Anti-Piracy Protests Storm the Country

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Can you imagine a world without Justin Bieber? If the two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act, known as SOPA, in the House and sister legislation called the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act, or PIPA, in the Senate were passed, the avenues Mr. Bieber used to become famous would now be illegal.

In the US, the Internet wouldn’t be as open and free without a portion of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) called the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA). Under the DMCA, it’s the obligation of rights owners to let Internet companies know when they are hosting copyright infringing content by filing a DMCA notice. Once an Internet company receives a valid DMCA notice, they remove the content and, by doing so, they can’t be held contributorily liable for the copyright infringement of their user, also know as the DMCA Safe Harbor. Without this “Safe Harbor”, Internet companies, like YouTube and Facebook, wouldn’t be able to allow free and open discourse on their sites out of fear of infringement liability.

Although SOPA and PIPA are trying to address a significant problem, stopping online piracy, many believe the problem lies in the proposed approach to reaching that goal and the way that it would undermine DMCA protections that fortify the healthy functioning of the Internet. Several online media companies think the language is too vague in terms of defining what piracy is and the bills don’t define who is responsible for making sure illegal material from foreign sites aren’t showing up on US sites.

Under SOPA as written, anyone can make an allegation that a site is “dedicated to theft of US property” and then an ISP would be legally required, without due process to block access to that site or service which would completely bypass the DMCA process. Payment vendors (Visa, MasterCard, etc.) would have to cut off that sites ability to receive payments. Ad networks would also have to cut site revenue and state a goal of placing a chokehold on foreign websites that are beyond the reach of US courts. For many companies, this would be a problem as they also operate sites abroad.

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