies that aren’t diligent in keeping out posts that might infringe copyrighted work can also be sued.

Fear of being sued means a whole host of sites (such as Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, WordPress, just to name a few) will either have to monitor & censor everything users post to prevent any possible infringements, or shut down.

And there’s a ton of satirical humor sites, such as Cracked.com, that will also have to shut down. And pretty much any blog that might ever post a scan from a comic book, picture of art, still from a movie, or sound clip from a song will also be liable to be sued.

The legislation is so comprehensive in describing anything that might possibly be a copyright infringement, anyone who’s involved in internet content hosting or distribution at all (internet service providers, website hosting services, search engines, blog hosting sites, etc.) will have to be very vigorous in monitoring and censoring their users or they in turn could be sued by copyright holders.

Technical details

SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 3261. PIPA is the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act of 2011, S. 968. Both are still in committee in their respective legislative houses. Looking at the OpenCongress.org status for the bills, it looks like the Senate version got introduced in May and hasn’t moved much since. The House version got introduced in mid-November, is in committee, and has already had a hearing on it.

Some Explanatory Videos

According to this video from c|net TV, the hearing was a bit one-sided in witnesses. Although the bills’ titles are noble-sounding — “Stop Piracy” and “Protect Intellectual Property” — the main backers are the movie & record industry. Essentially, they’d rather break the internet than risk someone downloading a movie or song illegally. Comments about the bill begin around 1:10 in the c|net video. (Apologies, I tried but couldn’t figure out how to embed the video into this post.)

Here’s an explanatory video from AmericanCensorship.org, a website that has lots of links and information about these bills, lists of companies & organizations against the bills, e-mail alert lists, etc.

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